I often get to the point in a mix where having just eight faders & controls, on a small surface or touchscreen, starts to seriously impinge on my speed and efficiency. Personally, I don't find touchscreens, such as an iPad running the Pro Tools Control app, at all intuitive. I find myself constantly having to look at the touchscreen rather than the main playback screen or the Pro Tools Edit Window.
The solution would seem simple - get more faders. But things are rarely that simple at all. In my main setup and of course my mobile rig, work surface real estate is really at a premium and I need to have the flexibility of placement that having the fader units in blocks of eight brings.
When you need a compact control surface there are always compromises that need to be made. Has iCon managed to make these compromises in the right places? Are the Platform M+ and X+ the compact controller we should be buying?
What iCon Say About The Platform M+ and X+ Controllers With D2 Display:
Seize control of your productions with the Platform M+ DAW Controller, adding true tactile control via USB2.0 to your Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) and production system. The all-new Platform M+ is a MIDI control surface designed for producers, engineers and musicians who want the hands on control of a mixing console and the flexibility of modern “in the box” digital music production within a smaller physical workspace.
The compact size (40cm x 20cm x 4.5cm) of this DAW controller means it should fit comfortably into any studio setup. But, the Platform M+ is also designed to be the nerve center of your very own scalable, customizable, modular audio production system. Add the Platform D2 Backlit LCD Display Module to keep track of every parameter, channel and control value in your mix. Or expand your fader control up to 32 channels with Platform X+ expansion units. With Platform M, you can build the control surface that suits your needs.
Platform M+ and X+ Controller features -
Extremely compact, durable and versatile
8+1 touch-sensitive motorized faders with 10-bit resolution (8 on Platform X+)
8 dual-function encoder knobs (Rotate and enter)
ICON “Quick-Setup” driver is available for Cubase, Nuendo, Reason and Bitwig for instant plug & play
Mackie control built-in for Cubase, Nuendo, Samplitude, Logic Pro, Ableton Live, Reaper, Reason, Studio One and Bitwig
Mackie HUI protocol built-in for Pro Tools
iMapTMsoftware included for easy mapping of MIDI functions
Firmware upgrade available simply via USB connection and iMapTM software
Class-compliant with Windows XP, Vista (32-bit), Windows 7 (32-bit & 64-bit), Windows 8 (32-bit & 64-bit), Windows 10 (64-bit) and Mac OS X
USB 2.0 high-speed connectivity
Superior build quality and robust metal casing with Kensington lock port
Bundled with ICON edition Cubase LE and Samplitude LE
12V/5A power adapter included
Platform M+ extra features -
Jog wheel shuttle for fast search and control
Illuminated buttons for each channel including Select, Mute, Solo and Record (Platform M+ only)
6 illuminated transport buttons including Play, Stop, Record, Rewind, Fast Forward and Loop
Illuminated Zoom buttons with 2 direction keys; use in combination with the jog wheel
2 illuminated Track buttons for easy selection of different channels
2 illuminated Bank buttons for shifting channels in groups of 8
Platform D2 Display features -
Extremely compact and durable
Extremely simple installation to Platform M+ or X+ via FW400 style connection
2×56 large backlit LCD to display channel name, control values etc. for each channel
Adjustable tilt angle for different viewing position
Robust metal casing
The Platform M+ & X+ controllers come with a selection of pre-defined modes for the majority of the most popular DAWs, but if you want to create your own custom MIDI mappings and store them to your control surface, you'll need to download the iMap software from Icon's website.
Up until recently, this has only been available on Windows, but the iCon team have been hard at work behind the scenes and now Mac OS users can create their own custom MIDI-maps using iMap as well. Once you've downloaded and installed iMap for your device, you'll need to select the User Define Mode preset during the surface boot-up sequence, and open the iMap software on your computer. This will then allow you to customise the buttons, faders and knobs to your preference. Any MIDI message available within your DAW can be mapped, including FX parameters, on your DAW's plug-ins.
Fitting In Wherever You Are
This is my mobile Pro Tools rig, which is currently crammed on to my wife's John Lewis desk, in a corner of our dining room. This amount of workspace area is actually quite luxurious when you're on the move, so the compact nature of these surfaces and the modular nature really helps to not compromise on ergonomics, simply because you're "on tour".
All Good, But...
There's always a "but". In my case, I've had significant teething troubles. These have centred around iCon's iMap software and the firmware for the surfaces. I am now on firmware version 2.01 (the surfaces arrived with v1.07 installed) but had to roll back iMap to v1.04 to install the latest firmware. Issues on Windows included the surfaces just randomly locking out while playing back or even "dropping offline" in such a way that the Windows Device Manager could see them, but the iMap software or Pro Tools couldn't.
These troubles weren't confined to Windows either - when I attempted to install and use iMap 1.07 on my Mac and use it with the same surfaces, it sent the Platform X+ surface into total apoplexy with all its faders slamming open and shut. I shut it off as soon as I could, but it seems that it might have caused some damage to the motorised faders on the X+, as they now emit a high-pitched noise when moving.
All the way through this process though, the UK distributors who supplied the units - Synthax Audio, were absolutely superb and very supportive - constantly feeding my experience back to iCon, plus "dialing in" using Teamviewer to take a look at my host system, and getting me the latest firmware and software with lots of helpful technical information. We've now found a solution that seems to work long-term, so hopefully, iCon will be updating their public website and available firmware accordingly.
What Do We Think Of The iCon Platform M+ & X+ With D2 Display?
There's a lot to like about these surfaces and that's not just the price, which is extremely competitive. They are both very solidly built, with a good weight and liberal use of metal rather than plastic. All the buttons feel very solid and durable, though the text for the buttons is on the top, so I can see a potential for wear long term, on your most used buttons. The power button on the rear and the power socket all feel very solid and thankfully iCon uses the largest USB-A style connector rather than those flimsy Micro-USB ports becoming more popular these days.
The D2 displays fit on very firmly - iCon even supplies a tool for the job and they are connected using what seems to be a standard, albeit short, FireWire 400 cable. This means that if it should ever get broken or lost, you won't have to go back to iCon for a replacement. The displays are very bright, though the backlight contrast is adjustable via a pot on the back, using the supplied tool.
The faders feel smooth and there is adjustment for fader speed and touch sensitivity without having to use the host computer iMap software. At the top of each fader is a small LED that illuminates when it detects touch. These are very handy for setting up fader sensitivity. The faders are a little "chattery" when playing back, but that's to be expected at this price point.
One thing that's good to notice - when your DAW doesn't have a "master fader" (like Pro Tools), the ninth fader doesn't spring into life. On other surfaces with the "+1" fader, I've found this very distracting in the past.
Although the "Mixer" button works in Pro Tools - bringing up your Mix page, the automation controls don't seem to map to Pro Tools, using the standard HUI protocol control.
The rotary controls, including the jog/shuttle wheel, are very positive, but I feel that in their quest to give this positive action, iCon has made the notches a little coarse, which makes fine control using the rotaries or the jog wheel a little less accurate in my opinion. I don't feel I can scrub audio particlularly accurately using this scrub wheel. I feel this would be helped by removing the notches on the jog wheel action.
Unfortunately when using this in HUI mode with Pro Tools, you are limited to just four characters for your track names and Pro Tools doesn't seem to be able to access the top row of the display, so the only information you get using Pro Tools is the track name. No metering, no fader values, null indication or parameter displays, which is a real shame.
What's Our Verdict On The iCon Platform M+ & X+ Controllers with D2 Display?
Amazing Price Point - £724 RRP for the set reviewed, for 17 faders, 16 rotaries, transport and display (where your DAW can use it)
Smooth faders, decently spaced
Midi-Mappable using iMap software
Presets for MCU, Logic Pro and HUI protocols (as of firmware 2.00)
All leads, PSUs and assembly tools supplied
Adjustable fader sensitivity, speed and display contrast
Less transportable with the displays attached
"Chattery" faders during playback
Teething problems with iMap Software and firmware
Rotary controls too "notched"
Weight - if you need to travel with these then you'll certainly notice the weight, which is also a "Pro" in itself.
At the end of the day, this is a very cost-effective solution. As I said at the beginning of the article, when you're trying to cram this much into such a small footprint there are always going to have to be compromises. On the whole, the teething issues with iMap and the firmware were the only real crimp to my experience and with these surfaces, I feel that iCon have got the balance right. When you unpack and assemble these surfaces you do feel like you've got your money's worth.
So should I buy them? My own personal feeling is that for Pro Tools, the HUI protocol is now a bit too long in the tooth, but if you were using any other DAW that can fully exploit these surfaces' capabilities, then I would say Yes. Even with the HUI restriction with Pro Tools, it's been great having 16 faders and physical transport controls again, especially when I'm "mobile". And don't forget, if you only need 8(+1) faders with transport control, you can shave £354 off that total, or if you don't need transport and banking controls the X+ works perfectly well on its own.