Gear Review: Livid Instruments CNTRL-R

While laptop computers have revolutionized the electronic music world, the one aspect that is lost is the connection between instrument and performer. Controller interfaces have solved a lot of these problems, however not every controller is created equal. A lot of the interfaces available are built as a generic set of features that can plug in to any DAW and act as basic implement to control features on the screen.

When Livid started developing custom MIDI controllers several years ago, people started talking. With their unique approach to interfaces, these brilliant engineers set forth to not only develop the most customizable controllers out there, but to raise their product’s status to a performance instrument. The development of this unique interface was spearheaded several years ago by world-renowned techno godfather, Richie Hawtin, and has finally made its way onto the market.

After roadtesting their controllers for countless hours, Hawtin and several other artists from his Minus label have shaped this unit into an interface that plays and feels like the drum machines and groove boxes of yesteryear. Using aircraft grade aluminum, the highest quality faders, knobs and RGB backlit buttons available, Livid hand builds each unit in Austin, Texas. Livid also includes remote scripts for either NI’s Traktor and Ableton’s Live. The real magic that makes this controller so special is a distinctive Ableton Max For Live device that was built specifically for this unit. The Drumstepp-R and Synthstepp-R are Max devices that turn your CNTRL-R into a 16-step drum or synth sequencer. If Ableton was lacking one thing in its studio revolution, it would be the fact that a 16-step sequencer was never provided in its bundle. While Live functions like a vintage drum machine in a sense, this controller has now provided the ultimate missing element, making your studio workstation flow just like a traditional analog studio.

The set up was a bit challenging to get going quickly; it wasn’t as fast as some other units on the market. But once it was up and running it was easy to start creating and jamming in a matter of moments. At first it seemed that you would only use this unit to step-program drums and tweak their sounds, but after several hours jumping back and forth between controlling the Drum Racks and controlling Ableton’s main functions (via a single push button encoder), it is clear that this sturdy device may soon rule the roost in the Ableton controller world.

There are certainly easier devices out there to get running for basic Ableton control, but there are no other controllers that even touch the ability to map their DAW and perform music like the CNTRL-R. If your music has been lacking as you feel like you are playing without an instrument, then this stand alone, USB powered controller-instrument is for you.

Livid Instruments CNTRL-R (MSRP: $699)

Gear Review: Native Instruments Komplete Audio 6

Even if you drop the coin for Apple’s top-dollar laptop or Alienware’s flagship computer, you are still stuck with crappy audio that is not worthy of play even on a Greyhound bus. At some point you are going to have to upgrade to some kind of recording interface, a soundcard that deliver quality audio both into and out of the computer. The Komplete Audio 6 is a soundcard breakout box that connects to your machine via USB, and uses high-end analog to digital converters to transform audio. Unlike some interfaces in this class, the Komplete Audio 6 is powered completely from USB power and does not need an additional power supply plugged into the wall. Featuring four analog inputs (2 balanced XLR, and 2 1/4″ line-level TRS connections), and four analog outputs (2×2 Stereo 1/4″ TRS connections), there are more than enough lines in and out of the machine to get most of the recording you need done.

Additionally, this interface adds a fully digital input (S/PDIF RCA connections) adding a feature that is generally only found on the highest end cards out there. While most people will only use the main stereo outputs to playback their audio, you will find that the sound you hear will be some of the cleanest noise-free sound that you have ever heard coming out of your computer. Another nice upgrade from previous NI interfaces, is a new chipset that allows for zero-latency audio monitoring while recording live sources, generally a problem with most soundcards today.

This device comes packaged with everything you need to get your machine up and running as a recording computer. Included is a copy of Cuebase LE 6, Traktor LE2 and Komplete Elements MK2, enough to get you Djing, recording and making beats in no time. After a quick install, this interface was running and ready to use. NI makes their installation and registration process painless, and every DAW out there is built to handle and use NI devices. If you are looking to upgrade your audio experience and bring your sound into the new golden age, then this interface is the solution for your quandary.

Native Instruments (MSRP: $249)