Steinberg CMC Series

LOOK, YOU DO WANT A HARDWARE CONTROL SURFACE. YOU CAN PILOT your DAW with a mouse, but adding a tactile element speeds workfl ow while making your entire process more enjoyable.
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The optional Studio Frame 4 ($149.99 direct) holds up to four of the six CMC controller modules. One of each, plus up to four FD units, can be used at the same time.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 novel audio interfaces with features like the Sweet Spot Morphing channel strip, and the CC121 controller. The Steinberg-branded CMC series of six hardware control surfaces is the latest in Cubase, Nuendo, and Wavelab-specific hardware. (Functionality is considerably more limited with Wavelab, but controllers like the TP have their uses.)

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The individual controllers have several common elements. They’re the same size, feature a compact (but not cramped) array of 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 USB hub.

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 faders with iOS device-like touchscreen control.

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 isn’t necessary.

Fig. 1. The CH is a touchsensitive, LED “moving fader” that controls multiple parameters for a single channel. CH Channel Controller
The CH (Figure 1) provides comprehensive control over a single channel. There’s a pan knob and a level fader with 128 steps of resolution (-infinity to +6dB for audio; 0–127 for MIDI). Holding the Shift button gives 1,024 steps of resolution.

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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 working with individual channels.

Fig. 2. To mix four channels at a time, reach for the FD Fader Controller.FD Fader Controller
The four faders of the FD (Figure 2) work similarly to the CH, with buttons to step through 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 together.

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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.”

Fig. 3. The TP Transport Controller handles far more than the usual play, stop, and record functions.TP Transport Controller
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).

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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.

Fig. 4. The PD Pad Controller is ideal for triggering MPC-style drum instruments, but also handles melodic notes. PD Pad Controller
The 16 touch-sensitive pads generate MIDI notes—PD (Figure 4) is not just for Steinberg software. Furthermore, you can have 16 banks of 16 notes. Eight banks are editable, seven fixed, and one assignable to virtually any 16 Cubase/Nuendo keyboard shortcuts.

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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 velocities.

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.

Fig. 5. The AI Advanced Integration controller brings the CC121’s way cool AI knob to the CMC series. AI Advanced Integration Controller
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 anomalies—in 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.

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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. Kudos.

Fig. 6. The QC Quick Controller handles EQ and channel Quick Controls, but it’s also a general purpose MIDI controller. QC Quick Control Editor
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 .

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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

Snap Judgment
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 non-Steinberg software.

Bottom Line
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