PLEASE NOTE: This article has been archived. It first appeared on ProRec.com in September 2004, contributed by then Editor-in-Chief Rip Rowan. We will not be making any updates to the article. Please visit the home page for our latest content. Thank you!
When I moved into my new facility at Pleasantry Lane studios, I made a commitment: no new rack gear, and no mixers. I am on a quest to downsize the hardware and optimize my use of a pure computer-based approach to engineering.
Of course, when swearing off mixers, one quickly bumps one’s head against the problem of monitoring. You need some kind of control over the monitors, you still need a talkback, you need a headphone mix and you need a little routing so you can play back CDs or record to a cassette deck.
What you need is for someone to take the master section from a large-footprint studio console and cook it down into a little box for DAW users.
You need a Big Knob
Mackie’s big knob was designed with the DAW user in mind. The unit features a large, high-quality volume knob, low noise op-amps, a small but useful set of inputs and outputs, a talkback section, three headphone outputs, and other nifty features for DAW users.
Ins and Outs
The Big Knob gives you five inputs: two 2-track inputs, a master DAW input, a phono input, and a phones mix input. Any of the first four can be routed to any output. The phones mix input allows you to route a custom mix to the headphones while monitoring a different mix.
There are ten outputs: three sets of studio monitors, four sets of headphones, and three other outputs which can be routed back to the DAW and 2-track devices (such as tape decks). Two of the headphone outputs are on the front panel, each with its own volume control. Another headphone output is designed to be routed to a headphone amp, if you are already using such a device. A “Studio” output is designed to be routed to the monitoring system in your tracking room.
The Big Knob gives you useful features like a “mute” button, a “dim” button (lowers volume in control room when talking), and a “mono” button (sums control room mix to mono). The unit features a good talkback section with routing, with a sensitive mic (we keep ours turned almost all the way down) and a footswitch control (most excellent for hand-free talkback).
Adding the Big Knob to a DAW-based studio is a breath of fresh air. The unit is small enough that it is likely to fit exactly where you need it to be. It has just the right controls and great ergonomics, so within an hour I was using it as though it had been in the control room for years. Like other Mackie products, the Big Knob features solid construction, with a heavy, built-to-last feel and strong, fluid controls.
Our clients immediately recognized the productivity enhancements. The immediacy of a footswitch controlled talkback makes communication with the tracking room incredibly easy. The ability to immediately switch between three sets of control room monitors or to route audio to a set of monitors in the studio makes auditioning quick and easy.
And then there’s that big knob. It’s just so… big. Seriously, the master volume control is fluid, quiet, and accurate. Even at low levels it does a great job of maintaining balance and tonality. I do a lot of low-volume monitoring and the quality of the volume control was immediately apparent. And even when the thing is cranked, noise levels stay nice and low.
I have only one complaint with the Big Knob. The problem is that the headphone outputs are all routed to the same headphone send. You can control the send – it can be switched between the main mix and the alternate (headphone) mix – which is great. But there are times when I want the control room headphones to stay with the main mix while keeping the tracking room headphones on the alternate mix. It also means that when you monitor in the control room, you need to switch the headphones to the control room mix, and remember to switch them back to the tracking mix when you’re done. I really would prefer separate input switches – something that is not possible using the intended routing on the Big Knob.
The Mackie Big Knob is just one of those “perfect fit” products for DAW users. It has just what you need, and nothing you don’t, all in a compact, well-engineered package. I definitely prefer the Big Knob to most any small-format console: it puts the controls you need right in your face, instead of off to the side. And the price is right – usually under $350 street.
If you’ve been looking for this type of product, look no further. I see a Big Knob in your future.