Behringer has made its forays into MIDI-based mixer control surfaces before, most notably with its BCF and BCR devices providing, respectively, faders and rotary controls. These devices suffer from Universal Control Surface Syndrome. In wanting to be all things to all DAW software, they end up being only partially functional for most.
The X-Touch Compact USB MIDI Controller represents an attempt at an upscale control surface, including a holy grail of its class — long throw, touch-sensitive motorized faders.
To really make for a luxuriously tactile mixing control surface, faders such as these are essential. Like many DAW controllers, the X-Touch Compact handles banks of 8 channels at a time. Motorized faders and LED collars on rotary controllers reflect individual conditions for each channel as a user moves back and forth between channels. Budget controllers offer fader and rotary control, but without changing feedback, there’s no way to add fine tuning control.
For example, if Fader #1 on a non-motorized control surface is pulled all the way down while the bank is set to channels 1 to 8, channel 1 will, of course, be muted by that fader. Switch channel banks to cover channels 9 to 16 and channel 9 will play at the previously set level, but the moment you touch the fader, the channel’s level drops to match the control surface fader level. There’s no ability to tweak pre-existing levels. It’s an outright reset.
A controller such as the X-Touch Compact avoids this by using servo motors to move fader position to match the current level for the channel under its control. Continuous rotary knobs reflect current status by way of LEDs around the knob changing to match current settings. Potentially, it’s an elegant solution.
For equipment geeks who understand MIDI control codes and MIDI Learn functions, the X-Touch Compact may well provide a good solution. Solutions aren’t limited to audio either. Any place a control device uses MIDI CC could benefit — applications such as effects and even stage lighting can be controlled by MIDI, given the right hardware interfaces.
With a street price under $400, the X-Touch Compact has potential as one of the most affordable motorized mixer control surfaces on the market. To take full advantage of it, however, you too must either be an equipment geek or be ready to become one.
While this control surface has a lot features to offer, support is not one of them. There are rewards, but you’ll have to work for them.
As with any MIDI control surface, whether for performance or mixing assistance, the X-Touch Compact does not connect directly to audio in any way. It deals only with MIDI, either as a standalone controller using 5-pin MIDI in and out ports, or as part of a USB DAW controller, using a Type B USB cable.
There are two additional Type A USB ports for connecting to devices such as a computer mouse and other controllers like synth keyboards or performance pads. One interesting connection that Behringer illustrates in the Quick Start guide is via MIDI cables to an X-Air wireless mixer, giving it hardware control capability.
Other possible connections are ¼-inch jacks for expression pedal and footswitch. No wall warts here, the X-Touch Compact has an internal power supply, requiring an IEC power cable.
All of that is straight forward for a control surface, better equipped than many. The X-Touch Compact is class compliant, so no drivers or lengthy setup is needed when connecting with a computer. The device is sensed and incorporated immediately, via USB. Selecting the controller in DAW software is about all you need to do to make the connection.
Unfortunately, that’s not all you’ll need to do to take full advantage of its controls.
Behringer has not bothered to create a User Manual for the X-Touch Compact beyond a bare bones, four-language Quick Start guide. Again, experienced MIDI users won’t bat an eye, since the guide includes a diagram outlining MIDI CC information.
A user with less experience or perhaps diving into a MIDI controller for the first time may be in for some frustration. There are no DAW software maps or templates. While MIDI is a standard protocol, DAW apps are not, and so each uses MIDI as it deems best. Usually, with some routing and mapping, anything using MIDI can place nice with anything else using MIDI, and that’s the case with the X-Touch Compact. It’s the routing and mapping that turns many users away from control devices.
For well under $100, the Korg nanoKontrol offers many similar functions to the X-Touch Compact, in basic, plastic form. Really, the two devices are not the least bit comparable after that. There’s no motorized faders or LED collars on the Korg, just some basic navigation and limited parameter control. Yet, it becomes a much more useful device in that it is mapped to handle most major DAW software. Simply hold a key combination when powering the nanoKontrol and it is ready to work with the DAW of your choice.
The closest that the X-Touch Compact comes to presets is Mackie Control mapping. That’s about all an experienced user needs to know, since they’re probably familiar with selecting Mackie capable control surfaces within their software, and also able to program other controls on the X-Touch to match needed functions.
Users who have no knowledge or interest in this level of MIDI detail… well, the X-Touch Compact is a bit “take it or leave it” for them. The Behringer device has an interesting two-layer mode, one serving DAW mixing and the other providing instrument control. While there is a MIDI editor available for re-routing the X-Touch controls, there are entire communities of musicians and other users who don’t want to fuss with this. They want devices to work out of box with, say, Ableton Live now and perhaps Bitwig later on. Switching a template with a keypress at power-up is okay. Delving into a software editor is not.
For a control surface at this price point, I think the X-Touch Compact should have better plug-and-play capability, more closely matched to the major DAWs, and easily selectable between them.
This is a well-built device, which is why it’s a shame there’s not better support for it. Behringer missed a chance to build brand loyalty through well-thought support materials. Any time a piece of equipment leaves a user feeling helpless, it’s not just the device that suffers, but the company’s reputation as well. Behringer has done much admirable work providing musicians with quality, low-cost alternatives over the years. The X-Touch Compact could have been another notch in their belt, but it does fall short.
The faders feel good for the motorized variety and the overall build is impressive. Eight channel faders and one master fader make for an intuitive layout, and with four buttons per channel strip as well as a rotary knob, there’s lots of parameter adjustment potential. The transport section is located well and full featured. The X-Touch Compact has the feel of a more expensive control surface.
Users are just as polarized as I expected, but there is some revealing testimony in even the rave reviews. Imagine if your car was only 75 percent driveable. Would you still rank it 4 stars out of 5? Such is the state of universal control surfaces that with some DAWs, having ¼ of the controls doing nothing is a remarkable success. Users have been lulled by industry inaction, I think.
Even among the positive reviews, users ask for patches, maps and more out of Behringer. Many see the potential and know enough to make their own adjustments. These are the happiest users. Others returned theirs, citing the fact the X-Touch Compact seems under supported. Checking Behringer’s site at time of publication, it doesn’t appear the cavalry will arrive any time soon.
A well designed and well built device, the Behringer X-Touch Compact USB MIDI Controller seems poised to drop off into obscurity. This is unfortunate, because it does have wonderful potential, and those who make the effort to incorporate the unit into their setups report workflow improvements and mouse atrophy, since so many DAW functions move to the X-Touch.
Weekend warriors, focused on making music and not setting up equipment, rightly feel somewhat abandoned. As I tested the X-Touch, I wanted more. Not a lot more, just enough to make use of what was already there in hardware terms. The potential you can unleash from the X-Touch Compact depends on your dedication.
For the committed, I recommend this device. For those who eschew tech complications, I do not.