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Monday, May 29, 2017

Q. How can you keep your gear in good order?

The crack team of Paul White and Hugh Robjohns have traveled the world solving readers' problems. Here, they down the Hob Nobs and answer some of your equipment queries in our Q and A mini-series, Sound Advice.

Hugh: Rackmounting is a good idea. There are plenty of affordable racking systems around, or if you have some simple DIY skills you can buy the racking strips and create your own. For portable equipment, proper flightcases are essential. The cost is easily justified against the cost of repairs to unprotected equipment. There are several different levels of protection available, including sophisticated floating double-rack cases (ideal for delicate devices like computers), traditional wooden cases, cheaper plastic forms, and soft bags. I mount rarely-used equipment in plastic cases, as this affords excellent protection while they are stored, and keeps the dust out!

Q. How can you keep your gear in good order?
Paul: Cables tend to receive a lot of abuse, so in my studio I have a row of large coat hooks on one wall and try to keep different types of cable on different hooks. The mains leads, for example, are kept separate from the balanced jacks — minimising the chance of using the wrong lead. Once a year I wipe the jack plugs with a rag soaked in Deoxit, to remove grease and improve conductivity. You can also spray this directly into XLRs and patchbays, but keep it away from capacitor mic capsules.

Hugh: Coil your cables properly. The worst thing you can do is wrap the cables between palm and elbow. This will force kinks into the cable, causing the cable screen to open up, thus increasing the susceptibility to interference. The required technique takes a while to master, but it is well worth the effort if you value your cables. The basic idea is to introduce a half twist as you form each loop of cable, but if you always make the twist in the same direction you end up with a neatly twisted cable! The better way is to twist forwards on one turn and backwards on the next — the 'over-under' technique — resulting in no net twist.

Paul: Most studio leads are short enough that they are easy to coil without kinking, and those little pink Velcro straps that you can get from DIY stores and stationers are ideal for keeping them tidy. Leave these permanently fixed to the cable for future use.

Hugh: Long, thin cables tend to get tangled very easily and this can be avoided if the cable is neatly coiled. Bring the two ends of the cable together, and then wrap the pair around your fingers, leaving about six inches of the looped end. Wrap this length around the middle of the coil formed on the fingers to hold it all together, with the last couple of inches of the loop pushed through one end of the coil The cable will now remain neatly packaged. When you need it, hold the two cable ends in one hand and retrieve the looped end from the coil in the other, if you then pull, the whole thing will unravel without tangles.

Paul: For live recording I use a lot of XLR cables. The easiest solution to keeping these tangle free is to connect them end to end, then wind them onto a garden hose reel. You can buy 'proper' cable drums but a decent hose reel works fine and costs rather less. As Hugh often points out, a further benefit is that you can put a cable tester across the ends of the reel and check all of the cables at once although you'll have some searching to do if there is a faulty one in there.
Q. How can you keep your gear in good order?  

Hugh: For less frequently used cables and adaptor leads, I find it best to keep them stored in large transparent zip-lok bags, and to keep those bags in a plastic container box. The cables don't get tangled this way, and they are much easier to find when needed.

Paul: It is good practice to put mics away when they are not in use. Capacitor mics should be treated gently and ribbon mics should be treated like eggs. Don't slam the lid of a wooden mic box, as the high SPL generated can damage more sensitive models. And to be really safe, only switch on phantom power after the mic is plugged in.

Hugh: Mics should be stored in a clean, dry environment. You can use the manufacturer's original shipping boxes, or invest in a case to store multiple mics more conveniently. Camera cases, with diced foam inserts, can accommodate a range of different mics securely. A good idea is to throw in a few silica-gel sachets to control the humidity when the case is closed, but don't forget to check your mics regularly and dry them out periodically. If you want to keep the mics on the stands in the studio, it's a good idea to cover them with a loose plastic bag. This will keep the dust off and also protect the mic from sudden wind blasts. Don't seal the bag at the bottom — leave it open so that the air is free to circulate. If you seal the bag, changes in ambient temperature could cause condensation inside the bag.

Paul: Other enemies of gear are damp and dust. If your studio is in a shed or garage, buy yourself a dehumidifier. Dust is easily tackled by putting a towel or old sheet over your desk when not in use, but don't forget to use the vacuum cleaner. Judging by some of our Studio SOS visits (mentioning no students in Leeds), the vacuum cleaner is often the least well-understood piece of technology in the studio! Fluffy, antistatic dusters are also wonderful for shifting dust from complicated surfaces such as mixing desks and outboard racks.

Published May 2008

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