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.
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.