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The Top 5 Best Studio Monitor Controllers Of 2024

January 26, 2024 
BY DAN SPENCER
Last Updated on January 26, 2024

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:

ImageProductFeaturesPrice
Best Overall
PreSonus Monitor Station V2

PreSonus Monitor Station V2

  • Powered controller
  • 3x3 source monitor I/O
  • 4 dedicated headphone outs
4.6
Check Price
Runner-up
Mackie Big Knob 4x3 Studio Monitor Controller

Mackie Big Knob 4x3 Studio Monitor Controller

  • Hybrid controller and audio interface
  • 4x3 source monitor I/O
  • 2 dedicated headphone outs
4.4
Check Price
Top Pick
Behringer Studio XL Monitor Controller

Behringer Studio XL Monitor Controller

  • Hybrid controller and audio interface
  • 4x3 source monitor I/O
  • 2 dedicated headphone outs
4.8
Check Price
Top Pick
Audient Nero Desktop Monitor Controller

Audient Nero Desktop Monitor Controller

  • Powered controller 
  • 4x3 source monitor I/O (+dedicated sub output)
  • 4 dedicated headphone outs
4.5
Check Price
Lowest Price
Mackie Big Knob 2x2 Studio Monitor Controller

Mackie Big Knob 2x2 Studio Monitor Controller

  • Passive controller
  • 2x2 source monitor I/O
  • No dedicated headphone outs
4.4
Check Price

Related Article: The Top 5 Best Studio Monitors On A Budget


The Top 5 Best Studio Monitor Controllers

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.

Pros
  • Four independent headphones with flexible routing options
  • Sleek interface with a smooth volume knob and an easily readable 8-segment meter
  • Hefty 6-lb body that won’t budge from your desk
Cons
  • Doesn’t support external mics for talkback
  • Having the headphone outs on the top panel makes it harder to control the cable mess

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.

Pros
  • Indicator lights show you if the phantom power is one and affecting channels 1/2
  • Minimal sound coloration
  • Solid, sturdy buttons that are hard to miss or press accidentally
Cons
  • Can get warm, especially on the big knob
  • Awkwardly placed meter

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.

Pros
  • True VCA control stereo tracking for more precision
  • Super-quiet USB I/O to reduce hums
  • Full-scale gain metering LEDs (not segmented)
Cons
  • Buttons aren’t super comfortable

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.

Pros
  • Perfect channel matching with an electronic stepped attenuator chip
  • Switchable +48 phantom power on the external talkback mic
  • Smart Touchpoints for quick configuration customization
Cons
  • On the pricey side

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.

Pros
  • Doesn’t need a power source at all
  • Maintains audio transparency
  • Sturdy metal chassis with an intuitive five-button interface
Cons
  • Can’t use it for mains and subs at the same time (it’s either source A or source B)
  • Doesn’t support talkback features
  • Doesn’t have an output meter

Related Article: Top 5 Best Studio Subwoofers To Enhance Low End In Your Mixes


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What is a studio monitor controller?

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.

What are all-in-one monitor controllers?

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.

What features should I look for in a monitor controller?

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.

Are passive monitor controllers inherently better?

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.

Can I connect a headphone amp to the controller?

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.

Product Recap

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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"Some of the links within this article are affiliate links. These links are from various companies such as Amazon. This means if you click on any of these links and purchase the item or service, I will receive an affiliate commission. This is at no cost to you and the money gets invested back into Audio Sorcerer LLC."

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