Want the single most powerful creative tool available for your studio? No, it's not some new whiz-bang keyboard or effects processor. In fact, the concept is rather simple: Automation.

Just a few years ago, automation was the domain of the privileged few with major-label contracts. But today, YOU can be liberated from endless repetitive tasks and be free to concentrate on shaping your true musical vision, not worrying about exactly when to bring the faders up for that big crescendo. You can now finally have the perfect mix, instead of settling for "almost right."

The people at Mackie Designs - the same ones who literally redefined the concept of the affordable, professional quality mixer - have introduced a new Universal Automation System specifically designed for the MIDI-based studio. This system consists of three interrelated elements: the Ultra-34 Gain Cell Unit, Ultramix Pro software for the Macintosh, and the Ultrapilot hardware controller. Mackie's automation package is not only the absolute leader in the "affordable" automation category, it even offers you capabilities lacking in the stratospherically-priced "big studio" systems.

Ultra-34 is a 34-channel VCA system for MIDI control of fader levels and muting. It connects to virtually any mixer via the unit's channel (or main) inserts. A duplicate insert patchbay is thoughtfully provided on the front of the Ultra-34. Up to four Ultra-34s can be daisy-chained and simultaneously controlled via the Ultramix Pro software for continuous, real-time automation of up to 136 line-level signals.

Ultramix Pro software provides a virtual representation of the Ultrapilot large-format fader pack. It can simultaneously control up to 128 input channels plus eight main left/right outputs. This Mac-based software features sub-groups, graphic editing, the ability to play MIDI files and full OMS 2.0 compatibility for use with Mackie OMS drivers. The program also offers a reduced system requirement allowing Ultramix Pro to run on systems as small as the compact (and downright cheap) Mac Classic, yet it can also run in native Power Mac mode at lightning-fast speeds.

Ultrapilot was designed as a large-format hardware controller to be used specifically with 24 to 128-channel consoles. It has 32 input faders and mutes, a master fader with master mute, and controls for MIDI machine controlled devices and popular digital multitrack transports.

We could spend many pages detailing all the features of both the Ultra hardware and software, but here is the bottom line: Automation allows you to finally focus on the sound of your mix, rather than on the mechanics of actually doing the mixing. Automation lets you listen. If you're preoccupied with remembering a complex series of fader moves, you're never going to be able to focus your complete attention on listening. With automation, you have the luxury of hearing your music without mechanical distractions. Do a mix, then sit back and just listen. Listen two times or a dozen. If you're tired, listen to it tomorrow. There's no hurry because with the Ultra system, it's all saved.

At this point, you're probably thinking, "Well, this all sounds pretty good, but can I actually afford it?" Prices for a basic Ultra Automation System begin at just $2797 and includes everything you need to get started doing automated mixes (with the exception of a mixer and a Mac, of course). This is a tiny price to pay for all the hundreds of hours you're going to save at mixing sessions.

And since you're going to be installing an automation system, isn't it about time to think about upgrading that old boat anchor of a mixer that's really too noisy for today's squeaky-clean digital mixes? Of course it is, and what better match for the Ultra System can there be but one of the incredible Mackie 8-Bus Consoles in 16, 24 or 32 channel configurations.

The 8-Bus Series has set new standards for big console quality and outstanding value. Mackie's innovative engineering made it possible to create an affordable 8-bus console with better headroom, less noise and more features (like 4-band EQ) than models costing twice as much. List prices for a 16-channel 8-Bus start at just $3199.

So what are you waiting for? Get a jump start on your creativity by installing a Mackie 8-Bus console in your studio along with the Ultra Automation System. Your Sweetwater sales engineer can provide you with plenty of information, some good advice and your special pricing on these superb Mackie systems.