Amplify Productivity: Control Surfaces

This video covers everything from mini controllers to expandable mixing consoles, and much more.

Welcome to Amplify Productivity. In this short video I’ll be looking at hardware DAW controllers. Using these kind of controllers to whiz around your DAW can save time and give a more hands-on feel to your music making. Over the last few years there has been an explosion in USB connected devices to control your DAW’s transport functions and some controllers even sport extra faders and dials for mixing. Let’s take a look…


Sometimes I forget that I have DAW controls right on my keyboard hardware. Most MIDI keyboards have DAW transport options at the very least and some come with many more dials and faders for additional functionality. Native Instruments has been at the forefront of developing a new standard control mapping called NKS and you’ll find this built into all of their software and hardware. NKS has also been adopted by third-party developers. So if you want a streamlined solution then it’s a good place to start.


Mobile musicians and those with little desk space are well catered for with the likes of the Korg nano Kontrol and Behringer X-Touch Mini. Most computer music hardware manufacturers have some kind of variation on these small units and they’re universally compatible with any DAW.


Several companies have developed DAW controllers with essential transport controls and just one long fader. Occasionally they’ll be specific to particular software, as is the case for Steinberg’s CC121, designed to work exclusively with Cubase. Other models like the PreSonus FaderPort, Icon Qcon Lite and Behringer X-Touch One use the universal HUI and Mackie Control protocols for integration into any DAW environment.


Sometimes just one fader isn’t enough and several companies have stepped in to manufacture larger control surfaces with multiple faders and other functionality. These really make you feel like you’re sat in a pro studio. The Mackie MCU Pro and XT Pro can be daisy-chained together and feature motorised faders. It’s a similar story with Behringer’s X-Touch and the X-Touch Extender.


Rather than looking for a specific MIDI controller for a DAW, you might want to consider using generic hardware which can be mapped to a variety of applications. I’m a big fan of the Elgato Stream Deck which offers 15 icon keys with a huge range of possibilities. Configure the keys to perform different functions for multiple applications. The recently released XL and Mini models give more options with 32 and 6 buttons respectively. The expensive, but well designed Palette Gear hardware is a range of modular buttons, faders and dials which can be snapped together in any combination.


Almost any kind of tablet can be transformed to become a DAW controller with the right app. Both iPads and Android tablets have versions of TouchOSC which can be user configured not just for DAW control but also a whole host of other instrument and plugin tweaking capabilities. Lemur is a popular alternative and Metagrid is also a good choice, but specific to iPad. Newly released, Elgato have software which turns your phone or tablet into a virtual Stream Deck.

However complex your workflow and whatever your studio space, there’s a control surface that will fit your needs. Join me next time and thanks so much for watching.

Posted on:

August 19, 2022