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Reviews MIDI Control Surface

Akai APC 20 Review

Live at your Finger Tips With the APC40, a control surface fully dedicated to Ableton Live, Akai created an extremely successful tool, so the launch of the APC20 comes as no surprise: an APC40 amputated of its right section and sold at half the price, to beat all competitors. read more…

Novation Launchpad Gear Review

Novation Launchpad: Who's Pad? Novation surprised everyone by bringing out an Ableton Live dedicated control surface. Like Akai's APC? Not really, and obviously not at the same price. read more…

Review of the Novation Zero SL Mk II

Novation Remote Zero SL MKII When Novation announced Automap Universal at the 2007 NAMM many were instantly intrigued by the concept. Many producers and long time fans of MIDI control were eager to get this revolutionary product integrated into their set up. Now with the Mk2series and Automap 3 available, Novation seems to have taken their product to a new level. Does it live up to expectations? read more…

User reviews on MIDI Control Surface products

A Specific Mixing Control Surface (Softube - Console 1 mkII)

By Cypraeneus, 24/09/2018
Used with a Mac and Studio One Pro 3.

It is a surface control with the specific controls of a channel strip organized into 7 sections:
- input level, low-cut and high-cut filters a phase inversion
- gate and transient control
- 4-band EQ with selectable frequences and Q…
- compression with selectable values for ratio, threshold, attack and release time (gain is automatic)
- controls for drive and character (the latter to provide an analog color to the sound) as well as output level, plus two solo and mute keys
Finally, on the up and down sides, two series of controls for tracks, presets or plug loading (I’ll detail these later on).

Nothing too fancy so far. There are some well-done video tutorials around.

The device is wonderfully designed, all made of metal with readable indications, quality knobs and control keys which are well enough spaced for anyone – even those among us with big fingers –, and LEDs everywhere to make it more readable.

Let’s get straight to the point.
This is a USB- supplied MIDI control surface with no DSP, aimed at controlling not only a collection of Softube plugins emulating professional consoles but also some Universal Audio plugins since version mkII.
Please note that:
- the SSL4000 plug-in comes with the device
- two other consoles are emulated, plus some sort of plugin recycling that can count as a third one (Summit Audio Channel). Other models are rumored to be in the making.
- All UAD plugs are not emulated, notably the channel strips (!!!) so check the list of available plugins
So if you’re not a UAD user, it’s not obvious that getting this device should be a priority for you. There are of course exceptions (listed below).

Depending on the piece of software that you use, you can control the pan, volume, select a track, solo and mute. Well, some DAWS but not all: so far, I believe Sonar and Studio One to be the ones with the best integration (though they’re not the most used.
Most parameters featured on the surface can be automated.

Regarding its ergonomic aspect, the manufacturing quality and clear (as well as rather classic) layout of the parameters make it a comfortable, intuitive (almost instictive) and easy-to-use surface.
But what makes a big difference is Softube’s cleverness to NOT hav but tiny or badly-oriented LED Screens, but to consider how obsolescent such screens are especially while such a device is bound to be used with a real screen. So? Well, just press a small button labelled DISPLAY and you get everything appearing on your screen – all controls, and even 4 display modes!

There are two annoying things however: the absence of a transport bar type control and of a motorized fader – a real pity!
That would have made it the perfect device. So yeah, I know, Softube has stated before that the Console 1 ONLY aims at controlling the parameters from a single channel strip… But that doesn’t rule a motorized fader out.
Finally, in a mixing context, a transport bar is useful, Native Instrument have understood the ergonomic interest of it as they have featured one on their keyboards.
While here, you’ll have to use your keyboard and mouse, or invest in a surface control with a transport bar and fader…
So, to make it short, a Console 1 mkII with a faderport behind would have been as close as it gets to plain perfect.

Now, one can wonder if it’s worth the €500 it costs. I’ll now get to what motivated me to purchase it.
First, the excellent SSL plugin that comes with it. As I have neither the budget (purchase, service…) or space to own such a console, a great emulation with physical controls (which is more or less what this product is about) is a real asset. But it’s of course all about tastes, so it’s up to you to decide if this is for you or not. This one plugin has replaced a whole series of plugins that I used before, it’s incredibly efficient and as usual with great plugins if you barely change one parameter and it sounds good then it’s great.
Also, I’m a UAD user… (a question of tastes, again).
Finally, I intend to buy an 8-fader controller anyway, but for a tight budget that could be a real issue!

Edit from September 2018:
This one is VERY sturdy: it fell twice from my deck – I have a 2-year-old daughter… Except for a slightly bent corner, it still looks in its prime! It would deserve an extra half-star...

A perfect complement to maschine studio (Native Instruments - Maschine Jam)

By L.M.S.A, 29/11/2016
What configuration, software and other gear do you use with this MIDI control surface? In what context? What are your thoughts on its stability?

I already owned maschine studio soi t was quick to install (5 mn). 2 expansions (to be chosen) were offered for Maschine owners.

Do you find the different features and controls to be ergonomically designed? Is MIDI mapping straightforward?

Yes, it’s a perfect complement to Maschine, it brings a lot of additional controls. Now, I haven’t done mapping for third-party softwares.

What are your thoughts on the feel of the controls and keys in terms of robustness and precision?

Good overall quality. The touchstrips sometimes lack precision, but you can adjust things precisely with the shift + touchstrip command.

What are the pros and cons of this product?

- step sequencer
- mix with touchstrip
- DJ effects with performfx
- arrangement (finally !) simpler with the Song mode and quick update
- piano roll , keyboard mode, and touchstrips in note or chord modes allow for easier composition
- parameter morphing (a very creative feature) with the shift + lock mode
- enhanced sound design with touchstrips in Controls, Tune, Aux modes. It’s also possible to save these parameters as snapshots and to morph between them (an excellent feature)

Cons :
- no realtime timestretch...
- I would have likes a possibility to control the velocity and length of notes using the touchstrips in step sequencer mode.
- No pad velocity.
- Not enough visual contrast on the pads, you can’t alway see which pad is selected.
- No screen, so you look at the computer more often.
- Many parameters are difficult to access if you have neither a maschine studio or mk, or you have to do it on your computer using the mouse.
- No controller unsync, while I would have liked a possibility to work on two different groups or instruments simultaneously..

Overall :

This maschine jam has largely enhanced my workflow, both in speed and creativity for composing, sound design, arrangement, mix and live. I’m really having fun!!!!
It’s still not perfect, but NI are known to provide regular updates.
Still, I’d mostly recommend it as a complement to a maschine studio or mk, as by itself it makes your workflow more dependent on a mouse.

Good, but not for Reason. (Livid Instruments - Base II)

By DM97, 02/02/2016
What configuration, software and other gear do you use with this MIDI control surface? In what context? What are your thoughts on its stability?
iMac with reason 7. I was looking for a controller with more than 16 pads to play drum parts with Kong or launch samples in the NN-XT.

Do you find the different features and controls to be ergonomically designed? Is MIDI mapping straightforward?
Overall it's OK.

What are your thoughts on the feel of the controls and keys in terms of robustness and precision?
First, the box is beautiful. As far as manufacturing quality and sturdiness are concerned, the Base II seems really sturdy. Yet, I didn't like the touchpad faders at all, they lack accuracy. Regarding the pads, I was really disappointed by their touch and velocity which are way below their competitor's level. It's far from being as comfortable as Maschine's. I even preferred the novation launchkey mini's pads - way more pleasant and efficient.

What are the pros and cons of this MIDI control surface?
Pros :

- In theory, it's the perfect controller with 32 pads and touchpad faders.
- The box is well-thought, pretty and rather compact.
- High manufacture quality.
- Certainly an excellent live-oriented controller

Cons :
- A low value-for-money considering it's sold with no bundled software or soundbank, and there are still things that couls be made better.
- The pads. Once agin, you expect better for that price. Touch and velocity are really not up to par. This device's biggest flaw. Far below its competitors. Now, it won't matter to launch loops with Live.
- This device is supposed to integrate perfectly with Reason. Apart from the transport panel and one or two synth controls, it remains minimal. Integration with the mixer is almost non-existent.

All in all, to be tested for Live users. Reason users, forget about it.

News MIDI Control Surface

Get Console 1 For $649

Published on 04/19/16
Until the end of May, Softube offers a special worldwide sale on its hardware/software mixer Console 1.

Livid Instruments to lower prices

Published on 01/29/16

Feature Articles MIDI Control Surface

Top Ableton Live controllers

Published on 04/28/18
Top Ableton Live controllers
Many of you out there use the famous Ableton sequencer and at one time or another have surely considered getting a controller to gain some creativity, comfort and speed.

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