In my downtime I occasionally trawl the net for quirky second hand studio gear bargains on sites such as eBay, Reverb and Gumtree. In these lazy Sunday afternoon searches I don’t really look for anything in particular as I only ever want to get a general sense of what’s currently floating around the used market. Second hand gear such as microphones, channel strips, consoles and outboard processors all hold their values quite well especially if whoever is selling the gear lovingly looked after it while owning it, though these sorts of listings aren’t what I consider to be used bargains. There’s a different category of used studio gear that I feel is within an affordable price range that seems to get me salivating all over my computer keyboard… used legacy Pro Tools control surfaces… Am I mad?
In recent years the value of used legacy Pro Tools control surfaces has dropped. Take the D-Control as an example. This was once Avid’s flagship “top of the rung” Pro Tools control surface which cost in excess of £60k a little over six years ago. I found a used 2013 16 fader model that includes an XMON and surround panner, all in full working order, for around £10k including taxes. That price is of course still a sizeable investment, though it is at a more attractive price point compared to current large formant style control surfaces of this type such as Avid’s S6. For control surface nerds, such as myself, this sort of used studio gear listing is extremely tempting.
It’s a similar story with the D-Control’s baby brother in the ICON family of Pro Tools control surfaces. A used 24 fader D-Command which includes the main 8 fader unit along with a 16 fader pack in good condition could be yours for under £6k.
There are of course a number of risks that need to be taken into consideration if you intend to buy a legacy control surface:
Condition: Control surfaces live hard and demanding lives. People sit in front of these for hours on end punching buttons, throwing faders, filling all the crevasses between the fader slits with dust and debris… In short, control surfaces that haven’t been cared for do fall into filthy states of disrepair quite quickly. Second hand buyers beware! Never commit to buying a used control surface off the internet without first seeing it in the flesh first as it’s so important to check that all the faders work and are smooth in operation, that every dial, encoder and button works as intended.
Spares & Repairs: Replacement parts for legacy control surfaces can be difficult to source. Let’s say a handful of faders stop working at some point in the future, will you be able to get replacement parts? Should you stock pile some spares incase of faults?
Future Compatibility: Control surfaces are in essence just large computer peripheral devices. They are driven completely by software and as we all know software support for any type of hardware does eventually come to an end. No computer peripheral is safe from this eventuality, control surfaces are no different, though you’ve got to think a head and consider you could feel if you did drop nearly £10K on a used legacy board to discover that your investment was locked out of the next version of Pro Tools.
Do you feel the price of these second hand boards represent good value for money with all of those risks taken into consideration? Let’s not forget that Avid has a chequered past when control surface compatibility is concerned. Years ago when Pro Tools 11 launched an entire army of Control 24 & Pro Control users were shocked to discover their prized legacy boards were no longer supported in Pro Tools. This saga muddied the waters, Avid control surface users lost trust in Avid over this move in a blink of an eye. Could this happen again? Could Avid cut the umbilical cord of compatibility for these ICON units in a future version of Pro Tools? There’s no way of knowing if this will happen or not. It could very well be this fear in the pro audio community that has been driving the prices down in the used market of these once expensive flag ship control surfaces.
The fear of a control surface being locked out of Pro Tools isn’t exclusive to the ICON range of Pro Tools control surfaces. Most legacy boards are at risk of one day not working yet many still function perfectly with current day versions of Pro Tools, like the Digi 003 that I own and still use. This was released back in 2007 and works flawlessly with current versions of Pro Tools. It shouldn’t work but it does, as you can see in the video below…
There’s been quite a bit of development of late from Neyrinck who has rescued two legacy Pro Tools control surfaces from the scrap heap, those being the Control 24 and Pro Control boards that we mentioned a moment ago. Like the Phoenix rising from the ashes, Neyrinck’s software enables these legacy boards to not only work with current versions of Pro Tools but also work other popular DAW’s which previously these desks were not capable of doing:
Just goes to show that if a control surface is still in working order then there’s no reason to abandon it, if it ain’t broke n’ all.
This does beg the question, could Neyrinck one day save the ICON boards as well in the future if compatibility with Pro Tools stopped?
Back to the main question in the title of this article. Would You Buy A Second Hand Legacy Pro Tools Control Surface? Taking into consideration all of the risks I wouldn’t hesitate buying one if the right board came along at the right price, but that’s me, I’m a control surface super nerd!