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Production – Make Your Gear Last

February 21, 2013
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Tips for extending your equipment’s lifespan

WHEN EXPENSIVE and indispensable audio gear dies, the financial toll and interrupted workflow can be grave. Even before its last gasp, audio gear usually begins to perform poorly in subtle ways—for example, manifesting a degraded transient response— that mars your productions. Luckily, with proper care you can keep your tackle in tip-top shape and hold back the Grim Reaper of Gear for many years. Use these tips to keep your hardware off the garbage heap.

Heed “Last On, First Off” When powering up and down your control room, your amplifier—whether an outboard piece for passive monitors or the built-in type for active ones—should be the last piece of gear you turn on and the first one you turn off. Doing so will help prevent sending a damaging spike to your monitors’ speaker cones. Also, be sure to wire a fuse in line with the audio path for each of your passive monitors to prevent accidental feedback loops or over-enthusiastic playback levels from blowing a driver. The monitor’s manufacturer should be able to specify the correct fuse rating you should use.

Cool Down, Then Cover After turning off equipment that generates heat (including mixers, amplifiers and Class-A preamps and compressors), let it cool down completely before you cover it. Once it’s cool to the touch, protect your gear from invasive dust and corrosive humidity in between sessions by covering it with a light fabric—one that won’t generate static electricity (like wool, for instance, does) that could zap the electronics.

After powering down a condenser mic, the residual charge inside the head capsule attracts dust in the air that combines with humidity to form a thin, cement-like film on the diaphragm. Over time, these microscopic deposits can degrade an unprotected mic’s high-frequency and transient responses. For this reason, a condenser mic should be covered with a mic sock on its stand or stored inside a padded box in between recording sessions (see Fig. 1). Place a tiny bag of desiccant inside the storage box (under the mic capsule, not on top, in case the bag leaks) to dehumidify the mic while it sleeps.

Condition All Rooms Humidity also oxidizes I/O connections on mixers, monitors, and signal processors over time, eventually causing faulty connections. If you live in a humid area, consider using a dehumidifier in between sessions in any rooms where your gear is used or stored. And don’t let your gear get too cold overnight or too hot during the day. Extreme temperature fluctuations cause solder joints to expand (with heat) and contract (with cold), causing them to prematurely crack and fail. Temperature fluctuations also cause damaging washboarding on stored audio and video tapes alike. Keep your control room and mic and tape lockers’ temperatures under thermostat control to shelter your gear and archives.

Shield From Vibrations and Breezes Limit walking around with an unboxed condenser or ribbon mic to protect it from potentially damaging vibrations and air turbulence. Carry it in its storage box to and from the mic stand when setting up and breaking down a tracking session.

Never expose your condensor or ribbon mic’s head capsule directly to even a light breeze, whether from fan-driven air conditioners and heaters or from the natural elements outdoors. Doing so can damage the mic’s sensitive diaphragm or ribbon, sending it to an early grave. Small-diaphragm condensers are especially vulnerable to air turbulence. Instruct instrumentalists not to breathe heavily on sensitive mics placed on their instrument, or protect your investment with a pop screen or foam filter placed between the head capsule and a big puffer.

In the studio, the low-frequency air pressure from a breeze hitting a mic’s diaphragm can cause your subwoofer’s cone to pop if its amplifier is turned up. The subtle spike in air pressure caused by quickly shutting a door to a small, soundproof (airtight) studio can also pop a mic’s diaphragm in the studio and your subwoofer cone in the control room; swing the door slowly to the door jamb and then gently push it closed.

 
Fig. 1. If you must keep a condenser or ribbon mic on its stand in between sessions, protect it from dust, humidity and air turbulence with a mic sock.
The structure-borne noise produced by setting up a connected mic on its mic stand can, if amplified, also damage speakers. Be sure to turn your control-room levels all the way down when setting up. Do the same when switching the polar pattern on multipattern condensers, as some will produce a nasty electronic pop your speakers will not like.

Wait a Minute Never plug in to or unplug a mic from a preamp that has phantom power already turned on. The resulting voltage spike could damage your mic pre. Connect the mic with the preamp gain turned all the way down, then switch on the juice and set your level. After your session, lower the mic pre’s gain all the way (noting its setting beforehand if you’ll need to duplicate it on the next day’s session), turn off the phantom power, and then wait one full minute before disconnecting the mic. It takes awhile for phantom power to completely drain after it’s powered down. During that time, any disconnecting or reconnecting of microphones can send a damaging voltage spike through the mic pre’s circuitry.

Boot Up Regularly A mechanical drive left idle for long periods of time may develop a sticky spindle, preventing its platter from spinning. Power on all of your mechanical hard drives at least once a month to exercise their spindles. An archival drive is useless insurance if it won’t boot up!

Michael Cooper is the owner of Michael Cooper Recording in Sisters, OR (myspace.com/michaelcooperrecording), and a contributing editor for Mix magazine.

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