Drawmer MC 3.1 Monitor Controller – Review

I grew up in monitor controller world in the days when Glensound outside broadcast desks were simple beasts and needed a DK2/20 or DK2/21 to add monitoring and control functions that just made life that little bit easier. But time marched on and more functionality got built into location desks and the star of monitor controllers began to fade. But the requirement for comprehensive control of what we’re listening to has never really gone away and with the rise of DAW mixing the need has probably grown a hundred fold. Drawmer have three products in this ball park the MC 1.1 and MC 1.2 are billed as monitor preamps while the top of the range MC 3.1 we’ll be looking has the full fat ‘monitor controller’ label. So what do you get in your MC 3.1 tin, and here I have to warn you – stand by for a serious features list! You can connect three pairs of speakers to the xlr outputs and one sub – the sub is a mono output. Still on outputs you have two independent headphone amps switchable between the main and cue outputs. Talking of Cue there is an independent cue output on balanced jacks with its own volume control and independent access to all inputs. On the input side there are two un/balanced stereo inputs on combi xlrs, one stereo unbalanced input on phonos and one digital input on combi xlr capable of taking AES or SPDIF digital signals up to 192kHz at 24 bits. These inputs and outputs are all on the back panel while for extra convenience there is a stereo Aux input on 3.5mm jack on the front panel. Let’s take a quick break there to plug the beast up. Start simple take balanced output of your desk into input one, grab an AES out from your DAW and stick it in the Digi input, now you can select between sources to your Mix and/or cue output. But the inputs are additive – and of course buffered, so you can mix on the monitor input buttons if that is your bag. Now plug up your main montitors to speaker output A, your second faves to speaker output B, and your checks or near fields or whatever to speaker output C and your ready to do some serious monitorin (no g). Actually you aren’t, first your going to line up you monitors properly like they do in big school. When I first started out in studios lesson number one was ‘first line up the monitoring’, if you can’t rely on what your are listening to everything else is compromised. The intitial procedure involves pink noise, a sound pressure level meter and the output trims for the speakers located on the base of the MC3.1. Check out the Drawmer website to down load the line up tones. Now we’re ready to move on! Like the inputs the outputs are additive you can have all your speakers or none. And if you plug up the sub you can use it with all you speakers or none. But what about the talent sat alone in a lonely room without any love? Well plug the studio monitors into the Cue output and they have access to the Cue bank of switching, you can feed them whatever you want without changing your own monitor selection. And if you are feeling very communicative talk to them using the built in talk back mic or plug in an external mic if you prefer, plug in a a foot switch if you don’t want to reach for the button. And there is a separate talk back output available on quarter inch jack. So you have inputs and outputs what can else can we do them? Here are a few of my favourites – dim takes 20dB off your level. There’s mono, so often overlooked in todays multichannel world but you really should be using this option. Alongside cut or A or cut B (both available on the MC3.1) – you don’t really want stereo mono if you see what I mean. The cut A/B options have a special effect on the headphone output to simulate their effect in a room. And for total silence there’s a mute swich which does not apply to the headphone outputs. Beware these headphone outputs go loud! There’s phase reverse and L/R swap. What sets the MC3.1 apart in a world of ‘me too’ copycats? Well consider the Band Solo function. You have three frequency bands to choose from – low, mid and high. Hitting these solo buttons allows you focus your listening on one (or more, the feature is also additive!) of these bands. The cross over points are at 250Hz and 3.5kHz and the slopes are 6dB per octave. And this is really is about the discipline of listening. I’ve not seen this feature before and you might argue that we’ve mixed for years without it. But that is to miss the point. The more listening we do and the more focus we put on listening then surely the better our mixes will be. Well done Drawmer. A more familiar feature is the Preset option on the Master Volume. There is a select function that switches control from the master volume pot to an adjustable preset level. This is absolutely vital in comparative listening sessions, because what we often perceive as differences in quality can be traced to small changes in level and the ability to guarantee level matching is a must have. ‘What about a stepped volume control then?’, I hear you ask. I asked the same question but it seems the available 24 stepped switches just don’t offer fine enough control. Of course none of this would matter if the MC3.1 failed on sonics. I recently recorded a cut down version of local band Fountainhead for a Spendor speaker demo and used the 24/96Khz files to audition the controller. I drove the analogue input with the output of the Marenius S2 DAC – which is a favourite bit of kit and costs more than the MC3.1 entire. Not only did the analogue side of the circuitry sound transparent but the digital input was also excellent. So the MC3.1 is a high quality device with an innovative array of features. Highly recommended.  http://www.drawmer.com

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