Imagine you are entering a classic recording studio, and I bet one thing you would readily notice is the majestic console that occupies the prime spot in the room. Such a colossal console typifies the classic recording studio image. Yet, gone were those days when the huge console lorded it over in the recording studio. Nowadays, the classic console has been slowly replaced by DAWS.
Gear and software are now accessible to anyone who wants to dabble in audio recording. Besides, all those vintage gear and equipment already got emulated in plugin forms.
Nowadays, you can tinker with your DAW using your computer mouse. But the mouse seems to be not enough for audio engineers and producers. So, they complement their DAWs with DAW Controller Surface or MIDI fader controllers to give themselves hands-on control of their DAW. But what is a DAW control surface?
Understanding a Control Surface
MIDI fader controllers or control surfaces consist of a MIDI/USB device that you can connect to your DAW to give you hands-on control of your DAW. They do not come with any input or output, and you cannot utilize them to input audio data, just like what you would usually do with digital or analog mixers.
Of course, the DAW controller looks like a mixing board, but it is not actually a mixing board. It is a controller for your DAW, and pretty much all the functions in your DAW are brought to your desktop to give you that hands-on control. Moreover, it is like a complicated mouse that you would use to manipulate your DAW. It does the same thing. It communicates with your software and brings a lot of the software functions to your desktop.
But How Does It Communicate with the DAW?
It is crucial to understand how the control surface communicates with the DAW because it will help you manage your expectations. But how does it communicate with your DAW? Well, there is a language or protocol that has been established that lets third-party devices communicate with your recording and mixing software. And this protocol was established a long time ago by developers of software, and it is this same language that allows plugins and other devices to communicate with your DAW.
The Best MIDI Fader Controllers in the Market Today
After knowing the essential factors to consider when buying a MIDI fader controller, you get a step closer to finding the ideal controller surface for your needs. Nevertheless, it will be helpful to know the following most recommended MIDI faders in the market today to help you zero in on the right one:
1) JL Cooper FadermasterPro MIDI Automation Controller
If you are aching for perfect control of your DAW, then you should check out the JL Cooper FadermasterPro MIDI Automation Controller. It can provide you with excellent control of your mixing, editing, programming, and other MIDI related tasks.
Furthermore, It also comes with 20 programmable banks to store your setup levels, and other editing configurations, as well as your favorite parameters. It also comes with 50 factory presets or more. This CC fader is still the best you would ever find out there, given its precision, quality, and smoothness.
It is easy to use and can facilitate your workflow. It comes with 8 fully-programmable and high-quality 100mm faders.
2) Mackie MCU Pro
The Mackie MCU Pro is another excellent choice for those determined to have serious hands-on controls of their DAW. It boasts of its Mackie Control Protocol that offers ultra-high resolution and more tactile control than other control surface models. It is of high-quality and is simple to set up and use. It is also widely supported.
The Mackie MCU Pro makes use of the proprietary Mackie communication protocol to have a seamless software integration. It also comes with 100mm Alps motorized faders (touch-sensitive). It also comes with V-pot control over software along with virtual instruments and plug-in effects.
Furthermore, it comes with 50 dedicated pushbuttons for perfect control of your DAW’s parameters. It also comes with tape-style transport controls. It also exhibits a full-meter display with parameters and track names. Moreover, it features quick cursor-style buttons for Down, Up, Left, Right, and Zoom.
The Mackie MCU Pro offers an onboard USB MIDI interface that provides a direct connection to your PC or Mac. Plus, it comes with Lexan overlays that are software-specific. As a popular control surface, the Mackie MCU has been here for many years, and it has adoring fans. It is popular because it offers a simple modular design.
You can also expand it with additional banks of eight faders and an encoder unit to control plug-in settings. Of course, the expensive component of this system is its main MCU Pro Unit. Nevertheless, the money you would spend on the MCU Pro Unit will be money well-spent.
3) BEHRINGER (XTOUCH)
It is a universal DAW remote control for Live and Studio applications. It supports HUI as well as Mackie control protocols for smooth integration with any music production software that is compatible with it.
The BEHRINGER (XTOUCH) features nine fully automated and touch-sensitive motorized faders (100mm). It also comes with 8 dynamic LCD Scribble Strips for a quick overview of your track parameters and names. The X-TOUCH is unmatched when it comes to integration.
4) PreSonus FaderPort 8
When it comes to style, you will find the PreSonus FaderPort 8 the best-looking controller at hand. It comes with 8 touch-sensitive motorized faders (100mm) and 8 fantastic Scribble Strip displays. You will surely save much time in controlling and mixing on your DAW using the PreSonus FaderPort8.
The PreSonus FaderPort 8’s motorized faders can effortlessly handle your workflow and provide you with precise automation. Its channel controls come with standard level, solo, pan, mute, and record arm. Moreover, it offers a set of digital scribble strip display that let you stay on track. It also comes with native support for PreSonus Studio One as well as for Mackie Control and HUI. This implies that it is compatible with any DAW software.
The PreSonus FaderPort 8 makes your workflow smooth and faster with its dedicated transport controls. It also enables you to manage complex sessions using its Session navigator. It also allows you to edit plug-in settings quickly.
5) Akai Professional MIDImix MIDI Control Surface
One sterling feature of the Akai Professional MIDImix MIDI Control Surface is its SEND ALL feature. This feature lets you sync your controls on your MIDImix with your DAW’s settings. This means you can easily pick up where you have previously left off.
This MIDImix comes with a simple design, and it is easy to use. Moreover, it is lightweight and portable. It offers a streamlined setup and works specifically with Ableton Live. Its plug-and-play setup is perfect for the creation of music, recording, and Live setup. You just plug it into your PC and launch Ableton, and you’re off to making music with your MIDImix and Ableton.
The Akai Professional MIDImix features 8 line faders and one master fader. It also features 24 multi-functional knobs with three per channel. Besides, it comes with 8 buttons arranged in two banks with solo and mute control for every channel. Moreover, it has 1-to-1 integration with your Ableton Live.
If you need some extra muscles when operating your software, you can always rely on the use of a control surface. It provides you with total control of your DAW and lets you manage your workflow efficiently. As mentioned above, control surfaces come in a wide variety which can make selecting the best for your needs a bit tricky.
However, if you know the most recommended control surfaces in the market, you can make a comparative analysis of the features of each of these highly recommended control surfaces. With a careful study of their features, you can quickly zero in on the control surface that best addresses your needs.
Buyer’s Guide: Factors to Consider When Selecting a MIDI Fader Controller
The market is awash with various control surface models, making the selecting process for the right surface controller a bit tricky. So, when shopping around for one, you need to be cognizant of the following essential things to consider:
The main reason you avail of control surfaces is that you would like to facilitate your workflow. Compared to operating your DAW using your mouse and keyboard, the use of control surfaces makes everything convenient and easy for you.
Control surfaces, of course, come with dedicated controls for specific operations. Examples of these controls are the faders, transport bar, and assignable buttons. These features provide a more fluid workflow as compared to using a mouse and keyboard.
You may not think about it, but using a controller can improve your mixing quality. Of course, the controller has no hand in recording, unlike those input/output devices such as audio interfaces and mixers. Yet, it does have an impact on the mixing process. Remember that faders are often used to control track’s gain in your DAWs and mixers. The gain is usually measured in decibels, and dB is not like meter or kilogram, which are linear.
The decibel is the wave’s amplitude measurement. Thus, the wave’s amplitude doubles when you increase the gain by 1dB. This doubling characteristic of the faders makes their use more complex when balancing the instrument’s volume.
So, if you are only using your mouse to achieve such a balance, you will indeed have a hard time. For this reason, control surfaces become valuable when you want to make subtle changes in faders to come up with better mixing.
The perfect coordination between your eyes and fingers should happen when you are mixing or recording. But you can barely achieve this using a mouse. Thus, you will need a control surface. Moreover, you can tinker with your DAW as if you are using an analog-mixer or console.
It is good to remember that every studio necessitates an analog environment because nothing beats the analog feel when recording or mixing. You fulfill that basic craving for an analog feeling in your studio with the control surface, giving you an analog-style user interface.
Consider Your Budget
One significant consideration that will impact the type of control surface you can buy is your budget. Of course, control surfaces are less expensive than digital mixers, and you can purchase control surfaces at a fraction of the digital mixer’s cost.
If you want to save on your recording and mixing setup, you can always consider the availability of control surfaces as an excellent alternative to digital mixers.