The hockey teams are on their benches and the first line players are on the ice, waiting for the national anthem to play. The singer walks onto the rink and approaches centre ice, mic in hand. Cue the music. Then POOF! the sound system crackles, pops, and dies. It’s every tournament organizer’s worst nightmare and is something that could have been avoided with a bit of sound system preventative maintenance.
Every arena, rec centre or clubhouse has multiple sound systems, from the paging/PA system to numerous independent sound systems in the various rooms and areas, along with a portable sound system or two.
We’ll cover some common AV issues and their solutions, as well as basic maintenance to keep your system operating smoothly.
The Inadequate or Underpowered System
That small battery operated sound system just won’t work for a crowd of 500 people in a gym. Neither will turning an underpowered system to 11 which results in severely distorted sound and “clipping” the amplifier (that red “peak” light tells you you’re pushing the system too far and can result in overheating and system failure).
The solution: Get the right equipment. This usually starts with a call to a reputable audio and video installer such as Sound Solutions to recommend a system that properly meets your needs.
The best system in the world will still sound lousy if the microphone isn’t working properly.
You get what you pay for and cheap knockoffs fail quickly. Wear-and-tear also play a role and if a mic has been dropped too often, the element inside the case can become loose and impact sound quality.
The solution: If your mic looks like it’s been through a war, it’s time to replace it. We’ve seen stashes of used and abused microphones in boxes and bags with the explanation that they may come in handy some day. They won’t: save some space and take them to your local electronics recycler. A good wired vocal/speech microphone is surprisingly affordable and can be had for under $100.
Check your cables
Cables connect the microphones and speakers to the amplifier and other power equipment. They can be 3-pin XLR cables, quarter headphone, or Speakon ends.
Inspect your cables regularly for frayed ends. A shorting speaker cable can easily destroy an amplifier, which is an expensive repair compared to replacing a cable.
The solution: If the cable is frayed, cuts in and out, or is stiff, replace it.
Thin, inexpensive audio cables used to connect MP3 players or smartphones to a mixer or sound system are one of the most common cables that fail.
The solution: Keep a spare or three MP3 connectors handy, or go wireless and get a Bluetooth-enabled device.
Coil Your Cables Like A Roadie
There is a right way to store cables and cords, and it’s likely not the way you’re doing it. Wrapping cables around your arm or between your hand and elbow twists the cable and puts stress on connectors. Instead, wrap your cables just like pro music roadies and use the ‘over/under’ method. Use tape or Velcro ties to tie them for storage. A properly wrapped and coiled cable will uncoil completely and easily with the flick of a wrist and not become twisted or knotted.
It’s easier to watch than describe, so search YouTube for “over/under cable coiling”
Dust Bunnies Be Gone
The solution: Get rid of dust with a vacuum or air compressor (keep the pressure to under 50 PSI). Remove and clean filters that can be found on the front, back or sides of amps. If your amplifier does not have a filter, remove dust and dirt through the vent holes or slots.
To prevent overheating, vacuum dusty electronic equipment twice a year — more often in dusty environments
Don’t touch the controls!
Most modern sound systems use programming to set sensitive controls, but older sound systems may have these settings under a tamperproof cover. Don’t try to fiddle with controls under protective covers. Mis-adjustment of volume limiters and equalizers can damage amplifiers and speakers, and can allow clipping of the amplifiers to occur prematurely, even at lower volume levels.
Order of Operation Isn’t Just for Math
Turn the amplifier on last, and turn it off first. This prevents nasty popping sounds.
- Use the right extension power cord. 14-gauge, often black in colour, is preferred. The orange hardware store extension cords are great for your lawnmower, but aren’t designed to run high power sound systems.
- Don’t plug other items in with your sound system, and never overload sockets
- Keep drinks and food away from the sound system.
- Check your mic stands and other hardware for worn bolts and missing pieces.
- Do not turn sound systems on and off multiple times a day. If you’re going to use a sound system several times a day, leave it powered on for the day, and turn it off once at night. Most sound systems are designed to stay on 24/7, without affecting the life of the equipment.
- Use gaff tape (never duct tape!) to tape down mic and speaker cables. Gaff tape is designed to come easily off cables, unlike duct tape that leaves a sticky mess
- AV equipment can last anywhere from five to 20+ years, depending on the brand and how it is used and installed. If a piece of equipment is acting up, call your sound company to check it out before your big assembly or musical.