Inexpensive yet Invaluable Audio Accessories

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There’s a certain allure to turning a big knob on a high-end piece of audio gear, but sometimes the most useful tools are the inexpensive doodads. There’s an army of budget-friendly accessories that play a major role both in the studio and on set. Check out this list of low-cost lifesavers, some of which are less obvious than others.

Smart phones are taking over the universe, and each one sprays a considerable amount of interference into the airwaves. Troubleshooting the source of unwanted noise in an audio chain is getting more complicated, thanks to constantly active wireless devices. One way you can prevent this gremlin of audio interference is with the Shure A15RF In-Line XLR Radio Frequency Attenuator. It’s a simple XLR barrel that attenuates radio frequency interference. These days no live sound rig, studio or location audio kit is complete without a handful of A15RFs.

The On-Stage TM01 looks like that thing your grandfather had bolted to his workbench in the basement. However, the TM01 isn’t used for woodworking or steadying a metal pipe so you can cut it. Placed on its side with its 5/8" thread pointing upward, the TM01 can be used as a desk stand for a microphone. It can also be clamped to the edge of a table or a desk, or to a pipe, another mic stand, a piece of drum hardware, etc. It’s an impressively versatile mic-mounting accessory that takes up very little space.  

Stereo mini-plug inputs are showing up everywhere. Rental cars often have 3.5mm inputs to connect your iPod or other media player to the vehicle’s sound system, and alarm clocks in hotel rooms now commonly feature these inputs for the same reason. It’s a welcome trend, but these new inputs are only useful if you have a 3.5mm stereo male cable handy when you need it. It’s wise to always have one of these cables with you.

It’s not uncommon to run into situations where you need to split the signal from a single microphone, and plug it into two separate inputs. For example, you have a self-powered shotgun microphone (like the Rode NTG2), and you want to plug it into both a portable digital recorder (like the Zoom H4n) and an XLR input on a video camera. A common assumption is that an XLR splitter y-cable is the tool that’s required, but this is not so. A splitter cable does not correct the impedance between the microphone and the two external devices. You need to use a box like the Whirlwind SP 1 x 2 to achieve the best audio quality possible, because it features one direct and one transformer isolated output for a proper impedance balance.

Hiding a tiny lavalier microphone underneath a subject’s clothing is both incredibly difficult, and totally essential. This practice is mandatory in narrative filmmaking. It’s optional in other kinds of video shoots, but it always makes for a slicker production. What makes hiding lavaliers so difficult is that clothing and skin often brush against the concealed mic, which creates distracting noises in the audio. Rycote Overcovers are an excellent tool for eliminating contact noise. Yes, they’re designed for use on the outside of clothing (hence the name “Overcovers,”) but they’re just as good (if not better) at helping control noise underneath the covers. When you have a microphone concealed and secured on your subject, you attach the sticky pad over the mic, and the fluff on the outward facing side of the sticky pad. Neither skin nor clothing will be able to rub against the mic.

One particularly difficult item of clothing to hide a lav mic under is a basic t-shirt. A common practice with female subjects is to clip the mic to the center of their brassiere. This isn’t an option on males, unless you have a PSC MicBra. Yes, in a sense, this is a bra for men. But it’s really an inexpensive solution for quickly hiding a lav mic on someone wearing a t-shirt or other lightweight clothing. When you’re on set and you have to quickly figure out how to make a lav mic sound good and be invisible on a subject, it’s nice to have this option at your disposal.

Cable organization is central to the lives of hardcore audio people. We take great care in storing our cables so they will have a longer life. When a cable is properly coiled, it’s best to bind it so it won’t unravel. If you’re industrious and resourceful, this can be accomplished with a short piece of twine or rope. A more convenient option is to use a reusable cable tie. A personal favorite of mine are the Kino Flo Touch Fasteners, which are available in blue, green, red, yellow and white. Different colors can be used to help organize and identify cables.

Sometimes you need tools that make cables look less messy. That’s where The Cable Organizer products come into play. When you have several cables and wires running along the same area, The Cable Organizer acts as a conduit that covers them up and gives them a tidy, uniform look. You stuff all of the cables and wires inside of this conduit with a unique-looking insertion tool (which is included). This system is incredibly useful for installations, presentations and on stage.

Audio people tend to be nocturnal, but they can’t see in the dark. That’s why many of us rely on the Mini Maglite. It’s a small flashlight that comes with a belt holster. You put on your belt-mounted Mini Maglite with your clothing in the morning, and you’ve got it at your immediate disposal all day. In situations where you need light and you have to work with both of your hands, the Nite Ize Headband holds your Mini Maglite at eye level. However, putting on the headband in the morning and wearing it all day is optional.

An essential accessory that you should keep at your side all day is a Leatherman Multi-Tool. Most Leatherman models come with a belt holster. When you wear one, you’ll be amazed at how many things you end up using it for throughout the day. I recommend going for a Leatherman with built-in scissors and an ever-sharp serrated blade, like the Leatherman Wave.

Commoners say you can fix anything with duct tape and PVC pipe, but every salty old audio dog will tell you that the miracle tool of choice is gaffer tape. Whether you’re using lots of it to tape cables to the floor, or you’re using little strips to carry out seemingly impossible tasks, gaffer tape is both indispensible and disposable.

When you need an adhesive tape that can do the impossible, you turn to gaffer tape, but when you need to put a piece of tape on your equipment, you want to be sure that the sticky stuff is going to peel off without leaving residue behind. The best tape to use for this purpose is Permacel/Shurtape Paper Tape. If you’re working with a mixing board, you can lay a strip of this tape at the base of the faders and use a Sharpie to label each track. Best of all, when you’re finished with the mix, you can cleanly peel it off.

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any questions, or you would like to talk about your favorite low-cost lifesaving accessories, we encourage you to submit a Comment below!