This is an update to a post originally submitted about four months ago. A number of errors have been corrected and newly learned information has been added. For those of you who got an A-Pro for Christmas, here’s a late additional present.
I purchased a CW A500-Pro MIDI controller keyboard a while back and realized immediately that it was a first rate keyboard. But when I tried to configure it … what a shock! The exercise was so frustrating that I would have returned the unit had that been a possibility. In the end, I discovered that the problems were due principally to third rate documentation (and maybe that’s being charitable). With some experimenting and a few pointers from this forum, I finally got things seemingly sorted out. Here’s a quick tutorial for others following in my steps. It may not be 100% accurate, but it represents the best I could come up with via trial and error. Thanks to S.Wallis and rbrowser in particular for insights into the mysteries of the A-Pro with their posts on this forum.
Assuming the audience for this is Sonar users, then there are three areas of interest in the configuration:
• Configuring the keyboard for performance (and recording) purposes, where the some or all of the controls (knobs, sliders and buttons) are given MIDI controller values
• Setting up ACT to have the keyboard function as a control surface with Sonar
• Programming the transport buttons (stop, record, etc.) to control Sonar when not in ACT mode
A section follows devoted to each of these. Setting Up a Control Map
The following assumes the basic software (drivers and A-Pro editor) installation has been done per instructions in the manual.
In order to make use of the controls like sliders, you need to define one or more control maps. In this, the documentation is especially not to be trusted. The Owner's Guide contains a brief mention of control maps and refers you to the companion Control Map Guide, which just lists a number of non-Cakewalk DAWs and which preconfigured control map is associated for using the A-Pro as a control surface. Forget all this. In fact, take the Control Map Guide and place it somewhere inaccessible, after writing on the cover "OF NO USE TO SONAR USERS". If you want to make use of knobs, sliders, etc. for synth performance control, you need to define a control map, period.
A control map is just a set of MIDI assignments to the A-Pro controls. You can make these settings from the A-Pro itself, but that’s tedious. Furthermore, if you make them when the unit is set to the default control map of 0, they are temporary.
Proceed as follows. Start the A-Pro editor. Choose a control map number. Maps 1 thru 18 are fair game. Sonar/ACT apparently uses map 19, so it might be best to avoid that one. Bring up the A-Pro editor. Specify the desired control map number. Right off, do a save calling it something appropriate like "A-Pro Control Map 1".
Set whatever controls you want to use to values. Let’s take the first slider as an example. Say you wanted it to be CC1 to duplicate the function of the mod "wheel", but without the spring loaded return to zero action. Click on the control picture in the editor window and you’ll be presented with a dialog box. Choose Channel Message, Control Change and Control Number 1. Leave the Min and Max values alone (or not if you have some reason to set them otherwise). Likewise, you probably want to leave the Output Port set to 1. Click OK. That’s it for slider 1.
Do the same with the other controls in the editor window. The editor itself is pretty straightforward and holds few surprises. The pedal controls, aftertouch, and the mod wheel appear to be unassigned, but they default to what you would expect. You may assign them to something else, but if you change your mind and want them to revert to their default function, you just need to unassigned them. It would appear you can set values in the editor for Hold as well, but I found the assignments were ignored.
When you’ve got things to your liking, do a file save and also transmit the map to the A-Pro. If you didn’t get things exactly the way you wanted the first time, no worries. Subsequent changes are easily made.
One thing you should consider up front though is accidentally using a MIDI CC number that’s reserved for specific purposes. Unless you have a reason to do otherwise, you’ll want to select undefined MIDI CC numbers and rely on the MIDI learn capabilities of your soft synths to keep things organized.
The following MIDI CC numbers are undefined: 3, 9, 14-15, 20-31, 85-90 and 102-120. In addition, the following two sequences are defined as “general purpose” (whatever that means): 16-19 and 80-83.
A google of "MIDI CC numbers" will produce many good sources of information on the topic of MIDI CC number conventions.
Of course, you can assign MIDI notes to the controls instead of CC numbers. This is of particular attraction when deciding what use to make of the Dynamic Pad keys. Owners of the Alchemy soft synth will spot an immediate good use for these. Alternately, assignments to favorite drum map settings will be just the thing. You can assign note events to knobs and sliders, but it’s not clear why one would ever want to do so. Nevertheless, the A-Pro editor offers that as an option.
For the four general purpose buttons (and possibly the Dynamic Pad buttons), you’ll need to decide if you want the button to be latched or unlatched. The buttons work as follows. When clicking on a control assigned to a CC message, a MIDI message is sent containing that controller number and the max. value. For a note assignment, the message is a note-on with the velocity defined in the editor. When you’ve specified the control is “unlatched”, releasing the button sends a CC or note message with a zero value. When defined as “latched”, this message is deferred until the next time you press the button. Buttons have a back light that turns on when the initial message is sent and off when to corresponding off message is sent. This means that unlatched buttons light momentarily when pressed and latched buttons light when pressed the stay lit until pressed a second time.
Finally, you might think it useful to make a system setting on the A-Pro itself: changing the Startup Memory assignment to Last ACT Map (as described on p. 68 of the owner’s manual). That way, in theory, your performance map will be there when you power up. But when Sonar/ACT kicks in, it switches the control map to 19. Upon exit, it leaves it at 19, so you still need to manually reset it. On the other hand, maybe using control map 19 gets you the best of both worlds. Who knows … it’s explained nowhere. It would be a nice enhancement if Sonar/ACT reset the control map to its initial value upon exit.
There’s gotcha here that you need to be aware of. It’s all too easy when intending to reset the control map number to alter the MIDI velocity setting by mistake. If you intend to set the control map to 1 and accidentally set velocity instead, you’ll likely end up with inaudible synths. So if you hear little or no sound from your synths, this is the first thing to check. Setting Up ACT
Unlike setting up a performance control map, following the included instructions is all that it takes here. There’s a one-sheet inclusion with the documentation that leads you through the steps.
This most important thing to learn here is that the Sonar ACT window has a secret help file. There’s no menu or button to invoke it, so there’s no visual clue that it’s available. Hit F1 to bring it up. Much is explained in the help file.
One possible point of confusion when setting up ACT the first time is the initial settings in the Controller/Surface Settings dialog box. The instructions say to set the input port to A-Pro 2. When I went to do this, A-Pro 2 did not appear as an option in the drop down list. Clicking MIDI Devices and enabling A-Pro 2 was all it took to make things right.
When ACT has been set up, it will automatically be enabled it on the keyboard when Sonar starts. That means all your current performance control map settings will be pre-empted. You can easily disable ACT by clicking the A-Pro ACT button (but remember that you also have to reset the control map number on the A-Pro).
One option you may want to check out (clicking the Options button) is Rotary/Slider behavior. You may find Match to be a better choice than the default Jump.
Another option of use if you frequently switch between ACT and non-ACT mode is "Hardware ACT button opens/closes control surface plug in". When you uncheck this, the ACT window will not open when you click ACT on the controller. To manually get the window to open, click A-Pro 1 under Tools in the Sonar main menu (this applies to Sonar 8.n; I have not played with this in X1).
You will likely not use ACT very long before you want to customize it to your own work flow. In this, the options appear to be nearly limitless. Every assignable control that has a little down arrow under it can be reassigned to something you find more useful than the default setting. The Dynamic Pad buttons, in particular beg to be so used.
The general purpose buttons (B1 – B4) however are not reassignable. Their dedicated labels say “tracks”, “effects”, “synth” and “utility” respectively. As you switch between them, you’ll note that the labels on the Dynamic Pad buttons change, hinting at what’s going on.
What’s going on is this. B1 – B4 offer the selection of one of four banks. B1 is clearly for mixing (the sliders control track volume, the rotary controls control pan). B3 is for using ACT to control synth parameters. My limited experience suggests that use of ACT in this manner is way more trouble than it’s worth (YMMV). Modern soft synths have dozens and dozens (and dozens) of controllable settings. ACT-enabled soft synths (not all are synths ACT-enabled to begin with) come with pre-defined mappings. In trying this with several different synths, I had great difficulty figuring out what parameters the various default settings controlled.
Presumably, B2 which is intended for use with effects plugins, is a more straightforward exercise, given that effects normally have only a handful of controllable parameters. I haven’t tried, so you’re on your own in this.
When you click on a control in the window, its full label appears in a central display box. This is useful since the full label is often too long to be meaningful in the tiny label area allotted to each control. Unfortunately, you have to actually click on the control to see this information. Right clicking isn't recognized. And there's no flyover display to show a control's label. From the looks of it, this software was written in maybe the early nineties. No doubt it's very powerful when you've customized and mastered your setup, but it's decidedly unhelpful when trying to learn how to effectively use it. Transport in Non-ACT Mode
When in ACT mode, the keyboard (note) keys remain available to send note-on/off messages on port 1 and are not pre-empted by ACT. Likewise, the pedals, aftertouch and the pitch/CC1 controls do their usual thing. But what if you want to record and make use of other synth expression controls? In ACT mode, these are available only if you can figure out what controls what, as mentioned earlier. An easier course of action may be to just switch out of ACT mode when you want to automate soft synth parameters, because (for me, at least) it’s proven much easier to associate A-Pro controls using synth MIDI learn than figure out what the ACT mapping is (again, YMMV).
So if you want to get ACT out of the picture in this context, it would be nice if you could at least make use of the transport buttons, especially Record and Stop. No problem … easily done. We can assign keyboard bindings to MIDI events in Sonar just as we can assign bindings to computer keys. The MIDI shortcut keys are restricted to note-on/off message. Also, a shift key must be defined. The MIDI bindings will not be recognized by Sonar unless shift is enabled. The shift key may be either a note or CC message. This information relates to Sonar 8.0. Hopefully given the precision with which an A-Pro control can be defined, future versions of Sonar will eliminate the need for a shift key and will extend MIDI shortcuts to CC messages. But let’s get on with it.
First, in the A-Pro editor, assign the transport buttons you want available to some off-the-beaten-path note values in the low range (note numbers 0-20) or high (109-127). Give them a velocity of 1 just to be safe.
Identify one other A-Pro button to use as the required shift key. Sonar requires that a shift key (which is either a note or CC message) be enabled before the note key bindings are recognized. The shift key may be a note-value or a controller number. Remember, the Hold key, although an obvious choice for this purpose, is not available because it cannot be overridden. You probably want to make the shift key unlatched. That way, you just turn it one once and thereafter the transport buttons work the same when ACT is on and when it’s not on.
When you’ve got the A-Pro transport buttons assigned and transmitted to the A-Pro, all that’s left is to define the key bindings in Sonar. Do this with Options/Key Bindings as described in the Sonar documentation. It’s fairly obvious as to how to accomplish this.
Remember that when you’re setting this up, the A-Pro comes on when you start Sonar with ACT enabled. Make sure you turn ACT off in order to test your non-ACT transport button bindings.