The Focusrite Control 2802 is a 32 channel, Small-format analog mixing console with fully-integrated DAW controls. The console handles analog signals, just as a standard live mixer would, but it seamlessly integrates the Analog signals with your digital equipment. What you end up with is a mixer and a DAW controller that can do pretty much anything you ask of it, to an extremely high standard.
At the heart of the Control 2802 is the set of 8 Class-A Mic PreAmps, the kind that made Focusrite a brand to be reckoned with in the first place. Not to mention one of their high-end compressors, sitting right on the mix bus. As you might expect, the quality of the Control 2802’s analog electronics is top notch, and if you plan to use it as a straight-up analog mixer, you won’t be disappointed. However, the 2802 is described as “dual-layer” and it’s that second layer that really makes it something special.
Any of the knobs, faders and buttons on the 2802’s comprehensive control surface can be used to manipulate any of its analog inputs or outputs in real time, or, they can be assigned to equivalent controls within a DAW application. This allows you to create two kinds of input signal, with any of the 2802s controls. For instance, motorized faders are always a popular inclusion, and here they can be used to blend and manipulate analog audio signals in real time, or to create digital automation tracks for your DAW. It’s compatible with all the usual suspects. Logic, ProTools, Cubase and Nuendo. The routing options available are best described as “intimidating.” Because of the dual nature of the 2802, you can connect it to your system in a huge variety of ways. You can use one of the D-Sub connectors to attach it to up to three different A/D converters, each supplying a different bank of channels, or you can wire it into your hardware using the audio inputs, chained to any external effects or compressors. The flexibility on offer is mind-boggling. Fortunately because of its ability to perform so well in either analog or digital mode, you can really take your pick without being led more toward one or the other. However you like your setup to run, the 2802 will put in a world-beating performance.
This sort of feature set is generally only seen on much larger, professional studio setups. The A-B outputs allow you to flip between multiple monitors to ensure your final mix sounds good on any type of speaker setup. You can solo the front channel to fine-tune vocals or central instruments. This feature set suggests that the Control 2802 is designed for those producing music for an audience, not so much the bedroom tinkerer.
The 2802’s price tag is by no means entry-level, but it’s important to consider the wealth of features on offer here. Things like LED channel meters, a VCA bus compressor, an OLED display, the aforementioned ALPS motorized faders. There is a lot of high-end machine on offer in one sturdy, wedge-shaped package. While I wouldn’t describe its $5,000 price as “budget,” it certainly does offer striking value for money.
If it’s within your price range, and you’re looking to step up from a more basic DAW setup, the Control 2802 is a difficult contender to count out. It certainly has competition from the likes of Mackie, Allen & Heath, Presonus, SSL, and the SoundCraft’s impressive SI Expression, but this type of analog/digital hybrid device is a fairly new niche, and all the manufacturers are still finding their feet. Focusrite’s offering is user-friendly, well-equipped and competitively-priced. Above everything else though, it has the clear, expansive sounds that I’d expect from Focusrite gear.