More Sound Geekery

Here's a little more audio-geekness. On Saturday, I was mixing our contemporary service. We have a drum kit on a sled that we roll out onto stage. The mics are left mounted to the drums, and we have a sub-snake that routes out of sled and connects to the snake, which connects to the patch panel back stage (and that runs up to an obsolete patch bay, and finally to the M7). 

Well, as often happens, some of the mic lines got unplugged from the mics. Due to a marginal labeling job, I was having a hard time figuring out which mics were coming in on which channels. This was exacerbated by the fact that the sub-snake is 8 channels, but we only have 5 mics.

Now, I could have spent 20 minutes running up and down the stairs to the booth, turning on one channel at a time, plugging a mic into each line until I identified it, or tore the whole thing apart (did I mention that the snake is more like spaghetti once it hits the sled? I didn't build it, I'm just trying to make it work...). But the band was already in rehearsal mode and I didn't think that would be a good use of time.

Enter the handiest little device I've seen in a while--The Rat Sniffer/Sender. My sound engineer, Erik, told me we should get a Rat Sniffer/Sender a few weeks ago. At first I thought we might have a rodent problem. Then he explained that the "Rat" was Dave Rat, owner of Rat Sound (and FOH Engineer for the Red Hot Chili Peppers, among others), and that the sniffer/sender part was a very cool cable testing device.

Now, if you do any kind of live sound work, you probably have a cable checker. And those work great if you can get to both ends of the cable, and bring them close together. But, when you have a situation like I did, and only one person to figure things out, it gets tricky. This is where the Sniffer really shines. The Sniffer will test your cable (and report a whole host of possible faults) using nothing more than phantom power sent from your board. And this is where the geekery comes in.

Being a geek, I have Yamaha's Studio Manager running on my MacBook Pro (running Windows XP under VMWare's Fusion). That means I have full control of my M7 from anywhere on the network. Upping the geek ante, we have a wireless router connected to the M7. Now I can mix wirelessly from anywhere in the room. I can also turn phantom power on and off. See where this is going?

I grabbed my MBP and headed down to the stage. Setting in on a table near the drum kit, I plugged the Sniffer into a cable end and started clicking phantom on and off. Once I found the right channel, I connected the cable to the right mic. In under 2 minutes, I had the whole kit fixed. And that includes the time it took to untangle the spaghetti.

Last night, we built a bunch of cables (including a new drum loom for Upper Room so we'll never have to deal with a mess like that). We used the Sender part of the package to send phantom power down each line to the Sniffer to verify our cables.  Another volunteer was marveling at this little device and said, "What'd that set you back, a few hundred dollars?" "Ha!" I said, "Try $52." Seriously, it's $52 (that includes shipping and a slightly cheesy red velvet bag. You could spend another $15 or $20 and get it gift wrapped with a mug and t-shirt, but I'm cheap. I've spent a lot of money on audio gear in the last 10 years, but it's hard to find a piece of gear that is a better value. Already it's saved me a ton of time, and I've only used it once! You really should have one of these in your bag of tricks.