Awesome Stuff: One Great Knob

from the turn-anything-up-to-11 dept

For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at selections of cool Kickstarter projects — but this week we’re going back to taking a closer look at one interesting offering: the nOb, a multi-functional control peripheral with a unique approach to what it does.

The Good

There are no shortage of USB knobs, sliders and switches out there, and they pretty much all come to us from the music production world, and are all MIDI-based. In fact, in the past, I’ve criticized devices for bucking that standard — but the nOb does so for a good reason: it’s not just about music.

Instead of MIDI-over-USB, the nOb uses a USB serial standard and is designed to interact with all sorts of software interfaces. Anything that can be clicked-and-dragged onscreen can be controlled with the nOb by simply hovering your cursor over it. Thus, far beyond just music software, it can control things like the playhead in video editing software, or the adjustment sliders and canvas panning in Photoshop, or for that matter any scroll-bar in any app. Its exact input style is controlled by two switches on the device, and both these switches as well as the knob are all touch-sensitive, allowing for an additional layer of customizable control with various taps and double-taps.

The simple flexibility of the nOb is what makes it noteworthy. Though it probably seems like a simple toy to casual users, it has a lot of potential for a wide variety of professional tasks in music, video, design, illustration, photography, animation, 3D modelling and anything else that requires hours hunched over a keyboard and mouse, navigating a complex project and tweaking hundreds of settings to perfection.

The Bad

For now, I have few if any reservations. It seems a little on the pricey side at €150, but once you look at the quality of construction and consider the touch-sensitive controls, it’s pretty justifiable. It would be nice to see it include a MIDI-based option (and indeed, this is one of the stretch goals) since the mouse-hover control system will not always be ideal for music applications, especially complex workflows that rely on MIDI as a near-universal standard — but this isn’t a case of ignoring a good standard out of hubris or ignorance. It’s a conscious choice to try something different that opens up huge new possibilities, and the nOb’s USB serial interface is also open and developer-friendly.

The Beautiful & Hackable

It can’t go entirely unmentioned that the nOb looks very nice — and there’s no reason to doubt the claim that it feels very nice too, given the mahogany enclosure and the solid aluminum knob. Also, in keeping with the tradition of the great analog synthesizers and mixer boards of old, it’s designed to be easily physically hackable for the tinkerers out there: everything is screwed together and easily disassembled.

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Comments on “Awesome Stuff: One Great Knob”

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13 Comments
Leigh Beadonsays:

Re: No idea is new

Indeed. That one looks quite nice – though, I still think there are some innovations that make this one worthy of note. The Griffin one seems to have quite complex configuration software – which is both a pro and a con, since it looks like it needs quite a lot of upfront work to get it performing all the functions you might want it to perform.

The nOb doesn’t require any software-side configuration at all – it doesn’t even have special drivers, it’s just a standard USB serial human interface device like a mouse. By using a basic set of input types controlled by the two toggle switches, and targeting the input based on where your mouse cursor is, it allows really rapid on-the-fly use of lots of different controls with no upfront settings work.

There’s also a pretty interesting stretch goal, which is integrating it with eye-tracking equipment, so that you can select what control it is mapped to by looking at it. I have no idea how good that would actually be in practice, but it’s certainly a cool idea.

Annonimussays:

Pretentious

The crowdfunding video you embeded for this nOb is disturbing to me. From the synthetic sexy woman voice at the start to the only woman I can see in the video being presented as a user of the product while all the engineers are white males it strikes me as something made by the Silicone Valley all white boys club as their answer to what they see is a problem.

For me nOb strikes me as an UI designed to be a substitute for the mouse UI interface. I don’t find it appealing in that or any other department. I don’t know why I would buy or use the nOb for anything in the programs I use. This one is too pretentious, too steeped in Silicone Valley circlejerk and the video itself is more tech buzzwords than a show of what nOb can do better as an UI compared to what is already on the market.

Eldakkasays:

Re: Pretentious

I don’t find it appealing in that or any other department. I don’t know why I would buy or use the nOb for anything in the programs I use. This one is too pretentious,

So, because you have no use for this it is pretentious?

I can see where, if this was much, much cheaper, it could be useful. Just within windows control/configuration there are often many sliders, e.g. in colour adjustments (saturation, brightness, contrast and so on) there are often sliders with tiny increments that can be hard to get the correct value by clicking or clicking-and-dragging. Sometimes games have similar adjustments that require fine control. This would make it easy to use, if it was much cheaper.

However, that being said, I could see using just their software with standard scroll-wheel mouses. So, rather than hovering over a control, then reaching over for the nOb (having to take hands off the mouse if using the same hand and reaching over to the nOb), just mouse over the control, and the scroll-wheel then becomes the adjustment for the control. Could be a simple keyboard shortcut (e.g. hold down ctrl while using the mousewheel) or similar. Don’t really need a separate device. All the functionality of the nOb itself could be replaced by using the mouse scroll-wheel.

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