Best DAW setup for visually impaired noisenik?
November 20, 2016 12:13 PM   Subscribe

What's the best way to make electronic music when you can't see very much?

I've tried various DAWs over the years I've had limited sight, and none of them have been usable. The overriding problem is that I can only read text or see details of controls if they're a certain size or bigger, high contrast and with certain colour combinations. Fonts also make a big difference. Music software in general (hell, software in general) does not make these things customizable, and often has very closely packed skeuomorphic controls that are very hard to work with, menu structures I can't read, and so on. And they don't work well, if at all, with lower screen resolutions. Trying to use a screen magnifier across what is basically a full-screen interface is also deeply unpleasant, I have odd peripheral vision issues that muck up my pattern recognition, and screen mags seem to make that worse.

I've done some research, although as usual with accessibility the data is widely scattered so I may well have missed a good resource, but most of what's out there is about using speech synthesis for totally blind users, which is an option, but as I have some sight left and know I can do quite a lot with the right configurations, I'd rather not.

So - my ideal DAW would either have a large, simple interface or a highly customisable one, work across multiple screens and low resolutions sensibly, and have some visual help for plug-ins. Putting as much functionality onto a control surface is a must, too. I'm mostly interested in recording a mix of analogue synths, abused samples, digital rhythms and so on rather than any particular genre.

Platform agnostic - I have Linux and Windows, but if the star prize means a Mac then so be it. I don't care if it runs on a smartwatch, if it lets me make my experimental sonics.

Any suggestions?
posted by Devonian to Technology (6 answers total)
I can't speak for how accessible Reaper is by default, but I know it has extremely robust support for new themes and interface customization so it may be worth looking in to if there are any themes that would help you.
posted by Itaxpica at 12:18 PM on November 20, 2016

Ableton Live's native display is entirely vector-based, and there's a setting in the preferences that lets you bump up the scaling factor all the way to 200%. It also has a variety of themes included and I'm pretty sure you can download more. I've made an imgur gallery of the UI at 100%, 200%, and with a few different color themes, if that's helpful at all.

Ableton's native plugins and instruments will all scale nicely with that. They're very good and will handle the bread-and-butter sampling/reverb/delay/compression/distortion stuff with no problems at all. You can also map Ableton controls to a most control surfaces—there are lots of mappings circulating around, and you can make your own for anything that uses Midi CC, with a little bit of patience.

That said, any third-party plugins you end up using won't be able to take advantage of the scaling, so using them will probably always be a chore.
posted by Sokka shot first at 12:27 PM on November 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

Have you considered an Analog Audio Workstation? You know, a big-ass old mixer and a good tape deck?

There is a Reaper theme that is highly recommended for persons with eyestrain; maybe it would work for you.
posted by BrunoLatourFanclub at 1:21 PM on November 20, 2016

Seconding Ableton Live. It has high contrast color themes, as well. It also handles control surface mapping very well automatically, and it's also easy and intuitive to map most anything to knobs, sliders, and buttons yourself.
posted by destructive cactus at 1:25 PM on November 20, 2016

I just bought a new 55" vizio 4k uhd cinema display for $599, thinking it would just be my tv. It turns out that with an hdmi cable, it works great as a huge monitor. It basically allows me to display the equivalent of six laptop screens in one. You could use any daw at that size, and I bet you'd be good.
posted by umbĂș at 9:35 AM on November 21, 2016

Thanks for the suggestions. I'll see what Ableton looks like, and I have a Reaper-toting pal who is unfortunately quite some distance from me but who I see occasionally, so I'll try and get a look at the high contrast UI.

I have an HDMI HD projector that I sometimes use, but I normally go back to my 27" Samsung monitor - really big screens sound fab in theory, but my usable vision is restricted to quite a small patch which has to be quite close, so i end up bobbing my head around like a courting heron. Disabilities can be engagingly idiosyncratic.

The idea of doin' it old-skool has much charm, as I grew up during the Age of Tascam/Fostex portastudios, but I'm just not punk enough for that. Besides, I can wrangle Audacity if I keep it simple and just want to layer different sounds on top of each other. Which I do, and I do.

I have high hopes that Ableton's vector-based UI will be just the thing. Thanks for the screenshots, Sokka shot first, they are very much appreciated.

Forwards into the murk!
posted by Devonian at 7:51 AM on November 22, 2016

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