Best DAW Control Surface

Updates for 2017

Flexibility is the trend among the best new digital audio workstation (DAW) control surfaces of 2017. While it was once necessary to design your studio around the needs of your DAW surface, you can now buy a control surface that molds itself to fit your needs. Our list of the best DAW control surfaces of 2017 includes two new units that adapt to your needs in different ways. The Asparion D400 has a modular design that fits anywhere, and the Slate Raven MTi2 has a touch screen that automatically displays controls for all of the most popular DAW packages.

Best DAW Control Surface of 2017: Our Choices

DAW Control Surface Price Point Best for? Short Description
Korg nanoKONTROL2 $59 on Amazon Best surface controller for the price The nanoKONTROL2 provides eight channels of the controllers you need to control your music software.
Nektar Panorama P1 Control Surface $220 on Amazon Best surface controller between $200-$450 Affordable eight-channel mixer with the ability to recognize the tempo of your music for more advanced effects processing.
Mackie MCU Pro 8-channel Control Surface with USB $1,099 on Amazon Best control surface between $1,000 -$1,500 The tool works like it is actually designed for your software – from Pro Tools to Logic, and more.

Best Budget DAW Surface Controllers

1. BEHRINGER X-TOUCH MINI

BEHRINGER X-TOUCH MINI

For its perfect combination of being affordable, transportable and powerful, the Behringer X-Touch Mini is the number one choice in this category. It is the smallest product in the company’s new X-Touch series. With two control layers and 16 illuminated buttons, there is everything you need for basic control surface functions. This gives you the benefit of having a powerful workstation that you can take anywhere without having to lug around heavy equipment. If you need drum pads, plan on purchasing them separately.

Features

  • USB and MIDI ports
  • Universal remote for functions
  • 60mm master fader with long wear
  • Easy in-depth configuration
  • Dual-layer mode for quick changes
  • Solid construction in comparison with similar products

Software

This controller is compatible with most professional audio production software programs and all of the most popular professional DAW programs.

Price

The Behringer X-Touch Mini starts at about $60.

2. Korg nanoKONTROL2Most Popular

Korg nanoKONTROL2

The Korg nanoKONTROL2 surface controller has eight faders and is very small in size. It is simple enough to use that you may not even need to read the manual to know how to operate it. Since it lacks motorized faders, it is not an ideal choice if you want to record automation. However, it is easy to use for most purposes. Also, you can pair it with a nanopad percussion device and a nanokeys synthesizer to make a complete MIDI suite at home.

Features

  • USB connection
  • Low-profile appearance
  • Control surface with multiple functions
  • Marker advance
  • New track selection

Software

This surface controller is compatible with most programs including the main DAW programs. It usually comes with Korg Kontrol Editor. Owners have also used it with the Logic Pro X and ProTools programs without any issues.

Price

You can get the Korg nanoKONTROL2 for around $60.

3. Icon Digital QCon Lite

Icon Digital QCon Lite

Although Icon is somewhat new to the digital audio production market in the United States, it has been producing high-quality products for several years in other markets. The QCon Lite has a simple and compact design. There are four encoder knobs, a motorized fader, 16 buttons for pre-set functions, a jog wheel and eight assignable buttons.

Features

  • USB and MIDI ports
  • 100mm motorized fader
  • Easy assignment
  • Push encoders for parameter control
  • LCD digital information display

Software

The QCon Lite is compatible with Windows XP, Vista, 7 and 8. It is also compatible with OS X or higher. There are built-in presets for Amplitude, Logic Pro, Nuendo, ProTools, Cubase and Ableton. It may not work with other programs.

Price

This unit starts at about $125.

Best Medium-Priced DAW Surface Controllers

1. Behringer B-Control Fader BCF2000

BEHRINGER B-CONTROL FADER BCF2000

Although this device has simple construction, its wide range of functions and affordable price tag make it number one in this category. To get the same full range of features on a competitor’s DAW surface controller, you would have to spend about four times as much as you would pay for the Behringer B-Control Fader BCF2000. Its size also makes it easy to accommodate in any recording space.

Features

  • USB and MIDI ports
  • Sturdy construction
  • Intuitive interface
  • Eight 100mm motorized faders
  • Dual-mode encoders with high resolution
  • Four virtual groups
  • MIDI buttons with multiple functions
  • Panel elements are all assignable

Software

This controller is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems. Editor software, librarian software and additional drivers are available for download from Behringer.com. Although this controller may work with most professional software programs, you can find what you need from Behringer’s site for this device.

Price

The Behringer B-Control Fader BCF2000 starts at about $300.

2. Icon QCon Pro

Icon Qcon Pro

8-fader DAW Control Surface incl Cubase LE – starts at $750

Qcon Pro Extender – starts at $625

Pro Tools Ableton Controller with Pair Fostex T50RP Studio Headphones
ICON
– starts at $810

If you are not concerned about your unit being portable, the sturdy Icon QCon Pro is an excellent choice for value. You get the same features as you would find in a model that is three times the price. It communicates between hardware and software quickly, and you can control a wide array of functions remotely with ease.

Features

  • USB, MIDI and pedal ports
  • Nine 100mm motorized faders
  • Push encoders with LED rings
  • Control transport
  • Easy automation
  • Track assignment
  • Mute/solo/rec features
  • Control 32 channels with QConEX extenders

Software

This device is compatible with Windows and Mac operating systems. Since it is a class-compliant controller, there is no need to download additional drivers. It is designed to support Dubase, Logic Pro, ProTools, Nuendo, Live, Samplitude, Reaper, Reason and Studio One programs. If you use a different program, the QCon Pro has a MIDI learning mode to help it learn programs that are not already supported.

Price

This unit starts at about $750.

3. Roland AIRA MX-1

Roland AIRA MX1 Mix Performer Control Surface

The Roland AIRA MX-1 has great sound effects that are designed to be easily manipulated and are sensibly rhythmic with the device’s tempo awareness and advanced interface. If you already use a different type of controller, the MX-1 integrates beautifully with most other devices. You can use it to create polyrhythms, smoothly fade any sound in or out and much more.

Features

  • Performance mixer with eight channels
  • Step-sequenced tempo control, transport and FX
  • Filter, slicer and side chain
  • Beat and master FX are both applicable to all inputs
  • Four USB ports with MIDI, bus and sync
  • Mix mode includes 13 channels
  • External mode has 18 channels
  • Instant save and recall of setups
  • Easy monitoring and changing

Software

This device usually comes with Ableton Live Lite. It works with several other DAW and professional audio recording software programs and with Windows and Mac operating systems.

Price

The AIRA MX-1 starts at about $600.

Best DAW Surface Controllers In Any Price Range

1. Mackie MCU Pro 8-channel Control Surface with USB

Wouldn’t love for you setup to be as simple as plug and play? That is the case with many DAW surface controllers over $1,000.00 and it is true with the Mackie MCU. This product aims to make your daily tasks more simple. For example, writing automation for many tracks in humongous music projects is as simple as pushing a button – and the same goes for mixing for film and television as well.

Pros

  • You don’t get the “cheap plastic feel”
  • Works great with most music production software
  • No MIDI mapping required
  • Streamline mixing in your project studio or scale up with multiple MCU XTs to mix major projects
  • Seamless software integration
  • Proproetary Mackie communication protocol
  • V-Pot control over software, plug-in effects and virtual instruments
  • Over fifty dedicated buttons for fine control of software parameters
  • Works great with both Windows & Mac

Cons

  • Mackie support seems to be one of the only defects
  • Cost is higher than some of the other surfaces listed here
  • Some users complained about needing a better manual

2. Solid State Logic NucleusSOLD OUT

Solid State Logic Nucleus DAW Control SSL

Check out some of the products that are new on their this company’s website (like the Nucleus2). We’ll update this page with more information once we hear more about product availability

For its capabilities and versatility, the SSL Nucleus ranks number one. It is perfect for songwriters and professional mixing projects. There are great workflow enhancements, hands-on DAW controls and superior sound quality. SSL’s unique V-Pots make control a breeze in addition to the 16 smooth motorized faders. With this device, you can use up to three DAWs simultaneously. You also get the power of two 900K SuperAnalogue preamps to complement the impressive interface. The features below are just the highlights. However, there are many more.

Features

  • Customized soft keys for workflow definition
  • Ethernet DAW controller
  • USB and MIDI ports
  • Run connected DAWs with a single button
  • Touch-based 100mm motorized faders
  • Assignable soft keys and V-Pots for digital scribble strips
  • HUI and MCU controls for wide compatibility
  • Two user modes
  • Hi-Z switches for microphones and instruments
  • Wet/dry blend and mixdown mode

Software

This device is compatible with most Mac and Windows operating systems. It is also compatible with Cubase, Nuendo, Logic, ProTools and most major DAW programs.

Price

The SSL Nucleus starts at about $6,700, but is worth every penny for its wide array of features.

3. Avid Pro Tools S3

Avid Pro Tools S3 Surface Controller

For a small console, the Avid Pro Tools S3 packs powerful sound capabilities. It follows in the S6’s footsteps for being one of the best compact mixing units available. With its streamlined setup, it easily handles modern workflows. It is a great choice if you have limited space in your studio but need all of the capabilities that a professional device has to offer. The ergonomic design of this unit makes it a great choice for staying comfortable through long periods of work.

Features

  • App awareness allows for easy switching between DAWs
  • Recognizes a wide range of apps
  • Intuitive operation
  • USB and MIDI ports
  • DAW integration
  • Responsive handling
  • Workflow acceleration
  • EUCON technology makes tasks seamless and fast

Software

This device is compatible with most operating systems, and its EUCON technology gives it the ability to easily mix with Logic Pro, Cubase, ProTools and most other major DAW programs.

Price

The Avid Pro Tools S3 starts at about $5,000.

4. Behringer Digital Mixer X32

BEHRINGER DIGITAL MIXER X32

The Behringer X32 is a great choice for easy use with all of the bells and whistles. With a seamless interface, you can concentrate more on the music instead of on complex mixing tasks. It eliminates the hassle of using countless menus and encoders. If you are looking for a high-end controller that will make your job easier, this is an ideal choice.

Features

  • Midas-designed mic preamps
  • Digital console with 40 input channels
  • Generous 25 automated motorized 100mm faders
  • USB, MIDI, XLR, phone and additional line ports
  • Scribble strips on all buses and channels
  • Onboard FX
  • Comprehensive controls
  • Impressive I/O
  • X-USB card allows recording onto DAW

Software

This device is compatible with most operating systems and is compatible with Studio One, Logic Pro, ProTools, Cubase and most other Core or ASIO DAW systems.

Price

The Behringer X32 starts at about $2,300.

5. PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI

PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI Active Integration Digital Mixer

If you want the best studio-quality tools in an easy-to-use interface, this is a good DAW controller for you. The PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI has 32 channels and onboard DSP with Active Integration. You also gain the ability to record via Wi-Fi or using FireWire 800, which both make remote recording easy.

Features

  • Class A XMAX mic preamps
  • Adds dimension with four onboard digital effects processors
  • USB wireless LAN for remote control with mobile devices or computers
  • Fat-channel processors for optimal quality
  • SMT for fast tuning in any new setting
  • Optional Dante, AVB and Thunderbolt cards for advanced setups

Software

This PreSonus device is compatible with most operating systems and major DAW software programs.

Price

The PreSonus StudioLive 32.4.2AI starts at about $2,300.

6. Midas M32-R Digital Console

Midas worked with Bentley motors to give this product a superb and long-lasting design. With 40 channels, this digital mixing studio has all of the bells and whistles packed into a smaller device. You can fit it in nearly any size of studio. It allows up to 96 inputs and outputs. If pristine sound quality is your top priority, the Midas M32-R is a good selection. The processing power of this device is comparable to models that cost nearly twice as much. An intuitive layout makes it easy to become familiar with quickly, and the layout also makes it easy for you to access the most important functions quickly.

Features

  • Perfect for professional live or studio recording
  • Midas preamps create unparalleled sound quality
  • Custom motorized faders for consistency
  • FX rack with more than 50 effects processors
  • Cue list of automation of complex shows
  • USB, MIDI and multiple other ports
  • Multiple internal effects engines
  • Signal path with 48 kHz

Software

You can use this DAW surface controller with most Mac and Windows operating systems. It is compatible with all of the major DAW software programs and may be compatible with some other audio recording programs.

Price

The Midas M32-R Digital starts at about $3,000.

Choosing The Right DAW Surface Controller

First, decide how much you are willing to spend. If you only require basic capabilities, you can get by with spending less than $200. You have to spend more if you want the ability to accomplish advanced effects. For professional use, you should plan on spending at least $1,000. You will need advanced interfaces, high-quality mic preamps and other professional features for top-notch productions. Keep in mind that the features listed on this guide for each product highlight the main features. To understand what the features mean or what other detailed capabilities they provide, you should research the desired product and its features before making a purchase.

  • Valgeir Árnason

    Please correct me if I’m wrong……Presonus StudioLive does not have motorized faders. How would you use that as surface control?

    • audioassemble

      the AI model has motorized faders but the studiolive is just … A mixer

      • Emmanuel

        TH studiolive mixer 16 24 or 32 AI series does not have motorized fader. The only one that has is the CS series or the new Studiolive 32 series 3. I work with a 24.4.2AI and it doesn’t have motorized fader.

        • Curere Farrell

          actually the series III studio live has motorized faders

          • audioassemble

            You da man @curerefarrell:disqus!

          • Emmanuel

            Re-read my comment, I did mention that the studiolive 32 series 3 had motorized faders.

    • DIVINE AUDIO KINGS

      you don’t need motorized faders to write the automation, or control the parameters within the software DAW using the device. (DAW control surface)

      But the faders won’t move on their own, on the device during playback.

      Not ideal at all but it can be done, like the korg nano control, you can control all or most parameters, but there is not motorization on playback.

  • Emmanuel

    Surprised you haven’t included the icon qcon pro and it’s expansion units. Beats the mcu in my opinion