My new toy arrived a few days ago: an Alesis MasterControl. This is little baby is a FireWire control surface and audio interface for controlling your DAW. My weapon of choice is an old friend, Cubase. So far, the pair are getting on really well together.
It's taken a while for Alesis to release the MasterControl, but from my initial experiments it's been worth the wait. It's a well built unit and very capable. It's not bad looking either. Very good value for money.
You get 8 channel strips each with a touch-sensitive motorised fader, continuous pot and select/record arm/solo/mute buttons as well as a motorised main mix fader. You get dedicated transport control buttons and a jog/shuttle wheel with cursor keys and zoom/scrub buttons, plus a bunch of assignable buttons for skipping around your project and setting markers, etc. You get 2 XLR inputs with preamps, phantom power, and inserts, plus another 6 line inputs. There's MIDI and digital input, too. There are three stereo outs, two headphone mixes, a talkback facility and more.
First impressions with Cubase were good. I inserted the channel strips for my software, installed the drivers, pointed Cubase at the MasterControl and everything just worked. Manual schmanual. Touching a fader selects a channel, which is a neat little trick. The user experience is very smooth. If it was a dedicated Cubase controller some of the button layout could be better, but since this drives many software packages I can understand the compromises made.
There are things it doesn't do - the LCD screen is small compared to, say, a Mackie Control. But compare the prices. Indeed, compared to all the other alternatives from the likes of M-Audio, Yamaha, Mackie and Digidesign this is a very competitive product in terms of the feature/price point.
It's definitely been a worthwhile investment, and I'd recommend it.