Fader Controller for Automation

Rohann

Professional Forum Browser
Hi folks,

I know many use proper fader controllers on bigger boards, or use faders that come on MIDI keyboards, but since I'm simply using a Yamaha keyboard with no faders:

I've been considering either a Korg Nanokontrol2 or a Presonus Faderport. The latter option obviously looks more promising from the standpoint of being motorized and I'm sure integrating with Studio One perfectly, but the lack of multiple faders is concerning.

Do most of you just map out Expression/Mod/Vibrato at the same time? Do you do it per track with a library like SCS, SSS, CSS, HWS, etc, or do you just copy the data across the section (i.e. strings)?
If the latter, would a single fader serve that well or would most of you find that tedious? The Nanokontrol2 looks usable but the faders look awfully tiny (between 4-5cm lanes) and I'm concerned about the integration problems I've read about.
 

synthpunk

Senior Member
Look one thread down Rohann...

Hi folks,

I know many use proper fader controllers on bigger boards, or use faders that come on MIDI keyboards, but since I'm simply using a Yamaha keyboard with no faders:

I've been considering either a Korg Nanokontrol2 or a Presonus Faderport. The latter option obviously looks more promising from the standpoint of being motorized and I'm sure integrating with Studio One perfectly, but the lack of multiple faders is concerning.

Do most of you just map out Expression/Mod/Vibrato at the same time? Do you do it per track with a library like SCS, SSS, CSS, HWS, etc, or do you just copy the data across the section (i.e. strings)?
If the latter, would a single fader serve that well or would most of you find that tedious? The Nanokontrol2 looks usable but the faders look awfully tiny (between 4-5cm lanes) and I'm concerned about the integration problems I've read about.
 
OP
R

Rohann

Professional Forum Browser
Look one thread down Rohann...
I even searched those terms and the thread didn't show! I wonder if my Scriptblocker is affecting what comes up in searches; it never seems to fully allow them permanently on certain sites despite my efforts. Refreshing certain forum pages sometimes doesn't load all the threads either. I'll try and post from a different PC in the future.

Karsten: A bit out of budget range, unfortunately. Looks worth the investment though.
 
Last edited:
OP
R

Rohann

Professional Forum Browser
I did look at that thread and that seems like an awesome idea -- again, possibly out of budget range, but it seems like a worthwhile future investment. I'd much rather support something private than mass produced stuff. In the meantime my original questions still stand:
Do most of you just map out Expression/Mod/Vibrato at the same time? Do you do it per track with a library like SCS, SSS, CSS, HWS, etc, or do you just copy the data across the section (i.e. strings)?
If the latter, would a single fader serve that well or would most of you find that tedious? The Nanokontrol2 looks usable but the faders look awfully tiny (between 4-5cm lanes) and I'm concerned about the integration problems I've read about.
 
Last edited:

charlieclouser

Senior Member
There is an important difference between the two tasks that people use fader boxes for:

- MIDI CC control - this is the process of controlling a plugin instrument via standard MIDI Continuous Controller information like Mod Wheel (MIDI CC #1), Volume (MIDI CC #7), Expression (MIDI CC #11), etc. This is what I think you're talking about in your first post. This is usually done from a "dumb" fader box or the front-panel faders on a keyboard controller - which are usually NOT motorized faders. This is what most people do to control orchestral software instruments hosted in Kontakt etc. Think "expression control" on a strings instrument or whatever. There are dozens (hundreds?) of boxes that can accomplish this task, like the Korg NanoKontrol you mentioned.

- AUTOMATION - This usually requires a motorized fader unit. Most DAW software will support boxes that conform to the Mackie Control Universal (aka MCU) protocol, and some also support the older but similar Mackie HUI protocol, and fewer still will support the EuCon protocol (used by Avid / Euphonix boxes like the Artist Control series and the S3 etc.) and the FaderPort. "Automation" is the correct term to describe the process of writing and adjusting volume and plugin controls that usually operate as a separate layer to the MIDI or Audio events that they control. Most DAW software will refer to this as "Track Automation", and will usually have modes like Write, Trim, and Latch. These modes refer to what will happen when you want to adjust previously-written automation information - think "riding the vocal levels". The FaderPort you mentioned is a box that can do this, and if you're using Studio One (made by the same company) then the FaderPort (or the bigger FaderPort-8) should light up with a happy expression on their face as soon as Studio One boots up.

Why such a lengthy explanation? Because in most cases, a box that does MIDI CC control can not be used effectively to do Automation, and a box that does Automation can not be used to do MIDI CC control. There are a few exceptions and hacks, but this is generally the case. This is important to understand because in most cases the FaderPort can NOT be used to control the Expression, Mod Wheel, etc. in a Kontakt instrument, while the NanoKontrol CAN. Likewise, the NanoKontrol is clumsy or impossible to use to do actual Automation in your DAW, while the FaderPort is ideal for this. Now, I don't know Studio One inside and out, and for all I know it has special features that WILL allow the FaderPort to be used as a standard MIDI CC controller - this would make sense since both are made by the same company, and it would be a great selling point, but you'll have to scour the manuals to see if this is the case.

So when you're asking how people use a one-fader box like the FaderPort to control multiple things, like Expression, Mod Wheel, etc., well, the answer is usually "they don't". For that task they'd use something like the NanoKontrol, the old Peavey PC-1600, the upcoming Fader Ctrl box being made and sold by a forum member here, or the faders on the front of a keyboard controller like an M-Audio or whatever. There are tons of choices of boxes for this task, but this task is generally referred to as "MIDI CC Control", so don't get it mixed up with "Automation Controllers". The NanoKontrol is fine for this task, although the short-throw faders can make it less than ideal for some users. Frustration with short faders like these, or the typical 60mm faders on many boxes, let to the creation of the Fader Ctrl box, which uses full-size 100mm faders, and which you can learn about in this thread:

http://vi-control.net/community/threads/faderctrl-universal-midi-controller.58734/

Now, the FaderPort. It's a fine box. I have one and use it all the time. Having only a single fader is not a problem because it can't really be used to control Mod Wheel, Expression, etc. - it's ONLY for writing "Track Automation" as described above, aka "riding levels". That's why it has buttons to control the Write Mode (Write, Trim, Latch, etc.). Most DAW software has a display in the lower left that shows volume, pan, etc. of the currently selected track, and the FaderPort is basically automatically connected to that "hot track". As you switch tracks, the display in the lower left will show whichever track is selected, and the FaderPort will jump around to mirror the fader displayed on screen. Larger 8-motorized-fader boxes like the FaderPort-8, the Mackie Control series, etc. will let you control a group of channels at once, like when you want to balance a bunch of backing vocal tracks or a group of different strings tracks - but these 8 faders are NOT for controlling Mod Wheel on one, Expression on another, etc - they are for controlling the volume of 8 tracks at once.

The big difference between motorized and "dumb" fader boxes is that a motorized box needs two-way communication with the DAW, so the software can tell the motorized fader how to move in response to automation events (or just the static level) of the currently selected track(s). Movements of the motorized faders gets recorded as Track Automation, NOT as MIDI CC data, but you usually get options like Latch and Trim write modes, and editing this data is done "on top of" any underlying MIDI or Audio regions in the tracks. As the sequence plays back, the DAW sends the automation info to the motor fader box so that it can move in response to this info, and so you can touch the fader to override the pre-recorded automation data, and / or use that touch sensitivity to automatically drop into automation write mode when your finger contacts the fader cap (that's why these always have silvery metal touch-sensitive fader caps). This is why a motorized fader box needs a two-way link to the DAW software, and why the DAW has to explicitly, directly support two-way communication with the specific model of fader box you want to use.

Dumb boxes don't need this two-way link - they are basically a box with a bunch of mod wheels that look like mixer faders. You move the faders and it gets recorded into the tracks as standard MIDI data. Editing this data is done in the "strip chart" or key editor in your DAW, and there usually is no provision for the Latch or Trim modes that you'd get when using a motorized box to control actual Track Automation.

Here's the thing though - most DAW software will NOT let you use a motorized fader controller to control standard MIDI CC's - on boot up they see the fader controller and grab hold of it, permanently linking it to control the volume automation. With a dumb fader box, this is not the case - the DAW doesn't "sense" it and as far as the software is concerned it's just another input device and can therefore be used to control MIDI CC's on your software instruments.

TL:DR = you might eventually want BOTH types of boxes.

I have a FaderPort for doing Track Automation and controlling the level of the selected track, and I'm waiting on the new Fader Ctrl box to do my MIDI CC control. At the moment I have an older Novation Launch Control XL which has dozens of faders and knobs but I will be happy to switch to the 8-fader Fader Ctrl because it looks slicker, has longer faders, and 8 faders is more than enough for me to do MIDI CC control.

For what you initially described, controlling Expression and Mod Wheel in software instruments, the NanoKontrol is a cheap 'n' cheerful solution, as are dozens of similar boxes - but using these to "ride the levels" of tracks, or write Track Automation, will either be clumsy or impossible, depending on the capabilities of your software and your pain threshold. You may find, as many have, that the short-throw faders of the NanoKontrol are frustrating to use when you're trying to get exacting control over delicate expression controls or whatever, which is why the Fader Ctrl (with the full-size 100mm faders) is such a hot item on this forum. There have been very few boxes with 100mm faders - in fact, I can only remember one: the original JL Cooper FaderMaster Pro. It is, in theory, still being made, but nobody has it in stock and it is listed on their website at the original list price that I paid in the late 1990's of around $900 (!!!!). No wonder the Fader Ctrl is so appealing!

Now, before someone writes a post even longer than mine about how Trevor Morris got his Avid S3 to write standard MIDI CC's using half the faders while the other half were still in EuCon Track Automation mode - okay, fine. Once you get deep into this stuff, almost anything is possible if you beat your head against it for long enough. But still, using the NanoKontrol to "ride the levels" on a bunch of adjacent tracks will suck big time, and, conversely, convincing the FaderPort to let you use its single fader as a Mod Wheel is not going to be fun.

So, yeah.... for now grab a NanoKontrol, Launch Control XL, or Fader Ctrl. They are handy to have around for sure. When you get to the point of wanting to ride the levels of tracks and record that as Track Automation, a FaderPort is fine, and a bigger Mackie Control Universal or FaderPort-8 will be even slicker - if, that is, you actually need such a thing. Check that your DAW software directly and explicitly supports the motorized fader box you want to use before you buy it - but direct support is not needed with dumb fader boxes like NanoKontrol or whatever, they just do what they do (which isn't all that complicated) and will work with any MIDI device or software on the receiving end.
 
Last edited:

synthpunk

Senior Member
You know Charlie you could really write for a living until this band & film scoring thing kicks in for you. :)

I will be delegating my nanokontrol2 to virtual synth control after the Fader Ctrl box arrives. At least until I can talk Corey @CACKLAND into making 32 midi knob box next :)
 

charlieclouser

Senior Member
You know Charlie you could really write for a living until this band & film scoring thing kicks in for you. :)
Why thank you. In a previous life, in the early 1980's and fresh out of college, I actually did write product reviews and articles for music tech magazines - old habits die hard. Plus my parents were big-time academics, so proper grammar was fully enforced! In my endless search for ways to procrastinate and avoid actual work, I like to pick a forum topic every couple of days that I can expound upon at great (excessive) length - hopefully I can bring someone up to speed on topics for which the full, clear explanation is not obvious or readily available.
 

synthpunk

Senior Member
You’ll remember the very nice Music Technology magazine then edited by Paul White.

I remember reading those at Pi keyboards & audio in Cleveland where a friend of yours used to hang out.

Why thank you. In a previous life, in the early 1980's and fresh out of college, I actually did write product reviews and articles for music tech magazines - old habits die hard. Plus my parents were big-time academics, so proper grammar was fully enforced! In my endless search for ways to procrastinate and avoid actual work, I like to pick a forum topic every couple of days that I can expound upon at great (excessive) length - hopefully I can bring someone up to speed on topics for which the full, clear explanation is not obvious or readily available.
 

gpax

Senior Member
Thoroughly enjoyed Charlie's breakdown (the breaking down of the essential differences between controlling automation and cc, that is, not implying Charlie's mental or emotional state). Charlie makes a good case for understanding these differences in tools, and their respective applications more effectively. But I'm also a guy who wants "option C" in an A/B discussion.

And I'm talking specifically about cc that harnesses expressive aspects of virtual instruments, at the creative stage, in a quest to diminish the impediments associated with "working" the hardware. I want those tools to disappear - metaphorically and physically. With all sincere respect to the success of the Fader Ctl box which definitely meets a demand, the manner of control, and its footprint, are all the very things I do not want in such technology right now.

I'm currently using a Maschine Jam, it being the latest in touch strips and pad options I've explored in recent years which have become increasingly compelling in bridging a symbiotic gap. After twenty years, I've developed an aversion to pushing or pulling any wheel or physical fader, no matter how sensitive. In this way, I've come to realize I've always wanted something akin to frets, where I can effectively use multiple fingers in tandem to harness expression, dynamics and vibrato, especially for things like Spitfire legato, etc.

Rather quickly, the JAM, set up as a MIDI controller (primarily accessing its eight touch strips) has become integral to the way I wish to engage cc as a performance consideration. It sits adjacent to my primary MIDI keyboard, and I am now engaging multiple fingers all the time, without even thinking about it. The true advantage here being more compelling performance upfront (and getting some inspiration mojo back) rather than that feeling of deferring to cc editing to compensate for hardware. I still edit, of course, but the strips give back some creative spark.

While I am also exploring the JAM's more obvious intent (with Maschine), for some quite extraordinary experimentation via my alter-ego, I specifically invested in the device once I was convinced the touch strips could do effective assignable double-duty, and had been improved upon since my Kontrol keyboard in this way. But back to one of Charlie's points: I would be far less inclined to use the strips for any mixing, even as DAW templates are being developed for the JAM - I really do prefer physical faders and longer throws for such tasks. Go figure.

Perhaps the most distinct advantage in terms of "performing" cc's, and which I've not encountered in any wheel or fader mechanism, is the ability to glide into tilting forwards and/or rocking from the pads of my fingers to the fingertips, and hence getting much more subtle nuance (especially with vibrato). JAM sends out very smooth cc data, btw.

My point being, in a discussion about the right tools for the job, the personal options may not always be as obvious, and I advocate mentioning alternative approaches that aren't faders at all. There are a lot of possibilities.
 
Last edited:

Ashermusic

Senior Member
Gpax, you might like the Roli Seaboard then. I played it at NAMM and it would take me probably 3 months of practice to develop good technique with it but it is capable of that kind of expressiveness.

It ain't cheap, though.
 

charlieclouser

Senior Member
Last edited:

ZenFaced

Active Member
Why such a lengthy explanation? Because in most cases, a box that does MIDI CC control can not be used effectively to do Automation, and a box that does Automation can not be used to do MIDI CC control. There are a few exceptions and hacks, but this is generally the case. This is important to understand because in most cases the FaderPort can NOT be used to control the Expression, Mod Wheel, etc. in a Kontakt instrument, while the NanoKontrol CAN. Likewise, the NanoKontrol is clumsy or impossible to use to do actual Automation in your DAW, while the FaderPort is ideal for this. Now, I don't know Studio One inside and out, and for all I know it has special features that WILL allow the FaderPort to be used as a standard MIDI CC controller - this would make sense since both are made by the same company, and it would be a great selling point, but you'll have to scour the manuals to see if this is the case.

So when you're asking how people use a one-fader box like the FaderPort to control multiple things, like Expression, Mod Wheel, etc., well, the answer is usually "they don't". For that task they'd use something like the NanoKontrol, the old Peavey PC-1600, the upcoming Fader Ctrl box being made and sold by a forum member here, or the faders on the front of a keyboard controller like an M-Audio or whatever. There are tons of choices of boxes for this task, but this task is generally referred to as "MIDI CC Control", so don't get it mixed up with "Automation Controllers". The NanoKontrol is fine for this task, although the short-throw faders can make it less than ideal for some users. Frustration with short faders like these, or the typical 60mm faders on many boxes, let to the creation of the Fader Ctrl box, which uses full-size 100mm faders, and which you can learn about in this thread:

http://vi-control.net/community/threads/faderctrl-universal-midi-controller.58734/
Sooo glad you posted this because it is so important to know and I guarantee most buyers don't realize this. Buyer beware.. I was recently re-searching products to buy to control CC midi information and when you preview products online the system specs don't tell you whether the faders are assignable to CC midi data. A lot of the products look nice but I refrained from making the purchase until I did more research. I ended up placing an order for the Faderctrl which I cannot wait to receive next month.
 

charlieclouser

Senior Member
Glad I could help, and yeah, it's a HUGE drag that most motorized fader controllers can't easily be switched into MIDI CC mode. Now, if we dig a little deeper, some CAN. I think one of the Behringer X-Touch controllers can do this - weirdly, it's the medium sized one, the one that has the group of eight knobs on the right but has no pan knobs above each fader. It APPEARS that this thing will work in MCU Automation mode with the faders on the left, while the knobs on the right are in standard MIDI CC mode - but I'm not sure. Also, I think you can use the Behringer BCR-2000 for dual-purpose use, switching on its front panel between MCU mode and MIDI CC mode, but again, I've never done it. For all I know, ALL of the Behringer motor fader boxes can switch modes between MCU and MIDI CC - perhaps someone else on here who has a BCR can confirm?

But for my money, they should ALL be able to do it. I mean, DUH. It's not rocket surgery, right? I understand why the FaderPort doesn't - it's only one fader and, fair enough, it's meant to be glued to the currently selected track in you DAW. But when bigger, more expensive motor fader boxes are permanently stuck in Automation mode and can't be switched into MIDI CC mode with a front panel button it kind of seems like a dick move.
 
OP
R

Rohann

Professional Forum Browser
Charlie: I agree with synthpunk, this kind of thing should be pinned in a beginner's FAQ. That's immensely helpful, thank you; I sincerely appreciate the time you put into explaining that. Oddly enough, that never came up in any of my searches or questions elsewhere. It's made more confusing because Presonus calls it "Part Automation" vs. "Track Automation" in their tutorial videos.
I have no doubt the Faderport is useful for writing automation but my far more immediate need is for MIDI CC control, as a lack of Mod wheel or anything resembling such is crippling the musicality of VI performances, and I don't feel like mouse work is cutting it when it comes both to inspiration (horridly tedious with poor output in some cases), and also realism when it comes to more exposed parts. I was assuming one could skip through MIDI CC via the controller but the physical layout of the controller makes a great deal more sense now.

Sooo glad you posted this because it is so important to know and I guarantee most buyers don't realize this. Buyer beware.. I was recently re-searching products to buy to control CC midi information and when you preview products online the system specs don't tell you whether the faders are assignable to CC midi data. A lot of the products look nice but I refrained from making the purchase until I did more research. I ended up placing an order for the Faderctrl which I cannot wait to receive next month.
Charlie's explanation should be stickied in a beginner hardware FAQ. I have asked numerous people about this and not a single person, until now, has mentioned one can't control MIDI CC with a Faderport.

gpax: As I have yet to invest in or become used to a particular way of CC control, I'm more than happy to examine this avenue as well -- thanks for the recommendation! I've considered iPad apps for this after seeing what Jordan Rudess does, but I don't have the driest of fingers at all given times of the day and so I could see screen sliding becoming quickly frustrating. Would love to play around with something like this:
EDIT: Aaaand Charlie just posted about it!

While the new CC fader controller being made locally here looks fantastic, I'm a little concerned that it's a bit out of my pricerange for the time being, but at same time it's cheaper than those Beringer units and I'm thinking it may be a pretty good long-term investment. The Maschine controller does look fascinating though too.
Any opinions on a small "interim" unit so I don't go crazy with trying to write in the meantime? Or is it worth saving one's money and skipping something like the Nanokontrol?
 
Last edited:

charlieclouser

Senior Member
Rohan - It seems like there's basically three choices for dumb MIDI CC fader boxes at the moment:

- NanoKontrol at $60.
- Novation Launch Control XL at $150.
- Fader Ctrl at $250.

NanoKontrol "will work", but the faders are frustratingly small when you're trying to get precise with expression on a cello patch or whatever, and it is so lightweight that it will tend to slide away from you as you move the fader! You might need some velcro or 3m Dual-Lock (my all-time favorite studio accessory). In the long run I fear the NanoKontrol will wind up in a drawer instead of on your desk. But at the price of a nice dinner, that might not be such a huge problem.

Launch Control XL has slightly larger faders, so they're not "as" frustrating, but it's got a ton of knobs that you may not need but are still paying for. It's still cheap-n-cheerful and can be quite useful - I just wish they had a faders-only version for $99. That's what you'd want. Weird that they don't make this.

Fader Ctrl is going to be the shiznit (we think). Big, smooth, easy sliding faders in a metal box. This is what was so great about the overpriced and ancient JL Cooper FaderMaster Pro - those long faders tend to have an easier, smoother feel than the shorties which seem to have too much "grip" and resistance. That grip is on purpose though; it prevents too much accidental wiggling from occurring as a result of over-caffeinated fingers on a short throw fader. If you had short faders with less resistance you'd wind up with jerky, jiggly curves instead of big smooth ones, and that's no good.

Without having touched the Fader Ctrl yet, I'm still saying that's going to be worth the $250, even if it means another month with no Starbucks. It will likely be the end of your MIDI CC fader box needs for a long time if not forever, until you get into motor fader boxes.
 

gpax

Senior Member
@Ashermusic - Yes. I started to mention having my eye on the ROLI keyboards in my little speech as well. The thing there is that it is still largely proprietary at this point, and I still want to have at least four strips/faders at my disposal, plus others for lesser used CC on the fly. I did love the ROLI keyboards when I tried them out at NAMM 2015, and mentioned this in my piece for FGC.

@Rohann - I've seen the prototype for this somewhere before. Much more than my meager studio needs, but very much the kind of thing that I'm all about. It's very much like what Roger Linn is doing (is that his creation?).

@charlieclouser - I think your advice above is spot on, though I'm also pushing the idea of thinking out of the MIDI CC box, so to speak, should that be useful for someone out there. This, after also working with various Lemur templates I have created from scratch for the iPad, and having all but eliminated any faders or mod wheels in the immediate tools I use when composing.

JAM 's potential, and the cost compared to the Fader Ctrl startup info at the same time, was predicated on doing a lot of creative things well with that one device. For me, it was also about exploring a mostly dormant creative side in conjunction with a Maschine Mikro I have, all of these things in sync, and all able to tap into any sample libraries I own/use where Kontakt is concerned for all kinds of patterns, scales, arpeggiations and so forth - a reprieve from the tedium of orchestrating which consumes most energy.

In the end, $250 for the Fader Ctrl would have gotten me just that. No more, no less, and arguably a fine investment for some, given that it fills that niche gap common to many of us. But the additional $150 for the JAM has proven to be a worthy investment on several fronts, and continues to be developed where the touch strips and various third-party integration is still evolving.

As for the list of potential "budget" MIDI CC boxes I looked into, I would also add the Korg NanoKontrol Studio ($149) to the list, if not also the Akai Professional MIDImix ($129), both recently released.