Presonus FaderPort vs. Frontier Design AlphaTrack

Until recently, if DAW users didn’t want to record and mix using a mouse or a laptop touch pad, their only options were large and relatively costly control surfaces. Then, Presonus introduced the FaderPort ($229 retail/$149 street), a compact USB device that provides a single high-quality fader and basic transport and control functions. Frontier Design followed suit with the AlphaTrack ($249 retail/$199 street), a different take on the same concept. Which device rules?
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Presonus focused on the fader, opting for a motorized, touch-sensitive, 100mm Alps unit with an impressive 1024-step resolution. (Unfortunately, it requires a wall wart for power.) A dedicated Pan knob and Mute, Solo, and Record buttons are located along the top of the unit, and five standard transport controls are located along the bottom. Midway are buttons for Channel Select, Fader Mode (including a handy Off button), Window View, Shift (which doubles the functionality of six buttons), and Undo, along with a User button and a few multi-function buttons such as Loop/Marker. There’s also a footswitch jack for punching in/out.

Frontier Design took a different tack. Although the AlphaTrack also has a motorized, touch-sensitive, 100mm fader (which doesn’t require an external power source), apparently it accounts for less of the overall cost, allowing more resources for other features—several of which are significant. There’s a 32-character backlit display that provides lots of information—including track and parameter names. There are three touch-sensitive rotary encoders that can be turned, pushed, or both, and operate in five Modes—Pan, Send, EQ, Plug-in, and Auto—along with a Flip button that swaps the fader for one of the encoders. There are four (eight with Shift) user-assignable buttons. And there’s an ingenious Touch Strip that enables you to jog, shuttle, and jump between markers using one or two fingers. A footswitch jack for punching in/out is also provided.

I detected a slight but appreciable difference in speed and precision between the FaderPort’s fancier fader and the fader on the AlphaTrack, and if ultra-high resolution is critical to your work that may be a deciding factor. You may also be happy to trade deeper features for ease of operation and a lower price. But for me, that slight loss in fader precision is more than offset by being able to see what I’m doing on a display, touch or tap the strip to jog/shuttle and navigate position markers, grab a knob to change multiple settings, and so on. In the end, the AlphaTrack’s more robust feature set, and the fact it doesn’t require the use of an external power supply make it the better option. In fact, it is so impressive that it receives an Editors’ Pick award.

Frontier Design AlphaTrack
Many innovative and well-implemented features.
Concerns Slightly cramped and indistinct controls that aren’t illuminated.
Contact Frontier Design Group, (800) 928-3236;

Presonus FaderPort
Smooth, precise fader. Clearly visible buttons (some illuminated). Handles all basic transport and fader-automation functions.
Concerns No display. No dedicated jog/shuttle capabilities. Limited user programmability. External power supply needed.
Contact Presonus, (800) 750-0323;