The Monogram Creative Console Studio ($499) is a creative editing console, an emerging category of products coming from smaller, independent hardware vendors, built to work with software from Adobe and other industry giants. But while competitors Loupedeck and TourBox offer standalone consoles, Monogram takes a modular approach, with magnets that snap components together and à la carte dials and toggles to expand functionality.
A New Palette
Monogram is a new brand name, but not a brand-new company. Its first generation product, sold under the Palette banner, featured a similar design and aesthetics. Instead of a single console, you get a box of small components with magnetic connections on each side. Each module is a low-profile rectangle with a brushed metal finish, a control surface, and configurable LED accent lighting.
They snap together with confidence, and stay in place. There’s a main component, the Monogram Core ($149 if purchased separately)—it includes a USB-C port to connect to your Mac or PC, a color screen that shows the active profile, and a pair of buttons. It’s customizable, but used by default to quickly toggle from one profile to another.
Easy support for multiple configurations is included for creators who work in multiple apps, or who may use different controls depending on the task at hand—putting video clips on a timeline as opposed to color grading, as an example.
The footprint varies based on how you connect the modules. We received the mid-level Creative Console Studio for review. It includes the Monogram Core, Orbiter, Essential Keys, and two Dial Modules. When put together in a rectangle, the footprint is around 5.2 by 7.1 inches (HW).
There’s a level of freedom in positioning the modules, but you have to make sure to have outward-facing pins for each incoming connection. There is one outgoing set on each control surface, and every side has an incoming connection.
All of the items can also be purchased on their own—the Orbiter costs $149, while the Dial and Essential Keys come in at $99 each. There’s also a Slider Module ($119), but we didn’t receive it for review. It’s only included in the Traveler Console, a $399 bundle with the Core, Slider, Dial, and Essential Keys.
Monogram sells one more bundle, the Master Console, for a hefty $799. It includes three Orbiters, three sets of Dials, two sets of Essential Keys, and the Core. It’s targeted squarely at creators working in 3D animation and other virtual reality applications.
All in all, build quality is a step up from the Palette Expert Kit we looked at a few years back, better matching the Jony Ive-designed Apple hardware many creatives prefer. A brushed aluminum surface gives the hardware a premium look and feel, and strong magnets keep the kit securely connected. When it’s put together, on your desk, you can think of it as a single control surface, not a mishmash of components.
The Monogram components are, for the most part, fairly self-evident, but what they do depends on your creative application and how you configure their function. Monogram includes a number of preset configurations to get you started with various host software.
The Monogram app identifies all supported apps installed on your system, and also lets you create custom profiles for others you may have open
A number of Adobe apps are supported, including entries in its CC subscription suite (Lightroom Classic, Photoshop, Premiere Pro, After Effects, and Audition), and Lightroom 6, the last version of the software sold with a perpetual license.
Photographers using Phase One software will also enjoy support for versions dating back to the 2017 Capture One Pro 11 release, but only on a Mac platform. There are also profiles to support specialized audio editing suites (Ableton Live, Cubase, FL Studio, Logic Pro X, and Reaper), as well as a number of virtual reality and gaming engines (CineTracer, Ross Video Voyager, and Unreal Engine 4.2.4 and up).
For the purposes of this review, I used the console along with Adobe Lightroom Classic CC, the Raw workflow application PCMag uses to support its camera analysis, and, not coincidentally, the creative app in which I’m most well versed.
For Lightroom, the Dial and Orbiter modules come in handy when making adjustments to exposure, cropping, and fine-tuning color. I set the dials to control the sliders I use most in the basic adjustment panel—exposure, contrast, highlights, whites, blacks, and shadows.
Each dial turns confidently, and Lightroom responds with immediacy, and supports a push-in action to zero out adjustments. I had a little trouble keeping track of which function was associated with which dial at first, but was helped along a bit when I realized I could individually configure the LED lights around each.
I blacked out the lights around dials for black and shadow adjustment, and put white light around highlight and white point settings. Visual cues help, though I will say I prefer the Loupedeck CT here—it has similar dials, but puts small displays next to each to define its function.
The Essential Keys work as expected—each presses in with a satisfying click. There are three included in the module, and, as with the dials, you can set accent colors around them. I set them to access a couple of my most-used RNI All Films 5 film-look presets.
The Orbiter looks oversized when placed next to the rest, but justifies its footprint. It’s a large concave joystick—it registers directional presses across its surface, and ramps response along with pressure—surrounded by an outer control ring.
For Lightroom, it’s used to scroll through pictures in the Library panel, or to mimic the function of a color correction wheel. Adobe recently added a panel of on-screen color wheels, but I enjoyed better results using the Orbiter at its default. It maps color temperature to its y-axis and tint to the x. A few subtle presses can give images a warm or cool look to taste.
For photo editing, I found one Orbiter to be more than enough, but it’s easy to see the appeal for editors working in 3D animation and VR apps. Monogram suggests using multiple orbiters to move virtual cameras through your environment, the use case for its Studio Console.
Ease of Configuration
The Monogram Console is useless without software, available as a free download for macOS and Windows 10 systems. I tested the console with two Macs running Catalina—an iMac and MacBook Pro—and Adobe Lightroom Classic CC.
The Monogram app displays an on-screen representation of hardware for WYSIWYG customization
It doesn’t support Adobe apps on the iPad Pro, but Monogram hopes to add support for the tablet in the future. Conversely, you can manually assign keyboard shortcuts, macros, joystick actions, mouse clicks, and MIDI commands.
With supported apps, you don’t have to worry about manually assigning keyboard commands to each button or dial. Instead, the Monogram console includes a full list of supported commands for each host application and a very useful search function. You can also browse through a full list, if you prefer.
It’s easy to search for functions when making profiles for supported creative applications
The software requires less of a learning curve than some competitors. I found Loupedeck’s config app to be quite dense, requiring a bit more effort to configure the hardware to taste. There’s another side to the coin—the Loupedeck CT and Loupedeck Live ($269) offer more varied keys and nested touch screen menus, lending well to more intricate and esoteric configurations.
An Emerging Niche
Monogram reenters the creative control surface fray in a year when we’ve seen a spate of new products in the space. Its Creative Console system sets itself apart from more affordable options like the Tourbox with upmarket construction, and a modular design that adds flexibility and extensibility.
Its more direct competitor is the Loupedeck CT, and having spent time in Lightroom with both products, my preference leans toward the CT—I like its touch controls, and that it puts more, labeled buttons onto the device itself, so I’m not going back and forth between it, keyboard, and pointer control as often.
Preferences are just that, and there are creative workflows where the Monogram approach makes a lot of sense. Its Orbiter is unmatched by competitors in feel and function, and the modular design gives you freedom to create your own ideal console from scratch, start with a bundle, or take a hybrid approach. The Monogram hardware is of quality too, and its software is easy to configure and stable. The cost of entry is steep, especially if you find yourself wanting to add controls to those included with any of the bundles, but you may find it worthwhile.