Recording - September 2014 - 28

meet the

Monitor controller
controller. Some folks prefer that it be left out of the
package, simply because it's easy to "add value" to
an otherwise good-sounding monitor controller by
throwing in a cheapo headphone amp. If all you
have is one source (like an audio interface) feeding
multiple sets of monitors, you can plug your phones
directly into the interface and avoid the issue.
If your monitor controller is expected to accept multiple input signals, however, then a good built-in headphone amp becomes critical; the monitor controller lets
you listen to all of your signal sources from the same
place. Almost every active monitor controller will have
at least one headphone output; most will have two,
often with separate level pots, and a few will offer multiple headphone outs, combining a monitor controller
with a headphone distribution amp. A good example
of this is the PreSonus Monitor Station V2, reviewed
elsewhere in this issue; it offers four headphone outs
with individual source and level controls.
Don't let the fact that a monitor controller has too
few headphone outputs be a dealbreaker for a controller that's otherwise perfect for you. In a pinch,
you can always run one headphone out to a separate distribution amp.
Controls
Almost every monitor controller on the market has a
primary volume knob that's much larger than all the
other controls so it's easy to grab in a hurry. This
design feature was first popularized by Mackie's aptlynamed Big Knob controller, which was reviewed back
in January 2005 but is still selling well today.
Monitor controllers will almost always have a Mute
button close at hand to silence the outputs. Almost as
common is something called a Dim button; this turns
down the monitors by a certain amount but doesn't
mute them completely. This is very useful for situations
where you might have to talk to someone in the studio while keeping one ear on the audio playback.
Some controllers preset the amount of dimming (say,
by 20 dB); it's getting more common nowadays to
provide a knob or trimpot to let the end user decide
how much the Dim button does, from a dip of a few
dB down to near or total silence. One controller, the
Radial Engineering MC3 (reviewed May 2012), only
has a Dim function; its Dim level can be set to silence,
effectively turning it into a Mute.
Another critical feature is the ability to sum a stereo
input signal to mono to make sure there aren't any
weird phase issues that might prove problematic
later. This might be accompanied by a Phase switch
to listen to both channels with their polarity inverted.
28

RECORDING September 2014

If a controller has a separate Subwoofer output (be it mono or stereo), it
will usually have an on/off switch so mixes can quickly be auditioned with
and without the sub. This isn't always needed, especially if your studio's sub
has a good bass management system built in, but for certain subwoofer
setups it can be vital. David Bryce explains a bit more about this in his article on subwoofers elsewhere in this issue.
Some monitor controllers will include the ability to export a cue mix to a
set of special outputs. Others add a talkback mic whose signal can be routed to the cue mix. For the recording musician working alone, this is irrelevant, but if you're trying to replace the feature set of a big console and need
a way to talk to your artists in the control room (and feed them a monitor signal to play to), these functions will come in handy.
Many higher-end controllers offer unique and often quite useful extra features. One example is the Drawmer MC2.1 (reviewed September 2013),
which has Cut buttons for left and right signals in addition to a Mono button, so you can listen for specific issues in one channel or the other. Another
is the Dangerous Source (reviewed February 2014), which has a comprehensive set of controls for selecting and mixing sources with programmable
buttons, not to mention dual D/A converters and built-in USB connectivity for
direct monitoring of DAW output. And at the very high end are units like the
Grace Design m905 (reviewed March 2014), which offers a multitude of
I/O options, heavy-duty features like word clock sync, and even a remote
control with SPL display.
In general, you should think about any and all of these features and keep
a checklist of the ones that are vital to you. When you buy, look for a unit that
covers all your bases if possible; that one feature that you know you'll need
but that you skip in order to save a few dollars will come back to haunt you...

Form factor
Form factor is engineering-speak for the shape of a product. One of the
fun (and frustrating) things about monitor controllers is that there's no set
shape or design layout that's critical to their operation. Unlike, say, rackmount signal processors or 500 Series modules, they're not restricted to a
particular set of dimensions, so they can be designed to suit the manufacturer's ideas of what's best for the studio.
Two of the most common entry-level monitor controllers out there, the
Samson C-Control and the Behringer Minimon, come in a stackable half-rack
form factor. They are compact boxes with all the controls on the front panel
and all connections at the rear, able to fit into very tight spaces at the cost of
smaller and harder-to-grab controls. Mid-level devices are usually designed to
sit on a desktop and present their controls in a spacious and easily-navigated way; the aforementioned units by PreSonus, Mackie, and Drawmer all fit
into this category. They often have tapered top panels with the main volume
knob prominently featured, and keep jacks (and trimpots) safely out of the
way on the rear panel. The Grace m905 has so many connections it requires
a rackmount enclosure with a separate remote. And the MC3 is designed into
one of Radial's famous indestructible folded-steel enclosures, so it can be used
as a weapon if you're attacked by a crazed client.
What you choose is going to be a matter of taste; if you've found a controller that does all you need, just make sure it's laid out in a way that works
in your studio. A desktop unit will need to sit near at hand, but will have a
lot of cables coming out of the rear panel and running everywhere; be sure
your studio setup allows for that.



Recording - September 2014

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Recording - September 2014

Contents
Recording - September 2014 - Cover1
Recording - September 2014 - Cover2
Recording - September 2014 - 1
Recording - September 2014 - 2
Recording - September 2014 - 3
Recording - September 2014 - 4
Recording - September 2014 - 5
Recording - September 2014 - Contents
Recording - September 2014 - 7
Recording - September 2014 - 8
Recording - September 2014 - 9
Recording - September 2014 - 10
Recording - September 2014 - 11
Recording - September 2014 - 12
Recording - September 2014 - 13
Recording - September 2014 - 14
Recording - September 2014 - 15
Recording - September 2014 - 16
Recording - September 2014 - 17
Recording - September 2014 - 18
Recording - September 2014 - 19
Recording - September 2014 - 20
Recording - September 2014 - 21
Recording - September 2014 - 22
Recording - September 2014 - 23
Recording - September 2014 - 24
Recording - September 2014 - 25
Recording - September 2014 - 26
Recording - September 2014 - 27
Recording - September 2014 - 28
Recording - September 2014 - 29
Recording - September 2014 - 30
Recording - September 2014 - 31
Recording - September 2014 - 32
Recording - September 2014 - 33
Recording - September 2014 - 34
Recording - September 2014 - 35
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Recording - September 2014 - Cover3
Recording - September 2014 - Cover4
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