The Monitor 8 is a product designed to complement other units in the AVB range. Its primary purpose is as a USB/AVB headphone amplifier. Having used it a few times I’ve found it is more than that. It is a capable audio interface with monitor control, as a line level audio interface it would be perfectly useable but this is the first of the products I’ve looked at which only really makes sense when viewed as part of a larger AVB system.
Construction And Connectivity
This unit shares the same casework as the 1248, a cast metal case, internal PSU via an IEC, the nutted, all metal jack sockets and that deep blue LCD. This a specialised unit and this is reflected in the generous audio outputs available. The first four mixes are simultaneously available via stereo TRS headphone outs both on the front and rear, and via balanced TRS stereo line outs and a balanced mono output. The level of all of these is controllable from the front panel level control (or via the web control app). The last two mixes (or monitor groups as they are known here) offer only front and rear stereo headphone outputs and a balanced mono out. Interestingly this unit is both very specific in its design - it is a dedicated monitoring solution, and quite flexible - it has ADAT I/O and 8 line inputs on balanced TRS. Uniquely in the range, the Monitor 8 has main outputs on XLR M connectors, I found this very useful when I tried using the Monitor 8 in a live sound application with the headphone mixes feeding stage monitors and the main outputs feeding front of house. The live sound applications of this system are evident and while I wasn’t brave enough to try mixing a show using the 1248 and the Monitor 8 using an iPad to control the system, it is certainly possible. The flexibility of these interfaces is enhanced by the inclusion of system presets.
The appeal of these units is their flexibility, to illustrate this, and to soften the learning curve when setting up, MOTU have included factory presets which set up routing and settings appropriate for a variety of uses. See the screenshot.
Storing your own presets is straightforward via the web control app. The variety of uses suggested by the factory presets illustrates how flexible these units are. For example using a Monitor 8 and an 8M in the live area of a studio for mic and line inputs with six independent headphone mixes controllable by the performers recording to Pro Tools via a 1248 in the control room all networked via gigabit ethernet, or two users each with an UltraLite AVB sending multitrack audio to each other's DAWs via AVB.
One of the most useful features of these interfaces is the built in DSP mixer. I found I used the mixer quite a lot for general “utility mixing”. Although the publicity points towards modelling of vintage hardware, this is isn’t the kind of mixer I’d use to add sonically to my music, its a mixer which performs the practical tasks a mixer is designed to do flexibly and with the minimum of fuss. I should add that the EQ and dynamic processing are all excellent. All the units in the range offer DSP mixing. I used the mixer on the UltraLite for several podcast recordings and it offered the perfect solution to some practical issues, allowing me latency-free monitoring of multiple sources and multiple outputs to my DAW and a hardware recorder for backup with the minimum of fuss. However it is when using the Monitor 8 for monitor mixing that the DSP mixer becomes most indispensable. By routing the aux sends to the monitor group inputs it is easy to set up a monitor mixer which anyone who has used an analogue board would recognise. Its nice to see the fact you are using hardware reflected in the workflow. Auxes are strictly stereo, to route to a mono aux requires use of the panner. Stereo and mono channels can’t be freely mixed across the mixer, stereo paths only exist on 1-2, 3-4 etc. so stereo channels can’t span 2-3 or 4-5. All very familiar to people used to hardware mixers.
The control app allows you to set the number of input channels up to a maximum of 48, there are 3 stereo groups and 7 stereo auxes. Each channel offers HPF, gate, 4 band EQ and compression. On the output channels the compressor is substituted for a soft knee leveller modelled on the LA2A and there is a very splashy reverb which reminds me of SPX reverb, perfect for confidence reverb. Each section of the mixer can be hidden globally and routing and channel naming is straightforward from within the mixer page. The monitor mixing gets really interesting when the Monitor 8 is connected to a WiFi network. A web enabled device with a suitable browser can control the mixer and, using the aux mixing tab, can access a stripped down mixer showing the sends feeding their mix allowing the performers to control their own monitor mixes. This isn’t a unique feature, many modern digital mixers feature something similar but this is the first recording hardware I’ve used to offer something so flexible.
I tried the Monitor 8 as a headphone amp recieving its input from the 1248 via AVB. It performed well in this application, setup was straightforward, anyone with experience of using hardware mixers for monitoring will be at home driving the DSP mixer and the generosity of the I/O available was welcome for some experiments I got into driving a PA system’s monitor mixes and front of house with multitracks to do a virtual soundcheck. There are some nice touches in the design. I like the fact that any output can be muted by pressing the relevant knob. Not only does the output mute but it fades out with a short fade and fades back in again when pressed to un-mute. While I noticed no audio latency within the mixer I did notice some control latency when adjusting the mixer. This might well have been device-specific and would probably vary between machine and browser but I’m not sure I’d have felt comfortable actually riding faders through this mixer. That being said I’m not a fan of touchscreen mixing and I think this mixer is designed for “set and forget” applications more than busy mixing. The only feature I missed was the lack of any delays on output channels. This would make these units suitable for use in time-aligned systems for PA applications and a personal bugbear of mine is trying to use headphones live without a delay to time align them with the PA. This is quite a specific feature but is very useful and would extend the usefulness of these units even further.
It is time to look at the web interface, setting units up and routing audio around the network. All to follow in the next instalment. Stay tuned.