Softube Console 1 Channel MK III promises console-like mixing in your DAW

Your DAW’s on-screen mixer mimics a real-world mixing console, but operating it with a mouse can feel like playing a piano with a snooker cue. Perhaps Softube can bring harmony to your sessions…

Softube Console 1 Mk III, tabletop

Softube Console 1 Channel Mk III, image: Softube

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Review Overview

Our rating

8

Our verdict

Exceptional hardware quality, design and execution
Genuinely recreates feeling of working with a mixing console
Easy to integrate with any DAW
Includes bundle of top-notch Softube processor models
Backward compatible with older Console 1 hardware and DAW projects

Price jump is justified but eye-watering
Bundled Core Mixing Suite does not include any mic preamp models

£869 (street price), softube.com

Rather than trying to solve every remote-control-conundrum thrown up by your average DAW, Softube’s Console 1 system focuses entirely on recreating the experience of working on a mixing console.

The system centres around a pair of hardware controllers. Console 1 Channel (the new version of which we are looking at here) arranges its panel of knobs and buttons into sections, much like the sections on a console’s channel strip (preamp, filters, EQ, etc.). And Console 1 Fader provides 10 motorised faders for controlling channel levels, panning and send levels.

The hardware connects to an app on the host computer and provides an on-screen display (OSD) reflecting the settings of the selected channel. This app connects to the Console 1 plugin that you load into any DAW channel you wish to bring under Console 1’s control. This plugin is essentially a duplicate of the OSD, hosting Console 1-ready processor and channel strip plugins and mapping their parameters to the hardware controls. This arrangement ensures the knobs on the hardware always map to the same (or, at least, very similar) parameters in the software.

Producer using Softube Console 1 Mk III
Softube Console 1 Channel Mk III, Image: Softube

Next-gen updates

Whilst of a similar size to its predecessor, the new Console 1 Channel has an entirely new look, with a darker, sleeker appearance, a refreshed layout of controls, and the inclusion of two 3 cm by 3 cm, high-resolution displays. These offer a range of different visualisations – VU meters, dynamics graphs, and such – that can be chosen manually, or that can switch automatically depending on the controls you are interacting with.

The rotary controls found in the new unit are quite special, being built around high-precision endless potentiometers that give a very direct, linear connection between the hardware knob and software parameters. In use, these rotaries are rock solid to the touch yet have a silky-smooth feel when turned. The current value for a knob is shown by a surrounding ring of LEDs that brighten as soon as you touch the control.

Softube Console 1 Mk III, side view
Softube Console 1 Channel Mk III, image: Softube

Softube has been busy on the software side of things too. When hooked up to the Mk III hardware, the system provides nine processing stages/channel strip sections, and the bundled Core Mixing Suite gives you a set of processors for loading into these sections. These new models replace the SSL 4K-based models that graced the previous versions of Console 1 in favour of a collection based on Softube’s existing collection of modelled vintage hardware. Most notable here are the inclusion of Softube’s FET Compressor Mk II, OPTO Compressor and BUS Compressor, all of which offer outstanding models of the original hardware and deliver a classy, vintage sound.

The suite also includes two EQ models, named generically as Vintage and Modern. The former is a vintage-style passive offering oozing with colour and character, whilst the latter is a much more precise affair, ideal for pinpointing specific frequencies. Additional channel strip packs are available, as are individual Console 1-ready plugins, all of which can be mixed and matched as you see fit.

Softube Console 1 Channel Mk III

Not all Console 1-ready plugins have parameters that precisely match the labelling and layout of the hardware, however, which runs counter to the Console 1 ethos. However, touching a control will reveal its parameter name and value on the nearest screen, and only controls that are in use have their LED surrounds switched on, all of which alleviates the problem somewhat.

The first channel strip section is an all-new Tape/Preamp stage for emulating analogue tape or a console’s mic preamp. Unfortunately, the Core Mixing Suite includes only a single tape emulation model… it’s a very good tape emulation, for sure, but we think it outrageous that the nearly £900 asking price doesn’t include a single mic preamp model! The Filter section follows, offering low and high cut with variable slope, and the ability to be routed to the sidechain of the Shape or Compressor sections.

Shape and Compressor, along with the EQ section that dominates the centre of the hardware control panel, are referred to as “middle” sections, and have been doubled-up in the Mk III system. That is, you now get two Shape sections, two EQ sections and two Compressor sections, with buttons on the hardware for selecting which is being controlled. These middle sections can be reordered in whatever way you like, allowing for some very flexible and powerful channel strips to be created. Things conclude with a Drive section and a set of channel controls (level, pan, mute, etc.).

Compatibility

The new Console 1 System software fully supports the previous generation hardware, and the new Channel Mk III works perfectly in conjunction with the original Console 1 Fader hardware (although it won’t be long before Softube releases the next-gen version of this as well).

As before, the updated Console 1 integrates closely with Universal Audio UAD plugins, but the details are a bit different to previously. The system will recognise, load and control any Console 1-ready UAD plugins, but it cannot control UAD plugins that are loaded into regular DAW processing slots.

There is, however, a new Apollo mode that enables direct control of the Apollo Console mixer. This allows you to load and control both Unison and standard UAD plugins directly within the Apollo Console, and control channel settings. Switching from regular DAW mode to Apollo mode is quick too, so you can flip back and forth as required.

Quality and class…and cost

The latest generation hardware is dripping with quality and class, with smart looks matching smart operation. It’s clear that no expense has been spared… but unfortunately this is reflected in an asking price that has more than doubled from the previous incarnation. Ouch.

Softube Console 1 Mk III, side view
Softube Console 1 Channel Mk III, image: Softube

It’s obvious enough what this extra money is paying for, but it places Console 1 squarely up against SSL’s DAW controller systems (which may explain why Softube dropped the SSL channel strip models it bundled previously). That system offers a similar knob-to-parameter tie-up when using SSL channel strip plugins, but can also function as a generic controller for any plugin or instrument. They’re different beasts, but it’s going to be interesting to see how the competition plays out!

In summary, though, despite performing a task similar to any other DAW controller, Console 1 really does deliver on its promise to recreate the intuitive immediacy of a full mixing console. So good is this recreation that, if you fully embrace the workflow, you can literally run an entire tracking or mixing session without once touching a mouse or looking at your computer screen. Everything can be done from the hardware, and everything is intuitive and easy.

Softube Console 1 Channel Mk III key features

  • DAW controller system
  • 2 USB-C connectors
  • 2 USB-C to USB-C, and 1 USB-C to USB-A cables included
  • Bus powered or external PSU (included)
  • Mimics repeating channel strips of mixing consoles
  • 27 high precision endless potentiometers
  • Dual 3 cm x 3 cm high resolution displays
  • Console 1 System software and Core Mixing Suite comprising:
    • Filters: 6db/oct, 12db/oct, 18db/oct, 24db/oct, 48dB/oct
    • Shape processors: Dynamic Shaper, Panner, Dual Dynamics
    • Compressors: Console 1 versions of Softube FET Compressor Mk II, Softube OPTO Compressor and Softube Bus Compressor
    • EQ: Modern and Vintage
    • Drive: drive stages from FET and OPTO compressors
  • Rackmount kit available
  • VESA mounting points on rear of unit
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