I've got problems. Since building my project studio last fall, I haven't been able to nail down a monitoring setup that "feels" right, and my mixes are not referencing as well as I'd like. I was sure the primary culprits were early reflections from my side walls and a general lack of "groovy-ness" from my old Genelec 1030A monitors (a shortcoming I've heard to be commonly associated with that model).
My original monitoring setup was managed through the master section of my mixer, passing through a bunch of ICs and circuitry before reaching my ears. For the 2Control setup, I connected to the first stereo input of the SPL unit directly from the main outputs of my DAW. The second input pair employs a sensitivity switch (+4 dBu for a second DAW or mixer, and -10 dBV for use with a CD player or iPod, for example). Monitor stereo output channel 1 went to my mains and channel 2 was used for my small speakers. The mono channel 3 went to my subwoofer.
After bypassing my mixer and setting up the SPL to handle my monitoring, I was shocked at the difference in clarity and "vibe", immediately realizing that my biggest problem was not the limitations of a small control room and stale monitors, but the monitoring chain itself. It was easy to find my optimum listening "sweet spot" as the 2Control really helped focus the sound -and for a "transparent by design" architecture, my little room was instantly "groovier". The manual offers an easy to understand calibration guide. I didn't have access to a sound-pressure-level meter, so I ran some test tones through my main monitors into an omni condenser mic, using my DAW for metering. At the same time, I moved my speakers around to find the best placement. Finally, I listened to some mixes I'd finished a few weeks earlier -remix!
During hookup, the first thing I noticed was that SPL had really put some thought into the visual architecture and usability of the 2Control. First off, the cool "flip-out" legs located on the front bottom of the unit prop the face up at about a 20 degree angle so you can easily reach and view the monitor controls from your desktop. The legs have rubber feet that keep the box from moving back and forth when plugging and unplugging headphones into the two jacks -or selecting monitor functions on the front panel. On the back panel, the input jacks are labeled both right-side-up and upside-down, so that you can view the rear panel from the top (looking down) or from the back. I wish more manufacturers would use similar labeling; it really makes setup a snap. The back panel has XLR balanced/unbalanced I/O (refer to the clearly-labeled wiring diagram located next to the rear jacks). If you've got hum related to wiring problems, use the ground lift button on the back!
On the faceplate, push-button monitoring options have separate, colored LEDs when engaged, making inputs and outputs easy to distinguish from each other. The first two buttons control input channels 1 and 2, and a third button switches back-and-forth between mono and stereo monitoring. There is also a -15 dB dim switch and three output selectors. The high-grade Alps volume potentiometer is nearly 2" in diameter! This "big knob" is fluid to the touch, but tight enough to be precise -and stable enough to avoid inadvertent volume jumps if you accidentally brush the knob while using other controls.
To the right side of the volume knob is a headphone monitoring section, offering two jacks with separate volume controls and a Crossfeed knob with an on/off toggle button. The Crossfeed feature is designed to simulate a loudspeaker listening environment, similar to the Xfeed feature in the Grace Design m902 Headphone Amplifier (Tape Op #68). In my opinion, the 2Control's simulation seemed less drastic than the m902's. The SPL's Crossfeed is very subtle, but if you "crank" it, the stereo image approaches a mono-like feel. SPL recommend adjusting this feature while contrasting against your loudspeakers. They also suggest engaging a subwoofer while using headphones so you can physically feel the low frequencies -pretty cool idea, actually. In practice, when using the Crossfeed with my AKG K 240 headphones, mixes referenced well against my monitors -especially stereo panning. If you don't want to wake the neighbors, the Crossfeed feature will serve you well for late-night mixing.
One of the best things about the 2Control is its portability -only 8" x 8" x 3'.' If you're mixing on location, in different studios, or in rooms that sound unfamiliar, you can always bring the 2Control along to check your mixes with the headphone settings you're accustomed to.
The 2Control is not a huge investment for any studio; for audiophiles, it's a steal. Typically we think first about equipping ourselves with mics and outboard gear, and monitoring becomes a secondary concern. The 2Control illustrates the flaws of monitoring through mid-class mixers -or worse, directly out of your DAW. As SPL point out, if you monitor directly from your DAW to your speakers, using software to control your volume can lower bit-rate at the converter outputs, thereby degrading the audio quality. So, if you're wondering why your mixes sound like shit, it might be because everything you've been listening to sounds like shit. They say the best piece of gear we've got is our ears. Maybe we should invest in that. ($629 street; www.soundperformancelab.com)
Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.