If it fits your budget I’d say the Avid S3. I got one very recently and it’s brilliant. I’ve had various controllers in the past (I’ve owned Mackie Control Pro, Avid Artist, Steinberg CC121, Steinberg CMC and also had brief experience working on an SSL Nucleus and an Avid D-Command) and I can say that with the exception of the D-Command (which is WAY more expensive and does not work with Cubase) this is without shadow of a doubt the best one. The Eucon protocol is far superior to MCU. Just the fact that MCU is limited to 6 characters for a track name makes it so irritating to use as far as I’m concerned and besides that, Eucon is just better integrated/more flexible and powerful.
I had a few connection issues with the Artist series (I run Windows 8.1 FYI). Perfectly workable but It would occasionally lose connection and I’d have to quit Cubase or sometimes restart the computer. The S3 has been rock solid. The only times it’s lost connection is when I’ve been editing Soft Keys in Eucon but if that happens you can just restart the Eucon driver and connection is restored within about 10 seconds (no need to restart Cubase). It’s not lost connection at all aside from that, including switching between different sessions/applications frequently. This improved stability may be due to the updated Eucon software that came out the day I got my S3, I’m not sure.
If you like the general working methods of the Artist series, you will love the S3. Same general style but just much better. Having two rows of control knobs/LED screens means that you can control lots of stuff at once. e.g. you can have all the sends displayed on one row at the same time as having all the parameters of a plugin displayed on the other.
The multi colour LED’s alone probably make it worth the extra cost over the artist series. A simple feature but it makes the controller so much more useable. I always colour my channels the same way. e.g. drums are red/orange. Synths are green. FX channels are purple etc. It’s much quicker to find the channels you are looking for with the coloured LED’s when you have a very large project.
Also, for the upper row of coloured LED’s, which allow you to select EQ/Inserts/Sends etc… I have changed my Cubase colour preferences to match the S3 colour scheme. e.g. my Cubase EQ curves show in purple, the inserts are turquoise, the sends are yellow. Not necessarily the prettiest setup but it does save your brain a fraction of a second each time you see something on screen and want to access it on the controller. It’s these kind of details that make you want to reach for the controller rather than thinking ‘it’ll be quicker with my mouse’.
The compact form factor is also a plus. Having the 16 faders all together is better than having 2 x Artist Mix, with a big gap between the 8 faders. I have my computer screen directly behind the S3 and you can zoom the mixer so that 16 channels on screen line up with the 16 faders of the S3 so you have a wealth of visual feedback and control.
I’d say this is the best Cubase controller out there unless you can get into the price league of Yamaha Nuage Avid S6 which means putting an extra zero on the price tag.
The one thing I dislike about the S3/Artist series is that when you hide channels on the Cubase mixer, they still show on the controller. If Steinberg could change this, it would really add to the power/speed of these controllers. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that they’ll sort it out in the next Eucon adaptor update.