Creating music and sound is easier now than it has ever been before. There are many different apps that allow you to mix music. But if you want to do it professionally then there might be a few things that you still need. Creating music can be done on your phone or other device and anyone that loves it can really create something special.
But if you want to take your music to the next level then you need a few extra pieces of software and equipment. We are going to look at my mixing control surface buying guide and which control surface tools can work for you. But first let’s break down what you will need.
What Is a Digital Audio Workstation or DAW?
This is the software that gives you an incredible level of control over your music. They will allow you to record sounds, play them back and edit and combine dozens of audio tracks to create something completely new. You can add instruments or visuals and do pretty much anything that you set your mind to. It opens up the world of music to even those that might not have loads of experience with sound editing.
But when you combine this cutting-edge software with your regular computer and mouse it can mean that you have to use all of those functions just by clicking and dragging. And that can tend to become more than a little bit frustrating really quickly.
Music production with DAW software has the possibility of being really fast and fun, but when you use a mouse, it can completely eliminate the fun out of the process. That is where a DAW controller comes in.
What is a DAW controller?
This could really be any type of hardware that you connect to your computer and that can manipulate your music software. Using a digital audio workstation controller could once again make music production fun. Honestly, not everyone needs a proper mixing control surface tool. For some even a gaming console controller could already be a step up. But that will still have its limitations and will not allow you the feeling of being a professional music producer.
With a good quality DAW controller made for music production, like a mixing control surface tool, you will have a lot more control over the process.
Depending on the level of control that you need and exactly what you want from a control surface, there are many different price points of control surfaces. Obviously, there are some tools that are really expensive and will allow for a much higher quality of music production. But some cheaper tools are still really great and can allow you everything that you could need.
But which features are really important to you? Let’s look at what is on offer and then you can decide which features you can compromise on.
DAW control functions
Most devices that do come with DAW capabilities will allow you to do the basics of music production. For example, track selection, editing or mixing sound clips, volume control and the other basic controls like rewinding and forwarding.
Most control surfaces will give you a lot more features to use. Knowing the industry standard of features will allow you to make the choice that works for you. Not all devices will have everything on the list that will follow. But knowing what is available will give you the chance to choose your control surface that is perfect for your needs.
This is the little electronic screen that will give you all of your information about the track that you are working on. It will give you the name of the file, the parameter values and more.
This is less common than a scribble strip. But when you do have another display on the control surface then chances are that this additional display will give you more information on the track. You can find the information on track playback, the controller’s mode of operation or any other feedback that your software is giving you.
These normally give you the same options of controlling your audio as you would have had with a traditional mixer. But instead of working through the machine as they would have in the past, they now control the settings and the parameters that change your audio in the mixer software.
It is with this feature that you can manipulate the track audio. Generally, they will also include some of the functions that were traditional on mixers of the past. They will allow you to mute your track, make it solo or change plug in values. You can easily control projects with large channel counts.
On most mixing control surfaces you will have a bunch of dials that are created to control things like EQ and plug-in values.
Function select keys
This is a wonderfully time-saving function on your tool. It can almost completely cut out the use of your computer keyboard or mouse and allow you to work solely on your control surface. They replace functions that are normally done by the mouse or the keyboard like shift, control or option keys.
Not needing to move back and forth between the keyboard and the control surface will save time and be less frustrating at the same time. Making the production more fun.
This is a bit of a throwback to the analog age where tape recordings used the basic transport setting to control their viewing. Those include: play, stop, record, rewind and fast forward. These same controls will allow you to do these functions with your digital tools.
This is not one that is a feature often but some control surfaces will also give you navigation controls that will allow you to navigate through your software and edit settings. It is just another way that your controller will allow you to move away from the laptop mouse.
Knowing the features that you will need allows you to make sure they are added in the control surface that you end up buying. But knowing what you don’t need will allow you to make sure that you aren’t buying a more expensive tool that only has extra features that you will never use.
Knowing that let us now look at some of the best options for mixing control surfaces.
Icon Pro Audio DAW control surface, Q Con Pro X Main Unit
- What I love: Allows control over your VST’s for fine tuning without using a mouse.
- What I dislike: There are some proprietary software issues that won’t allow the control surface to support all DAWs to support the master fader channel.
This control surface will allow you to take complete control of your digital audio workstation by using USB2.0. It promises to get you out of the box. By getting you out of using just your computer and instead allowing you to live in your musing.
You won’t need to continue clicking to get the job done. This one gives you plenty of options for incredible features. It has nine full sized motorized faders, eight rotary dual-function encoders and two large backlit LCD screens.
It also features the LED volume metering and a jog wheel plus loads of buttons for all your functioning needs.
Then it gives you free recording software that you can download upon registration that allows for a bunch of features added. The only problem comes when using different DAW software.
Not all of them are supported and they won’t allow you to use all of the features that are available on the control surface. It seems to be a coding problem between the software and the control surface.
It does have its pros and cons but for the price it is a pretty great tool and will allow you to use almost everything that you want it to.
Depensheng DX 12 DJ sound controller interface
- What I love: It comes with a Bluetooth Wireless Streaming receiver that works with most devices
- What I dislike: It does not come with a direct channel out, for multi-channel recording
This mixing control surface is obviously much cheaper than the previous tool on the list and you can’t expect it to have all of the features that a control surface will have that is a lot more expensive. But don’t be fooled, this tool offers a lot of value for money.
If you are just starting out in music production or are in the market for a second-hand mixing control surface then this tool could be a much better option for your budget. It is easy to use and can pair with basically any of our modern devices that we use today. Including tablets, phones and computers. It will also mean that you can use it to play gigs like stage performances and weddings.
It has a multi-channel balanced and unbalanced input interface that can connect to various musical instruments. And has microphone, recording and stereo output. But many have felt that the fact that it does not have a direct channel out does limit what you can do.
The U disk input, plug and play, allows you to insert a mobile storage device into the control surface and will allow you to use it in the device.
This tool gives you great value for money, but if you need more features you might need to up the budget a little.
QCon Pro G2 8-channel universal DAW control surface
- What I love: It is very accurate and the transport controls are great
- What I dislike: It doesn’t work perfectly when using the faders to control the DAW in touch mode.
As this mixing control surface is in the middle of the range of price tags, it does offer more features than the previous tool but less than the first. It could be the perfect mixing control surface for your needs.
It is an eight-channel universal control surface with Mackie control and HUI emulation. It will work with most major DAWs. It has nine touch sensitive motorized faders. And has a large backlit LCD that can display the channel name, the control values for each channel and all of the other information that you will need, right there at your fingertips.
Cubase/Nuendo, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Pro Tools, Studio One, digital performer, FL Studio and many more are all pre-set and they overlay with this control surface.
For some features you will need to set the sensitivity features and that might allow you to get the feeling that you want on the faders. But it also doesn’t collapse folders and the visual representation is then off.
Most people are really satisfied with this mixing control surface and feel like it really speeds up their work progress.
It does come with free recording software, like the Harrison 32C Vocal Intensity Processor, and that includes all of the greatest features that came from Harrison’s analog console heritage. And a lot of other software features that will allow the user to have all of the tools that they need to create awesome audio and music.
It is a wonderful tool that has a lot of the features we discussed earlier and that is not at the highest price point of some of the other mixing control surfaces.
If you want to go for a tool that has most of the professional systems but won’t completely break the bank then this is the one that I would go for.
There are a lot of options when it comes to sound mixing. You could do some great things with your regular computer, keyboard and mouse, with the right software of course. But having a DAW controller in your tool board will give you a lot more speed and control to make incredible music.
One of the best options for a DAW controller would be mixing control surfaces, it gives you a lot of features to make something mind blowing.
Go on, take your music to the next level.