As you'd expect, the default mode of operation is Volume mode. What this actually does depends on the level of integration offered by your DAW. In Studio One, Reaper and Cubase, adjusting a fader in Volume mode moves the corresponding fader within the DAW mixer. In Pro Tools and Logic, what gets adjusted is the output trim in the Console 1 plug-in. The end result is the same, but only if you obey the fairly major restriction of not placing other plug-ins in insert slots after Console 1. More of an issue is pan, especially in Pro Tools. If you use the mono-to-mono version of the Console 1 plug-in, which is the obvious choice on mono tracks, attempting to adjust pan from Fader won't do anything, so you need to use the mono-to-stereo version on every mono channel instead.
One feature only available in DAWs that offer mixer integration is control over send levels. The three uppermost buttons in the Fader Mode section 'flip' the first three DAW sends onto the Fader's faders, so you can for example quickly set up a cue mix or work through your mix applying a global reverb in different amounts to each track. For some reason these Send buttons are momentary, so you have to hold them down in order to retain the focus on sends; I think I'd have at least liked the option to make them latching, especially as it's possible to use the Sends modes to write automation data. I'd have liked access to more than three sends per channel, too, perhaps as a shifted function. In Studio One, it's also quite easy to end up in a situation where Send 1 on the Fader is not the topmost send on a mixer channel, and this has the potential to confuse.
What no generic controller can match are the other Fader modes, which adjust parameters within the Console 1 plug-in. (Consequently, you'll need to enable automation within the Console 1 plug-in as well as in the DAW mixer channel if you want to automate any of these moves.) A core feature of the plug-in is its built-in Drive, a soft-saturation algorithm that aims to emulate the effect you'd get by pushing your chosen console model hard. Also available as a stand-alone plug-in called Harmonics, this sounds great, and to really get a sense of why Console 1 is more than just a controller, it's worth diving in and applying it liberally to anything and everything. Drive and Character modes in Console 1 Fader make it ludicrously easy to do exactly that. Both are latching rather than momentary, and repurpose the faders to represent the corresponding parameter within the plug-in. Drive adjusts the amount of saturation, while Character alters the spectral balance of the added harmonics. With Character in the middle position, Drive thickens the sound without noticeably changing its tonality; positive Character values make it progressively brighter, and negative values less so.
The last three Fader modes are all momentary. Input Gain adjusts the level entering the Console 1 plug-in, while in Low Cut and High Cut modes, the faders represent the cutoff points of the channel filters. This might sound boring or utilitarian, but in practice, it's amazingly useful — think about the time it normally takes you to set a high-pass filter appropriately on every track in a DAW mix, and divide it by about five. In fact, just as Console 1 makes it possible to get close to a finished-sounding mix using only EQ and compression, so too does Console 1 Fader allow you to achieve a surprising amount with only volume, Low Cut, Drive and Character, without invoking conventional EQ at all. Use them together and the world is your oyster!
Products that deliver a genuine surprise don't come along very often, and the original Console 1 was one. Before Console 1, I'd never been unhappy mixing from a mouse and keyboard, and had found hardware controllers to be more trouble than they were worth. Console 1 made instant sense. It felt complete, mature and intuitive right from the outset. It was rewarding to use, often made mixing faster, and, most surprisingly of all, often led me to make different decisions than I would have done without it.
Would Console 1 Fader have had the same effect, had it arrived first? It's hard to be sure. It too has many unique features that aren't available on any other fader surface, most notably the alternative Fader modes; but at heart it's still a fader surface, and thus not quite the bolt from the blue that Console 1 was. And whereas every aspect of Console 1 proved useful in practice, I'll admit there are one or two Fader features that haven't yet chimed with me personally. However, that's not to say they don't work well, and I can imagine that others might love Layer Mode, or the facility to artificially increase stereo width on every channel.
The Console 1 ecosystem is something you can't really dabble in. You have to throw yourself into it completely, and while you're making EQ and compression tweaks from the Console 1 surface, the DAW itself becomes little more than a tape machine. Making volume changes from Console 1 Fader brings the DAW's mixer back into the equation, and its value is somwehat dependent on the DAW manufacturer providing appropriate 'hooks' into their program. At present, Console 1 Fader is thus more appealing to those who use Cubase, Reaper or Studio One than it is to Logic or Pro Tools users.
Conceivably, it might even tempt some people to switch, because in the right host, Console 1 Fader does seem like the missing piece of the puzzle. It supplies almost all the functionality that I miss on Console 1 — the main exception being the ability to use the rotary controller to move the DAW playhead — and, as we've come to expect from Softube, adds a huge amount of extra functionality I hadn't realised I was missing! Once you get used to adjusting high-pass filter cutoff or Drive from faders, other ways of doing it just feel clumsy.
If you only ever used Console 1 Fader, I don't think you'd get the full picture of what makes the system so good, so I'd still recommend the original Console 1 as the better place to start. But once you've experienced the Console 1 system, the appeal of Fader will be obvious, and I don't think it will disappoint.
Many digital consoles have more channels than faders, and so offer 'layers' that allow the faders to be reassigned to different channels or functions. Often it's possible for the user to create custom fader layers, collecting together all the controls they particularly need on one bank of faders. Another feature often found on digital consoles, and in some DAWs, is VCA faders, which allows control of a user-defined group of channels to be slaved to a single fader. And despite its name, Console 1 Fader's Layer Mode is actually, as far as I can see, an implementation of VCA faders.
When you enter Layer Mode, the Fader faders cease to control individual channels or Console 1 plug-ins within the DAW. Instead, each fader now governs a group of channels known as a Layer. Pressing a fader's Select button while holding down the Assign button creates a new Layer and assigns it to that fader. You then add channels to the Layer by pressing their select buttons, before pressing OK to confirm. Layer assignments and names can be edited after the fact.
The fader controlling the Layer doesn't necessarily have to be on a channel that's part of the Layer, and indeed isn't by default. At the same time, however, the first track that you add to the Layer is designated Master, and gives the Layer its auto-created name. When you switch to Layer Mode, it's the Master channel's volume and other parameters that are reflected on the Layer fader.
Layers are purely a Console 1 Fader thing: the host DAW knows nothing about them, and experiences only their consequences. Move a Fader fader in Layer Mode, and the DAW channels within that Layer will follow, but the Layer faders themselves are invisible to the DAW. Thus, for example, if you assign a Layer to fader 1, but don't include channel 1 in that Layer, moving fader 1 in Layer Mode won't affect channel 1's fader on screen. Likewise, you can move a Layer fader to automate a fade-out across multiple channels, but to do so, you need to put all of the channels within that Layer into a write mode; it's not possible to automate the Layer fader qua Layer fader.
One limitation of Fader Mode is that non–contiguous Layer faders cannot be condensed to adjacent Console 1 Fader faders. Suppose, for example, your drums occupy channels 1-12 and your guitars take up channels 13-16. If you assign a drum Layer to fader 1 and a guitar Layer to fader 13, you'll have no way of accessing both Layer faders simultaneously, because they'll be in different banks.
A better approach is to assign your drum Layer to fader 1, your guitar Layer to fader 2, and so on, and learn to think of those faders as doing double duty. The only problem with this is that if Console 1 Fader is addressing, say, channels 91-100 in your mix, you'll still need to bank all the way back to the first page to find your Layer faders. It would be great to have the option for Layer Mode to automatically bank to faders 1-10 when engaged. It would be even better to have Layer Mode simply ignore any faders that don't have a Layer assigned, so that it always displays the first 10 Layers on faders 1-10, with the original fader number only determining the order in which they appear.
I don't typically use VCA faders much in a standard mixdown context, and compared with some implementations, Layer Mode is quite basic, with no advanced features such as VCA spill. The fact that Layers exist outside the host DAW also means that things can get confusing when automation is involved. However, they do have one very useful application in those DAW programs that don't allow you to freely order different track types in the mixer. In a large mix, you'd typically have a number of subgroup auxiliary channels for drums, guitars, vocals and so on. Some DAWs insist on placing these last in the track list, so that they appear on the right-hand side of the mixer. If this isn't what you want, it can be valuable to create a Layer for each subgroup fader and assign these Layers to the first few Fader 1 faders. Layer Mode could also be handy for cue mixing, where you need to quickly rebalance a mix in response to musicians' requests for more cowbell.
You might be wondering why Console 1 Fader can't adjust mixer channel volume and pan within Pro Tools or Logic, since these applications do support generic protocols such as HUI and MCU. The answer, as I understand it, is that Console 1 Fader needs a way of synchronising actions that affect a mixer channel fader with actions that affect the Console 1 plug-in on that channel, and this isn't part of either the HUI or the MCU spec. So, although there's nothing in principle to stop Fader's faders from fading faders in the Pro Tools mixer, it would be impossible to ensure that its plug-in-specific controls were addressing the same channels.
- Looks and feels good, with nice faders — and 10 rather than eight of them.
- Alternative Fader modes that operate on Console 1 plug-in parameters let you do much more than just balance levels.
- Pairs very nicely with the original Console 1, but can be used without it.
- Less useful in DAWs such as Pro Tools where it can't control the host program's faders and sends.
- No jog/shuttle wheel.
- Power supply is required and has an annoyingly short cable.
Console 1 Fader has been a long time coming, but it reflects the careful thought and attention to detail that is Softube's trademark. A very well thought-out companion to the original Console 1, it's much more than just a fader controller.
£539 including VAT.
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