In this week’s 6 of the best we take a look at the best controllers for a whole range of studio tasks: from playing to programming…
Best: Future – ROLI Blocks
Contact Contact Sound Technology
ROLI, of course, made a huge splash with its larger controller, the RISE, introducing extra dimensions of touch to performance and recording that you didn’t think possible. And we could have included one of those in this round up, but we’re going for Blocks instead.
On the face of it, it’s a mobile music setup, but actually, these act as great controllers, too – and a new Seaboard keyboard Block will complete the controller deal. Of the original three units in the series.
We said: “Control over software is where it gets interesting. To have the multitouch expression while playing your instruments in your chosen DAW can add a level of control you won’t get with any other MIDI controllers (RISE aside that is, of course) and, let’s face it, they do look very cool indeed. As usual ROLI is ahead of the curve on this one and Blocks could be the start of an incredible journey, and best of all, to a large extent, the company is putting you at the wheel. Blocks is a cool instrument, but now has potentially bigger benefits to DAW users.”
Best: Flexibility – Keith McMillen Instruments K-Mix
The KMI K-Mix does it all. It’s a standalone mixer, an interface, a controller; it works with Mac, Windows, iOS; and it has onboard effects. We’re a sucker for its good/odd looks, too. Martin Delaney loved it as well.
“There aren’t many products that directly compare with the K-Mix – it’s pretty unique. Sure, everything it does can be done with other devices, but nothing else does it all in one handy and well-built package. Mobile or small-studio producers who are tight for space and need a lot of features, with great audio, should check it out.”
We said: “This is a fantastic tool for many a producer, especially good for those with a hybrid hardware/software setup.”
Best: Compact keys – Arturia MiniLab Mk II
Contact Source Distribution
With the MiniLab Mk II, Arturia is maintaining its philosophy of cramming as much hardware and software into the smallest amount of space possible, so it oozes features and function.
We said: “This is a pretty sweet package, which, with the Analog Lab Lite software, is very usable. It’s at a certain price point, so the build quality is not weapons grade, but it’s solid enough. Another useful USB controller with the addition of some great synth-based software.”
Best: Live (still!) – Ableton Push 2
Push is the oldest controller here, but that’s the fast-moving world of studio control for you. The unit essentially maps out everything in Ableton Live, but adds a completely new dimension to it – it becomes more like an instrument than a controller, as it integrates more seamlessly with Live and you start using it more creatively.
Martin Delaney absolutely loved the update: “What Push 2 has going for it is the Ableton brand, the ironing out of some of my biggest niggles from the original and an out-of-the-box functionality that nobody else can really match.
We said:“Superficially, the new Push might not look much different from its ancestor, but check it out close up and spend some time playing with it and you’ll learn it’s a very different beast. If you’re feeling the limitations of your original Push, or if you were just sitting on the fence about the whole idea, this one is hard to resist.”
Best: Knobs – Faderfox PC44 SQ-1
The Faderfox is a controller… with knobs on.
We said: “The PC44 is just a big surface with a ton of knobs – that’s fine by me. I can imagine keeping it on my desk, using it for music and video performances with software-only as well as hybrid hardware-software rigs. It doesn’t have the dancefloor, pretty-light vibe of pad-based controllers, but that’s not what it’s about. “Well-designed, and solid, this controller is pure heaven for MIDI heads.”
Best: Budget – Nektar Technology LX49+
Contact Nektar Technology
Nektar has a great reputation for controllers that drop seamlessly into your setup and just work. With the LX49+, it has added more features and upped the control options including nine 30mm sliders, nine assignable buttons, six dedicated transport buttons, and eight velocity-sensitive pads with four LED colour options.
We said: “It’s great that the flexibility and functionality are there to let you set up the LX+ how you want. A surprisingly deep controller for the price, with instant integration that can improve your workflow without wrappers or additional plug-ins getting in the way.”