This summer I had the pleasure of recording the band Ida in my studio. During "basics" tracking, the band insisted on playing as many of the instruments "live" as possible. With four band members and producer Warren Defever behind the many sources (drums, bass, piano, electric bass, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, Wurlitzer, Harmonium) and a string section to boot, the headphone mixes for the artists could have been a nightmare, even with my Sony DMX-R100's eight discrete aux sends (all pre/post-fader switchable). I say could, because the headphone mixes were a breeze! Why? Because my new studio is equipped with a Furman HDS-6 rackmount headphone distribution amplifier and HR-6 remote mixers.

The HDS-6 is a six-channel amplifier with four mono feeds and one stereo feed. I usually patch six aux sends from my console into the inputs of the HDS-6. Using off- the-shelf CAT5 network cabling (with standard RJ-45 terminations), up to eight HR-6 remote mixers can be daisy-chained to the HDS-6 amp. Each HR-6 remote mixer has two 1/4'' headphone outputs and five knobs-four for the mono feeds and one for the stereo feed.

After Ida had settled into the tracking room and all the mics had been positioned, I placed one HR-6 in front of each band member. For each group of songs that used the same instrumentation, I built up headphone stems. (E.g., acoustic guitar to channel 1, electric to 2, piano to 3, bass to 4, and drums to 5/6.) Then each band member set the various instrument levels in his or headphones to taste. Cool!

Each HR-6 station requires two CAT5 cables. One blue and one white cable are included. The cables are identical except for color. On the components, the jacks are labeled blue/white. If you accidentally swap the cables, an LED on the HR-6 warns you of the swap. As many of you know, CAT5 cable uses unstranded copper in twisted pairs. It's stiff enough that it tangles easily. And RJ-45 connectors will break if you step on them a few times. But CAT5 cables are readily available, cheap, and easy to build if you have an RJ-45 crimping tool. So I'd recommend buying or building extra cable sets in case of failures. On the other hand, the amp and remote stations are of typical Furman quality-you could probably drop them off a truck, and they'd still work.

I love my HDS-6 / HR-6 headphone distribution system. And so far, all the bands that have recorded in my new studio love it too. Easy to install, easy (and fun) to use, durable, and loud enough for rock. The system is so intuitive and foolproof, I still haven't read the manual after six months of use! So if you want technical details, you'll have to go to Furman's website. Gear that you can just plug in and use. Awesome!

Tape Op is a bi-monthly magazine devoted to the art of record making.

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