Readers recently observed that your writer/editor is biased toward the aesthetic design of certain controllers. If that annoys you, try to focus on the lighter elements in this article to take your mind off things, and remind yourself that the weekend is near, because you’re probably going to spot that bias arising again.

Steinberg this month released a line of control surfaces that the company describes as “modular” and “ultra-portable.” The idea is this: rather than built a monster control surface to try to squeeze in everything (Akai’s APC40 comes to mind), they have little control surfaces you can combine for exactly what you need (Korg’s nano series, while at the lower end, comes to mind).

The CMC line looks like it does just that, and I have to say, it’s just about the best-looking control surfaces I’ve seen apart from the higher-end (and less portable) Euphonix series now sold by Avid. This could be the first hardware from Steinberg that gets people excited.

Sleek, stylish, and white, favoring touch strips over lots of faders, and lit with colored lights… I recall the line by Arthur Dent from Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Instead of rather drab-looking faders and music control surfaces:

“This is my idea of a spaceship! All gleaming white, flashing lights, everything. What happens if I press this button?”

What, indeed:

  • CMC-CH “Channel controller”: 16 buttons + one rotary + one touch fader – that is, a channel strip
  • CMC-FD “Fader controller”: Four touch faders + LED metering + solo/mute
  • CMC-QC “Quick controller”: 13 buttons, 8 rotaries, and “EQ, Quick Control, and MIDI” modes – clever, in that you get EQ or macro controls in Cubase
  • CMC-PD “Pad controller”: 16 pad, one rotary, for all your finger drumming needs (will be curious to see how much this lives up to the “highly responsive” claim)
  • CMC-TP “Transport controller”: 17 buttons + touch slider for jog/shuttle
  • CMC-AI “AI Knob”: highlights the “universal knob” macro function in Steinberg’s software for mousing over a control, then grabbing a knob, and searching and selecting presets.

They’re USB bus-powered, use touch controllers Steinberg describes as “high-resolution,” and in true modular fashion even have joint plates for the connections. And yes, they’re designed to go with Steinberg’s bigger CC121 controller, though I think many people will bite on these little devices who ignored the bigger predecessor.

There’s also a set of frames that house the CMC modules or extension units. Not available: coffee table and chair system. You’ll have to work that out for yourself. The frames are almost the same price as the units, so I’m guessing most of y’all will do without them, but bonus points for design.

Now, clearly, visually and interactively, these are designed to go with Cubase and Nuendo, and a couple of the units really make the most sense with those two tools. (You’ll need the full, latest versions of that software to take advantage of all the features.) But being generally uncomfortable with the idea of buying hardware to go with one piece of software, I’m encouraged by the MIDI possibilities here – particularly with transports that could work with video editors or pads and faders that’d be nice when you take your Cubase-created stems into a DJ set with Ableton Live and so forth.

Stefan Trowbridge of Steinberg tells CDM that these will require separate drivers (compatible with Mac and Windows), but will ship on the CMC-PD and CMC-QC with editor software that will assign MIDI messages to the buttons and knobs.

They’re also designed to “fit in your pocket.” To me, that would have to mean you’re either eight feet tall, or wearing lederhosen, which I generally understand to be out of style in Germany. (Hey, I had a pair as a kid growing up in German-American Louisville, Kentucky. I’m sure we could design a more futuristic version. The kilt made a comeback.)

But they do look pretty portable. Messenger bag, Steinberg, not pockets, okay?

EUR129-199 each, including VAT, so I expect a reasonably low street price back in North America.

CDM bonus completely trivial observation! People who went to Columbia University in New York City for electronic music will find this acronym amusing! (It’s the name of their Computer Music Center.) I didn’t, but it’s just one of the Many Trivial Things I Know!

CMC Series @ Steinberg

Let’s look at more pictures!

Achievement unlocked: You’ve scrolled through all those pictures!

  • http://joshmobley.com jmob

    Can these be used with reason? The transport and fader modules look enticing!

  • http://www.ghmetcalfe.com/mymusic.htm Graham

    And for west coast trivia … CMC = Claremont McKenna College

  • http://dietervandoren.net dtr

    looks like a sleek version of the FaderFox controllers

  • Peter Kirn

    And the Country Music Channel.

  • http://burialape.com peter

    I propose that when heading something using midi, that it has an asterix when it doesn't actually have hardware midi.

  • MegaTonne

    Very kool.

    Does anyone know about LED feedback using midi etc ? (i.e. not using cubase/nuendo)

  • http://www.ichicuts.com Gordon

    If these play well with other programs then it'll be a dream to move between a several-module setup for my recording rig and a more pared-down setup for my performance rig. Would love a magnetic data connection between devices to encourage that kind of movement.

  • http://outofthebag.org pailo

    if you use midi monitor, you can always find the values from controller data to use and re-script it with python, or midi ox.

    There are a lot of programs for changing controller midi data. 

    If anyone needs help, lets figure it out. These look pretty cool.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/gunboatdiplomacy/ justin johnson

    very handsom.  they *look* well built (at least better than korg's micro line).  i wonder what the street price will be, but i know that the two i want the most will be the most expensive.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/gunboatdiplomacy/ justin johnson

    ooooh, the pics on their website really tell you a lot about the size of the unit.  i like how slim they are.  i know what i want for xmas.  time to prep the missus.

  • http://regend.com Regend

    Sweetwater has all for 149.99 except for the CMC-FD which is 199.99. I'll probably pick one up to replace my Korg padKontrol which is now taking up to much space.

  • http://i5music.net Jim Aikin

    From the lead image, I was hoping these would be iPhone apps. I just got an iPhone 4, and I have no idea what's out there for it. … possibly I'm well behind the curve.

  • josh g.

    For iPhone, check out Control, which is pretty great and free:
    http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/control-osc-midi/i

    There's a similar paid app that I haven't tried, and some other thing that does MIDI only; Control is nice in that it does OSC and/or MIDI, and theoretically is customizable (although customizing it involves some amount of coding I believe).

  • josh g.

    Disclaimer: By "pretty great" I mostly mean "gives me something to mess around with for zero dollars" – I am not a live performer (yet), just some guy messing around wanting to make cool sounds.

  • aje

    I think that these look damn cool, and more to the point, exceptionally useful. Making me reconsider returning to Cubase…. hmmm. Steinberg seem to be on a roll at the moment (even if they are kinda un-hip).

  • bdhm
  • Peter Kirn

    @peter – I'd definitely like more hardware MIDI on stuff. That big honkin' DIN is just not cutting it with slim-line gear; we're even running into it on MeeBlip. We need a new slimline port. S-Video is a good candidate … but even that might be a bit big for these. Breakouts, maybe?

    Anyway, I'm willing to easily forgive Steinberg here. These are computer accessories, not do-anything MIDI controllers.

  • Peter Kirn

    @aje: Who cares if Steinberg is hip or not?

    Steinberg, I'll take you out for drinks in Hamburg and we can determine if you're hip or not.

  • Vitor

    Documentation:
    http://www.steinberg.net/forum/viewtopic.php?f=15

    These look nice. I took a look at the manuals and they need an !Yamaha USB MIDI driver!.

    They also talk about installing the "Steinberg CMC Applications", which I bet it works like Automap or Remote.

    This is good news for those who want to use this with other DAWs. The manual has the obligatory MIDI charts, so it should not be too hard to make it work with any DAW.

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    Cool!!! Its's strange they avoided the grid button type…it's a must these days…

  • http://cooptrol.com cooptrol

    OH!! there's a 4×4!! Well.. then.. one with more buttons maybe

  • http://richard.ritornell.at Richard Eigner

    these look really tempting!

  • http://www.authenticfilms.com Charles

    I like the looks of these; it's tempting to get four of the FDs and make a 16 fader, 16 button control surface for step sequencing… until I realize that for $800 I could get an iPad, TouchOSC, and the camera connection kit and have a much more flexible solution (and still have money left over). And all I'd be giving up are the physical buttons at the bottom of the FD – which may or may not be recruitable as step buttons. Hmm.

  • J

    Nice design! Those push buttons, like those on Maschine, remind me of the first gen Korg Electribes which looked so good.

  • http://noisepages.com/members/siunit/ Simon Leary

    these look very cool!

    increase the aesthetic bais!

  • http://www.soundwidgets.com/stribe phineus

    It's nice to see my Stribe concept finally "trickling up" to a commercial product, specifically the FD unit. Read all about the open source Stribe here: http://createdigitalmusic.com/2008/02/hands-on-in

  • hellojeffreyjames

    well.. how well do they work with other daws?!