A monitor controller can save the day if there’s a sudden spike, but it’s more than just a glorified volume knob. If you get the right one, it’ll make switching monitors, alternating cue mixes, and checking mono compatibility much easier. But how do you find one that fills all your monitoring needs? Today, we’ll check out five of the best studio monitor controllers that can improve your workflow and keep your speakers safe!
Included in this guide:
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On the PreSonus Monitor Station V2’s back panel, the main inputs are two pairs of TRS jacks that you can hook up to outputs 1/2 and 3/4 on your audio interface as your “main” and “cue” sources. Meanwhile, the third input option is Aux, which supports RCA and ⅛” jacks for media devices. But you can also switch from Aux to S/PDIF digital inputs by simply pressing a button.
It’s worth noting that the S/PDIF support is a new update. The first version had an aux/phono input instead. On the flip side, the updated version is missing the external mic XLR input. So, you’ll have to settle for the built-in mic for talkback, which isn’t bad per se but just a bit limiting.
At the top of Mackie’s Big Knob lineup, we have the Studio+ controller which doubles as a 2-in/4-out USB audio interface with phantom power onyx preamps. But you also get other input options, including Aux and a ⅛” jack on the front panel for your smartphone. One minor design flaw here, though, is the 16-segment meter. The way it’s placed right above the big knob means that it can easily be obscured.
The Studio XL controller and 192kHz/24-bit audio interface offers a wide range of input options, but inputs 1/2 are the standouts: a powerful pair of Midas preamps with +48V phantom power. However, the volume knob is still the heart and soul of Studio XL. Rather than a conventional potentiometer, the control uses VCA with a high-precision amplifier circuit that can reduce quality degradation. Beyond the technical aspects, the graded knob design itself is a perk. It just makes it much easier to set exact levels and remember them for future reference.
Instead of having all headphone outputs on the front/top panel (for easier access) or at the back for better cable management), Nero’s design holds the stick in the middle. There’s one relaying “monitor grade” HP1 output in the front. Meanwhile, the remaining three (HP2–HP4) are tucked into the back panel and considered “foldback grade.”
For sources, however, you have line levels SRC1 and SRC2, a dedicated cue mix input, and “alt” options. Your “alt” source could be an aux (RCA or mini jack), optical, or coaxial S/PDIF input. All these sources are controlled with the volume knob, which despite not having numerical values, features reference lines.
The most affordable controller in the Big Knob series can handle two monitors and two sources on ¼” TRS connections (or a ⅛” input for source B). Then, on the main panel, you have one button that controls sources and another for monitor selection. This simple setup makes the controller perfect for streamlined A/B testing.
Although the controller looks compact and has a simple layout, it’s over 2 lbs. That’s because the construction and the knob itself is metal. So, there’s some truth to the “built like a tank” claim printed on the box.
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A studio monitor controller is a device used in audio production to manage the levels, inputs, and outputs of studio monitors. It allows for precise control over the audio being produced, ensuring high-quality sound playback.
In all-in-one controllers, the controls and I/O options are all on a single device that sits within reach on your desk. On the other hand, some models have a rack unit for the connections and a remote unit with the actual controls. The second format is mostly used in high-end controllers, so we focused on all-in-ones in our review.
Ideally, you want mute and dim buttons, a mono switch, and, of course, a volume control knob. Trims are a nifty bonus that can help you match the levels among the monitors. Having a talkback feature will also come in handy if you’re working with an artist in another room.
Aside from being generally cheaper and easier to work with, passive controllers have no electric circuitry, so they’re less likely to cause noise or distortion. However, using long cables can compromise this transparency.
Yes, many models have amp outputs. On Mackie’s Big Knob Studio+ and Behringer’s Studio XL, they’re labeled as “studio/phone amps.” However, on the PreSonus Monitor Station V2, you can use the “cue” line output jacks.
Even if you’re so serious about monitoring that you need three speakers and four headphones, the PreSonus Monitor Station V2 won’t disappoint. But if you’re willing to give up a couple of headphone outs in exchange for mic preamps, the Mackie Big Knob Studio+ would be the way to go. And if you like the sturdy chassis on the Mackie but don’t need all the bells and whistles, then you can’t go wrong with the excruciatingly simple Big Knob Passive.
Hopefully, having a controller within reach will remind you to check the mono compatibility!
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