Avid Control Surfaces: Which One Fits Your Needs?
Since there has been more and more advancements in the digital world, Avid has been coming up with new ways to integrate the old school hands-on approach of mixing into the modern world of music production. As much as we all love analog mixing desks, they are expensive and hard to integrate into a smaller studio environment.
With the vast improvement of plug-in sounds and recall ability, every year more engineers migrate towards "In The Box" workﬂow. Sometimes all you need is the ability to put your hands on a group of faders and pan knobs to really feel a mix, and now with expanded functionality of a digital control surface, you have access to a more tactile control of your plug-in collection.
Avid provides a variety of control surfaces that will ﬁt everything from small project studios all the way up to professional sound stages, post houses and commercial recording studios. Throughout this blog, we’ll be going over the different control surfaces Avid offers, sharing stories of engineers who use these tools and helping you ﬁnd which model will best improve the workﬂow of your studio.
Let's start with the Avid Artist Mix and work our way up to the bigger control surfaces. The Artist Mix is a powerful, compact control surface that can comfortably ﬁt on top of your desk. It comes stock with eight touch sensitive faders, allowing you to call attention to the track by simply touching a fader, and eight rotary knobs. If your session is more than eight channels, easily bank through the rest of your session with the nudge and bank buttons, allowing full access to every track of your session. An LED scribble strip is located on the top of Artist Mix, so you can easily see the names of all your tracks, input or output level, and where the pan pot is set. You can also record-enable, mute, solo, and assign tracks right from the control surface, and the solo and mute keys double up as transport controls.
The rotary knobs offer a variety of functions. In the normal mode, they work as a standard pan knob would in Pro Tools or on an analog desk. When channel mode is engaged, the rotary knobs can be used to adjust individual parameters for plug-ins, dynamic inserts, EQ, auxiliary sends, VCA groups and more. With the "Flip Chan" button, you can assign the rotary knob controls to the large faders, providing a different approach for ﬁne tuning a plug-in setting, or spreading out the frequency bands of a graphic EQ.
Artist Mix connects to your computer through a single ethernet port on the rear panel, and will work with any EUCON-enabled audio and video application. A foot switch port on the rear panel can be used for a variety of functions, mainly as a punch in/out control for hands-free recording, ideal if you are engineering and playing an instrument at the same time.
Artist Mix is priced at $999, which won't break the bank, and totally justiﬁed with how much ﬂexibility it adds to your recording rig.
Next up is the Avid S3, reasonably priced at $4,999. All of the functions of the Artist Mix are integrated into the S3, but expanded on to ﬁt the needs of a more sophisticated recording facility. The S3 comes packed with 16 touch-sensitive, motorized faders. Next to each fader, is an LED level display, which can allow you to keep an eye on your track levels and, compared to the Artist Mix, takes up less real estate in the scribble strip displays.
The scribble strip now displays up to 32 channels, allowing you to view track names, settings, status, channel metering, and more. Just like the Artist Mix, if your session runs more than 32 channels, you can bank through the rest of your session with the nudge and bank controls.
The S3 provides 32 touch-sensitive, push button, rotary style knobs, compared to the eight that Artist Mix offers. The bottom row of knobs work the same way as they did on the Artist Mix, the top row of knobs offer advanced features to make changes to inputs, inserts, sends, groups, and more.
S3 provides many function keys that you would normally have to use a keyboard for, making it possible to do everything you would need in your session, without the use of a mouse or keyboard. On the bottom row, you can ﬁnd the basic functions of Shift, Alt, Control, and Command, mainly used in quick key commands. Up, down, left, and right arrows are provided for quick navigation through the tracks of your session. On the right side is a bank of numbers which work as the numeric keypad does on a standard keyboard. This can allow you to toggle between quick punch mode (6), turn on and off the click track (7), begin recording, or punch in/out (3), open up the session window (2), and more.
The S3 is not just a control surface, it can work as a stand-alone audio interface, and provides 4-input, 6-output AVB Core Audio interface to connect your studio (Mac only). It comes equipped with two XLR mic/line inputs, and two additional TRS line inputs, making it convenient for recording on the road, or any remote recording environment. Connect studio speakers, headphones amps, and other outboard gear to the four line outputs. Also included is one stereo headphone output.
This Avid control surface/interface can also be paired with the new Pro Tools Dock ($1,199), and Pro Tools Control app (Free) to further expand your workﬂow. Integrating the Pro Tools Dock with an iPad gives you touch controls to jump to any aspect of your mix. A scrub wheel has been added for better precision when dealing with tedious editing. As you bank through tracks, the single touch sensitive fader follows your session, and provides quick access to any function on that particular channel, and the LED on the bottom left shows that channels output level. Transport controls are accessible on the bottom row of buttons, as well as four assignable function buttons. Eight additional rotary knobs are included, and function the same as they do on the S3.
Last, but not least, we have the ﬂagship Avid S6. This control surface can be completely customized to your speciﬁc needs. You can either choose from preconﬁgured set-ups designed by Avid, or build your own custom set-up with an accompaniment of faders, rotary knobs, process functions, display modules, keyboard and script trays, speaker mounts and more.
S6 can be set-up to be a fully functional surround sound mixer, and has been ﬁnding its way into more and more post houses, recording studios and ﬁlm sound stages. Its footprint in your space can be as big or small as it needs to be, as the S6 is scaled vertically and horizontally. Add the modules you need when ﬁrst starting off, then expand the S6 as your setup and needs start to grow.
The Master Touch Module gives access to a variety of functions, and works similar to the expanded functionality of the Pro Tools Dock and iPad integration on the S3. The Master Touch Module is a 12.1" tilting multi-point touchscreen that becomes the heart of the S6. It can be used to edit plug-in parameters, push faders, dial in the rotary knobs, record enable tracks, monitor and route signal, and much more.
There are two basic control options for S6, the M10, and the M40. The M10 is limited to 10 modules, where the M40 can handle up to 40 modules. You can add multiple display modules to the M40 based system, but not to the M10. As a meter bridge, the display modules work just like the channel meter inside of the Pro Tools mix window, and can display level in multiple formats such as pro tools classic, sample peak, linear, linear (extended), RMS, VU, digital VU, and many more.
The spill group function is a great feature of the S6. When working with a larger console, most engineers like to use VCA groups to keep the balance of everything within that group, but be able to mute or solo the group with the click of a button, or change the overall level without messing with the initial balance of tracks. With the spill function, you can select a VCA group, and with the click of a button, the tracks that are within that group "spill" out onto a section of faders on the console. So let's say you are looking to turn the kick drum up a dB in your drum group, simply spill the group to a section of faders, turn the kick up a bit, collapse the group again, and be back on your way. For engineers that don't want to rely on a mouse and keyboard, S6 can control every function of Pro Tools right at your ﬁngertips.
Whatever your control surface needs may be, Avid has an option that will best integrate into your recording set-up. If you're interested in customizing your own Avid S6, check out our custom configuration tool. For more information on getting the best set-up for your space, contact your Vintage King Audio Consultant by email or phone at 888.653.1184.