Now Hear This
Hear Technologies' Hear Back Four Pack
by Bobby Owsinski
Headphones. They're the bane of an engineer's existence. They never
seem to be totally right, especially during tracking when every
musician has multiple needs. They're either too loud, or too soft,
or distorted, or the balance is off. And how many times have you
heard " I need more bass (guitar, snare, etc.)" or "I
need more me"? It's no wonder that larger facilities have invested
in personal monitor systems for years.
But until recently, personal monitor systems were mostly custom
designed and therefore pretty expensive. Although there are now
a number of inexpensive dedicated systems on the market, I just
tried one that totally knocked my socks off - the Hear Back Four
Pack system by Hear Technologies.
The Hear Back Four Pack includes 4 individual "personal"
mixers, a hub that the mixers connect to, and all the necessary
cabling to connect the system to your console or DAW. Each personal
monitor mixer has 8 channels; a stereo mix and 6 additional "more
me" channels which can be configured as either mono or linked
as stereo pairs with a Link button between channels. Each mixer
also has an Aux input for local input of a click, and two mono line
outputs. The mixer has two headphone outputs and is threaded so
that it can be mounted on a mic stand. Each mixer also has a master
level control, a built-in limiter to keep the phones from blowing
(or your ears, which ever comes first), and even a headphone amplifier
The mixers are connected to the brains of the system, the Hub,
via standard CAT 5 cables (four 50 footers are supplied with the
system), which not only carry the audio but also conveniently supply
power to each mixer. The Hub has 3 switch selectable 8 channel input
sources; either digital via an ADAT optical input, analog via a
DB25 connector, or something called the HearBus (more on this later).
The front panel also features four-stage input metering for each
channel for signal presence, -10, +4 and overload.
Up to eight Hear Back mixers can be connected to a Hub. The HearBus
I/O is supplied to allow daisy chaining multiple hubs to expand
the system to just about any size that you need. The HearBus can
also be used with an optional Extreme Extender ADAT In or Out accessory
that converts the optical I/O to CAT 5 for cable runs of up to 500
The system has excellent specs, with frequency response from 20
to 20kHz (±.04dB), impedance range from 16 to 600 ohms which
covers just about every type of headphone, and power output of 700
milliwatts at 16 ohms, 2 watts at 47 ohms, and 220 milliwatts at
600 ohms (according to the manufacturer). The manual is excellent,
with a wide variety of applications discussed in detail.
Keep in mind that the entire system is digital, with 24 bit A/D
and D/A converters, headphone output limiting in DSP, a system latency
of only 1.5 milliseconds (which is outstandingly tiny enough to
never be a problem), and a sample rate of either 44.1 or 48k.
For a tracking date, I set the Hear Back system up by sending the
mix from the Cue buss on the SSL 9k at Front Page Recorders to the
Hear Back stereo inputs. The Cue buss was fed from the console stereo
buss, and was selected instead of just the stereo buss so that the
musicians would hear the talkback. I then sent separate feeds from
the kick, snare, guitar, bass, vocal, and vocal reverb via 6 unused
busses each fed from the individual channel's small fader. I guess
you could use the Aux busses too, but why waste them when the Hear
Back can do the same thing, only better?
On some overdub sessions I found a good way to set the system up
was with the drum mix going to the stereo input of the Hear Back
with bass, guitar, keys, vox and stereo FX to the "more me"
The front panel indicators on the Hub proved to be quite useful
for troubleshooting during setup on a day when things were patched
incorrectly. A quick look at the indicators told us which channels
where patched and which weren't. About the only time even a hint
of a problem popped up was during a percussion overdub when the
percussionist had the limiter threshold set way too low, which choked
the headphone output pretty good (it is very effective).
One of the major concerns before setting the system up for the
first time was whether it would have sufficient headphone level.
Let me tell you, there's as much level as a deaf Metal drummer can
take and then some. If you're sending a moderate -10 or so level
to the hub, you can either blow the phones or your ears if you try
to crank these things with the typical Fostex T20's and AKG 240's
that most studios use. And it's nice clean level too.
Every time I used the Hear Back, I would take a minute to discuss
the operation of the mixer to the player then get out of the way.
After that initial education, I never heard another peep out of
them. Can you believe that? Everyone pleased with their phones with
a minimum of fuss! Every artist that has tried it has loved it and
every engineer that's used it has raved about it. On the first session
that I did, the rhythm section contained two of Hollywood's busiest
session players. As soon as the session wrapped, each of them went
out of their way to mention how much they loved the system and how
easy it was for them to dial in what they needed, and that has been
the universal response so far.
The Hear Back system is fast to set up, easy to use, expandable,
and performs way beyond expectations, considering the modest price.
Although I used the Hear Back system only in the studio, I'm told
that the system is in widespread use in live on-stage monitor applications
as well. Plus, the ADAT optical input and low latency makes this
the perfect system for DAW recording.
At the end of the review period, I asked for an invoice instead
of a return authorization; this system is staying. Great job, Hear
Technologies! The Hear Back system is a winner.
Courtesy of Pro Sound News Magazine, July 2003 issue