Anyone who knows anything about audio production is well aware of PreSonus and the quality hardware that they produce. Their innovative products have been delivering breakthroughs since the release of the revolutionary DCP8 in the late 90s. The FaderPort line of products continues in that tradition. FaderPort began with a single fader controller, now called the FaderPort Classic.
A couple of years ago, the FaderPort 8 and FaderPort 16 were introduced. These not only added significantly more faders, but also a significant hardware upgrade that brought a lot more functionality. The FaderPort 8 and FaderPort 16 are beautiful pieces of hardware, and they virtually (literally) free you from using your mouse with your DAW, but for those of us with limited work space (and a limited budget), they weren't a perfect fit.
Enter the newly redesigned FaderPort. The 2018 version of the FaderPort (I'll just call it "FaderPort" in this review) is a single fader control surface that shares the same design and functionality of its larger siblings, the FaderPort 8 and the FaderPort 16. However, the FaderPort is in a compact form that makes it ideal for someone who doesn't have the space or the need for a larger controller. Packed within this little controller is some serious power, and as you'll see in this review, the FaderPort brings a unique approach that we really like.
Our first impression of the FaderPort was that it felt like a solid piece of hardware. The top portion is a nice metallic finish. The bottom portion is plastic, but it doesn't feel cheap. It's heavier than you might expect, but that's a good thing because it (and rubberized feet) keeps the FaderPort stable on your work surface. The motorized fader has a smooth feel. The FaderPort's encoder has been moved to a more central location and is now larger. (More about the encoder later.) Buttons feel great and provide a satisfying click when pushed. The encoder has a nice click to it and has just the right amount of resistance when pushing down on it. Overall, it's just what you would expect from PreSonus. Our only nitpick is that the encoder has a little play in it between clicks, but it doesn't impact the usablitity at all.
Each button on the FaderPort is backlit with a color that changes depending on the operation of the button, and they also light up brighter when pressed so you won't ever wonder what mode your FaderPort is in. These lights and the motorized fader require more power than is available from the USB bus on your computer, so in addition to plugging the USB cable into your computer, you'll also have to plug the FaderPort into a power outlet. The FaderPort comes with a power adapter for this purpose. While we would prefer a controller without the need for a power adapter, we feel that the feature benefits far outweigh that minor inconvenience.
Buttons are arranged in groups, and each button has two operations. The default operation is printed on the button, but if you press the Shift button, the operation changes to the one printed directly under the button. At the top of the controller are the channel strip buttons that perform operations such as Solo, Mute, Arm, and Bypass. Directly beneath these buttons are automation control buttons like Touch, Write, Read. Outlined in gray is the large encoder and several multi-operation buttons. (PreSonus calls this group the Session Navigator.) The buttons under the encoder allow you to configure what the encoder does when you turn it and press it. (More on that when we go into the operation of the FaderPort.) Finally, the transport controls are at the bottom of the FaderPort and feature a large Play/Pause button that we really like.
By the way, the FaderPort is a class-compliant device on both macOS and Windows, so you don't have to install anything to make it work. Just plug it in and you're set. You will likely want to head over to the PreSonus website and download UniversalControl. It's the software that allows you to update the firmware in your FaderPort.
Using with Studio One
The FaderPort defaults to Studio One mode. (If you don't have a copy of Studio One, you'll be happy to know that the FaderPort comes with Studio One Artist Edition.) In this mode, buttons are programmed to work with Studio One. Because the fader is motorized, as you switch from track to track, it will automatically move to the position of the fader for that track in Studio One. The fader is touch sensitive. It knows when you're touching it, so be careful when you're switching tracks; if your finger is on the fader and you switch to another track, the fader in Studio One will immediately move to the position of the fader on the FaderPort. We've used this several times to change multiple tracks to the same level; rest your finger on the fader and press the Next button on the FaderPort to switch to each track you want to reset. It's a fast and easy way to set the level of multiple tracks to match, assuming those tracks are side-by-side in your mixer.
The true power of the FaderPort is in the Session Navigator. By default, turning the encoder switches between channels in your mixer. You can change that by pressing one of the buttons in the Session Navigator. Press Pan and the encoder controls the panning on the currently selected track. (You can switch between tracks by pressing Prev and Next.) If you press Shift+Pan, you can control panning with the fader instead of the controller. In Pan mode, pressing the encoder will reset the pan to center. The Scroll button allows you to scroll through the timeline, and you can press the encoder to adjust the timeline to fit in your current window. Shift+Scroll changes you into zoom mode where the encoder controls horizontal zooming and the Prev and Next buttons control vertical zooming. Other functions include Marker to navigate through markers, Section to navigate through sections, and so on. There's even a Click button to turn the metronome on and off.
The four bottom buttons in the Session Navigator are assignable function buttons. In Studio One, these (in order) open the Inspector, the Editor, the Mixer, and the Browser, but you can change them to do whatever you want by clicking External in your mixer, clicking on FaderPort (2018), and then clicking on Edit as shown in the image on the right to access Control Link. (If you're not sure how Control Link works, check out the Studio One reference manual.)
Studio One's Control Link feature takes traditional control surface mapping to a whole other level with context-sensitive mapping. This allows a single encoder, button, or fader on your control surface to control different software controls based on what's currently in focus. For example, you could have an encoder control LFO 1 in Presence XT and the same encoder control filter cutoff in Impact XT. Studio One will dynamically change the assignment for the encoder based on which instrument has the focus.
"We really appreciated the fact that PreSonus put so much thought into making it easy to use the FaderPort in multiple DAWs without having to manually reprogram anything."
The FaderPort takes advantage of this functionality in a really cool way. Hover your mouse over any control in Studio One, in an instrument, or in a plugin, and then press the Link button on the FaderPort. Now the encoder will control the setting you were pointing to! Press Shift+Link and it locks the encoder to that control so that you can move your mouse somewhere else without changing the operation of the encoder. This is a seriously cool feature that we found ourselves using A LOT. In fact, being able to quickly and effortlessly link the encoder to any parameter we chose made the FaderPort a must-have controller for us. (The Link button only works in Studio One, not because of a FaderPort limitation, but because other DAWs don't have the flexibility that Control Link provides in Studio One.)
Using with Other DAWs
We've used plenty of "generic" control surfaces in NLEs and in DAWs, and we've always been frustrated by having to remap controls when we switch software. That's why the way PreSonus designed the FaderPort was such a joy for us. Say you're working with someone who only uses Pro Tools and you need to work on a project they've sent you. Naturally, you want to take advantage of your FaderPort while you're working in Pro Tools, but you need to reprogram the FaderPort to do that. Simply press the power button on the back of the FaderPort to turn it off, then turn it back on while holding the Next button. When the FaderPort buttons start flashing, press the Touch button and your FaderPort is instantly programmed for use with Pro Tools.
This same technique can be used to program the FaderPort for use with Logic by pressing the Mute button, Live by pressing the Arm button, and Cubase by pressing the Bypass button. When you're ready to go back to Studio One mode, follow the same process and press the Solo button. We really appreciated the fact that PreSonus put so much thought into making it easy to use the FaderPort in multiple DAWs without having to manually reprogram anything, and they even include an insert in the box that provides a quick reference so you don't have to remember which button programs which DAW. Nice touch!
By the way, we've seen some users report that the FaderPort defaults back to Studio One mode when it's power is cycled. PreSonus fixed this in a firmware update, so as long as you've updated the firmware on your FaderPort, it should remember the DAW it's programmed for between power cycles.
We tested the FaderPort in Pro Tools and found that it felt just like it was made for Pro Tools. Everything worked exactly the way it did in Studio One with the exception of the Master, Link, and Section buttons, none of which has any function in Pro Tools. The Marker button also doesn't allow you to scroll past marker number 9 in Pro Tools, but as we understand it, this is a Pro Tools limitation.
The FaderPort is a well-built and well-designed control surface that gives you the tactile feedback that makes working in your favorite DAW easier and more enjoyable. Better yet, it's unique features will improve your workflow. Because you're dealing with physical controls, you can control functions of your DAW without having to look at the controls. If you've never used a control surface like the FaderPort, that fact alone is something that will change the way you work in a very positive way.
We're not afraid to say that we're a little sad that the FaderPort PreSonus loaned us for this review will be headed back to them soon. We're also not afraid to admit that we'll be replacing it with a FaderPort of our own soon thereafter. It really is one of those devices that, once you've used it, you don't see how you worked for so long without it. If you really want to amp things up, spring for the FaderPort 8 or the FaderPort 16. If you don't have the space (or the budget) for one of those, chances are the FaderPort will fit perfectly for you. We give it a huge thumbs up!