Crane Song Avocet

Crane Song’s Avocet is being touted in chat rooms and message boards across the net as being one of the premier studio controllers for mastering and recording control rooms. Users claim that the converters are some of the clearest available, while singing praises about the unit allowing direct comparisons of various sources with level-matched precision. That’s all well and good but, in addition to a boatload of desirable features, what piqued my interest were the stories of people upgrading their stereo units to full 5.1. surround monitoring beasts with just a few at-home tweaks. So I sent the local minions to do my evil bidding (i.e., get me an Avocet to break open and play with), and this is what I found out.
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The basic Avocet system consists of a 2U rack-mounted “core” unit and a remote controller that can be placed on a top of a work area or built into a desk. The standard (read: one unit) configuration can serve as a stereo controller with three digital inputs, three analog inputs, and a headphone system. All digital signals are up-sampled and jitter-reduced to help ensure precision during D/A conversion.

The remote also features dim (which instantly attenuates speaker output), mute, and mono functions. Speaker select switches send line level balanced audio to one of three outputs. As many mastering engineers rely on dedicated metering, the system includes buffered meter outputs. The internal headphone amplifier can be fed from the program source or via external input, with provisions for a talk back function. Additionally, an XLR input rests on the controller, allowing engineers to choose a talk back mic of their liking.


The only thing you must do to upgrade existing stereo units to surround is make sure that each unit’s internal jumpers are set to force each box to do its core job (L/R), (C/LF), or (SL/SR) and daisy-chain the three boxes with the supplied DB25 control cable. I suggest labeling each unit as “Left/Right,” “Center/Low Frequency,” and “Surround Left/Surround Right” to make your life easier.

To set the jumpers, remove the top of the unit using a standard Phillips head screwdriver. The L/R unit will be set from the factory, so you only have to configure two devices. Using the furnished manual, find the graphics for the applicable function and set the jumpers according to the photos. This should only take a minute or two per unit. Once the jumpers are set and the case tops secured, you’re ready for the last step: Rack the units in the new home, and connect them using the supplied DB25 daisy-chain cable. Make sure to follow the chain as noted in the manual. Hook up your speakers and you are good to go, though I do advise that you level-set your chain, meters, and the unit to common gain after connecting the system. Total running time: less than 30 minutes.


Before receiving the Avocet, I used a passive analog controller. There were a few issues with my old setup. . . .

  • I was using two different brands of D/A converters—one to feed the mastering chain and one to feed the monitor chain. This meant I was never comparing the audio with the same “lens.”
  • There was no level-matching feature. Each time I switched between the source mix and the proposed master, the master was much louder. This made hearing equalization and other processing very difficult. [Note: If you are mastering but lack the means to do immediate source and target comparisons, stop immediately and resolve this issue. Otherwise you run the chance of simply making the mix louder, not better.]
  • The old unit was pretty pricey. After purchasing matching converters, I had spent much more than I would have on the Avocet, but still didn’t have as many features at my disposal.

The converters in the Avocet are impressive: clear, wide-ranged, and invisible—and much preferable when compared to some of those hyped-sounding converters that I wouldn’t let within 50 feet of my monitoring path. An added bonus comes in the form of the extra digital inputs, which make it easy to attach a CD player’s digital out and use the unit’s D/As to listen to commercially-mastered discs. Talk about comparing to the other bands on the market!

Offsets for a variety of levels are user-programmable. This allows you to match the loudness of the inputs on the fly. For example, to make the proposed master quieter, simply hit the selector button for your output (it will blink, indicating it’s in offset mode), turn the main volume knob to taste, and hit the selector a second time to lock in the amount of boost/cut. That’s it. There is no need to go to a control menu, tweak the back of the unit, or burn incense. You can also choose to lock all of the offsets to prevent accidental changes. Hallelujah!

Furthermore, as a surround controller, the Avocet couldn’t be easier to use. Soloing, muting, adding, and subtracting speakers form the presentation field are as simple as hitting a button. The individual monitor buttons span the top of the remote in a logical manner, with the center channel in the middle and the left and right channels spreading outward from there. Low Frequency management is a breeze in this setup (as well as for stereo setups where a sub gets involved via the channel 3 override). Seriously, it’s idiot-proof in this regard.


If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it a thousand times: After your ears and talent, the most important thing in any studio chain is the monitoring system. But with people in a seemingly constant state of fascination with monitor speakers, it’s easy to forget they are only as good as the source they receive. To that end, the Avocet is, in my humble opinion, at the top of the class of monitor control systems. The converters are pristine, the layout is logical, and it’s feature-rich and easy to use. Sure, it’s an expensive acquisition (especially with the remote), but as far as I’m concerned, it’s worth it.

PRODUCT TYPE: Discrete Class A studio controller (with surround upgrade).

TARGET MARKET: Higher-level studios needing a high-grade studio monitor controller for recording, mixing, and mastering.

STRENGTHS: Top quality converters in every channel. Easily programmable level offsets. Stereo units can be field-upgraded to surround capabilities.

LIMITATIONS: No headphone jack built into the remote box.

LIST PRICE: Stereo Avocet with remote $2,800; Surround Avocet with remote $6,400.