The Best DAW Control Surfaces for 2017 [GUIDE]


Best DAW ControllerAvoid Injuries! Work With DAW Controllers Today!

From Windows Recorder to Audacity and now to Reaper.

My audio and recording engineer’s journey had taken me 10 years today and I could safely say…

I’m the master of mouse and keyboard editing, above everything else.

But that was before the professional audio world hurled me towards a perfect storm.

In college, I could edit audio for videos without fail using the mouse and a plethora of shortcut keys (I was part of a thesis production that time).

Even projects sent to me five to eight hours before deadline, I could finish with a complete 10-30 minute score of different scores.

But those projects came every two weeks. Not every day.


Some New Products on the Market

Softube Console 1

Softube Console 1

This new approach to controlling DAW’s is very interesting. It’s actually a hardware control surface with it’s own plugins.

It’s not like any other system out there!

This piece of gear will not control your tracks like other midi controllers, instead you should consider this more of a center piece of your hole system.

It’s a channel strip at your fingertips which is integrated and works perfectly with your audio work station.

What it can do:

  • EQ’ing
  • Compression
  • Gate
  • transient shaping
  • low/high cut filters
  • harmonics and distortion
  • and more

Ableton Push 2

Ableton Push 2

As the Title explains: It’s an Ableton controller and a very good one at that.

It has all the control buttons you would expect of an Ableton controller.

Chopping up samples has been integrated into the little screen on the top side of this machine.

Selecting VST’s and tweaking them to your liking is nothing this product can’t do.

This is just a wonderful piece for Ableton users that want to be creative and have controlling functions at the same time.


Akai APC 40 mk2

Akai APC 40 mk2

It’s no secret that I’m an Akai fanboy. Ever since the MPC’s I’ve been loving their products.

The APC is build to be integrated with Ableton, as you can see from the launch buttons.

While this is not a traditional controller it works well if you want to use it live.

But if your looking for a traditional type of machine this might not be for you.


Avid Pro Tools S3

Avid Pro Tools S3If your using Protools to record and mix tracks then the S3 is definitely something to consider.

But even if you don’t use Protools, you can also connect it with any Eucon protocol software like Logic or Cubase.

Note: it also uses Mackie and Hui protocols, so you can use it on virtually any daw.

Much like the Avid Artist series, this surface is very great to use with it’s superb software integration.

If you run an Mac based system you can also use it’s built-in inputs and outputs to monitor and record your signals.


Presonus Studiolive cs18a

presonus studiolive cs18aAre you looking for a Daw controller with a huge built in audio interface, it’s own dedicated dynamic controls and usable for live mixing?

You heard it correct!

This product is made by Presonus for their Studio One audio workstation software, and yes it has motorized faders!

It doesn’t get better if you work with Studio One, except if you want to use another audio interface.


About five years ago, plenty of projects came every single day. I tried everything by longhand (meaning, with mouse and keyboard) and I struggled. I came close to having advanced carpal tunnel. So I feared for my livelihood (and my life of course).

Until a friend showed me how his smartphone turns into a remote for my digital audio workstation at that time (still is, Reaper is awesome). I researched about it and I was missing out on DAW controllers.

Check also this article about: The Best Digital Audio Workstations Ever

My mind exploded. I uncovered MIDI has plenty of uses outside of being note-for-note triggers.


Avid Artist Control

Avid Artist Control ImageThe EuCon protocol is the counterpart of the HUI/ Mackie protocol used by other DAW controllers.Read more...


Presonus Studio Live 16.4.2

Presonus Studio Live 16.4.2It’s a beautifully-designed DAW Controller/Audio Interface hybrid that looks like lots of clutter for some people (like me).Read more...


Steinberg CMC

Steinberg CMC USB Cubase USB controllerAhh, Steinberg! Ze Germans are at it again!

They’ve dazzled us with Cubase and Nuendo’s efficiency (despite occasional crashes).Read more...


Behringer BCF2000

Behringer BCF2000No, Behringer wasn’t kidding when they said they’d give away the BCF 2000 DAW Controller for less than $150.Read more...


Behringer X-Touch

Behringer X-TouchThis was probably what happened. When Behringer heard everybody loved the BCF2000 (which was probably a long shot in their minds thinking that everyone would prefer pricier ones and they’d get the precipitated customer sediments from the initial market), they tried to bank on it.Read more...


SSL Nucleus

Nucleus from Solid State LogicOkay, if you’re filthy rich and you’re a beginner who wants to make a living out of becoming a musician, audio engineer, DJ or everything else entertainment or otherwise, Solid State Logic’s Nucleus is everything you’ll need. It’s a hybrid DAW Controller/Interface.Read more...


Livid Instruments CNTRL:R WH

Livid Instruments CNTRL R WH USB MIDI-controllerI don’t really recommend this DAW controller to beginners.

But…Read more...

Livid Instruments DS1

DS1 Midi Mixer from Livid InstrumentsWe’ve seen how complicated the Livid Instruments CNTRL:R WH could be. But have you seen how the Livid DS1 can make things simpler?Read more...


Icon QCon Pro

ICON-Global-Qcon ProThis is by far, the cutest-looking DAW controller I’ve seen yet. Icon QCon Pro aims to rival the list with cutness. But for us, that’s efficient cutness.Read more...


Icon QCon Pro 2

iCON QCon Pro G2 DAW ControllerThe original Icon QCon Pro was already a top-performing device we all love. From its metallic gray-white top plate to the presets of select DAWs to maximizing its performance, why did QCon need to make the Pro G2?Read more...


 

DAW Controllers? The Heck Are Those?

Best DAW Controllers In The World Today ImageDAW Controllers will remind you of a professional mixing board, well, the more expensive ones with simultaneous channel controls. They could also come in small with one channel control and a convenient plug-in control.

How the heck can you control everything through a single channel? That’s because they’re controllers. They’re not mixing boards. However, they do control your DAW’s mixer with their physical faders, knobs and buttons.

I probably got you thinking. But here are some of the best bits:

A DAW controller can connect through Bluetooth, Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Mac computers have better network connections that guarantee no latency. Like a TV remote control, you don’t need to touch your mouse or keyboard (this is ideal, but not for every DAW controller you might buy). The controller gives you everything.

Some MIDI Keyboard Controllers (AKG, NI, Novation SL MKII, etc.) have their own DAW controllers built on top of the keyboard itself allowing you to control your project levels, edit on the fly and adjust your plug-ins while performing.

Some Audio Interfaces also have a separate DAW Controller for use with the bundled DAW software (but the DAWs usually suck). Thank the universe for MIDI mapping).

Interested?


Uh-Huh. So Which Are The Best Qualities Of One?

To be honest, finding the best type of DAW controller is subjective. It depends on what you need during a certain time. But to generalize and give you a good quality product that could serve you well, I have four things to keep in mind.

Good Build

You must expect your DAW Controller to fall from your hands accidentally at some point. Maybe you don’t. You might be that kind of audio engineer who enjoys his or her projects in front of their desktop and not walking around carrying a small mixer-type controller.

But if you’re the latter, a good build will help.

A good build also ensures accuracy. The slight resistances you feel as you turn the knobs and pull the faders, the material used for the buttons and their touch-sensitivity, the DAW controller’s chassis material, all of these guarantee you have a smooth-sailing ride with your DAW.

Feature-Rich

Expect the DAW and MIDI controller industry to add a few or plentiful spices up your device. For example, M-Audio’s ProjectMix I/O proclaims itself to be a “smart mixer“. It also has two full-color LCD screens so you won’t have to look at your computer. It is also an audio interface, so you can plug it in via USB. It also has motorized faders to emulate the current fader position in your DAW.

Features are important. That’s what makes you prioritize one DAW controller against the other.

Intuitive

But features aren’t everything if they’re not there when you need them, not that they disappear though, mind you.

What I mean to say is if the design logic is troubled, then your DAW controller only has limited features with extra features that you can’t really use effectively.

Without an intuitive design, even a DAW controller that can handled 98 tracks (I don’t know how that could happen) is not worth your money.

Expandability

DAW Control surface manufacturers often build around famous DAWs. You would guess that Avid’s ProTools has more than enough support from the DAW Controller industry. But what if you wanted to move away from ProTools? Is your M-Audio controller worth it given it costs a pretty penny just to own one?

That controller can be worth all the trouble if you’re a dedicated ProTools person. But what if after five years you wanted to change DAWs to try and see what can happen?

Better check the compatibility of that DAW if you could still expand it (and if it can adapt to later versions of your DAW too!).

Also see if your drivers work effectively with your DAW controller first!

Can You Recommend Me Anything?

Well-known brands such as Novation, M-Audio, Presonus, Avid and others have made their own DAW Controllers. So I’ve taken the task of buying (and borrowing) some of these useful DAWs in their own right to show you how they excel in the four traits. I’ve described earlier.

This list is arranged in no particular order. But I would say that one, two or even five of these would top the other, or the other way around. I believe that no controller is perfect even if you say it works best for you. Like me, you’ll try another midi controller and say “wow, this works!“

You might end up having to try all these 10 because I thought up this list thinking of showing off all the possible features and capabilities of Digital controllers existing in the market today.


So What Are My Final Thoughts About These Daw Controllers

I congratulate you for making it at this point. Now you understand the qualities of a great DAW controller. While some of them are efficient for large projects, choosing the right DAW is also about knowing your workload.

I hope your success in most endeavors in audio! Please Share Or Comment if you like this article