Last Updated on September 19, 2020 by Ryan Harrell
Being able to access your nearly all your DAW controls in a single tap is a massive game changer. The control and intuitiveness a dedicated controller adds to your studio is unparalleled. But buying the best control surface for Logic Pro X isn’t easy. So to help you out, we put together this detailed guide.
A control surface isn’t a must-have for a bedroom producer, but it’s a powerful tool to have when you’re ready to upgrade to a more serious setup. It brings all essential controls to your fingertips, freeing you up from the awkwardness of multiple screens. Hardware controls not only give you finer control over your DAW, but also give you greater creative freedom and flexibility.
Control surfaces are particularly important if you want to move from a producer/performer to a studio owner/engineer/producer role. You might not find the best use of a control surface if you’re the only one in your home studio. But the moment you’re recording others – a band, other artists – you’ll find that a dedicated controller is almost a necessity.
While most control surfaces work well with Logic Pro – it is one of the most popular DAWs in the world after all – there are some that perform better than others.
In this roundup of the best control surfaces for Logic Pro X, we’ll look at some of the top options you can buy right now. As with other guides, we’ve divided this into two parts. In Part I, we’ll look at the best Logic Pro X control surfaces for different needs.
In Part II, I’ll cover the essentials you should consider when buying a control surface, as well as how to get the most out of your current setup.
If you want a sneak peak, here are our top options:
- Best overall: PreSonus FaderPort
- Budget budget: Akai Pro MIDIMix
- Best performance: Behringer XTouch
- Most portable: Korg nanoKontrol Studio
- Best outdoor: Zoom FRC-8
Best Control Surface for Logic Pro X
In the first part of this guide, we’ll do a deep dive into the top Logic Pro X control surfaces you can buy right now. To be more specific, we’ll look at the top controllers based on different requirements (live performance, home studio, etc.).
Do keep in mind that like the rest of this website, these selections are aimed squarely at serious home producers who want to upgrade their skills and equipment. Hence, we’ve only considered commercially available gear, not the customizable, expensive hardware that lines $1M studios.
With that caveat out of the way, let’s start by looking at our top choice for the best control surface for Logic Pro X in 2020:
The FaderPort is purposefully “dumb”. It doesn’t clutter the unit with a gazillion buttons and screens. It is specifically designed to be easy to use – and gets top marks for that.
At the heart of the FaderPort is an innovative and highly satisfying 360 degree encoder. Anything you need to move and select and draw and drag will be handled by this encoder. So it’s a good thing that the build quality on it is fantastic – it can take a beating, and then some more.
Complementing the encoder is a single mechanized fader. Mechanized faders are one of my “make or break” features on any control surface and I’m happy to say that this one has a smooth, satisfying motion, plus a heft that should help it last years of use.
The fader is also touch sensitive – a feature often found missing in more expensive Logic Pro X control surface. If you’ve ever felt dissatisfied by your fades and automations, you’ll love using this fader – external hardware make it much easier to get fine control over your automations. Moving a mouse around feels hardly as intuitive as dragging a touch sensitive fader – and this one works wonderfully well.
The rest of the controls are designed around a single goal: to complement your keyboard-mouse, not to replace them. I appreciate this approach, especially since most producers are already used to the keyboard-mouse combo. Far too many control surfaces try to do everything and the kitchen sink, forcing producers to retrain their habits. This unit recognizes that that is neither feasible nor desirable.
Build quality is solid throughout. I particularly like the dimensions. It’s small enough to take minimal space on your desk, yet not so small as to make the buttons and faders unusable. I prefer this smaller footprint over some of the larger control surfaces that take up too much desk space.
What’s left to consider is compatibility. Now the FaderPort works well with most popular DAWs, including Logic Pro X, but it is extremely well-wound with Studio One. Which is expected since they’re from the same brand. If you use Studio One, buying this control surface is an absolute no-brainer.
That said, you’ll find that the PreSonus FaderPort is also one of the best control surfaces for Logic Pro X, with tight integration out of the box.
What we don’t like
The buttons are a little hard to press. There are also reports of compatibility issues with the some versions of macOS Catalina.
Best MIDI Mixer for Logic Pro X: Akai Pro MIDImix
- Cross DAW Compatible
- 24 assignable knobs
- 8 line faders
Right out of the box, the sleek and compact design of the device is lovely to behold. The top panel comes in black matte while the rear has an orange hue. This nice contrast makes the Akai Pro MIDImix easy on the eye. The slim design makes it easy to move about with this surface control; it fits in a backpack easily and will be great for DJs that move around.
On the top right of the device, there is a Send All button. Right beside it is the Bank left/right button that offers you the ability to toggle the eight channels on the MIDIMix. South of this is the Solo button. Below the Mute button are the Record-Arm buttons. The overall layout of the Akai Pro MIDIMix device makes it super-easy to use – and pleasing to the eye.
As per Akai standard, this control surface is of solid build. It feels strong and reliable to touch. All the buttons, knobs, and controls feel premium and not “plasticky.” The faders have a long enough throw that you won’t feel cramped for room. The knobs are small but not so small that they’re hard to use.
The entire unit itself is small enough to fit comfortably on a desk. It’s also light enough that you can drop it into your gig bag and carry it around.
While Akai’s products, of late, have shown the best compatibility with Ableton, I’m happy to say that the MIDIMix works equally well with most popular DAWs right out of the box. The included software editor is powerful and intuitive enough that you can also customize the integration as per your needs.
(That said, Ableton Live users would particularly enjoy the deep integration with the MIDIMix).
Although it does not have as many features as some other surface controllers on the list, it offers great value for the price.
What we don’t like
It lacks Device control, which I found to be a surprising decision from Akai. The knobs might also feel a little small if you have large hands. Some users report issues with the lights not lighting up – even when the rest of the unit works fine.
A small quibble has to do with the quality of Akai’s gel buttons. These gel buttons can be found on all of Akai’s lower-tier devices, from MIDI controllers to control surfaces, and it’s never a good experience using them. They feel sticky and not tactile enough. Akai, if you’re reading this, please find better gel buttons on your devices!
Best Control Surface for Professionals: Behringer XTOUCH
- Touch-sensitive encoders
- Logic Full support
- USB Connectivity
- Ethernet Port
With regards to their design, I found the Behringer X Touch to be a rather thick and clunky control surface. It is not as slim as many of the control surfaces I have tested. I’d even say that when placed on a desktop, you might have to raise your chair height an inch or two (if you are sitting while operating it). The height and thickness make it a tad uncomfortable reaching for the faders and make it hard to see the display properly while sitting. Despite the less than ideal thickness, this control device performs rather superbly, especially for serious producers.
Aside from the physical dimensions, the device has connectivity options galore. The generosity of these options is seen from the fact that you have USB connection for DAW control, full-sized MIDI I/O ports, three ¼” footswitch inputs, even an Ethernet Port, and a pair of USB ports.
While testing, I connected the device to Logic. It offers a really stunning functionality level with all the faders, knobs and buttons. The device supports the MCU protocol quite extensively. The transport buttons here feel really firm and sturdy and are very functional. For example, they have lights to show their current status. The jog wheel also enjoys this design feature. That said, it is not as firm as the transport buttons and feels rather cheap and tacky. The large, chunky size, however, makes up for this lapse.
One of my favorite features – something few control surfaces in this budget offer – is the small LCD scribble strips at the top of each channel fader. This instantly tells you which track or parameter you’re controlling.
The standout feature for me, however, has to be the motorized faders. It’s one of the rare control surfaces on the market with a whole array – nine – of motorized faders. While they’re not quite as sensitive as the one on the PreSonus FaderPort, they still add incredible control and intuitiveness to your mixing/master.
As mentioned earlier, the interaction with Logic is one of the best features of this device. It has full support with Logic as well as other DAWs.
What we don’t like
Despite the integration with Mac OS, the lack of a Mac editor is jarring. The build quality is a little disappointing considering the price. The motors on the faders is tacky and feels liable to break. The lack of customization options in the editor is also a letdown.
Most Portable Control Surface: Korg nanoKONTROL Studio
- Bluetooth connection
- MIDI control surface
- USB and Battery-Powered
The Korg nanoKONTROL is like a throwback device – it’s purposefully free of frills and features. Even the design language follows that purpose. You won’t find unnecessary screens and tabs and buttons. Everything is limited.
Some might see this as a problem, but I see this as a perfect example of a tight, single-purpose device. The nanoKONTROL works because it leaves out non-essential features. You won’t have to spend hours studying the manual; everything is intuitive and easy to figure out on your own.
Throw in the fact that it also has wireless connectivity (though latency takes a hit) and a small footprint, I rank it as the best control surface for Logic Pro X if portability is a top priority.
Now let’s go back to the device itself.
The layout of the Korg nanoKONTROL Studio is very comfortable. At the bottom of the front panel, there are the long-throw faders. The top of the panel features the Mute, Solo, Record, and select buttons. This is a departure from the Kontrol 2 which had the aforementioned buttons cradled between the faders. Unlike the PreSonus FaderPort, the KONTROL Studio has 8 faders.
Aside from these buttons and the faders, the front panel has a single jog wheel and a scene button. I like the increased functionality this offers. It allows me to change through 5 controller assignment pages with ease whenever I use it in the MIDI mode. The keyboard layout on this device is also intriguing. There are an additional 8 knobs and trigger pads as well as an axis touch controller.
Given the focus on simplicity, all the buttons are clearly labeled (Mute, Solo, Record, Select). Another device might have taken the color-coded path, but I like that the nanoKONTROL is completely plain and unambiguous. This really improves the user experience, at least for beginners.
Additionally, the rear panel features a switch that toggles between the USB or Bluetooth mode. While testing, I found the connections easy to make and quite seamless. However, I encountered some connectivity problems when using the Bluetooth function on a low battery. Latency is also questionable over Bluetooth mode, but if you’re producing on Garageband, it’s more than acceptable.
The NanoKontrol Studio is compatible with a number of apps. When I connected the control surface to my MacBook, I discovered that there are plenty of modes available. The device functions just as a normal MIDI keyboard does when connected to the computer. Mapping had to be done manually as there is no Live remote script or Logic plug-in. However, the keys afford a lot of functionality. They offer the user a built-in Arpeggiator among other functions.
The touchpad has 3 different functions that are accessed by using the buttons just south of it. You can use it as pitch bend and mod wheels, you can use it as a controller, and it can be used to play notes.
What we don’t like
It has functional issues on iOS devices – though I don’t consider this a major issue since you’ll be using it with Logic Pro (i.e. macOS) anyway.
A major concern is build quality. The entire unit is housed in a lightweight plastic body. A couple of bad drops and this plastic can crack easily. Given its portable credentials, I would have preferred a tougher body.
Best for Recording: Zoom FRC-8 F-Control Mixing Surface
- 3.5 mm headphone output
- 12 Segment LED display
- Metal build
- 9 faders
- Dedicated time code buttons
This unit from Zoom is designed specifically to work with Zoom’s F4 and F8 mixers. However, since it’s USB, it works equally well with other USB-capable mixers or when you plug it directly into the computer. And while it’s meant to be an “on location” recording tool, it’s great in the studio as well.
Speaking of the unit itself, the Zoom FRC-8 is a good-looking control surface that comes with impressive features for on-location/live recording and performance. The entire unit is housed in a metal casing that makes it look really good. The tough body also ensures that it can stand the rigors of live gigs. I don’t advice you to drop it, but it is reassuring to know that one or two falls won’t destroy the device.
The buttons and faders on this control surface look strong, firm, and of high quality. The interface and button overlay of the device makes it one of the easiest to use. Pair it with the Zoom F4 or F8 via USB and you get instant control over the entire recording/performance setup with a single cable. If you already use a Zoom mixer, that’s a massive win.
The faders are tight and have the right amount of give. The LED display is bright and looks good even in sunlight. The quality of the rubber gel buttons is at par with Akai (that is, not great, not bad). I would have preferred at least one motorized fader, however.
You can also power the FRC-8 via AA batteries. This is great if you’re recording a live gig.
On the whole, if you’re recording live or outdoors, this is one of the best control surfaces for Logic Pro X you can find on the market. It has its limitations, especially given its limited compatibility, but the solid build quality and feature-rich performance make it a top choice.
What we don’t like
It cannot be used alone. It has to be connected to a bigger rig.
Best for Home Studios: Behringer X-TOUCH ONE
- 100mm motorized fader
- LED meter
- Supports major DAW
- Dedicated footswitch connector
While most of the options on this list would be a good fit in any home studio, I feel that the X-Touch One offers the best mix of features, affordability and portability home studios need.
To start with, it is similar to the X-Touch Mini in size, albeit a tad larger. One way to describe the design and appearance of the X-Touch One is comparing it to cutting off one end of the X-touch. It comes with the standard controls on the X-Touch; however, it has a single motorized fader, navigation functions, and transport functions.
The single motorized fader is good enough for home studios (albeit limited in live settings). It’s also touch sensitive which gives you much better control over your fades and automations. Complementing it is a gigantic jog wheel that helps you move through tracks and settings on the fly. It’s not as smooth as the FaderPort but built well and does what it’s meant to do comfortably.
The overall layout is very tidy. All the buttons are neatly arranged and labeled. LED scribble strips tell you exactly what track and position you’re currently in. I would have liked a few encoders to balance out all the buttons, but you get a lot of mileage from this little unit.
I enjoyed using this device due to its portability, compact nature, and the great support for major DAWs, including Logic Pro. The performance is satisfactory, and while it is not as robust feature-wise like its big brother the X-Touch, it is great in its own little way.
What we don’t like
While the build quality is markedly improved, it still suffers from that trademark Behringer fragility. It won’t fall apart easily, but you better make sure not to drop it from a height. Strictly for home studios – dragging it to live gigs is living on the edge.
The transport buttons are also a tad smaller for my tastes. They tend to merge in with the rest of the buttons on the unit – I would have preferred if they stood out more since you’ll be using them extensively.
A small niggle is the lack of a power button. It’s not a dealbreaker, but plugging it into the computer to switch it on/off is a little annoying.
Over to You
That wraps up our roundup of the best control surface for Logic Prox X you can buy right now. Pick the option that fits your requirements from the list above.
For more recommendations and advice, don’t hesitate to reach out to me here.
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