studio | tech

the joy of synth

Steinberg CC121 Hardware Controller

My recording facility is pretty retro, containing predominantly old-school analogue gear and, well, stuff that requires hands-on operation. Always a plus point if you ask me; I’ve always struggled to understand how musicians and artists use a laptop and not a whole lot else to craft their work. Not a whole lot beats a load of knobs, sliders and colourful, blinking LEDs to assist in your workflow.

The one part of my setup that has traditionally been sadly bereft of any hardware control is the heart of the whole system – my Digital Audio Workstation, which I’ll refer to as the DAW for the rest of this piece to save time and energy..!

I’ve been using Cubase, the famed sequencing software, to create my music since 1993 or thereabouts, kicking off with the first version for Windows, v3.0. Whilst Cubase has continuously improved the features and the GUI since then, I’ve always been solely reliant on a QWERTY keyboard and a mouse to manoeuvre and navigate my way around the interface.

On the whole, this has been manageable, but when you’re using third party soft-synths and some of the smaller virtual knobs and sliders in Cubase, it can get to be a little trying.

My old mate, Simon File, who also owns a small facility near where we live, uses Logic as his DAW. He’s recently invested in a hardware controller; and it’s totally revolutionised his workflow; I have to admit to a certain amount of gear envy. So, I started looking around for a suitable controller for Cubase, and after doing some research, chanced upon the fabled Steinberg CC121, a dedicated controller for the Cubase environment.

What I couldn’t understand though was Steinberg’s decision to discontinue the CC121. It was launched in 2009 or thereabouts in a joint venture between Steinberg and Yamaha to acclaim from reviewers and musicians alike… but they stopped making it in 2021, due to ‘difficulty in sourcing’ components. Confusingly, it’s still listed on the Steinberg website as a current piece of gear.

Either way, I’ve spent at least a month trying to track one of these down in the UK. They’re hard to find in ‘as-new’ condition because those who got on board when they were available, justifiably don’t want to let go of them. Also, secondhand resale values are increasing all the time, so when a mint example popped up on, I bought it. 

The seller, Chris, was a lovely guy, providing good comms and also agreed a slight reduction on the £400 asking price. It arrived this last weekend and I’ve spent two or three days with it since – absolutely no regrets whatsoever! It worked beautifully straight out of the box; integration is, as you’d imagine, seamless and the main selling point for me is the AI knob – a unique feature which allows the user to control anything within the DAW once their mouse is hovering over it. 

So for something like, for instance, Ohmboyz (a must-have soft-delay unit which has tiny virtual controllers) this is already proving to be an absolute godsend. 

And, for an ergonomics freak like me who’s almost bordering on the obsessive, it’s sitting in a perfect position, right between my mouse and my mammoth Mackie 32 8 board. This piece of equipment will get a lot of use!!

For those of you who are interested, or have 10 minutes of your life to spare which you will never get back, here’s a fellow gear-freak espousing its excellence.