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SessionCake: The Silent Jam Culture

Turn the fun up while keeping the noise down.

If you’re into playing music, there are few things more fun than jamming with your friends. But, as is sadly the case with so many fun things, there can also be annoying complications. Where are you going to play? How can you make sure that everybody hears one another well? And what are you going to do if a less-than-enthusiastic parent, roommate or neighbor wants you to lower your volume — or, worse, stop altogether?

The new Yamaha SessionCake is designed to address these thorny issues. Essentially, it’s a near-silent jam enabler in a brightly colored little box. To use it, the only things you need are a set of headphones and an electric/electronic instrument or a microphone with appropriate cable. Since it runs on two AA batteries, you can practice with SessionCake pretty much anywhere. You can even link up to eight SessionCakes together so your friends and bandmates can jam along, with everyone hearing everyone else perfectly. Best of all, because you’re all using headphones, you never have to bother anybody with your “noise” — beautiful though it may be.

SessionCakes come in two color-coded varieties. The red SC-01 can be used with any electric or electronic instrument that has a DI output. This includes electric guitar or bass, a digital keyboard, electronic drums or any of the Yamaha SILENT™ instruments such as SILENT Brass, SILENT Strings, SILENT Guitar, etc. The blue SC-02 works with all those instruments, too, plus it has an additional input for stereo instruments and an XLR input for microphones. So if you’re a keyboardist who also sings, you can use the same SessionCake for both your playing and your singing.

Two square controllers in different colors.

SC-01 and SC-02.

When you’re on your own, SessionCake acts as a simple personal headphone amplifier: Plug in your instrument or microphone, then put on your headphones and adjust the volume to taste. If you like jamming along with recordings, SessionCake makes it easy. All you have to do is use its Aux (short for auxiliary) input to connect to an iPad or iPhone; you’ll hear the audio from your device along with the signal from your instrument/mic in the headphones.

The really interesting bit, though, happens when you want to bring someone else into the jam. Once your SessionCakes are chained together, you’ll both be able to hear each other, and you’ve got the ability to put a basic headphone mix together, adjusting your relative volume and placement in the stereo spectrum. (The dial that lets you change how much of your own signal is in the mix is aptly called the Me dial, while the one that can move the signal from your left ear to your right ear is called Pan.) This same chaining procedure can be done with up to eight people at a time.

To put the SessionCake system to the test, I recruited a special assistant: my 11-year-old daughter, who enjoys singing in her school choir. I plugged her microphone into an SC-02, plugged my electric guitar into an SC-01, then chained the two units together. Her first words after she put on her headphones were “Daddy, you’re too loud!” (I’ve heard that a few times before.) Luckily, that was easy to fix; I turned down my input volume a bit and she turned up her Me control so she could hear more of herself.

From there, I did my best to follow along as my daughter sang some of her choral pieces. Because she was on a mic, she didn’t have to sing loud and could concentrate on hitting pitches accurately rather than being heard. Both her voice and my guitar sounded crystal clear; no buzzes, no hums, nothing getting in the way of the music.

Before long, my daughter began to find great amusement in the SessionCake’s Pan control, moving it back and forth as the sound of her voice slid from one ear into the other and back again. “Cool!” she declared. This led to an impromptu duo rendition of Katy Perry’s “Roar.” When it was over, she asked the question that just about everybody asks at some point when they hear their own voice coming through speakers or headphones: “Do I really sound like that?”

If you often find yourself asking the same question — and not in a good way — you can change your sound by using the provided four-conductor 1/8″ cable to connect SessionCake to a smartphone or tablet running an audio app. At that point, you can freely add reverb, delay, distortion, compression or any other nifty effects you like. Or you can go old-school and simply put some effects devices (like a stompbox, rack unit, whatever) in the signal chain between you and your SessionCake.

Want to document the sounds you’re making for posterity? Recording yourself solo is a breeze with the SessionCake. Just use the supplied cable to connect to your mobile device and launch the recording app of your choice. (Be aware, however, that your recording will be in mono, so your vocal and/or instrument can’t be moved out of the center of the stereo spectrum.) Recording multiple singers/players at the same time using a SessionCake system is trickier but possible — you’ll have to connect to a recorder via the SessionCake’s headphone out rather than the Aux out, which means someone in your group will need to either invest in a signal-splitting adapter or forgo listening on headphones while you’re playing.

SessionCake bulldozes a lot of the usual barriers to setting up a band practice or jam session. You can play wherever you want, you can bring as many as seven other musicians along with you, and nobody — except maybe your bandmates—will ever tell you to turn down!


Click here for more information about SessionCake.


Mac Randall
Mac Randall, editor of JazzTimes magazine, has been writing about music and related subjects for more than two decades. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, Rolling Stone, Musician, The New York Observer, Guitar Aficionado, Billboard, Acoustic Guitar, Mojo, and many other publications. Mac is also a guitarist and composer, as well as the author of the book "Exit Music: The Radiohead Story" and the e-book "101 Great Playlists: Songs for Every Listener." He lives in New York City.

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