Designed with Cubase users in mind, the Mobi One promises a boutique MIDI controller experience at a reasonable price.
For those who prefer to control their DAW by laying hands on real faders, knobs and buttons — rather than to rely solely on a mouse and key commands — there are now plenty of hardware control surfaces on the market and the majority will work with most popular DAWs. Qube Audio’s debut product, the Mobi One, is a little different: while it is compatible with any DAW that supports MIDI, it has been very much optimised for users of Steinberg’s Cubase (and Nuendo, of course).
The Mobi One’s appealing aesthetics, with a stylish wooden (European white oak) frame and an anodised aluminium top plate, might suggest this is a ‘boutique’ product but its price tag, thankfully, doesn’t — it’s well within the price range of the most popular DAW controllers currently on the market. Under the hood, all the MIDI data management is handled by Arduino technology, and once the device is connected to your host computer via USB, the MIDI ports appear labelled as Arduino Due. Having dabbled myself with an Arduino, it’s use here strikes me as a very interesting application for this technology, which delivers some flexible processing possibilities at a very modest cost.
I’ve not yet had the Mobi One long enough to make a definitive judgement about long‑term durability, but it certainly feels very well made, with the controls feeling solid, smooth and responsive. Speaking of which, the Mobi One boasts a vast array of hands‑on controls, with 47 buttons and 34 rotary knobs (which double as buttons) being joined by dedicated transport controls. You’ll probably have noticed from the pictures that there are no faders here. This has advantages, not least that it allows the Mobi One to be helpfully compact, and the knobs can, of course, be configured to control your DAW’s virtual faders — but if setting fader levels is your primary requirement in a MIDI controller there will probably be better candidates out there.
To seasoned Cubase users, the layout of the physical controls should feel instantly familiar. Those on the bottom‑most strip and far‑right edge can be thought of as ‘universal’, in that in the default configurations supplied by Qube Audio they always offer control of the same functions: transport controls and channel selection are found in the bottom‑most section; and the far‑right strip provides, for the currently selected channel, buttons for mute, solo, read, write, record enable, opening the Channel Settings window and, courtesy of two knobs, the ability to control pan and volume (it might not be a fader but it does the job!). The remaining controls are laid out to mirror much of what’s available in Cubase’s Channel Settings window and Strip. Indeed, in the first of the Mobi One’s six operational ‘modes’, that’s exactly what you get: working from left to right, you have physical controls for all the key parameters in Cubase’s Pre section, the Noise Gate, the Compressor, the standard four‑band EQ, and the Saturation section. The labelling for each physical knob reflects this primary application.
It’s worth noting that the launch of the Mobi One coincided with Steinberg’s release of Cubase 12 (in March 2022) — and as that was by coincidence rather than design I imagine it may have given Qube’s main man Paul Commons some mixed feelings! During the Mobi One’s development phase, Cubase 11’s Generic Remote system offered the most obvious way to configure an external hardware controller and, as discussed below, the Mobi One ships with a set of Generic Remote and Quick Control configurations. These provide a wide range of control options including, but also going well beyond, the Channel Settings window. In Cubase 12, though, Steinberg introduced new facilities called MIDI Remote and Focus Quick Controls, in a long‑overdue overhaul of the control surface integration system. It’s early days, but Qube have already taken this development on board and, during the review period, Paul sent me his first take at MIDI Remote support for the Mobi One. So I’ll discuss both the Generic Remote and MIDI Remote functionality below.
Used with the long‑established Generic Remote system, the Mobi One offers a number of ‘modes’ of operation, each providing control over different functionality in Cubase. Qube provide the user with full documentation, a set of Generic Remote configuration files (XML files that the user can import in the Generic Remote section of the Studio Setup window), and a Getting Started Cubase project to... well, to get you started! There’s also an XML configuration file to allow the Mobi One to be used with the Quick Control system. Initial setup does involve a few steps, but it’s a once‑only process and relatively painless. Do make the effort to follow the instructions carefully though — I was super‑keen to get going and (d’oh!) didn’t do so, and this led to a certain amount of unnecessary head‑scratching!
ocated on the bottom‑left of the Mobi One are three Mode buttons. Under the hood, these change some elements of the data being sent from the unit to Cubase (for example, the MIDI channel used) and they let you switch between the various Generic Remote configurations supplied.
As I mentioned above, the default Mode 1 provides control over the Channel Settings window’s key functions, and just how useful this mode is will really depend on how you prefer to use Cubase. For me, it’s great, since while I’ll happily turn to third‑party inserts for very specific mixing tasks, I perform a considerable number of routine tasks using the processing built into the Channel Settings window, especially in the Pre, Compressor and EQ sections. Once your hands grow accustomed to having dedicated hardware control over these features, those tasks quickly become much more intuitive, and since you can control multiple parameters simultaneously that can make operation far more efficient. This is particularly true of the four main EQ bands, for which you have direct individual control over bypass, filter type, gain, frequency and Q for each band. With a dedicated button (e) to open the Channel Settings window in the right‑most universal strip, a rotary knob (the Track controller) to scroll through your track list (next to the Mode buttons), and a button to switch between fast or detailed response modes for the rotary knobs (next to the Track controller knob), it becomes very easy to move around your project and configure the required Channel Settings for each of your tracks. For regular users of the Channel Settings window, this is impressive stuff.
While Mode 1 is undoubtedly the most intuitive in use (not least because of the labelling), Mobi One’s other Generic Remote mode configurations offer plenty more possibilities. Modes 2 and 3 expand upon the Channel Settings control and include the DeEsser, Envelope Shaper and Magneto II, and both can be partially customised by the user. Modes 4, 5 and 6 are fully customisable, and can be used to control plug‑ins (Cubase stock or third‑party ones) that you’ve loaded into the insert slots; Qube supply a number of XML files to help get you started on this front, including Mode 4 presets for the Frequency 2 EQ and a number of the stock dynamics plug‑ins, and Mode 6 presets for Massive, Retrologue 2 and Serum. Yes, you’ll have to familiarise yourself with how the Mobi One controls are mapped to the software controls, but that’s true when using any generic MIDI remote control surface. It might not be something for the casual user of these VSTs but, again, if they are an integral part of your musical workflow, hands‑on control easily becomes addictive, and they serve as examples of how to roll your own ‘maps’.
Cubase 12’s new MIDI Remote system may have given Qube something to think about, but I don’t think anyone would have argued that Cubase’s MIDI controller support wasn’t due an overhaul — it is such a step up from the older Generic Remote (which is still supported, by the way). Qube supplied me with their initial ‘.midiremote’ script file for the Mobi One during the review period, and have also released a detailed tutorial on creating your own MIDI Remote‑based configurations. The supplied script includes Mapping Pages for use with a number of Cubase’s stock plug‑ins, as well as a page that’s configured to trigger a number of common Key Commands.
Further support is promised in the near future, but at the time of writing, the script didn’t yet include a Mapping Page with an equivalent to the Generic Remote support for the Channel Settings window. Given just how slick the MIDI Remote system is, though, it didn’t take me long (even as a MIDI Remote novice) to replicate most of the same functionality. I’m sure this is something that Qube are busy expanding upon already, but it’s easy to see, given the Mobi One’s huge number of buttons and rotary controllers, that it offers considerable potential for use with the new MIDI Remote system.
So could the Mobi One be the only MIDI controller you need? The current MIDI controller market provides plenty of choices for DAW users, and what constitutes the right controller is very much a personal decision — one which will be heavily influenced by the features of your preferred DAW, and particularly those that lie at the core of your preferred workflow. While I’m sure it could be adapted to serve as a generic MIDI controller with any other software, the Mobi One has clearly been designed with Cubase in mind. And, with a control layout that’s ideal for use with Cubase’s Channel Settings window, Cubase users who already make good use of those features are likely to get the most out of the Mobi One. But it’s flexible enough that it’s perfectly capable of handling a wide range of general MIDI controller duties, both over Cubase itself and any third‑party plug‑ins. Another factor is the sheer number of buttons and rotary controls on offer here, and taken with Cubase 12’s new MIDI Remote system (and the option to avoid the complexities of the Generic Remote system), this adds up to create massive potential.
It’s flexible enough that it’s perfectly capable of handling a wide range of general MIDI controller duties, both over Cubase itself and any third‑party plug‑ins.
Your desire for faders will obviously be a consideration too, but I feel it’s important to point out that faders can have cons as well as pros. There are obvious cost and potentially reliability implications for any hardware, for example, and they also mean the device will occupy a bigger space on your desktop In fact, rotary controllers are arguably better for software fader control than non‑motorised faders because, as you move from one fader (or fader bank) to the next within your DAW, you don’t have to deal with the fact that the hardware and software fader positions don’t align. Motorised faders address that, of course, but even adding a single motorised fader to the Mobi One would bring a considerable price hike. Whatever your preference, it’s a perfectly valid design choice that users will need to factor into any purchase decisions.
The bottom line is that, while there’s no such thing as the ‘perfect’ MIDI controller, I’ll happily take my hat off to the Qube Audio team for what they’re doing here. The Mobi One looks and feels like hardware that costs far more. It appears well built, and it offers plenty of knobs and buttons. With suitable configuration, it can most certainly serve as a generic MIDI controller for any part of your DAW workflow, but it should excel for its main target user group — Cubase users who make regular use of the Channel Settings window and Strip. If that’s you, I’d strongly recommend that you give the Mobi One very serious consideration.
- Undoubted appeal for Cubase and Nuendo users.
- Can serve as a general MIDI control surface for any DAW.
- Lots of controls for a fairly modest price.
- Plenty of potential to exploit Cubase 12’s new MIDI Remote system.
- Requires some familiarisation time to fully reap the benefits.
The Mobi One is perhaps something of a niche product, but one with plenty of workflow potential, especially for dedicated Cubase users.
£349 including VAT and delivery. Discounted to £299 when going to press.
£349 (about $412) including shipping. Discounted to £299 ($354) when going to press.