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Kriky

Aaton Cantar X3 user feedback?

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I'm considering purchasing a X3 in the near future. I was wondering if X3 users can give some of their feed back on real life experience with the X3.

Pros and Cons? 

It would be greatly appreciated to know how people are getting along with it.

Thanks!

Kriky

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I've already order one , unless you are buying from somewhere that has them as a stock item be prepared for a long wait. Ordered from Aaton and paid deposit at end of October, the latest news is end of February delivery.

Myk.

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Ive been interested too.

I'm told at LSC with a 5k deposit, current delivery time is May 2016

one of my main concerns is if I'm just running an X3 standalone [with no mixer] is a viable full backup if it goes down...its easy to have a backup 788 in case of failure.I cant afford 2 Cantar's.

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I'm aware of the delivery options out there. I'm just curious what users are experiencing. What they like and dislike about it. From what I can tell there is very little to dislike thought I'm sure there are folks that might have a difference of opinion. 

Anyway, was hoping to get some pros and cons on the recorder from its users.

Thanks

Kriky

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Could X3 users also report on bags they are using . I'm holding back on a bag until I see some feedback on what works or doesn't with the Aaton one. Currently I use a Ktek bag with my X2.

Myk

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On December 22, 2015 at 10:47 AM, roundbadge said:

Ive been interested too.

I'm told at LSC with a 5k deposit, current delivery time is May 2016

one of my main concerns is if I'm just running an X3 standalone [with no mixer] is a viable full backup if it goes down...its easy to have a backup 788 in case of failure.I cant afford 2 Cantar's.

I really like having two identical main recorders, thus, although it is kind of a luxury, really.  If you are really down with a Cantar then your back up could be something simpler with a stash of Appropriate Cables, of course.  In truth I haven't heard of real world Cantar crashes or hangs etc much, but there is always the possibility of theft or externally caused damage etc, as well as the coolness of being able to fire up a 2nd machine for more tracks or other tricks.  This last is why I sat YAY to SD C-Link and BOO to the 6xx series not having this feature.

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This last is why I sat YAY to SD C-Link and BOO to the 6xx series not having this feature.

Absolutely agree. And it's one of many reasons why I'm waiting (and hoping) for the successor to the 788T

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It's good to see you exploring the X3, Kriky. I interpret that as meaning that you are enjoying good work opportunities as a Cantar is not a minor purchase. I would also be interested in hearing about experience with the new recorder although the likelihood that I would purchase another recorder at this time is very remote.

As to the idea of having two matching recorders - it's a nice thought but one would have to be working one big tentpole picture after another to justify that. But I think Kriky already has an X2 and that ought to be a reasonable back-up machine. At eight tracks, it doesn't have quite the capability of the new machine but, given the Cantar's track record for reliability, it ought to be a suitable back-up.

David

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1 hour ago, Constantin said:

Absolutely agree. And it's one of many reasons why I'm waiting (and hoping) for the successor to the 788T

Is anybody worried that the 688 (6 series) recorder IS the successor to the 788T? My hunch is that there may not be another 7 series recorder --- what we might see from Sound Devices would be a re-vamped 970 (9 series?) cart only recorder with a hardware interface, digital mix engine and mic preamps (all things lacking in the current 970).

Regarding matching recorders as backup, I think you all know how I feel about any discussion of backup --- what event or scenario on the job are we trying to protect? I remember asking Bill Kaplan why he was using two Fostex recorders in parallel on his cart: he said, simply, one of them will fail so he will be sure he has a backup. I found this ridiculous (but of course I had long ago stopped using ANY recorder Fostex made). In the Nagra days, I always had a second (identical) recorder on the truck, just to protect the job if the primary Nagra got damaged, stolen, etc., and, of course, for that incredibly rare chance that something might go wrong with the machine. During the DAT era, I did run two recorders in parallel --- first it was a Nagra because the DAT format had not proven itself, then later it was a second DAT machine because the format HAD proven itself to not be totally reliable! Once I was comfortable with the Deva, I never felt the need for a backup recorder on the cart (but did always have some recorder, not necessarily identical, on the truck).

I think if the Cantar has already proven itself, for you, to be totally reliable, you are not faced with having to have two identical Cantar X-3s in your kit. As long as you have some means to carry on with the work should your new Cantar X-3 have a problem, it seems that you would be covered.

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Hey David.

I used to have an X1. I'm currently using a Cooper, Deva 5.8 and a 788t. I want to move away from the cooper and the Deva 5.8 for higher track count. I'll replace the cooper and deva 5.8 with the a X3/Canteram 2. Looking to the future I would like to ultimately have (when and if they are released) a Dante enabled Lectro Venue system with a X3 and 970 for a back-up system. I will keep my 788t/CL8 for those small over the should moments or as a SFX recorder. 

I think the 688/CL12 is an impressive machine for the $$ but to be honest $20k to me, if I get 10+ years out of the recorder, is really only one week of equipment rental per year for the 10 years. It's the initial cost that makes it seem so steep.

Kriky

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One doesn't need to be on tentpole movies to feel the need for backup.  Digital recorders (well, not the Cantar) are so much cheaper than Nagras were that it seems like that not having some back up would be a tough case to make to a producer if there was damage or theft (I'm not impuning anyone's recorder here, I'm talking about externally imposed issues).  I'm also not talking about rolling two machines at once, at least most of the time--just having a backup solution in your suitcase for just in case.  In addition, I like being able to have recorders in two places at once (jam synced)--that has proven very handy many times over the years.

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but to be honest $20k to me, if I get 10+ years out of the recorder, is really only one week of equipment rental per year for the 10 years. It's the initial cost that makes it seem so steep.

 

I completely agree . I bought my X1 10 years ago , even with upgrading it to the X2 and using Aaton batteries it has only cost me 2 weeks gear hire per year and it is still my current recorder. I'm upgrading to an X3 for the extra tracks etc but the X2 will remain as backup and quick over shoulder recorder.

Myk

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Is anybody worried that the 688 (6 series) recorder IS the successor to the 788T? My hunch is that there may not be another 7 series recorder --- what we might see from Sound Devices would be a re-vamped 970 (9 series?) cart only recorder with a hardware interface, digital mix engine and mic preamps (all things lacking in the current 970).

Yes, I am worried about that. But a revamped 970 as you describe it, would be perfect for me, so I would accept that as a successor.

With regards to backup: I have two 788Ts, one on the cart and one in a bag (in my car), which also holds a few wireless receivers and some other things. So this serves as a full backup, but also works for cars and situations where high mobility or small footprint are required.

I actually have a third 788T at home should something happen to my car.

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I don't run two machines on the cart. Haven't done in years. I used to have a 2nd 788T as a redundant back-up and, like Constantin, it was in a bag with portable receivers, etc. That 2nd 788T has now been replaced with a 664, which I think is a great machine, and can easily serve to back up my 788T if needed. It has streamline my bag, which has allowed me to buy some nice batteries, which has further streamlined my portable rig.

I think if someone were to buy an X3, having a reasonable back-up on the truck would be more than enough. Problem with an interface versus a stand-alone mixer is compatibility. But if Kriky were to keep his 788T/CL-8 for bag stuff, he could easily get a Cl-9 in a hurry of the Cantar went down.

I think I'm likely going to hang on as long as possible to see if a dream unit from SD shows up like Jeff describes, a Cl-12 with inputs and gain control and a single cable out to a 970-type recorder (dare I say built in with external monitoring). I know, there's something like that coming eventually from another manufacturer, but I was hoping for something smaller and simpler with an SD logo on it :-)

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I'm not an X3 owner yet, happy with my X2, but for the backup question...  I am working on a proper cart for 2016 - and feel that I'm going to run a Boom Recorder setup which will be my live backup and for the potential occasion that I need more than 8 recording tracks.  I like the idea of a computer based setup, but fear the field reliability and tweakiness of it.  Parallel X2 / Boom Recorder approach keeps 1 foot solidly in the old, and 1 in the new allowing me a safety net to explore the ups and downs of running a computer in the field - for the time being, not in a mission critical way.  As soon as there is a need, an X3 would replace the X2, but for now happy to casually watch from the sidelines.

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22 hours ago, Jeff Wexler said:

Is anybody worried that the 688 (6 series) recorder IS the successor to the 788T? My hunch is that there may not be another 7 series recorder --- what we might see from Sound Devices would be a re-vamped 970 (9 series?) cart only recorder with a hardware interface, digital mix engine and mic preamps (all things lacking in the current 970).

I feel the same but I am still hopeful that it might not be true because I really don't see myself buying a 6 series ever which means its soon time to move over to another company, a new Cantar would be dreamy. 

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hello Kriky,

I had posted some early real life experience here: http://jwsoundgroup.net/index.php?/topic/20583-aaton-cantar-x3-launch/&page=12#comment-294701

here is the update:

My X3 (#16, from the very first batch)  had a problem with heat dissipation that turned up after 2 weeks of use, right after writing the above mentioned post and led to a number of intermittent errors and system freezes. Aaton was very responsive to my recorder problem and guided me through troubleshooting and diagnostics. They called the recorder back to the factory when it turned out, that it was definitely a hardware malfunction. Although they were under pressure and delayed in their delivery schedule for other customers, they instantly provided me with a spare demo/prototype X3 machine for the time of the repair for free.

Stability/ Back up recorder:

When I was experiencing the heat dissipation issue, I had to go for a backup recorder several times. I had the choice of Cantar X1 (which fits the footprint of X3, has similar connectors and a comparable arquitecture) and a 788T/CL9 combo. I found myself using the X1 most of the time, only going for the 788 T when I definitely needed a higher track count than X1 could offer.

In the meantime I have sold the 788T and never looked back. I will keep my X1 as a backup or as a primary recorder for documentaries and simpler projects. It is good to know that my 11 year old X1 fits in the same bag and sports the same connectors on the input side. But I was lucky never to need a replacement for the X3 once the first thermal issue had been settled.

I've been working with my #16 X3 for like another 80+ shooting days since then.

Software development is ongoing, and I must say Paul Thilloy has been very responsive to my requests. Good communication.  Simplified metadata handling now already comes quite close to "quick, easy and elegant", X3 got a powerful and visually comprehensive EQ, delay per channel...  + many small, well thought, user friendly features.There are still some hardware features that are not yet adressed in software (I wonder what the SDI input is for, there are wifi and bluetooth connections that will come to life some day...)

working experience:

- X3 for me is a real all-in-one Solution. Add microphones and as many radios as you need, connect your IFBs and I don't see the need for the big mixing console any more. Also the output options are multiple, you can create submixes pre or post fader, even control a playback unit volume on a linear fader in-to-out without the need to record it to a track. The linear faders are smooth and tactile, if 10 are not enough connect a Cantarem 2 and control up to 22 tracks and/or inputs and/or outputs with smooth magnetic linear faders.

- screen: The screen is real big and ultra bright. With a setting of  "25"  the display is already sunlight readable. Brightness values range from 15 (min) to 256 (max). No further interface (iPad, phone, netbook or whatever) is needed. Add a wireless keyboard for 20 $ and type metadata directly into your files, the display always lets you keep the overview of what you are doing. There is lots of comprehensive information layed out. All track meters + relevant info are displayed on the standard screen. Each meter features the track level, name, phase + limiter settings + fader values for the actual mixdown situation. If you are mixing with the onboard faders, your hands will hide parts of the display, but if needed you can actually view all parameters without taking your fingers from the faders. The glossy display is quite receptive to fingerprints and all kinds of stains, so keep the microfibre cloth at hand somewhere on your cart.

- Input, track and output settings are quickly changed with the press of dedicated buttons, also track arm/disarm, same logic as with X1/X2 applied. Disarmed tracks cannot be monitored, so no risk of listing to something you do not record. The backlight of the track-solo buttons inidicates on first glimpse which tracks are armed at the moment.

Input to track routing follows a new matrix based principle, is easy to overview. Numerous presets can be made and switched through in an instant.  The track layout can be freely chosen (mix on 1+2 is standard for me). Switch through your presets also for any output on the fly, even while recording, a charm. Let the director listen to your playback? Let the first boom op have the second boom mic also in his IFB? A hidden cue line for the first AD? Two buttons and it is there on the fly (supposed you have made a preset before). ALL important functions are in reach within the consecutive press of maximum two buttons. Menus are needed for basic project and recorder setup only.

- File naming/numbering is as quickly done as with Cantar X1/X2. There are the same T-P-W-A-N take designators, now including  R for rehearsal and G for guide track. If you missed the correct slate number, it takes about 3 seconds to rename the last take. You can add comments very easy, but also type in some comments in advance. You got two lines for that, one for "sticky" notes that will show up in all future takes until the entry is changed or deleted, and another for comments regarding the next take only. Very clever feature.

- The file browser (for already recorded files) is clearly arranged, all previous takes (including comments!) are displayed in a scrollable list.  Metadata can be changed post record very easily, this also works for any previous files (not only the last file) Browse through the list, hit OK at some point and you are right within the metadata screen of the file that was highlighted on passing over it.  Renaming any entry (like a a certain track name) within a batch of consecutive takes is as easy as renaming the track in the last take only, the actual metadata exchange happens very quickly and does not lock up the recorder in any way.

- Playback engine: The biggest PRO of Cantar X3 (imho). The screen features a waveform view in playback mode. The waveform adapts to the selection of the tracks you are listening to, including the option to use the track solo buttons on the fly during playback (!). With the big hardware scroll wheel you can move the playhead. Look and feel of the playback engine gets closer to an NLE workstation than to a classic HDD recorder.

So if there is a doubt about a rustling Lav within a certain line or if a dialogue overlap could be worked out in post, it is a matter of 5 seconds to start Playback, press the respective track solo, see in the waveform where the character's lines takes place and move the playhead right there. And go back and forth moving over the spot again, do it on different tracks, on the whole mix. This takes NO time. Whenever it is really imporant, I can announce a "hold it for 15 seconds" immediately after "cut", listen to the critical point,  give an OK or ask for another take or wild line BEFORE concentration is gone and a new camera setup is being announced.  Big Plus for me.

You also can remix your ISOs during playback. Until now this works for phones/outputs only and is not yet available for re-doing your mix tracks, but that should be implemented in some future software release with the whole play+rec feature that was promised (but is still pending software wise). 

- media: a 256 GB SSD (with an interface modification, don't think of buying your own), and 2 SD slots behave reliable. I am using sandisk extreme pro cards and have not had one issue.There is also a USB2 port which I have never used.  It is mandatory to record mono WAVs to at least one media, you can chose freely for the rest. I work with mono WAVs on the SDD, poly WAVS on SD 1 to hand in and mono WAVS to SD 2 which I use for backing up to my computer. There are also options to record MP3s for transcription, and some more format choices. All file writing happens in real time during record, although the latest software also features an "idle copy" choice for very slow media.

- Sound report: Choice of ALE, PDF or both. You can chose which info goes to the PDF reports and customize the layout to a certain degree (the layout choices could still be improved imho) Reports are generated any time with one button press from the file browser view, one for each media. PDF and ALE generation takes like under 30 seconds for a whole shooting day with 3 media. Press the button and you are done, can hand in the media. On the last project the assistant editor loved the ALE reports that provided easy direct metadata ingestion into the AVID

- Audio quality: The preamps are top notch, but I must confess that I mainly rely on Lectrosonics mic preamps for the wireless booms and LAV mikes. What I can tell is that the headphone amp has been improved (compared to X1) and the input gain range was increased by a few dB. Inputs are very quiet. I love the limiters (unchanged from X1/X2)  and use them. 

Hardware:

The physical build quality is outstanding. Every knob, fader, pot or selector seems to be made without compromise for  long term endurance. Aaton has followed the path from previous Cantar models and also reacted to some former shortcomings. I regret that the side scroll wheel does not click anymore like it did with Cantar X1/X2, but this seems due to a more robust (and less mechanical) construction compared to those previous models. All top surface actuators are sealed and are said to be spray and rain proof (I did only very moderate tests).

The Mic input pots are sealed, they sport a special ball beared magnetic transmission from the outside to the inside of the housing and they act ultra precise. But they feature lilac plastic covers. There might exist some people, who like the color. What really should be improved in a future hardware generation is that the pots now can be turned too easily, without showing a proper resistence. I found myself several times having changed some input gain unwillingly like with the sleeve of my coat.

I still regret that they saved space on skipping the analog line input pots. I got myself a slim 4 channel Kortwich preamp which lives inside my bag, just to be able to adjust some gain on the line inputs or quickly turn down the input of a wired actor who is hanging on the phone somewhere, because he was told the last second he would not be in frame. With the additional faders of a Cantarem 2 you could adress the line input levels to any linear faders though.

Bag:

My all-in-one approach goes very far, so I keep all receivers, batteries, IFBs and the recorder inside a big bag, that folds up for easy access on the cart, but can be lumped together to work over the shoulder with all pots and faders still accessible. Two BNC antenna connections are the only recabling required when leaving the cart and hopping inside a car or climbing up to a roof. Even the keyboard can be carried inside the external pocket, so the recorder remains fully functional in an over the shoulder (or better over the chair) setup. The full monty (with a loaded Octopack, 2 x 411 receivers, a Kortwich preamp, 2 or 3 G2 Senns for IFB, 2 x NP1 Batteries, bag, headphones ... weighs no less than 13 kilos, it is Ok to carry it up the ladder, but then you should put the bag down somewhere ;-)

This bag was custom made by Kortwich in Berlin. It is great craftsmanship, and got some extra gimmicks I did not even ask for, but they did not adopt my suggstion for the folding principle and so the handling became more complicated than necessary.

But they now do have a working model for a Cantar X3 bag and took all the measures of my machine. And yes, you can freely access ALL knobs and faders even if the bag is modelled for over the shoulder work only. Feel free to call them ;-) their quality is outstanding.

Heat/Power:

Although the heat dissipation problem on my X3 has been repaired and I was having no more issues, the machine still gets hot in warm environments, especially inside the bag. It is also much more power hungry than previous Cantar models. In a typical 13h day it consumes like 300+ Whs of 14V DC current, almost three times more than my old Cantar X1. This is well within limits compared to other recorders, 788T would take almost the same and also get very hot, but compared to the old Cantars there you can feel the effects of the enhanced CPU and DSP power of the machine. I am still monitoring the temperature on the display in warm environments and do not let my X3 stand in the direct sunlight in summer. Maybe this is ultra careful, but I had that issue...

The internal batteries are "smart", which means they provide some useful information and can calculate the remaining runtime on the basis of the actual current demand. They are lightweight (+) but difficult to exchange inside a bag. You cannot decide which of the two batteries is used, X3 always will drain the left battery until it is empty and then switch over to the right, which I find is not a very intelligent asset. Aaton says this is a hardware requirement and can not be changed. The recorder runs about 4+ hours using both onboard batteries in a typical, not too power hungry setup (like 8-12 tracks, all digital power turned off, no phantom needed).  In real life I power my X3 from LiIon NP1, which fit inside the bag and are quick and easy to exchange. I use the internal batts for backup only.
 

conclusion: If you could not read it between the lines: I love the X3 and I think it is the best recording device available for my all-in-one approach. I guess a life span of 10 years is a realistic assumption,  possible features of the recorder that are already bades in the hardware have not even been developed yet.

 

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Great review and yes I read between the lines. It is exactly what I was hoping for from a user of the X3. I appreciate you taking the time to write up a well detailed description of your experience. Your review confirms my perception of the X3 and I suspect I will be placing an order for one in the near future.

Thanks!

Kriky

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On December 23, 2015 at 4:17 PM, Myk Farmer said:

...but to be honest $20k to me, if I get 10+ years out of the recorder, is really only one week of equipment rental per year for the 10 years. It's the initial cost that makes it seem so steep...

The Cantar X3 price is based on the euro, which is currently very weak compared to the US dollar, which brings down the US price considerably. The most recent X3 sold at Trew Audio (last week) was well under US$17k. This price can be even lower, depending on options such as third battery and Dante.

I'll also add that Aaton factory support has been stellar, with regards to prompt replies, software revisions, and implementing user suggestions to accommodate US style workflow.

Glen Trew

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1 hour ago, Glen Trew said:

The Cantar X3 price is based on the euro, which is currently very weak compared to the US dollar, which brings down the US price considerably. The most recent X3 sold at Trew Audio (last week) was well under US$17k. 

We like that indeed! :-)

To clarify on when I mention $20k I was also including the Canteram II as part of the pricing. I still don't think it's expensive for what the machine can do. Folks will spend that much on a Sonasax mixer alone. We have options into today's market and plenty of choices for all levels of sound recording which is a great thing. 

Kriky

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Wow, this really is a very enticing machine. Thank you Axel for your in-depth report, which was better than any ad could be, but with the same effect (I don't mean this negative at all, I just read: "I want this" everywhere. Which is what a good ad should achieve).

Do you Axel, or does anyone here have any insight on another, bigger, mixing panel? I seem to have read sonewhere that a bigger panel was in the works, but can't find anything now. Thanks

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On December 23, 2015 at 11:44 AM, Philip Perkins said:

I really like having two identical main recorders, thus, although it is kind of a luxury, really.  If you are really down with a Cantar then your back up could be something simpler with a stash of Appropriate Cables, of course.  In truth I haven't heard of real world Cantar crashes or hangs etc much, but there is always the possibility of theft or externally caused damage etc, as well as the coolness of being able to fire up a 2nd machine for more tracks or other tricks.  This last is why I sat YAY to SD C-Link and BOO to the 6xx series not having this feature.

I agree with two identical recorders.  Make life a whole lot easier.

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no prob Constantin. Why do I do this? - you can check any reason, they are all true: 

If somebody opts for one expensive product and discards others, he will try to justify that decision. 

first time I worked on a Cantar was in 2004 and I bought a used one in 2007. I have owned and worked on other brands too, but I like that stubborn Aaton (also Sonosax) quality approach. It is more satisfying to work with good tools. 

Companies like Aaton produce in small numbers, which is not very economical, and they have to keep their claim very high to be able to survive on the market.  Part of that claim shines back on you, if you work with that gear, ... or write reviews 

(Same thing if you drive a Rolls Royce, but an X3 is way cheaper... )

I really had waited for that machine for a long time, it was announced in 2013 and it was delivered (delayed) in May 2015. I had to start a demanding project intended for X3 with a different recorder, switched the whole setup over to X3 during a weekend break, made my first steps and then it turned out to have hardware problems, had to go back to factory. So you have to decide at some point if you love it or hate it. There is nothing in between. 

I still have some more wishes for the software development. If I can help Aaton with their reputation, they might consider my suggestions a little sooner (many of them have already been realized)

 

Constantin, I am not affiliated with Aaton for any other than the above reasons

sorry, if you speak of the mixer panel for the X3, it is called Cantarem2 and provides 12 additional faders, so it makes for 22 faders in total. 

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