Get this.

When I used to sell recording equipment, I can’t tell you how many times a “studio owner” would call me asking about one of the big, $10,000+ control surfaces for Pro Tools.

They would straight up tell me that they just wanted it for the look, that they might not even actually USE it.

(In case you don’t know, a control surface is something that looks like a mixer, has faders and buttons, and is used to control your recording software. It allows you to — among other things — move the faders in your software with your hands rather than a mouse.)

I regularly get questions from people wanting to know which control surface they should buy.

My response? DON’T GET ONE.

Think about it.

A control surface doesn’t do a single thing to improve the sound quality of your mixes. I promise you if you mix a song on a control surface, I’m not going to be able to tell.

Instead of dropping $1,000+ on a glorified mouse, I’d rather spend that money improving the quality of my recordings.

What types of things do that?

*acoustic treatment

…and the list goes on.

Yes, some control surfaces have audio I/O on them as well, but I bet you a nice shiny quarter that you could get better sound quality for your money by ditching the fancy faders and getting a great-sounding front end.

A control surface won’t make your mixes sound better.

Knowing how to properly use compression, on the other hand, will.

More details here:

Joe Gilder

P.S. I’ve owned control surfaces, and the ones I think make the most sense are the ones with a single fader and transport controls, like the Faderport from Presonus. It gives you the benefits of a control surface without wasting lots of money on something that doesn’t directly affect your sound.

91 Responses to “Why Control Surfaces Aren’t Worth It”

  1. Urk

    There are lots of control surfaces that don’t cost anywhere near $10,000. Since, as you say below, this post is aimed at home studio users, then most of the audience you’re addressing is likely contemplating spending somewhere between $400 and $1000, not $10,0000. Whether it’s worth that or not is pretty subjective. Obviously, it isn’t for you. But for those of us who enjoy manipulating audio with faders and knobs instead of mouse clicks, there may be an entirely different answer.

    We’re talking about how we literally spend countless hours of our time. Mixing is a physical process as well as a mental process. If you find it satisfying and rewarding to spend those hours hunched over your desk with your hand wrapped around your mouse like a claw, that’s great. But for someone who finds it more comfortable to mix with knobs and faders, a $500 DAW controller could be a great investment in physical comfort. Maybe you’d prefer to mix standing up. That’s ok. Some of us prefer chairs. That’s ok too.

    As far as whether it can make your mixes sound better, that’s also not a question with one yes-or-no universal answer. If you find it more comfortable and pleasant to mix with knobs and faders, then there’s a good chance that you’ll be more patient and focused and spend more time on your mixes.

    • Joe Gilder

      You’re absolutely right. There are definite benefits to control surfaces in terms of how they help you engage with the mix. I’m mainly talking to people who don’t have a great-sounding front end and want to spend their money on a control surface. I’d rather spend money on things that improve sound quality BEFORE I spend money on things that improve efficiency.

  2. Scott Jenner

    Agree. I have need of less expensive control surface like the Steinberg CC121 designed specifically for Cubase and Ableton Push for Ableton Live. Since typing much hurts my hands due to past injury, for me, having a low impact affordable control surface is a must so I can actually produce music without pain. Touching a few buttons relieves pressure in my hands and elbows and lets me concentrate on creating the music. Now with that said, I never would spend 1k or 10k on a control surface unless I was making $$$$ for a living and can deduct the cost on taxes or some studio bought one. Look at Yamaha Nuage and high end Avid Pro Tool systems these cost 40-100k JUST for a workflow control surface!

  3. Chidi Nnadi

    Most people who want to use a control surface do it so they don’t exert too much pressure on their muscles buy focusing intensely for hours on a small mouse pointer. I personally get a stiff neck, twitchy eyes and sometimes chest pain after long mixing sessions. Also, they help you focus more on the sound and not the software. Your post is very ignorant and uninformed.

    • Joe Gilder

      Not ignorant or uninformed. A control surface doesn’t affect sound quality. I totally understand why folks would want some. You raise some great points. But in my opinion I’d rather spend money on something that can improve sound quality.

  4. side west mid drummer

    Why doesn’t the better stuff I bought make my recordings sound better?? Well, chances are you spent more hours reading reviews for your control surface than you did studying mic positioning and basic recording science. Remember that your expensive equipment still only responds to user input. User error is most frequently due to lack of proper training on the equipment or lack of education in the field in which the equipment was intended to function. Things don’t happen the way you want them to, because you don’t know the correct way to make them happen. I say that to say this; A proper understanding and execution of technique will always yield greater results than an attempt to supplement technology in place of knowledge, understanding and, most important, artistry.

  5. Jack Artorius (zanxu)

    I believe they’re just being lazy, I once thought about purchasing a 8-pader control surface for fast mixing(coz I was tired of moving faders with my mouse), it’s just not worth the investment for me. In the end I chose DAW remote on ipad and it’s really good, no need for a control surface.

  6. Pablo Ferrigno

    Carpal-Tunnel-Syndrome… The less you use the mouse, the better…

  7. Mad Pierrot

    A tech friend of mine once described the C24 as “too much hot glue and NO magic”. That’s where I am now. In days of old the feats of engineering that went into those vintage consoles warranted much $. The C24? No way, Hosé. Chinese sweat shop and a huge profit for Avid and the likes. Now, why don’t we try and combine the… wait, it’s been done! It’s Raven MTi. Now that makes sense!

    • Jim Bordner

      The Raven is just a flashier version of every other control surface, only with less functionality. I make a living producing music for ads and video games and I, too, thought the Raven was the future, but after 3 months of working with it, I sold my Raven, replaced it with a Korg NanoKontrol Studio, and spent the bucks on Cinesamples instruments. As Joe says, a far better investment in quality. Also, it’s spelled “José.”

      • Mad Pierrot

        Ok, José. Although, many people make a living producing music. And many would disagree with you. If you want to spend extra money on a fake fader, that’s cool.

  8. Nixtradamus

    I agree with the author. A few automation curves drawn with a mouse or a single fader controller is more than enough for the average project – proper gain staging, compression and mic technique will greatly minimize the need for dramatic fader action. My personal taste is for as little physical gear around my desk – a few keyboard shortcuts and drawn automation curves are all I need.

    The best way to save money and time in the studio is to hire good musicians. That’s the secret formula for great recordings: good arrangement and good performers – then, we don’t need the ‘surgical eq’, the 20-1 compression ratio, the 17 reverb plugins or 42 automation curves. (the above assumes an acoustically sound recording room, of course, but that’s a totally different topic).

  9. Danny Pellegrini

    I think that control surfaces are like any other piece of gear. There are good ones, bad ones, expensive ones, and everything in between.

    You don’t REALY need them, just like you don’t REALY need an expensive instrument like a Gibson Les Paul to play guitar well. However cool gear like beautiful instruments often inspires creativity which is very valuable when mixing in my opinion.

    Furthermore, rapid eye movement combined with the use of your hands (i.e. using a mouse on a computer screen) detracts from your brain’s hearing capabilities as discussed in the AES Audio Engineer’s handbook. Control surfaces help address this issue by allowing you to mix with your ears instead of your eyes.

    • Joe Gilder

      Great points, Thanks for sharing Danny. My buddy Graham said something recently about how our brain waves literally behave differently when we’re looking at a screen vs when our eyes are closed. VERY interesting…

  10. Tour_of_Rooms

    Control Surfaces? A waste? $10K? What type of control surface are you
    talking about? Because I never heard of a Control Surface being used to
    improve the quality of a recording. It’s called making life easier when
    working with software settings and parameters that typically require
    using a mouse and/or keyboard. For home studio use, a COntrol Surface,
    even with motorized faders could be had for less than $500 and a good
    high quality used one like the Mackie has made so many an enthusiast
    tickled pink. If you think that spending that sorta change is a waste to
    simplify life when doing some computer recording in a home studio then
    we MUST be talking about 2 different things. A control surface doesn’t
    cost 10 thousand dollars. If it does, then there mut be some high end
    studio gear out there that I am not ever going to need. But my $500
    investment might be like $10K if I were a big studio looking for the
    type of gear suitable for big pro studios and 10K might be worth it to
    the guy running it. If he finds it useful, and can afford it, I say get
    it. Whatever keps you making music your way. Take a page from EVH,.
    SOmewhat edited comment but, if it sounds good it is good. I say if it
    feels good, it is good. Just do it

    Anyone who knows recording is
    never gonna deny good mics and mic placement is important. But, good
    placement is more important than spending $5k on a mic. If anyone wants
    to insist that expensive quality mics are the only way to get a good
    sound then I guess we will never be able to explain why the SM58 was
    able to produce some of the most amazing recordings. If the mic is what
    makes a vocal sound good then you got no voice and should take up
    another instrument. Same with guitar. A great player can make rusty
    strings and a cheap old accoustic with a broken top sound incredible. I
    know I am not one to waste money on things not necessary but Control
    Surfaces make more sense than not. If you are not one that prefers one,
    it’s the better choice for you. But it’s not really valuable information
    when you state they are a waste for others who rather have one. A bit
    one sided, wouldn’t you say?

    • Joe Gilder

      You’re right, not all control surfaces are super expensive. But the really big Pro Controls, etc. from Avid costs upwards of $100,000. And again, they don’t pass any audio. Just controlling the software.
      Sure there’s value in improved workflow, but if a home studio guy has $500 to spend, I think there are better places to spend his money than on a control surface. I like to spend money on things that improve the sound. Control surfaces don’t do that. Workflow? Sure. But I’ve also known many people who have bought little control surfaces an not used them. 8 faders and knobs are nice, but you still end up doing just as much clicking and “banking” through the faders to get to the one you want.
      If you want a control surface, by all means grab one and have fun. My point was simply to give people pause to question whether the amount of sonic improvement would be worth the investment.

      • Tour_of_Rooms

        It’s probably 2 entirely different reasons we might be talking about. 1 being the workflow. But I don’t think anyone would disagree that a control surface isn’t gonna improve sound. But, it might improve workflow for the guy who finds it useful and thus creating a very good environment as he works which can in turn improve how he mixes. I know what you mean about buying something and never using it though. The tech or engineer who is actively recording and is having issues that can be resolved by a control surface, this can be a good solution. But for the one who is trying to build something and isn’t really doing much shouldn’t bother. I’m not using a control surface myself but have always considered one. But I don’t want to end up with something I cannot use. I think the small studio at home doesn’t have to have one. I just looked into the expensive control surfaces and I can’t believe anyone would invest that kind of money on one. I agree that money like that could be spent in alot of ways that would be more beneficial. But some cool little control pads and surfaces with moving faders are kinda nice to have in some situations. But I agree that alot of money could be better spent on some other things. Expecially if it is about producing better sound.

  11. Nathan Allen Pinard

    Doesn’t affect your sound no, but it affects your workflow.

  12. Jim

    Maybe you’re talking about a particular musical genre where balancing levels isn’t as important?, but generally speaking, telling folks not to use a surface is like telling a painter which brush to use or not. You use the one that works. Perhaps others won’t hear the difference, but you yourself may and inspiration never hurts a true artist. That’s money well spent. Yes, improve what you do first is a given, but I have to say, when you’re ready to take your mixes to the next level and you’ve learned the basics, learning to use faders outside the box is an art-form you’ll truly appreciate.

  13. NLM

    A good article. Recording quality should be a priority. there is something to be gained though from the ability to move multiple faders pots or parameters at once for efficiency’s sake. not that i could even dream of dropping that kind of money on a mouse right now. but if i did… it’d be built into my desk tomorrow right after i grabbed a pair Neumann small diaphragms. its a glorified mouse but its an awesome glorified mouse. sure there are smaller ones and digital ones but they’re not necessarily as versatile. with a control 24 you don’t need to get up for jack

  14. workerbee

    no use for a hobby but absolutely useful for work. I have a D command – keeps a mix interesting, maintains my love for the job, and a do more work in a shorter time. and they aint $10,000….. a lot more unfortunately !! paid for themselves very quickly though

    • workerbee

      oh – and they DO make your mixes sound better – balancing 20 mic’s via a mouse….waste of time! Automating via a mouse – waste of time …Faderport helps … but the benefits of trimming, VCA groups ext are only really good if you are on a surface that helps. Agreed – not necessary for a hobby..

  15. Tib Mozes

    hey why are you all arguing about something that you’re all right the only difference is the difference between the demanded tasks!?1….hey if you are home-bee than get what you can afford ,then slowly increase according to the demands(commercial/amateur) and the professional level you are at/achieved! is that simple ……make music whatever way and level you are able tto achieve it and enjoy life,our time if finite, so instead of arguing just enjoy1…”this is just a ride”!!!!

  16. Don Keedik

    This is silly.

    You say that most of your audience are home studio owners and/or are not mixing commercial projects.

    Well, the first full band I recorded with a DAW years back and mixed at my home studio nearly gave me carpal tunnel from all the mouse clicking. There’s no other way around 1000s of necessary mouse movements than to have a control surface.

    A control surface can absolutely improve the sound of your mix by reducing overall user fatigue and substantially improving workflow. You can also feel motivated to do a lot more to a mix out of ease and not endless mousing.

    You say don’t get one, then say that you’ve used them and seen the benefits of the Faderport.

    I think the point you should have made was that, while control surfaces are a very beneficial tool, spending top dollar on one isn’t necessary for home/project use.

    Perhaps a better column would’ve been on reviewing control surfaces that are under $1000.

    • Joe Gilder

      Thanks for the comment! I disagree that it’s silly. A control surface can absolutely help with workflow, but it doesn’t directly affect audio quality. That’s all I’m saying.

  17. Rockitdog

    There are a lot of people here talking about how learning mic placement and compression is more important and this is true, but I fail to see how these people are in the market for a “$10 000 +” control surface,. When it comes to professional production, isn’t workflow one of the most important things? With recall and hand on control over just about every single parameter, doesn’t it make more sense to work on a control surface in certain industries? For post production its a godsend and the high end of that market have been using Euphonix systems for years. Time is money and with one of those overpriced control surface (I dont disagree that they are overpriced), you stand a chance of making more money by providing a better service by getting work out quicker. And in this time of competitive production, clients need material fast. Sitting around recalling all the parameters for an analog mix can take all morning, providing your assistant took all the correct notes down. believe me, I love working on an SSL, but when it comes to getting the work out the door, and to a very high standard, with the ability to make client changes without setting up the mix again, high end control surfaces have to be the way forward? Surely? We recently fitted an S6 “super-mouse” and its fantastic! If you like the sound of analog processors, then use them! If you have enough money for a $10K+ control surface, you would also have the budget for a serious front end. Once your in the box get on with it. You can jump from session to session, make changes and recall to an earlier state. I think that this “I will only ever record on a Neve” nonsense comes from Dave Grohl (Because he famously bought one) and people that have never actually use one.

    I do find it strange that you tell your customers not to get a control surface. I would probably move onto the next salesman if one told me I didn’t need something I wanted. And yes! I have a faderport in my home studio, its fantastic! Dont know where I would be without it. Riding a fader with a mouse just doesn’t work for me at all.

    • Joe Gilder

      Couple things.

      1. I think you made my point. You own a Faderport, not a huge control surface. For a lot of people I think that’s more than adequate.
      2. This is a website for home studio folks, not high end post-production professionals. Most home studio folks are on a budget. If it comes down to spending a few thousand dollars on a control surface and a few thousand on better front end equipment, I will always choose against a control surface.
      All the benefits you mentioned of working in the box still apply if all you use is a mouse. And again, no one in a home studio is debating whether or not to buy a Neve or SSL.

      • Urk

        There are lots of control surfaces that don’t cost anywhere near a couple of thousand dollars. You can get a Presonus Faderport 8 for anywhere from $350-$500. If you want to go to 16 faders, you can get a Faderport 16 for $1000. Whether this is worth it or not depends on what you prefer to be doing with your body physically while you are making and committing mix decisions. This comparison to Neve and SSL consoles is a false equivalence.

        • Joe Gilder

          Great points.

          JOE GILDER

          – See the latest video on my YouTube channel . – Check out my latest EP Fighter

        • Joe Gilder

          Yeah those Faderports are great, but they didn’t exist years ago when I wrote this post. 🙂

          Only point I’m trying to make is control surfaces might be helpful for workflow, and that’s important, but they don’t technically affect the sound. That’s all.

  18. Keith

    I feel my control surface is absolutely necessary. I am a musician, songwriter and now engineer/producer. when I am sitting across the room 10 feet away from the computer while recording tracks, the controller allows me to arm/record and playback without getting up.

  19. Jamie R

    I disagree that you don¨t need a control surface. It totally depends on what line of work you do. As a mixer for movies and television, or even just shorts; a small fader/rotary controller can save a lot of time and grief, and quite frankly you not need to spend 1000’s of dollars.

    A small Behringer BCF2000 i.e cost next to nothing and gives you the posibility to have what, some odd 42 channels? It is not a lot, but hey… it will make you think about how you lay stuff out and at the end of the day, get the job done. Even though the newer models might not function properly in PT so be aware of that. The 2k series does work well from what I hear.

    When your mix is near complete, why not rent a stage for a day to do some cleanup of the mix, and jot down the rest to do at home. At least then you know where to take your mix.

    Obviously other things like acoustic treatment and gear for better listening is key, because what good is a studio with problems like room modes cancelling specific frequencies at certain listening spots in the room, or other technical problems that can totally make you wreck the mix. But as much as you want to spend on quality I think productivity also should be accounted for and in favor yield more quality work.

    Just my 5 cents 🙂 /rantover

    • Joe Gilder

      Absolutely. But must of my audience aren’t mixing commercial stuff, and tend to be better served by improving the sound quality rather than the workflow…but that’s just my opinion. 🙂

  20. CamBam

    My MIDI keyboard has eight faders and eight knobs, which I use for the most important part of mixing: EQ. I like the fact that I can adjust the q and gain/reduction at the same time. It helps a lot, but I would rather have bought 115 dollars worth of foam.

  21. Josh

    I grew up working on an old analog desk. I love the having my hands all over a mix. With that being said, in my opinion control surfaces have become almost obsolete. Yeah they are great for workflow but I tend to think that they are around for sex appeal more than anything else these days. When you go to a website of a larger studio they will always have sexy pictures of these great consoles or these large mile long control surfaces plastered all over their site. Us home studio guys don’t really have that same visual sex appeal in our studios. We have to let our mixes be our advertisement,…not our mix desk. Which is awesome! However, I think there is a huge potential for a lot of us that own home studio to get sucked into thinking that we need a control surface to get clients. Ten years ago that would have been absolutely true. Times have changed. I have been in studios that have these huge control surfaces (like a control24) that hardly get touched during the edit/mix phase. Obviously this isn’t true for everyone, but at this stage of my studio life I will put the money into tone over visual stimulation any day. But dang I would probably donate a kidney for an old SSL or API 😉

      • Tib Mozes

        thats an honest and true explanation! for example ,my control surface is an ipad but if it didn’t exit, i’d use a BCF or a fader port coz thats what I can afford but most people were led to think that if they dont get this 10k CSurface or that …they’re never gonna achieve a good, professional,commercial mix….come ooon we all know that isn’t true….hey!!!!… dont forget that most of EDm people mix their commercial releases on a f laptop!!!! and yet they sell gzillions of copies!!!! NOOOO definitely your success isnt gonna depend on 100K control surface!!….much more on attitude,determination passion and love for “good” music that carries a message, that touches people’s heart!!!

  22. Eric

    I actually agree with some of the other responders on here that control surfaces actually are very helpful and I really don’t find them to be any kind of glorified mouse. I own a Project Mix I/O, and I bought it for about half the price it retails for, and while I know it may not possess the best pre’s, it still has given me the opportunity to line in several good pre’s, and add on 8 more ADAT pre’s to have a full 16 channels of channels, in addition to the addition of several other things around my studio.

    Clearly the control surface aspect of it doesn’t make my sound quality any better, but I think my workflow has been great since I bought it, and it’s given me a lot of options to do a huge variety of things in my studio.

    Sure, I can mix without the control surface, but I prefer to have it around since I feel like I can get a mix I’m happy about in less time than if I didn’t have it.

    To pull a page from your book, “use what you have”. I wouldn’t get rid of this now since I have it, I really like it, and I’ve made a good amount of mixes with it that I’ve been happy about. And at the end of the day, isn’t that what we’re all striving for? Having mixes we’re happy with, and our clients are happy with?

    • Joe Gilder

      I don’t doubt the value of workflow, but I also think a lot of beginners would rather focus on “workflow” than sound quality. They might choose a control surface over a good microphone, preamp, or acoustic treatment.

      I think control surfaces CAN makes sense, but a lot of people jump onto the control surface discussion too early. I think it should be one of the last things home studio folks focus on, after focusing on learning their software, honing their skills, etc.

      • David

        I agree with that, Joe. Learn mic placement. Learn the HOW’s and WHY’s of sound. Train your ears. Learn how to get great sounds on what you already own. THEN look into things like control surfaces. The only reason I prefer control surfaces is because I came up on those old huge analogue desks. It’s just what I’m used to.


        • Joe Gilder

          It’s all about mindset for me. Putting the cart before the horse can lead to not getting better, which leads to frustration, which leads to not really wanting to bother with this whole recording thing.

          I’d rather people keep getting better, get excited about recording, rather than quitting out of frustration because they put too much emphasis on the wrong stuff.

      • Emmanuel

         Well really, if you’re a hobbyist working in your home studio, maybe it’s not a must. But if you’re working and making a living out of it, efficiency is a must, not just for sex appeal, but being able to work fast and well without losing time. That’s what a control surface is all about. I’ve worked on neves in commercial studio’s and I have a control surface here, never will you see me use a mouse to mix a fader at a time. Waste of time, and waste of my clients money.

        I understand where you are going with this, but placing control surfaces as a toyish waste of money is not doing them any services either. As part of being able to do good recording is understanding the limitation and possibilities of your equipment, not just how to place a mic buy this preamp and all will sound better. Even if you have the best preamps around, if you don’t know how to use your tools to get the best out of everything, you’re still going to be stuck. So instead I’d say, control surfaces are a good addition to your studio if you need it, but there are other things that you may want to look into before hand, and depending on your own efficiency, needs and budget.

        • Joe Gilder

          I think we’re in agreement.

          I never said they’re a “toyish waste.” 🙂

          And I agree that they can make you more efficient. I’ve owned several. But I’ve also seen control surfaces cause me to waste MORE time. Like with editing, for example…for me personally, I’m much faster with a mouse and some keyboard shortcuts. A control surface would waste so much time for me.
          For faders and mixing I definitely see the draw, but even then, I’ve spent so much time “banking” through 8 faders at a time, which sometimes took 5 seconds to find the right track, when it would’ve take 1 second with a mouse.
          Of course, everyone’s mileage may vary, but those are my experiences.

          • Joseph Kurz

            Hey Joe, you seemed to touch a nerve. I think they miss that you were talking about sound quality, not work flow. I think it’s cool that professionals are that into a site on home studios. I’ve been clicking a mouse for 3 years in the studio sometimes for 8 hours. It ain’t nothing compared to what I do for my day job.

  23. Bob Sorace

    Great… Thanks guys, I haven’t been to a gear site in forever, and now the wheels are turning.

    Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!!!

  24. CamBam

    Joe, do you think the BCF2000 from Behringer would be worth it? it is only 200$

    • JLiRD808

      Its got its pros/cons. The faders can be kinda clunky and noisey as they move about. They also aren’t touch sensitive.

      They are the most affordable motorized fader mixer out there though….and people have chained like 4-6 together and made entire “boards” lol.

      • Smurf

        Yup, check the link in my post below to see some examples of some BCF-BCR’s chained together!

  25. czar

    I agree control surface won’t make your mixes sound better but a control surface to me is about workflow. I own a faderport and love it. The automation you can do with it and studio one is incredible they way you can quickly jump in and out of automation modes

    • Joe Gilder

      I personally tend to do automation better with a mouse, but that’s just personal preference. I do like the Faderport, though.

  26. Jordan

    I completely agree with this post, BUT after purchasing the little Korg nano-whatever(the miniature mixer one) It has actually made my mixing sessions a bit easier.

    I can instantly adjust the levels of 4+ tracks, and dont have to go by hand along the faders, trying to figure out which one needs to be leveled out a bit more.

    I would actually reccomend one for this reason alone. It’s just a workflow enhancer

      • CamBam

        I like the nanoKontrol, but I am pretty sure that the original one was better.

        • Jason

          the original IS the Nanokontrol…the 2nd gen is the Nanokontrol2 and they both have pros/cons. I just got the 1st gen and the drivers (Im thinkin) wreaked all kindsa havoc on my DAW lol. Gotta look into it more 😉

  27. Andrew

    YES VERY TRUE!!! When I first started I was thinking I need a control surface to make good recordings (luckily I research why I need ANYTHING before I buy something). After long research, I found out that people just buy it cuz “LOOKS/FEELS” like they are working on a recording console (most people who actually are HAPPY to get these $1,000 to $3,000 control surfaces actually used recording console before the DAW changed the game and miss moving faders cuz it feels awkward using a mouse. The others actually think they need this to make a great recording).

    Again I am happy I dodge this pitfall. So much money would have been wasted!!! You have already a mixer it’s in your DAW LOL!!!


    • Joe Gilder

      Nice. It’s not that there isn’t value to control surfaces on some level, but in my opinion, there’s so much more important stuff you should buy before you even consider a control surface.

  28. Herschel

    I see both points of view.

    I’ve seen some people using faders and making volume and other changes during a listen of a track.

    However, I find that I concentrate on one track at a time during mixing sessions and the mouse is just fine for that type of mixing.

    But then again, I started mixing on a computer and that is my mindset. Maybe it comes down to what you are use to doing and how you learned how to do it.

    But to Joe’s original idea – you don’t really need a Control Surface to make great mixes.

    • Joe Gilder

      Exactly. Some people are more tactile and like to use their hands more. I get that. BUT you’re right, that doesn’t mean you’re incapable of great mixes without a control surface.

  29. Bob Sorace

    When I first started this whole recording thing, all I wanted was a control surface. I mean isn’t that the visual you get when you think of a studio? Faders, and knobs, and lights!!! But now I’m not interested anymore, I get along just fine with my trackball and keyboard.

    However, if I had money coming out of my butt I’d be all over it! Like everyone’s mentioned, it does have an advantage over in the box mixing.
    But I’ll bet in less then 10 years those huge desks will have gone the way of the dodo… Technology will be able to give you the best of both worlds, without taking up all of that precious real estate!

    • Jason

      Real estate….thats actually one of the reasons I didnt go for even the BCF2000 lol which isnt really that big. Still, it would have been kept in an awkward position which would have made using it slightly awkward, which usually means, “doesn’t get used”.

  30. Smurf

    I also disagree, coming from a combination live & studio background. Just the workflow aspects are enough to really want one. Tho I can do OK with a mouse, I do lose inspiration having to either move one fader at a time, or plot out envelops for the automation. Mixing ITB can be a pain for a old timer like myself a times!

    Here is what I think would be the ultimate low-cost surface, with only two caveats…one, no touch response and setting it up for your DAW….

    A few months back I could have bought 2 BCF & 2 BCR for…….$300…..but ya know how that goes, bills came first. I have used both of these individually to control Reaper V3.xx and they did a good job, and it was nice to reach for a knob & slider instead of a trackball!

  31. Jason

    I kinda agree with everyone else. Its not always about sound quality; workflow, efficiency, & comfort are a huge part of the entire process.

    While the Faderport is beloved by its users, a lot of people love the TWO-HANDED style of mixing. U cant do that with the Faderport and u sure cant with a mouse. I’m talking about turning down the level of a bass drum while bringing up the bass guitar. Or bringing up the highs on a guitar part WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY bringing down the highs on a high-hat….things like that. To many that are used to mixing that way, using a mouse or single channel controller just doesnt work.

    I, for one, swore I needed a large multi-channel mixer but never got one. The BCF was probably highest on my list considering budget & its motorized faders. But alas, Im still using a mouse….not the end of the world, but I can still and will always see the value in DAW controllers.

    • Joe Gilder

      I used to think that, too. I owned a 003 control surface for years, and I RARELY touched the faders. The fact that I had to bank through the faders to get to the one I wanted, and it took an extra couple of seconds to find the right fader I wanted, that ended up making me SLOWER at mixing, since my sessions are almost always more than 8 tracks. All that bouncing around (for me) really distracted me. I ended up sitting there with a mouse, doing all the work as if the control surface wasn’t there.

  32. David

    Joe, this is one area where we will just have to disagree. Back in the old days, when we mixed, the mix itself was a performance. Now days, when you can use a mouse and automate every single parameter of a mix, the art of the mix performance is lost. Don’t get me wrong, automation is great, but the mix performance is where the feeling of a song really comes alive. You don’t have to buy ultra expensive control surfaces either. I use 4 Behringer BCF2000’s, which gives me 32 channels of faders at a time, and they only cost me about $800 altogether. (I know, I mentioned the “B” word, but no audio actually goes through the BCF’s) I guess my point is that while some people can get a great mix with a mouse, there are some of us who prefer sliders and buttons for every channel to get that mix performance vibe. As always, just my 2 cents.


    • Joe Gilder

      Yeah, I get that. And it’s a valid point.

      I just come down on the side of I’d rather spend the $800 on a mic or preamp, or guitar amp, or guitar, or something else that improves the sound of the recordings themselves.

      • David

        I get your point too, Joe. In reality, People will use whichever they are most comfortable with. And if you are comfortable with what you use you will concentrate less on how to operate the equipment and more on your art.


  33. Xan

    Ah, but isn’t the idea ov a control surface to improve the work flow, make you more productive etc. Therefore, finish more ov those songs and generally get more experience with audio engineering?

    But having said this. I don’t think I would ever with bother with one. Hell, I don’t even use the onscreen mixer in Cubase much. If I could simply mix by entering numbers into a text console, I think I would be quite happy with that.. 🙂

    • Joe Gilder


      Workflow is certainly important, but I don’t think control surfaces are necessary for a good, fast workflow. There are compromises with everything. For me, switching from the keyboard and mouse to control surface — back and forth — felt like I was wasting more time than sticking to the keyboard an mouse. A control surface won’t do EVERYTHING for you, so the constant switching back and forth for me was more of a distraction.

      • gigmuso

        Comeback to Cubase!

        Hi all, I read this thread and learned a lot, obviously from a bunch of competent people who may be able to instruct me on my next move..

        I am a home/semi- professional studio. I worked on a Roland VS machine for years and loved it. Great sound, stable, but little editing capacity nd no midi. I am moving back to Cubase.

        I have a lot of great outboards, good preamps, great mics, all of it. I need an interface and possibly a control surface. I want to be able to record 10-12 mics at the time.

        Do you think I should go for an interface with lots of analog inputs (apogee, RME, UA) and use a surface controller, or for an integrated machine which also offers good preamps, faders, interface (i.e. SSL Nucleus etc..)

        Money is not a problem but senseless spending just for cosmetics is out of question.

        Finally, although this may sound stupid, I don’t understand WHERE I plug the mics if I want to record 12 of them simultaneously! Say Apogee, 16 analog ins and outs but I don’t see see the xlr plugs..? Can someone help please with clarification and suggestions?

        Your input is much appreciated!

          • gigmuso

            Hi all,

            Thank you for the replies.
            Just to let you know, I ended up getting UA Apollo Duo with Thunderbolt ($2600) + Focusrite Octapre Dynamic. Cubase came with CMC Pd controller and free update to 7.5 for $440-a good bargain from Turramurra Music.
            Now I need to update my PC, to w7 64kb and install a firewire card before I can start using it. Should be fun.

        • ilias boufidis

          you might have 16 analog ins, but that doesn’t mean 16 mic preamps (an instrument in is also an analog in), you would need xtra stuff/ to use a desk/ whatever else… If I where you, I’d do much more research and put together a system on paper first. In that system I’d make sure I am thoroughly familiar with all protocols used (ie adat / worldclock etc) and then would go on to pick machines and check out how well people find them to work with each other (the machines). On a general note (my humble advice if you wish) Dont expect low/mid-range stuff to work 100% as advertised, nor should you expect that a high end machine on its own will solve all your troubles. you are dealing with a system and you should keep that in mind. (also think of the computer and daw that drives all this in relation to those machines. (ie with cubase you might prefer to use their hardware cascaded for 16mics since from what i read it’s decent and integrates dsp plugs in your sessions). wish you the best in your ventures, i.



  1.  Are control surfaces worth it? | Kim Lajoie's blog

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