Studio monitor Controllers: a short guide

Studio monitor Controllers: a short guide

When starting out with the building of your recording studio, you probably ended up with a pair of monitors, a pair of headphones and a soundcard. As time goes by and experience grows, however, you’ll probably need to expand your system and add more monitors or more signal routing possibilities. The monitor controller allow you to rack up complex setups and a lot more. Let’s find out what they are used for!

Monitor Controllers typical uses

Multiple Speaker Setups

It’s not unusual to find multiple sets of monitors inside recording studios. The typical scenario involves at least a pair of near-field monitors, a pair of mid-field monitors and a few other types, such as cubestyle monitors or lofi monitors.

The different monitors really help to understand how the song translates to each system and how good (or bad) it sounds given different speaker sizes and variations (distance, sound pressure and so on) – mastering is all about making the song sound just as good on a 4000€+ surround home system as on a 200€ smartphone.

In this case, the monitor controller comes in handy for switching between the speakers without having to physically reach for the on/off buttons behind the monitors.


Mono, Stereo, Surround

Checking a track in mono is a useful trick, done for decades by countless sound engineers – and the monitor controller allows you to do that with the flip of a switch!

Also, for soundtrack and motion designer, surround mixing (5.1) is no mystery and the monitor controller quickly allows you to mute the specific parts of your setup (left, center, right, surround left, surround right, sub) independently: Let’s hear those organ pipes, Mr. Hans Zimmer!


Subwoofers Control

Adding to the previous point, we should mention that the sub satellites can be turned on and off independently with a monitor controller. This is super useful to check how the low end behaves on your mixes.

A lot of subwoofers available on the market will allow you to switch them on and off with foot switches, but the monitor controller takes this a step further by allowing you to use the subwoofer with any speaker set you have in your studio. Also, the sub/LFE function allows you to choose which frequencies are sent to the sub bass and which ones are sent to the mains. This is called independent crossover.

Lastly, many subwoofers include foot controllers and built-in crossovers, but without a monitor controller you wouldn’t be able to use the sub with more than one set of speakers.


Cue Mixes

Monitor controllers are useful both for the control room and the live room, offering configurable and totally independent headphone mixes, with a built-in (in most cases) headphone amplifier (which really helps to push the signal a bit) and the talkback mic.

The talkback mic is a tiny little microphone built inside the interface that allows you to communicate with the band wearing headphones – they will hear your voice over their headphone mix, allowing you to speed up the process without having to mime the message, behind glass, that they have to play the bridge part one more time.


Input Selection

Additional inputs are the holy grails of professional monitoring: the ability to monitor other sources through the same pair of monitor such as cd player, tape machines or other sound sources is a godsend for creativity. However, not every recording interface has that many additional I/O.

That’s where the monitor controller becomes crucial, adding flexibility to your setup. Some controllers, such as the Mackie Big Knob, also have built-in pre-amps on those inputs, allowing you to use those aux in for recording purposes.


Which controller should I get?

Depending on your budget, you may find a suitable product by browsing our huge selection of monitor controllers, which is found right HERE.

You will find nice offerings such as the JBL Nano Patch Plus, the Palmer Monicon and the Mackie Big Knob Passive under 100€, but beware: these products are passive, and will not work with passive monitors that require an active component before them, feeding the signal in.

Moving up you will find nice options such as the Presonus Monitor Station, the Audient iD22 (that works both as a monitor controller and as a recording interface) and the renowned Mackie Big Knob Studio.

Up to the high-end price range, it’s impossible not to mention the SPL SMC 2489, perfect for surround-lovers and sound designers, SPL 2Control (with a total analogue design) as well as the Crane Song products, such as the Solaris.


To sum it up…

Controllers are useful for:

  • switching between multiple speakers
  • turning subwoofers on and off regardless of which monitor set you’re actively using
  • total control of your mono, stereo and surround space
  • additional inputs for monitoring
  • talkback mic and headphone amplifier for the live room


What’s your monitor controller of choice? Do you have any questions about the topic? Let us know with a comment!

Author’s gravatar
Simon's passion for music generated a long time ago, and led him to become a guitarist and self-produce his music with the band Onyria.

One comment

    Great blog, can you tell me which controllers have a crossover or sub/LFE function as you call it?? I can’t seem to find any on your websites

    I would like to be able to choose which frequencies go to the sun and monitors. Thanks

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