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So we started over. I was at mixing station #1 with an acoustic, so I flipped the “1-R” switch to “R” in order to hear what was going to the recording. I set everyone’s instrument and vocal input level one at a time, then dialed in an ideal mix with the monitor knobs dedicated to the recorder. Once those levels were set, I flipped the switch to “1” in order to dial in the monitor mix dedicated to my own headphones.
Before having everyone play at once, we went ’round the horn to adjust panning (Stage) for each person. Spreading some players’ signals out a little to the left or the right made the headphones less noticeable because it allowed our brains to detect spatial dimensions within the instrumentation. Then we dialed in a smidge of FX for each vocal. The FX setting we chose was a two-second spring reverb. This was key, because initially everyone’s vocal felt unrealistic. Making everyone’s voice a little wet allowed us to perceive the room depth that our eyes unconsciously told our brains to expect. From there, it made sense to play a song or two to allow everyone to dial in their preferred monitor mixes.
I Can Hear Clearly Now, the Wall of Sound is Gone
Being able to hear everyone so clearly was amazing. It was like listening to a CD that we were playing live. But moments after the novelty of crystal-clean practice tones wore off, we were left with the reality of how we really sounded. Flat background vocals were sticking out, the keys and lead were battling during a section that needed one person or the other to lay out, and the bassist’s tone needed more top end because his attack was completely mushed out. Luckily, everyone in the group was pretty good about the onslaught of suggestions they were suddenly getting. Adjustments were made and within minutes we sounded better and found more nuanced issues to work out. It didn’t take long for the JamHub to prompt everyone to bring their musicianship up another level.
One thing to keep in mind is that every instrument input is a 1/4" TRS unbalanced stereo jack. Plugging a guitar in direct with a normal cord results in everyone hearing the guitar in only the left ear of their headphones. The JamHub comes with two mono-to-stereo adapter jacks that turn a normal guitar cable signal into a split mono signal, but I highly recommend using a pedal with stereo outs and a Y-cable to feed a stereo signal of your guitar into the JamHub. Take advantage of the unit’s true stereo environment— split mono just doesn’t compare.
Players who get their dirt from their amps and need them dimed to feel right with the world might have a hard time getting used to the JamHub, although power soaks, isolation cabs, or an SM57 on the grille are possible solutions for getting your signal into the unit. The trick is to keep your amp’s volume from overpowering everyone’s headphones. (Headphones with isolation designs are a good idea, too.) Many amps today also have DI outs, tuner outs, and headphone outs that can be used with minimal trouble.
The Final Mojo
There are some hurdles with the JamHub: First, getting everyone’s signal into the unit might require some different rig considerations. Second, you need good headphones. I struggled to hear everything properly during one session with a moderately-priced pair that didn’t offer decent isolation and a full, flat range. Further, having each musician’s instrument and vocal level controlled by a single knob in everyone else’s monitoring section is annoying, though understandable—especially considering the extra cost and bulk it would add to separate the features. And, finally, there is the danger of getting spoiled by the JamHub. If your bandmates wish you could roll with the punches a little better when you can’t hear everything perfectly at a gig, it may not be a good idea for you to get used to hearing a pristinely personalized monitor mix at every practice.
That being said, the JamHub is quite possibly the best thing to happen to band practice. I can see the concerns I listed above being absolutely no concern whatsoever for many bands. The “silent practice” thing is a nice selling point, too—parents and cohabitants of musicians will especially appreciate the reduced output coming from the band room. However, the JamHub’s real value is in its ability to let you hear what you normally can’t—every single note that everyone else is playing and singing.
you want to get more out of practice—and with less volume.
you loathe headphones and need amps at full growl to get your rocks off.
Street $699 - JamHub - jamhub.com