Gadgets & Goodies: Time To Have Happy Headphones

Headphones are as vital a part of the average studio as a lava lamp and a big comfy couch. So this month, let’s look at three different boxes into which you plug headphones—and what they do for those ’phones. (All prices are MSRP.)
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Headphones are as vital a part of the average studio as a lava lamp and a big comfy couch. So this month, let’s look at three different boxes into which you plug headphones—and what they do for those ’phones. (All prices are MSRP.)

PreSonus Monitor Station ($399.95, www.presonus.com)

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This is designed to provide the monitor section of a large console for DAW-based studios that don’t have a large console. In with the speaker selector switches (for picking among three pairs), level dimmer, LED meters, and phono preamp (really!), you’ll also find a headphone distribution amp.

There are four headphone outs that are loud enough to rip your head off, so be careful. Each has its own level control, and a button that selects between the Main bus or Cue bus. These buses can select from three different stereo sources; the Cue and Main buses also have stereo outs. Furthermore, the Cue bus has an output control. If you needed more headphones, you could send this to another headphone amp, like the Aphex HeadPod.

The Monitor Station has been a great addition to my studio, as I can monitor from my digital mixer, an audio interface, or just switch over to a CD player to hear some tunes—as well as dim the volume when the phone rings, check for mono compatibility, and drive multiple headphones when cutting vocals in the control room. It’s nice to be able to listen to vinyl again, too. And the box has a rugged feel: The headphone jacks are mounted with lockwashers, and the other jacks use locking nuts, so I suspect you can do a lot of plugging/ unplugging before these babies loosen up—if ever. Overall, the Monitor Station is a very useful accessory.

Aphex Model 454 HeadPod ($249, www.aphex.com)

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You want simple and good at a fair price? Well, meet the HeadPod. It’s just a headphone distribution amp: no bells, whistles, or additional goodies. But it goes about this task with a laser-like focus.

The HeadPod accepts either individual left and right 1/4" TRS balanced line ins, or a stereo unbalanced 1/4" input, with a switch to choose between the two input options. The stereo input is ideal for taking a stereo headphone out and “expanding” it into four outs, but the HeadPod is also designed so that you can split a headphone out with a Y-adapter, and feed each Y into its own HeadPod, giving a total of eight headphone amps. Each of the four headphone outs has its own volume control, and there’s a master volume control which you can set so that the individual outs all work within a suitable range. Power is provided by an included AC adapter (12–16V AC—not DC—will do the job).

The HeadPod weighs only a pound, so Aphex offers a mic stand mounting bracket. This is convenient for when you’re recording an ensemble; just run an out from the control run to the box, and four musicians can listen in comfort.

There’s not really much else to say. The sound quality is excellent, there’s plenty of level (it’s very clean, but standard cautions apply about blowing your ears out), and the all-metal chassis passes the drop test. Like I said—simple and good.

Aviom Personal Mixing System (A-16II $605, AN-16/i $1,180, www.aviom.com)

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The drummer wants more guitar in the headphone mix. The vocalist wants more keyboards. So you hope you have enough aux buses and headphone amps, and set up a bunch of different mixes. But now the drummer wants more drums. . . .

Solution: Aviom’s A-16II Personal Mixer and AN-16/i Input Module. The 1U rack AN-16/i accepts up to 16 line-level, balanced inputs and converts them to 24-bit, 48kHz audio that travels over Aviom’s Pro16 A-Net network. While based on Ethernet (e.g., it uses CAT-5 cable and RJ-45 connectors), A-Net is optimized for digital audio transfer up to 500 feet. The AN-16/i also has Thru jacks—you can leave it set up in-line— as well as front-panel four-position level switches and stereo link switches for each pair of inputs, and signal/clip

LEDs for each input. The A-16II hooks into the network (and can mount on a mic stand); the musician using it plugs in ’phones, and dials in a custom mix (volume and pan) of those 16 audio streams. There’s also bass/treble controls, mute/solo, and the ability to create groups and store presets of specific mixes. Want more vocals? Hit the button for the vocals channel, and adjust the volume. Yes, each musician with an A-16II can have a custom mix. It’s not cheap to set up a system with, say, eight personal mixers. But this clever system works flawlessly— and the convenience factor is off the charts.