Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Behringer X-Touch Compact Review


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Hey friends, today I'm reviewing the new (ish) Behringer XTouch Compact USB Control Surface. I have been a long-time CC121 User, which is a very simple and straightforward single-fader control surface from Steinberg. Since I'm a Nuendo user, it has done right by my side, but I needed an upgrade. To my surprise, the X Touch Compact released...finally...and was a very fair price - a mere $399 for a 9-fader, 16-pot, 39 button interface. So let's get down to business.


First impressions on this unit were very good. The build quality is quite decent, it feels sturdy and not like it's a cheap piece of plastic. Nice rubber feet on the bottom and metal vents in the back. Faders feel pretty solid and the pots aren't too shabby. Nice! The unit is a little bigger than I thought it would be - I'd say it's about maybe 15x11" and maybe 3"-ish tall in the rear...I don't know what I was expecting, I guess I just thought it would be smaller/shorter for some reason - no matter, it is by no means "big." 


What install? You literally just plug it in and it works fine...with the Mackie Control Protocol. If you're into the Mackie protocol/MIDI mapping, then it should literally work right out of the box. Just enable it in your DAW and make sure it can support Mackie Control and that's pretty much it. I, on the other hand, despise the Mackie protocol - it doesn't make sense to my brain, so I have to use the Standard Mode and create my own "generic midi remote" in Nuendo and map every button, knob, fader, etc., myself. Which is going to be a very time consuming task, however
it will be customized to how I want it. 


The fader action is smooth and it feels natural, as do the V Pots. It's a bit of a shame that all the buttons are the same color - yellow - and they are unlabeled. There is a nice space on the unit for some labeling tape (I use 1/4" patchbay tape to label mine, or 3/8" labels for a label maker). On the next step up (the "X Touch") there are multi-colored lights, which would be a nice feature, but hey, it's more expensive. 

Unit seems to be pretty response and sensitive, it reacts basically as I expect it to. It's not quite as smooth as a Euphonix or Avid interface, but it's pretty darn smooth. It doesn't feel jerky or glitchy when playing back automation, and I have't noticed any major issues. Every now and then I feel like it will get confused on which fader is selected, but that very well could be just a miscommunication with the DAW - like I had a fader selected in the DAW but my hand was touching a different fader and it got confused. Who knows. I haven't been able to repeat it, but I don't think it was an issue with the X Touch. 

It's a very simple, effective device. In short, it just works! 


It's literally one of the only devices of its kind in that price range. $400 for this many faders, knobs and buttons? That's crazy.  Good on you, Behringer for coming out with something we've been wanting for a long time. I'm impressed. 

Every V Pot is also a switch, so you can route it to be a pan pot, but when you click it, it can do something else, like mute the channel, or disable the panner, or record enable. If you're mapping it yourself, you can do whatever you want. 

Every fader is touch sensitive - which is a really nice feature. You can do separate CC commands for the touch, which means for example touching the fader will put the channel into write mode, and when it's touched again, it will go out of write mode. So you could automate without having to enable "write" and instead just immediately grab a fader and you're writing automation. Neat! 

There are 8 buttons below the primary 8 faders, which I assume most people would make a "select" function, however, you could easily put the select button above the fader and make these 8 "function" keys for whatever you want - changing workspaces, changing fader banks, edit modes, or opening various windows/devices in your DAW. The X Touch (full size) has Function keys and a few other nifty features.

The unit has a powered USB hub in the back with two ports - you could use this for your mouse and keyboard, or a MIDI keyboard, or anything that works just fine with USB 2 power. You can also use it to chain multiple X-Touch units together! I wish it was USB3, after all it's almost 2016 now and USB2 is on its way out, but hey, it's still a very nice X touch....get it? ahem....sorry

You can download the Behringer Editor app and any firmware updates from their website and remap your controller to almost anything you can imagine, and save various settings as .bin files on your computer. NOTE: I have read that they've already released a firmware update for the X-TOUCH (full size version) but not the X Touch Compact (yet). 

There is a footswitch input, expression pedal input, and MIDI in/out on the back of the unit. I haven't really had a need for these yet, but it's a very nice feature that could come in handy. For example, you could plug in a footswitch and set it to be "record" so you can sit in your chair with your instrument, ready to go, and not have to hit record and run over to it. You could also run a long TS (instrument cable) line into another room and set it by a drumkit, a guitar amp rig, or by your vocal booth and hit record from a footswitch in there. If you think outside the box a little, there are some really cool options for this. 


The faders make a little bit of noise as they move. It's sort of like one of those old printers from the 90s (you know, with the holes on the sides of the paper) except quiet. It's there, though. Kinda like this little buzz...but it's not too bad. 

The manual / documentation is virtually useless. It's really just a "quickstart guide" to help you install it. But remember what I said before - there's literally nothing to it, you just plug it in. In the back of the manual it shows the default MIDI mapping, which is nice, but there's no help regarding re-assigning your own CCs, or using the Editor program, or integrating it with Generic Remote editors. I think it assumes you're just going to use the Mackie Protocol. Lame!

The unit seems to get a little warm - not hot - but warm. It is ventilated well, but I hope it's not the Achilles heel of the unit; I really hope they don't start failing after 6 months of use or something. 

The unit uses a full size IEC cable in the back, which is kinda difficult to position on your desk, and it's kinda bulky. In my situation, the cable sticks out a little too far, and isn't sitting nicely near my widescreen monitor...but I think I can make it work. This is one of the few situations where I actually wish there was a wall-wart instead of a full IEC. 

You can't edit the CCs of the unit while In-program. It's understandable, but it makes it a real pain experimenting with routing CCs. You have to close out of your DAW, reroute, dump the info to the hardware, reopen, test, etc. Keep in mind, this is only an issue if you're making your own CC mapping, not using the Mackie Protocol aka "MC Mode" aka "Mackie Control Mode" 


Overall, I must admit, I'm really impressed with this unit. I like things that are simple, effective, and affordable. It solves a problem, and does so for the guy that doesn't really want or need to spend $4k on a control surface. 

Is it as versatile, stylish, and high quality as an Avid S3? No, but it's also $400, and for that price, it's got my vote as a really cool control surface, which will allow you to get out of clicking/mousing around and start grabbing faders and automating more often. When I got my CC121 years ago, I suddenly realized much more I enjoyed automating and how much more often I did it! With this, I feel confident I'll automate even more. It's a really fun piece to work with and definitely a step UP from the CC121, even though it's cheaper than the CC121. This is my honest opinion, coming from me, a huge Steinberg fanboy. 

I never really thought I'd say this, but WAY TO GO BEHRINGER!