By CRAIG ANDERTON
LOOK, YOU DO WANT A HARDWARE CONTROL SURFACE. You can pilot your DAW with a mouse, but adding a tactile element speeds workﬂow while making
your entire process more enjoyable. If that DAW is made by Steinberg, parent
company Yamaha has brought a new level of hardware expertise—such as
audio interfaces with features like the Sweet Spot Morphing channel strip, and
CC121 controller. The Steinberg-branded CMC series of six hardware control
is the latest in Cubase, Nuendo, and Wavelab-speciﬁc hardware. (Functionality
considerably more limited with Wavelab, but controllers like the TP have their
Studio Frame 4 ($149.99 direct) holds up to four of the six CMC
modules. One of each, plus up to four FD units, can be used at the
The individual controllers have several common
elements. They’re the same size, feature a compact (but not cramped)
controls, have a
tilt-stand on the bottom for a more ergonomic
front panel angle, offer beautiful industrial
design, and connect via a single mini-B type
USB port (cable included). Daisy chaining isn’t
possible, but the low bandwidth requirements
(compared to audio) allow feeding them from a
The LED touch faders offer the advantages of
automated moving faders, but without the noise
and mechanical reliability issues—they bridge the world of moving
All come with a “Tools for CMC” disc with
software required to run the controllers, as well
as software editors for the PD and QC controllers,
but check online for newer versions. You can link
units together physically via a plate that snaps
on the underside.
Unlike general-purpose controllers, there’s
no need to decipher what a button does as their
graphics match a corresponding graphic in your
target program (e.g., the EQ enable/disable but-
ton shows the EQ symbol).
Note that when swapping modules on a Windows PC, you need to close
Cubase, then re-open
with the new module connected. On the Mac, this
CH Channel Controller
The CH is a touchsensitive, LED “moving fader” that
multiple parameters for a single
The CH (Figure 1) provides comprehensive control over a single channel.
a pan knob and
a level fader with 128 steps of resolution (-infinity to +6dB for audio;
for MIDI). Holding
the Shift button gives 1,024 steps of resolution.
The fader has two automation response
modes: Catch mode (the default), where the fader
value needs to match the current setting before
changing, or Jump mode, where the parameter
value changes immediately to the current fader
position as soon as you touch it. In Catch mode,
an LED shows the current value, so you can just
touch the LED and start moving—this sort of
combines the best of moving-fader and LED-
based nulling automation.
You can open up the Edit Channel window;
enable or disable EQ, sends, inserts, record
arm status, input monitor, mute, and solo; step
between channels; control automation read/
write; freeze the track; open and close the track’s
folder; and open and close a virtual instrument’s
window. Holding Shift in conjunction with eight
of the buttons provides additional default, but
easily customizable functions (with over 100
choices from a menu) do loop control, go to
markers, and more. Overall, the CH is a powerful way to improve workflow when
FD Fader Controller
To mix four channels at a time, reach for the FD Fader
The four faders of the FD (Figure 2) work similarly to the CH, with buttons to
banks (four at a time) or individual channels. For
example, if the leftmost fader controls levels on
mixer channel 3, the Bank right button jumps it
to channel 7; hitting the Channel right button
jumps it to channel 4. You can combine units for
up to 16 faders—bank or channel shift operations move all of them
Additional Shift key functions can convert a
selected fader into a level meter; also, you can tap
above the current fader level to toggle mute, or
below the current value to toggle solo—cool! If
you hit Shift-Select, the leftmost fader jumps to
the currently selected channel. It’s easy to work
four sliders at a time with four fingers—consider
it “manually-controlled grouping.”
TP Transport Controller
The TP Transport Controller handles far more than the usual play, stop, and
The TP (Figure 3) provides many more transport
functions than the usual play, stop, rewind, and
so on. You can insert markers, nudge forward/
backward by a bar, set the locators’ range as well
as navigate to them, step forward and backward
through markers, and copy a selected track (or if
no track exists, create a mono audio track).
A novel touch slider can do jog, shuttle, locate,
scroll, zoom or tap tempo; holding Shift and tapping a part of the controller
selects the function.
You can “pinch” the strip to zoom in or out. Like
the CH, you can also customize switch functions
from menus within Cubase or Nuendo’s Device
Setup zone. The transport, loop, and marker navigation functions are also
useful for Wavelab 7.2.
PD Pad Controller
The PD Pad Controller is ideal for triggering MPC-style drum
but also handles melodic notes.
The 16 touch-sensitive pads generate MIDI
notes—PD (Figure 4) is not just for Steinberg software. Furthermore,
have 16 banks of
16 notes. Eight banks are editable, seven fixed,
and one assignable to virtually any 16 Cubase/Nuendo keyboard
One pad mode defaults to the standard “hit
harder = more velocity” protocol, with a tricolor
LED indicating level. Another one, “4Velocity
Mode,” assigns four velocity settings to four pads
that trigger one drum—ideal for predictable
There are eight velocity curves, and eight more
with fixed values. The selected curve applies to all
pads of any bank until changed. All these options
can lead to some tweaking time, so the included
software editing is welcome for assigning MIDI
notes to the various pads and banks or selecting
velocity curves. Finally, a browser mode lets you
scroll through an instrument’s presets.
AI Advanced Integration
The AI Advanced Integration controller brings the CC121’s way cool
knob to the CMC series.
This is fabulous, and complements your mouse
instead of acting as a standalone controller (Figure 5). When you hover your
mouse (no click or drag necessary) over an adjustable parameter, the
big knob controls it. This works for just about any
parameter in a Steinberg product (there are some
exceptions, like sample start time in the Padshop synth, and some
the mixer, enable/disable works for EQ but not for inserts or
sends). It also controls any third-party VST 2.4
plug-in parameters that can respond to a mouse
scroll wheel. Furthermore, you can “lock” a parameter to
continue adjusting it
regardless of the
mouse pointer location.
Pushing on the knob opens the Project Assistant if no project is open,
lets you choose a Track
Preset (and therefore track) if the project is open,
and if a plug-in has the focus, opens a browser
with the same basic functionality as the PD; the
AI knob scrolls through the presets.
Two “bonus” modes use the AI wheel as a way
to control main volume or jog, and four of the
buttons can be assigned to any keyboard shortcut
(like the PD). It’s hard to realize just how fast and
easy it is to tweak parameters with the AI wheel
until you use it, but it leads to a very fluid, effortless workfl ow.
QC Quick Control Editor
The QC Quick Controller handles EQ and channel Quick Controls, but
also a general purpose MIDI
Three main modes offer hands-on control over a
channel’s Quick Controls, channel EQ, or MIDI
controller messages (Figure 6). The Quick Control
implementation is as slick as the AI knob—go
into Learn mode, hover the mouse over a control,
turn a knob—assignment done. The Shift button
lets you do things like turn EQ bands on and off .
The QC can control channels, but these are QC
channels. For example, one channel could control
the levels on mixer channels 2 and 3, and the
pan on 4, while another controls levels for channels 5, 6, and 7. Switching
among these retains
your assignments. Additional options include
automation read/write buttons, and with Shift,
eight buttons can select keyboard shortcuts. The
software editor is as slick as the controller, even
letting you decide how the LED in the middle of a
knob reflects value changes.
These are efficient, ergonomic controllers that
streamline working with Cubase and Nuendo.
The compact size is a plus, and the way Steinberg circumvents standard moving
faders saves money
and possible mechanical headaches. What’s more,
you can mix and match to suit your interests: If
you like to tweak plug-ins, choose AI. If you’re
into percussion instruments, go for PD. But there’s
also some overlap among units, so you can use
them for more than might be apparent at first.
Two thumbs up—and the rest of your fingers,
which will be all over the CMC controllers.
Craig Anderton is Executive Editor of
Electronic Musician magazine and Editor
in Chief of HarmonyCentral.com.
PROS Modular approach
for customized controller
setup. Streamlines workﬂow.
Compact, ergonomic, and cool looking. Very useful functions.
Includes Cubase AI6.
CONS No USB daisy
chaining. Only the PD and
QC controllers work with
The CMCs are novel, clever, useful,
stylish, and make working with
Steinberg DAWs more ﬂuid.
FD model: $249.99 list | $199.99
street | All others: $199.99 list |
$149.99 street steinberg.net.