The 7 Best MIDI Fader Controllers (2021)

MIDI fader controllers are hardware devices that you can use to efficiently control your DAW’s parameters. Offering faster and more accurate control than a mouse or keyboard, a MIDI fader controller is an obvious addition to any producer’s home studio.

The PreSonus FaderPort16 is my top pick as the best MIDI Fader Controller. It’s a high-quality, advanced controller with motorized faders, which makes a big difference when mixing as it automatically moves the fader knob to the current value in the DAW (these work great for automation and when moving between multiple tracks).

For a more budget option, the KORG nanoKONTROL 2 is a solid option and works very nicely as a basic MIDI fader controller.

A MIDI fader controller, or control surface, consists of faders, knobs, and buttons that allow you to adjust parameter values in your DAW’s mixing console. You can also assign parameters of software instruments to the controls and adjust said parameters using the controller. Although you can tweak parameter values using your PC’s mouse and keyboard, a MIDI controller offers many extra advantages – from a higher degree of accuracy to a more hands-on mixing experience.

To help you with your decision, I’ve compiled a list of the top 7 MIDI fader controllers available in the market. 

Read on for more options and detailed comparisons between them.

The 7 Best MIDI Fader Controllers (2021)

1. PreSonus FaderPort 16
Editor's Choice - A pro MIDI fader controller with quality motorized faders
2. KORG nanoKONTROL 2
Affordable Option - Convenient, compact control surface, with easy setup for immediate use
3. Mackie MCU Pro
A comprehensive controller for your DAW
4. BEHRINGER (XTOUCH)
A well-priced control surface with motorized faders
5. PreSonus FaderPort 8
Advanced, innovative DAW control
6. Akai Professional MIDImix MIDI Control Surface
Smooth mixing performance in a small package
7. Nektar Panorama P1
A great controller with an intuitive workflow

Let’s look at them in more detail.

1. PreSonus FaderPort 16

Top Pick
A pro MIDI fader controller with quality motorized faders.
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The PreSonus FaderPort 16 is a powerful controller that comes with a generous bundle of recording software.  

Since the PreSonus FaderPort 16 is designed keeping StudioOne in mind, StudioOne users can enjoy seamless MIDI control with this fader controller. However, it also has universal compatibility and will work well with all DAWs.

Pros

  • Comes with bundled good DAW software
  • Unique Session Navigator for faster workflow
  • Responsive motorized faders that can be used in alternative modes

Cons

  • Scribble strips are slightly difficult to read
  • Jog wheel does not double up as a scrub wheel
  • Only 1 rotary knob

It has 16 motorized, touch-sensitive faders and 104 functions. Additionally, the faders have alternative modes to control plug-ins, bus sends, and pan position. This controller offers complete transport-recording controls as well.

One of the controller’s most unique features is its Session Navigator. The Session Navigator allows you to easily access 8 critical functions for maximum flexibility. With this set of controls, you can easily navigate and drop markers, or use the jog wheel to scroll through your timeline and track. 

USB ConnectionYes
USB Bus-poweredNo
Number of faders16
Motorized fadersYes
Rotary knobs2
Playback and record functionsYes
Footswitch connectionYes
Additional features104 functions, 89 buttons, scribble strips for visual feedback, Session Navigator

Its native MIDI control map for customized macros will be of great use to more advanced users. Experienced producers can customize the controls to best suit their existing workflow.

Despite the huge number of functions, this MIDI fader controller is also compact and will fit snugly on any desk.

2. KORG nanoKONTROL 2

Best Budget Pick
Convenient, compact control surface, with easy setup for immediate use.
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The KORG nanoKONTROL 2 is a great budget option for producers who want to start working with MIDI controllers but do not want to spend on high-end gear. It has universal compatibility and can be used with any DAW.

Pros

  • Easily portable
  • Settings can be easily customized with Korg Kontrol editor
  • Comes with bundled software

Cons

  • No scribble strips
  • Small faders
  • No jog wheel

Lightweight and sleek, this controller is available in two colors – black and white.

It comes with bundled software, including various VST plug-ins.

USB Bus-poweredYes
Number of faders8
Motorized fadersNo
Rotary knobs8
Playback and record functionsYes
Footswitch connectionNo
Additional featuresSolo, mute, and record buttons on each channel

Additionally, you can download the Korg Kontrol editor to change detailed customized settings.

3. Mackie MCU Pro

A very comprehensive DAW controller.
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The Mackie MCU Pro is compatible with all major music production software. Designed with Mackie communication protocol, it is reliable and easy to set up with most DAWs.

Pros

  • Reliable and easy to set up
  • Useful LCD and LED display
  • Not bulky

Cons

  • Fader motors sometimes make noise, even when idle
  • Scribble strips may dim a little after a few years of use

It has 9 motorized, touch-sensitive faders including a master fader. A feature that sets it apart from other controllers is its 2-line 55-character backlit LCD which displays numerous parameters like track name and channel metering. The controller also sports a 7 segment LED timecode display.

Each of its 8 channels has a rotary V-pot with an LED collar to indicate current values. A button next to the jog wheel allows users to toggle between the jog and scrub functions of the wheel.   

USB ConnectionYes
USB Bus-poweredNo
Number of faders9 (8 + 1 master fader)
Motorized fadersYes
Rotary knobs8
Playback and record functionsYes
Footswitch connectionYes
Additional features50+ master buttons, LED time code display, LCD strip for parameters, rotary V-pots with LED collar

You can navigate channels individually or in banks of 8. If you want to access more faders and knobs, you can use a Mackie Control Extender Pro along with the Mackie MCU Pro.

4. BEHRINGER (XTOUCH)

A well-priced control surface with motorized faders and a brilliant visual display.
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The BEHRINGER (XTOUCH) includes support for HUI and Mackie control and offers universal compatibility. This fader controller includes an Ethernet port for connection via a wired or wireless network, making it an ideal choice for users who require more flexibility.

Pros

  • Ethernet port
  • Colorful visual display
  • 8-segment LED meters for level control

Cons

  • Fader motors are a little bit loud

Its 9 faders are fully automated and touch-sensitive. Like the Mackie MCU Pro, this controller also has 8 rotary controls with LED collars. However, instead of a single LCD strip to display parameters, this controller has multiple LCD scribble strips – one on each channel.

The BEHRINGER (XTOUCH) also has 8-segment LED meters on each channel for accurate level control.

USB Bus-poweredNo
Number of faders9 (8 + 1 master fader)
Motorized fadersYes
Rotary knobs8
Playback and record functionsYes
Footswitch connectionYes
Additional features 92 dedicated buttons, LCD scribble strips, rotary controls with LED collars, 8-segment LED meter

The illuminated buttons and LED displays give the controller an aesthetic look. Not only is this device useful and efficient, but its brilliantly illuminated visual display is also appealing to the eye.

5. PreSonus FaderPort 8

Advanced, innovative DAW control.
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Quite similar to the PreSonus FaderPort 16, the PreSonus FaderPort 8 controller has 8 faders instead of 16. It has universal compatibility but has been designed keeping StudioOne in mind.

Pros

  • Session Navigator for faster workflow
  • Responsive touch-sensitive faders
  • Nice look and feel

Cons

  • Scribble strips are slightly difficult to read
  • Jog wheel does not double up as a scrub wheel

Its 8 channels each come with a touch-sensitive motorized fader and a scribble strip display.  

USB Bus-poweredNo
Number of faders8
Motorized fadersYes
Rotary knobs2
Playback and record functionsYes
Footswitch connectionYes
Additional featuresScribble strips for visual feedback, Session Navigator

Although this controller does not have as many functions and buttons as our top pick, the Session Navigator works similarly. It affords users quick control over track scrolling, marker navigation, and timeline scrolling.

6. Akai Professional MIDImix MIDI Control Surface

Smooth mixing performance in a small package.
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Although a universal controller, the Akai Professional MIDImix MIDI control surface comes with Ableton Live Lite included. It has effortless Ableton live integration with instant 1-to-1 mapping.

Pros

  • Kensington lock slot to secure MIDImix to a table or any surface
  • Lightweight, compact and robust
  • Ableton Live Lite included

Cons

  • Small faders
  • No transport control functions like playback and record

It has 8 individual line faders and 1 master fader. It has a total of 24 knobs – 3 per channel, and 16 buttons arranged in two banks. The knobs can be used to control bus sends, EQ, and much more.

USB Bus-poweredYes
Number of faders9 (8 + 1 master fader)
Motorized fadersNo
Rotary knobs24
Playback and record functionsNo
Footswitch connectionNo
Additional features16 buttons arranged in 2 banks

An interesting hardware function is its Kensington lock slot, which allows you to secure the controller safely to a table or any other surface.

7. Nektar Panorama P1

A great controller with an intuitive workflow.
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The Nektar Panorama P1 midi controller is compatible with any DAW. It has 9 faders, and 16 encoders.

Pros

  • QWERTY keystroke assignable controls
  • Crystal clear TFT display
  • Neat and intuitive layout

Cons

  • Small faders
  • No jog wheel

The transport controls double up as 11 function buttons. These buttons can be assigned to MIDI commands or a QWERTY macro’s commands.

This MIDI controller also has a bright TFT display, which provides clear and concise feedback. This compact rectangular display gives you the information you need, irrespective of the task.

USB Bus-poweredYes
Number of faders9 (8 + 1 master fader)
Motorized fadersNo
Rotary knobs16
Playback and record functionsYes
Footswitch connectionYes
Additional features 10 LED buttons, 28 buttons, QWERTY keystroke assignable controls

All the buttons, functions, and assignable controls allow you to directly control 61 parameters at a time.

What is a MIDI fader controller?

Although a MIDI fader controller may look like one, it is not a mixing board. By transmitting real-time controller messages, a MIDI fader controller enables you to control the parameters that you see on your DAW. It allows you to directly touch and move the controls instead of having to rely excessively on mouse clicks.

Unlike a mixing board, no part of the sound signal passes through the controller itself. It will have no audio input or output.

What are motorized faders? 

Motorized faders are faders that are connected to a motor. This motor allows them to move without having to be manually dragged by the user.

This is especially useful for automating volume. As you push or pull the faders, their motion is recorded as the track plays. During playback, the faders then move on their own as per the automation recorded.

Do MIDI fader controllers make it easier to mix? 

Yes, MIDI fader controllers offer many advantages. For one, a controller affords a much higher degree of accuracy.

Each channel strip on any DAW’s mixing console consists of a level meter that displays the gain of the signal in dB and allows you to adjust it using a fader. The dB scale is logarithmic, so as you go lower and lower below 0 dB on the level meter, the distance between the decibel markings decreases.

This makes it difficult to make small adjustments to the gain. Additionally, using a mouse to move the fader on the monitor makes it tougher, and limits the amount of precision you can achieve. After all, your monitor can only afford a certain number of pixels to the fader.

On the other hand, the controller’s large physical faders make it much more convenient to make adjustments – for your fingers, as well as your eyes. The added advantage of being able to touch the controls directly is that you can use both hands to move multiple faders simultaneously. With a mouse, however, you would have to click and drag each one individually.

MIDI fader controllers also allow users to record much more accurate automation. Pushing – or pulling – faders with your fingers gives much smoother movements than if you were using a mouse to drag faders on the screen. Also, quick movements require better control and are much easier on a hardware device.

Perhaps the most important plus of using a MIDI controller is that it gives you the ability to make adjustments without looking at the monitor. The prevalence of DAWs and advanced mixing plug-ins have started causing musicians to rely on their eyes almost as much as their ears. The visual displays analyzing a signal often distract the user from focusing on how the signal sounds.

A MIDI fader controller eliminates the need to make adjustments on the monitor with mouse clicks and drags. You can choose to mix without looking at the screen and better focus on listening. 

Can you mix without MIDI fader controllers? 

Yes, you can mix without MIDI fader controllers. A MIDI fader controller simply facilitates an efficient mixing workflow and allows you to focus better on just the music. Although comparatively more cumbersome, you can still make great mixes with just your computer’s mouse.

What if your project uses more channels than the number of faders on your controller? 

Although the number of faders on a hardware device will be limited, the number of tracks or channels in your project need not be.

You can group tracks into banks of 8-10 and then assign one group to the fader controller at a particular time. You can switch between these groups on the controller to access any channel of your project.

Motorized faders are very useful in this scenario as they will automatically move the slider to the current level.

DAW Compatibility with MIDI Fader Controllers

While selecting a MIDI fader controller, the most important aspect to consider is whether it will work well with your DAW or not. Some DAWs have related pieces of hardware that are specifically designed to work with that DAW. Some of them may work with others, but not as efficiently as with the DAW they were manufactured to complement.

Universal fader controllers, on the other hand, are designed to work with every DAW. If your DAW doesn’t have associated hardware devices, or if you would prefer not to use those, a universal controller is what you should be looking for.

One notable drawback of using universal devices is that a few functions may not work with your DAW as expected.  This is, however, unlikely to be much of an obstacle as the basic mixing functions will not be a problem. You may also have to install some MIDI drivers to be able to use a universal control surface with certain DAWs.

Additionally, your choice should also depend on the kind of projects you work on, your workflow, and the controls you will need to use.

Verdict

At the end of the day, your choice of music gear should depend on your unique needs, preferences, and workflow. However, if I were to recommend one product from this list it would be the PreSonus FaderPort 16. The number of functions, the Session Navigator, and the 16 highly responsive touch-sensitive motorized faders are just a few of the reasons why this MIDI fader controller is my top pick.

If you have any further questions about the perfect MIDI fader controller for you, be sure to leave a comment.

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