If this is what you’re carrying to your next show... read on!
If you’ve ever been the sound guy or gal on the show when an instrument or mic either stopped working entirely or had a mic start crackling or popping for no known reason (that same mic that was fine until five minutes ago!) you were likely a victim of a bad XLR Cable – it happens to everyone at some time.
XLR Cables are one of those simple, use every day common tool – like gas in your car, or the pen at your desk, they just exist and you need them to function as a sound guy. And even more interesting, if remember my previous blog on powered speakers you’ll notice that these connect together with… Ooh… Wait for it… XLR CABLES! You likely also patch a bunch of other gear with them AND sometimes lights (get it? A E I O U and sometimes Y? Tough room…).
Anyway… XLR cables are how everything comes together on a show, and to make matters worse, with short load-in times and restrictive venues being all the more commonplace, XLR’s are a great way to move signal around, but when "one" of them goes bad it can cause havoc. It’s entirely possible that the same XLR cable could have grabbed by a stagehand to connect a hi-hat mic on a drum kit, a vocal mic for the lead singer, or the subwoofer signal line.
So, with good care and feeding of XLR cables (and all cables, for that matter) there is very little chance of a failure – but if you’re one of “those” that feel your cables are there to be abused you may not have thought this all the way through. Just imagine that because of abuse, that one cable (on the hats, lead vox or subs) “goes bad” – the most common problem is a twist in the cable causing and short between two wires.
If it was on the hi-hat mic, you’d likely hear some odd popping and crackling, but it’ll take a minute of “soloing in headphones” to find it – those hats generally are percussive and bright, making the noise hard to find. And once you do find it, you’ll likely just mute the channel as the upwards-of-a-dozen other mics on the kit mean you’ll survive without it, at least until the end of the tune or the end of the set.
If it’s on the Lead Vocal (which is the lead vocal after all… that cable all of a sudden is much more important!) you’ll get the same pops and cracks, but at a much higher volume. If you have a compressor on that vocal and some effects, it can make for some VERY interesting noises that EVERYONE is going to hear LOUD AND CLEAR… including the artist doing the singing in their monitor wedge… just imagine if this was your fave “A” artist or singer? Imagine losing the next gig because of a bad cable?? It hads happened! You’ll likely need to get out on that stage and get your backup mic in their hands – quick! If you’re lucky only your pride will be damaged.
If this was a subwoofer line (remember – it’s a powered speaker!) you all of a sudden either have “full bombastic bottom end pops” that will stop your show, or you’ve lost the subs entirely. In either case, not a good thing, especially when the repair bill comes in for those replacement drivers!
So… if you ASS-U-ME’D that every time you wrap an XLR Cable it could be “that cable that brings down the show”… wouldn’t you be more careful with ‘em? And wouldn’t you want to spread the word? We do… and here:
This is a one-page sheet that every new Pro Audio Rental Client gets the first time they take a cable from us. Over the years I’ve received many compliments from those small sound company operators, who have now made it “Law” – not only do they have much fewer problems with cables, but the results are repeatable AND their repair bills are lower. They are also more confident on every show – isn’t that worth the price of an XLR Cable?
Until next time – practice good wrap!
Manager, Professional Services