Digidesign Command 8

[$1,295 MSRP, digidesign.com]For many people, a control surface is a “must have” item, and many people feel using one is a lot better than mixing with just a mouse. Digidesign’s Command 8 (C8) was optimized to work with Pro Tools LE, HD, and M-Powered, but can also work with any third party software that responds to MIDI CC (continuous controller) data via the C8‘s “stand alone“ mode. Unfortunately, no third party software templates are included with the C8 — you’ll have to program your own, but up to eight different CC layouts can be saved to internal memory locations.

The C8 connects to the host computer via USB. Power is supplied to the C8 via an outboard “line lump” adapter, which I definitely prefer over wall warts. A 1 in/2 out MIDI interface is also included. Installation of the drivers and configuring the C8 for use with Pro Tools is quite easy.

Speaking of software, the C8 comes bundled with the latest version of the TDM and LE Pro Tools software. You still need a Digidesign audio interface to run this software, but LE users won’t have to pay extra for the latest software upgrade, which is a nice bonus.

The C8 is laid out nearly identically to the Digi 002’s control surface, so we’ll just concentrate on the main differences. I had no workflow problems working on the two units side by side. The look is a bit more squared off than the Digi 002’s love it or hate it “Fisher Price” design. Most of the switches are larger, and have a subjectively better “feel” to them. The C8 isn’t an audio interface, but it does have basic onboard monitoring. You can select between one of the two sets of stereo line inputs, switchable via back panel +4/–10 switches, but there is no way to mix them. Volume, mute, and mono switches are provided however, and this basic monitor control is handy for people who work entirely “in the box” and sounded fine. The eight 100mm .1dB resolution motorized faders are smooth enough, but unfortunately they use the same knobs as found on the Digi 002, which have such shallow detents that your fingers tend to slide off of them. The much nicer Control 24 fader knobs will fit, and are available from Digidesign for $40 (plus $10 shipping) for a set of eight, and I highly recommend them. The C8 has eight multi-function continuous controller knobs, which have the rotary LEDs that will be familiar to Digi 002 users, but also adds a second five segment LED level meter for each of the eight controller channels. The main 110-character LCD display is not segmented as it is on the Digi 002, but otherwise serves the same basic functions (such as displaying track names, listing parameter names and values, displaying text messages, and so forth).

Integration with Pro Tools is excellent, and the C8 provides control over all the critical things you would want from a control surface — fades, panning, mutes, solo, levels, plug-in parameters, transport, navigation, and zoom controls, “flip” switch and keyboard modifier keys are all there, but like the Digi 002, it does lack a shuttle wheel. Another drawback is that you can only use a single C8 per computer system. If you’re using another Digidesign control surface, such as a Control 24, Digi 002, or ProControl, you can use a C8 along with it for extra transport controls and faders, but some features, such as plug-in editing, are not available directly from the C8 when it is used with one of these other controllers. Additionally, any third party controllers must be disabled when using the C8. You can’t use, say, a digital mixer’s control surface HUI emulation mode simultaneously with a C8 for more faders.

But despite a few limitations, the C8 is a well thought out control surface that works well with a variety of software, but particularly well with Pro Tools. While there are several control surface solutions on the market, the C8 is a excellent choice for people who primarily use Pro Tools but also need to be able to control third party software. Well done Digidesign. So the strong suit? Excellent integration with Pro Tools software, can be used to control third party apps, improved switches and metering when compared to the Digi 002, bundled with the latest version of Pro Tools and onboard monitor control by Focusrite. On the weak side? The fader knobs could use improvement, only one C8 can be used per computer and there’s no jog/shuttle wheel.