Drawmer MC2.1 by chris carter
The Drawmer MC2.1 is a desktop (rackmountable; more on that later) stereo monitor controller with sub output and talkback.
On the rear are three inputs for A, B and C. A is an XLR/TRS combi jack, B is XLR only and C is both RCA and 1/8” stereo jack. When using the rackmount kit, the C 1/8” input can be routed to a front panel ¼” stereo jack which makes it easy to plug in a portable player. Inputs are selected on the front with latching push buttons. In the pictures the buttons look black, but they are more like a really dark silver color so there is some contrast with the flat black body of the controller. The buttons are NOT wimpy push buttons; they are very solid, are not cheap, don’t wiggle, etc. There’s a green LED under each button to indicate which input is active and you can select more than one input at the same time.
There are outputs for three sets of speakers on the back. All three are on XLR jacks labeled A, B and C with A also having an XLR output for a sub if you use one (I don’t mix with a sub, so I can’t comment on it). Like the inputs, the outputs are selected on the front with the same kind of buttons situated right above the inputs. It’s a good location because they line up with the inputs making things a little more intuitive. Like the inputs, you can also select more than one set of speakers at the same time.
There are two headphone outputs on the front panel and both have their own volume control with plenty of gain. I found them to be surprisingly good; really good actually and far better than I expected.
There’s what I kind of call the “tools” area in the middle of the front panel which consists of two rows of three push buttons with red LEDs underneath. The top row has left cut, mute, and right cut. The left and right cuts are often not present on controllers and I find them to be extremely handy. The bottom row has phase, mono, and dim. The phase button is a great asset when mixing files for a client where you don’t know if that stereo track is really a stereo sound or a mono sound on a stereo track, or split stereo tracks really just being two of the same mono track – it’s a real time saver and faster than hitting phase in the DAW. The dim switch is -20dB. It’s a nice level that lets me mix at the sweet spot volume and drop it down to check quietly momentarily.
There is a talkback button on the front panel which is non-latching, so you’ll have none of those embarrassing moments where the artist hears you cursing about how horrible they are because you accidently had a latching talkback switch engaged. I personally see no reason whatsoever for a latching talk-back; too much risk for almost no benefit. There is a small trim knob above the talkback switch to adjust the gain and a hard-to-see mic right above that. Speaker output is dimmed with talkback engaged. The talkback signal goes to the headphones and also to an unbalanced ¼” jack on the back. You could rout this signal to an open input on a desk or in a DAW left unmuted to rout talkback to a cue system. This is one way to get around the lack of cue inputs on the monitor controller. It is slightly kludgy to work this way than to have cue inputs on the controller, but it is a little more flexible and the cost of adding cue inputs and associated routing would have jacked up the price tag considerably. Overall, I’m happy with their choice here. My only complaint about the talkback switch, which I do think is noteworthy, is the yellow LED indicating it’s on is actually located below the button. The problem is that when you put your finger on the button, you wind up covering the LED making it completely pointless to have the LED there in the first place. The LED should really be located above or to the side of the talkback switch for it to be of any use.
The volume knob is on the far right and it’s nice and big. The controller is an active design so in addition to attenuation you also have about 12dB of additional gain to the signal. You set your 12 o’clock position at whatever volume you want (more on calibration later). I have it set up so that when it’s in the 12 o’clock position I’m monitoring my mixes at about 83dB A-weighted / slow. It’s nice setting it up this way because 12 o’clock is such an easy spot to go back to after fiddling with the volume. I’m in the process of putting little marks on my knob with colored tape for 3dB up and 3dB down. So how does it sound? Transparent as hell is how I’d put it. Shockingly so. There is nothing else in this price range that I’m aware of that is anywhere near this level of transparency. I was literally jumping for joy when I heard it. To give some perspective, my room is semi-purpose built and VERY accurate. All computers, UPSes and anything that can generate any noise at all are in a separate machine room. My control room is DEAD silent. The tracking is also very good; I didn’t get any difference between left and right until I brought it down about the 7:30 position (7:00 is –inf). This is pretty much below whisper level with how I have it calibrated and is a volume I never really work at. I consider it pretty much unrealistic to have perfect tracking all the way down to –inf so I was very happy it was as good as it was. That said, there is a workaround if you do need to work at sub-whisper volume with perfect tracking. Just engage the dim switch and then move your volume knob back up into a more realistic range. That’s what they suggest in the manual; I’ve tried it and it works flawlessly. In this manner I can get perfect l/r tracking down to ant crawling volumes. I do have two minor complaints about the volume knob though. First – it’s not very grippy as there are no knurled sides. Granted, lots of volume knobs aren’t, but I find on days when my hands are particularly dry, I wish it had a little more grip. It does spin very smooth, so it’s not like you have to grab the thing hard or anything, I just like a little more confidence when I’m working at warp speed. The other complaint is that the knob is pretty thick (a good thing, but…) with a mark on the top and marks on the front panel. It’s quite a distance between the two. So if you are trying to line up a certain exact volume for repeatability, you kind of have to position your eyeballs so they are looking straight down the thing. I would like to have a line that runs down the side of the knob so you REALLY know the exact position. This is part of why I have my sweet spot at the 12 o’clock position, because it’s easy to go back to. Of course, you can put your own line on the thing, as I’m about to do. It’s a minor gripe, but worth mentioning.
There are calibration trims on the underside of the unit. They are recessed and require a screwdriver to turn them. These are NOT stereo trims – they are mono and there is one for each speaker. This is great because you get much better accuracy. The downside is that you do have to take a little care in calibrating your speakers. You can just turn the trims up to a comfortable volume and go. You really do have to calibrate them. This requires some pink noise and an SPL meter (I suppose you could use an SPL app, but I don’t know how much I’d trust one of those). Calibrating was really pretty simple and just involved turning a screwdriver while looking at the needle on my SPL meter. The more time consuming part was really settling on what I wanted my monitoring level to be because, like I said, it’s a good idea to make your sweet spot at the 12 o’clock position for easy recallability. I initially went a little too high by a few dB and decided to recalibrate. Most people aren’t going to be nearly as finicky as I am though. While I’m thrilled with the individual trim pots, I do have one complaint about them: they are VERY easy to turn. I would have preferred a little more resistance to them. I found I had to be very careful when removing my screwdriver from the pot in order to ensure I didn’t nudge the thing a dB (something I accidentally did several times). And although I have the controller rackmounted, it does make me a little nervous something might accidentally make those trims move. Hopefully in future versions they put a little more resistance in these pots – it’s my biggest complaint.
The controller is designed as a desktop unit and I’m sure it will probably get used that way by 98% of people. But for me, that’s just no good so I got the rackmount kit. I have it racked on my desk in a slightly angled rack. A nice feature of the rack kit is that it brings the 1/8” jack for input C to the front on a ¼” stereo jack. It’s very handy to have it right there if I need to plug in my phone to play some youtube video when a client says “make the kazoo sound like this song!” The rack kit will make it take up the full width of two rack spaces. The kit is very sturdy, but it does leave the front panel slightly raised. I guess there is not such thing as an elegant rack mount kit, but it does bug me a little it’s not flush. It does make for a nice little edge that will hold a pencil though (although not if it were in a typical vertical rack). Yes, I’m being nitpicky.
So I mentioned it sounds great, but I also have to mention that it’s built like a tank. Absolutely nothing feels cheap on this thing – nothing. Everything feels solid, no thin metal, no wiggly buttons, and it weighs a lot. To be honest, it’s built like a tank. I should also mention that it is very well laid out from an ergonomic standpoint. All the controls are in really good locations that are very well thought out so you don’t really need to think. There are also zero double-feature buttons; none of that “hold the button while pushing the other button to engage the blah blah feature” – it’s all one dedicated button for one dedicated feature. There are also no workarounds of the “you get the extra input chaining this into that other thing with the whatever button engaged.” It also powers up on a timed relay so that you don’t get any pops or bangs when you turn everything on. My studio is on sequenced power-up and the controller powers on at the same time as my monitors and I have never heard any noise during powering up.
Overall, I’m thrilled with this thing. It puts in all the stuff a pro needs and none of the fluffy crap companies add on to make the feature list look better. Granted, some of those missing features may scare off a couple people, but they put all the savings directly into quality and it shows in a very impressive and obvious way. The way I see it is the two biggest features this controller doesn’t have that someone might want are: 1) cue inputs so the talent can listen to a different mix than the engineer without the need for running the talkback input to the DAW or an external mixer. 2) lack of a headphone output on the back for a clean cable run to a headphone distribution amp. Neither one of these are an issue for me. I’m able to run all of my talkback functions entirely within the DAW and I will never need to use the headphone outputs for the talent anyway. However, as I mentioned before, adding cue inputs would have considerably jacked up the price tag. If your goal is a pro controller with all the proper tools in it and transparent sound in a solid box for under a grand (or a grand and a half really) I don’t see much competing with this thing.