This week I’ve just got one question. If you have any questions for me, please ask via the Ask Joe form.

Mike wrote:
Was thinking of getting an Apogee Rosetta 200 converter. Do my monitor speakers get connected to the outs on the converter?

xlr-connector

Photo by Y0si

Thanks Mike. This is a great question. First of all, kudos on picking the Rosetta 200. I’m a big fan of Apogee, and I think you’ll love the sound of the Rosetta.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, the Apogee Rosetta 200 is a two-channel converter from Apogee. It has two channels of analog-to-digital  converters and two channels of digital-to-analog converters.

The Rosetta is a standalone converter, meaning that it doesn’t have any sort of direct connection to your computer (although they do offer an additional firewire option). In most cases, the Rosetta connects to your audio interface via either a S/PDIF, ADAT, or AES connections.

For example, if I was going to buy a Rosetta 200 for my Pro Tools system, I would connect it to the S/PDIF inputs and outputs on the back of my 003. 

Why buy an external converter?

Before I answer Mike’s question, it’s important to address why one would even consider getting an external converter. After all, isn’t that what your audio interface is for? 

Well, it’s true, an audio interface does handle A/D and D/A conversion, but high-end converters like the Rosetta 200 take your audio signal to the next level. They have tighter bass, more detail, and the stereo image of your recordings becomes much wider once you run it through a high-end converter.

Does everyone need a Rosetta 200? No. In fact, I would bet that the majority of people who buy a Rosetta 200 would be better suited by investing in better mics, preamps, monitors, or acoustic treatment first.

My general rule of thumb is that all of your equipment should makes sense together. You shouldn’t use a $3,000 microphone with a $90 mixer or an $1800 converter with $200 studio monitors, and you should always connect your equipment with good cables. Okay, sermon’s over. Assuming Mike already has a lot of nice equipment, let’s move on.

Connecting the Rosetta 200 to Studio Monitors

If you take a look at the back panel of the Rosetta 200, you’ll see that it has XLR analog outputs. These can certainly connect directly to your studio monitors, but…how do you control the volume? A glance at the front panel will show you that there’s no volume knob. What to do?

This is pretty standard with most standalone converters. They simply provide line inputs and outputs, no volume control. Typically in this situation you’ll want to consider also buying some sort of monitor management box. These will accept various inputs from converters, CD players, iPods, etc., and play them back through one or more pair of speakers. Most importantly, they allow for volume control.

A few options:

  • Mackie Big Knob – I owned this for a while – very cool box. It has a ton of input and output connections and lots of bells and whistles.
  • PreSonus Central Station – This is a bit more professional box, with a completely passive signal path. This allows the signal to pass through the box without being altered by op-amps, etc.

There are quite a few more options, from the fancy Dangerous Music Monitor ST to the ridiculously simple and inexpensive TC Electronic Level Pilot. Any of these would work well on the back end of the Rosetta.

What about adjusting the master fader?

In the early Pro Tools days, there really weren’t a lot of options for monitor management. Engineers had historically controlled monitor volume through the monitor section of a big ‘ol recording console. 

With the advent of digital recording and Pro Tools, engineers realized that they could simply plug their converters directly into their studio monitors, bypassing the console entirely. However, they lost volume control, so they reverted to using the Master Fader in Pro Tools to control the volume.

This isn’t all that bad, except when you’re mixing, and you have a compressor or two instantiated on the master fader. Suddenly, if you turn down the master fader to listen at a lower volume, you completely change the level of signal hitting the compressor(s). This, in turn, changes the amount of compression, thus changing the sound of the entire mix.

This is why you need some sort of monitor management system.

I should note that my 003 has an “Aux Input” section that allows me to run a signal through the volume knob on the 003 itself. So, if you have a 003, you already have a little bit of monitor management built in.

Thanks for the question, Mike! I hope this helps. Anybody else have some advice? Please leave a comment.