Working within a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) offers the user unparalleled flexibility and ease of use when compared to the traditional world of analogue hardware. However, sometimes the experience of working fully "in the box" can feel limited, and we need to use tools that offer a more responsive that just the keyboard and mouse. This is where control surfaces and mixers come in.
External control surfaces can be extremely useful when it comes to mixing and general workflow, giving you a more hands-on, tactile experience. In this article, we explore a few different options for control surfaces that you can add to your home studio to enhance your workflow.
Presonus FADERPORT 8
Price - £407 Key Features
- Affordable price.
- Complete control for navigating your session, editing, writing automation etc.
- Footswitch input for hands-free start/stop.
Presonus have made a name for themselves in the world of pro audio, for providing affordable yet quality products that punch above their weight in terms of price range. The fade port 8 continues this legacy, offering the user an all-in-one DAW control surface for what is perhaps the most accessible price on the market. This piece of kit gives you everything you need in terms of functionality, whilst remaining fairly simple to get to grips with for new user. We would recommend this as the best budget option in this list, and perfect for users at the intermediate level who are looking to upgrade their home studio.
Slate Raven MTI2
Price - £905 Key Features
- Vibrant and colourful 27" touch screen display.
- Fully customisable batch commands.
- Touch screen gestures to open/close plugins, zoom in/out, select regions for edit etc.
- Integrated app for control with your smart phone.
The Slate Raven MTi2 gives you the power of a full production studio and packs in into a touch screen control surface. Working with the Slate Raven feels effortless and very intuitive. Its features are fully customisable allowing you to create your own shortcuts and batch commands which can be programmed onto a single button on screen. We can personally vouch for the Slate Raven here at 344 Audio. Its been a centrepiece of our Stephenson suite, and we use it as both a controller for Pro Tools and also for riding faders when mixing. The MTi2 is the perfect option for someone who is looking for a touch screen control surface, or one that has large visual display.
Mackie MCU Pro 8-channel
Price - £1,200 Key Features
- Robust design.
- LCD display for real-time visual feedback.
- USB plug and play, no drivers required.
The Mackie MCU Pro-8 channel is a solid and reliable 8 channel mixer that is ideal for home and pro studios alike. Mackie have a well earned reputation for producing quality gear, and have been a mainstay in recording studios worldwide for several decades now. Whilst the design and aesthetics may look fairly rudimentary compared to some of the other options on this list, the MCU Pro 8-channel ticks every box in terms of functionality, including being 100% plug in and play with no drivers required. The price is on the higher side of this list, so we recommend this for more advanced users, and professionals who have previous experience with more traditional mixing desks.
Price - £1,099 Key Features
- Sleek & compact design.
- Seamless integration with Pro Tools.
- Rapid Workflow. - High quality, touch-sensitive faders. Last but not least, we have the AVID S1. This sleek and modern design gives you everything you need in terms of DAW integration and control, and being made by AVID gives this an edge in terms of pro tools compatibility. With the S1 you can easily create custom knob layouts for all of your favourite plugins, tailoring your setup to match your workflow exactly. If 8 faders isn't enough for you then the S1 also allows you to connect multiple docks together, which is a very useful and handy feature, especially for mixing drums, or lots of different mic signals. The S1 is a nice middle point between the Slate Raven and the Mackie, with a combination of traditional mixing desk features with a crisp visual display and modern design. We would recommend this product for established professionals who are looking for a more compact controller surface, and something that