Ten years ago Digidesign discontinued the popular Control|24 Pro Tools control surface. The Control|24 was launched in 2001...
... a mere six-years of availability compared to its successor the C|24, which launched in 2007. At the turn of 2018 the C|24 turned ten years old... and yes, you can still buy a C|24 today.
Over the last ten years, the C|24 has been pretty much in a class of its own in the control surface sector. There has not been any serious "like for like" rivals from other manufacturers that ever matched the C|24's feature set and/or price point. The C|24 then, it was a popular control surface - a control surface for Pro Tools without competition.
In this article I celebrate all that's good about the C|24 along with some well-documented problems in its design, I suppose we could call this a review of the C|24... all be it ten years late.
C|24 Main Features
- Hands-on access to main Pro Tools functions for recording, editing, routing, and mixing
- 24 touch-sensitive motorized fader with dedicated buttons for mute, solo, select, input monitor, record enable, EQ, dynamics, insert, send and automation
- 6 character (dual row) LED scribble strip displays that show track names, plug-in parameters, sends, pan and other using Pro Tools functions
- 24 rotary encoders with LED rings
- 16 preamps with high pass filters via DB25)
- 8 channel stereo line submixer
- Integrated 5.1 surround analog monitor system with trimmable inputs and outputs
- Built-in talkback mic and inputs for remote talkback and listen back
- External power supply
- Low-profile design
- Easy Ethernet connectivity
Why I Love The C|24
I started using Pro Tools when I was a student studying Music Technology. I was fortunate enough to learn Pro Tools using my college's Control|24 that was the centrepiece of their studio. I quickly discovered that I didn't like performing Pro Tools operations with just a mouse, I enjoyed reaching for faders and encoders as this felt more natural, more intuitive. Later in life, when I had the money, I purchased my first large Pro Tools control surface, the C|24. Prior to the C|24 I owned a number of small control surfaces (Digi 002, 003 & M-Audio Project Mix). The C|24 was a natural progression for me. It offered a Pro Tools control workflow I was familiar with along with extended control surface features.
What I love about the C|24 it has always enabled me to work quickly and efficiently. When I used to record full bands I could change multiple headphone mixes, groups, pan positions with ease as all the faders and send buttons were at my fingertips. Mixing has always been fun and engaging on the C|24. It's by no means a feature rich desk but it has everything I need for mixing in Pro Tools. Each fader (channel/track) have their own automation button that I use all the time to punch in automation on the fly. Each fader also features shortcut buttons the load up plug-in parameters on the desk for EQ, compression and other inserts. Send levels can also be quickly mapped to the desk as well via encoders or faders. Those short examples require no mouse intervention whatsoever, in fact, when a Pro Tools session is well prepared with plug-ins, routing and markers there really isn't much use for a mouse when mixing in Pro tools with a C|24.
I produced a premium video tutorial some time ago showing how I use my C|24 that you can view below if you are a Production Expert Premium Subscriber (You can also watch this video free for 7 days)
How Was The C|24 Better Than The Control|24?
In my opinion the C|24 wasn't "better" than the Control|24. Apart from a new flat design, the differences were hard to spot. I didn't consider the C|24 to be a major level up, it was more of a revamp and facelift. If the C|24 was a software product release it would have been a stretch calling it a 2.0 release, if the Control|24 was version one, the C|24 was version 1.5... at best.
2007 also saw the release of the mighty Digi 003 audio interfaces. This range included the Digi 003 Factory control surface. The Digi 003 Factory, like the C|24, also felt like a bit of a revamp. No real groundbreaking features were apparent in the Digi 003 but it did include some nice design touches that got carried across to the C|24 such as:
- Dual line scribble strip display
- Mushroom pots (love em or hate them)
There were really no changes introduced in the C|24's main workflow, mainly cosmetic changes, even the layout of the buttons was identical to the Control|24.
Who Used The C|24 & Why Was It So Popular?
Four simple words answer this - Seamless Pro Tools integration. The C|24 hooked into any tier of Pro Tools (LE, HD, M-Powered) via a single ethernet cable. Connecting via ethernet (HUI protocol) meant the desk could only be used in "control surface" for Pro Tools operation. To make full use of the 16 built-in pre-amp an HD I/O and Pro Tools HD system needed to be paired. Problem with this approach, which was offered as a bundle, and still is today as an HDX bundle, is that the preamps in the C|24 are by far the worst component in the unit. Let me give you an idea how bad the preamps are in my C|24 - In my unit, I need to crank a gain pot to full just to get a half decent signal into Pro Tools from a Shure sm57 on a snare drum that's being played fairly heavily. So if it's not the preamps or the terrible built-in monitor controller, what else made the C|24 popular?
Google image search "Avid C|24" or "Digidesign C|24" and you will come across page after page of these control surfaces in all different types of studios, big and small. Colleges and universities loved the C|24 because there were good educational discounts to be had, especially if purchased in an LE or HD bundle. Hardcore Pro Tools hobbyists and audio professionals alike loved the C|24 because the price wasn't unreasonable. If memory serves me right, the cost of the C|24 ten years ago was in the region of £7,000 inc VAT for the desk alone, not bad value considering that larger format control surfaces by Digidesign at the time cost upwards of four times that.
What Was Terrible About the C|24?
Low-profile Design: Ergonomically speaking, I was much better working on the previous Control|24 because of the tall upright design. Everything felt closer to hand whereas many buttons on a C|24 feel as though they are at the edge of my reach such as "Clear Clip" and "Meter Post" buttons.
Pre Amps: As stated earlier in this article, the preamps in this control surface are terrible. I've spoken with other C|24 owners/users over the years about this and they all agree that the preamps are utterly useless.
Monitor Section: The monitor section on a C|24 over promises and under delivers. All the main features one would expect from a top monitor control are included such as mute, dim, mono but there is one major problem with the main volume dial that I could never live with. The main dial for the control room monitor level is a continuous digital encoder that needs to be turned 360 degrees three times to go from lowest level to max. I've never come across anything like this in a pro audio product, it's bad and unintuitive, I'm surprised this dial ever got the thumbs up in RnD testing.
It Is Time To Say Farewell To The C|24?
Most definitely. Technology has moved on a lot! That said though, there have not been, and still are not currently, any C|24 alternatives available. If I was looking for a like for like C|24 I would have to invest a fair amount more money or sacrifice on features such as fader count and metering in order to get something close. When we finally say farewell to the C|24 there's a good chance we will also be saying farewell to a 24 fader motorized control surface workflow that was, for many users, a fun, intuitive and engaging Pro Tools workflow.
This unique Pro Tools control surface workflow was given to us through both the previous Control|24 and... still current C|24. I can't imagine, as the Pro Audio industry goes more touch screen that we'll ever have a workflow like the one the C24 provided, which I feel is a shame.