You’re tired of using your mouse to grab on-screen controls. You want something physical to control, a motorized fader that will automatically pop to the right position. But you aren’t quite ready to surrender a bunch of workspace to a hulking full-sized control surface. You want something as compact and easy to grab as the mouse, but that makes sense for audio.

You’re evidently the target market for two new one-channel fader control surfaces, the PreSonus FaderPort and the Frontier AlphaTrack, both with a US$200 street. The FaderPort made an appearance at NAMM in January; I got to give the unit a try and it feels great. But Jerry Halsted, blogger at the Jer zone and an employee of Frontier, sent us a glimpse of Frontier’s take, and it could steal the FaderPort’s thunder.

The AlphaTrack, on paper at least, easily trumps the FaderPort in features:

    More encoders: The AlphaTrack has three endless rotary encoders with a push-button function, which you could assign not only to pan but EQ, effects plug-ins, or anything else you like. The FaderPort has only a single knob, in place of the endless encoders.

  1. Ribbon controller: A small ribbon touch controller above the logo works with one finger to scrub, two fingers to shuttle through your project (much like the one finger/two finger arrangement on the current Mac laptops).
  2. More flexibility: You can flip settings from the knobs to the fader for fine control, which means the AlphaTrack could easily be seen as a virtual effects controller as much as a channel strip — in case your idea of music creation involves endless tweaking to granular effects in Ableton Live, a la Monolake.
  3. LEDs and LCDs: There’s a 2-line backlit screen so you can see what you’re controlling, plus status LEDs for all the buttons on the AlphaTrack. The PreSonus doesn’t have the indicators or screen.

My only question is whether the motorized fader on the AlphaTrack feel as good as the one on the PreSonus? I believe it could, only because Frontier has been in the control surface business for a while (see Tascam US series, Tranzport). I just have to give it a try first-hand.

The idea is certainly appealing, especially for those of us who have already crammed our studio with keyboards and spend most of our time at the computer, and just need a way to quickly adjust levels, not necessarily two faders at a time.

Tranzport support in Ardour should mean FaderPort support will follow for this open source Linux/Mac DAW.

Availability: FaderPort now; AlphaTrack in January 07

More information:

AlphaTrack [the Jer Zone]
AlphaTrack [Frontier Design]
FaderPort announcement [PreSonus]

See also Music thing for more commentary.