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Review : Frontier Designs Alphatrack

Posted on 6/3/2011 8:09:40 AM by steveh

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Review Model : Self Purchased

Overall Score : 9 out of 10


  1. Small desk footprint
  2. Fast and Responsive flying faders
  3. Lots of programmability
  4. Useful screen for feedback
  5. Touch Sensitive controls


  1. Feels cheap in the hand
  2. Very light
  3. Drag strip takes a little getting used too

For a while I have been searching for the ultimate DAW controller. Initially I looked at some of the larger control surfaces from companies like Mackie, but I really didn't want a huge box on my desk. I work mainly in the box these days so I am keen to get away from large bulky mixing units.

For ages I just worked with the mouse and never really considered the single fader control surfaces until I read a post on the Reaper forums where someone was raving about them.

After looking a little deeper their seems to be 2 choices, the Frontier Designs Alpha Track and the Presonus Faderport. I was initially struck by the cool design of the  FaderPort and the specs out-match that of the FaderPort. The only thing that concerned me was reading reports of a grounding issue that can make the screen on the device act a bit crazy. This worried me, but I decided to buy the unit anyway. If it exhibited the grounding problem then I would have just sent it back. There are hacks you can do to get around the problem, but I am not prepared to do that.

Once the Alphatrack turned up I was immediately struck by how light it was. Personally I like my hardware to have a little weight behind it, where as this just feel incredibly light in your hands. Some people may prefer this, but I don't.

The unit was very easy indeed to setup and it draws its power directly from the usb port which saves on cables. The unit is equipped with a single motorized, long-throw, 100mm fader, three rotary encoder knobs with integral push-switches, 22 buttons (with 21 status LEDs) and a horizontal, ribbon-controller-style pad for shuttling the timeline cursor through the song.

You can also use two fingers on the strip at the same time, to control the shuttle speed. A 32-character backlit display shows current parameter names and values, and there are direct mode buttons for controlling pan, sends, EQ, plug-ins and automation. The three rotary-encoder knobs are touch sensitive, so the display changes in a context-sensitive way when you adjust one. The knob functions are linked to whichever control mode has been selected using the buttons below. For example, in EQ mode, you can scroll through EQ bands and adjust all the necessary parameters.

A shift button extends the feature set, allowing eight function keys to be accessed and providing alternative functions for the transport controls in some DAWs. Dedicated record, solo and mute buttons reside alongside the fader, which always relates to the currently selected DAW track, bus or output. Note that in some DAWs, such as Logic, the mute and solo buttons control the DAW's mixer-page channels and not the Arrange page mutes and solos, the reason being that Logic can have multiple tracks on the Arrange page relating to the same mixer channel, so you need to be able to solo them individually. A jack socket on the rear panel accepts an optional standard momentary-action footswitch jack for hands-free punch-in recording.

The Alphatrack works with pretty much any DAW on the market. I have personally used it with Ableton Live, Reaper, and Cuabse 6. Setup in each DAW is very easy and Frontier Designs even have lots of help guides on their site for different daws.

The device feels very nice to use and everything is laid out logically. I am left handed which causes a slight problem as I need to use the device and mouse both with my left hand, but I just get on with it. Some other musicians I know who use it are right handed and they use the mouse with the right hand and the Alphatrack with the left, and the seem to really like this configuration.

I have been using this device for a couple of months now and I certainly couldn't imagine living without it.  So, if you are on the look out for flying fader but don't want to use up loads of space with a larger control surface  then this device is certainly for you.

9 out of 10