Gear Review

Avid S1 Control Surface Review

Getting started

We recently got our hands on the Avid S1 Controller. Paired with the Avid Dock and Avid Control for iOS/Android, you have a powerful low profile setup for mixing. Currently Eucon support is limited to Logic, Cubase/Nuendo, Digital Performer & Pro Tools. We will be discussing use with Pro Tools 2020, but we have tested functionality in all of the other DAW’s, so let us know if you have any specific questions in the comments.

History

I have been using small format control surfaces on and off since the Mackie DB8 surface was released in the late 1990’s. I like the idea of using a dedicated controller to minimize screen and mouse time but after a while I usually fall back to old habits and familiar key commands to get the job done. That said, I had been using the Avid Dock with a single fader for the better part of two years when I learned that the S1 release was forthcoming. I instantly imagined all ways Avid’s 8 fader controller could improve my workflow, my mixes and overall quality of life.

First impressions

The controller build quality feels solid with a rigid build quality that doesn’t flex or turn when being moved or held. The last Avid controller I used on a regular basis was the Pro Control which I used with my old Pro Tools HD rig. The 8 fader master Pro Control unit was almost twice the size of the Dock & S1 combo, I won’t get into the weight comparisons but the Pro Control units were built like tanks.

I was able to get the S1 added to my Eucon setup quickly and basic operations were straight forward. I did have to refer to the manual to find my way around the channel strip settings and submenus. As with most things, it will take time to get familiar with the workflow and the most used functions and settings. When you are using a Dock and S1 the tablet assigned to the S1 only functions in meter mode. Avid might change this at some point with an update. I’m using an iPad Pro 9.7” as the master controller with the Dock and picked up a Galaxy S Tab 10.9” tablet for the S1. The cheap Android tablet works well for metering purposes and I’ve considered grabbing a matching tablet for a cleaner look on my desk.

In use

Using the Avid S1 in Pro Tools works as expected. The fader build quality feels the same on both the S1 and Dock. The knobs are responsive and seem to be slightly smoother than the encoder knobs the Dock. The OLED strips on each channel provide essential feedback and are easy to read. The strips have a screensaver function when the unit goes to sleep. Nice touch! The channel and bank switching happens fast and crisp without any perceivable lag.

One of the features that I’ve been looking forward to using the most has to be VCA spill. I’ve reconfigured a few sessions to use VCA faders for all groups and can see how getting a general balance is smoother and more efficient. If you set the Dock control app to view VCA channels only you can quickly select and navigate between VCA groups. The VCA spills to S1 faders and the VCA master to the Dock when selecting the VCA on the app. This alone might be worth the cost of admission.

Final thoughts

At $1299 MSRP the Avid S1 controller is definitely not priced like a low end controller and the build quality and functionality aren’t low end either. Once you get into a workflow with this setup you will be making more musical choices and movements in your mixes. Being able to grab a knob or fader to adjust levels and sends is wonderful. Automation is smooth and reliable. If you want a new low profile 8 fader Eucon controller for a reasonable price the S1 is currently your only viable option.

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