Do I need a studio monitor controller?

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Do I need a studio monitor controller?

studio monitor controller in action
Words by Paul French

How a studio monitor controller can streamline your workflow.

If you have followed us through this month’s monitoring content, one recurring theme that you have hopefully picked up on is the importance of workflow and efficiency and what this all means in the context of the home studio. Taking a refined, thought out approach to monitoring is, for many self-recording artists, one of the first true ‘lightbulb’ moments on their path to creative freedom in the home studio, but it is by no means the last.

Bear in mind that when I say ‘creative freedom in the home studio’ I’m not talking about freedom at a compositional or even a performance level either—that’s entirely on you. What I am talking about is having the relevant workflow to execute these creative ideas, start to finish, as originally intended (and in a way that ensures that none of the finer details are lost in translation when played back in the real world.)

Read up on all the latest interviews, features and columns here.

This is as much about process and logistics as it is about audio quality and needless to say, the implications that studio layout and organisation have on musical creativity are massive, subtly guiding our habits and steering our decision making in ways that we aren’t always completely conscious of.

Traditionally, this was the allure of the commercial recording studio—a purpose built, acoustically trustworthy facility, where efficiency and ease of workflow were absolutely paramount.

In these kinds of professional environments, the studio is seen as less of a canvas and more a sophisticated network of integrated systems and optimised workflows, designed to allow for maximum creative momentum at the artistic end. Gear is acquired in relation to how seamlessly it can be integrated into the broader system and the comparative time to sonic reward that one purchase is likely to yield over another.

For those operating the control room, the end goal is simple, to have as much of the studio’s inner workings accessible at the touch of a button or the turn of a knob as possible, with the lion’s share of the studio’s equipment being permanently patched in and reachable from the listening position at all times. This is why the classic studio presents something like the cockpit of a Boeing 747, the irony being that a more streamlined workflow actually requires the acquisition of more (not less) gear.

recording studio console

It’s in this context, that dry peripheral items like patchbays, switches, remotes and monitor controllers are so highly valued. They are the vital, tactile link that connects all of these disparate workflows together in a simple and straightforward manner.

While the idea of having separate control and live rooms, a 48 channel Neve console and racks and racks of coveted, colourful outboard might be a distant pipe dream for most, one simple universal workflow that we can all borrow from the world of professional studios is the gradual integration of multiple monitoring options into our playback system, and to have these options patched in and easily controlled from a single, transparent centre of operations.

British company Drawmer have long been on the forefront of such studio peripherals and the brand’s excellent MC and CMC product lines have emerged as a bonafide industry standard for this kind of control interface.

Building off the stellar reputation of the highly coveted MC series (a product line noted for its incredibly accurate and critical output capabilities), the new CMC range takes this same circuitry and applies it to a line of bespoke desktop options, perfect for the maturing home studio setup.

cmc2 drawmer monitor controller

With 2 stereo balanced jack inputs, plus a 3.5mm jack for your smart phone/MP3 player, complete with variable level control for your reference tracks, the CMC 2 compact monitor controller is as its name describes, a nimble, introductory model that takes up very little in the way of physical footprint, but boasts a wealth of I/O flexibility.

Supporting two sets of stereo monitors plus a sub-woofer (each with individual switches so you can activate them in any order) the CMC 2 has enough outputs to accommodate your ever growing monitoring needs, as you move further afield and into an increasingly sophisticated listening setup.

The CMC 3 takes it a step further, with the ability to switch between three different pairs of monitors plus a mono sub or single Auratone etc. It also pairs multiple headphone outs and a built-in talkback mic, perfect for communicating with the talent, for when you inevitably start looking to introduce some separation into your sonic forays. Key mix check features such as Phase Reverse, Mono, Dim & Mute are also included, in turn allowing for maximum control at the listening position.

One of the more important and often overlooked aspects of the on-board monitoring circuits found on cheaper interfaces or low end monitor controllers is the likelihood of unwanted colouration coming from what is supposed to be an extremely accurate, impartial component within the studio chain.

Drawmer pride themselves on an incredibly accurate and transparent output, utilising active components designed to faithfully reproduce the audio signal whilst removing many of the problems often associated with cheaper passive circuits. This means that provided your monitors, room and converters are up to par, you can be confident that you are working from as accurate a vantage point as possible, and it’s this kind of professional ‘measure twice, cut once’ mentality that really saves you time and allows you to get lost in the more cerebral, creative and fun elements of music making, which is where we get back to this notion of ‘creative freedom’ in the studio.

Going into a recording or mix situation with a plan (preferably one rooted in science and logistics) always provides a far better platform for creativity than doing a million blind A/B comparisons on a single set of monitors (only to then have those ideas fall apart the minute they are played outside the studio). This is where a setup featuring multiple monitors (and a simple, trustworthy monitor controller) can offer so much to the budding engineer.

The ability to be able to cross check mix decisions across multiple playback devices at the touch of a button and to be able to alternate between different options for things like panning, full-frequency work and the inevitable honing in and chiseling out of problematic mid-range frequencies is something that is vital to maximising your studios potential.

While on paper it might not seem as romantic a prospect as acquiring a new synth or effect, an investment in transparent control peripherals will always inevitably yield better results from anything else you choose to integrate into your workflow thereafter. Having such a strong foundation to work from is truly invaluable.

Products like the Drawmer CMC range really put the ‘control’ in ‘control variable’ by providing a sonically transparent, tactile interface for all your monitoring requirements- now and in the future, and in that regard are a logical and utilitarian step towards ultimate freedom in the recording studio.

Check out the Drawmer range of monitor controllers here.