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I did some searching around and didn't seem to find a specific post on this, or if there is, I have found it impossible to find.

Anyways, I have just spent a fortune working on a new studio. I am as much as a newbie as I can get. However, being in the studio many times with my previous band including the machine shop with producer Gene 'Machine' Freeman for a month I have seen a bunch to start building my own studio.
Unfortunately however, theres still a lot I need to learn and hopefully thanks to you all you can help. And as I'm sure, the answer to this question is probably obvious, but I'd rather make sure right.

I'm basically wondering how I can set up a vocal booth headphone control. All the gear and myself would be in the main control and I am planning on having the vocal booth separate and is about 10 ft from where I sit.
My question is: What do I need to achieve this so the vocalist can control his headphone volume from the room while I am also listening through headphones. Budget is not a problem.

Would I need a headphone amplifier by the computer with headphones going to me and whoever else may be in the control room, with a cable going to the vocal booth into a mixer (or another smaller headphone amplifier) where he can control the volume to set his own comfortable level?
My interface only has one headphone output so I'm definitely in a need for a more outputs in the future.

Any help would be greatly appreciated.


Newb. duh

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RemyRAD Tue, 08/14/2012 - 23:03

I have built many a headphone system for numerous studios large and small. You have a huge choice only limited by what you want to invest. We can make this easy where it will cost you very little. We could also make it ready for true digital implementation?

Here's a couple quick simple suggestions. Simple passive boxes made (available at your local Radio Shaft) out of aluminum or plastic. A couple of cheap volume controls and a couple of plugs and jacks. Oh yeah and some wire, with three unshielded flexible cables. (Microphone cable has to shield the other two conductors. Headphone cables need no shielding.) Then you only need a simple stereo amplifier complete with an 8 ohm power resistor across its outputs and one in line with its output. Then you can feed 100 pairs of headphones simultaneously. This of course only allows for a single stereo headphone mix or two different mono headphone mixes.

Today, you'll find lovely digital headphone distribution systems. These devices all run on a single piece of cat 5. They allow for a completely individualized multi-channel headphone mix, with effects, all chosen by the headphone box and the person who's listening to it. Of course you have to send out 8 stems, in real time, for them to be able to derive their own personalized headphone mixes. And they cost a bit more. A good bit more.

And for folks who are less into the DIY, build your own headphone boxes types, numerous 1 U, four channel headphone amplifiers are readily available and for cheap. They only require a stereo signal be sent to them via a line level output source such as your mixer or multi-track computer audio interface, blah blah, etc. etc.. And since your mixer and/or computer audio interface output is a low impedance output source, you can parallel up those outputs to distribute to multiple headphone amplifiers throughout your project studio, since their input impedance is generally around 10,000-20,000 ohms. Many feature balanced inputs so you can use two conductors shielded microphone cable to distribute from your mixer/interface output, and balanced to the headphone amplifiers. And so no hum on the distribution.

I generally don't believe that musicians can't live with a stereo mix that a competent engineer has set up for them. Only rich folks and prima donnas need the above digital headphone system. And all it does is increases complexity for you. Although I do think it's a cool thought and if I had a digital studio of my own, I'd probably go for something like that. Because half the fun of being an engineer is having to make so many tweaks. Because if you're not tweaking your sleeping.

Texting on a smart phone is the 21st century equivalent to last centuries twiddling of the thumbs.
Mx. Remy Ann David

thatjeffguy Wed, 08/15/2012 - 09:59

I can't think of any reason to let the vocalist control their own level in the booth. If their level is too hot or too low all they have to do is ask that it be lowered, which I control in the control room. What many vocalists do not understand is how much affect their headphone level has on their singing. If their own voice is too low in their ears they will tend to 'push' it... if their own voice is too loud they will hold back. I use the same make & model headphones in the control room as the vocalist has in the booth... we are both plugged in to a multi-channel headphone amp with equal settings on my channel and theirs, so I know exactly what they are hearing.
A lot of times a vocalist will mistake overall volume for relative volume... that is, they will ask for more volume when what they really need is more vocal relative to the whole mix, or vice-versa. This is why giving them their own control is not necessarily the best solution. As an engineer, it is my job to know the difference and to coax out of the vocalist exactly what they need in order to obtain the best performance.
Hope this helps,

RemyRAD Thu, 08/16/2012 - 01:28

One thing that Jeff and I did not bring up is that some folks adjust their volume in such a way so as to cause them intonation problems. Pitch changes with volume levels. Too loud and they usually sing flat. Too low and they will usually sing sharp. But my custom-built headphone systems have always included a volume control for the person who is using it. When we run into problems, that's when I start suggesting that they pull one of the headphones off of one of their ears. I usually have at least one or more headphones that actually have only a single ear cup. And that can be quite helpful. So I really don't see any problem in giving them some modicum of control over their overall level to their headphones. Plus with my centrally fed headphone systems, not all headphones are of the same efficiency level. With the same amount of power input some will be louder and some will be softer than others. And since I have a slew of different headphones made by different manufacturers all getting used at the same time, they all have to have some kind of independent control and adjustment. A KOSS for instance might be 8 ohms where a pair of Sennheiser's might be 2000 ohms and both have significantly different efficiency levels. 600 ohms for the Beyer headphones, etc.. You can never have too many headphones.

I have too many headphones...
Mx. Remy Ann David

thatjeffguy Thu, 08/16/2012 - 10:42

Remy brings up a great point about the intonation issue, and also the single ear-cup headphone opportunity. I have a client that has been coming in weekly for over two years now who was consistently singing just ever so slightly flat on the higher notes in his songs. We switched to a single ear-cup headphone and the problem was 95% cured!
I guess that if you decide to give the vocalist a volume control for the headphone, you'll just have to be extra aware of the problems which may arise from listening too loud or too soft... how it can affect their performance. Personally, i like retaining control of this aspect, but I do have a talk with the vocalist before we begin about the importance of the headphone volume/mix and the importance of communicating to me what their listening experience is. We do a partial take or two just to get the level/mix comfortable for the vocalist, then make further adjustments as we track. It is amazing to hear the degree to which the level/mix of the headphone will affect performance.


uprisemovement Fri, 08/17/2012 - 22:16

Anyways I need more headphone jacks so I can have a pair run to the vocal area. Would I need to purchase a headphone amplifier then? Or would something else work?

My pre-sonus firewire studio interface only has one headphone jack in the front to listen through and I'm forseeing that I'm going to need more in the future.


kevindeleon Fri, 11/15/2013 - 11:46

uprisemovement, post: 392553 wrote: Anyways I need more headphone jacks so I can have a pair run to the vocal area. Would I need to purchase a headphone amplifier then? Or would something else work?

My pre-sonus firewire studio interface only has one headphone jack in the front to listen through and I'm forseeing that I'm going to need more in the future.


Not sure if you are still interested in this or not (as the thread is pretty old) but PreSonus also makes a couple of different headphone systems that are easy to use and pretty flexible.

The HP60 if you are looking for a full-blown system [=""]PreSonus | HP60[/]="http://www.presonus…"]PreSonus | HP60[/]

Or the HP4 if you are looking for just a more simplistic headphone amp/distribution system [[url=http://="http://www.presonus…"]PreSonus | HP4[/]="http://www.presonus…"]PreSonus | HP4[/]