JamHub

August 1, 2010
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Review by David C. Lovelace

0.00newkeybuy Steve Skillings could keep you and your whole band out of jail. No, he’s not an attorney with knowledge of noise ordinance loopholes, nor a bail bondsman, nor a person who phases through cement walls. Steve is simply the guy who’s going to provide much-needed quiescence for the rotten neighbors who’d call the cops on your band for drowning out their Matlock reruns with your rendition of “Living On a Prayer.” Instead, you’ll be peacefully thumping along through a JamHub hours into the night.

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Review continues after these web extras:

BedRoomWe reviewed the top-end TourBus model, which features six “pie slice” input and control sections, plus WAV recording either via USB or to the internal SD card recorder.

The JamHub is designed for any band that wants a good headphone mix, and its most compelling features are ease of use and low cost. This little monitoring system has entered an intimidating field dominated by comprehensive, network-based systems from the likes of Aviom and Hear Technologies. The customer base for those is mainly colleges, theatres, broadcasters, and national (or at least regional) touring bands. Skillings saw a need for nearly every band to enjoy personal monitor mixing at a far lower price, without needing to cable multiple hardware devices together. The JamHub fulfills that need, and then some.

Overview

JamHubs are primarily volume mixers: colorful little half-UFOs coated in rubberized paint, which makes scratching them impossible without a blowtorch (my fingernails certainly weren’t enough, anyway). Depending on the model, each JamHub has five to seven times the usual amount of volume knobs as a standard mixer, affording each musician private headphone volume control over themselves and everyone else. You won’t find EQ, lots of auxiliary throughput, or many of the other things normally found in a mixer.

Each band member gets a section—a pie-slice of controls that includes both instrument and mic inputs, with separate input gain knobs for each. You’ll need to make sure your personal mix of the two is good enough for everyone else (as will they for you), because the volume knobs that let you hear other sections affect the mic and instrument volume of each section together. Of course, you can always use two sections to give everyone separate mic and instrument control of your signal.

Recording

The “R” section (for record) is like a standard section, but with its knobs in a straight row across the back of the unit. Its mix goes to the R channel’s headphone out, and records onto the SD card on the top-end TourBus model. Headphone audio for section 1 can be toggled between the personal mix and the R mix using the “1-R” switch, so this section is best for the musician in charge of recording. You’d also use the R section for plugging in an MP3 or CD player to learn tunes.

The JamHub crew crammed in some extras as well. Even on the entry-level BedRoom model, you get 16 global, 24-bit stereo effects for the mic inputs. The GreenRoom and TourBus have phantom power on the mic inputs, as well as USB audio output of the R channel’s stereo mix so you can record demos to a computer. As noted, the TourBus also has an internal SD card recorder. Resolution of the USB stream or SD card recordings is fixed at a CD-quality 16-bit/44.1kHz, and files are saved in WAV format.

SoleMixRemoteIdeal for keyboardists who can’t reach the JamHub from behind their gear, the SoleMix breaks out the headphone jack and knobs for any section it’s plugged into.

At Practice

Skillings told me that the original JamHub prototypes were first rectangular, then circular, but group ergonomics suggested a half-circle as friendlier. I field-tested the TourBus with my six-piece band Funk Brokers Inc., and drew the same conclusion. Five of us gathered in a circle with the back of the unit facing the drummer, who used a SoleMix remote control. The remote is essential if you’re trapped behind your gear—in other words, if you’re a drummer or keyboardist. Only our drummer actually needed a SoleMix; the rest of us could gather happily around the JamHub for tweaking. The two remotes included with our TourBus were more than adequate.

Practice was enjoyable overall, with just a few hitches to overcome. The 1/4" instrument input is tip-ring-sleeve (TRS), wired for stereo, and you need to run in stereo to hear sound in both sides of your headphones. For keyboards, we recommend running a single TRS cable from your keyboard’s (or keyboard submixer’s) stereo headphone out, as opposed to summing to mono using a Y adapter from your main outs. That way, you’ll still be able to hear your panned piano, synth, or Leslie effect in all its glory.

The 1/4" ins have a Hi-Z mode and plenty of gain for plugging a guitar or bass right in, but you’ll need a stereo-to-mono adapter, lest you only hear a signal from the left headphone. Two such adapters come with each JamHub, but I’d prefer at least one or two more. You can fool the input jack into being summed-mono by putting the cable in a partially-unplugged sweet spot—but this cheat fails at the slightest nudge. Of course, all this is a non-issue if your guitarist or bassist plays through an amp modeler or multi-effects unit to get their desired tone—like keyboards, these devices have stereo headphone outs to feed the JamHub. Vocals and miked acoustic instruments will all be fine, and you can pan your XLR in using your section’s “Stage” knob.

Like with any audio gear, getting clear, distortion-free levels depends on proper gain-staging, and the manual gives a very fun-to-read primer: Start with your section’s input trim at three o’clock. Turn it up just enough so that your input LED doesn’t turn red—orange is okay. Next, other musicians dial your level (on the corresponding volume knobs in their pie slices) to however loudly they’d like to hear you. Repeat for each band member. The first time you set up through the JamHub, it may take a bit of tweaking to get levels everyone likes, but it gets easier, and you’ll find you can keep your settings pretty consistent from session to session.

After rooting around the junk drawer for more adapters, and acclimating to the headphones, we practiced as well as ever, with everyone quite happy to be able to hear every note they played and sang. Our band enjoys a woodsy practice setting at the home of our lead guitarist, but even if noise and neighbors aren’t the issue, there’s definitely something to be said for the scrutiny of a headphone mix improving one’s chops. For what it’s worth, the guitarist’s cats weren’t all scared into the attic as usual, and his family could go about their business relatively undisturbed.

What About Acoustic Drums?

My humble funk band employs electronic drums, making the JamHub ideal. What about bands that use acoustic drums, acoustic guitars, horns, or acoustic piano? You can certainly monitor miked instruments through the JamHub, but in a rock or cover band, the issue is probably that your drummer’s acoustic kit is too loud, even unmiked. If you won’t be able to play with drums much past 9 P.M. anyway, why bother with a JamHub?

The answer is that because of the clarity afforded by the headphone mix, your drummer will be able to start out quieter and stay that way. When volume wars start, it’s because someone can’t hear well enough to get in the groove. Knobs are tweaked, the drummer plays a little louder, and the domino effect takes over. With the JamHub, if your drummer can’t hear him- or herself, the intuitive remedy is to turn others down in the headphone mix, not play louder. True, some surroundings are intolerant of even a cocktail kit played with brushes, and some drummers are just incapable of easing back, but no product other than soundproofing—or proper medication in the drummer’s case—can help with that.

Conclusions

All the JamHub models successfully offer a very affordable solution for any band looking to transform their wall of noise into a controlled, uncluttered domain in which everyone can hear everyone else during rehearsals. This will facilitate you playing better. With electronic drums, or in suitably tolerant settings for acoustic drums, you and your band should all easily be able to jam away without adding an additional miasma of guitar noise, bass thump, and P.A. feedback. That just might be the difference between having bandmates and cellmates!

Specifications

Closeup_cablesPROS Individual volume control for every band member. Eliminates volume wars. Ergonomic design and remote control pods mean easy access for everyone in the band. Built-in effects. SD card recording on high-end model is a snap. Well built. Color-coded cable attachments reduce mental clutter.

CONS Recording on GreenRoom and TourBus models is 16- bit/44.1kHz only.

CONCEPT A monitor system for near-silent band practices, offering individual volume control for up to seven band members.

BAND MEMBER SECTIONS BedRoom: 5, comprising 15 audio channels. GreenRoom and TourBus: 7, comprising 21 audio channels.

BUILT-IN EFFECTS All models: 16.

INPUTS 5 or 7 Stereo 1/4", 5 or 7 XLR.

OUTPUTS 5 or 7 stereo 1/4" headphone jacks, USB (GreenRoom and TourBus), 1 or 4 SoleMix remote jacks.

PRICE

BedRoom: $400 list/approx. $300 street.
GreenRoom: $600 list/approx. $500 street.
TourBus: $850 list/approx. $700 street.

jamhub.com

  

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