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Simplify studio workflow in the age of the DAW


$369.95 MSRP, $299.95 street




By Craig Anderton


I got started in recording with mixers and multitracks, and while I’ve embraced the conversion to computer-based DAWs, I’ve always felt that two pieces of the puzzle were missing: Faders, which I addressed with a control surface; and the monitoring section, which I addressed by…well, by plugging and unplugging things a lot, and wasting quite a bit of time in the process.

So when PreSonus introduced the Monitor Station, it looked like it would solve my monitoring section problem, and I bought one immediately. Well, almost immediately; it was back-ordered, so I guess a lot of other people had the same gap in their setups.




The PreSonus Monitor station. Power is supplied by a wall wart.


Here’s why I needed the Monitor Station. First, I have three sets of speakers and I like to switch among them instantly to do real-world mix comparisons. Second, I have two basic setups for listening to mixes: Directly from an audio interface, and from a digital mixer. For example, when mastering, I don’t need to get the mixer involved; all I need is to send the stereo out from a USB- or FireWire-connected audio interface to a set of speakers. Ditto when practicing guitar or keyboards, or testing out something like a virtual instrument. But when mixing complex projects, or sometimes when tracking, I generally use a PCI-based interface with two ADAT outs, feeding a Panasonic DA7 digital mixer. In that case, those are the outs I want to send to the speakers. I also use headphones quite a bit, for recording vocals or early on in the mastering process so I can hear little tiny details in the sound I might miss over speakers; and sometimes more than one person needs a set of headphones.

Furthermore, on occasion I want to feed in a signal from a CD player for my listening pleasure without having to re-patch the setup…and there are always those times when the phone rings, and I need to reach for a knob (or click with a mouse) to turn down the volume. Fortunately the Monitor Station provides all the routing, level-matching, and other functions needed to solve these problems. And as a pleasant bonus, it has an RIAA phono preamp so that once more, my turntable can lead a productive life, as well as a talkback mic.

Rather than repeat all the specs here, you can go here and get all the details. Meanwhile, here are the highlights.



There are three stereo inputs – two with 1/4" balanced phone jacks and one (aux/phono) with RCA unbalanced jacks. The other input is an XLR input for a talkback mic.

Any combination of these can be switched to the main or cue bus, although there’s also a “radio button” mode where only one input can be active at one time (i.e., pressing on a switch de-selects any others that are on). This choice affects both the main and cue bus routings.


The Monitor Station’s available inputs



The main source select buttons are labeled ST1, ST2, and Aux. There are similar buttons for feeding these ins to the cue bus. You can also see the three speaker select buttons, the LED VU meters, and the master volume control.


The three stereo speaker buttons can be active simultaneously, or set so that only one speaker set is active. However, there’s an additional mode where the C speaker can be active at all times, and you can switch between A or B (but not both). This is what you would typically use if the C speaker was a subwoofer.

As to the outputs, there are both main and cue outs.


These outs are all TRS, balanced line, 1/4” jack types.


The Main is basically a “thru” for the Main Source selection, while the Cue output grabs the Cue Source selection although unlike the Main out, which is not affected by any level controls, the Cue output level is affected by the Cue Input level control. One application for this out would be to drive additional headphone amps if the four onboard amps aren’t enough. The three speaker outputs are balanced TRS outs; note that they are not designed to drive speakers directly, but powered monitors or the power amps feeding the speakers.


The four headphone outs can drive phones to a pretty decent volume, so be careful…each phone jack has its own level control, as well as a source monitor that selects between the main and cue bus.


For example, if you have a traditional mixer setup, or an audio interface with aux outs, you can set up your main mix and feed that to the ST1 stereo ins, and set up a different headphone mix on the aux bus, and feed that into the ST2 stereo ins. Then you can be listening to main mix on the speakers or a set of headphones, while other musicians can listen to the headphone mix (or the main mix, if that’s more appropriate).



The Monitor Station pays attention to levels. The meters can be set so that 0 equals +4, +10, or +18dB, and the speaker outs each have trim controls (unity at max, and you can trim downward from there) to simplify matching among multiple sets of speakers.


The individual level controls for the three speakers make it relatively easy to balance levels among your different speaker sets. Note the internal talkback mic just below the Speaker A knob.


Another aspect of levels is the Dim switch for when you need to turn down levels quickly, with a dim level control that varies the dim range from –6 to –30dB. In addition to Dim, there’s a Mute switch for when you really want to silence the output, and a Mono switch that’s great for making instant stereo/mono comparisons – surprisingly, something that’s not so easy to do with some DAWs.

However, note that Dim, the Master level, Mute, and Mono controls affect only the Main bus, not the Cue, with one exception: When you use either the internal or external talkback mic and hit the Talk button, the mic signal goes into the Cue bus but also, the Dim function comes into play for the Main and Cue buses to attenuate signals other than the one from the talkback mic. The Dim amount for the Main bus reflects the setting of the Dim Attenuation control, but the amount of attention for the Cue bus is fixed.



There are only a few limitations to the Monitor Station. One is that there is no +48V available for the external mic input, so if the mic requires phantom power, you’ll need to use a different mic. Another limitation is that while you can adjust the mode of the Main and Cue sources, the speaker select, and the VU meter calibration, the process is a little cumbersome because you need to turn off power, hold a switch, then turn power on to enable a particular mode – and you have to do this for each mode you want to edit. There’s no indication of which button controls which mode on the front panel, so either learn the options by heart, don’t lose the manual so you can refer to it, or do what I did: Print up which button controls which default function on a piece of paper, and tape it to the bottom of the unit.

However, one cool aspect of this process is that the Monitor Station remembers the settings you make, even after a power cycle. So if you only want to use it one way, you can set up your modes and not have to think about it again.

Another useful feature, although admittedly one that I don’t think was intended, is that when working alone in the studio I don’t really have any need for a talkback mic. But what I often do is feed the Cue out into a couple of spare tracks on my DAW, and use the Talkback mic to add annotations (e.g., “the third vocal take was definitely the best”). It’s very quick and easy to just dedicate a track to being a “verbal notepad.”

All in all, the Monitor Station provides exactly what I need – the missing “control room” section I’d gotten used to in conventional mixing consoles. You can go one level more upscale; PreSonus also offers the Central Station ($699.95 list), a rack-mount unit with S/PDIF optical and coax ins that feed 24-bit/192kHz DACs, more sophisticated metering, a totally passive signal path, and connections for an optional-at-extra-cost remote. While comprehensive, it’s overkill for what I need so I’m just as glad the company provides a couple options.

I should also add that the Monitor Station has a rugged, sturdy feel, very much like their FaderPort (another useful tabletop accessory). The casing is metal, the knobs have just the right amount of resistance, and while the pot shafts poke through the case without any mounting hardware, there’s no significant “wobble” – the feel is surprisingly solid. Furthermore, the headphone jacks are mounted with lockwashers, and the other jacks use locking nuts, so I suspect you can do an awful lot of plugging and unplugging before these babies loosen up – if ever.

A product like the Monitor Station isn’t exactly loaded with sex appeal, but that’s not its gestalt: It’s all about being a useful, rugged, reasonably-priced box that makes life easier in the studio and simplifies physical workflow. And those are all qualities I truly appreciate!


CraigGuitarVertical.jpgCraig Anderton is Editor Emeritus of Harmony Central. He has played on, mixed, or produced over 20 major label releases (as well as mastered over a hundred tracks for various musicians), and written over a thousand articles for magazines like Guitar Player, Keyboard, Sound on Sound (UK), and Sound + Recording (Germany). He has also lectured on technology and the arts in 38 states, 10 countries, and three languages.

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