DAW Controllers: 6 Things Every Beginner Should Know

DAW controllers are here to make music production more interesting and productive. In this guide, we’ll tell you about six things to keep in mind, when choosing your DAW controller.

By Nik LiakContributing Author

Article photo - DAW Controllers: 6 Things Every Beginner Should Know

Digital Audio Workshop software revolutionized the way we produce music. You no longer need an orchestra, a band or even a huge recording studio in order to create great tunes. All of the functions you need now fit inside a hard disk drive.
Now, while digital music production is great, using your mouse and keyboard alone might be boring and counterproductive. The math is simple: you can twist only one knob at a time or move only one slider, when using your mouse. If you’re a passionate musician, then that might be not enough for you. 

DAW controllers are here to make music production more interesting and productive.

DAW controllers are here to make music production more interesting and productive. Those are meant to be plugged to your PC. Then, part of your DAW functions is linked to the controller’s keys, knobs and sliders. By using this kind of device, you’ll get more control over your melody. This will also boost your productivity, since DAW controllers often offer shortcuts to your favorite functions. No more endless menus and misclicked buttons!

There’s a huge variety of DAW controllers. They range from small to huge and from simple to complex. Each of the sizes and designs fits their own purpose. In this guide, we’ll tell you about six things to keep in mind, when choosing your DAW controller.

1. All-in-One Controllers Are a Great Bet

Any decent studio needs to have a set of essential devices. Those devices not only make sound production comfortable, but they are also essential for sound recording and processing. Some of the main studio gear includes:

  • An external soundcard
  • A phantom power supply for studio microphones
  • A DAW controller
  • A mixing station

While we can find all those components separately, there are certainly some benefits of having them packed in the same box. First, it eliminates many compatibility problems. If your devices are from different brands and use different drivers and protocols, then there might be conflicts between them. This might result in latency issues and glitches. 
Solving those compatibility problems might be a daunting task, especially if you’re not a tech savvy. Now, if those components come in the same box and have the same manufacturer, they’ll probably use the same driver family. Thus, they’ll have way less issues. Portability is another thing to consider. There’s a huge difference between four separate devices with their respective cables and power sources, and one little box.

Take the "IS IT GOOD FOR ME" test for "Zoom R16", read the reviews and join the community!Zoom R16

If you’d like to enjoy the benefits of such an all in-one-device, then the Zoom R16 is a great option. The R16 allows you to record your guitars and vocals, convert the recorded signal to digital format and help you to process it through your DAW. The R16 will definitely bring your music production experience to a new level.

2. The Brand Doesn’t Really Matter

When Behringer launched their first DAW controller, people were shocked. They haven’t expected Behringer to create a mid- high-end device. Musicians are used to Korg, Zoom, Steinberg or Mackie controllers, but Behringer… Nevertheless, there we have, a budget controller that performs as good as its more expensive counterparts. 

Behringer BCF2000

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The BCF2000 features nine motorized sliders and nine knobs. The motorized sliders are considered a high-end feature and are also fun to watch. As soon as you link a mixer track to the slider, the motors will keep the slider position according to its value. Thus, you can tweak the slider value both manually and from your PC.

3. Budget Controllers Might Be Actually Great

Of course, price matters, and anyone can easily spot the difference between low- and high-end gear. Nevertheless, when it comes to DAW controllers, you often don’t need all of the high-end features. If you want to have a device that provides you with shortcuts to your favorite DAW functions, then there’s no point of paying €200 for it. 

Take the "IS IT GOOD FOR ME" test for "Korg nanoKONTROL 2 black", read the reviews and join the community!Korg nanoKONTROL 2 black

The fancy-looking Korg nanoKONTROL is a versatile and durable controller. It’s powered through USB, so you won’t need any additional power supplies or cables for it. It features eight slides and eight knobs along with eight triplets of mute/solo/record buttons. Simply link the controller to your mixer track, and you’ll have all your sound production process at your fingertips. 

4. The Smaller, the Better

Now, you might want to start small. Not everyone has a huge studio . If that’s your case too, then a compact controller might be the best choice. 

Presonus Faderport

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Presonus Fadeport is small, yet versatile. It has only one fader, yet that’s often enough for music production. You won’t use more than one fader at a time, unless you perform live. Presonus Fadeport allows you to switch between mixer channels easily and adjust the fader value for each track individually. In addition, this compact DAW controller features an extremely accurate and sensitive, motorized fader. That’s something you’d love to have when creating automations.

5. Look for Zoom Products if You’re a Cubase User

While that’s not a must, it’s always good to look for controllers, especially designed for a specific DAW. You can find an appropriate controller for every leading DAW. The only exception is probably FL Studio. 

Take the "IS IT GOOD FOR ME" test for "Zoom R8", read the reviews and join the community!Zoom R8

Besides being made as a complement for Cubase, the Zoom R8 can be used as an almost stand-alone audio workshop. It features 500mb of drum samples and loops. In addition, it can work with SD cards and allows you to record, process, mix and re-mix the tracks. If you’re into electronic music, then the R8 might be a great bet.

6. Knobs Are a Great Alternative to Motorized Sliders

We’ve mentioned that motorized sliders are considered a high-end feature. Thus, it’s hard to find them in budget controllers. Good news it, Behringer found a way around this issue. LED knobs proved to be a good budget alternative to motorized sliders. LEDs will show you the current value of the knob, according to the linked track or automation. As soon as this value changes, the LEDS will point a different spot.

Behringer BCR 2000 

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The BCR2000 is a sturdy DAW controller with 32 LED-illuminated knobs. Even if the BCR2000 is a budget controller, many professional producers have one or two in their studios. The reason is simple – the knobs move smoothly and are extremely durable. Some users have their BCR2000 for more than 8 years now and it keeps working.

In Conclusion

DAW controllers make music production more intuitive and pleasant. There’s a huge difference between your mouse alone and a full-scaled panel with sliders, knobs and buttons. If you never had a DAW controller before, then we hope that this little guide will help you to make a more informed choice.

About Nik Liak

Musician, producer, DJ, promoter, and electronic music enthusiast alike, Nik Liak hails out of Thessaloniki, Greece. When not performing, he spends his time in the studio creating his own music…aided by his beloved dj gear and an upbringing in a very musically-influenced home.

Contact Nik Liak at nikliak@musicngear.com