Side view of control surface faders.

Do You Need A Mixing Control Surface?

People are always asking me if I miss working on giant consoles.  They always ask me “do you need a mixing control surface?!”

Afterall, I’m used to being in commercial facilities often times with all of my FX and mixing power at my fingertips.

Why Do You Need A Mixing Control Surface?

For those who have never heard of a mixing control surface, in its simplest sense it makes life easier by speeding up your workflow.  You can touch faders, pan pots, and other playback controls that directly effects the tracks in your DAW.  Remember, your DAW is just a giant digital console.

A control surface introduces the physical aspect back into digital mixing.  It makes things like mixing and volume automation easy and quick.

It adds that kinesthetic feel that we talk about in analog where we can reach out and touch the mix.

When Do You Need A Mixing Control Surface?

There is a time and place for having a mixing control surface.  But like any investment, it needs to be looked at objectively.  Look at whether it is a necessity or simply a desire.  If you are mixing 3 songs a day, are fully booked, and have everything else that you need for your studio then YES it makes sense to purchase one.

But to purchase something that increases your workflow before other much more needed items (like acoustic treatment, monitors, microphones, instruments) is unnecessary.

Back in the mid 2000’s I remember when the Digidesign Control 24 debuted.  You better believe when I was building out my dream studio list and cost analysis I had that baby on there!  It was so sleek, sharp, and was a large format console.

I could control Pro Tools directly with it.  It was my dream console until I actually used one.  I did fall in love with the workflow and how I could work quickly with it.  However, after further use, I realized that the preamps were rather bland and boring. The only real benefit was that it was a giant control surface; it offered no sonic value.

However, after further use, I realized that the preamps were rather bland and boring. The only real benefit was that it was a giant control surface; it offered no sonic value.

From that day forward the Control 24 was referred to as the $10,000 mouse.

So would I buy one?  Hell no.  It adds to the aesthetic of the room for sure but in the end, I opted for a big vintage analog console, The Sound Workshop series console with the “super eq’s.”

There was some lineage to Brent Averill and API so it was referred to as the poor man’s API.  The console offered more aesthetically to the studio and had some real character.

Goodbye Console, Hello Mobile

Do You Need A Mixing Control Surface Old Studio
My home studio setup before heading to Asia.

But alas, I left the console behind to travel the world and mix records remotely.  Which always gets people asking me, “how the hell do you mix using a laptop?!”

could mix an entire record with just my laptop using the laptop’s trackpad.  But it doesn’t make it a good idea.

So I have a mouse and a cheap Presonus Faderport.  The Faderport is the perfect solution for writing automation and getting that bit of physical control back into the mixing environment.

When writing automation I seldom find myself writing instances of automation for more than one track at a time so the Faderport is the perfect solution for me.

It is small, portable, and gives me the control I need to physically reach out and touch my mix.

Do I miss working on the SSL Duality and SSL AWS… sure, I do!  But they are not necessary tools!  Check out the video all about control surfaces.

Do You Need A Mixing Control Surface SSL to Planes
Large Format Consoles To Planes

Watch The Video Below On Control Surfaces:

Full transcription of video below:

My friend who is building a home studio asked me about control surfaces.  Control Surfaces can be a great addition to a studio for aesthetic and workflow but is it a necessity??  Not likely. When do you need a mixing control surface?

Control Surfaces simply put, are a giant mouse.   The look great, and you can reach out and touch the mix just like when you are on a big console.

But neither the aesthetic of a control surface nor the luxury of physical faders is necessary to make Radio Ready Recordings or Mixes. 

Control Surfaces use MIDI to control certain parameters in your DAW. The faders are usually the biggest selling point of a Control Surface.  On many of them, you can also control plugin parameters and other channel strip parameters as well.

Once you understand how it works you can apply that workflow to your recording or mixing process. 

Invest in things like a great pair of headphones for referencing, acoustic treatment for your room, more microphones or better instruments, all would truly benefit you on your journey to making better quality music. 

There was nothing wrong with my friend owning or aspiring to own a Control Surface, but you can now understand how he may make better investments in his home studio. 

Leave a comment below about your experience with Control Surfaces or whether you feel they are necessary. 

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