Boutique German maker Faderfox has long been a go-to for controllers. The latest compact box looks like the encoder box to end all encoder boxes.
Hands-on control is everything, of course. You’ve got some particular parameter in your Ableton Live set, or your VCV Rack or Reaktor patch, or your favorite plug-in. Or there’s some particular gear parameters that are hidden behind menus and don’t have dedicated controls. So normally begins the dance of juggling a bunch of cheap, plastic controllers that too often break, or are meant for a particular piece of software, or feel flimsy and unsatisfying when you touch them, or just don’t have the layout you need.
Video performance can be even worse – and even less forgiving of low-resolution standard MIDI mapping, as stuff jitters across giant projection and LED walls because your crap MIDI controller has only 127 values.
The generic layout of the Faderfoxes has been a salve for this wound. Developer Mathias has been slowly evolving his “box full of stuff you can turn” concept. There were knobs, then there were encoders. Then there were push-button encoders, then ones that let you map the push function.
The EC4 is the latest evolution, and it puts everything in one place – and adds a screen, solving the problem of having to remember your mappings. (Though, hey, uh, happy accidents make you creative? No?)
There are encoders that can work as high-resolution encoders, too (14-bit) for more detailed precision.
But it’s really the display that makes this interesting. It’s a 4×20 character OLED, so small but still clear enough that you can see what you’re doing.
And you can customize the labels directly. You can do that on the device – Mathias has cleverly mapped the grid of 4×4 encoders to the old T9 layout used on cell phones, so think rapid-fire SMS rather than scrolllllllling through letters like on old arcade machines. That means this works without a computer handy. If you do happen to have a computer nearby, there’s an EC4 editor you can run directly from your browser in Chrome/Chromium.
Oh yeah, that editor is even open source.
The EC4 is pricier than other Faderfox options, at 251EUR before VAT (about $278) or EUR 299 if you’re in Europe. (If you’re on a budget, check for models right before they’re retired, as they tend to get discounted.)
But with all these advanced features in a compact size, I think it’s really appealing. There are plenty of low-resolution boxes with knobs and pots, but when you need some nuance and flexibility, this looks hard to beat – and essential for those of us in love with software like VCV Rack.
- Universal controller for all kinds of midi controllable hard- and software
- iPad compatible
- Control surface script for Ableton Live is shipped with the controller
- USB interface – class compliant / bus powered / no driver necessary (consumption < 500mW)
- MIDI in and out ports by 3.5mm minijack sockets type B with routing and merge functionality
- 16 gridless push encoders – resolution = 36 pulses per revolution
- Encoder push buttons can send separate commands
- 4 x 20 character OLED-display to show control values (numeric/bar), names and programming data
- Names for encoders, groups and setups are editable (4 characters per name)
- 14 bit high resolution encoder mode for sensitive parameters
- Programmable value ranges with min/max values
- Data feedback avoid value jumps
- All encoders fully programmable in the device by channel, type, number, mode, name etc.
- Different command types like control change (CC), pitch bend, NRPN, program change and notes
- Advanced programming functions like copy, paste and fill
- 16 independent groups per setup for 16 encoders (256 commands per setup)
- Learn function for fast assignment to incoming MIDI commands
- 16 setups with backup/restore function contain all controller settings incl. names
- Very compact design in a black casing (180x105x70 mm, 350 g)
I’m definitely saving some cash for one. The Faderfox stuff I own endures like nothing else.