I've tried a bunch of stuff over the years, and the most productive I've been has been using Reaper with an ordinary mouse and keyboard. IMO, the issue is that DAW software is written and tested by guys who drive it with mice and keyboards. The control surface is grafted on as an afterthought, and never feels quite right.
For a similar price to a control surface and audio interface, you can get a standalone multitrack recorder that records to SD card, the direct descendant of the old Tascam Portastudio. Some of these can also be used as a control surface and multi-channel audio interface for a DAW.
The Frontier Design Alphatrack is a cheap and cheerful controller that I used to use with my old recording rig: Pro Tools LE and a Delta 1010 interface. It worked well enough, except for the ribbon controller which I never got the hang of.