Fractal Audio Systems MFC-101 MIDI Foot Controller

February 8, 2012
The MFC-101 was designed as the ideal foot controller for the Fractal Audio Systems Axe-Fx Standard, Axe-Fx Ultra, and Axe-Fx II Pre-Amp/Effects Processors— or as a highly versatile controller for other MIDI devices. The relatively compact unit is constructed of 16-gauge steel and sports 21 metal footswitches. A 20-character transflective LCD either transmits or reflects light depending on the lighting conditions, making it easy to read in any situation. There are also jacks for four external footswitches and four expression pedals (all optional), along with MIDI In and Out jacks. The MFC-101 may be powered with the included adapter, either directly or phantom- style via a 7-pin MIDI cable when the adapter is connected to an Axe-Fx Standard or Ultra. When used with an Axe-Fx II, the MFC-101 receives power and transmits data over a standard Ethernet cable rather than a MIDI cable, and no AC adapter is necessary.

The MFC-101 is essentially “plug-andplay” when connected to any of the three Axe-Fx models and set to operate in the proprietary Axe-Fx Mode (though there are still lots of customization options to meet specific needs). Preset names, parameter names and values, and other information is automatically ported over from an Axe-Fx to the MFC-101, and displayed in its LCD. And if an Axe- Fx’s onboard Tuner and Tap Tempo functions are active, the Tuner will appear in the LCD and an LED will flash in time with the current tempo. The MFC-101’s LEDs also change color to indicate the status of effects assigned to the individual footswitches (red when bypassed and green when active). When not set to Axe-Fx Mode, the MFC-101 functions as a general-purpose MIDI controller— but a very robust and sophisticated one, capable of being configured to handle nearly every conceivable task.

The MFC-101 contains 384 internal Presets, which may be organized into Banks, Songs (100), and Set Lists (ten with as many as 50 Songs each). Each Preset can transmit multiple Program, Bank, and/or other Control Change messages, as well as custom MIDI information, with the press of a single switch. Tapping a Preset switch a second time can load an alternate preset, a global preset, back track, or do nothing depending on the setting. Alternatively, the 17 programmable switches may be configured to function as Instant Access (IA) switches, and used for tasks such as switching individual effects in and out as on a conventional pedalboard, and toggling between two settings, as well as simultaneously transmitting a variety of MIDI messages.

You can organize the MFC-101’s programmable switches into any division of Preset and IA switches. The default setting is five Preset switches (1-5) and 12 IA switches (6-17), resulting in five Presets per Bank. There’s also an ingenious Reveal switch that toggles all of the Preset switches to “hidden” IA switches collectively, resulting in even more programmable switches. Further, the on/off status of each IA switch is stored and recalled in Presets, so that only the effects you want on initially are active when the Preset is loaded.

I tested the MFC-101 with an Axe-Fx Ultra running in Axe-Fx Mode—and thanks to the one-page Quick Start Guide and the clearly written Owner’s Manual, modifying the default settings to suit my own preferences was a breeze. I wanted to have lots of IA switches, and I typically don’t use more than one Preset per song, so I configured the MFC-101 to have 0 Preset switches and 17 IA switches per Bank. That meant that I would have to step through Presets incrementally using the Bank Up and Bank Down switches—one Preset per Bank— but in return I’d get enough IA switches to control 17 different types of effects, which is like having a conventional pedalboard loaded with stompboxes for each song. The process required navigating several Edit menus using the MFC-101’s switches to select and alter parameters—but it mostly involved selecting the effects I wanted to assign to particular IA switches from a list, so it only took a few minutes. (A software editor, however, would make things considerably easier, and Fractal Audio has confirmed that one is in development for release in 2012.)

I also tested the MFC-101 as a standard MIDI controller with a Looperlative LP1 looping delay by configuring switches 1-5 to control five of the LP1’s basic functions (Record, Play/Stop, Erase, Reverse, and Half-Speed), which was nearly as easy as programming the IA switches in Axe-Fx Mode.

Organizing Presets into Songs and Songs into Set Lists was also a relatively simple process, as was assigning expression pedals and external footswitches to various Axe-Fx functions—and the Copy feature saved a lot of time by letting me use existing Presets, Songs, and Set Lists as templates when creating new Presets, Songs, and Set Lists, as many of the settings were identical.

This short review obviously can’t address more than a few of the MFC-101’s myriad capabilities, but suffice to say that the unit can handle just about anything you throw at it, including controlling multiple processors simultaneously, and there is no better foot controller for use with any of the three Axe-Fx processors. It is likely overkill and somewhat pricey for those whose needs are relatively simple, but professional musicians seeking an ultra-versatile and fully roadworthy MIDI foot controller that is continually being updated via firmware, the MFC-101 is an excellent choice and a good value.

Contact Fractal Audio Systems;
Price $749 direct
Kudos Intelligently designed. Ruggedly built. Extraordinarily flexible.
Concerns Too pricey for some users. Labels

Once you have the footswitches on the MFC-101 assigned to Presets or Effects you’ll either need to remember those assignments or label them. U.K.-based provides two-part stock and custom labels for the MFC-101 (and several other MIDI controllers) that consist of magnetic surrounds that fit over each switch, and labels that are inserted into them, making it easy to swap them out. The surrounds have graphic themes such as Fractal Art, Tufnel, and Grunge, and the labels come in regular or Glow-In-the-Dark versions. We tested Custom Glow-In-the-Dark labels inserted into Fractal Art Surrounds (approximately $78 direct total). The labels look great, glowed in the dark, and didn’t come off—but I would have preferred that they grip the metal a little tighter. Fortunately, versions with stronger magnets are in the works, and should be available by the time you read this. —BC

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