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Control Surfaces

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With studios large and small turning to DAWís of some form to record and mix, one area of hardware that has grown to support this trend is that of control surfaces.  A control surface is a tactile device of some sort that interfaces with a computer-based audio program allowing the user to interact with the software.  By manipulating various faders, buttons and control knobs with a control surface instead of using a mouse and/or keyboard, engineers used to more traditional mixers or consoles can feel right at home. 

There are many DAW solutions on the market and all of them have their strengths and weaknesses but in general, they all do whatís needed Ė digital audio recording.  If you have a Pro Tools based rig of some sort then you can look to Digidesign for control surface options.  Since the hardware and software are made by the same company, you get a level of control and integration thatís hard to beat.  However, if youíre like me and you use another solution for your DAW (SONAR, Logic, Reason, Tracktion, Nuendo, etc) then there are a variety of surfaces you can explore. 

If you find that you like the feel of a fader under your fingertips to adjust volumes and balances then a full control surface is probably going to be a good bet.  Take a look at the Mackie Control Pro.  It offers 9 faders (8 channels plus a master) to work levels.  It also offers a wide variety of knobs and transport controls that are mappable to different DAWs.  Mackie even provides template overlays for different DAWs.  I use one and it works quite well with SONAR.  Another great control surface with faders is from Euphonix.  You can get a great-looking fader bank and master section thatíll work with most DAWs from their MC Mix line.  Behringer makes a very affordable fader surface in the BCF2000.  The key with fader-based surfaces is to match one to your needs.  Thereís also a class of control surfaces with more faders (up to 24 in some cases) that are sometimes combined with audio interfaces ranging from devices like the SONAR V-Studio, the Digidesign Control 24 going all the way up to the Solid State Logic Matrix if your budget is on the high side of things.  If you work with a lot of tracks, need tactile controls for EQ and plugins then these multi-fader surfaces are the way to go.  If however, your needs are lighter and you work more on a single track-by-track basis, then check out this next section.

Many project and home studio engineers like small control surfaces with mappable controls that donít occupy a lot of desktop real estate.  If you need control in a small package to wean yourself off the mouse then here are some options.  Frontier Designs makes the AlphaTrack Ė a single fader controller with assignable knobs and buttons.  If you can find a used Frontier Tranzport, pick it up.  Itís a wireless transport controller with some simple assignable controls as well.  Nice if youíre the engineer and performer.  Thereís also the Presonus FaderPort  and some good offerings from Korg and Novation.  Do your research as this small controller category is rather full of options. 

All in all there are quite a few options for control surfaces so make sure to do your research and find one that fits your needs.  Consider scalability too Ė as your studio grows youíll want something thatíll make the transition with you and sometimes that may mean buying more than what you need right now.  Most control surfaces interface with your computer via USB and MIDI so theyíre widely compatible.  The trickiest part for some is getting them to support all the features of your DAW.  If youíre one who relies on the mouse/keyboard combination, you should try a control surface.  You donít have to give up the mouse but you might be pleasantly surprised to find yourself wondering how you ever lived without it.

J.D. Stefan 

 

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Award winning Musician, Mixer, Studio Engineer and Syndicated Music Critic J.D..Stafan is owner of CATWERK MUSIC based out of Idaho. J.D. puts the studio environment into perspective via his weekly column Behind the Glass and will show you how to make the most out of your independent studio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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