Ever since I bought a classic (read very old but wonderful) Quad 405 to use as my main monitor loudspeaker amplifier, I have been getting around to buying a bespoke monitor controller. Finally after a good look at what was available at reasonable pricing, I settled on the Drawmer MC2.1.
The all metal chassis is designed to be either sat on a desk top, or with the addition of the optional rack mount kit which I also purchased, fit into a standard 2RU rack space.
First to say that the unit is robust and well put together. Having a peek inside I could see high quality pcb’s with ‘traditional’ through hole components, so easier for mortals to maintain at some distant time in the future!
The majority of the audio paths appear to use NE5532 ICs which have been around for a very long time but which provide very low levels of distortion and noise, as we shall see.
The unit is mains powered with a linear integral PSU and uses a very low hum toroidal mains transformer.
The MC2.1 accepts three stereo inputs, two balanced on XLRs and one unbalanced on both phonos and paralleled 3.5mm stereo jack socket. Pusbuttons with LED status support allow you to bring each of these into play so they are mixed together which has some great uses in practice.
The resultant stereo mix bus is then switchable to no less than three balanced line level stereo loudspeaker feeds, all outputting on balanced XLR connectors on the rear of the unit. As my Quad Power Amp has unbalanced inputs, I wisely checked with Drawmer’s helpful product support people on how best to wire between the two. So note if you are going to connect to an unbalanced amp then you need to open the XLR end of the cable and snip off the cable to pin 3 so that only the hot leg of the audio from the Drawmer gets connected to your amp. You’ll get 6dB less level this way but it means the output IC won’t be pumping current into a low impedance which is wise. Drawmer are going to add a note in the handbook about this.
Again it’s possible to drive all three of the speaker feeds simultaneously via their own selector pushbuttons.
Additionally you get yet another output, this time a mono mix of output A which you can either use to check the mono compatibility of your mix or to drive a mono subwoofer.
As well as the speaker feeds, you get two headphone outputs each with their own level controls. Plenty of drive is available so you will be able to get decent levels even when using low sensitivity headphones.
The stereo mix buss has probably the best control facilities of any unit at this price level and this means, MUTE (both), CUT L, CUT R, øREV (left), MONO, and DIM. For those lovers of working in M-S, you can do the useful trick of pressing both øREV and MONO which will let you hear the stereo difference or side signal. This makes it easy to spot any heavy low frequency content which you probably don’t want panned much away from centre.
And to round off the facilities, a built in talkback mic with level control and non latching pushbutton. This gets routed to its own mono jack output and to both headphone feeds.
Okay so let’s pop the unit on to the bench and have a look at the audio performance, which after all is pretty key if you are investing in a pro monitor controller. We’ll also have a look at the excellent level matching facilities built into the unit.
Harmonic distortion was very consistent and very low measuring around 0.0018% on my test set with a 30kHz bandwidth at 0dBu levels. In fact THD is so low that you are mostly measuring the noise floor. Increase the signal level up to +20dBu and the THD reading falls to 0.0012% as the signal to noise floor gap increases. There is no visual or audible crossover distortion.
Output noise is excellent at around -93dBu (unweighted, 22Hz to 22kHz) so bearing in mind the maximum output of 27dBu, you are working with a dynamic range of 120dB. The noise floor is nice and clean with little hum content, and in use, the very low noise floor of the unit is never going to be an issue.
Maximum input and output levels of +21dBu and +27dBu are more than satisfactory for most practical uses but just be aware that some high end DA converters can output +24dBu : however these are usually trimmable so no real issue.
Frequency response I measured at 0dBu in, +6dBu out, and was -0.1dB down at 20Hz and -3dB down at around 90kHz. All very good and sensibly chosen.
Left/Right stereo crosstalk was my only small concern. It was just fine when the main volume control of the unit was fully up when it measured around -91.3dB at 1kHz and -93.7db (surprisingly lower) at 10kHz. But bring the volume control down to its mid point and the left to right crosstalk fell to -84.5dB at 1kHz and -65.3db at 10kHz. These are not bad figures but probably a bit higher than ideal. The 20dB worsening of crosstalk at 10kHz is typical of either pcb tracking or flat ribbon cable capacitive crosstalk. Crosstalk between input and output channels is very low and of no concern.
Coming back to level matching, the MC2.1 provides preset gain controls for all outputs on the underside of the unit. This allows you to match left and right speaker levels exactly and also to loudness match your main and check loudspeakers so you don’t have to reach for the volume control when switching between speakers.
In the studio, the MC2.1 is really easy to set up and use. The pushbutton switches are very smooth, the main level control is large and has a nice feel and you soon (as you should) forget it’s there except when you need to access its excellent range of monitoring facilities.
At a UK street price of around £430 the Drawmer MC2.1 is really good value for money and I’d recommend it to anyone who takes their studio monitoring environment seriously (which means all of you!)
As we go to press Drawmer have announced the new MC3.1 with some additional facilities, including an AES/SPDIF input and the ability to solo monitor low, mid and high bands of your mix. So now you are spoiled for choice! No 3.1 pricing or availability yet but you can compare the features of the two units here and get more info on both products at drawmer.com