A console manufacturer should know a thing or two about how to make a good monitor controller...
Although most DAW software and audio interfaces incorporate some form of monitor controller functionality these days, I think there's something very comforting and convenient about a stand-alone analogue monitor controller within easy reach on the desktop! Not only is it guaranteed still to work if the computer has a meltdown, it also allows other replay sources easy access to the monitor speakers without having to fire up the computer.
Monitor controllers range from the ultra-simple low-cost models like the JBL NanoPatch+ or Palmer's Monicon, up to über-sophisticated devices like the Grace Design m905 or Cranesong Avocet IIA, and with countless alternatives in between those extremes. While some controllers are very simple passive designs, most employ active electronics — and, in general, I find the latter provide better consistency of performance in different installations, as well as far more functionality and versatility.
The dominant player in the mid-budget monitor controller market in recent times has probably been Drawmer, with an impressive range of affordable devices, all of which have well-judged feature sets including some facilities often omitted from competitors' products. However, the British console manufacturer Audient recently entered the same sector with its brand-new Nero monitor controller.
Audient's renowned experience in analogue console design and, more recently, with computer interfaces, provides the ideal background to produce a high-quality stand-alone monitor controller. Indeed, the company has made the ASP510 surround monitor controller for the professional market for a great many years, and the monitoring facilities built into its iD range of USB interfaces are also unusually well appointed.
Although the Nero is both intended and priced for typical home- and project-studio applications, designer Dave Dearden's pristine analogue circuitry means its technical performance is extremely good, and its configurability makes it a very competent and capable monitor controller that would be equally well suited to many professional installations, too.
Built into a compact, angled desktop unit, with a black-painted steel case and crisp white control legends, the Nero measures 255 x 75 x 155 mm (whd) and it weighs a solid 2kg — heavy enough to ensure the input and output cabling won't pull it off the desk!
From a technology point of view, the circuitry is fairly conventional for the most part, with lots of trusty NE5532 op-amps evident on the surface-mount circuit board, which covers the entire base of the unit. Most of the signal switching is performed by sealed relays (I counted 18 of them!), while Texas Instruments OPA1662 op-amps are employed as balanced line drivers for the speaker outputs, and the headphones are powered by Texas TPA6133A2 chips.