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Mini Review: Alesis MasterControl Studio Interface

Desktop Controller and I/O Wears Many Hats

The new MasterControl from Alesis is an 8-fader desktop I/O and controller unit that uses the HUI protocol to communicate with a broad range of DAWs, plug-ins and Alesis’ HD24/24XR recorders. MasterControl’s I/O includes FireWire, ADAT Lightpipe, S/PDIF and analog for a total of 26 inputs and six outputs. The unit is solid with all buttons, encoders and its nine motorized faders exuding a sense that you can rely on them for a good, long time. The keyword here is “slim,” as the MasterControl is not much wider than a computer keyboard at 14.5 inches deep, and at its highest point it sits just 4 inches off the desktop.

Alesis has packed a lot of features into this small package, making it easy to integrate with any DAW via removable overlays that sit above the soft keys and channels. There are templates for Samplitude, Logic, Reason, Cubase, Ableton Live, SoundTrack Pro, SONAR, Digital Performer and Pro Tools. I found that the tabs that hold down the overlays are easily ejected if you don’t treat them gingerly. One flew over my head as I changed it, but it was easily re-seated and all was like new. What’s extra nice about the soft keys and controllers is that if you don’t like how they’re assigned to the software, you can re-configure them as long as the DAW supports the function.

A quick read through the manual with a few changes to my Logic preferences had me up and running in no time. I was able to quickly get a feel for the intuitive surface and was mixing, changing parameters and accessing other basic functions easily. I especially liked the Preview button, which when held down lets you query any button, fader or rotary, keeping you from getting lost if you’re banked deep into your session. The headphone outs had plenty of gain and sounded great. What I didn’t like was that the two mic preamp gain controls are on small knobs at the back of the unit near the XLR inputs. They were hard to get to and too small to offer any confidence that I was setting the proper amount of gain—and generally difficult to manage.

The Alesis MasterControl is tops in its class. Not only is it the only product in this price range that records at 192kHz; it also offers I/O and control options that other products don’t. (To see feature comparisons between products in this category, download the Interface/Controller Comparison Chart in PDF format). The M-Audio ProjectMix I/O comes close for $300 more, adding deeper M-Powered Pro Tools compatibility than the MasterControl, but lacks the configurability, Lightpipe, talkback and deftness across a range of software.

Watch the Alesis MasterControl Video Overview on Alesis’ YouTube channel.

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Kevin Becka is Mix magazine’s technical editor.