I'd like to use my monitors with both my audio interface and a CD player, because I want to A/B my recordings against my CD collection. However, I don't want to constantly be plugging things in and out, so what would be a good way to route multiple signals to the speakers? Do I need a mixing desk? I don't want to have to turn my computer on every time I want to listen to a CD, so routing through the DAW won't work for me. I'm planning to get powered monitors, but would it be better to use passive monitors instead, and then use an amp with multiple inputs? I'm looking at a total budget of £250 for the switcher and the monitors.
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ASOS contributor Mike Senior replies: Getting a hi‑fi amp with multiple inputs would solve the switching problem, but not in the optimal way for studio work. For a start, a hi‑fi amp's connections will almost always be unbalanced, where balanced connections would be preferable, and it's also unlikely that the amp controls will include other studio monitoring facilities such as mono summing and speaker switching, both of which will be useful to you as you progress with your mixing technique.
Using a small mixer for the switching tasks would also work, and you might find it useful to have the mixer's other facilities for recording, cue-mixing, or talkback purposes. You can also usually find a way to implement mono summing and speaker switching on a small mixer using its pan controls and aux sends. However, that wouldn't be particularly elegant for long‑term use and the inevitably more involved signal‑path electronics are more likely to degrade the sound, especially with gear at the bargain end of the market.
I would therefore suggest you look to a separate entry‑level monitor controller. There are a couple of straightforward contenders well within your price range, such as SM Pro's M‑Patch 2 and Samson's C‑Control, both of which will, currently, set you back around £100 in the UK. Both include mono summing and allow you to switch between sources and destinations. Where they differ is that the M‑Patch 2 opts for an arguably more transparent passive signal path, while the C‑Control uses active circuitry to provide additional cue‑mixing and talkback facilities. We reviewed them back in December 2006 and September 2003, respectively, and you can read those reviews for yourself in the SOS article archives by going to /sos/sep03/articles/samsonc.htm and /sos/dec06/articles/smprompatch.htm.
However, if you're not entirely happy with your computer's audio interface, you might also want to consider TC Electronic's new Desktop Konnekt 6 as an alternative, as this provides the required monitoring controls, along with TC Electronic's audio quality and a mic preamp for recording, all for a current street price of around £120. We reviewed this in the October 2008 issue, which you can find by going to /sos/oct08/articles/desktopkonnekt6.htm.
Whatever route you take, you'll still have more than half your budget left for monitoring. For what it's worth, in your position I'd actually avoid speakers entirely, and get a top‑of‑the‑range pair of open‑backed headphones instead. My personal favourite — Beyerdynamic DT880 Pros — seem to be available for around £180 in the UK at the moment. I think you'd be able to mix far better on those than on any similarly priced stereo monitor system, not least because I imagine you're probably working in a domestic environment without any real acoustic treatment. .