Microsoft Surface dial and Hi!computer Elephant

I don’t know if I’m alowed to post this, but I want to recommend something:
The “Microsoft surface dial” in combination with The Hi!computer software called “elephant”.
Elephant turns the utterly useless surface dial into your next secret weapon for controlling all those verry tiny plugin dials in your daw.
the software:

you will need a blootooth connection (dongle?) and the surface dial of course
total costs aproximately 70 euro’s
Best upgrade to my studio since the invention of the mouse:))

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That was a FAST move steve:)))

Hi, just getting to this in late January, 2022.

Looking for correction here please. Though it looks very cool, in the end isn’t it converting a one-handed operation (mouse) into a two-handed one (tap and knob, or mouse and knob)?

If so, what makes it worth the $ to buy the Dial and Elephant software, and the time to set it all up?

Sorry for being obtuse here!

(I did watch the as always awesome Robin Vincent Molten Music vid from the link).

I find one hand mouse operation cumbersome especialy when you need to do precise adjustments in audiosoftware. I tried varous controllers, but the problem wit these is they are to specific (examples: ony faders and some butons but not all, having to touch to many comands before being able to control a parameter, and so on.)

The Steinberg A1 knob is a great solution with a few cavets: 1: It does not work with vst2 (and some vst3) plugins. 2: You cannot just buy the knob. It is fitted on an audio interface.

Enter the discussed solution. It works on anything.
BUT!!!: It goes to sleep after a few minutes (buld in bluetetooth energy saver). So you have to “wake it up” everytime. Utterly useless in the end.
I had two Surface dials for testing, sold them both.

I ended up with a few second hand good old “griffin powermate USB” knobs. I wrote two autohotkey scripts that make it work as a mousewheel or mouse “mover”, this is the perfect solution for me.

And yes, it IS a two hand solution indeed. But only if I want/need to use it. Imagine hovering the mouse over a knob, then change the value very precise with the dial, then navigate to the next fader or knob, and so on. Much less tension in your right hand, which is a thing for me…

I also use it while browsing the web, or in other programs. But not all the time. Just when I feel it is a better way of doing things.

Hi @jb1 !

Thanks for the griffin powermate USB knob, also well-reviewed by SOS (link below) as well as yourself. They mention no fader controlling with it … is that accurate?

50 Smart Studio Buys (soundonsound.com)

They also review a Novation Baby Nocturn … looks interesting as well, I’ll at least look at that as well.

Assuming either of these are still available … that review was from 2009!

Thanks again -

I’ve been using the Microsoft Dial with Elephant. The Elephant code writer said he’d fixed the disconnecting issue. Mine works well for a long time before it does seem to disconnect sometimes, requiring a reboot of the software. I still haven’t quite gotten a sense of what is happening. Hope I can figure it out and and make it work well, as when it does, it is golden. Will post on their website and see …

More testing with Elephant and the Microsoft Dial today, including letting it be idle for a full half hour between editing in Cubase.

As far as I can tell, it works great! This post is a full-throated endorsement to date of using this as a controller in Cubase, as below:

Just simply point the arrow at a dial, or fader, or slider (horizontal or vertical), or alphanumeric entry ( (like in the info line, “Start” , “Value”; or in the Transport Panel like punch in/out values, etc.) - rotating the Surface Dial then very smoothly changes the value. No clicking involved, no mapping involved, it’s as simple as that. The Surface Dial rotation is very smooth and solid-feeling, it seems to be manufactured very well.

If it fritzes out in use later I’ll post back, but as of now it’s ease of use and functionality is almost mind blowing.

I’m using it with a Kensington track ball whose scroller ring is awkward and even a little painful to spin, with Cubase 11.0.30 in W10 on an old and borderline underpowered computer.

In the attached vid, I start out by bringing up the control panel just for viewing purposes, then I make some changes in a Cubase project made by rotating the Surface Dial. There is no mouse clicking involved at all.

You’ll also see that rotating the dial seems like it can also act as a mouse “clicker”, as demonstrated in the Listen “LE” on/off action, but it almost seems a little fiddly with that, but maybe that’s just me, I haven’t tried that much.

The ability to do this well without extensive mapping ahead of time, or having to scroll through multiple banks of displays like some hardware units require, is why I plan to continue to use this.

FWIW:

  1. In Elephant’s control panel I ticked “Touchpad/Trackball” on, Selected “Combined Mode” in the dropdown and clicked “On Dial Click Always Return To:” on as well, and saved that as a template.
  2. I set “Middle Button” to “Scroll”, Xtra Button 1 to “Horiz”, and Xtra Button 2 to “Vertical”.
  3. The setup explanations and directions are important to review (they pop up during installation). They are written by a non-English speaker and there is also a rewritten in better English version available as well.
  4. There is an entire “MIDI Mode” functionality as well, which I have not tried.
  5. There are Hotkeys as well, which I have not set up.
  6. Elephant software cost me $9.99, Microsoft Dial about $99 (US)
  7. In the vid there is a little yellow circle that appears whenever I rotate the Dial. That’s an artifact of the vid, it doesn’t appear in real life.
  8. I’m just noticing the vid is too big (4MB limit for this forum), so I guess I’ll try to break it in two and put part on this post (showing it in action), and part on the next (showing the control panel).
  9. I think the reason maybe it seemed to me to be flaky before is because after using it in Cubase for a while I would then move to another application (like youtube, etc.) and try to use it there. Since then I have turned Elephant off in Task Manager when I’m done with it in Cubase, and I’ve had zero weird behavior in Cubase using Elephant and the Surface Dial. Also, I think I may have not completed an Elephant registration page - once I did that, everything seemed to work well.
  10. - Elephant User Guide - SaveTheHuman5

Elephant Control panel as I have set it up in vid below.

The desk space needed for the hardware to make all this work: a cylinder with diameter about 2 inches across, and about 1 inch high (these are the approximate dimensions of the Surface Dial).

So far, so great, I’ll post if anything happens to change my opinion.

:slight_smile:

PS: Old review by Robin Vincent, may not be fully up to date, but shows Elephant’s functionality nicely as it was at the time (very similar, at least, to now, in my experience, except apparently at that time you had to click and hold for the Surface to work): Surface Dial transformed into a MIDI Controller with Elephant - YouTube

Here’s a vid showing MIDI note manipulation using Elephant + Surface Dial. Changing the beginning and end times of the MIDI notes is done just with scrolling the Dial. Moving the notes up/down and left/right is done using the Dial in combination with some hot keys.

First caveat here: Scrolling the project window itself can cause problems - if the mouse pointer happens to be on an automation lane, scrolling the Dial can add an automation point and change the value.

It seems, as far as I can figure out, the reason is that the Dial in combination with Elephant seems to send a “click” command as it starts scrolling.

That may be something that can be fixed in the control panel, I am talking with the developer about that. For that reason I’m not using the Microsoft Dial to scroll the project window itself for now … hopefully it can be fixed with a setting change in the control panel.

Other than that - I couldn’t be happier. No MCU-type mapping of dials/sliders/buttons in Cubase - just point the mouse and turn the Dial. Amazing!

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Just brought hot keys into the mix: Surface Dial as a control surface using Elephant software. Here I’m using the hotkeys for Horizontal Scroll and Vertical Scroll to move an EQ node around.

All I’m doing is pointing the arrow at the node, and twirling the Surface Dial. No mapping or anything liking that involved at all, no mouse clicking. In the immortal words of Charles Holley: “It’s so easy”!

Still super happy using Microsoft Dial plus Elephant software as a controller for Cubase, removing the need to use my mouse scroller to change values in faders, knobs, vertical sliders, horizontal sliders, “node points” (for example, EQ nodes), etc.

Two niggles to report:

  1. I scroll within the Project Window only with Cubase. Using the Dial to do that episodically changes settings on tracks being scrolled over. Not sure why, but it seems the Dial may be sending out a click signal before scrolling …?

  2. I don’t use it during tracking: there’s rarely a noticeable small time lag between turning the Dial and seeing a response, associated with a larger change in the controller value than I’m looking for. That’s not a problem while mixing (especially now that I’ve set up the middle mouse button to mimic the SHIFT-scroll Cubase behavior that allows finer control over the parameter), but I don’t want to be distracted with that during tracking.

If anyone has any experience with these things/helpful suggestions, please pass them along :slight_smile:

The behavior with the “click down” you are talking about is by design.
It is the only way to grab any control you hoover over as soon as you dial.
So it is probably not the right tool for scrolling cubase project or mixer windows.
For that, you would have to be really careful where you put the wheel.

What this software actually does “on dial” is send these series of commands: First “hide mouse”, then “mouse click down and hold”, and then “move up and right” (on clockwise dial) or “move down and left” (on counterclockwise dial).
As soon as you stop dialing, it will send “release mouse”, “restore previous mouse position” and then “reveal mouse”.

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Thank you for that info, @jb1 . After thinking hard about it I had assumed that was what happened, it’s nice to hear someone knowledgeable like you confirm that :slight_smile:

What’s interesting is that there is an Elephant hot key for “scroll”. I activated that one initially, but have since replaced it with another function since in my hand scrolling in the Project Window and MixConsole is too fraught with inadvertent parameter changes, as mentioned (i.e., in those situations the Microsoft Dial + Elephant don’t enhance the standard mouse wheel experience).

I’m still very happy with the ability to change every fader, dial, and node on the screen, and even to scroll in the MixConsole (for MixConsole use, placing my mouse pointer carefully first, just like always) without having to use my mouse scroll wheel!

Another little niggle I’ve kind of noticed is that if the Microsoft Dial hasn’t been twirled in a while the first twirl won’t change a parameter until it “wakes up” the Dial, and that takes a moment or two.

That’s not a problem, IMO, when doing a lot of fader changes, except for the very first change made (and only if the Dial hasn’t been twirled in a while).

Some more things I’m going to see if Microsoft Dial + Elephant can control:

  1. Dragging a volume handle up and down (the kind of handle one gets when clicking on two automation points, or at the top middle of an audio segment)
  2. The little blue dots that the Draw Tool creates for volume adjustment at the top edge of an audio segment

As I explained to you before the “going to sleep” (a bluetooth energy saving protocol) after not touching the dial for a while is the reason why I switched to an usb wired solution (Griffin powermate).
I created an autohotkey script that has two “modes”: mouse up: powermate mimics mousewheel. Mouse down and hold down: powermate mimics elephant behaviour. And yes this is a two hand behaviour. But you must move to a control with our mouse anyway. And then I can simply choose to click and hold it or not.

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So far, after a couple of weeks of use, I think the greatest help of the Microsoft Dial + Elephant software combination is in Writing automation while the project is playing.

I find when the project is playing, the degree of Dial+ Elephant control is much better than dragging a mouse or spinning a scroll wheel.

For most other situations - muscle memory makes it hard for me to break the habit of using my mouse … still working through deciding when/where Dial+ Elephant will be my go to controller, as opposed to staying with the Kensington Trackball.