Review by David C. Lovelace
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:
We 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.
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.
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.
Ideal 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.
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.
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!
PROS 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
CONS Recording on GreenRoom and TourBus models is 16-
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.
BedRoom: $400 list/approx. $300 street.
GreenRoom: $600 list/approx. $500 street.
TourBus: $850 list/approx. $700 street.