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Monitor gain staging

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Monitor gain staging

Postby Chimera » Mon Apr 06, 2020 2:25 pm

I have an RME Fireface 802 running into a Palmer passive monitor controller onto my KRK Rocket 10-3s.

I've never given it much thought before but whilst using Totalmix I switched the RME output down to -10 dBv and cranked up the Palmer controller to make up for the volume loss.

After a bit of experimentation with, admittedly just an iPad dB meter for matching overall volume, I came to the conclusion that "I preferred" the RME on -10 rather than +4 or High gain. As I remember I have the KRK's set at about 3/4 of maximum volume. I was monitoring at a peak of 70dB.

This got me wondering whether there was a real effect - was the more open Palmer controller colouring the sound less?

What are opinions on the best RME and KRK settings? Should I ditch the Palmer?
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Re: Monitor gain staging

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Apr 06, 2020 2:41 pm

It's a complicated question to answer because here are so many variables involved.

The main technical difference between your original setup and the revised configuration is the output impedance of the Palmer passive volume control. It would have been pretty high in the first setup, with the volume control turned well down, and much lower in the current setup. That change may well have had an effect on the system's overall frequency response, and potentially also the common-mode rejection ratio. It will also affect stereo imaging stability and accuracy because track matching is notortiously poor at low settings.

Also, running the RMW with lower level outputs may also have a beneficial effect on noise and distortion.

At the end of the day, the aim is to arrive at a sensible gain structure that allows the operational volume control to be set at around 70% (2 o'clock) for normal use. That allows a little extra gain on hand for checking quiet things, while optimising the stereo tracking.

To achieve that position on the control, you may need to adjust the input sensitivity of the speakers, or the output level from the interface... or both. But it sounds like you've already arrived at a good configuration.

RME interfaces can be used to drive monitor speakers directly... but personally I always prefer to have an analogue volume control between the computer/interface and the speakers. Something I can grab if the computer/interface decides to crash or in case I make a booboo and accidentally create a noisy routing howlround. Being able to instantly hit a mute button or spin the volume control has saved countless tweeters around the world over the years!

So no, I wouldn't ditch the passive volume control.
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Re: Monitor gain staging

Postby Chimera » Mon Apr 06, 2020 3:01 pm

Thanks Hugh,

I prefer having a knob to grab in an emergency too as my Virus TI2 occasionally causes a bug where the RME output produces full scale white noise - not pleasant. I usually remember to put an Ice 9 plugin across the main outs but I do forget occasionally.

I'll try and set up to reach 70% on the Palmer. I had noticed at low levels it attenuates the right signal more than the left so it clearly has limitations like everything else.
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Re: Monitor gain staging

Postby Hugh Robjohns » Mon Apr 06, 2020 3:17 pm

Chimera wrote:I'll try and set up to reach 70% on the Palmer. I had noticed at low levels it attenuates the right signal more than the left so it clearly has limitations like everything else.

Yes, stereo mistracking of simple potentiometers at high attenuation settings is quite normal. That's why high-end monitor controllers tend to use switches with discrete resistors or relay-controlled attenuators.
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