Design - 9.5/10
Ease of Use - 9/10
Sound - 9/10
Value - 8/10
The Mackie Big Knob has long been a staple in monitor control for home and small recording studios, and for good reason. Not only is the device well-designed and easy to use, but it has a ton of functionality to back it up. Now, Mackie is back with a refresh to the Big Knob in the form of three new monitor control devices — the Big Knob Passive, Big Knob Studio, and Big Knob Studio+. Today, we’re taking a look at the Mackie Big Knob Studio.
The Big Knob Studio is arguably the most closely-related descendent to the original Big Knob, not only in how it works, but also in how much it costs. But it’s not just a slightly different look — the Mackie Big Knob Studio, along with the Studio+, transforms the series from a monitor control system to a fully-fledged home studio center. How? By adding two mic preamps and USB functionality — making the device a recording interface too.
This isn’t the first monitor controller we’ve looked at — we recently also reviewed the PreSonus Monitor Station V2 — which scored quite well in our review.
When we first took the Mackie Big Knob Studio out of the box, we were struck not only by how well-designed it was, but also how well-built it seemed. All of the knobs, switches, and buttons seem strongly implemented and ready to withstand the day-to-day abuse involved in running a studio. That’s not unexpected of Mackie — long has the company built products made to last. But it’s still nice to see that tradition continuing.
On the front edge of the device, you’ll find two headphone outputs, along with a 1/8-inch stereo input. On the back, you’ll find the rest of the ports — two XLR/TRS combos, a stereo main source input, stereo two-track output, and two sets of stereo monitor outputs. You’ll also find the USB output and power input, and a recording source selector. With that switch, you can choose between the main inputs, and the 2-track for the recording source.
Once you’ve connected everything at the back, the main front panel is where the magic happens. The centerpiece of the panel is, as you might expect, the “Big Knob” — which is the main volume controller. Apart from that, however, you also have controls for selecting which monitors to listen through, a talkback level control for the built-in microphone, headphone volume controls, and so on. You also have controls for the gain of the mic preamps — including a 48V phantom power switch, though that switch controls phantom power for both preamps, so you’ll want to be careful if you’re using a microphone that can’t necessarily handle phantom power.
The Mackie Big Knob Studio doesn’t just look good — it’s relatively easy to use too. We loved the design of this device, and had little trouble in getting to learn how to use it.
The Mackie Big Knob Studio brings the Big Knob series into the recording interface world, and it’s a very nice addition to see. What it means is that home and small studio owners not only get a great monitor control system for their studio, but they get also get a few extra mic preamps for recording. That can make a huge difference, especially for those just starting out.
Mackie’s Onyx preamps have long been hailed as offering a ton of clarity and definition, especially when put up against other entry-level preamps from the likes of PreSonus and MOTU. In our testing the preamps indeed sounded great — not only were they very clear, but super transparent too — which is an important thing to consider. That’s good news for home studios, as it makes the interface a little more versatile — it’ll sound great no matter what you record, and the color in your recording will come from your mixing rather than the recording process itself.
The interface is capable of recording up to a 192kHz sample rate with a 24-bit bit depth, which is great for most home and small studio uses.
The Big Knob is all grown up with the Big Knob series — and the Mackie Big Knob Studio represents an excellent bang for your buck. We loved how easy it was to fly around the main face of the Big Knob, but the addition of recording really brought the device to the next level. The device is built with the home and small studio in mind, to be sure, but the Mackie Big Knob Studio has applications beyond just the home studio — the mixing engineer on the go, the major studio building an extra side studio, and so on — all could make good use of the new Mackie Big Knob Studio.
Of course, you should also consider the Big Knob Passive, which is simply a 2-in 2-out monitor control system and comes at $70, and the Big Knob Studio+, which gives you four sources and three monitor pairs rather than three sources and two monitor pairs, and comes at $299.99 from Sweetwater.
So is the Mackie Big Knob Studio better than offerings from the likes of PreSonus? Well, that depends. If you’re building a home studio and could use the preamps in the Big Knob Studio to get you started, then this is definitely the device for you. The PreSonus Monitor Station V2, on the other hand, comes with three speaker outputs — which might be helpful depending on your needs.