An Overview of Trackballs and Why Studios Love Them

 In TSM Studio Blog

Your first time entering a commercial studio can be overwhelming for a number of reasons. Whether you’re stunned by a control room jampacked with analog processors riddled in British engineering slang, an absolute mammoth of a console that you can’t seem to wrap your head around, or a mic locker that dizzies you with bewilderment, it can be a whole lot to take in.

But perhaps another perplexing component among all of the other incredible gear is that oddly-shaped trackball that’s either built into the console or stationed next to the computer keyboard. Among all the questions I’ve received while engineering, clients tend to favor asking, “why do you use that funny looking mouse?”.

 

So, what’s the answer?

Well, there’s tons of reasons that trackballs are the most practical and preferred options for use in post-production facilities and commercial studios across the globe.

The first being ergonomics. In a career path that consists of endless hours spent editing, it’s not uncommon that mouse users can report arm or neck strain as a result of RSI (Repetitive Strain Injury). The inclusion of a trackball in your work setup allows for maximum comfort while working for long hours due to the limited range of motion necessary to navigate across a single or dual monitor setup.

Additionally, because trackballs remain stationary at all times, they’re simply the best option for anyone operating in a cramped workspace. In order to optimally use a traditional computer mouse, it’s a necessity that you have sufficient space to make broad mouse strokes. 

Unfortunately, in most recording studio setups, space is limited. Consoles and outboard gear tend to occupy the bulk of a control room, leaving little space for the engineer to freely move around. When you pair sizeable equipment with large recording sessions that can consist of 10 or more artists, producers, musicians, engineers, and guests, it can get really overcrowded, real fast

Because control rooms can get stuffy, audio engineers are typically delegated a fairly small workspace that needs to be comfortable and efficient enough to carry out recording sessions at a favorable pace. This where the advent of a trackball truly proves to be a gamechanger. Whether you use a thinner, vertical shaped trackball mouse like the Logitech Trackman or a slightly bulkier alternative like the Kensington Expert Mouse, a few inches of width is all you’ll need to operate. 

 

In the event that an artist, producer, or another engineer present in the recording session would like you to “pass them the mouse” to make a quick edit, trackballs are also advantageous in this situation because the pointer will remain steady even if the physical device is moved, unlike a traditional computer mouse.

 

Pros and Cons of Using a Trackball

As with anything tech-related, there are certainly advantages and disadvantages associated with trackballs. Below I’ve created a list of pros and cons that can assist you with making the decision about whether or not transitioning to a trackball mouse is beneficial for your specific needs.

 

Pros:

  • Excellent for the elderly, disabled, or injured user seeking to minimize strain on the hand, wrist, neck, or arm
  • They facilitate productivity for those that consistently work in tight spaces
  • They’re an industry-standard mouse that you will find in most commercial recording studios and post-production houses. If you find yourself frequently studio-hopping, becoming acclimated to trackballs will save you from having to carry around your own mouse (although I’m sure you’ll quickly find your preferred trackball design that you carry to and from sessions)
  • Curser movement and buttons are separate, allowing for a minimized chance of misclick/error.
  • The hand placement and motions native to trackballs simply seem to “work” better for some users

 

Cons:

  • If you intend on using a trackball for gaming, although some users report positive results, most feel that they’re able to be more responsive while using a standard mouse
  • For certain tasks, computer mice can feel far more efficient than trackballs depending on the type of strokes you’re commonly performing
  • Trackballs can cost far more than standard mice and are deemed a niche market
  • Although there’s a limitless number of computer mice available on the market, trackball options pale in comparison
  • You’ll have to explain your ridiculous-looking mouse to all of your clients

 

 

In Closing…

Although I have to admit that I was initially hesitant to make the switch from a computer mouse to a trackball, I find that I’ve become more and more cognizant of how each design offers their own benefits given the circumstances. Despite the learning curve that new trackball users experience, they can be a worthwhile investment in your physical health and situational needs. You will likely find yourself using traditional computer mice for certain tasks and a trackball for others, but that’s why both options remain relevant. 

Carrying both a trackball and a computer mouse from studio to studio can allow you to adapt your workflow to suit each and every recording session, making both options equally viable. Hopefully our overview of both devices has provided you with more insight as to why people love or hate trackballs, and perhaps even inspired you to go out and give them a shot!