Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

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Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by EATyourGUITAR » Thu Jul 23, 2020 9:57 am

I think the growing adoption of digital modules with screens or hidden modes that require a manual every time you use the module has reached a point where we can ask the question. I haven't gone too deep into digital modules myself. I have one module that has 1000 presets. It is hard for me to find the time to try each one in a patch with an honest effort. If you are %100 mutable + O_c + disting + wavetable VCO's how do you even use your modular. Does it fight you? Does it slow you down? Did you make music or is it all learning and reading manuals? I can't imagine this working out for me if I tried it but I am genuinely curious what it is like from the people who have been there. Did you sell it off right after buying? Did you come back to analog? I'm interested in specific examples of what was a bad experience or just not worth the time investment regardless of how awesome a module is to the right user. I'm also not really questioning or discouraging that these digital modules are potentially awesome on paper. I'm sure they are. I'm more concerned about the cumulative effects on a big system purchased all at once for people with little experience or free time.
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by rd45 » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:09 am

i find even Pams to have too much menu - anything more menu-driven than that, and i don't think i could be bothered to learn it

Pams can mostly get away with it though, on account of being mostly set-and-forget for any given patch

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by miles_macquarrie » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:16 am

I don't mind screens if they are intuitive. I really don't like button combos that I have to remember and look up every time I use a module.

I think the screen on the e352 is large and very intuitive and helps you see what is going on.
Pam's screen also is pretty easy to get around on even though it's small.
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by nrrrd » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:23 am

I don't like them, and much prefer knob per parameter modules. I even don't like the Make Noise button combo modules.

I have a mostly Make Noise system, with two digital modules (Echophon and Phonogene). Crucially these two don't have an screens or button combo crazyness. I won't be upgrading my Phonogene to a Morphagene as that does have button combos. I did have a telHarmonic, and the button combos on that drove me mad, so I sold it and bought another STO and built a wavefolder (NLC timbre). Much more fun with hard sync, pinging S-gates and feeding both through the wavefolder. With a glance, you can tell what's going on.

Having lots of little sound computers with their own A/D and D/A converters on the input and output isn't why I got into modular either. I'm sure Mutable modules are great but they have zero appeal to me.

I'm currently looking for a clock module, so I don't have to waste a Maths channel doing just a clock. Pamela's NW looks super powerful but I had a look through the manual and it put me off. Tempi is even more off putting due to the button combo silliness. I think I'll just end up soldering something together from CMOS chips - I'm thinking a voltage controlled master clock with different divisions and phases should be good, like the CGS master clock divider.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by mdoudoroff » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:31 am

I find I dislike screens and menus more and more, and I have become very choosey about which and where I will tolerate them. For example, I don’t terribly mind PNW or Quadigy or Ornament & Crime, because I use them in extremely narrow, set-and-forget ways.

I am not nearly as happy with the E352/E370 menu as miles_macquarrie. For me, it is not a problem with “intuitiveness”, it’s the sheer litany of clicks, turns, and holds required to get anything done, which is over the top. I find these repetitive actions quite stressful, and the click encoder is—generally speaking—my least favorite physical interface. PNW has the exact same sort of menu system as the E352/E370, but I disregard most of its functionality, so I care less.

I recently got a Disting EX, and if I keep it long-term, I have a growing suspicion it will wind up staying in one or two modes only, which is practically an affront to its diverse capabilities. I just don’t think it will ever even occur to me to go hunting through the manual for new ways to employ it.

All that said, I am currently evaluating a Vector, which is heavily screen-oriented and sprouts no fewer than nine click-encoders! On the other hand, it also has a lot of buttons with which to jump immediately around. Are they enough of a concession for me? TBD!

Button combos are another touchy subject with me, but that’s at the other end of the spectrum.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by Michael » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:36 am

I'm not a purist but generally I'm not attracted to modules with menus, button-combo-shift-alt etc. - basically anything that packs in too much/excessive (in my opinion obviously) functionality.

On a related note, I might be alone on this but honestly I find many modules virtually incomprehensible (even without complex menus, screens etc.). There are a lot of really cool things out there but often I'm pretty much lost no matter how many demos I watch or how much documentation I study. Just happened to me again yesterday when I discovered Starling.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by EPTC » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:39 am

mdoudoroff wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:31 am
I recently got a Disting EX, and if I keep it long-term, I have a growing suspicion it will wind up staying in one or two modes only, which is practically an affront to its diverse capabilities.
Yeah, oddly I don't mind blinking LED codes, so Dead Man's Catch on Peaks is my preferred multi-tool to a Disting. I'm able to memorize or recall a set of LEDs much more naturally to know where I'm at. It approximates a menu-free experience.

You could consider DMC to be menu-driven, but breaking it down into groups of blinking sets of LEDS to indicate functions is much more intuitive or natural to me.
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by diggida » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:40 am

I’m pretty anti menu and anti preset in general. I like analog synths because of how they sound, but also how the interfaces inspire me to play and explore. I own countless synth plugins and use very very few of them just because I don’t really like scrolling through presets and using a mouse to play with knobs. I’m new to euro rack, but I’m not drawn to the multifunction modules with menus and hidden features.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by Kattefjaes » Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:45 am

I feel like anything menu-driven really needs to be exceptional to be worth it.

I love Pam's as a set and forget modulation firehose, that's fine. Love Pam's, never a moment's regret. I've had a Disting Mk.4 in the rack for ages, as it's a great "oh shit, I need a..." module for 4 HP, but is never my first port of call if I have a dedicated module free that will do, as I always have to pull up a PDF. Still, I love it for the value it provides, and it's small. It's a Swiss army knife, and they don't always have the best ergonomics. However, the best tool is always the one you have with you. Really nice.

The Disting EX is the alpha and omega of fiddling nightmarish menus. Trying to map a knob to be wet/dry for the tape delay function, I hit this bit of the manual:
The knob scale. These two values let you define the relationship between the knob position
and the value set by the mapping. The value is Offset + K * Scale, where K is a value in the
range [0,1] or [-1,1] (depending on the Uni/Bi setting).
So I then needed to get a pen and paper and do god damned algebra to work out the two sets of values that would be mapped to the knob just so I could fade between wet and dry. Apparently this wasn't the sort of use case that was explicitly catered for.

Wonderfully powerful module, usability nightmare. It's also not completely clear if your presets, configurations or whatever else have really been saved/recalled. It's always a stressful module to use. Where a lot of devices would slightly hide the more abstruse controls and favour the important stuff for usability reasons, the Disting EX sort of... doesn't. It feels more API than UI, if that makes sense.

BUT

BUT

When you get past the abominable interface, it's a thing of majesty and wonder. The SD Multisample player in particular makes me very happy. I had been looking for ages for a Eurorack sample player that could chromatically map a "kit" of samples 1v/oct, and then have them all choke each other, so I could play chopped slices. The Disting EX does this without complaining. So freaking cool. 10/10, would buy again just for this function, it has earned its HP. Expert Sleepers kit can be a bit of a trial to use, but we put up with it because it does some amazing stuff. It's like dealing with the Elder Gods- you'll lose your mind, but see such sights, gain such power. But not everyone likes the tentacles and that's fine.

Hell, even deep UI overloading with modal button combos indicated by rows of LEDs can get a little tiring, if you don't use a module daily so it's almost muscle memory. Anything with markedly more weird key combos than Plaits can lose a lot of the fun and immediacy that made me want to use hardware in the first place. (For the records, Plaits is still a favourite, I can forgive the slightly deep nature deep of Plaits and Marbles due to the sheer elegance... They feel like masterpieces.)

Some stuff definitely benefits from a little screen for some feedback- some sequencers, if you're setting (for example) a note range, it's nice to have a little OLED screen telling you you've selected C2-C5 rather than having you read the runes- even if the rest of the module is massive tactile buttons or knobs. I do love the compromise in the Eloquencer's UI in that respect, that big chunky matrix pattern display is really effective next to a tiny OLED screen for vital info.

However, yes. I do agree that if there is a satisfactory non-divey alternative that will fit in the rack, I'm more likely to choose and use it. In a perfect world, I'd have a wing of my sprawling mansion with a chamber for each modular format and the cash and space for walls of big, single-function analogue building blocks with roomy layouts. Sadly, I've yet to find that I'm heir to the Wayne fortune though, so have to compromise a bit sometimes.

Gratuitous fiddly menu-diving does not bring joy, however.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by Zymos » Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:09 am


I think the growing adoption of digital modules with screens or hidden modes that require a manual every time you use the module ”

These are 2 entirely different issues, IMO. Many modules with screens are simple and obvious to use, because even if they have deep and complicated features, the screen is showing you where you are and what you are doing.
It’s the ones that are both deep and have an uninformative interface that annoy me. When you need to decode a bunch of colored/blinking LEDs, maybe that module would be better off with an actual display.

I feel like the complex, digital modules with screens and menus that I own (Vector, O+C, Structure) have such an abundance of great features and aren’t really that difficult to use. But the majority of my modules are basically knob per function.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by 6667 » Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:13 am

everyone and their mom has an o_c/pam's but those are basically the worst offenders as far as menus go. when i had a pnw when it first came out a couple years ago, i realized it pretty much had to be set and forget for clocking duties, otherwise it felt completely antithetical to why i started using a hardware synth to begin with.

"why am i scrolling a single encoder back and forth to create a rhythm when i could literally click this in on ableton in 2 seconds. my mouse is right in front of me. what am i doing. why am i sitting here dialing in the correct amount of delay/phase for swing when i could just play this in on my maschine and get on with it"

it's completely senseless. same with modules like rossum control forge. its so senseless to force yourself to program in some complex modulation with a single dial, tiny screen and a few buttons when it would be far easier to program it in max or something. when youve abstracted the process of creating something as intuitively simple as swinging a beat to turning a single knob to dial in the right amount of phase offset, youre not making music anymore (or youre intentionally making it difficult for yourself because it feels novel or whatever)

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by señor-bling » Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:14 am

The multi-function modules I have, I usually got because two or three functions I wanted seemed to be reasonably easy to access. Put another way, I don't buy a module for 100 of its functions but for three. I don't mind screens, as long as the menu structure is shallow and the lists to scroll through are rather short. I'd choose a Zadar over a Make Noise Wogglebug MK1 (or some of their other modules) any day - obtuse panel design can be just as effective an inspiration killer as menus. If I had the ambition to know every function of every module inside out, I'd probably despair especially at some of the digital ones. Luckily, I don't.
To put this into perspective, maybe, I haven't yet used the Shapeshifter, Plonk, the big SynthTech and Rossum modules or any deeper Eurorack sequencers. And the Disting is my least used module, by a mile. But that's more because I see it as a kind of joker, for when I've run out of 'real' modules... at which point I usually have problems a single Disting can't fix :)
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by 6667 » Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:23 am

señor-bling wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:14 am
The multi-function modules I have, I usually got because two or three functions I wanted seemed to be reasonably easy to access. Put another way, I don't buy a module for 100 of its functions but for three. I don't mind screens, as long as the menu structure is shallow and the lists to scroll through are rather short. I'd choose a Zadar over a Make Noise Wogglebug MK1 (or some of their other modules) any day - obtuse panel design can be just as effective an inspiration killer as menus. If I had the ambition to know every function of every module inside out, I'd probably despair especially at some of the digital ones. Luckily, I don't.
To put this into perspective, maybe, I haven't yet used the Shapeshifter, Plonk, the big SynthTech and Rossum modules or any deeper Eurorack sequencers. And the Disting is my least used module, by a mile. But that's more because I see it as a kind of joker, for when I've run out of 'real' modules... at which point I usually have problems a single Disting can't fix :)
zadar's menu is inoffensive because..

1. zadar serves a very simple and obvious purpose that is visually represented very well
2. its pretty much knob per function. the only real abstraction is that it only displays a single envelope at once (and theres only one button for switching between the envelopes)

i havent had a zadar in awhile but the muscle memory is still there-- top right knob is to change the duration of the env, bottom left for warping it, big red knob to change shape. i havent had a pams in a few years either but theres no chance i could tell you how to get to the swing menu for a trig and what values id have to set it to to make a trig swing. btw i absolutely cant imagine what a nightmare itd be to use 1u o_c lmfao

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by yellowecho » Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:44 am

One-knob per function for me. I generally loathe anything with menus. The only exception being PNW because it's BPM-based and intuitive (Squid isn't bad either). Modules requiring shift combos are the absolute worst.. I never use those functions.
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by target_destroyed » Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:47 am

I got into modular partially to get away from menu diving. I don't own any modules that have any sort of menu or screens (aside from a mode switch here and there). Modules like the Disting are very impressive, but I prefer modules that do one (or a few) things well than do-it-all modules or modules with frustrating button-combos or deep menus. I have some MK1 Harvestman stuff that has some annoying button combos that of course aren't remembered on power-cycle ( :bang: ) which is about as far as I'm willing to go as far as pseudo menu-diving. Frames is one of the few "does lots of stuff" modules I own, but it's very simple to work with despite that.

After using Viruses, Kurzweil K-series synths and various other digital & VA stuff for years (rackmount units are typically the worst offenders as far as menu diving), the immediacy of modular is very liberating. I don't think I could ever go back.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by windchill » Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:52 am

mdoudoroff wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:31 am


All that said, I am currently evaluating a Vector, which is heavily screen-oriented and sprouts no fewer than nine click-encoders! On the other hand, it also has a lot of buttons with which to jump immediately around. Are they enough of a concession for me? TBD!

Button combos are another touchy subject with me, but that’s at the other end of the spectrum.
I really dislike screens but I think the Vector Sequencer does it about as well as possible. Jim has done such a good job on the interface, and also there are plenty of buttons and encoders so there's very little menu-diving. In addition, the screen is integrated with the hardware; values appear above each encoder, etc, which is very different to having a screen separated from the controls. I also think in the case of a sequencer as powerful as the Vector a screen is pretty much a necessity. Having said that, the upcoming vector-launchpad integration promises considerable freedom from the screen (it's very similar to the integration with Numerology, which works really nicely).

In general I prefer single function modules. Apart from being more modular they avoid the need for a screen or the necessity of remembering numerous button combos or colour-coded LEDs. These are especially difficult if you only use a module occasionally, or come back to it after a while away. I still can't use my Pico Logic without referring to the little card that came with it!

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by hippo1 » Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:10 pm

I got into modular fairly late in the game (Euro-world) because I realized the ceiling on what was previously only pro-level had lowered enough for the bedroom guys. And, along with this, was the snobbery that accompanied all that cork-sniffing: Analog only, one knob per function please. And that lasted for quite awhile; I eschewed anything 'digital' (in form, or function...!). But as time went by, I softened; and now I simply try to avoid menu-diving whenever possible. Seems it's a necessary evil associated with the natural complexities allowed by modern computing capabilities, and it's here to stay. [I guess I'm just a bump in the road...] My personal system tends to the simpler utility-based style of early Pitts, and Doepfer; and is only 'salted' with digital stuff. I'll keep to the shallow end, though...

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by EATyourGUITAR » Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:26 pm

If people can dig into the Yamaha RM1X or the electron stuff, I think the fivetwelve vector sequencer will be fine. That kind of interface for that kind of sequencer is unavoidable. Imagine if the vector had the exact same input and output Jack's but the interface was identical to ornaments and crimes. The vector is almost knob per function. I remember old videos of these highly proficient Japanese producers smashing keys super fast on an MC-202. It was like watching a human perform a midi sysex dump in real time. You don't see IBM key switches much these days.
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by brandonlogic » Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:29 pm

miles_macquarrie wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 10:16 am
I don't mind screens if they are intuitive. I really don't like button combos that I have to remember and look up every time I use a module.

I think the screen on the e352 is large and very intuitive and helps you see what is going on.
Pam's screen also is pretty easy to get around on even though it's small.
Agree.
Screens > Non obvious Button Combo functions

And with sequencers you, a screen can add much more complexity that would be impossible to achieve otherwise.
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by VZvision » Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:29 pm

I think there’s an important distinction that’s been touched on above but really makes or breaks menus on modules.

Namely:

1. Menus that are there to inform you what’s going on/where you are

VERSUS

2. Menus that you have to interact with to extract core functionality

I’m generally cool with #1 but for #2, the UI and functionality has to be very well polished and use-case really compelling to spend the time learning and buying into the workflow of the module.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by casciato » Thu Jul 23, 2020 12:38 pm

I use a lot of menu-driven/multifunction modules in my setup, in part because I'm new to modular and was strongly drawn to modules that let me try a bunch of stuff to see what I like. I have a micro Ornament and Crime running Hemisphere Suite, a Disting mk4 and a Disting Ex. Together, those three modules account for 2/3 of my modulation options and about half my FX, depending on how I use them.

In my experience, the menus/memorization is rarely problematic. I've definitely been trying to check out as many functions as possible, but in a very freeform way based on what interests me. I've tried less than a third of the Disting functions and maybe a quarter of the O_C functions and I already have a bunch of favorites. For my favorites, I either don't need the manual at all or just need a quick glance to refresh my memory. For a brand new function, I might need five minutes with the manual, plus the occasional glance to remind myself what I'm doing. Generally with all these modules the main thing is remembering what each input and output is doing. And for things you use a lot, and/or the straightforward algorithms, it quickly becomes second nature (I think I could set up the Disting Dual S&H algorithm in my sleep at this point, and I've only had the module six weeks or so; the LowerRenz algorithm on O_C is both nearly self explanatory and so common for me to use that I don't even think about it, I just use it).

So my advice is, if you like a few functions on one of these modules and aren't completely averse to a little menu and manual diving (way less than naysayers would have you believe unless you have memory issues or are hell-bent on trying every function once before you try anything twice), go for it. They're great, and can really help a smaller system achieve big things.
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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by psienide » Thu Jul 23, 2020 1:31 pm

1. Menus that are there to inform you what’s going on/where you are

VERSUS

2. Menus that you have to interact with to extract core functionality
I would add a 3.) Menus that you can interact with to extract enhanced functionality but aren't entirely necessary for core functionality.

Quadigy is a good example of this. For most use cases you don't even need the menu, but it's there for that special thing like inverting the envelope or looping. As far as using it,I generally avoid menu diving unless I have some preconceived idea about what I am looking for prior to beginning a session and then set it then. I feel like diving into a menu in the middle of a patch is a terrible distraction. If i find myself having to do that often I will probably just look for another module.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by diggida » Thu Jul 23, 2020 1:36 pm

6667 wrote:
Thu Jul 23, 2020 11:13 am
everyone and their mom has an o_c/pam's but those are basically the worst offenders as far as menus go. when i had a pnw when it first came out a couple years ago, i realized it pretty much had to be set and forget for clocking duties, otherwise it felt completely antithetical to why i started using a hardware synth to begin with.

"why am i scrolling a single encoder back and forth to create a rhythm when i could literally click this in on ableton in 2 seconds. my mouse is right in front of me. what am i doing. why am i sitting here dialing in the correct amount of delay/phase for swing when i could just play this in on my maschine and get on with it"

it's completely senseless. same with modules like rossum control forge. its so senseless to force yourself to program in some complex modulation with a single dial, tiny screen and a few buttons when it would be far easier to program it in max or something. when youve abstracted the process of creating something as intuitively simple as swinging a beat to turning a single knob to dial in the right amount of phase offset, youre not making music anymore (or youre intentionally making it difficult for yourself because it feels novel or whatever)
Yeah, this is how I feel about my Pico SEQ. Its a cool module for its size, and I like using the RND button, but I always forget what the light colors mean and what the display is telling me and I'm turning knobs trying to make it do something I can do on another synth or my computer in 10 seconds. That said, there is something cool about not having to use a computer and having the modular rig self-sufficient.

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by valouxxx » Thu Jul 23, 2020 1:42 pm

I think I even more hate the "push for x seconds" function than submenu diving. Or no no no no! The "push for x seconds" to access submenu! :bang:

As my system is growing, I indeed want less modules with hidden functions, menus you have to learn, or Hex led coding to scroll wave or samples.
I'm more 1 pot = 1 function. That's why I love modular !

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Re: Have you ever regretted menus on everything?

Post by starthief » Thu Jul 23, 2020 2:00 pm

The main thing that kills my enjoyment of a module is needing a cheat sheet. Which is mostly a problem with non-menu modules, with excessive LED codes or poorly chosen button combinations. Which, today, is mostly a problem with alternative firmware or extremely compact modules that probably should have been larger (e.g. Erica Pico DSP, Mannequins W/)

I honestly don't find "menu diving" is a problem in terms of depth, but "menu shuttling" in terms of excessive back-and-forth seems very common. There are a few things that could mitigate it:

- Better menu design which keeps commonly associated items close together.
- A dedicated button that goes up a level in the menu, rather than making "Exit" a menu item that has to be selected.
- "Soft" buttons for selecting items on-screen, like on the ER-301 or E520 (slightly different usages there, both seem pretty good).
- Alternately: dedicated selection buttons, leaving the encoder purely for value setting, like on Intellijel Shapeshifter.

On the Disting... the EX is certainly friendlier to use than previous iterations IMHO, but I find myself avoiding certain things. Like all of the single mode algorithms, because they just have a lot of settings. I have a few favorite dual-mode algos in my Favorites list which I find pretty easy to work with, and that's enough for me.

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