Expanding on the popular single-fader FaderPort [Tape Op #59], PreSonus is now offering the FaderPort 8, which features eight 100 mm touch-sensitive motorized faders and 57 buttons. For those of us who are seeking the fun of mixing on a control surface, while avoiding the drudgery of driving sessions with a keyboard and mouse, the FaderPort 8 is an affordable, welcome option. The unit is roughly 300 mm square × 25 mm high in the front, rising slightly to a greater height toward the back; and it's sturdy, with a black brushed-metal top plate over a PVC bottom chassis. What I like best about its aesthetic design is that it really does look and feel like a tool, not a toy. It's also heavy enough to remain stable on the desktop under my moving hands.
The FaderPort 8 natively integrates with PreSonus Studio One [Tape Op #76] using MIDI over USB, and it operates in HUI mode for Pro Tools and MCU (Mackie Control Universal) for most other DAWs. Thanks to the handy "Quick Start" guide, I was controlling a mix session in minutes after plugging in the included external power supply, connecting the USB 2.0 cable, and executing two simple button commands to set up the controller's protocol for my DAW. Though I ran some brief tests using the FaderPort 8 with Ableton Live [#95] and Apple Logic [#74], this review is focused on an integration with Pro Tools.
If you're familiar with the original Mackie HUI, Alesis Master Control, or any of the Avid/Euphonix controllers, the FaderPort 8's primary functions (faders, solos, mutes, and transport controls) should feel right at home. Each of the eight fader sections provides a high-definition LCD scribble strip, and Select, Mute, and Solo buttons. The long-throw faders can be set up to control and respond to channel level, aux send level, plug-in settings, and panning. Though the fader channels lack their own individual rotary encoders, there's a single rotary encoder with pushbutton functionality in the upper left corner, labeled Pan/Param, that can be used for panning or plug-in parameter selection. Automation, transport, and navigation controls are located on the right side of the FaderPort 8.
Like many, I've grown accustomed to drawing automation lines with a mouse. However, making the switch to fader automation was much easier than anticipated. In use, the FaderPort 8's touch-sensitive faders felt smooth and reactive while writing automation, and they remained relatively quiet when playing back moves. Motor-driven travel of the faders was consistent and fairly accurate to their top-panel markings when snapping to position, banking between sets of channels, and playing back automation — within 1 mm when representing +10 dB through −10 dB levels, and falling off as much as 10 mm at −20 dB. With fader speed set on highest (adjustable in the bootup menu), the FaderPort 8 wrote automation data as dense or denser (with more step points) than an Avid Artist Mix. In HUI mode, the faders have 128 steps of resolution, but in Studio One mode, their accuracy increases to 1024 steps. The lack of a pan encoder on each channel was a little frustrating at first, but I quickly grew accustomed to using the faders for panning by simply engaging the global Pan button. Soloing and muting were quick work.
Though I won't list all of the FaderPort 8's features, I'll go over some standout functionality. In the Session Navigator section, one of my favorite features is Marker mode, which when selected, allows for easy dropping of markers in the Edit window of Pro Tools, by pushing down on the large, blue knob of the rotary encoder on the right. You can also flip through marker locations by turning it. This encoder can also act as a timeline zoom in the Edit window. Three of the buttons in the Automation section, when combined with the Shift modifier, are assigned to open the Mix, Edit, and Transport windows in Pro Tools. (Note that these User buttons are customizable in Studio One.) In Edit Plugins mode, after manually adding or selecting a plug-in, the first four faders are automatically assigned to plug-in parameters (at times inconsistently) and scrollable to additional parameters using the small rotary encoder on the left. Here, the scribble strips really become helpful in identifying which parameter you're adjusting. At first, it can be slightly awkward getting used to controlling plug-in parameters with faders, but I often automate plug-ins in mixing anyway, so this feature is a plus for my workflow. For recording, the Arm button arms the selected track, and Shift+Arm arms all tracks. A standard, momentary footswitch (not included) can be connected to the FaderPort 8 to start/stop playback.
Given its incredible price point and build quality, I have only a few persnickety beefs with the FaderPort 8. The low contrast of the scribble strip LCD panels, in combination with their glossy, reflection-prone, plastic windows, results in the displays being hard to read at certain angles. In Pro Tools 10 on macOS, there seems to be a bug when using the FaderPort 8's Session Navigator knob for timeline scrubbing, which temporarily befuddles the USB bus until Scroll mode is disengaged. (PreSonus has an upcoming firmware update to address this problem.) Some of the buttons are dedicated to Studio One and have no functionality in HUI mode. Also, without MIDI map customization, third-party controllers can never fully replace the keyboard and mouse. For example, FaderPort 8 lacks control over plug-in insertion, Tool and Edit modes, Redo, and many other features in Pro Tools that I regularly use. (Bome MIDI Translator Pro and midiStroke are two applications can remap MIDI controllers.) But I attribute FaderPort 8's limitations in Pro Tools more to the constraints of HUI than to any shortcomings in the hardware.
If you're in search of a well-built DAW controller for macOS or Windows, I can highly recommend the FaderPort 8. The more you use it, the more you'll love it.