A control surface is the name given to a device that connects to your computer to allow control of the Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software. We tell you more about them and also about USB powered control surfaces that will let you control most popular DAW software and any music recording software with MIDI controller support.
The world of music creation has become driven by computer software but using a computer keyboard and mouse is not always the most efficient way to record and mix music. To make things easier you can use a device called a control surface which has knobs, buttons and sliders to give you an easy way to control the computer software.
A control surface does not send any sound to the computer and is different from a mixer because a control surface is only sending data to the computer software. Think of a control surface as being the remote control for your DAW software.
Most controllers are connected to the computer by USB and come with drivers making them compatible with any DAW software for Windows or Mac
Some control surfaces are designed to be used for a specific purpose such as creating beats and drum tracks so they have pads (buttons) arranged conveniently to achieve this. Other controllers are designed to assist with the recording process and allow you more control of the DAW by having buttons to send play/stop/record messages to your recording software and also allow you to arm and disarm tracks for recording. Some controllers have a slider which is usually used to control the volume level.
There are a lot of options to choose from but before you go looking for the best MIDI DAW control surface it is important to understand what you will be using it for and how it will be most used in your home recording studio.
If you will be mostly crating drum tracks or beats then you can get a MIDI controller that is designed for doing this. They have touch sensitive pads that are programmable so you can use each pad for a different drum sample. A good low cost option is the Korg nanoPAD2 which is small and ideal if you do not have a lot of space. There are larger pad controllers like the Akai Professional MPD32 if you have a lot of samples you are using in your recordings.
Musicians who want to record musical instruments like guitars and singing may need to consider a controller that gives you only the simple controls you need to record and mix the music such as the PreSonus FaderPort USB DAW controller that gives you a mortised slider and other common controls useful for recording.
You should also consider the amount of spade the controller will take up on your desk and make sure you find something that will fit nicely. If you are already using a popular DAW then you may want to look at hardware made or endorsed by the company who made the software you are already using.
Connecting a control surface to your computer is usually an easy process. Most controllers come with a USB cable that will connect to the control surface and to your computer. This is the same as connecting any other USB device. After the controller is connected you may need to install drivers which will be provided by the manufacturer to make your controller work.
After you install the drivers for your control surface it is time to set up your control surface to work with your DAW software. The setup procedure is different for each DAW software but what you need to do is to look at the MIDI input devices and configure your software to accept the new controller. The best place to get advice on setting up a controller for a specific DAW would be the official forums of your DAW and the control surface you are using because you may find there is already an established way to make your controller work with your DAW.