Recently, PreSonus launched their FaderPort 8 Production Controller. While some people may think that the console is simply a bigger version of it’s brother, FaderPort, the new controller is so much more than that. I myself have been a user of FaderPort for some years, and I know the productivity improvements offered by the controller. For that reason, I was incredibly interested in knowing what the new version would have to offer me.
Unlike the previous model, this version has a black finish that highlights the colors of the buttons. Its construction is totally solid and stays completely firm on the work table even in conditions where its four rubber bases can’t touch the desk. In my case, due to a temporary limitation of space, I had to place the controller next to the keyboard of my computer and for that reason its two front feet remained in the air. However, the unit has a design that allows placement and use it without any inconvenience. The central area is dominated by the 8 touch-sensitive, motorised, 100 mm faders. Immediately above, we see the Solo, Mute and Select buttons. A little higher, we have 8 small displays offering valuable information during mixing. To the left, we also see a column of buttons culminating at the top with a multi-purpose knob (Pan/Param). On the right, we find another column of buttons that allow the user to change the faders’ operation mode. Further to the right, we find the sector dedicated to automation. Below, the controller features a rotary encoder of good size, ngiving access to different buttons and panels of the DAW being used. A little further down, we find the transport buttons.
Ports: USB 2.0, Footswitch Jack
8 x 100mm long-throw, touch-sensitive, motorized faders, Dual-servo motorized drive belt system for fast and quiet operation with 10-bit, 1,024 steps resolution
8 high-definition digital scribble strip displays, timecode display, channel meters
Transport containing Play, Stop, Fast Forward, Rewind, Record, Loop, Return to Zero Dimensions:57.2mm x 301mm x 334mm (HxDxW)
While the unit does not require the installation of any special drivers, it is always convenient to visit the PreSonus website to download any associated software. In this case, this is Universal Control software. After completing the download and performing the quick installation of the software, you only need to connect the FaderPort 8 power supply and make the connection with a USB 2.0 port available on the computer. When the user turns on the unit for the first time, the first three displays will show three operation modes called Studio One, MCU and HUI. The user will choose one of them according to the DAW being used. I’m a Studio One 3 user, so I selected the first option by pressing the first Select button. The last display shows the Exit option with which the unit is reset into the selected mode. Of course, in the case that the user changes DAW application, it is possible to change the operation mode, later, at any time.
To test the performance of FP 8 I launched Studio One 3. I was surprised to find the DAW had automatically installed it as a new control surface, so I didn’t have to perform the task manually. I then loaded one of my projects to see the controller in action. Immediately, the faders were located in the places indicated by the project and the buttons were illuminated responding to assignments stored in the mix. I started using the transport controls, to test their response, and gradually I modified the position of the faders to get to know their feel and response. Everything behaved in a professional manner, as expected from PreSonus products. One detail that caught my attention was the incorporation of the Pause mode on the Play key. Studio One 3 does not have a pause button, but now the user can stop playback and continue from the same place. Although this doesn’t seem like a great addition, it is for those who use the typical command that sends the playback cursor to the start position after pressing Stop. Now we have the possibility – when necessary – to stop the playback without returning to the point from where we started it. An excellent addition.
Both the Pan/Param knob and the navigation rotary encoder offer unrestricted turns and steps that allow for a better control of assignments. Their grooved designs give them a nice touch during use. As the playback of my project evolved I appreciated how the faders responded to automation. Using Bank buttons, I was able to move to the next 8-channel block on the DAW mixer, moving smoothly even on multi-channel projects. I found the buttons to change the operating mode of the faders very useful. In this way, simply changing the mode I could use the faders not only to adjust volume, but also to modify the level of sends, pan and parameters of plug-ins.
FP 8 provides access to the faders of each channel present in the mixing console of the DAW. However, to avoid movements for banks or channels, the controller offers “channel filters”: the user can choose what she/he wants to control with the faders. The options are: Audio (shows only audio channels), VI (shows only virtual instruments channels), Bus, VCA and All (which shows all channels present in the console). When Shift is activated the user can gain accesses to Inputs, MIDI, Outputs, FX and User. Another way to organise the mix is to prepare the DAW to show only the required channels. For example, in Studio One the user can access the Channel List. Then, press the Remote button and proceed to activate/deactivate the appropriate channels. Then, in FP8 by pressing Shift + All, we will see the active channels in the DAW’s Channel List. Beyond filter use, the motorised FP8 faders will control volume. But, as I mentioned before, the designers also thought of other uses for faders and for that reason it’s also possible to use them to adjust Pan, parameters of plug-ins and levels of sends. These possibilities considerably facilitate the preparation of automation curves.
Whether by banks or channels, vertically and/or horizontally, there is always a way to navigate through a project using FP 8 without grabbing the mouse. The controller has a rotary encoder and two navigation buttons which, according to the chosen mode indicated with the 8 buttons below them, allow the user to navigate the project comfortably, whatever its size.
FP8 offers 4 modes called Channel, Zoom, Scroll and Bank. By activating Channel and turning the encoder, the user can move through each one of the tracks/channels in the project. In this case, pressing the navigation buttons gives the same result. If we press Bank, each press of the navigation buttons corresponds to a block of 8 tracks. However, when turning the rotary encoder we get the same behaviour as Channel. It is important to note that if we press the encoder we can activate the current track. When the user presses the Scroll key, the rotary encoder runs the project along its length; and in this case the navigation buttons allow vertical scrolling of the tracks. If the user presses the encoder, FP8 accommodates the complete visualisation of the project to fit in the width of the working window. When Zoom is pressed, the rotary encoder increases or decreases the zoom level. If we press the encoder, FP8 returns to previous zoom level. In this mode, the navigation buttons are used to increase/decrease the height of the tracks.
Four other buttons provide direct access to frequently used functions. The Master button links the rotary encoder to the master bus to adjust its level. We can return to 0dB by pressing the encoder. The Click key allows the user to activate/deactivate the metronome. Section assigns the encoder and navigation buttons to scroll through the Arranger track sections. The Marker key allows the user to navigate the project by jumping from mark to mark with the navigation buttons. In this mode, when the encoder is pressed a new mark is added. Then, we find the usual transport controls, which offer some additional functions. Pressing the forward and rewind buttons at the same time will send the playback cursor to Zero. The same behaviour is obtained by pressing the Stop button twice. On the other hand, and as I mentioned before, the Play button incorporates the Pause function. The rest reflects the typical transport bar of a DAW application.
One of the highlights of FP 8 is its ability to control plug-in parameters, not only those developed by PreSonus, but also by other companies. There are two ways to control plug-in parameters. The fastest is to activate the Link button and then use the mouse to click on the interface of the plug-in, on the parameter that we want to control. From that moment, when the user turns the Pan/Param knob, she/he is controlling the selected parameter. It is necessary to clarify that this link is temporary, since immediately after the user clicks on another parameter or, for example, on a console fader, the Pan/Param knob will be linked to that element. We must not forget that the Link button must stay active. The other method – using the Edit Plugins button – establishes a permanent link that also transcends the current project. This means that once the link to a plug-in is created, the link remains even when we later use that plug-in in another project. The linking task is extremely simple, at least in Studio One. Actually, everything is simple in Studio One, and it is because of this that my preference is with this DAW.
When you press Edit Plugins in FP8, the displays show the plug-ins used in the active track. Using the Select buttons, the user chooses which plug-in she/he wants to work with. Subsequently, it is only necessary to indicate with the mouse the parameter in the interface of the plug-in, and then link it with the fader or button on the FP8. Every DAW has a suitable method for this. The plug-ins developed by PreSonus already have pre-assigned links, so it will not be necessary to create links. That said, we can still modify any assignment. However, in some cases, such as Pro EQ, it will be necessary to work with Link mode to control all the parameters of the plug-in. In this way it is possible, for example, to adjust the level of a frequency with the faders, whilst using Link mode and the Pan/Param knob to adjust the frequency.
The displays on each channel offer very useful information during mixing. We see the name and track number, and the pan position. By pressing the Pan/Param knob, the pan returns to the centre. When the Track button is pressed a second time, we will also see a signal level indicator that allows us to identify which tracks we are listening to. Track mode also present Timecode information.
Another aspect that I want to emphasise is how easy one can navigate projects with many tracks. For example, if we are running the console using the rotary encoder and press it on a certain track, FP8 will update its faders to show the selected track. The link also works conversely, so selecting a channel on the Studio One mixer will bring focus to that same channel in FP8. The process is simple: after selecting the channel in the mixer using the mouse, one press of the encoder will cause the FP8 to update its status and show that selected track.
Solo and Mute tasks become simpler with the assistance of the Solo Clear and Mute Clear buttons that allow to override the previous states with a single press. Another aspect that gains in productivity is the management of Sends. The Send button operates in different ways. When the user presses it once, all the sends of the selected channel are shown. That way, each of the 8 motorized faders adjusts the level of each send. If the Send button is pressed a second time we can control the send levels of different channels that are addressed to the same send – the name of the send being shown in the displays. Subsequently, if the user presses Send once more, we can control the levels of all the channels that go to the next available send.
Using FP8 led me to prepare my mixes in a new way by optimising the mixing tasks. For example, creating VCA channels and buses as Stems mode. In this way, after making a first mix I can work variations by activating only the VCA or Bus channels and using only those faders. Of course, automation tasks are greatly benefited by the use of motorised faders in controlling different aspects of the mix. After preparing the parameter to be automated within the DAW application, simply press the Write button on FP8 and start moving the faders to record the events. Then, by pressing Read, the track will read the recorded automation.
I am not convinced that using the Shift button to access the Inspector, Mixer, Editors and Browser. Users working with a single display monitor continuously turn on and off the visualisation of the mixer and edit screen. For that reason, they might consider leaving the Shift mode active for a more direct access through the console by pressing the Scroll/F3 button. The problem then arises because if later want to activate the Scroll mode to scroll through the project, by pressing the Scroll/F3 key, the scroll will not work because Shift is still active. Something similar should be mentioned with respect to the Undo function; it is also available by using with Shift button. I think the Undo function should be a quick and direct access for undoing a mistage. Remarkably, FaderPort, the younger brother of FP8, solved these issues with shortcut buttons – no Shift button needed.
Firstly, let’s look at the few small changes I would make. I would have ideally liked the Link button to function with group faders in FP8, to move them in tandem without having to do it previously in the console of the DAW. That feature would allow the user to work faster.
Beyond my tests working with Studio One 3, it is important to mention that FP8 works with different DAWs, such as Pro Tools, Cubase, Nuendo, Live, among others. It is only necessary to assign the controller to the operation mode compatible with the DAW being used.
There’s no doubt about the increased productivity achieved with FP 8, by making adjustments to volume, pan, effects – thanks to Edit Plugin mode – Solo and Mute management and automation using real tools. Mixing using real faders and buttons is not comparable to doing it using a mouse. Working with FP 8 is a breath of fresh air. Simply put, I really do believe that the user will work effectively with his eyes and hands for much longer on the FP8 than they would on the screen or the mouse alone. This automatically puts more trust into the user’s ears. This simple approach causes an obvious change in the mixing method, one that I am convinced contributes to improved results.
Finally, I would like to thank Steve Oppenheimer, PreSonus Public Relations Manager and Mark Williams, International Sales Agent, who assisted me at every step of receiving my unit.
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