Steinberg CMC Controllers

Soft synths and “in-the-box” mixing have brought unprecedented power to our studios, but have limited hands-on control to simple click-and-drag.
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Fig. 1. CH Channel ControllerFig. 2.FD Fader ControllerSOFT SYNTHS and “in-the-box” mixing have brought unprecedented power to our studios, but have limited hands-on control to simple click-and-drag. While there’s no shortage of control hardware to regain the tactile experience, many generic controllers bring additional levels of menus and complication.

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Dedicated controllers solve this issue, and Steinberg has released the CMC (Cubase Modular Controllers) line of compact control surfaces designed specifically for Cubase, Nuendo, and now, Wavelab 7.2. The CMC family consists of six products, useable individually or as a group in any combination (up to nine total, with the option of having up to four of the Fader controllers). As a bonus, each one includes an access code for downloading and installing Cubase AI6 DAW software.

Basics Each 4" x 7-1/4" CMC controller is lightweight and includes a set of rubber feet to keep them firmly in place, and a small lift on the back side allows for slight tilting. Included Mac/PC software provides editing for the PD (Pad) and QC (Quick Control) units; what’s more, this software can program standard MIDI note and controller data messages, making these two units compatible with any DAW. (The other four controllers are Steinberg only.) Each of the CMC controllers focuses on a particular set of tasks such as transport, faders, or channel strips, and offer custom configurations for a secondary set of user-defined controls. This unique approach to control surfaces solves a lot of problems for studios with limited desktop space, as well as those with tight budgets or who want quick access to a particular set of functions. (However, there’s no way to daisy-chain USB connectivity from one controller to another, and they’re buspowered— so plan on buying a powered USB hub if you expect to use multiple units.)

The modular approach allows for a huge variety of ergonomic placements for just about any setup. What’s more, these clever little devices play nicely with other control surfaces. While I use and love my Mackie Universal Controller, augmenting it with the CMC controllers’ instant access to Cubase-specific functions provides a far better overall control surface experience.

Fig. 3. AI Advanced IntegrationFig. 4. TP Transport ControllerIn addition to the dedicated controls for faders, channel strip functions, transport, EQ, etc., most CMC units have a shift button that allows customizing that particular control’s functions, thus letting you personalize the control with a staggering 46 categories and over 1,200 choices. So if you want to use only a few functions from a different controller, you could probably assign those commands your existing controller. Steinberg also sells an optional tray that holds up to four CMC controllers; another frame lets you use the CC121 controller with up to two CMC controllers.

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We’ll touch on the highlights of each controller, but if you really want to dig into the various options each controller offers, you can download the manuals at

CH Channel Controller (Figure 1) This is a one-stop shop for accessing an individual channel’s parameters. The touch-fader controls the channel’s volume, with Catch or Jump modes. Catch lets the fader take over only after it has crossed over the current setting, which is shown in illuminated lights under the fader. Jump instantly assumes the parameter value associated with the fader’s physical position as soon as you touch the fader. Dedicated < and > Channel buttons allow moving quickly from channel to channel; holding down the shift key while moving the fader allows for fine-tuning the volume parameter, and the shift key also allows user-defined control of eight additional controls. I found this unit extremely useful for my needs, and it really sped up workflow.

FD Fader Controller (Figure 2) This box offers four touch-sensitive faders for mixing without using the mouse. One of the LEDs below the fader indicates the current fader value; as with the CH, you can specify catch or jump response, and the shift key provides fine control over a shorter range by dividing the fader up into 1,024 steps. (The four faders can also serve as four VU meters.) You can use up to four FDs simultaneously, for 16 faders total.

AI Advanced Integration (Figure 3) The AI controller has become one of my favorites. This simple and extremely powerful device gives you control over any parameter for virtually anything in Cubase—mixer controls, EQ, plug-in DSP or instrument parameters, etc. Simply use your mouse to hover your cursor over the control, then twist the AI knob. Yes, it’s that simple. Talk about useful and fast. . . .

Fig. 5. QC Quick ControllerFig. 6. PD Pad ContollerYou can lock the knob into controlling a single parameter, and then move your cursor anywhere you want while the AI controller still tweaks that locked-in parameter. However, the ability to assign AI knob control requires that a Steinberg mixer parameter, VST plug-in, or third-party VST plug-in supports the VST 2.4 plug-in architecture with scroll-wheel support. That covers quite a lot, but also means the AI knob can’t control any plug-in parameter from any VST plug-in maker.

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Other dedicated buttons quickly assign the AI knob to jog or master volume; < and > buttons let you select items in a browser window; and four assignable buttons provide quick access to file commands such as save, undo and redo, and opening and closing the mixer window.

TP Transport Controller (Figure 4) In addition to typical transport functionality, this controller offers nudge, set left and right locator points, loop, and more. One of the standout functions is the horizontal touchstrip, which is similar to the fader in the Fader Controller; a quick Mode button can assign it to Jog, Shift, Locate, Scroll, Zoom, and Tap Tempo. This is a good starter controller that—like most all of the other CMC controllers—includes secondary assignable controls.

QC Quick Controller (Figure 5) This controller has multiple focuses, and offers channel control of EQ, MIDI, and Cubase Quick Controls, which you can assign to control up to eight of your favorite parameters on project tracks. It also features four dedicated buttons (which in conjunction with the shift key, provide up to eight functions) for any of the userassignable commands, along with dedicated automation read and write controls, and < > channel select buttons. The Quick controller is a good multi-use tool, and is both fast and handy for dedicated EQ tweaking and custom control.

PD Pad Controller (Figure 6) This provides 16 touch-sensitive pads as well as dedicated shift, curve setup, and browse pads. Its single dial comes in very handy for the browse functionality; you can access 16 banks of notes, so accessing banks for different devices or sets of instruments is a snap. The Browse button is great for quickly accessing presets. You can also use the PD in “four-velocity mode” to lock in four dynamic levels for one note across four pads, and this feature includes eight additional banks. I was surprised by how well these pads triggered, with predictable dynamic response and very light touch, but would have liked larger pads for two-finger use. The PD has a separate editor application (included) for changing the PD’s note assignments; interestingly, in Bank 16 it’s possible to assign a unique key command shortcut to each of the 16 pads in Cubase/Nuendo.

Something for Everyone While each of these controllers has a dedicated use and flexibility for custom configurations (including secondary functionality on some), I would have loved to see the AI knob—or at least its functionality—on all of the other units. For me, this control is the shining star.

As controllers, these hit the target. The ability to mix and match them for your needs, or even for specific projects, makes them great tools; their relatively inexpensive cost and small footprint makes having at least a couple of these a no-brainer for any Steinberg user, even if you already own another controller.


STRENGTHS:The units’ modular approach and compact size allow for great placement and customizable control options. For Cubase/ Nuendo/Wavelab 7.2 users, the tight integration speeds up many tasks.

LIMITATIONS: No daisy-chaining of USB connectivity.

All controllers $199.99 MSRP
except the FD ($249.99 MSRP)

Reek Havok is a four-time Platinum Album recipient, drummer, sound designer for various instrument manufacturers, and interactive exhibit designer.