Readers recently observed that your writer/editor is biased toward the aesthetic design of certain controllers. If that annoys you, try to focus on the lighter elements in this article to take your mind off things, and remind yourself that the weekend is near, because you’re probably going to spot that bias arising again.

Steinberg this month released a line of control surfaces that the company describes as “modular” and “ultra-portable.” The idea is this: rather than built a monster control surface to try to squeeze in everything (Akai’s APC40 comes to mind), they have little control surfaces you can combine for exactly what you need (Korg’s nano series, while at the lower end, comes to mind).

The CMC line looks like it does just that, and I have to say, it’s just about the best-looking control surfaces I’ve seen apart from the higher-end (and less portable) Euphonix series now sold by Avid. This could be the first hardware from Steinberg that gets people excited.

Sleek, stylish, and white, favoring touch strips over lots of faders, and lit with colored lights… I recall the line by Arthur Dent from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Instead of rather drab-looking faders and music control surfaces:

“This is my idea of a spaceship! All gleaming white, flashing lights, everything. What happens if I press this button?”

What, indeed:

  • CMC-CH “Channel controller”: 16 buttons + one rotary + one touch fader – that is, a channel strip
  • CMC-FD “Fader controller”: Four touch faders + LED metering + solo/mute
  • CMC-QC “Quick controller”: 13 buttons, 8 rotaries, and “EQ, Quick Control, and MIDI” modes – clever, in that you get EQ or macro controls in Cubase
  • CMC-PD “Pad controller”: 16 pad, one rotary, for all your finger drumming needs (will be curious to see how much this lives up to the “highly responsive” claim)
  • CMC-TP “Transport controller”: 17 buttons + touch slider for jog/shuttle
  • CMC-AI “AI Knob”: highlights the “universal knob” macro function in Steinberg’s software for mousing over a control, then grabbing a knob, and searching and selecting presets.

They’re USB bus-powered, use touch controllers Steinberg describes as “high-resolution,” and in true modular fashion even have joint plates for the connections. And yes, they’re designed to go with Steinberg’s bigger CC121 controller, though I think many people will bite on these little devices who ignored the bigger predecessor.

There’s also a set of frames that house the CMC modules or extension units. Not available: coffee table and chair system. You’ll have to work that out for yourself. The frames are almost the same price as the units, so I’m guessing most of y’all will do without them, but bonus points for design.

Now, clearly, visually and interactively, these are designed to go with Cubase and Nuendo, and a couple of the units really make the most sense with those two tools. (You’ll need the full, latest versions of that software to take advantage of all the features.) But being generally uncomfortable with the idea of buying hardware to go with one piece of software, I’m encouraged by the MIDI possibilities here – particularly with transports that could work with video editors or pads and faders that’d be nice when you take your Cubase-created stems into a DJ set with Ableton Live and so forth.

Stefan Trowbridge of Steinberg tells CDM that these will require separate drivers (compatible with Mac and Windows), but will ship on the CMC-PD and CMC-QC with editor software that will assign MIDI messages to the buttons and knobs.

They’re also designed to “fit in your pocket.” To me, that would have to mean you’re either eight feet tall, or wearing lederhosen, which I generally understand to be out of style in Germany. (Hey, I had a pair as a kid growing up in German-American Louisville, Kentucky. I’m sure we could design a more futuristic version. The kilt made a comeback.)

But they do look pretty portable. Messenger bag, Steinberg, not pockets, okay?

EUR129-199 each, including VAT, so I expect a reasonably low street price back in North America.

CDM bonus completely trivial observation! People who went to Columbia University in New York City for electronic music will find this acronym amusing! (It’s the name of their Computer Music Center.) I didn’t, but it’s just one of the Many Trivial Things I Know!

CMC Series @ Steinberg

Let’s look at more pictures!

Achievement unlocked: You’ve scrolled through all those pictures!