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12 Best Studio Monitor Controllers 2022: Monitor Management 101!

What does a studio monitor controller do? Here's why it's such an essential studio accessory...

If you want complete control over your sound (no Native Instruments pun intended), then to invest in the best studio monitor controller you can get your hands on, would be a wise move.

We personally like to think of them as ‘Audio Interface 2.0’ – a helpful add-on that takes the capabilities of an AI and expands them even further! For those who’re after the most in-depth level of monitoring (mix engineers for instance), monitor controllers truly are the holy grail. Maybe even a necessity!

Want to adjust the volume of each studio monitor independently? Or perhaps feed two versions of the same mix into two independent studio monitors? With some of the best studio monitor controllers you can do just that. Not to mention adjust the level of specific headphone outputs, the level of ‘kick’ given by your subwoofers or even govern the level of talkback in-between you and an artist in the booth.

All very clever stuff, that for any workflow-aholic is a complete god-send! However, not all studio monitor controllers are that straight forward. In fact, if you’re after the best studio monitor controller for your setup, you’ll be hard-pushed to do it in one. Which is why we’ve picked apart 13 of the best studio monitors on the market. That way you should be able to clearly suss which is right for you in a matter of minutes. Sound like a plan? All you have to do is read on.

After something specific about studio monitor controllers and how they relate to your setup? Or just curious what is the best monitor controller for mixing? Use the menu below to get all the answers you need in just 1 click…

The best studio monitor controllers @ a glance…

12 of the best studio monitor controllers you can buy

1: TC Electronic Level Pilot X

Level Pilot is a sleek, large volume solution that integrates quickly into any active speaker configuration with little clutter and cords. Consequently, you’ll have simple and precise control over your settings exactly where you want them. Level Pilot ensures that the volume is precise whether you’re a dedicated enthusiast taping in the bedroom, a musician with a tiny home studio setup, or working at a professional recording facility.

It has a solid, ‘slip-free design to fit into any recording or live setting without an additional power source, and it uses a quad-core cable to reduce clutter. Its durable and sumptuous aluminium design keeps it visible and available at any time, and it fits realistically into any music composition and editing setup, improving and enriching your productivity wherever you go.

2: JBL Professional Active-1 Precision monitor controller

The ACTIVE-1 provides smooth A/B changing of speaker systems and input sources and USB I/O, enabling direct digital sound playback and recording when paired to a computer sound system. It also has four inputs and outputs, two headphones amp, and a great built-in talkback mic.  

The ACTIVE-1 provides comprehensive sound monitoring functionality, including precise volume control, mute, mono summing and dim, and tracking of four stereo inputs via four stereo sources of outputs. In addition, the ACTIVE-1 is engineered to give decades of worry-free functioning, with a solid metal body and a resilient array of controls and secure contacts.

The ACTIVE-1 is the ideal answer for a wide range of studios producing applications, thanks to its footswitch talkback capability, condenser microphone, and customizable routing. It also possesses USB output and input. It measures 13.0 in. x 7.5 in. x 5.0 in W x D x H. 

3: Mackie Big Knob Studio+ monitor controller

The Big Knob series now includes three devices, allowing studios of every size to benefit from the real professional source/monitor choices and accurate level control, making the original a successful option. Plus, with the inclusion of elevated USB Onyx playback and recording, studios will have a strong hybrid system that is greater than its components. Sure, we all understand the Mackie Big Knob is indeed the world’s most popular display controller.

It offers a flexible USB 2×4 recording interface. It possesses a dual boutique-excellence Onyx mic, including phantom energy for condenser headsets or microphones. It fits with all major DAW on windows and MAC. 

4: ESI Esmoco passive studio monitor controller

It’s a passive monitoring controller within/out 2x stereo that lets you fine-tune the volume of the studio monitors. “Passive” indicates that active components do not affect the signal, ensuring that the highest sound quality has always been sent to the studio monitors.

Two inputs stereo (including one unbalanced RCA, one with symmetric 6.3-millimeter jack connections and mini-jack connections) plus two stereo outputs (one with symmetrical/unbalanced 6.3 mm jack and mini-jack connections) are available on MoCo. Unfortunately, MoCo doesn’t symmetrically transform unbalanced signals: what goes in gets out!

You can use a switch to choose the input signal. Different buttons control the various outputs. For example, one may use the mono feature to make a downmix of both channels and silence the signal using the mute button. You may also use a button to flip between the right and left channels. The listening level is controlled via the huge knob in the centre of MoCo. 

5: Behringer Xenyx Control2USB master controller

The useful CONTROL2USB helps you get it off the knees by putting Talkback, Source selection, Monitor control, and Master Volume at your finger. To build strong, bespoke monitor mixes, users may now pick from up to three pieces of active monitors and four separate input stereo sources. Users may also speak directly with the artist because of the built-in Talkback mic. Users are the ruler of the domain with the highly flexible CONTROL2USB!

Unlike the rivals’ cheap resistive faders, the CONTROL2USB uses high-end Volt Controlled Amplifier (VCA) technology to deliver the highest degree of precise level control. While traditional faders regulate how much the signal makes it all to the amplifier, our larger knob regulates the voltage that drives an amplifier, resulting in an output 100% accurate to the source.

The difference between one degree and the next on a tiny circle/knob is exceedingly narrow, making dialling-in precision difficult. The gap between both the circle points on the huge knob is substantially bigger, allowing users to make minute changes with ease. When it concerns mastering a significant project, CONTROL2USB allows you to adjust levels quickly and precisely, which might be vital to the final audio. The DAW also offers four input stereos with separate volume controls and an extra monitor mix input. 

6: PreSonus MicroStation BT 2.1 monitor system

MicroStation BT is the ideal answer for anybody looking to connect his\her favourite media reference monitors or studio via Bluetooth. MicroStation BT is practical, compact, and elegant and makes it easier to add a subwoofer to form a 2.1 listening experience while placing total system-level management at the fingertips.

Any speaker with a stereo Bluetooth input may be made wireless. The right/left balanced 14″ or stereo 1/8″ TRS inputs keep it simple to connect professional and consumer sound equipment. A simple and convenient connection button lets you link your favourite Bluetooth device rapidly, and the Bluetooth on and off button lets you choose between Bluetooth and analogue sources.

MicroStation BT is suitable for putting together a straightforward 2.1 system. You can regulate the overall volume of the speakers and subwoofer with a wide, easy knob. The Sub Bypass button allows you to return to basic stereo listening at any time. In addition, you may mute the speakers without interrupting the music using a headset and Main Mute. 

7: M-Audio AIR|HUB monitor management system

The AIR|Hub is a USB hub that features two balanced 14-inch TRS sound outputs and a huge, solid-feel metal rotating volume knob. For personal listening, there are triple USB Ports and a 14-inch headphone connection with volume control. The AIR|Hub is a space-saving solution that combines audio output and VI control in one elegant, all-metal box.

The AIR|Hub includes everything users need to get started, which include Pro Tools | the Avid Effects Collection, First M-Audio Edition, AIR Music Xpand! 2, 2GB Touching Loops, Loop bundle and, allowing you to easily add world-class-sounding instrumentation, FX and samples to your compositions.

It offers an ultra-portable footprint, compact, rugged metal bodywork, and larger central control for effortless volume modification, making it perfect for both studio and stage. With stereo 14″ outs and 14″ headphones out with separate volume control, you can connect all of your gear. It also has three USB ports that allow you to connect another USB device, such as USB MIDI, thumb drives, and external hard drives.

8: PreSonus Monitor Station V2 monitor

The Monitor Station V2 has a lot of features that you may customize to fit your working style. Monitor Station V2 comes with all the tools you’ll need to personalize your monitoring. The right and eight-segment show left signal levels, three-color LED meters.

The LED meters may be configured in one of three modes for usage with +10 dB, +4 dB, or +18 dB signals levels. A Mono switch adds the stereo outputs together to check for phase issues. A big, well-placed button controls the primary speaker output level, and the speaker is reduced with varying strength (-30 to -6 dB) by a Dim switching with the attenuate button.

Monitor Station V2 is a convenient, versatile, and economical option for operating the studio monitor system from your desktop thanks to the ergonomic, straightforward interface, rich capabilities and I/O, and PreSonus’ renowned sound quality. So, stroll down to your local PreSonus dealer as well as take command of the monitoring program like a pro!

It provides four scream-loud stereo headset amplifiers with separate source selection and audio settings. Your home studio is outfitted with a fantastic interface and a CD player by a PDIF/S digital output. You may also want to listen to sound from a third source, perhaps with a tape player, or you might wish to try out two distinct stereo mixes from the interface. The Monitor Station V2 is a computer control centre that allows you to move between different sources without sacrificing sound quality.

9: Palmer PMONICON passive studio monitor controller

The Palmer is an analogue sound control that attaches to active monitoring speakers from an audio interface or computer. THE POWER SUPPLY SUPPLIES the LED indications and the built-in headset amplifier, making the circuit fully passive and discoloration-free. The Monica input contains a 3.5mm jack and RCA socket and a balancing combo socket for stereo input.

The XLR connectors on the small desk offer outputs for 2 sets of a mono sum and a monitor output. You can select an AUX input or the stereo alone or jointly, or you can select the dual outputs separately or together. In addition, the Monica L has high-volume control, mute, and PL switches, a 6.35-millimeter headphone connector, and distinct AUX and headset controls for easy operation.

The tiny passive desk featuring a big format controller is positioned between stereo outputs of a laptop, PC, or active listening and interference, enabling easy and precise display level adjustments from the workspace.

The sound is unaffected by the passive circuit, which consists of only a few components. The mono and mute buttons enable the outputs to be muted and the output signal to be merged into a monosum.

10: Sub-Zero MC2 Passive Monitor Controller

Designed to give you a clear picture of what you’re hearing. There are no digital artifacts or colouring. The Sub-Zero Passive Monitor Controller provides complete control on your speakers while removing any undesirable distortion or coloration from your sound.

The passive analogue circuitry preserves the high resolution of your auditory interface/DA, which isn’t always achievable when controlling the volume via computer. Furthermore, it does not require an additional power supply, allowing it to blend easily into an audio setup.

The big volume knob is comfortable to hold and allows for precise level changes. It’s also good for ergonomics, as it lets you change the volume with a direct control rather than navigating computer menus. The Mute and mono keys on the SubZero Monitoring Controller are very handy.

The Mono button combines the stereo signal into a single sound channel, allowing users to check any phase problems when testing the mix on mobile devices. When the user needs to record, focus, and break, the simple Mute key turns it all off.

11: Nowsonic Switcher passive monitor controller

The Nowsonic Switcher is a device for connecting and managing stereophonic audio sources on linked audio systems like the Nowsonic active monitor. The multipurpose switch is completely passive, which indicates that active elements do not alter the sound of the incoming signal:

Switcher’s signal is like the input signal, but the loudness can be reduced. As a result, you can regulate the sound source effectively in the studio directories or at a cutting location without worrying about the operating level at a greater listening distance.

The Nowsonic Studio Controller has the following features: White-painted metal housing 2 x TRS-XLR combination jacks symmetrical XLR and 6.3-millimeter jack two × XLR balanced output A 6.3×2 mm symmetrical output B 50 x 170 x 87 mm Dimensions (W x H x D) 300g in mass. 

Here’s the best studio monitor controller for beginners…

12: Behringer MONITOR1 passive studio monitor controller

The MONITOR1 Premium Monitor and Volume Controller elevates the analogue signal by delivering greater sound level control at the fingertips. In addition, you can rapidly change the volume of the active studio monitor controller since there are no active digital or circuitry artifacts to colour the audio.

Without reaching for your mixer – or the mouse! – the huge volume knob makes it simple to tune in the precise level every time. In addition, MONITOR1 is incredibly simple to attach to your existing system, with TRS/XLR combo outputs and inputs, as well as 2 3.5 mm (1/8″) connectors.

MONITOR1 is completely passive, requiring no additional power and containing no active circuitry that may contaminate the analogue signal entering the audio interface or interface, making it the best studio monitor controller. MONITOR1 does not obstruct the sound source, and it does not introduce any interference or distortion into your system.

MONITOR1 ensures that the volume must be precisely where users need it, whether you’re recording in the bedroom or maybe in a professional studio. When it’s time to take a break, press the simple Mute button to silence everything. MONITOR1 occupies a fraction of the area on the desk, and it’s not in the way because of its small footprint. MONITOR1 passive monitor controller is all about reliability, from the stereo TRS/XLR combination and 1/8″ Inputs through the XLR and 1/8″ Outputs, despite its little size.

Which is the best studio monitor controller? Our editor’s choice

The best studio monitor controller really all depends on what you’re after. Are you a mix engineer who’d benefit from cut, dim and mono features? If so, then an active studio monitor controller is likely going to be your best bet, especially if you’re recording with artists on a regular basis. The talkback features you get with most of these devices make them ideal choice for the studio. Otherwise, a passive studio monitor controller would likely suffice.

And this has left us as at a bit of a conundrum. You see, we can’t really say one is ‘best’ if there’s two types of people who’d buy a studio monitor controller. So with that being said, we’ve decided to split our conclusion into two parts: the best passive studio monitor controller & the best active controller. That way you’re doubly sure that you’re considering the best studio monitor controller for your setup.

In which case then, we think that if you’re a pro mix engineer, the best studio management system out there for you is…

Latest Price!

As far as studio monitor controllers go, we’d say the Big Knob Plus very much lives up to its name and is the undisputed Daddy of sound management. And that’s because this active controller is one of ‘the’ most flexible ways to control your audio.

Aside from virtually every input and output that you could desire, the Big knob also boasts a whole host of built-in features too. The Onyx preamps for instance, are top notch. So much so that if you wanted to use this as a standalone unit, it’d be ideal. That built-in talkback microphone isn’t half bad too. Perfect in fact for communicating with an artist in the booth.

Then there’s the inputs themselves, which are some of the most intuitive that you’ll find. The fact you can toggle them on/ off with the touch of a button is really nice. A perk that means you could hook up a subwoofer and listen to a track both with and without it. Invaluable for when it comes to finalising and getting an all-rounded sense of your mix. Couple that with the direct monitoring and dim feature you get with the Mackie, and it’s actually quite hard to fault.

Yes, in comparison to a passive controller, the Big Knob Plus does appear to be pricy, but that’s because you get SO much more with the Mackie. Hence why it’s no stranger to a professional studio & if you ask us, the best studio monitor controller for mixing and mastering.

However, if you recognise the perks of the Mackie, but know deep down you won’t use half the features, then we’d recommend checking out the…

Latest Price!

If you’re just in the market for an extra volume controller then the Pilot X is really all you need. As far as passive monitor controllers go it’s one of the best built that you can get. To hold, the Mackie feels super solid and moves nice and smoothly. And what’s more, being passive means that there’s no chance of it creating any extra sound colouration. Something that you may incur with active monitor controllers, although we haven’t to date.

And while the Pilot does appear to be nothing more than a glorified volume knob, it’s the flexibility it gives you that makes it SO useful. Get your hands on a Pilot X and you’ll no longer have to reach around the back of your monitors to turn them off, every time you want to listen through your headphones. You can even hook the Pilot up to other hardware like synths and mixers too. Therefore, during a session this plucky little device can do wonders for your workflow.

Exactly why we’d say it’s best passive monitor controller you can get. Yes, it’s by no means the starship enterprise, but due to its sheer ease of use, this volume controller will soon pay itself off in time.

Enjoy this review of the best studio monitor controllers & eager for more? Don’t miss out on all our latest Music Production Advice + all our recent Music Kit Reviews. Recently, we also did a full rundown of the Best Audio Interface For ANY Budget + another on the Best Vocal Microphone For Recording, which may also be a good read.

Or, if you’ve still trying to decide what type of studio monitor controller is best for your setup, keep reading & we’ll answer even more of your burning questions…

The lowdown on studio monitors controllers, their abilities & more

Think of a studio monitor controller as the control centre/ manager for your entire setup.

While your audio interface deals with all the processing and amplification, your monitor controller decides how and where this audio will be distributed. Call it the fine tuning of how the sound is actually output. A small technicality that really can make all the difference in maximising your capabilities as a producer, beat-maker or mix engineer.

From talking to producers and mixing in the booth ourselves, we’ve really found the extra control you get with a studio monitor controller to help a lot in tightening your final mix. Not to mention helping to compare and contrast different parts of different mixes to asses improvements + spot any grey areas.

And yes, the best studio monitor controllers aren’t exactly cheap, but consider the difference they make to not only your overall mix, but their workflow perks too, and we’d say that (in the long run) a monitor controller is worth every penny.

If you want to be/ are a professional producer, beat-maker or mix engineer, then yes – a studio monitor controller is an essential part of your setup. Especially if your current audio interface doesn’t allow you to switch in-between speakers. Or doesn’t feature controls such as dim & cut. Being able to monitor in mono is nice touch too!

All control that you really do need when virtually your entire job revolves around monitoring and sculpting sound. To not have the best idea of the sound your sculpting simply puts you at a disadvantage and makes it even harder for you to explore your ideas and achieve your desired result. Hardly the best outcome.

And yes, you can produce and mix perfectly well without a studio monitor controller – we’re not saying that without one your tracks will sound like nails being dragged down a chalkboard. But with the extra control you get with one of these nifty devices, there is a good chance that your standard of production will increase.

Perks of being able to explore/ test your ideas in more depth and fine tune your audio setup to suit your creative process. All of which makes investing in the best studio monitor controller that you can get your hands on, a pretty wise move. Yes, if you just want to produce, it’s by no means a necessity, but if you want to produce to the best of your ability, then we’d say a monitor controller is essential.

* For anyone who’s workflow-obsessed, studio monitor controllers are a total ‘must’.

Passive monitor controllers work slightly differently to their active counterparts.

While active studio monitor controllers use active amps and electrical circuits to give you control over audio, passive monitors act more like a bypass. They don’t use any electrical components. So your typical passive monitor controller will offer you less features, but will come at a cheaper price tag. A trade-off that you may benefit you if you’re a beginner.

What’s more, passive controllers tend to have far less of an affect on sound, as they contain no active amp of sorts. In other words, there’s nothing in a passive amp that’s designed to alter the audio signal. It’s merely allows you to distribute and control your audio in different ways. Whereas active monitor controllers go a step further.

With an active monitor controller, you tend to get a lot more in the way of functionality, albeit at a slightly steeper price. That’s because active studio monitor controllers do use electrical components. All of which offers you an ever greater level of control & flexibility when recording. From a professional perspective, these are some of the best studio monitor controllers you can get your hands on, thanks to features like talkback and mono summing.

Which type of monitor controller you go for in the ‘passive VS active’ debate really depends on how much control you’re after. If you’re happy as you are, but would benefit from a bit more flexibility in terms of volume, then a passive monitor controller is likely the way to go. Whereas if you’re after a monitor controller for use in a professional studio, we’d encourage you to choose active every day of the week.

Connecting your monitor controller to your audio interface sounds simple, but can be quite a headache if you don’t know how.

So instead of us explaining all the ‘ins and outs’ of how it’s done, here’s a video of an audio fanatic walking you through how to do exactly that…

YouTube video

The main difference between a studio monitor controller and an audio interface is in what they do.

An audio interface takes audio signals from equipment like a condenser microphone, electric guitar etc. and amplifies them to a level of your choosing. It also converts this audio into a format that your computer can understand and sends it into your DAW (Digital Audio Workstation.). Whereas studio monitor controllers are slightly different.

Unlike an audio interface, the majority of monitor controllers (passive) don’t process audio to anywhere near the degree of your audio interface. Their job is to distribute this audio through various channels and devices in a way that you see fit. So for instance, an audio interface will process and amplify the audio from condenser microphone, but will automatically push this audio through 1 set of studio monitors.

Whereas if you were to integrate a studio monitor controller, you could send this exact same signal to 2, 3, maybe even 4 sets of monitors. That way you can get a clear idea of what your mix will sound like across multiple sets of speakers. In other words, you have full control over the monitoring path. Very clever. However, some of the best studio monitor controllers (active) differ even further from an audio interface.

Aside from just a volume knob, they also boast cut, dim, dim attenuation and mono features, which can also be really useful when mixing! What’s more, yelling at an artist who’s in the booth can get a bit tiresome. Hence some of the best monitor management systems also include talkback features too. That way you can quietly whisper into their headphones. Ask us and for any pro, a talkback mic is essential.

None of which we may add, you’ll find on an audio interface.

Monitor management is the means of managing playback through your monitors via a studio monitor control system.

What makes monitor management necessary is that unlike you can with an audio interface, with a monitor controller you can send 1 channel simultaneously to multiple sets of speakers. Ideal for mixing. Not to mention the fact that it also makes your communication with artists smoother too. Invest in a good monitor control system and you’ll find you also get the option to add a talkback mic.

Safe to say if you’re looking to streamline your setup + boost your workflow, then monitor management should be high up on your list of priorities.

When it comes to deciding on the best studio monitor controller for your setup, there’s a fair few characteristics you should bear in mind. That’s because while studio monitor controllers may look pretty similar, they’re all made for a slightly different type of producer. So with that in mind, here’s 3 things to look for when buying a studio monitor controller…

Ease of use – With a monitor controller being specifically designed to give you optimum control over your sound, the last thing you want is a controller that’s awkward to operate. So be sure to have an idea of where it’ll go before you swipe your credit card. If that place is stacked in-between your audio interface or mixing console, then chances are controls located to side would be your best bet. However if the controller is going to be sat on your desk, then top mounted would likely be the easiest to operate.

Is it Active/ Passive – Controllers that are active tend to come with a LOT more features than controllers that are passive. So before buying a studio monitor controller, you first need to establish whether those extra features are features you actually need. If you’re a pro producer/ mix engineer, we’re convinced you’ll say yes to an active controller, but if you’re unsure, be sure to check out the FAQ on the difference between the too (above).

Build quality – While some studio monitor controllers may seem to be priced quite highly, it’s important to consider the build quality of any studio monitor controller, especially if you want it to last. Now, the majority of studio monitor controllers are housed in some sort of plastic, however there are a few that incorporate metal into their design too. Also, be sure to take into account the quality of the switchgear, as it’s this that determines how you interact with the controller full stop.

* Go through a couple of badly built cheap monitor controllers and you could end up spending the same as if you’d bought a more pricy (but better made) controller first time round. Hence why we’d always advise you to invest in quality