The Central Station solved a few problems I never knew I had until I stumbled over this device and after looking at several other solutions, costs and reviews I decided to put one to the test. This device is not a requirement for any small studio or hobbyist. It doesn't offer much of any real exciting features but if you simply have more than one set of monitors, headphones or a need to manage your sub, monitors and headphones separately then this may just be what you need
Pros: Simple to use, Passive, VU meters offer great feedback
Cons: Cannot remove rack ears, Can only engage 2 of 3 speaker sets at a time
Model: Central Station Plus
- 3 sets of stereo analog inputs let you switch between sources
- 2 sets of S/PDIF digital inputs (coax and optical)
- 3 sets of stereo speaker outputs with:
- Speaker Select switches
- Recessed trim pot for each speaker output
- Cue section with:
- Input-select switch
- Output-level control
- Main section with:
- Input-select switch
- Aux-input level control
- Output-level control
- Mute, Dim (-20 dB), and Mono switches
- 2 headphone outputs, each with:
- Dual-function volume controls
- Main-Cue input switches
- Passive audio path: no op amps or IC's in main audio path
- Onboard talkback microphone
- Talkback microphone input w/level control (feeds headphone and cue outputs)
- Dual 30-segment, fast-acting, peak-hold LED metering (dBu and dBfs) with:
- Clear Peak switch
- Calibrate to match DAW or other audio device
- Footswitch jack for hands-free talkback operation
- 4 balanced ¼" analog line inputs (2 L/R pairs)
- 2 unbalanced RCA analog line inputs (L/R pair)
- 1 stereo S/PDIF optical (TOSLINK) digital input
- 1 stereo S/PDIF coax (RCA) digital input
- 1 balanced XLR talkback-microphone input
- 6 balanced ¼", line-level speaker outputs (3 L/R pairs) w/separate, passive volume controls
- 2 balanced ¼", line-level Main outputs (1 L/R pair) with source selection
- 2 balanced ¼", line-level Cue outputs (1 L/R pair) with volume control and source selection
- 2 stereo ¼" headphone jacks w/dual-function volume controls and Main-Cue input switches
- 1 DB15 port for optional Control Station Remote (CSR-1)
- S/PDIF coax and optical digital inputs
- High-definition, 24-bit, 192 kHz D/A converters (115 dBu dynamic range)
- 1U 19" rack-mountable, rugged steel chassis
What Is It For?
My audio monitoring setup was pretty straight forward and typical for a small studio setup. PC > Audio Interface > Mixer > Monitors. I also plugged in monitoring headphones into the mixers headphones and because I have a studio powered sub I simply daisy chained the audio to the sub then to the monitors.
This served me well for about 6 years as I had never even thought more about it but I always suffered the following limitations with this setup:
- The powered sub was always active even if I wanted to check a mix without the sub (or just late night without bass).
- The mixer was used mainly to send audio into the DAW so managing audio paths in and out to monitors was a bit of a challenge
- I wanted to incorporate another set of standard HIFI speakers or some other monitors to cross reference my mixes
- When I had vocal artists to record it was a challenge to manage monitoring mixes to the artist and myself
I started looking at building a simple switch box, then adding volume and routing capabilities and while researching I came across Monitoring Mixers and the Central Station.
This now allows for all the features I needed with extras thrown in:
First Impressions & Build Quality
I spend quite some time looking over options, reviews and history when purchasing something like this because normally the intention is to partner with this new piece of gear for many years. I was initially skeptical because of some rather poor reviews on the first run of units and the fact the power adapter had a 5 pin multi-voltage connector which would make replacements difficult. I discovered that the first version had a few issues with noisy potentiometers and the second version seemed to fair much better and that was the one with a simple 12v DC power input. This is the one I sourced which was an ex display model so I saved a LOT of cash (half price).
I own a few pieces of Presonus gear and they have always been good quality. There is a certain quality and style they carry through their range and the Central station was no different. It is all metal, with metal knobs and quality feel and look. The rack mounting setup makes it perfect for the space where I needed it and the option for an external remote (which I did not get/need) was a nice option should I ever rack mount the unit.
Powering it up I was greeted with a lot of blue LEDs and a quick flash of the VU meter which is one of the nice big features. Basically in terms of the controls and connectors I found nothing that felt flimsy or cheap. If I had to complain about something it would be the fact the rack ears are inbuilt and not detatchable as I do not have it in a rack but that is nothing deal breaking.
Installation & Setup
Installation and connection with gear is straight forward and should be already pre-conceived if you are buying this device, you already should know why. It's good to make sure BEFORE that you have enough TRS/XLR cables to make the extra connections and they are long enough. Also it is good to keep in mind that this is a Balanced router designed to work only with balanced devices and will only support an unbalanced input via the AUX RCA input. There is no option for unbalanced monitors or speaker connections and not a good idea to mix balanced/unbalanced connections due to the passive connections.
With all my sources and destinations connected it was time to calibrate the VU meters. This needs to be done for the 2 main source inputs and the manual and the Presonus website have all the info and the calibration audio file to do this. I calibrated both my main audio interface output and mixer outputs to the same unity gain levels and once all was complete I was able to rout sound the same audio direct out the audio interface and also through the mixer to the monitors and switch between sources with no notice in switching at all (all levels matched perfectly). With calibration set this allows the VU meters to display true audio levels and clipping from your software regardless of the volume of the monitors so instantly you can see when levels are running too hot. This is such a useful feature.
Round The Back
On the left we have power input and an on/off switch. Older version 1 units have a 5 pin power connector and no power switch though I think a rear mounted power switch on a rack mounted device is rather useless. Next is the digital inputs (optical and coax). I have not used these yet. Next we have 3 pairs of speaker connectors (TRS) clearly labelled. Next on there is a line output (TRS) for both the main mix and the cue mix which is handy for external headphone or additional mixing gear. Next along is the 2 main source inputs (TRS1/2) and an RCA Aux input if required. A DB9 connector is provided to connect the (optional) CSR-1 remote that allows control of the switching and volume levels (does not offer headphone monitoring outputs though) and when connected the main controls are all disabled and switched instead to the CSR-1. Lastly is a footswitch input for controlling the talkback mic and also an external mic input with a switch to select bewteen the inbuilt and ext mic.
WIth everything connected and calibrated it was time to put it through its paces. I noticed no difference in audio via any of the inputs, no crackle or issues with any of the controls and importantly no audio thumps/clicks when the unit switches between monitors or audio inputs. It really is very transparent without any noticeable affect on any audio signals.
The monitor speaker selection has 3 stereo outputs labelled A/B/C for connection of 3 sets of monitors (or in my case 2 sets of monitors and a Sub). This is the main purpose of this configuration as selecting speaker A will disengage speaker B and vise versa. Speaker C will always stay engaged allowing a Sub to be switched in and out with the ability to then switch between 2 sets of monitors.
The headphone section has amps to power the cans (the only active circuit apart from the digital input) and there are 2 headphone outs each with individual volume and Main/Cue mix selection. Pressing the volume knob for a headphone channel switches between Main/Cue mix for headphones. A cue selection allows the user to select the inputs (TRS1/TRS2/AUX/Digital) to send to the cue channel while a Master selection selects which of the mentioned inputs are sent to the monitor speakers.
There is plenty of power to drive almost any headphones and when switching to the cue sources you can boost this using an Aux volume control.
A Master Volume controls the monitors volume but can only attenuate the volume, not boost.
A section of trim pots allows monitors to be trimmed to assist in matching volumes across multiple sets. I have these all to MAX and trim the volume on the monitors themselves as getting a perfect balance between L/R can be a challenge over all outputs.
While the unit is solid and of good quality I do have one complaint. All the feedback LEDs are blue and in the case of the headphone section there are 2 blue LEDs side by side that indicate if the headphones are set to the Cue or Master section. In a well lit room this is a non-issue but much of my tme is in a dull lit room where I cannot even see the writing so at a glance it's almost impossible to tell what the source is. Most the other controls you can tell once you know the patterns but the headphones are a challenge. I will eventually mod this and replace the Cue LED with a Red one and it would have made much more sense to do this in the first place.
The only other "issue" is that there is both a talkback and dim feature that both duck the audio by -20db. There is no adjustment for this amount so if it is not a suitable amount then tough. The desktop version (Central Monitoring Station) does have this as a feature.
This is not something that you drool over and think "I must have me one of those" but when you see the need it's hard to think how you ever managed without one. There are so many things I love about this unit from the ability to switch out my sub, to the accurate and responsive VU meter to the headphone section that allows me to now keep at least 2 sets of cans connected to switch between. The cost at normal retail though makes this an expensive switch box though and alternatives including the Presonus Monitor Station at almost half price makes this a tough decision. Still, find a good one second hand and these will provide a lot of benefit otherwise if you don't mind a desktop unit the newer Central Monitor may be a good option too.