I'm on stage. The strains of the first song are still fading under the roars of adulation of thousands (I can dream, can't I?). Somewhere in the darkness on stage, I'm desperately trying to find the small piece of liquorice hidden on the black panel of my master keyboard that masquerades as a patch-change button. Sounds familiar? Then read on, for Yamaha is sending help in the form of the MFC10 MIDI Foot Controller.
The MFC10 is not simply a set of patch change footswitches. Nosiree. This machine will also give you up to five pedals with which to bend MIDI devices to your will, not to mention making control of multiple instruments a single prod of the foot away. Let's get down to it...
The MFC10's overall build quality is solid and chunky. On the underside of the casing are some nice stage-gripping rubber feet. Unfortunately, the MFC10 is powered by an external 'wall-wart' power supply. In live use these are about as welcome as a flatulent event in a spacesuit, although Yamaha have at least seen fit to include a cable strain relief to prevent the power connector being tugged out too easily (leaving the cable to be ripped out from the warty end, perhaps?).
Four extra foot controllers may be plugged into the rear of the unit. The MFC10 will happily accept continuous control pedals, or footswitches of the triggering or latching type. MIDI In and Out are present; MIDI Thru isn't, as it's not really necessary here. A connection for the Yamaha WX7 and 11 Wind Controllers is provided, and the MFC10 will supply them with power, obviating the need for a BT7 power box.
The front panel features large, illuminated characters above each chunky footswitch and a clear 3-digit numeric LED. Just above each footswitch there's also a bright red LED denoting which switches are active. With all this illumination, the MFC10 isn't going to disappear when the lights dim! Ten of the footswitches are designated 0 to 9, while another acts as a '*10' switch for higher program numbers. The remaining 'Function' footswitch toggles the rest of the switches between Program Change memories and Function memories -- more on these later. Five small buttons toward the back of the unit handle all the MFC10's editing and housekeeping functions.
Setting up the Program Change memories is relatively straightforward: simply select a memory number with the footswitches and press the Memory Edit button. Repeated pressing of this button cycles through the edit parameters; you can stop on any parameter and make use of the Inc/Yes Dec/No buttons to edit the value. Four types of MIDI data may be transmitted from a program change memory. The MIDI channel is set in hexadecimal, although I really can't see a good reason for this. The program and bank numbers are mercifully restricted to good old 'normal' numbering of 1-128 and 0-127 respectively. Yamaha have thoughtfully provided full control of both the MSB (Most Significant Byte) and LSB (Least Significant Byte) of Bank Change numbers. I was a little disappointed to discover that there's no option to send a MIDI Volume command -- or any other controller data -- with a Program Change memory. A press of the Write and Yes keys commits changes to the memory slot.
Nine basic message types may be transmitted from a Function memory, including Note on/off (with velocity) and MIDI Controller changes. Control change messages are specified with a value to be transmitted when the footswitch is pressed, and a value to be transmitted when the footswitch is released. Where the MFC10 really scores is that four sets of these Function parameters are available for storage in Function memories 0 to 49. So, for example, it's possible to change programs on up to four connected devices, or play four-note chords with each footswitch. Multiple footswitches can be pressed for layering.
Further options in the Function memories allow footswitches to be utilised as controllers for a sequencer or compatible rhythm programmer. Tempo Control, Song Select, Start, Stop and Continue are all available, but Yamaha have gone a step further to enable switches to select Song sections on devices such as their own QY700.
In addition to the MFC10's ability to flip between Program Change memories and Function memories from the front panel, its Mix switch on the rear allows a hybrid approach. Mix mode assigns the upper five numbered footswitches to Function memories, while the lower six remain to access up to 25 Program Change memories. Interestingly, these Program Change memories in Mix mode are actually separate from the 128 defined in Normal mode, which adds a little extra flexibility to the MFC10. Toggling the Function footswitch on in Mix mode turns the whole device over to Function memories, much the same as in Normal mode.
But what of the intriguing foot pedal over there on the right? Well, this controller can be set to transmit control changes, aftertouch, or pitch-bend data. The minimum and maximum values for the pedal are adjustable. Better still, any of the other five connected pedals has identical parameters, making this a control station par excellence! Unfortunately, I ran out of pedals before the MFC10 ran out of inputs for them, but the potential is clear.
The MFC10 is happy to send its memory contents as a system-exclusive dump to an external storage device. There are four basic dump types, transmitting the Normal mode memories, the Mix mode memories, the Function memories and the Foot Control memories -- or a full dump of all of these.
It's hard to imagine a MIDI-based musical environment that wouldn't benefit in some way from the MFC10's presence. For keyboard players, the unit scores by merging data arriving at the MIDI input with that generated by the MFC10 itself, so it can plug directly into your keyboard's MIDI input, or be tapped into the MIDI chain after the keyboard's MIDI output. This is undoubtedly of great use in both live and studio situations. Owners of Yamaha's WX Wind Controllers will be major beneficiaries of the MFC10, since they can plug straight in and control their entire MIDI system remotely. MIDI-aware guitarists could couple the MFC10 with an effects device capable of external MIDI control -- with five pedals available, the range of control should satisfy the most ardent of twiddlers. Users of guitar synths will discover a simple way to implement program changes to sound modules, in addition to transmitting control information or playing pedal notes by foot during performance. One-man bands with a foot to spare will find the MFC10 useful for stopping and starting sequencers, and owners of Yamaha's QY700 will be able to re-arrange their song structures in real time by transmitting Section Select messages.
This is the kind of device that you either know you need or consider you have no earthly use for. It applies some creative thinking to a specific task and comes up with the goods. I have one or two gripes: some of the strange abbreviations for many of the parameters means that the manual must be close to hand for a while, and some of the editing could also have been made easier with the implementation of a MIDI 'learn' mode. But the only serious reservation I have left is the external power supply, which will scare off a lot of live users -- myself included. Other than that I'm happy to give the MFC10 the thumbs -- sorry... toes up.
128 Program Change memories in 'Normal' mode, 25 in 'Mix' mode.
100 Function memories.
One on-board foot controller, plus provision for four external foot controllers.
MIDI In to MIDI Out merge transmit.
MIDI bulk dump.
WX7 and 11 controller connection.
Dimensions: 608mm x 215mm x 153mm.
Robust build quality.
Clear, well-lit and easily-read control surface.
Five pedal/footswitch inputs.
Dedicated Yamaha Wind Controller input.
Broad range of uses.
External power supply.
Some edit parameters are fairly cryptic.
No provision for old-style, non-MIDI effects processors and pedals.
A very worthwhile MIDI control device that covers a wide
range of potential uses. Owners of Yamaha's Wind Controllers,
MIDI-literate guitarists, keyboard players and solo musicians ought
to give the MFC10 consideration for the flexibility and
immediacy of control that it offers.
£ £239 inc VAT.
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