FaderPort 8 from PreSonus is a controller designed to work with multiple DAWs, and its main differentiating feature compared to regular MIDI controllers is it motorized faders. While this may initially sound like a gimmick, using these faders is quite a transformative experience when, making a DAW feel more like an instrument rather than just software. FaderPort 8 officially supports Logic, Pro Tools, Cubase, Sonar, Ableton Live and PreSonus’s own Studio One, and potentially any DAW that supports the HUI or MCU standards. This review and companion video focus solely on Ableton Live.
Before I dive into the details, it’s important to note that the integration with Live is based on MCU – the Mackie Control standard, which means that it’s not a tight an integration as could be potentially possible using a dedicated Ableton Live script – we’ll look at some of these limitations in this video.
Clearly the stars of the FaderPort show are the 8 motorized faders – they have a travel of distance of 10 centimeters, close to four inches, which is quite a lot and gives you good detailed control.
The faders are used to control DAW parameters, and the fact that they’re motorized means they can feed back parameter positions and automation envelopes.
The enclosure is solid metal and sits firmly on the desk, and all the buttons respond well. FaderPort 8 has two click encoders that step through parameters with great control, as they should.
The little screens on top are backlit, but they’re LCDs, not OLED, so side viewing angles aren’t great – you’ll want to place FaderPort in front of you rather than to the side if you plan to rely on the data presented on the screens.
Finally, on the hardware side, you’ve got a foot switch input on the back to control transport, and Faderport does need to be powered – it comes with a power supply, and connects to your computer via USB.
Ableton Live Integration
The faders control one of four parameter types in Ableton Live: track volume levels, track panning, effects sends and plugin parameters. The companion video walks through the details and limitations of these controls in depth, as well as how all the other buttons and encoders work with Ableton Live. It would seem there are very few limits on the fader as track level, pan and send controllers, however the current firmware version of FaderPort 8 is limited to controlling up to 8 devices and 8 parameters per device.
Aside from supporting other DAWs, FaderPort also has a MIDI controller mode, so that you can map any of the faders or buttons to parameters in your DAW. However, in order to swap between DAW mode and MIDI mode you need to turn it off, hold the two left track buttons, and then select MIDI mode from a setup menu.
This procedure makes using MIDI mode a bit tedious – it would have been nice to just toggle between DAW and MIDI modes with a quick on-board shift combo.
Pros and Cons
On the “cons” side – Faderport 8 wasn’t built from the ground up to support Ableton Live, which means you have to put up with some quicks. Some, like the labeling of a few of the buttons that doesn’t match their function – is obviously locked in to the hardware and won’t change over time.
Some limitations, like the cap on controlling 8 devices, or 8 parameters per device, may be fixable in firmware updates, though there’s no firm timeline for that, and some things may just be limitations of the MCU communications protocol that Presonus and Live use to speak with each other. As I mentioned before, one feature I’d like to see is a quick swap between DAW and MIDI modes.
On the “pros” side, the way FaderPort 8 and Live work together is quite impressive. I personally prefer faders to knobs because you can control more than one parameter at a time with one hand, and the motorized faders aren’t a gimmick – working with Live with Faderport 8 as a companion is a big improvement to the workflow, turning a tedious “hunt and peck” mouse and keyboard interface to quite an enjoyable instrument like experience. If you have a chance, check out FaderPort 8 as a new way of controlling Ableton Live.