Every so often I stop to wonder why I continue to invest in yet more hardware based audio gear but still spend my days mixing via mouse, keyboard and screen. I have considered investing in a traditional mixing console but the realities of a home based studio rule that out on grounds of space (if not also on budget!).
Hardware DAW controllers always seem to be a compromise and never quite match correctly to your choice of DAW software. One of the exceptions is Avid who sell a wide range of hardware controllers for audio and video and of course market the industry standard Pro Tools DAW. I thought I’d take a look at the mid market Pro Tools S3 controller which comes with a small integrated audio interface.
The heart of the controller surface are 16 assignable channel strips each with 100mm touch sensitive motorised fader, 10 segment LED level meter, dedicated SOLO and MUTE pushbuttons and a pair of assignable rotary encoders each with an associated high quality OLED display, select and function in/out buttons. A channel record enable button is also provided.
A set of buttons to the LHS of the channel strips allows the function of the rotary encoders to be selected, e.g. input gain, pan, EQ, DYN control etc, so all the channel control functions which you would expect, can be brought into play.
A further set of buttons allows you to either nudge the 16 channels being controlled, one to the left or right, or in banks of 16, and if that’s not enough, then you can store custom channel strip to ‘physical’ channel assignments and recall them via 6 dedicated recall buttons.
A surface wide ‘shift’ button allows dual function control buttons to be switched to their secondary function (identified by grey coloured labels).
Four dedicated shortcut buttons are provided and these provide single button access to functions normally requiring mouse/screen activation. Another four programme buttons provide the usual ‘transport’ functions to navigate along the timeline of your project.
The S3 control surface supports control of Pro Tool plug-ins so that selection and control can be brought to the assignable encoders, displays and switches.
A further set of pushbuttons provide comprehensive control of the Pro Tool automation modes which are so important for overdubbing and editing during the session.
As you would expect, most of the other elements of Pro Tools can be brought to the surface, e.g. aux send in/out, pre/post and level control; monitor source, level, dim and mute etc. I couldn’t find any important control function which didn’t have a means to control from the surface.
Let’s turn to the audio interface …
The S3 provides four channels of analog inputs to Pro Tools or other Core Audio-compatible applications and four channels of analogue outputs for connecting monitors and other outboard audio devices. Two of the inputs allow mics to be connected to the include remote controlled mic amps via XLRs and the other two are on balanced ¼” jacks for line level inputs. Two of the outputs are on XLRs and the other two on ¼” jacks. There is a dedicated headphone jack and a programmable footswitch socket, both again on ¼” jack sockets.
In itself that’s pretty limited beyond doing small session tracking but more likely overdubs and drop ins, but the good news is that you can link the S3 to a Avid Pro Tools MTRX 2U modular rack frame which allows a large system to be constructed using plug in analogue and digital interface cards. More information on the MTRX here.
Whilst the S3 is clearly optimised for use with Pro Tools, the EUCON control protocol allows the S3 to be used with a number of big name DAWs including Media Composer, Apple Logic Pro X, Steinberg Cubase and Nuendo. The control interface to host computer is via Ethernet (using the EUCON control protocol and AVB audio protocol) and there is a pair USB 2.0 ports for connecting a keyboard and mouse.
It would be a big decision to move over to Pro Tools just to get a superb hardware controller, but if you are already a Pro Tools user, or you’re at a point of decided on a long term DAW commitment then the Pro Tools S3 and Pro Tools software is certainly worth consideration.
Full details on the Avid website here