B&H Tips & Tricks July 2007
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B&H Tips & Tricks

By Sam Mallery

Thick cable gauge = not thick headed

If optimal sound quality is something you want from your PA system, it's a good idea to use thicker gauge speaker cables. When you're running speaker cable from your amplifier to the speaker, especially at distances of 100 feet or more, the audio signal can lose energy as it travels along the wiring. In some cases, up to 2.5dB can be lost if you're using too thin of a cable gauge. It's best to use as thick a gauge as possible, even if the cable runs aren't very long. You'll retain more signal and achieve a richer, fuller sound across the entire frequency spectrum. When shopping for speaker cables, keep in mind that the larger the number of the gauge, the thinner the cable will be. A 12 gauge cable is thicker than a 14 gauge, and so on.

Utilize Your ADAT Lightpipe Port

Many of today's computer audio interfaces feature ADAT lightpipe ports. The owners of these devices are often not quite sure what they can do with these unfamiliar ports. There are specific products designed to take full advantage of these mysterious lightpipe inputs and outputs. The Behringer ULTRAGAIN-Pro 8 is a device that can be plugged into the ADAT input of your audio interface. The ULTRAGAIN acts as eight additional microphone or line level inputs with preamps. It's a really inexpensive way to add eight more inputs to you DAW. The Octane from M-Audio, the 8Pre from MOTU, the PreSonus DigiMax 96k, and the OctaMic from RME Hammerfall all fulfill the same function. These lightpipe expanders are listed here in order of their price. As the price tag gets higher, so does the overall quality of the audio you will get from the device.

Always Have A Little Extra Padding

Some of the little gadgets that sound people often don't realize they need until it's too late are simple pads. These are little in-line attenuators. Basically, they are XLR barrels with male XLR on one end and female XLR on the other. What they do is drop an audio signal down if it's too loud or too strong of a signal. Some of them are fixed to a specific attenuation amount, others have switches so you can choose -10db, -20db, -30db, etc. It should be noted for the “ultra audio nerd” that the pads that do not have a switch may actually have a cleaner signal. If there is no circuitry for the switch, the audio path is cleaner, and so is the sound. These little barrel attenuators are a must-have for any recording and live sound situation. No studio, club, church, or even remote ENG sound bags should be without them.

Give Yourself Maximum Headroom

The next time you set out to record an album, or when you're on the set of a video shoot and you're setting audio levels, always leave a bit of headroom so you allow yourself some latitude during post production. It's a common mistake to record signals a little hotter than they should be. When something is louder it just naturally sounds more appealing. It seems like you're getting a higher-resolution sound if you record hot. The reality is that if you send material to get mastered or to post production and it's at 0dB or higher, there is very little a mastering engineer can do to the mix, without the serious risk of clipping. A good rule of thumb is to always leave headroom on your master fader. Your final mix should have between -4dB to -6dB of headroom. This is what a mastering engineer expects. If you decide to master it yourself, you'll then need the extra headroom yourself when you add the final compressors and EQ.

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