At Coast Hills, the biggest service of the year—from a production standpoint anyway—is Good Friday. In addition to ten band members, we also had six vocalists, all of whom needed monitors. The band is easy; we own eleven Roland M-48’s, so we were even able to keep one at FOH this year for troubleshooting. This actually came in handy. But vocals have always been a challenge.
Wireless is Hard
Frequent readers of this blog know that I like to wire as much as possible. Wireless mic’s and IEMs have their place, and we use them every weekend. But whenever possible, I like to wire them. Every year for Christmas and Easter, we end up with more vocals than usual on wireless IEMs, and it’s always problematic. Our wireless mic’s perform flawlessly, but our wireless IEMs tend to drive us nuts with weird little issues. An added challenge is that we currently own four wireless IEMs and we had six vocalists. I started looking for a solution.
We could have rented additional IEMs, but we still have antenna placement issues. I have a PWS Helical antenna in the truss, but it’s aimed downstage where the singers normally stand. For Good Friday, they would literally be underneath the antenna. We had no good angle to cover them all, and I wasn’t confident a 1/2 wave would do it.
Then it hit me. The vocalists don’t move. They don’t need to be wireless. So I made a call.
Headphone Amps for the Win
At NAMM, we looked at some new products from our friends at Elite Core Audio. One was a very cool single rack space 4-channel headphone amp, the HA4X4. It uses the same high-power headphone amp that lives in the PM16 personal mixer. I’ve used those in the past and have been impressed. It occurred to me that two of these units would be able to feed all six vocalists; we would just need to break out a few more of our headphone extensions—from Elite Core, of course.
Hidden in Plain Sight
Because the HA4X4 is designed to be rack mounted, and the vocalists would need access to the controls for level (at least initially), we needed to come up with a solution. We built a two simple stands; a particleboard base and two 2x4s. We spaced the 2x4s at rack distance and set the headphone amps on then. A shot of black spray paint made everything disappear.
We happen to have a 12 channel input snake on the upstage wall that we normally use for drums. Since the drums were in a different spot, I broke out some turnarounds and various XLR to 1/4” snakes to drive the headphone amps.
We set the headphone amps between the chairs which gave four of the six immediate access to their levels. The two in the middle had to ask for adjustments, but it was simple and easy. I mixed all six from FOH using stereo auxes, and everyone was happy. In fact, several of them commented that their mixes where better than they have ever had. Best of all, no dropouts.
It Sounds Good and Loud
I listened to some of the mixes through the HA4X4 and loved it. The amps are very powerful and get loud. In fact, I would suggest you really watch how much level you send them as you could easily do some damage to people’s hearing. Max level on the control shouldn’t take someone’s head off.
Another cool feature of the HA4X4 that I didn’t notice at NAMM is that each of the four headphone jacks has a 4-position selector switch. This switch allows you to choose any of the four inputs as your source. While we didn’t need it, it might have been handy to troubleshoot a mix issue from the stage. We could have plugged into the fourth, unused output of either amp and selected any of the three others to listen to.
Best of all, the HA4X4 is only $120. So for less money than a rental of a few IEMs for the week, we can buy eight, high-power headphone amps. That makes good sense to me.