Review: PreSonus FaderPort 8 Production Controller - EMusician

Review: PreSonus FaderPort 8 Production Controller

A feature-rich control surface that aims to please
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The FaderPort 8 is a compact, yet powerful control surface that sells for half a grand. It packs eight 100mm faders and corresponding scribble strip displays, 57 buttons, two encoders, and a transport section into an ergonomically agreeable arrangement that still leaves enough space along the bottom to comfortably anchor your palm when executing precise fader moves. The unit feels solid and stays put in use.

The FaderPort 8 (Mac/Win) connects via USB 2.0 and its three operating modes—Native, HUI, and Mackie Control Universal—make it compatible with all major DAWs. Native mode provides comprehensive integration and full functionality with PreSonus Studio One, whereas fewer functions are available to users of, say, Pro Tools or Logic Pro—though that likely has more to do with the limitations of the HUI and MCU protocols than the controller.

Although optimized for use with PreSonus’ Studio One, the FaderPort 8 supports other DAWs via the HUI and Mackie Control Universal protocols.

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I tested FaderPort 8 with Pro Tools 11 on a Mac Pro with OS 10.9.5. Setup took seven minutes, including downloading and installing the PreSonus Universal Control application.

NICE TOUCH

The motorized and touch-sensitive faders move smoothly and are relatively quiet when automated. In addition to controlling track levels, the faders can adjust panning, aux send levels, plug-in parameters, and more, depending on how they are assigned using the adjacent buttons.

One reason you’d use the faders for panning is that, while each channel has Solo and Mute buttons, there is only a single rotary Pan encoder, active on the selected track. That same encoder also serves as a Parameter control, and while its detents facilitate precise and repeatable settings, they make writing smooth panning automation nearly impossible. Fortunately, panning with the faders it isn’t a huge hassle, and using the faders to write aux send and plug-in automation is a beautiful thing.

A bigger issue for me was the lack of a dedicated Master fader. Your DAW’s master fader is treated just like any other fader. For example, if your project has 24 virtual audio faders and a virtual master fader, unless the DAW’s master fader is among the group of eight tracks that FaderPort 8’s physical faders are assigned to, it will be inaccessible. Conversely, if the virtual master fader is assigned to one of FaderPort 8’s faders, only the seven faders adjacent to it can be controlled at the same time.

GETTING AROUND

The Session Navigator section comprises a large push-button encoder, Next and Previous buttons, and eight buttons that change the function of those controls. For example, there is a vertical timeline Zoom; Bank scrolls through tracks in banks of eight; Click turns the metronome on/off; and Markers not only scrolls through existing markers, pressing the encoder drops a new marker. Moreover, pressing Shift + Marker cycles through Pro Tools’ various Smart Tool options. The Master and Section functions, however, are inoperable in Pro Tools, and although Scroll (scrub) moves the transport, it doesn’t pass audio.

The caveat with using the FaderPort 8’s transport section in Pro Tools is that pressing Play/Pause once engages playback, but pressing it again begins playback from the starting position rather than pausing. You have to press Stop to “pause” playback.

The six buttons in the automation section—Latch, Trim, Off, Touch, Write, and Read—worked perfectly, though Trim isn’t available in Pro Tools. User buttons 1-3 (accessed by pressing Shift before pressing Touch, Write, and Read) open the Mix, Edit, and Transport windows in Pro Tools. I also dug the Solo Clear and Mute Clear buttons, and the ability to stop/start the transport using an optional footswitch. Sadly, the entire super-cool Mix Management section is inoperative in Pro Tools.

VALUE PROPOSITION

For Studio One users, FaderPort 8 is a must have, offering an impressive array of proprietary features that would make it an outstanding value at twice the price. Pro Tools users are faced with a significantly less robust feature set, and a few of the features that are operative can be somewhat clunky.

But at five clams, even if all that FaderPort 8 brought to the party were rudimentary fader and transport functions, it would still make a lot of Pro Tools and other users very happy—including me.

STRENGTHS
Tremendous value. Impressive feature set. Pro build quality. Deep Studio One integration.

LIMITATIONS
Lacks individual Pan controls and a dedicated Master Fader. Plug-in control in Pro Tools is clunky. Reduced functionality with DAWs other than Studio One.

$499 street
presonus.com

Barry Cleveland is a Southern California-based journalist, guitarist, composer, recording artist, and audio engineer. barrycleveland.com