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Sterling SHA4 Headphone Amplifier – A Real-World Review

Reviewer Rob Tavaglione finds that despite mostly typical features, the Sterling Audio SHA4 headphone amp has some cool design quirks.

Sterling SHA4 Headphone Amplifier
Sterling SHA4 Headphone Amplifier

The newest addition to my monitoring fleet is the Sterling Audio SHA4, a 4-channel, two-sets-of-inputs, little workhorse of a headphone amp. Despite mostly typical features, there are a couple of design quirks that I like a lot.

First, seemingly all headphone amps have external power supplies that tend to burn out, buzz or hum; the SHA4 has an internal power supply and a standard IEC power cable. Second, most cue amps have one stereo input (or possibly a pair of mono inputs), but the SHA4 has two sets of inputs (A and B), as well as balanced ¼-inch stereo or unbalanced ¼-inch mono inputs. The flexibility is especially appreciated if you run more than one cue mix.

The unit includes four front-panel ¼-inch mini-plug headphone outputs and four back-panel ¼-inch headphone outputs. The four volume controls and two (A and B) master volumes are a little small, but they are firm and acceptable. The four input-selection switches are large and give a confident click.

There is no metering, but I do wish there were the minimal “green/yellow/red LED scheme” found on many devices, as well as a mono switch on each channel. The back panel houses all the ¼-inch connections; headphone outs, A and B balanced TRS inputs, A and B unbalanced stereo ¼-inch inputs and another nice feature—left and right balanced link outputs to chain up another cue amp.

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Attention to a couple more details makes the SHA4 a pleasure to use. For one, the power switch is large, backlit and recessed a bit by the unit’s oversized endcaps, making it hard to bump off. The chassis has a mic stand connection on the bottom, and it’s still rugged enough for the floor and small enough for a crowded desktop.

Compared to my other three low-priced headphone amps, the SHA4 hung right in there in clarity, max volume and low noise floor. With some high-impedance AKG K240s, which require plenty of clean power, the SHA was able to reach ridiculous “loud enough for drummers” levels without much distortion (even if the tone was a little thin). With multiple pairs/models of cans plugged-in, the SHA showed no loss of headroom or tone.

At $89, the SHA4 is not the cheapest 4-channel cue amp out there, nor the most expensive, nor the most sophisticated; but its abundant features, thoughtful design and reasonable price make it an easy recommendation for anywhere a headphone feed needs to get split up loudly and cleanly.