Best DAW Controllers
A DAW controller (aka control surface) can actually enhance workflow and add intuitive tactile comfort to a studio setup. Having physical faders, knobs, buttons, and different controls put in front of you possibly can really improve your total enjoyment and efficiency over keyboard hotkeys and mouse clicks.
In fact, they aren’t for everybody however enough people love them that the market has grown to incorporate all kinds of controllers for varied setups. Selecting a control surface in your studio could be a tough process to get just right.
Although the name model of a DAW controller isn’t probably the most essential issue to think about, figuring out the most effective companies on the market will help you in your search.
Note that we attempted to not add any DAW-specific controllers, maintaining the deal with more common systems. That being stated, choices from Steinberg, Cakewalk, and Both Novation and Ableton (for Ableton Live) have nice controllers for their respective digital audio workstations.
At the moment’s DAW controller market, there’s one thing out there for everybody, it doesn’t matter what your particular needs are for producing your tracks.
In this article, we’ll have a look at the most effective DAW controllers for producers at all ranges. Listed below are the best DAW controllers available on the market right now.
We just want to let you know that we’ll list these DAW Controllers in no particular order. They’ll be randomized as we don’t wish to sort them from best to worst.
Listed below are our Top 10 DAW Controllers for 2023:
1. Presonus Faderport 16
The FaderPort 16 has some good options. It packs 16 fader channels into a comparatively small footprint, so it will not eat up your complete desktop. Now, the ability to concurrently regulate a number of controls makes mixing feel much less like guesswork, and extra intuitive and natural.
The flexibility to balance a fader whereas elevating a low-cut corner frequency or elevating a reverb send is simply more musical in every means. It means that you can really stop utilizing your eyes and depend on your ears.
The first structure of the FaderPort 16 revolves across the 16 motorized faders, which give the control surface a console-like feel. All of the faders are 100mm long-throw and touch-sensitive, like these on most of the high large-format consoles.
These faders can be utilized within the typical sense of controlling the amplitude of your signal, performing as real-world corollaries to the faders inside your DAW. Nevertheless, they will also be used to manage any variety of plugins, pan, send, or some other control data written/learned by your DAW.
There is additionally a one-fader model and an 8-fader model, so admission to the FaderPort family is out there at any engineer’s price level. With the inclusion of Studio One Artist, it appears to be an excellent value certainly.
When we first laid our eyes and hands on the FaderPort 16, we were drawn to it straight away. It felt really nice to have this unit at the tip of my fingers and control the DAW flawlessly. We really liked that it has 16 faders that give us more freedom and control, but we would appreciate having a better display for visual control.
In comparison to other models on the list and in the same price range, you are getting the best here – and for this price to get 16 motorized faders, is truly amazing.
- 16 Motorized Faders
- Really Affordable
- Precise and Intuitive
- Better Visual Displays
- 104 Controllable functions
- 85 Background and status illuminated buttons
- Timecode and level display
- Transport control, tracking control, automation control
- Session Navigator, Fader Modes, Mixer View
2. Softube Console 1 Mk 2
The Softube Console 1, the next-generation mixer, is a novel centerpiece for the DAW-based studio. The hardware allows you to rapidly swap between your tracks and control gate, EQ, compressor, and extra. The Console 1 software offers you the sound of a basic Strong State Logic console.
Console 1 shouldn’t be a DAW controller or perhaps a plug-in controller. It is a separate hardware/software program mixer that works in tandem together with your DAW. Use one of many track selector buttons on the hardware to pick the track you wish to work on.
Then use the physical knobs and buttons to regulate the included gate, EQ, compressor, high/low cut filters, transient shaper, and emulated analog console distortion. Choose a track, and tweak the knobs. Choose one other track, and tweak the knobs, that’s primarily the workflow of Console 1.
Every parameter has a corresponding knob or button on the hardware. The track count is limitless, parameter modifications will be automated and all of your settings are saved with the DAW project for complete recall.
Included within the Console 1 package deal is Softube’s model of Solid State Logic SL 4000 E—one of the classic and extensively used analog consoles on the earth. Softube’s model has been scrutinized by Solid State Logic’s personal experts, who’ve formally endorsed it.
The channel strip consists of the coveted black knob E 242 equalizer, the basic channel compressor, the musical expander/gate, and the sweet high and low cut filters from the SSL 4000 E channel.
This was on our wishlist for a long time since we saw many other engineers sharing good words about it. And when we had the opportunity to try it out, we just confirmed what people were saying. This is probably the best unit that is created to control DAW functions in terms of mixing and no other item compares to it.
We really like using it and everything about it screams professionalism, and the only downside that we can say about it is the learning curve, which will be a fun part until you learn to control the controller.
- Affordable Unit
- Really Versatile
- Works with UAD Plugins
- Learning Curve
- High-quality controls and buttons
- Can be integrated into all common DAW systems in AU, VST, VST3 and AAX formats
- Ergonomic user interface for an intuitive workflow
- Incl. license for Solid State Logic SL 4000 E model plugin
3. Softube Console 1 Fader
Softube tries to create the proper mix between gear and software programs for mixing engineers. Softubes hardware works complementary with its software program to enhance your workflow.
We’ve gotten used to working ‘in-the-box’ in recent times, utilizing all types of plugins to substitute hardware, however working with a mouse and keyboard may not all the time be the most suitable choice.
You get 10 motorized faders with the Console 1 Fader and these faders are fully adjustable to your liking. The Console 1 Fader connects through a USB-A port.
The faders are touch-sensitive. Because of this once you press a fader lightly, you’ll see the channel light up in the software program, so you may instantly know which channel you’re working on. If this was not included, you would possibly end up losing track of what channels you’re engaged on, which might hinder your efforts as an alternative to making it simpler.
In contrast to the Console 1, the Fader 1 has RGB-LEDs built-in. Every color serves a distinct goal, which is an additional enhancement to your workflow.
It serves as more than simply controlling some faders and automation in your DAW. You’ll be within the Softube system which gives you that warm analog sound. Apart from this, there are quite a lot of extra capabilities that enhance your mixes and, most significantly, enhance your workflow.
Working with both Console 1 and Fader 1 together, we had a great experience as we are placed in front of a mixing console. The little knobs and buttons on the right side of the Fader 1 are there to help us navigate and have an easy time when using the control surface.
When comparing both units together with any other surface, you definitively will have big perks with this combination, because such features cannot be found on any other, that are laid out very clearly for the user. That is a big benefit.
In terms of negatives, we can only say that at this stage, we weren’t able to find any for the Fader 1 when used in a combo. When used alone, there is a lack of visuals, and might be troublesome for some users.
- Great in Combo with Console 1
- 10 Motorized Faders
- Nice Design
- Works better with Console 1
- Might be confusing when used alone
- Rotary encoder for Pan / Width
- Optimised on-screen display
- Per channel button for track selection as well as mute and solo
- Nine different fader modes
- Three freely assignable buttons for transport functions or DAW shortcuts
4. SSL UC1 Controller
The structure of UC1 matches up with the Channel Strip & Bus Compressor plugins that it controls. These plugins are flip-based mostly on the hardware present in SSL’s legacy mixing consoles. For ergonomic causes, the Channel Strip controller has been broken up into two – on the left you’ve got the filter and EQ, on the right you’ll discover the Compressor, Gate/Expander, and Channel Controls.
Then slap bang within the center we discover the legendary Bus Compressor controls, full with a physical dB reduction meter. There’s no audio traveling through UC1, but the addition of this bodily meter actually makes it feel like there may be. The illusion is full while you hear the sound coming from through these plugins!
As we’ve already talked about, UC1’s control surface ties in with 2 of SSL’s native plugins – Channel Strip 2 and Bus Compressor 2. Both are included free with the UC1, making it a superb value possibility for actually getting your hands on these superb SSL mixing plugins. Let’s take a better look at how UC1 offers you thorough management over these plugins.
First up we have the Channel Strip 2. The vast majority of controls for this plugin are discovered down the left- and right-hand sides of UC1. Additionally, they embody the In and Out gain controls within the black strips. The structure of those controls carefully resembles the UI of the Channel Strip plugin itself. Most of them are very intuitive for newcomers, and people aware of SSL’s channel strips will feel right at home on UC1.
The Filter Section within the top left contains a Low Pass and High Pass filter. These gently take away any undesirable low frequencies and roll off highs respectively. Below that, we discover the SSL EQ part of the channel strip with four frequency bands
HF / LF Bands – High/Low-Frequency bands that are shelves by default however could be switched to a bell curve. HF operates between 1.5-22kHz and LF operates between 40-600Hz.
HMF / LMF Bands – High/Low Mid Frequency parametric EQ bands. Each has a gain boost/cut, frequency management, and Q control (frequency bandwidth)
This is a great unit for users that are using SSL plugins and want to have a fingers-on experience when mixing. When we tried this one in a local store, we were satisfied with the design and the complete functionality of the unit, and we were expecting no less from SSL.
In comparison with the other units, this one actually has a gain reduction meter that works properly and that is something that can be found probably only on this unit and on no other. The big benefit is that you will be using an SSL-made unit for your DAW and that was a rarity up until now and only the big names were able to afford it. No downside detected at this point and we highly recommend this unit for all SSL plugin users.
- Great SSL Design
- Unique Metering
- Amazing Responsiveness
- Easy switching between up to 3 different DAWs
- Supported by SSL 360° Mac & PC software
- Metal housing with brushed-metal look
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 296 x 62.7 x 266 mm
- USB-C connector
5. Icon Qcon Pro G2
ICON’s MIDI controller launched in 2018 continues to be extremely popular, but why? Because producers more and more work in-the-box, so only with a pc as an entire workstation, we generally miss the expertise of an actual mixing console. A console like an SSL is in fact not affordable for semi-professional producers, which is why ICON cleverly responds to this with a sophisticated reasonably priced DAW controller.
The vision of a MIDI controller just like the Pro G2 is in fact to use your mouse and keyboard-less and provide you with actual mixing expertise. This vision may be very good and profitable for a lot of producers, however, it is best to understand that it may be very accustomed to leaving your mouse since you are used to it.
In functionalities and workflow, the Pro G2 offers excellent expertise and solution, are you open to varying, and do you need to focus more on your ears as an alternative to taking a look at your display when making and mixing music? Then you’ll be able to leave the mouse and get began with the Qcom Pro G2.
The Qcon Pro G2 is a MIDI controller with a spotlight to show the mixer section in your DAW right into hardware expertise. The controller has 8 faders, between which you’ll be able to simply scroll further to different sections. The controller is Mackie Control and HUI supported so you possibly can directly combine it with most DAWs.
A friend of ours owns this controller and is using it all the time as a centerpiece of his mixing studio and when we tried we were blown away by it. In comparison to other controllers on the list, this one has 8 faders as mentioned, and a bunch of buttons that each has a unique function. That makes the mixing easier and you will have less need to use the mouse. It has an amazing price and the developers are dedicated people with vision. Amazing unit!
- Amazing Unit for the Price
- 8 Faders and Easy Connectivity
- Can change the labels to your needs
- Limitations with Mackie protocols sometimes
- 8 Encoders with LED ring
- Large, backlit LCD
- Jog wheel with shuttle function for fast navigation and control
- 2x 6.3 mm Jack connections for pedals
- USB 2.0 High-speed port;
6. Presonus Faderport V2
Though a keyboard and mouse are tried-and-true DAW-control units, they’re far more practical when utilized in tandem with the FaderPort’s exact tactile control over mix and automation capabilities.
A superior answer for anybody who mixes within the box, the FaderPort offers a 100 mm touch-sensitive, motorized fader for writing fades and automation in real-time and 24 buttons covering 40 totally different capabilities, all in a compact chassis that simply sits on any desk.
Quickly zoom in on audio files for modification. Management tracks levels with the touch of a finger. With the FaderPort, you’ll benefit from the quickest, most effective workflow you’ve ever experienced.
Relatively than forcing you to revise your mixing technique, the FaderPort augments the way in which you presently mix. You continue to use your devoted keyboard and mouse for things they do nicely, and the FaderPort handles what you actually wish to get your fingers in your mix. That is DAW control the way you at all times hoped it may very well be!
The FaderPort’s distinctive Session Navigator offers easy accessibility to eight mission-critical capabilities for max flexibility. Use the big encoder button and companion buttons to edit and blend with higher efficiency and velocity.
Scroll through your timeline, utilizing the encoder, or work measure by measure with the arrow buttons; zoom out and in on the timeline with the encoder and make your tracks bigger or smaller with the arrow buttons; navigate and drop markers; preserve constant control of your primary stage. When you begin utilizing the Session Navigator, you’ll wonder why mixed without it.
We had this one for a while when it first came out and for a project studio, it is a nice tool to have if you have limited space on your desk. Great for recording automation and for brief tweaks in your project.
Compared to the other units, it is obvious that it has only one fader, which makes it a great starting point. It has an amazing price that most people can afford but it’s too bad that is limited to only one fader. For beginners, a great way to get familiar with DAW controller units.
- Doesn’t take up too much space
- Great for beginners
- One fader
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 230 x 45 x 140 mm
- Includes external power supply 12 VDC, 1.2A
- Includes full version Studio One Artist (Download)
- Weight: 0.68 kg
7. Mackie Control Universal Pro
Mackie Control Universal Pro delivers complete hands-on control of any suitable DAW and its hosted plug-ins, with bidirectional connectivity, motorized faders, and LED-encircled V-Pots giving full ‘mirrored’ suggestions therefrom.
It is nonetheless instantly intuitive as a primary ‘level and pan’ mix controller (though there is a little bit of a studying curve if you wish to actually harness its full power); it nonetheless affords compatibility with all the foremost studio packages; it still comes bundled with the superb Tracktion, and it still is really affordable.
In terms of structure, nothing’s modified, with the entire Control Universal Pro’s buttons, knobs, and faders organized identically to the earlier model’s – very much a case of not fixing what ain’t broke.
Where it has been beefed up in this area, although, is within the vastly improved button design, the newly weighted and extra positive-feeling jog wheel, and the improved Penny + Giles faders, which appear smoother – though that would simply be because of their newness when compared to these on a somewhat aged Mackie Control.
Up to three expanders can be connected straight via the MIDI I/O on the back of the Control Universal Pro, and more can be attached through MIDI interfaces, the limit on what number will be added to the system being all the way down to your DAW (and desk space).
It is worth declaring too that the C4 Pro can be utilized without the Control Universal Pro, whereas the Extender Pro cannot. This one is pretty straightforward to use, with all the necessary buttons and knobs on it. With 9 faders, you will have control over your project and we believe it is enough to get you around.
When we were reviewing this one, we say that it is great designed and that we can easily navigate without any issues. There are no flashy lights on it, just a plain and simple controller. In comparison to other units on the list, this one is native to the Mackie protocol. The only downside? Well, it has all that we need and nothing more and nothing that separates it from the bunch, if we can call that a negative.
- 9 Faders
- Great Functionality
- Sturdy Build
- Similar to many others
- Dimensions (W x H x D): 419 x 429 x 120 mm
- Weight: 5.4 kg
- Expandable with the MCU XT Pro
- Integrated USB MIDI interface
- Included in the delivery: Power supply unit, USB cable, Tracktion 3
8. Behringer X-Touch
Borrowing from the lineage of the BCF2000, Behringer X-Touch is a common control surface, good for controlling your DAW on the road or in the studio. The 9-touch delicate motorized faders are nice for hands-on management.
And since they’re motorized, it can save you and recall parameter positions or can use them to record and playback automation inside your track. The 92 illuminated buttons are nice for accessing parameters on the fly, the encoders may be assigned to things like panning and EQ, and the large jog wheel is improbable for macro or micro modifying.
The LCD scribble strips permit you to identify tracks or visualize parameter ranges for simple reference. Extra reliable than simply using a mouse, the X-Touch permits hands-on tactile management of your project.
In addition, two-foot swap inputs and an expression pedal input allow you to control your DAW not only with your hands but with your feet as well. Begin and cease recording with your foot, for example, an important function if you’re recording alone.
X-Touch options each Mackie and HUI control, permitting it to interface with quite a lot of DAWs. The X-Touch can even act as a 2 x 2 USB MIDI interface with a USB hub for connecting MIDI devices or different controllers.
The X-Touch is a complete control surface that brings your DAW to your fingertips with control over all related parameters in your mission. You possibly can even use it to manage an X32 Series mixer, and naturally, just like the BCF2000, the X-Touch can be utilized as a MIDI control supply—making a wonderful and rugged playing surface for computer musicians.
This small and neat controller is found in many studios and some of our friends still use it. When we visited their studios and actually tried this controller, it was interesting to use it and for the price that it comes, it is a good choice.
The big benefit is that you will have the DAW at the end of your fingers, but the downside is that actually everything is kind of crammed into the small interface. All in all, we recommend it for newcomers that need to have a controller to ease up their mixing. In comparison to the other controllers on the list, this one has a cheaper price and that is what separates it from the others.
- 9 Motorized Faders
- Easy to Use
- Small Dimensions
- 9 Touch-sensitive 100 mm motor faders
- 8 LCD Displays for channel identification and other parameters
- Ethernet interface for RTP (Real-time Protocol)
- 8 Assignable rotary controls
- 92 Buttons for direct access of key functions
9. Korg nanoKONTROL 2
The nanoKONTROL2 from Korg is an ultra-compact and low-profile controller that gives eight channels of management for quite a few software titles, together with the main DAW programs. It matches completely in front of a laptop or desktop computer keyboard, and utilizing a single USB cable provides spectacular control whereas conserving precious set-up area.
A knob, fader, and three switches are supplied for each of the eight channels, initially assigned to pan, volume, and solo, mute, and record. The assorted controllers could be reassigned to be used with a digital synthesizer for instance, to various things like envelopes or filters. A devoted transport control part can be included.
The controller is USB bus-powered, and with a suitable connector kit, the unit is appropriate for Apple’s iPad. The downloadable software program permits custom configuring the faders and knobs, and licenses are supplied for 3 virtual instruments to facilitate immediate music creation.
We used to have this nano controller until we gift it to a friend of ours and this was one of the first controllers that we used when we were starting out. When matched with other units on the list, this is super affordable, super small, and not that intuitive.
No motors on the faders but if you need a unit to have a bit of control over the DAW, you might use this one. The biggest benefit from it is that is small and cheap, and the negative side is obvious – not for big projects where you need more control.
- Really Affordable
- 8 Faders
- No enough controls
- No motors
- Connections: USB-Mini
- USB powered (less than100 mA)
- Dimensions (WxHxD): 325 x 30 x 83 mm
- Weight: 293 g
Best DAW Controllers – 2023 Additions
10. Solid State Logic UF8
We already reviewed the UF8 in a separate article, and here is an excerpt from it:
“For the seasoned professional, the UF8 serves as a delightfully portable fader choice for location and post work, completely splendid for driving dialogue or for getting in-the-box desk mixes prepared on the fly.
The naturalness of the navigation/display and the portability/stability of the unit itself make it your new greatest friend for any small-scale mix purposes or minimalist studio setup.
Installation of the SSL 360° software program is fast and painless, and the tutorials for interfacing with numerous DAWs, in each PDF and video format, are complete – a simple setup.
Presently the UF8 is fluent with ProTools, Logic Pro X, Cubase, Nuendo, Ableton Live, and Presonus Studio One. Different DAWs might feasibly be built-in because the UF8 uses Mackie Control and HUI MIDI codecs. SSL assures additional integration templates are within the works.
In case you are after something new for your music production, then this might be the right choice for you. We listed what we thought are the most important details about this unit, hoping that it will be enough for you to make the purchasing decision.“
When used in combination with UC1 we talked about above, you will have the feeling as you are infront of SSL console but more digital and without the analog connections. Big benefit from it is that you will have faders and that you can expand as much as you need them and the only downside is that you might need to spend some time learning it.
We were satisfied by it when tested in the store we collaborate with and we recommend it to everybody that has the funds to get it, especially if you aim for the combo.
- High-Quality Build
- Works with Most DAWs
- Flexible Soft Keys
- Learning Curve for Plugins
- 8 Touch-sensitive 100 mm motorized faders
- 8 + 1 Rotary control with push function
- 8 TFT LCD colour displays
- Illuminated RGB “Soft Feel” button
It appears that modern studios for beginners and semi-professional producers and mixing engineers are more and more prone to have such controllers on their desks. We totally understand that and we encourage you to go ahead and try some of these out.
Besides the ease of workflow, you will be able to save some time and finish your project much faster than doing it only with your keyboard and mouse. No matter if it is a 1-fader or 16-fader surface, having some physical help is always appreciated.
If you think that we missed some important elements that we should’ve mentioned in this post, please let us know and we will make sure to cover that as well!
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