Monitor Controllers 2010THE MISSING LINK IN THE DAW STUDIO 5/21/2010 12:56 PM Eastern
Not so long ago, the product category for monitor controllers didn’t exist. Back when most studios had physical mixing desks, consoles provided control room volume pots; switches for selecting multiple listening sources; speaker muting, mono and dim; and outputs for a second/third set of monitors—all essential elements of the production listening process.
Now the game has changed with some working in a hybrid production environment, in which a DAW is paired with an analog or digital console, and others working with just a computer, interface and speakers. In the former situation, these basic chores are easily accommodated with many DAW controllers and mixing worksurfaces that include master section functionality. But for those who work in a near-virtual setup, from a laptop or desktop scenario, monitor controllers can simplify their lives.
In investigating more than 60 current monitor controller offerings on the market, which are listed in the chart on the following pages, we discovered units to fit nearly every need. These range from systems featuring elaborate control room facilities and multichannel stem busing/routing to the minimalist straight-wire approach of passive-level controllers, such as those offered by A-Designs, Coleman Audio, Genelec, NHT, SM Pro Audio and TC Electronic.
Systems designed for surround production may be packaged as simple volume-only boxes or they can be rather elaborate, with stem routing, extensive LFE/bass-management processing, dialnorm support, inserts for connecting external Dolby and/or DTS encoders, or onboard encoding circuitry. In many applications, fold-down mixing is a desirable option, offering the ability to hear your 7.1/6.1/5.1 creations in LCRS or stereo with a single button-push, providing a quick reference check that gives you a real-world reflection of what may happen to your mixes as they play back in various formats in the consumer chain.
Going well beyond the scope of a basic control system, several products—including the JBL MSC1 and KRK’s Ergo—have incorporated acoustical/room analysis and correction circuits into their monitor controllers. And some monitor systems, such as Dynaudio Acoustics’ AIR Series, offer optional proprietary remotes that provide fingertip level/solo/mute tweaking, so your first call in researching a controller might just be with the manufacturer of your existing speakers. But whatever your requirements, with a little effort you’re sure to find the right system for your studio.
Mix executive editor George Petersen also runs a small record label at www.jenpet.com.