Frontier Design alphatrack by Enlightened Hand
**This unit does not have "sound quality" but since I couldn't delete that section from it's scoring I gave it a "10" instead of a "0" so it wouldn't take a hit in it's overall scoring.
A lot of people have to control a sequencer (DAW) and yet don't like using a mouse, but don't want to get involved with purchasing a multi-fader, full featured (and usually expansive) control surface. That could be for any reason. It could be that you already have a big console and don't need the extra thing to try and place. It could be that you're on location tracking and only need basic sequencer controls next to your keyboard and analog rig. In any case the Alpha Track is the perfect solution.
The Alpha Track is a small form factor, bus powered, single fader, touch sensative, motorized control surface with LCD display and transport controls as well as programmable, customizable function keys in a simple, intuitive package. As well as having all of the above it sports channel strip buttons like solo, mute and record enable. It also has three touch sensitive endless rotary encoder knobs that also function as buttons that sit beneath it's handy, angled LCD display. Beneath it's knobs there are 18 buttons as well as a shift key to the left of that panel that control several basic sequencer functions, 4 of which can be customized to whatever preference the user wants and when combined with the shift key actually makes 8 customizable buttons.
The transport section has the basic FF, REW, Stop, Play and Record buttons that with the shift key can be toggled to be buttons for placing your project time cursor at zero or anywhere your range locators happen to be, as well as an "escape" key, and an "enter" key. But beneath the regular transport buttons there is what amounts to a very clever way of including jog, shuttle and scrub functions. The control is a small, flat strip that, depending on how you touch it and what mode the unit is presently configured to, will perform the functions of a tradition jog wheel with ease.
The Alpha Track is one of the most well thought out products I have ever used. It is a project controller in the fullest sense in that it can control plug-ins, a virtual mixer and basic sequencer menu navigation. combined with it's handy display, back lit function keys and variable modes it really has all of the basic project controls covered. After the first installation it simply connects via included USB cable and it sits idle until you open your sequencer program whereupon it's display lights up and initializes ready to do work on whatever project you open. To scroll through the various channels you can simply use the first (from left to right) of the three encoders and the Alpha Track's fader will bounce around matching whatever virtual fader level it encounters. Touching the fader causes whatever channel it was resting on to be selected and the fader travel is smooth and quiet. Automation with the Alpha Track is simple to do.
Controlling EQ is another thing the Alpha Track excels at. Opening a channel's edit window and pressing the EQ button on the Alpha Track automatically configures it's display to show the standard channel EQ positions of the channel you have selected on your virtual mixer (at least this is how it works in Cubase). Turning the knobs you can control gain, Q value, and specific frequency. When you need to scroll to a new band of controls you can simply use the left and right arrow function buttons to scroll through the next set of controls. It's very simple in action. If you happen to have a plug-in open as an insert or send on a channel the Alpha Track is selected on all you need to do is press the plug-in button on the Alpha Track and just like the EQ you can turn the knobs and control the various parameters of the plug-in. You can also control the basics of a virtual mixer channel by pressing the pan button on the Alpha Track (it's default state) and using the first encoder to control pan position and the fader to control level or you can press the "flip" button and the pan knob and channel fader will be flipped for finer control of either.
Descriptions about what you can actually do with the Alpha Track can really go on and on, from controlling send level to punch-in/out, opening channel edit windows, setting locator points, adding track, group or effects channels and jogging, shuttling and/or scrubbing sections of audio. It's really that comprehensive and deep what you can do with the thing.
If anything is to gripe about the Alpha track it's the fact that it's a limited device due to being a single fader, single channel of control at a time type thing. That's not a problem. It's just the way the thing is designed. If you only need one fader of control there is really no other solution that can do so much as the Alpha track. Some people might be put off by it's small, plastic chassis. But when they find out what kind of power and flexibility is behind the thing they might quickly put those reservations to rest. I've used my Alpha Track with location tracking and for mixing in certain situations and it has withstood the test of time and constant use with no problems to speak of. Being bus powered makes it even easier to work with because you never need an extra outlet to power it up.
At $200 there really is no better single fader controller than the Alpha Track. If you're in the market for this kind of device I highly recommend it.