Test Drive: AlphaTrack DAW Controller from Frontier Design Group

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by Steve Cunningham

I’m a fan of physical controllers for software audio editors. I like pressing a button to drop into record, and adjusting a fader or knob to tweak the audio. I still prefer a mouse for selecting a region to edit, but after that I want something substantial to grab. And oh yeah... the controller has to be small enough that it doesn’t consume my entire desktop.

I first laid eyes on the AlphaTrack controller back in April at the NAB Show. It looked promising at that time, combining transport buttons, a motorized fader, three knobs and a bunch of function keys. The problem was getting one — Frontier Design Group sold out their first three production shipments before they even arrived, so I’ve been waiting patiently. Well, it’s here and rockin’.

Frontier Design Group has several years of controller design under its collective belt, including the design of control surfaces for Tascam’s digital mixers. About a year and a half back they released their TranzPort wireless transport control box (see the March 2006 issue of RAP), which is designed to replace the transport functions that are usually handled by a keyboard and mouse.

The AlphaTrack is a different beast. In the first place, it is a wired USB device that takes up a bit more room on one’s desk. More importantly, it is designed to compliment a mouse and keyboard rather than replacing them, and most of its controls are mixer-oriented rather than transport alone. AlphaTrack consists of the aforementioned 100mm motorized fader (which is touch-sensitive); three detented knobs (endless rotary encoders that are also touch sensitive); eight Function buttons with LEDs, five dedicated Mode buttons, also with LEDs; dedicated and lighted record, mute, and solo buttons; a jack for a momentary footswitch for record and punching; and a unique touch-strip that allows jog, shuttle, and several other functions depending on the editor used. All this is topped off by a back-lit 32-character LED display that shows you what is being controlled at a glance.