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Best Control Surface Reviews & Buyer’s Guide [2022]

Best Control Surface

The ability to record a song is something every recording engineer or musician strives to accomplish. With recording comes knowledge, patience, and the best Control Surface.

One of the most important pieces of equipment for recording is a control surface. In case you didn’t know, a control surface is something you use to control certain functions of your studio.

Control surfaces are similar to mixers, but provide a different function. As technology evolves, it’s important that tools are provided to make the process of recording easier. That’s where this tool comes into play.

In this article, we’re going to go over a few control surfaces we recommend. We’ll go over each product’s price, features, pros, and cons. As well as our own review of the product.

This article will make it easier for you to pick which of these systems is best for you. So go ahead and dive right in!

Best Best Control Surface Comparison Chart


Best Control Surface Reviews

Best Control Surface

Korg nanoKONTROL2 Slim-Line USB Control Surface

This system is a low-profile, multi-function control surface. It has new track selection and marker advance parameters.

It supports numerous software titles including major DAW programs.

How could you go wrong with a control surface that’s only $50 USD? Obviously, there are some faults with the product. However, there are a decent amount of positives with it.

Let’s start with what’s good about the system. Besides the price, it can surprisingly get the job done. This obviously depends on what you want to accomplish. For example, if you’re looking for a DAW controller to manipulate your keyboard playing, then this will get the job done.

Besides that, the system is very small. So small that you can fit in your backpack and move it around if need be. Portability is an important advantage for equipment, and this definitely has that advantage.

Where this system falls flat is how poor the build quality is. As expected with a cheap price, the material falls apart fast, breaks easily, and doesn’t last long.

Other than the build quality, the system doesn’t have a master volume. This seems odd considering what the unit is intended to do.

Overall, it’s a decent system to get if you’re a beginner or need a controller for something minimal. The price makes it very attractive for these reasons.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Great for simple tasks
  • Portable

Cons

  • Poor sliders and pots
  • No master volume

Best Control Surface

Akai Professional MIDImix | High-Performance Portable Fully-Assignable MIDI Mixer & DAW Controller

This system is lightweight, and compact. The DAW controller seamlessly maps all mixer settings to your DAW with a single push of a button.

There are 8 individual line faders and 1 master fader for controlling track volume, virtual instrument parameters, effect settings and more.

As well as 24 knobs, arranged 3 per channel for controlling EQ, bus sends, virtual instrument parameters, effect settings and more.

Not to mention that the 16 buttons arranged in 2 banks provide mute, solo and record arm functionality per channel.

You can assign any of MIDImix’s settings using your DAW’s MIDI Learn feature and control your music your way. There’s also an instant 1 to 1 mapping with Ableton Live (Ableton Live Lite included).

For a little bit more than the previous system, you can buy this unit for $100 USD. Overall, this unit is very solid and I don’t have a lot of negatives to say about it.

The build quality is very good. All of the components work properly, and the pots are very smooth. Not to mention the number of controllers throughout the entire system. There are around 75 controllers in the unit (wow).

One of the best functions of the system is the “send-all function”. Basically makes it so you can have something be used across the entire platform.

You can also assign each individual MIDI channel for every control. Making it very versatile.

Aside from that, it’s light and has an easy-to-use software editor.

As noted, there aren’t a lot of negatives with this product. However, the program change command on the buttons only supports CC and note. If that’s an issue for you then keep that in mind.

Besides that, you may find the activation of the LEDs to be difficult since it doesn’t come with any documentation for that. However, a simple google search will give you the answer.

Overall, this is a great system. It’s great for beginners because of the price. And it’s great for experts because of the amount of things it can do.

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Extremely versatile
  • MIDI control is top-notch
  • Great build quality
  • Light

Cons

  • Program change on the buttons only supports CC and note
  • Difficult to activate the LEDs

Novation Launch Control XL MIDI USB Ableton Live Controller w/ HUI Integration

Novation Launch Control XL MIDI USB Ableton Live Controller w/ HUI Integration

This system allows you to assign buttons, knobs, and faders to any parameters within Ableton Live to make your own layouts

It has customizable knobs with your own colors; switch between your own mappings and Live’s functionality. This allows you to create your own layouts.

It has 24 rotary pots with 300-degree motion. 24 multi-color indicator LEDs – one for each pot. Eight 60mm Faders. 16 assignable multi-color backlit buttons. Additional 8 assignable backlit buttons.

The Launch Control will also work as a standard MIDI controller. It’s HUI compatibility for mixer control in DAWs including Cubase, Logic Pro, and Pro Tools.

It also has a 2-year limited warranty on manufacturing defects.

If you need a control surface with “more knobs” then this is the system for you. This is one of the better systems out there; especially considering the price.

Now $150 USD might seem like a lot, but that’s relatively affordable for this type of equipment. You can find some of the more high-end units to be more than ten times this. Overall, I’d say this is a more than fine price for what it can do.

Let’s start with the positives. Even though this unit comes with up a set-up software, it’s extremely easy to use. It’s completely customizable with mapping through the Novation Launch Control editor app. Making it a pretty decent system for this.

As for the build quality, it’s pretty decent. It’s extremely light and built great. There aren’t a lot of cheap materials in the product. Giving off the notion that it should last for a long time.

Now let’s look at some of the negatives.

Although the build quality is decent, there are a few issues. The plastic casing causes creaks and cracks. This doesn’t affect its performance, but it can be startling and annoying.

Besides that, I’d like to see the system have another row for pads and rotary dials. If the system had this it would almost be perfect.

There are a few other minor cons I’ll list below, but other than that, I think it’s a good system. It has a ton of knob options; allowing it to have a plethora of functions. The price isn’t horrible, and it’s built well. Bravo!

Pros

  • Easy to use
  • Customizable mapping
  • Runs smoothly
  • Portable

Cons

  • Have to use an external hub (no linking port to attach other devices)
  • No headphone jack

X-Touch Compact Universal USB/Midi Controller (Renewed)

X-Touch Compact Universal USB/Midi Controller

This system is a universal Remote Control for DAWs, instruments, effects and lighting applications. It features Mackie Control emulation mode for integration with every compatible music production software.

It also has 9 fully automated and touch-sensitive 100 mm motorized faders. Including Dual-Layer mode which is for quick change between DAW software and instrument control.

Not to mention the pre-configured control elements that it comes with out of the box.

Considering the price, you’d expect this system to be almost completely flawless. In reality, there are quite a few flaws with the system. Don’t let this discourage you. There are still a lot of positives with regard to this product.

Let’s start with the positives. It’s everything it’s advertised to be. You can use it to control DAWs, instruments, effects, and lighting applications. Behringer doesn’t try to lie to you about this product.

I think a lot of people expected this to offer more than it actually offers just because of the price. In reality, they should’ve just read the actual specs of the product.

Besides that, it also offers Mackie control which allows it to be used for any DAW software (for PC). Although this isn’t thought of a lot, some controllers will only work for certain DAW software.

However, as far as I can tell there isn’t an editing software for Mac OS. If this is an issue for you then definitely note that. Despite that, the ability for this to be used toward any application is definitely a positive.

There are quite a few negatives for this product, let’s take a look at them.

A lot of consumers have noted this system as being a difficult set-up. Definitely watch some tutorials on it if you have a hard time with it.

For some reason, there is no way to switch between EQ bands in channel EQ mode. Making it only possible to control 2 out of 8 bands. Kind of a weird function.

Despite the negatives, I think it’s a pretty decent system. A lot of the issues can be avoided with proper research. For example, if you own a Mac then you obviously shouldn’t buy this. Just keep that in mind when you take a closer look at this product.

Pros

  • Works as advertised
  • Relatively affordable
  • Versatile
  • Decent build quality

Cons

  • Difficult set-up
  • No Mac OS editing software

BEHRINGER (XTOUCH)

BEHRINGER (XTOUCH)

This system is a universal DAW remote control for studio and live applications. It supports HUI and Mackie Control protocols for integration with every compatible music production software.

It has 9 fully automated and touch-sensitive 100 mm motorized faders. As well as 8 dynamic LCD Scribble Strips for instant overview of track names and parameters.

Plus an ethernet interface for RTP (Real-Time Protocol) MIDI and future Behringer X32 remote control.

Although Behringer is known as a cheap and affordable brand for equipment, this system is different. For this price, you get a top-tier control surface. Let’s take a look at why this system costs this much and if it’s worth it.

Let’s start with the positives. It’s a great system to use for just about any studio application. Making it extremely versatile and suitable for what you need it to do. As long as you have the proper tools for it to work (see below).

Although it appears to be difficult to use, it’s actually very simple. You’ll be able to set it up in no time and get to work with it.

The product also has a pretty decent build quality with it. Which is what you’d expect from something with this price.

Although there a lot of positives with this product, there is one huge negative that stood out to me. Let’s take a look at it.

One of the weird things that stood out to me is that it’s not programmable. Meaning that it will only work with HUI or Mackie Control systems. This is a huge negative considering how useless this will be for people who don’t work with HUI or Mackie Control systems.

However, if you use HUI or Mackie Control, then this is a perfect unit for you. It works flawlessly and is extremely easy to use. I’m just confused as to why Behringer wouldn’t allow it to completely programmable.

Pros

  • Decent price (considering what it does)
  • Remote control is a great tool
  • Versatile (as long as you have HUI or Mackie Control)
  • Decent build quality

Cons

  • Only works with HUI or Mackie Control systems
  • Loud

BEHRINGER (XTOUCH)

amazon.com
$539.00

Q & As

Best Control Surface
We hope our list of these systems gave you a general idea on which one is best for you. To finish off the article, below are a few common questions surrounding this subject.

“What does a DAW controller do?”

DAW controllers are devices that allow you further control over your DAW software. Think of them as an expansion to further use your software.

Instead of having to use your mouse and keyboard to do what you want, you can use a DAW controller to manually dial in what you want. It makes it a lot easier for recording engineers to edit and mix.

Something that is physical makes the entire process a lot easier and faster.

There are a lot of DAW controllers. Some of which include keyboards, mixers, and more. They’re great tools to use for a studio.

If you don’t own a DAW controller, I definitely recommend getting one.



“How many MIDI controllers can I use?”

This question depends on your DAW software. Every software is different and have different limitations from each other.

Definitely just look up your specific software and you’ll find the answer you’re looking for. In most cases, you’ll find that your software allows you to use more MIDI controllers than you’ll ever need.

In reality, you’ll only need a few MIDI controllers to use for different applications. It’s always good to have more than you need, but don’t go crazy and buy a ton of MIDI controllers for no reason.

“How many keys should I get on a MIDI controller?”

There are a lot of factors that come with buying a MIDI controller. Your budget, style of music, and use is what determines the type of MIDI controller you’ll need.

As for the number of keys, MIDI controllers typically come with 25, 49, 61, or 88 keys. There are a few that come with less than 25, but people tend to avoid those.

There are a ton of features that come with MIDI controllers too. Including pads, faders, knobs, and more.

Generally speaking, you should get a flexible MIDI controller for your studio. You’ll never know when you might have to use it and how much work you can actually get out of it.

For your first MIDI controller, get one with 49 keys. This is the standard for these types of products and it’ll get the job done for you.

Best Control Surface

“Can any keyboard be used as a MIDI controller?”

Yes. Almost all keyboards come with MIDI capabilities. A MIDI controller is essentially a keyboard without the sound output of a keyboard.

It represents a keyboard so it’s something recognizable for function. Recognization makes it easier for us to use. Allowing us to output MIDI to the exact sound we want to accomplish.

As noted, you can definitely use a keyboard for MIDI. However, keep in mind that since it’s a keyboard, it won’t have any of the features most MIDI controllers come with. Such as pads, faders, knobs, and much more.

If you’re a beginner and have a keyboard lying around, then go ahead and try it out for MIDI. If you’re a professional, then you shouldn’t cut corners to save money. A MIDI controller is an essential piece of a studio.

“What is the easiest DAW to learn?”

This topic is obviously subjective. In my opinion, Garageband is the easiest DAW software to use.

It’s free, extremely user-friendly, and has a ton of tutorials on it. There really isn’t anything bad to say about Garageband. The only real downside is that it’s only on Mac OS. For PC, the easiest to use is Acoustica Mixcraft.

However, if you’re looking to be a professional then you’re better off jumping into a more professional software. Even though Garageband and Acoustica Mixcraft are easy to learn, they’re meant for beginners.

As noted, don’t settle for something just because it’s easy to learn. If you want to be a professional, it’s going to be difficult. Not everything is going to be easy. Especially if you want to a professional recording engineer.

“Where should I go to learn more about control surfaces?”

Local music shops, established music stores, studios, and fellow musicians are all great sources to use in order to learn more about this subject.

Pretty much anywhere you expect a musical discussion to be, you can expect to hear some knowledge on this. You never know how much something someone might know. You might as well as ask and see what you can learn.

Besides the in-person talk, you can find endless resources online. Watch videos, and read articles. It’s as simple as that. You’ll find just about everything surrounding this and how it can help you.

When you’re talking to people about this subject, ask them for good online sources for you to look at on your own. You might find a youtube channel or website that is a perfect place for you to utilize.



Final Thoughts

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. Let’s go quickly go over everything we discussed.

We went over five control surfaces and why we recommend them. We went over their each individual features, price, pros, cons, and our own personal review.

All of them vary in price, performance, and have different advantages from each other.

After the five systems we recommended, we went over some common questions surrounding this topic. The questions went over DAW software, MIDI controllers, and more.

Hopefully, you were able to narrow down what control surface works best for you. Or at the very least, you learned more about the subject than what you previously learned.

Just remember to do your proper research before buying a system. It would be a shame if you spent money on something that isn’t right for you.

Make sure the system works for your operating system, is a proper size for you, and fits all of your needs. Don’t be afraid to spend a lot of money. These are essential for studios, and the more you spend, the better product you’ll get.

Keep perfecting your studio and continue to upgrade your gear. You’ll realize that you’re only as good as the equipment around you.



Michael B is a Music Producer, Musician, and Formally Trained (and was Certified by the Recording Institute of Detroit in 1986) Recording Engineer. As of 2022, He's built 3 home recording studios go back to 1987, where he wrote, played all the instruments, and recorded his music. Michael B is also a Writer, Chief Editor and SEO of TrackinSolo.com