I remember a day when software controllers where these ugly grey boxes with big rubber F keys. They had nasty, complicated MIDI integration and cost more than a family car. That wasn’t all that long ago and with technology moving at such a pace I find myself wondering what we are in store for next. Minority report styled holo-decks? Telepathy controlled motorized faders? Plutonium based Wordclocks? Perhaps! But for now, we will have to suffice with the current craze that seems to be taking over the world. iPad’s and androids have found their way into the hands of every technojunkie both sides of the equator, and are being used in a huge amount of creative and interesting ways. Ways that aid us in our world by providing a nice little oversized cell phone that magically solves all of our new found problems with 3rd party apps that soon become life essentials we never knew we needed. Enter the tablet DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) controller. A handy little application you download for a few dollars that “replaces” your current $1000 hardware DAW controller. It allows you to control your DAW remotely, from just about anywhere. From the couch, the kitchen or even the loo. Imagine that! Mixing your latest track from the comfort of your very own lavatory, at last!!!. Just about anything can be simulated these days with touch screen panels, even Moog is developing iPad apps for the masses. And why not? It cost zero dollars to mass produce and the market cant get enough of it.
I have been pondering about tablet DAW controllers for quite some time and have adamantly remained skeptical. Until now! (Well, kind of) Recently I came across a rather useful and full featured DAW controller called TouchDAW. TouchDAW is a third party DAW controller for android. It works on tablets and mobile phones equipped with android version 2.1 or higher. Included on the interface are 8 bankable faders, all with the usual Mute, solo and arm buttons, as well as pan control and a read/write button labeled ”edit”. The control section is full featured, sporting all the usual suspects, that automatically adjust according to your selected DAW. The transport control provides the standard play, pause, record and search functions as well as a rather handy joystick that could probably be configured for surround panning. Thats not all!!! Also included in the touchDAW menu is a really cool little controller keyboard that includes pitch and mod controls. There is also an XY controller for live modulation. And….. wait for it……. it has drum pads!!!!! Wow! Now thats cool! So? What would you expect to pay for all of this? I was very happily surprised when I browsed my way to the app page. A mere 6 dollars! Thats it! Thats under 50 SA rands!! For all those features?? A no brainer as far as I’m concerned, so I purchased and downloaded immediately.
So? Does it actually work? Well, in short, Yes! It actually works quite well. TouchDAW can be integrated with a number of DAW’s. Logic, Pro Tools, Reaper, Cubase/Nuendo, Ableton, Reason etc, all the usual suspects. With Pro Tools it utilizes the HUI protocol which is also used by common hardware controllers including the Mackie MCU and Presonus Faderport (Pictured at the top of the page) Which makes touchDAW very versatile. Response time using the tethered USB option showed zero to three milliseconds latency and was very straight forward to setup and get running. The fader response is very natural and smooth, with no sign of lag or lack of accuracy. There are roaming options included, touchDAW can be synced to your favorite audio application using either USB, Bluetooth or Wi-fi which should provide you with a bit of range when wondering round the control room. There is a little bit of latency over Bluetooth and Wi-Fi but not enough to render the application useless. The keys and pads are responsive although velocity is obviously going to be a bit of a problem, this will inevitably have an effect on the dynamic response of performed keys and drums and will never replace a decent controller keyboard.
All in all TouchDAW is a very cool little application. It will and should not replace a hardware controller in a studio environment, but provides a fun way to mix from a variety of locations. If all you have is a laptop and a tablet and you want some hands on control then this is a great solution. It is portable (More so than any control surface) Its fun to use, and has loads of cool features. In the live sound world this is going to be very handy app, imagine assigning your stage monitor levels to the faders on touchDAW and walking round the stage listening directly while you adjust. I use it for working alone in the studio. It allows me to arm and record as well as scrub and select from the live room with a guitar round my neck. That alone has made TouchDAW an essential tool for me.
There are other options for Android. Wireless Mixer is another option, although I installed it months ago, I havent got it to actually work yet. I also think the GUI looks terrible and the functionality compared to TouchDAW is completely missing. There is only a stop, play and record button!! What the hell??Share