Avid | Pro Tools S3 Control Surface
Now that Avid have released ProTools 12, their future seems to be mapped out with a heavy focus on cloud collaboration, the ability to buy and sell media through the Avid Market place and even the development of an iOS Control App for virtual control which was originally showcased at this year's MusikMesse.
But alongside this virtual world, we also have the Avid Artist Series control surfaces and the larger scalable S6 controllers. Towards the end of last year, Avid turned their attention to the VENUE | S3L-X releasing and renaming the control surface section the S3. The Avid Pro Tools S3 is focusing on the studio and recording market and is now positioned somewhere in the middle of their control surface products.
As there are many online videos and tutorials taking you through the many aspects of the S3, (which I found myself using over the last few weeks) I’m not covering the specifics of each function, this is covered at Avid.com, but I’m looking at it from a previous controller user and owner (Pro Control, Command|8 and Control 24) and how it could be suitable for somebody like me.
Who is it for ?
As I mentioned, I feel that the Avid Pro Tools S3 is geared perhaps towards ex Pro Control, Control 24 users or similar, who enjoyed the tactile aspect of fader control, but don’t have the space or inclination to change their total mix room or perhaps cannot justify the S6, now that their Digidesign / Avid previous units are no longer supported or compatible. Just like the S6, however, the S3 is also designed for other EUCON enabled DAWs such as Logic, Cubase and Nuendo.
I also think it may appeal to anybody who is thinking of getting multiple Artist Series Controllers, as whilst the cost of the S3 is slightly more than say 2 Artist MC Mixes, I do feel the expanded 32 OLED displays and general feel of the S3 are a better option, and if 16 faders are the maximum you need going forward.
The Record and Select keys for each channel are now neatly fitted between each fader. Nice and space saving on one hand, but then gone are the days of swiping across to arm multiple tracks or select á la ‘Legacy’ controllers, as you can’t do it with a fader in the way. But admittedly there is the option to select faders and use Eucon Software to then save these as a command and then recall a ‘group record’ and use one button to arm them all…which I think brings me to the basis of what I found about the S3.
The Avid S3 isn’t really like previous Avid controllers. It’s potentially not as immediate as say a C|24 or D-Command where you have (had) a lot of space and everything was laid out, partly because this is a significantly more compact controller and because the S3 is designed for multiple applications. As with other Eucon controllers, there is also a greater ability to customise the S3 for your own requirements with SHIFT, ALT, CONTROL and COMMAND keys towards the bottom left of the controller so nothing has been removed, and there are soft key functions at areas 1-4 which you can program yourself.
Using Eucon Control software is the way forward for Avid, and this allows much better integration and flexibility with Pro Tools than HUI control ever can on other 3rd party controllers. There is a 4x6 audio interface that is from the VENUE | LIVE version, and while I suspect many S3 owners will have existing interfaces to cover their I/O needs, it could provide additional useful I/O for talkback or even as a portable rig with a laptop. Likewise there is a monitor control for external speakers, which can fulfill monitoring duties freeing up additional outputs on the audio interface or AD/DA converter for routing to outboard if required. However the main raison d’etre of the S3 is to provide hands-on control of your Eucon enabled DAW.
Touch Screen or Real Deal ?
There have been a few clients recently who have taken the Slate MTI touch screen route, but equally there are many who feel it’s like marmite, you love or loathe it. The S3 provides a real world tactile device for these customers now as a serious option at a reasonable price point. You could always add an AVID Artist Transport if you needed a Jog-Wheel or the newly announced Pro Tools | Control iPad app which will provide touchscreen control of additional track navigation macro and metering option. So you could mix and match, and as the S3 does work with other 3rd party software under Eucon software, if you flick between Pro Tools and Logic or Nuendo for example, your controller can handle it.
The rotary encoders feel great, they have a dampened-type feel and I believe they are of similar size and shape as on the larger S6 allowing control easily and precisely. There is a Tri-Colour LED above all the OLED screens and this displays in the same way as the S6, colour coding EQ, Dynamics, Panning etc, and it soon becomes very quick to see where you’re up to in a dense mix. The LED VU meters next to the faders work well, there’s no difference between mono or stereo channels and I wonder why they’ve been placed on the left of each fader when Pro Tools software has them on the right? Nonetheless, they do provide a useful guide when not looking at the Pro Tools meters on the screen.
The Colour coding and OLED screens alongside the faders I think are the best aspect of the S3. The faders feel wonderful, just enough traction but with a smooth path, and I think this really sums up the controller as to what it’s best at. The Surface of the S3 has this rubber type feel, which I really liked, and can see it standing up to any studio punishment, and the two gooseneck PSU connections on the rear of the S3 (which I used in conjunction with some LED Gooseneck lights) I found counteracted the brighter default LED button settings in a darkened studio.
That’s not to say the S3 is perfect, there are many design ideas that I feel are a bit of a ‘hangover’ from the fact this used to be a Live Control Surface. For example, whilst seated I sometimes found it difficult to see the top row of OLED displays over the pots positioned just underneath them (although I have felt this using the C|24 as well). There is a slight angle on the S3, but an added extra height stand fitted underneath would resolve this issue immediately, providing a slightly better viewing angle. I used a few old copies of Sound On Sound, but there are other magazines that probably would work as well...
If you want smooth tactile faders, quick navigation by colour coding and clear screens in a convenient and compact form, then the S3 is for you. If you’re prepared to spend a few days or so experimenting with key commands under the Eucon software, then before long you’ll have a personalised controller that should grow with your needs and make you work faster ITB. To get the best out of the S3, don't guess to know what it does before trying one out, you may be surprised at what it can do and how it could improve your workflow.
If you are considering getting a controller for your setup and you want to see if this is the one for you, you can contact us and see the Avid Pro Tools S3 in action for yourself in our demo room.