Rane HC6 Headphone Console
Headphone monitoring seems to be a neglected area of recording technology as there are few manufactured items dedicated to this purpose. The HC6 is one exception — Paul White issues a Rane check.
Headphone monitoring may not appear to be a very glamorous subject when compared to state-of-the-art effects units or digital recording, but often it is the only link that a musician has with what is going on around him in a studio environment.
Because of the high ambient noise caused by drummers, for example, the headphone system must be capable of delivering high sound pressure levels (SPLs) and furthermore, the sound quality in terms of distortion and noise must be fairly high to prevent undue fatigue on behalf of the user.
Also, as different musicians will require different monitoring levels (a problem compounded by mixing different types of headphones), any successful system must have independent level controls for each headphone outlet.
Having roughly defined a typical headphone system, it comes as no surprise to find that the Rane HC6 fulfills our criteria and offers a little more besides.
Broadly speaking, the HC6 consists of six stereo headphone amplifiers housed in, and powered from, a 1U rack case, with each output having its own level control and all the amplifiers normally being fed from a common stereo bus.
The stereo bus level can be adjusted by means of a master volume control whilst a mono/stereo pushbutton allows for the use of mono source material. Each output is duplicated on both the front and back panels and each channel has an additional mono input which will automatically disconnect the amplifier from the stereo bus when a plug is inserted. This input will accept balanced or unbalanced signals via mono or stereo, quarter inch jack plugs.
One useful feature not found on other units is an LED on each output which glows green if the input signal exceeds —20dBm (which it will almost certainly do when music is present). This is not as you may think, an overload warning, but is just to inform you that a given channel is receiving signal. This is useful if you have left a jack stuck into one of the mono inputs, thereby disconnecting that channel from the main bus.
There's a limit to what you can do with a humble rack box but Rane have given theirs a classy finish by using a matt textured grey/brown finish (almost Tascam coloured in fact) with a pale beige legend.
All the inputs are located on the rear panel and the outputs are duplicated on both the front and rear panels.
The circuitry itself is well designed but quite unrevolutionary. Each amplifier consists of a complementary pair of bipolar transistors configured as a push-pull output stage, driven by a TL071 op-amp which gives around one third of a watt of output power into eight ohms - adequate for all but the very deaf (see 'Recording Heavy Rock' HSR Jan 85 for solution!).
These are then fed by a well smoothed, unregulated power supply and the main input bus is also designed to accept balanced or unbalanced line level signals.
There's not a lot to check out really, just plug in some music, put on the singing Jaffa Cakes (headphones) and off we go. The maximum sound level obtainable from the Rane unit is certainly more than I could tolerate for very long and, at levels below which the ears themselves start to distort, the sound quality is more than adequate.
By adopting a bus system that can be overridden by inserting a jack plug into a channel's independent input, Rane have achieved a fair degree of flexibility, but remember, these inputs only accept mono signals which could be a limitation.
This a very professionally built, functional piece of equipment, ideally suited to life in the recording studio, but it may justifiably be considered as being expensive, especially by the home studio or semi-pro user.
In terms of quality and performance then, you couldn't really ask for a better unit. But as they say in Moscow, for £350 plus VAT, Rudolph The Red knows Rane's dear!
The Rane HC6 retails for £402.50 inc VAT. Details from UK distributors: Music Lab Sales, (Contact Details).
Review by Paul White
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