Saturday, November 12, 2016

Headphone amplifier

36 years ago, I played guitar and wrote arrangements for a little musical group which I had on the kibbutz. Joining me were Yvonne (flute), Jeremy (bass) and Shai (piano), with occasional vocals from a girl called Joy (about whom I don't remember anything; she was only with us for a few weeks). We used to practice on weekends when I was home from the army, and at some stage I must have suggested that we record a few songs.

Recording would have required some engineering pre-production: in order to have some semblance of separation between instruments and achieve some form of balance, we had the piano in one room, the guitar amplifier in the bathroom and the flute in the living room (where Jeremy and I also sat), each instrument with its own microphone. This meant that we all had to monitor via headphones, which meant that we needed some form of splitting the recorded input between four sets of headphones. I asked a friend who was somewhat technical to build a four way headphone splitter; his Heath Robinson contraption worked to some extent (I don't recall whether it was mono or stereo) but was unreliable.

We only managed to record one or two songs, without vocals, onto my stereo cassette deck. The idea would have been to feed the output from one cassette deck into another stereo cassette deck via a stereo mixer whilst adding vocals but this never happened. Twenty years later, I finally dubbed the vocal onto the instrumental track - but that's not the point of this blog.

A few months ago, I discovered on ebay a professionally built headphone splitter, or amplifier. When I saw it, I wasn't thinking of our group but rather of the problem which I have now with computer speakers. I use an A/B box to choose either headphones or speakers, but one speaker never seems to work. I changed speakers but had the same problem, which lead me to conclude that there was a problem amplifying the signal. The ebay headphone amplifier should solve this problem.

So I ordered the amplifier which arrived after a few weeks. When I plugged the power adapter into the mains (the unit requires 12v), I heard a 'phut' sound, almost certainly indicating that the flimsy power adapter had shorted; the unit did not work.

I then had a protracted correspondence with the vendors - initially they wouldn't take my word that the cable had shorted so I had to take photos to prove to them. They then graciously offered to refund my money whereas I would have preferred to have a new power adapter.

Yesterday I went to a local shop and bought a new power adapter; I couldn't find one with the correct requirements (12v, 250ma), so I had to settle for a unit which allows one to choose the voltage and the polarity of the head; the cable also comes with several heads, allowing the unit to be used with several devices. Of course, this power unit is also more expensive than a simple adapter; it cost me 40 NIS, which is about $12. The amplifier with adapter only cost $18! At least I am getting a refund from the company, so actually I am coming out on top.

The amplifier works perfectly; I can hear stereo via the speakers. I'm not too happy with the tone via the headphones, which might well mean problems when mixing new songs.

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