Production – Make Your Gear Last
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.