Back in the ’70s I used to have my drums set up in the basement in front of our secondary home stereo system. In those days the basement home stereo was often an old piece of wood furniture with a turntable in one side, a TV in the centre (or a hole where the TV could go like ours had) and a control centre on the the other side. This was the stereo I used to jam to. It came from my grandparents place. I’d crank it. It would distort. I’d practice.
I tried playing with headphones but without mic’ing the kit the drums and cymbals sounded too muffled and unnatural. Back then I could barely afford my drums let alone mics, etc.. so I’ve always practiced with ambient, cranked up music.
Flash forward to today and I have MP3s pumping through a mixing board and a small but more than adequate PA system. Jamming to this works better as you don’t have to crank it to the point of distortion to hear it. Still, it gets pretty loud.
Once again; trying with headphones was a no-go. Too muffled.
Then I started mic’ing my kit. I haven’t got the whole kit done yet but I’m using Shure SM57s for the snare and toms, an AKG D112 for the kick and a pair of AKG C1000S for the overheads. I’m not done completely. Having a large kit demands a lot of mics to do it right, but I’ve got to the point where I can mic the kit quite reasonably.
Then I started practicing with headphones again. WOW! What a difference. Because you can regulate the mix it is much easier to get a happy level between what you’re playing to and what you’re playing on. Whether you’re jamming to an album or playing along to track you’ve created, playing it mixed well with headphones at a nice, decent level is the way to go.
Since I decided I loved this I picked up a headphone amp. The one I chose was a Samson S-Phone 4 channel headphone amp. I actually chose it mostly out of necessity but I’m happy I did. I was originally shooting for a Behringer 4 or 8 channel model. The 4 was my preference as the 8 channel apparently has issues with the last couple of channels located near the power supply. Anyway, these amps were weeks away on delivery and I needed one quickly for a recording session. Fromager Music in Owen Sound had one in stock (I love those guys) and I picked it up. I’ve been really happy with it. Each channel supports 3 outputs so you can have a dozen headsets. Each channel also supports its own input which can be balanced against the main input for “more me”. Very cool and useful. Especially for vocalists who can never seem to hear themselves enough.
Since then I’ve only been jamming with a headset. I tried one practice with music playing through the PA and no headset but found I didn’t like it. I couldn’t hear the music as well as I could with a headset and it was really loud. With the headset on my wife says it’s way more quiet when I practice.
I tried in-ear headphones (not exceptionally high quality ones mind you) and while they sounded really good having them in my ears for hours as I sweat didn’t strike me as sanitary. I prefer headphones (or “cans” if you want to use musician lingo). I’m using a pair of Sony MDR-V600s. My wife Mari who does vocals uses Audio Technica M40s.
Since we’ve been using the headphone amp when we jam together we each get the perfect mix and don’t suffer hearing fatigue from having our speakers cranked.
I have to say I like it for practice big big!