I know what you’re thinking. What is a sound company doing making a tester for lampies? If I had to guess, some lighting guy saw the audio guy testing a snake with a Rat Sniffer/Sender and said, “Hey, can we get a 5-pin version of that?”
Kidding aside, the answer is—or will be very shortly—yes. I wrote about the whole Sniffer/Sender line back in July of last year. What started out as a simple 3-pin XLR tester has expanded into 1/4”, NL4 and now 5-pin XLR. My friends at Rat asked if I would be interested in taking a look at the DMX version, and since I’ve had to troubleshoot a DMX run or three, I said, “Sure!”
Physically, it looks very similar to the venerable 3-pin version. The system consists of two parts, the “sniffer” which has three red/green lights on it, and the “sender” which is basically a phantom power supply. You can test a cable or snake (or entire end-to-end system) using both units, or, hit phantom power on the console and just use the sniffer.
The DMX version works just like the audio version. Plug the sender into the male end of the chain, the sniffer into the female end and look at the lights. Three greens means all is well. Any combination of red and green means there’s a problem and you consult the chart to figure out what it is.
Personally, I love the concept of this. I’ve spent several hours over the past few years up in the truss trying to track down DMX runs. Once you get a bunch of cables up there, it can be hard to know which end is connected to what. With the sniffer sender, it’s easy to tell.
And here’s another hidden benefit: Since the lighting industry refuses to standardize on three pins or five, you can actually use the 5-pin and 3-pin sniffer senders together.
The other day, I was making some 3- to 5-pin adapters in the shop and wanted to test them. I pulled out the 3-pin sender and the 5-pin sniffer. The sniffer read two green lights, which I assumed meant it wasn’t picking up anything on pins 4&5. But when I tested the next one and got all three green lights, I double checked my first adapter. Sure enough, I swapped two pins. After a quick solder fix, I re-tested and got 3 greens.
The unit I have is a prototype, so I don’t have information on pricing and availability. I would expect it to come in around $55-70 or so, and it will likely be available before summer. For me, it’s a no-brainer to have all the testers. In fact, I want to make up a kit to house all of my sniffer/senders in one neat package. Since we church techs need to be multi-disciplined, this is a great addition to our toolbox. You can see the complete lineup of Rat Sound Tools at their website.
In the interest of full disclosure, my friends at Rat Sound gave me this prototype unit. Even if they hadn’t, I would buy one. They're that cool.