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First Look: Solid State Logic UF8 USB DAW Controller
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First Look: Solid State Logic UF8 USB DAW Controller

It seems that even though we’re all used to using a mouse, keyboard, trackpad or touchscreen to mix 'in-the-box', there’s still a desire for the more ‘hands-on’ traditional mixing experience. Nothing beats the intuitive nature of  faders, dedicated channel controls, mute and solo buttons, or navigating a track using transport controls. MIDI Control Surfaces are a great way to replicate the feel of using a real mixing console. However, they can sometimes turn out to be an additional complication, lacking in features or difficult to set up. 

We're pleased to inform you that this is not with this new control surface from Solid State Logic...


It’s called the UF8 – a sleek new desktop control surface for specifically designed to give you full, hands-on control of your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW for short). 

We’re here to take a first look at UF8, and outline some of the clever features that make it a valuable asset to any studio or home recording setup. We can already tell you it’s a really easy to setup, and will have you convinced you're sat in front of a real mixing console.  

Need more convincing, then by all means, continue...  

 

How does UF8 work with your DAW?

Before we talk at the UF8 itself, lets quickly explain (in simple terms) how it integrates with your DAW. We can’t stress this enough - UF8 makes the process of adding advanced controls to your in-the-box setup very simple. 

It communicates over USB-MIDI, using either the MCP (Mackie Control Protocol) or HUI (Pro Tools) control protocols. Both of these are protocols used to help map DAW commands for a number of control surfaces.

All you have to do is assign the DAW profile of your choice to the UF8 using the new SSL 360 software (more on that later) and then change a couple of settings in your workstation's preference panel. 

That’s it. No assigning knobs, and no complicated MIDI stuff. You’ll be ready to mix in a matter of minutes!  

Full setup instructions are included in the manual, and there are also videos on Solid State Logic’s YouTube Channel (coming soon) that explain the process.


UF8 is compatible with the following DAWs on release:

  • Pro Tools
  • Logic  
  • Cubase / Nuendo
  • Ableton Live
  • Studio One











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The Overall Build Quality

Solid State Logic are known worldwide for their high standards of quality in design and manufacture. UF8 is no exception to this. 

UF8 is housed in a sleek metal chassis, with a brushed anodised top plate that matches the Fusion, SiX, and SSL 2/2+. It has a considerably small foot print, ideal if you don't have a lot of desk space. It measures 430mm x 265mm x 40mm (approx) with clean cut edges so it can sit squarely alongside other gear.



UF8 comes with two metal feet that act as a stand, allowing you to alter the rake angle. They are fixed in place with metal bolts can be attached in a number of positions. This can be pretty handy for saving space, as well as your neck! Once attached they feel incredibly sturdy. The rubber feet are height adjustable so that the UF8 will always sit squarely, even on an uneven surface.

UF8 is also the right size for mounting in a 19" rack. You can purchase the optional rack mounting ears and slot it in with the rest of your rack gear. It takes up 6U space, which coincidentally is the same amount of space in the centre section of the SSL Origin Console, funny that!


Connectivity

Hidden underneath the UF8, you have all the connectors you'll need. There’s USB-C for connecting UF8 to your computer. Next to that, there's also a USB-A connection labelled 'Thru'. You can use this to link in another UF8, or for other USB peripherals such as a wired keyboard or iLok. It's worth noting that you can use up to 4 UF8's in a system, giving you 32 channels at your fingertips! 

UF8 needs mains power to operate, so of course there's a power input for the external supply. Last but not least, we have 2 foot-switch connections which can be used with a momentary switch pedal to control additional functions or shortcuts.

As you may have gathered, the UF8 is a solely a control surface, therefore it doesn’t have any audio connections.  

The TFT LCD Screens

You didn’t think you’d get away from screens entirely, did you? 

Each of the 8 channels on UF8 has its own dedicated TFT (thin film transistor) LCD screen. It displays useful information in full colour & high definition. They play a big part in helping you to keep track of whats going on in your mix, so you don’t need to keep going between the computer and the control surface. These screens show metering, track names, V-POT readouts, track record-arm states and more.  

Having this extra information in front of you is really important for making the UF8 feel like a physical extension of your DAW. Especially when you’re dealing with track counts that extend beyond the 8 faders, which is more than likely.

 

Faders, V-Pots & Channel Controls

Now we come to the most important part of the UF8 – the channel controls. UF8 is loaded with 8 x 100mm touch sensitive high quality motorised faders. They provide a high degree precision and sensitivity when controlling your DAW. By default, they are assigned to channel volume,s but they can also be switched with the V-Pots using the 'Flip' button to control Pans, Sends and Other Parameters.  

This brings us to our V-Pots – a set of 8 touch sensitive endless encoders used for a number of functions. Typically, they’ll default to pan, indicated by the PAN button on the right. But they can also be used with a number of other parameters & plugins controls too.

Accompanying the Faders and V-Pots, we have the 3 channel buttons – Solo, Cut (Mute) and Sel[ect]. Solo and Cut do what you'd expect them to - soloing and muting channels. The SEL button brings the channel into focus within your DAW. It also has some secondary functions, accessed using the Selection Modes on the right:

  • Norm – Normal Track Selection
  • Rec Arm – SEL Key becomes record arm
  • Auto – SEL key becomes automation selection (Pro Tools Only)

These buttons on the right side can also be used as modifiers, depending on the workstation you're using. When held, you can clear Solos, Mutes and zero faders.  

 

Navigating Your DAW with UF8

The UF8 allows you to reduce the time you spend using mouse & keyboard when mixing, or maybe even put them to one side if get really savvy! Navigation controls play a big part in this, as I’m sure you’d probably agree. A lot of time is spent moving back and forth between edits on the track timeline, or scrolling through channels on multitrack mixes.  

UF8 has a ‘Channel Encoder’ and ‘Cursor Keys’ to help with this. They can both be found on the bottom right of UF8. The Channel Encoder can be used in 4 different modes:  

  • Channel (default) – Allows you to scroll through channels 1 by 1. If this isn’t quite fast enough for you, you can also flip through banks of 8 (or more depending on how many UF8s are connected) by pressing the ‘Bank’ buttons underneath.
  • Nav – Controls the ‘playhead’ of your project, so you can scroll through the timeline to any point to make edits, start playback, or set up for 'punch-in' recordings.
  • Nudge (Pro Tools only) - Allows you to move selected audio regions back & forth by the value set within Pro Tools. 
  • Focus - This essentially turns the encoder into the scroll wheel of your mouse. So for any action within your DAW that would require you to scroll on the mouse, you can now use this encoder instead.



The Cursor Keys are also useful for navigating projects. When the centre button is lit, these keys are used for timeline zooming, with vertical zoom on up/down and horizontal zoom on left/right. If you press the centre button again, the cursor keys get a second function. This function varies depending on the DAW you’re using. For example, you can use them in Pro Tools to move between edit points in audio clips. In Logic they’re used to scroll between parameters and functions in the mixer view.

Send / Plugin Controls

On the left side of UF8 you’ll find the Send / Plugin Controls for you DAW. The function of this section is determined entirely by the music software that you’re using, but for the most part they allow you to select sends and plugins assigned to a channel.  

Let's use Pro Tools as an example. If you press the ‘Channel Button’ below keys 1-8, the UF8 gives you immediate access to Aux Sends A-E across the first 5 V-Pots. It also adapts its look so that you know you’re working in channel mode: The selected channel is highlighted on the TFT screens, and the SEL buttons on the channels turn purple.  

Sticking with Pro Tools, if you were to now press the ‘Plugin’ button, the first 5 inserts are now laid out on the plugin buttons above. For the selected channel, you can choose an insert, and edit its parameters using the V-Pots or Soft Keys. Additional controls for the plugin are spread across pages which you can cycle through with the page buttons.  

As this is a first look, we’re not going to cover functionality across every DAW in detail. To see how UF8 works with each DAW, why not check out the User Manual (link coming soon).


Automation Controls

One of the main reasons for using a DAW controller like UF8 is to record automation to a track using a physical control in real time. The results when using a control surface often sound more natural, when compared with drawing in the automation with a mouse. UF8 allows you to set up automation recording with ease, by using the Automation buttons on the bottom left of UF8.  

As with some of the other controls, these buttons function differently depending on the workstation that you're using. We’ll carry on using Pro Tools as the example for our first look. 

When you press the ‘Auto’ button found in ‘Selection Modes’, the SEL buttons choose which channel you want to set automation for. Then simply select the desired automation mode in the bottom left and you’re ready to go. The automation mode is clearly indicated on the TFT screens so you know where you’re at – very handy!

SSL 360 Software

With the arrival of UF8, SSL have also developed a new configuration tool to tie everything together - SSL 360. It's so closely linked, that UF8 even has a dedicated 360 button to launch it! This makes it super easy to access, and with good reason - 360 allows you to tailor UF8 to your exact needs. 

 

 

When you open SSL 360, you’re presented with a window that shows connected UF8(s). From here you can quickly access information about devices – serial number and location for example. If you have multiple UF8s connected, clicking one will flash the screens on the selected unit, so you immediately know which one is which. It even has quick links to SSL Support if you’re having any issues!

Now let's dive into the configuration side of things...

 

 

DAW Profiles & Layer Select Keys

SSL 360 allows you to assign DAW profiles to the UF8, making it easy to set up control for the workstation of your choice. There are 3 layer tabs that you can assign with different profiles, and these correspond with the Layer buttons on the UF8. This allows the UF8 to switch between 3 DAW layers at once, which is great if you move between a few workstations. 

What’s most impressive about layer tabs is that you don’t need to re-configure the UF8 when switching workstations, just select the layer you need and you’re away! There is some additional setup required in your DAW, but SSL 360 helps you there as well, showing you which of the 12 virtual MIDI ports are assigned to each layer, so you can set it up correctly without the tedious guess work.

 

 

Quick Keys & Soft Keys

UF8 has a decent number of user configurable commands that you can assign using SSL 360. There are 5 user banks for the 8 soft keys above the screens, giving you a total of 40 assignable buttons. For any more regularly used controls, such as play/stop or mixer view, you have 3 Quick Keys that are immediately accessible, next to the layer controls.


You can assign common DAW commands or keyboard shortcuts to these buttons. It's worth noting that the keyboard shortcuts can be stacked together on one button. For example, you could set up a button command that adds a new audio track and automatically names it for you. These commands can be renamed however you like, and appear on the upper portion of the screen when the soft key banks are selected.  

Once you’ve set up your custom commands, you can save your configuration within SSL 360. You can use this with any UF8 at any time. This is really useful if you go to work on a different UF8, or if you work on a system shared by other users. Simply load up your control profile and you’re DAW commands are exactly where you left them. The customisation options are vast and simple to configure, making UF8 adapt to your workflow with ease.


In Summary

The UF8 Control Surface is a clear indication that Solid State Logic is still thinking about those of us that are regularly working away from the studio. It ticks a lot of boxes for those mixing on the computer who need physical control. It makes a great centrepiece for small workspaces, or equally an excellent addition to a larger professional studio. It puts a lot of power at your fingertips, and let's be honest - nothing quite beats the musicality of controlling physical faders!  

It’s fair to say there are already a few DAW controllers out there, but the professional quality and ease of use UF8 is hard to beat. Especially with those large colour TFT screens displaying all the information that you need.  

Although it may not completely eliminate the need for a mouse & keyboard, makes a lot of mixing activities quicker & easier. It adds those useful controls and quick shortcuts to make your in-the-box mixing workflow feel far more efficient and, most importantly, fun! 


Thank you for taking the time to read this First Look at the Solid State Logic UF8. For more information on the UF8, please visit our product page

To find out more about Solid State Logic’s other audio creation tools, visit our dedicated brand page.

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This new blog is presented by the team at Sound Technology Ltd, a leading distributor of musical instruments and pro audio equipment in the UK and ROI.