When I first heard about JamHub (http://www.jamhub.com), my first thought was where was this 30 years ago?  My second thought was: I need to get this for my band.

So, what is JamHub?  It’s a very specialized mixer that was designed to facilitate a band rehearsal without the Marshall half stack and 8×10 Ampeg cabinets.  In any apartment, dorm or even residential community, practicing at any kind of volume is sure to draw attention from neighbors and their friends at the local police precinct.  The basic design is each person has a “station” and they plug in their instrument or the line out from their modeling pedals and their mics (through the XLR jacks) in directly.   They then have control over the trim on those two sets of inputs (which sets the maximum volume from their station available to the other stations for listening).  Everyone then has a knob for each station and they can determine the level of themselves and everyone else in their own mix.  Each station has a headphone jack (and an associated volume control there also) to plug in and hear everyone else along with their own instrument and mic.

For this basic problem (the “silent rehearsal studio”), the concept works exactly as designed.  It’s very portable, pretty quick and easy to set up and for even the somewhat technically challenged, it’s easy to figure out and be productive with pretty quickly. In terms of getting it up and running, probably the hardest thing to get used to is using headphones.  If you’re used to any kind of “stage” volume, switching to an in ear monitor system of any kind is difficult.  You don’t have the same “feel” that you get from the booming speakers.  You also get a slightly isolated feeling because with a good set of ear buds, you’re not going to hear much ambient noise.  So if everyone stops playing and starts talking, you have to be ready to either give everone mics or everybody starts taking one of the ear buds out to hear.

The other thing that takes some getting used to is adjusting all the different gain stages to get what you want to hear.  The trims on the inputs have an LED that that will show when there’s signal (green) and when it’s clipping (red).  In theory, you just dial till you have green while you are playing and dial back if you get red.  This is no biggie when you have a sound guy at a mixing board — that’s what he does, especially as different songs result in different vocal styles or playing styles.  You’ll be tempted to “fiddle” with the trims a lot but in our case, we eventually got used to were they are and don’t mess with them all that much.  The next challenge is balancing out everyone’s levels with the overall headphone level.  If you want more of the vocalist and you’ve got their station’s knob maxed out, then you have to dial everyone else down, so you can turn your headphone up.  Again, if everyone is pretty consistent in their vocal or playing style, this is easy to dial in.  But if there’s a lot of variety, this can lead to more desire to tweak.  In a pure practice environment, none of this matters that much because you can always stop and tweak and then resume.  In a live environment though, you truly want to set it for a “happy medium” and then hope that works for the entire set.

And that’s how we wanted to use the JamHub.  Our praise and worship band is a pretty conventional set up — electronic drums, bass player/singer, acoustic guitar player/singer, electric guitar (me) and a keyboard player/singer.  Obviously some of these guys also sing.  I do not.  Playing guitar consumes about 90% of my mental bandwidth so singing and playing isn’t going to happen in my lifetime.  Anyway, for years we’ve played through a 16 channel board with 2 sends for the mains and 2 sends for the monitors.  With that many instruments and vocals in a small space, trying to make everybody happy with only two monitor channels has been difficult at best.  Just ask our sound guy — I think when somebody’d ask for “more” he’d just hold his hand over the knob like he was adjusting it but wouldn’t really change anything because it was probably already maxed out anyway.  This lead to a loud monitor mix, which then muddied the sound in the house and nobody could ever really hear what they wanted to anyway.  We looked at upgrading to a professional “in ear” system, but none of us had won the lottery yet so that just wasn’t a practical option.

That’s when I found JamHub.  We ordered one of the first units, along with a couple extra headphone remotes and proceeded to completely rewire our stage and sound board connections.  The trick was to put some splitters between our instruments/mics and the JamHub so we could send the signals to both the JamHub and the sound board.  Here’s a picture of our setup:

We run everything into an ART T8 and ART S8.  The outputs of those go into a short XLR snake to plug in where the output of everybody’s direct boxes would plug in.  We then used a bunch of insert cables to take the 1/4″ outs to the instrument inputs on the JamHub.  The mics just used some short XLR patch cables.  The cool thing here is that the levels on the JamHub only affect monitoring — they don’t have any effect on the mains.  We’ve had some issues with 60hz hum due perhaps to the S8 not being fully isolated so there’s still some kinks to work out, and all the cabling doesn’t look as neat as it could, but it all works.  Everybody but one vocalist loves it and would never switch back.  The vocalist is a dedicated vocalist, so she just picks up the mains and the other vocalists around her because the stage volume is almost silent.

The drummer still complains that he can’t turn me completely down because there’s a main speaker not far from him, but otherwise, no complaints.  It takes a little creativity to run the headphones and we don’t move around a lot so that’s manageable.  We’ve gotten compliments that the mix sounds much better because there’s nothing from the monitors to muddy up house mix.  The sound guy can focus just on the mains because we control all the monitoring.  I can finally hear my guitar as loud as I want! This feels like an analog unit — you can get a fair amount of hiss if you don’t get the trim and gains set right.  If you’ve got everything dimed and then turn down the headphone volume, you’re going to get a lot of hiss.  Also, there’s no way to adjust the mix of a single station’s instrument/vocal mix.  It will be whatever that guy sets his trim at.

So, the JamHub guys will tell you it wasn’t designed for a permanent installation, and it’s not (as you can see from the rats nest of cables), but it can work and is very cost effective.  And it looks pretty cool…

In summary, if you are thinking about going in ear and you have a limited budget, this is a great option. Make sure you consider how you’ll wire it in.  It needs to be centrally located and accessible to most everyone. Also, consider everyone’s mobility.  If you have a large stage and people are moving around a lot, this can still work, but you’re really going to want wireless for the in ear monitors.  That will drive the price up quite a bit.  Also, and this is really important — don’t cheap out on the headphones.  You’ll need something better than the $19 set of buds for an iPod from Walmart.  Think $60-75 at a minimum for a good set.  We spent about $1,000 on the JamHub, the splitters and additional cabling and now have a great in ear system that everbody loves.  It would have cost quite a bit more to do this with a “professional” system but this works great.  Maybe the JamHub guys will come out with a version that’s designed for a permanent installation that is rack ready and has the splitter function built in.  That’s about the only thing I can think of that would be nice to have with this system.

Our first unit had a “green light always on” issue but their customer service was great.  I gave them my CC #, they second day’d a replacement to me.  I swapped it out (took about 10 minutes), and dropped the broken one in the box back to them.  The whole process took maybe a week.  Sliced bread is still pretty cool, but this is a close second.