Best Control Surfaces for Home Recording (TOP LIST For Beginners)

07/02/2020
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Long before you started with home recording…

You fantasized about how cool it would be to one-day sit at one of those giant analog mixing boards…just like the pros do.

But since then, you’ve probably discovered that mixing at home is more often done on a mouse and keyboard…

Which isn’t nearly as cool.  But there is an alternative…

Because by simply adding a control surface to your setup…

You can retain much of that old-school charm, while simultaneously improving the speed and precision of your workflow.

As anyone who owns one will tell you, once you mix with a real control surface, you’ll never go back.

So to help you find the ideal one for your studio, in today’s post we’ll look at the 7 best control surfaces currently on the market for home recording.

Let’s begin…

 

1. Presonus Fader Port

presonus fader port control surfaceThe biggest challenge most people face with control surfaces is…

Their desk is simply too small to fit a full-sized unit.

In this case, the Presonus Fader Port is the perfect option because it’s extremely compact…

Yet still offers all the most essential functions you would expect from any control surface.

A common question newbies ask when they see this type of control surface is:

Where are all the faders?

Well…using its “channel-select” feature, you can control any track in your session with that one fader.

And since most guys (newbies especially) use one fader at a time anyway…having multiple faders isn’t nearly as essential as some people think.

Notable features of the Fader Port include:

  • basic transport controls
  • window select options
  • footswitch jack for hands free punch in/out

Perhaps most important of all…the high-resolution fader allows you to accurately write automation, which in my opinion, is the one feature you REALLYwant to have.

And in case you’re wondering, the Fader Port (and virtually all control surfaces these days) is compatible with both Mac and PC, and all major DAW’s.

Up next…

2. Korg nanoKONTROL2

korg nanokontrol2 control surfaceThe cheapest of any control surface on this list…

The Korg nanoKONTROL2 squeezes 8 faders into an incredibly small device, which fits perfectly along-side your audio interface and other desktop gear.

As you can see, its layout is so simple, you probably won’t even need the manual.

Especially popular with electronic musicians, the nanoKONTROL2 is often used in combination with the both the nanoPAD – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann) for percussion and the nanoKEYS – (Amazon/B&H/GuitarC/MusiciansF/Thomann) for synths, to create the ultimate MIDI controller suite for home studios.

And with the included Korg Kontrol Editor Software, you can easily program custom commands for use with various virtual instruments.

However, because it DOESN’T have motorized faders, I wouldn’t recommend this option if you plan to record automation (although it can still be done).

I also wouldn’t recommend it for those who use lots of window and track groupings, as it offers none of those commands.

But if you don’t need any fancy extras, and all you want is a simple 8 track layout with transport controls, then the Korg nanoKONTROL2 is your perfect option.

Up next…

3. Steinberg CC121 for Cubase

steinberg cc121 control surface for cubase

Built by Steinberg, and designed specifically for Cubase

The Steinberg CC121 is the only control surface on this list tailored to work seamlessly with a single DAW.

While most control surface manufacturers take the “one-size-fits-all” approach to accommodate all major DAW’s…

Steinberg took the exact opposite approach with design, which allowed them to create layout intuitively-mirrored to Cubase’s visual interface.

And while its price is a little high for a single-fader control surface, the amazing functionality of the CC121 more than makes up for it.

For example…

One exceptional feature is the EQ section, which offers the 12 different knobs to control frequency, gain, and Q on 4 separate bands.

But its BEST feature is the one-of-a-kind Advanced Integration Controller Knobwith “point and control” support, which essentially allows you to control ANY Cubase parameter with a single knob, simply by pointing at the control with your mouse.

So if you do use Cubase, it is really an obvious choice.

Up next…

4. Mackie Control Universal Pro

mackie control universe pro

While you’d probably hate to admit it…

The truth is, what many of us want most from a control surface is: the look and feel of a real analog mixing board.

And the Mackie Control Universal Pro is the first option on the list with exactly that.

It’s MUCH larger, and heavier than any of the other options we’ve seen so far, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing…assuming you have the desk space.

Because in addition to its authentic look, what you also get is 9 motorized faders, and virtually all the standard controls and shortcuts you would expect from any control surface.

It also offers its own Proprietary Mackie communication protocol, which is supposedly more sophisticated than many of the older protocols, and allows for better integration with your DAW.

And if you ever need more faders, you can add one or more of the Mackie Control Extender Pro for an additional 8 tracks.

While it is pricey, you really get what you pay for with this device.  And as countless reviews will tell you, it’s well-worth the cost.

Up next…

5. Behringer B-Control Fader BCF2000

Behringer BCF2000 B-ControlThey may not be known for making high-end products…

And they’re certainly not known for making control surfaces…

So it comes as quite a shock when you first discover that Behringer currently makes one of the most popular controllers on the market…

The Behringer B-Control Fader BCF2000.

And the main reason for its popularity is its shockingly low price…which is about 1/4 the cost of comparable models in its category.

It’s definitely not the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen…

And people often say that the motorized faders are kinda noisy…

Yet the overall reviews are very positive…and it gets the job done for many happy home studio owners.

So if you want a full-featured control surface, but can’t afford the pricier models on this list, the BCF2000 is a great alternative.

Up next…

6. Avid Artist Mix

Euphonix Artist Mix Pro Tools Control SurfaceEasily my favorite of the 7 control surfaces on this list…

The Avid Artist Mix is not only beautiful to look at…

Its super-clean and visually-intuitive layout makes it really easy to use, despite the fact that it has more functionality than any of the options we’ve covered so far.

With its cutting-edge EUCON protocol technology with a super-fast ethernet connection, the Artist Mix offers a much smoother response than you’re probably used-to from older control surfaces.

And for non-EUCON-enabled devices and software…its compatible with both HUIand Mackie protocols as well.

However, one caution with this control surface is: because of its ethernet connection, newer laptops such as the Macbook Pro (which doesn’t have ethernet) will require either a thunderbolt-ethernet adapter, or a USB-ethernet adapter.

But overall, I’d say that the Avid Artist Mix is easily the best control surface option for the vast-majority of home studios, whether you use Pro Tools, or not.

Up next…

7. Avid Artist Control

Avid MC Control V2 pro tools control surfaceThe only other control surface you might argue is “better” than the Artist Mix, is its brother, the Avid Artist Control.

While their designs are very similar, as you can see upon closer inspection, the layout of this control surface is extremely different.

The most notable differences being…it has only 4 faders, but adds a highly-advanced and highly-customizable LED touchscreen to speed up your editing and mixing workflow.

Because the learning curve for this control surface can be much steeper than the other options on the list, I probably wouldn’t recommend it for beginners.

However…

For those at intermediate-advanced levels, there’s no other “home studio” option out there nearly as advanced as the Artist Control.  And when used in-combination with the Artist Mix, it gets even better.