FIG.1 The Central Station's front panel contains most of the unit's controls and its large, colorful LED meters.
PreSonus has built its reputation by manufacturing high-quality gear at affordable prices. Over its decade of existence, the Louisiana-based company has put out one innovative and useful piece of gear after another. One of its recent successes is the Central Station, which is designed to solve problems associated with monitoring multiple sources on different sets of speakers.
Into the Station
The front of the 1U box features the company's elegant blue-on-silver design scheme. Knobs, switches, and indicator LEDs all share the same pretty cobalt hue, while the level meters stand out with their bright green, orange, and red LED segments (see Fig. 1). As with other PreSonus products I've used, I have a big problem with the design of the shiny blue knobs. Although they look nice, they reflect light in such a way that it can be difficult to read where their silver indicator lines are pointing.
The Talkback section resides at the far left of the unit. A large-format console-style square button serves as the momentary switch for activating the internal omni condenser mic. The mic's gain is controlled by a front-panel knob.
Two ¼-inch TRS headphone jacks on the face of the unit have independent level control. Each one can have its source derived from the Main or Cue sections, which allows for quite a bit of flexibility for two pairs of headphones in the control room. Each gain pot also serves as a source switch when pushed in.
The Cue section has an Output Level control and four Input Select switches, allowing the signal present at the Cue outputs on the back of the unit to be toggled between any one of the five input sources: TRS 1, TRS 2, Aux, or Digital (S/PDIF or Toslink). The Main section has the same four input switches and a control knob for setting the overall level of the Aux input. Next to that section is a pair of switches for determining whether the digital signal is coming from the S/PDIF or the Toslink digital inputs.
The tricolored 30-segment fast-acting peak-program meters have markings for the dBfs (digital) and the dBu (analog) scales. The red overload LEDs have a hold feature that lets them stay illuminated until the Clear Peak button to the right of the meters is depressed. A Calibrate button allows you to match the meters' response to those on your DAW or analog mixer.
The Passive Speaker Control section has three Speaker Select switches (A, B, and C), a switch for summing the stereo image into mono, and buttons for muting and dimming the monitor outputs. Speaker Select switches A and B toggle each other off to allow for smooth A/B-ing of two sets of monitors. (Some of the Central Station's switches would occasionally pop back out too far when pressed, extending themselves from the box. They didn't fly out completely, but it was disconcerting to have to push the tiny plastic cylinders back in without breaking them.)
The C switch can be activated simultaneously with either A or B, which lends itself to having a single subwoofer set up for use with both sets of stereo speakers. (Be advised that using a subwoofer this way requires special attention to setting proper crossover frequencies for all speakers used.) This section also has six screwdriver-accessible trim pots that can be used to level-match the individual speaker outputs.
Finally, there is the large Main Level knob, which sets the level for the currently active speakers. This knob, which has a range of -80 dB of attenuation to unity gain, has a smooth action. As indicated by the knob's negative range, there is no amplification of the signal. The signal path is purely passive for an absolute minimum of coloration.
Behind the Music
The Central Station's rear panel is packed with inputs and outputs (see Fig. 2). At the far left is the connector for the external, lump-in-the-line power supply. The Digital Input section has Toslink optical and RCA S/PDIF jacks. Note that the Toslink port is not compatible with the ADAT Lightpipe format; it is intended for stereo optical inputs only. The optical and the RCA jacks can sync to and convert a digital signal to a maximum 24 bit, 192 kHz.
FIG. 2: the rear panel houses the unit's analog I/O and digital inputs.
The Speaker Outputs (A, B, and C) are on three pairs of ¼inch TRS jacks, which carry a line-level signal to as many as three sets of powered monitors or power amplifiers. The Line Outputs can carry stereo signals over pairs of ¼-inch TRS jacks to a mixdown deck (Main) and a studio headphone amp (Cue). The level at the Main output is not affected by the Main Level control knob. That allows you to turn your speakers up or down without changing the mixdown level. The nomenclature is slightly confusing, however, because the word “Main” is used to describe the overall monitoring level and the level going to the mixdown deck.
The Analog Input section has two pairs of ¼-inch TRS jacks for inputs 1 and 2, and a pair of unbalanced RCA jacks for the Aux input. The Console Remote Control section has a DB9 connector and a switch for activating the optional CSR-1 remote control. Rounding out the back of the unit is a ¼-inch TS pedal jack for connecting a talkback footswitch, and an XLR mic input with an activation switch should you use an external talkback mic.
Testing … One, Two
I've used the Central Station in my studio for a few months as the hub between my analog mixing board, two DAW systems, and a CD player, running into two sets of stereo monitors and a subwoofer. The unit's sound quality is top-notch (it sounds as good as some large-format consoles I've mixed on) — a clear upgrade from my previous IC-based speaker-switching system. Its converters are at least as good, if not slightly better, than those of my two sound cards. All switching functions are smooth, with an absolute minimum of popping, dropout, and overlap.
I wish, however, that the unit had more than one S/PDIF digital input. Because I was connecting two DAWs to it, and neither of them had a Toslink output, I had to buy a Toslink-S/PDIF converter (about $30) to digitally connect the second DAW. That isn't a huge deal, but I would have preferred another S/PDIF or, even better, an AES/EBU input. It's possible, though, that adding such additional ports would have caused the unit's price to go up.
The optional CSR-1 remote (see Fig. 3) is a stompbox-size unit that connects to the main box using a DB9 connector on the rear panel. (A 9.8-foot cable is included, and a 19.7-foot cable is available as an option.) The remote allows the engineer to have control over input switching, speaker switching, and monitor volume from a comfortable seated position, and has a talkback mic with the same stylized square button and level-control knob found on the main unit. (The remote's Mic Level knob is a bit on the loose side, as if it were anchored only to the PC board underneath and not to the chassis.)
FIG. 3: The optional CSR-1 remote duplicates the major controls from the Central Station's front panel and includes its own talkback mic.
The switch to activate the remote is located on the back panel. For the sake of convenience, I would have preferred it to be on the front. When activated, the remote's Main Level knob takes over from the one on the main box, but other than that, all switches and knobs on both units are active.
The Last Stop
Despite a few minor flaws, the Central Station is an outstanding piece of gear. It is transparent sounding, extremely useful, and loaded with extra features. It will be particularly appreciated by any engineer who is used to working on a large console, because it brings a lot of the functionality of the master section into the personal-studio price range.
There's nothing like having a solid knob to control your monitor level (if you like having that knob right at your fingertips, I recommend the CSR-1 remote, as well). Throw in a superclean signal path and high-quality D/A conversion, and you have one of the most impressive boxes I've used in quite some time.
Whether you are recording to a DAW or to tape — with or without a mixer — if you are looking for a way to manage your monitoring, cue, and talkback, I highly recommend the Central Station.
Eli Crews is an engineer and musician who is based in Oakland, California. For more information on Eli and his studio, visitwww.newimprovedrecording.com.
CENTRAL STATION SPECIFICATIONS Analog Audio Inputs (4) ¼" TRS (line); (2) RCA (aux); (1) XLR (for external talkback mic) Digital Audio Inputs (1) RCA coaxial S/PDIF; (1) Toslink optical S/PDIF Audio Outputs (6) ¼" TRS (speaker); (2) ¼" TRS (main); (2) ¼" TRS (cue) Additional Ports (2) ¼" TRS (headphones); (1) ¼" TS (talkback footswitch); (1) DB15 (remote console) Input Impedance 25 kΩ (TRS); 8 kΩ (Aux); 2.4 kΩ (XLR) Output Impedance 51Ω (at main and cue outputs) Internal Microphone Type Omnidirectional electret condenser Gain Range +15 dB to +55 dB (mic preamp); -90 dB to 0 dB (speaker/cue outputs) Maximum Output 150 mW/channel @ 60Ω (at headphone outputs) Frequency Response 10 Hz to 50 kHz Total Harmonic Distortion <0.0025% (at main outputs) Sampling Rates 44.1 kHz, 48 kHz, 88.2 kHz, 96 kHz, 176.4 kHz, 192 kHz (DAC) Input Meter dual 30-segment LED w/ peak hold Dimensions 19" (W) 5 1.75" (H) 5 5.5" (D) Weight 5 lbs.
audio controller $699.95CSR-1 remote control $199 optional (19.7-foot) remote cable $49.95
OVERALL RATING (1 THROUGH 5): 4
PROS: Excellent, transparent sound. Fully featured. Speaker trims allow for precise level matching. Plentiful I/O. Accurate metering, with calibration capabilities. Stellar documentation.
CONS: Knob markings difficult to read. Activation switch for remote on back of rackmount unit. Buttons sometimes pop out past proper resting position. Toslink digital input not as useful as a second S/PDIF or an AES/EBU input would be.
PreSonus Audio Electronics