Two standard outputs on mixing consoles, are Main Out and Control Room Out ports. Since every type of output on mixing consoles differ slightly from each other, what are the differences between these two output types, and how do they function? I will address all this in this article so read till the end.
The main difference between a main out and a control room out is that, a main out is used to send the main mix of all inputs, and is always affected by main volume changes and signal modifications such as effects and EQ changes. On the other hand, a control room out is primarily a monitoring output that is not always affected by signal modification and usually has its own volume control.
In order to fully appreciate the differences that exist between these two output types, it is important to know how these outputs work, what they can be used for, what their functions and limitations are, and how they compare to one another.
Therefore, let’s talk briefly about both outputs and how they are designed to function.
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The Main Out on any audio device is designed to be the primary output signal source. A main out is primarily used to send audio signals to the front-of-house (FOH) speakers.
That notwithstanding, an audio signal from this output can be used for recording and for sending audio for live audio projections. To add to all these, a main out port can be used for sending an audio signal from mixing consoles to other audio devices such as preamps, interfaces, or audio processors.
The Main Out on every mixing console is usually a balanced output and is commonly found as a stereo output. It is usually built to accept 3-pin XLR connectors. However, some mixing consoles come with Main Out ports that accept ¼” jacks.
This type of output is typically amplified and is ready to be sent to any FOH speaker or audio source. However, it can also be sent to recording equipment or used for live audio projection.
Main Out ports always send a full mix. What this means is, as long as a channel is not muted, every input sent into a mixing console is sent out through the Main Out.
Another characteristic of a Main Out port is that audio signals from main outputs are not line-level outputs; they are affected by signal modifications such as EQ and are usually amplified and balanced to provide the best possible audio signal clarity.
Thus, EQ, gain changes, and volume level changes affect the signal from the Main Out port.
Control Room Out
The name Control Room Out is merely a tradition in the audio industry that emanated from the use of a single mixer to record or broadcast live music.
Thus, in the audio industry, a control room is usually a separate monitoring room designed for recording, live monitoring, recording monitoring, or combining audio and video signals for broadcast.
The audio output that was originally designed to send audio signals to this location is called Control Room Out. Control room out is usually found on only mixing consoles, and is designed to send audio to control room speakers or to a separate amplifier.
You should note that this output basically functions as a monitoring output, hence can be used for any form of audio monitoring. Control Room Out is an unbalanced monitoring output used for solo channels, listening to the main mix, or isolating specific inputs. It can even be used as a general stage monitor in live situations.
This output usually has its separate volume control. The great thing about a Control Room Out is that it is not always affected by signal modifications such as EQ.
This is typically possible due to an option that can be selected. This option is known as pre-fader listening. Engaging pre-fader listening allows the Control Room Out output to send a signal not affected by main volume changes and processing such as effects, and EQ changes.
Differences Between Main Out and Control Room Out
There are differences that exist between every output found on mixing consoles. This is no different when we consider the Main Out and Control Room Out.
Now that we have a better understanding of what Main Out and Control Room Out ports are and what they do, let’s highlight the key differences between them.
Read along as I highlight and explore the significant differences between Main Out and Control Room Out ports.
The primary difference between the Main Out and the Control Room Out on a console or mixer is that the Main Out output sends a balanced output signal that is a full mix of what is put into the console.
This mix is affected by EQ, gain, and effects modifications and usually sends the signal at the speaker level.
On the other hand, depending on the settings, a Control Room Output sends an unbalanced output that may or may not be affected by signal modifications. This is because audio signals from a control room output can be set to pre-fader or post-fader.
When it is set at pre-fader, will not be affected by signal modifications. However, when it is set to post-fader, it can be affected by these modifications.
Another point is, a Control Room Output is a monitoring output that can be used to send a line-level signal to a recording setup, an amplifier, or a powered speaker for the purposes of monitoring through a stage monitor, in-ear monitors, or even to send audio to an additional speaker system.
On the other hand, a main out port sends out an amplified level signal that is capable of driving loudspeakers.
Finally, audio signals transmitted by main outs are affected by the mixer’s master volume control whiles control room out signals are not. This can be attributed to the fact that; a control room out is primarily meant for sending a signal for live recording, thus, has an independent volume control.
What this means is that the changes made to the main volume do not affect the control out signal.
Similarities Between Main Out and Control Room Out
If you have read up to this point, then you are certainly aware of the differences that exist between these two mixing console outputs. Even though there are quite a number of differences between these two ports, there is one thing they have in common.
Audio signals from main out and control room out can be routed for recording purposes.
The truth is, even though main out is typically amplified and primarily used to send audio signals to the FOH speakers, it can be used to send audio signals to recording devices.
This audio signal from a main out is ready to be sent to any speaker or audio source. However, it can also be sent to recording equipment or used for live audio projection.
The same is the case for audio signals from a control room out. A control room out is among the most versatile outputs on mixing consoles and can be used in several ways.
This Control Room Out can be used to send line-level audio signals to recording setups and monitoring rooms designed for recording, recording monitoring, and many more.
Main Out and Control Room Out are common on most mixers and audio equipment. However, like every other port on mixing consoles, they have a number of differences that set them apart.
A Main Out is a balanced and amplified speaker-level output used primarily to send the main mix of all inputs and EQ to FOH speakers whiles a Control Room Out is primarily a monitoring output that sends audio to monitoring rooms and recording setups.
Take the time to explore these outputs on your hardware and don’t hesitate to consult the manufacturer’s manual to best understand the capabilities of these outputs on your mixing console.