On this page you can find frequently asked questions on: "Monitor Controllers".
- Active or passive monitor controller?
- Why cant I use my control surface?
- Doesnt a small mixer do the same as a monitor controller?
Active or passive monitor controller?
Its relatively straightforward to manufacture a passive controller with just a volume pot, but features such as mono switches and headphone amps need active circuitry. As with anything, to a certain degree you get what you pay for, and good quality active circuitry tends to come at a cost, so its sometimes better to opt for a passive rather than active controller if youre on a restricted budget, as you will generally get better audio quality for a given price. As an alternative, some designs maintain a passive path for the main signal, but use active circuitry for a headphone amp. If you want anything but the most basic features though, youll have to go for an active design, but remember that every switch and potentiometer colours the signal to some extent, so unless you can afford the very best quality, you might want to choose something that has just what you consider to be essential, rather than go for the model with the longest spec list.
Why cant I use my control surface?
The control surface is an invaluable piece of equipment found in numerous project and large-scale studios, offering control of various parameters of your DAW software. So why not just use one to act as your monitor controller? One reason is that as the control surface is only controlling your software and not the audio directly, it will not be possible to use it to rectify any horrible digital noises caused by crashes or freezes of your DAW - no amount of knob twiddling will protect your speakers from digital meltdown! Of course there are also more obvious benefits to the monitor controller which are not available on the control surface such as accommodating multiple audio inputs from CD players and master recorders, and also many of the other features mentioned earlier in this guide. Having said all this, some high-end hybrid controllers are now starting to appear with analogue monitoring sections built in.
Doesnt a small mixer do the same as a monitor controller?
A regular small mixer will be adequate for some set-ups, and features such as mic pre-amps and EQ can be useful additions, but using a mixer in this manner adds unnecessary length to the monitoring chain, and can colour the signal as it is routed through EQ and gain controls - leaving an EQ section flat does not mean that the signal is unaffected. If youve used the same mixer for a number of years, its possible to be aware of the effect that your mixer has on the sound and to compensate for it. This is not ideal, but can work if youre on a tight budget, although of course most small mixers will not offer the kind of feature set found on even an averagely specified monitor controller.