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The Avid S6 is unique. As the first customizable work surface with a modular design, the S6 allows users to expand and grow as needs change and configure it exactly as they wish. But is it the right device for you?
In my Avid S6 review, I have outlined all of the key features of this mixing platform and listed the many pros and (few) cons – in my opinion. I have finished my guide with a round-up of comparable products and detailed my final verdict on the Avid S6.
If external mixing platforms are not something you’re used to, or if you’re new to music production software, it makes good sense to read as much information as possible regarding all your options to ensure you choose the right device for your needs. This is a fairly lengthy piece about the S6, but you can discover my findings – in brief – just below.
- 1 My Avid S6 Review
- 2 Avid S6 Key Specifications
- 3 Avid S6 Features
- 4 Pros and Cons of the Avid S6
- 5 Alternatives to the Avid S6
- 6 Avid S1 8-Fader Control Surface
- 7 Slate Pro Audio Raven MTX
- 8 Mackie Control Universal Pro
- 9 Things to Consider When Buying a DAW Control Surface
- 10 Frequently Asked Questions
- 11 Final Thoughts on the Avid S6
My Bottom Line Up Front:
The Avid S6 is possibly the most powerful and flexible digital audio workstation control surface on the market right now. For the professional musician or enthusiastic hobbyist, I don’t believe you could find better for your money today.
My Avid S6 Review
The S6 is Avids flagship control surface platform, putting 20-years of console innovation to the test and resulting in one of the most powerful and customizable DAW control surfaces out there. Between its full EUCON implementation, its revolutionary modular construction, and its ergonomic design, the Avid S6 truly breaks new ground.
Whether you’re looking for a full-size rig with detailed visual metering and dozens of channel strips or a modest 8-fader editing controller, you will get all the hands-on control you could dream of with the Avid S6.
Let’s look a little more in-depth at this incredible DAW control surface.
Avid S6 Key Specifications
|Maximum Faders||Up to 64 (or up to 192 with additional 3 Master Touch Modules)|
|Fader Quality||Premium TKD faders|
|Master Modules||One S6 Master Touch Module, plus one Automation Module|
|Control Surface Expansion||Fully modular (up to 138 modules); customize a surface with up to 46 total Fader, Knob, Process, Joystick, Post, and Display Modules|
|Knobs per Channel||Up to 9|
|Frame||Modular Frame with Optional Leg Assembly|
|Simultaneous Workstation Connections||Max 8|
|Function Assignments||Dedicated Process Module to Assign Functions|
|Latest Price||See Here|
Avid S6 Features
In this section, we will look closely at all of the features of the Avid S6.
Main Controls of the Avid S6
To help you work within the control surface, there are two main controls for the Avid S6 – the Master Automation Module and the Master Touch Module.
The Master Automation Module (MAM) runs the automation functions of the S6. It is an optional function, but one that I can see quickly becoming an essential part of music and audio production due to how much easier it makes automating any media task.
The MAM provides a valuable pair of soft-key sections, numeric keypad, OLED timecode display, OLED focus channel fader, a transport section, and of course, automation control.
I found the MAM (when combined with the Master Touch Module) to cut production time down by half and make the whole experience so much smoother; able to handle virtually any task you set it intuitively.
The Master Touch Module (MTM) provides a host of functions centered around a 12-in touch-screen. The screen has a bright and clear display and allows you to simultaneously view up to 72 different tracks, as well as highlight, swipe, mute, and edit up to 8 tracks at a time.
The control given with the MAM and MTM is unlike anything I have experienced before. With dedicated buttons for navigation, eight assignable encoders, and a built-in XMON talkback system, there is certainly nothing lacking and no drawbacks here.
Every Fader Module on the S6 features a bank of eight 100mm long-throw motorized faders, sporting 11 switches per channel. There are brushless motors that result in a gliding, smooth feel with excellent precision control. Parallel to the faders are 32-segment tri-color LED meters to display the gain reduction.
Additional LEDs indicate various dedicated functions like Solo and Mute. There’s a set of 8 OLED displays that show menu options, track names, and automation mode. In my opinion, the most awesome of the lot are the hotkeys that run along the bottom; they’re color-coded to match the color of the track in Pro Tools – pretty cool.
The Process Module and Knob Module work in tandem and come with every Fader Module. You’re able to control up to nine encoder values in an innovative way, and there are knobs to supplement the function-select switches (these are color-coded for a convenient visual reference).
There are a total of 32 LED illuminated tactile interfaces with each Knob Module (x4 top-lit, multi-color encoders for each channel). The Knob Module can alter the effects, dynamics, EQ, and other assignable parameters.
Pros and Cons of the Avid S6
As with any product, there are advantages and drawbacks to the S6, which I have rounded up below:
Pros of the Avid S6
- One of the most customizable control surfaces out there
- Easily expandable
- EUCON protocol
- Ability to run eight different workstations from one destination
- OLED displays – elite visual feedback
- Professional metering and tilting touch-screen
- Simplified switching
Cons of the Avid S6
- Substantial financial investment – this is not a budget-friendly choice
- Some issues with connectivity from many consumers; bugs, crashes, loss of work
- It can be troublesome to get hold of – stock can be low, and delivery can take several days (if you’re lucky)
Alternatives to the Avid S6
As impressive as many musicians find the Avid S6, it isn’t without its drawbacks. I have found a few comparable products that I believe bridge some of the identified issues the S6 has and rounded up my favorite just below.
Avid S1 8-Fader Control Surface
For a fraction of the cost of the S6, the Avid S1 8-Fader Control Surface has some pretty remarkable features. However, its major advantage over the S6 is the more compact design, meaning that it is portable, easy to store, and doesn’t take up too much room in your home or professional studio.
The Avid S1 is more than able to support the professional musician while still being affordable enough to attract the humble hobbyist. I found this to be easy to use, genuinely look the part and have some excellent features such as high-resolution OLED displays and free Pro Tools control app. The S1 was Voted The Production Expert Product Of the Year 2019, and I can see why.
I found using the S1 to be a pleasant experience overall, and it is an incredibly user-friendly control surface. However, the construction is not on a par with that of the S6, which has caused some negative feedback from consumers.
- Voted Production Expert Product of the Year
- Much Lower Price Point than S6
- Compact and Portable
- Free Pro Tools
- App Compatibility
- Some consumers cite durability concerns.
Slate Pro Audio Raven MTX
You’re reading about the Avid S6 because you’re interested in high-end DAW controllers, and the Slate Pro Audio Raven MTX is certainly that – yet, more affordable than the S6. What is unique about this controller is that there are no physical faders at all, none. You’d be forgiven for initially seeing this as nothing more than a gigantic iPad!
The Slate Pro Audio Raven MTX is enormous, with a high-resolution touch screen that gives extensive control of your mixing and even uses its own custom ‘app’ to send control messages to your DAW. In addition, the 46-in screen is positioned at a 45-degree angle, making it comfortable to control during long mixing sessions.
I love the small shelf that sits at the front and houses the controls for the analog monitor, headphone ports, USB ports, an iPod Dock, and leaves space for a mouse and keyboard to conveniently store. However, this is the extent of the storage space, which can be a little limiting.
- Hands-on multi-touch control of the entire mixing session
- Excellent course switching and monitor control
- Well designed layout
- Can be updated
- Considerable space is needed
- Possibility of parallax effect due to large screen
- Not compatible with all third-party plug-ins
- That much screen space leaves the controller surface vulnerable to breakages.
Mackie Control Universal Pro
Considered more of a refinement than a redesign of the original MC Universal, the Mackie Control Universal Pro doesn’t have many fundamental changes, which makes some consumers confused over the higher price point.
However, the first thing to strike me is the more serious look of the Pro. Considering the original was housed in plastic, the Pros metal casing is undoubtedly an upgrade that results in much greater longevity. Another significant new feature is the addition of a USB port, rendering the need for a MIDI interface redundant.
The Mackie Control Universal Pro has 100mm touch-sensitive faders and smooth fader control, with a superbly responsive feel. The full meter display shows track names and basic functions such as mute, pan, and solo. While no effects on the unit make me say ‘wow,’ I do appreciate the good usability of this control surface. It is simple to operate from the very beginning.
There are more than 50 buttons, and the entire unit is very well made. I do feel the price point could be lower and that the brand hasn’t priced this competitively when you consider their competition. I still believe this to be a good choice for people looking for this level of technology within an affordable price range.
- Supreme Build Quality
- Good Connectivity
- Great Usability
- Excellent Brand Reputation
- I wouldn’t consider this to be competitively priced
- Not much of an upgrade from the original MC Universal
Things to Consider When Buying a DAW Control Surface
One of the most essential things to consider when looking to buy a DAW control surface is compatibility. Every DAW has its own communication protocol, which your desired control surface needs to support for it to be compatible with your PC.
There are three main protocols (MCU, HUI, and EUCON), and they’re not equal. Here’s a brief breakdown of the DAWs that support them:
- Mackie Control Universal (MCU): FL Studio, Cubase, Live, Bitwig Studio, Reason, Digital Performer, and Pro Tools.
- Human User Interface (HUI): Digital Performer, Studio One, Cubase, and Pro Tools.
- Extended User Control (EUCON): Digital Performer, Logic Pro X, Cubase, Nuendo, and Pro Tools.
In addition, it is vital that the control surface connects to your existing hardware and that your PC has the correct inputs (Ethernet, FireWire, or USB).
Another important consideration is the number of fader banks or faders you will need. While most devices will feature eight, some will come with many more (32 or higher) and can also be daisy-chained to support even more.
Once you have rounded up a few compatible DAW control surfaces, the next thing to do is to consider the little extras, which may not be necessary to some, but for others, they may well make or break.
For example, the Avid S6 features multiple motorized faders for writing automation, but the casual hobbyist won’t need this. You may wish for touch-sensitive control like with the Slate Pro, but this won’t be a deal for others. Do you need additional analog inputs for overdubbing or recording?
Think about what you can afford and what it is you need. Then you can look into the things you’d like. Ultimately, this will condense the search so much that the end choice will be much simpler to make.
Frequently Asked Questions
Answer: One of the greatest benefits of a control surface is the improved visual and audio feedback, which is significantly better than controlling your DAW through keyboard and mouse. Work time is also considerably reduced and runs more smoothly.
The hands-on mixing approach keeps you more focused on the sound from your speakers or soundbar, and truth be told, it just feels and looks so much more professional, with greater results.
Further Reading – Check out the best speakers for Chrome audio here.
Answer: The amount of money you layout for a DAW control surface will firstly depend on how much you have to spend. Secondly, it will boil down to whether this will be an investment (for professional music growth).
Many control surfaces can be added too, but few can be upgraded, which means that their monetary value will never go up, only down, as technology improves. Consider what you will get back from the money you put in, and then determine if it’s worth it.
Answer: Avid Pro Tools is the industry standard and is heavily favored by today’s music producers. However, it is by no means your only option, and our site is the perfect place to find out everything you need to know about the DAWs that are currently on the market.
Final Thoughts on the Avid S6
Firstly, I would rate the Avid S6 to be suitable for the absolute professional. Its retail price is likely to be far beyond what the typical casual hobbyist would want to spend on a control surface. However, payment plans and flexible pricing are available for this at Guitar Center.
While the S6 isn’t a perfect product, it is pretty close to being.
For larger chassis sizes, the S6 is one of the most flexible control surfaces there could be. You can assemble legs to use it freestanding, or you can use it on an existing desk or workstation. If you wanted, you could even hook the S6 to your iPad to run it from a sound booth. It is undoubtedly a flexible device that will fit into the life of a recording artist very well.
Years of consultations with ergonomics and technology experts, as well as experimentation, have resulted in possibly the greatest external music mixer to date.
If you can afford the S6, go for it!
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