Adventures In Audio
Possibly the greatest invention in the history of audio

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

Monday May 15, 2006

Possibly the greatest invention in the history of audio is the rotary controller, otherwise known as the knob!

Just because something is commonplace doesn't mean it isn't a great invention. Everyone has a telephone for instance, and our lives would be massively different without that.

The rotary controller or knob has two applications - it can be used as a continuous controller, as in the majority of EQ controls, or it can be used to control a switch. Rotary switches have gone out of fashion somewhat as they are much more expensive than potentiometers. However they are still appreciated in applications such as theater, where repeatability is important, and mastering, where the precision of a switched setting is appreciated.

In both of these applications, the knob performs two functions simultaneously - it controls the position of the potentiometer's wiper, or the setting of the switch. In the process of doing that, the knob's pointer also provides an indication of the potentiometer's or switch's setting.

Having the ability to control a parameter and display its value simultaneously is a great virtue. To do the same on a digital console requires a special controller that incorporates a ring of LEDs around it to indicate the parameter value. Otherwise, the physical position of the digital control does not necessarily bear any relation to the parameter it controls.

In the early days of digital synthesizers and effects units, back in the 1980s, it was thought that the knob was a relic of a bygone age. Such equipment was provided with a pair of up/down buttons, and a display to indicate parameter values numerically.

People who said they preferred knobs were regarded as audio dinosaurs for their unwillingness to leap into the abyss of new-fangled technology.

However, time has proven that the knob is a simple and intuitive interface, hence its graphic inclusion in high-end audio plug-ins.

Something tells me that the knob, or at least a graphical representation of the knob, still has a great future ahead of it.

Has anything else in audio lasted as long?

Like, follow, and comment on this article at Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Instagram or the social network of your choice.

Come on the Audio Masterclass Pro Home Studio MiniCourse - 60 great hints and tips to get your home recording studio MOVING

It's FREE!

Get It Now >>

How to choose the best key for your song

What is comb filtering? What does it sound like?

NEW: Audio crossfades come to Final Cut Pro X 10.4.9!

What is the difference between EQ and filters? *With Audio*

What difference will a preamp make to your recording?

Watch our video on linear phase filters and frequency response with the FabFilter Pro Q 2

Read our post on linear phase filters and frequency response with the Fabfilter Pro Q 2

Harmonic distortion with the Soundtoys Decapitator

What's the best height for studio monitors? Answer - Not too low!

What is the Red Book standard? Do I need to use it? Why?

Will floating point change the way we record?

Mixing: What is the 'Pedalboard Exception'?

The difference between mic level and line level

The problem with parallel compression that you didn't know you had. What it sounds like and how to fix it.

Compressing a snare drum to even out the level

What does parallel compression on vocals sound like?

How to automate tracks that have parallel compression

Why mono is better than stereo for recording vocals and dialogue

Clipping and compressing a drum recording to achieve an exciting sound texture

What can we learn about room acoustics from this image?

Can you hear the subtle effect of the knee control of the compressor? (With audio and video demonstrations)

What is the best studio microphone?

What is the Neve sound? (Using the Slate Digital FG-73)

What is the difference between recording, mixing and mastering?