It’s been several years now since my friend Erik turned me on to the Rat Sniffer/Sender. Since then, I’ve used my set dozens of times in multiple venues to troubleshoot bad cables, bad patches and other audio system weirdness. I knew my friends at Rat were working on some additional versions of the venerable XLR Sniffer/Sender, but until a few weeks ago, didn’t realize the line has expanded quite a bit. My super-friendly sales rep, Daniella, emailed and asked if I’d be interested in taking a look at the new offerings. Do bears have fur? Yes please!
The next day a box showed up with an NL4 Sniffer/Sender, a 1/4” Sniffer/Sender and a new item I hadn’t even heard of, the 3-way Mic Switcher. If you are unfamiliar with the Sniffer/Sender concept, let me introduce you.
On the left is the NL4 pair, in the middle the 1/4” set and on the right, the classic XLR combo that started it all. The XLR is a good basis to start from, and is probably the most likely to see the most use. The Sniffer is simply a machined aluminum barrel with an XLRM on one end and three dual-color LEDs on the other. One use case is troubleshooting or testing a snake. Stand on stage with your Sniffer, plug it into snake channel 1 and have someone at FOH turn phantom power on. If the line is good and patched properly, you’ll see three green lights. No lights means you’re likely in the wrong channel (or someone ran over your snake with a bobcat).
If there is something wrong, you’ll start seeing red lights. I’m not entirely sure how the logic works, but the pattern of green and red lights will tell you what might be wrong, once you consult the decoder chart. Dave Rat thought through almost every conceivable problem with a cable; pin swaps, shorts and opens. I’ll demonstrate this in a minute.
All three Sniffers work similarly, plug the cable in and read the code. Now if you’ve been working in the sound industry for more than about 20 minutes, your first question will be, “How do you get phantom power down a 1/4” or NL4?” That’s where the Senders come in. If you’re troubleshooting or testing an XLR snake without a console, you can use the sender to supply phantom power so the Sniffer can read it. Same with the other versions.
The concept behind this split tester arrangement is brilliant. If you’ve ever walked onto a stage with a rats nest of unlabeled cables being able to trace them back to FOH, and test them at the same time is great. Same for NL4s or even 1/4” cables. Sometimes a cable goes through a wall and getting both ends in close proximity for a traditional cable tester is tough or impossible. With these tools, it’s easy.
They’re all built solidly and should survive many years on the road. Powered by button batteries, none of them actually use any power until you make a complete connection with them, so you don’t have to worry about the batteries running down in your bag. In fact, I’ve had my XLR set for 3 years and have never changed the battery.
Here’s my example of how it works. In the picture below, we’re testing a 1/4” cable. Three green lights and the cable is good (the lights are green, the cable’s clean!).
However, if there is a problem with the cable, you’ll start seeing red lights. In this case a red b light, which as you can see from the chart below is either a Tip-Shield Swap or Short. Upon closer inspection, you can see that someone jammed a paper clip into the connector causing a short. Problem solved!
The XLR and 1/4” versions are only $45, while the NL4 version sells for $99. I’ve carried my XLR version out to many a gig with a set of male and female turnarounds (so I can test any combination anywhere in the house easily), and it has saved me hours of troubleshooting time. They’re well worth it. I think I’m now going to have my multi-talented daughter sew me up a pouch for all of them to go in my gig bag.
The other toy in the box is the new 3-way Mic Switcher. While it was designed primarily for the touring world (plug a backup mic or two into the same input channel on the console), it could be very handy for the church world as well. Most of us have some kind of backup plan in case the pastor’s or worship leader’s mic goes down, and this could make wiring in a backup very easy. It’s a simple fanout of three XLRFs and a single XLRM all connected to a rotary “make before break” switch. Basically it connects B before disconnecting A so you never loose sound. It’s a silent switch as well.
While I think is a great idea for backup mic’s it could also be very helpful for setting up various measurement mic’s in a venue. With this device, you could conceivably have 4 mic’s set up around a room with a two channel interface. Say you put the mic at FOH into input 1 and three remote mic’s into the switcher plugged into input 2 and now you can do transfer functions or simply see what’s going on “over there.” Kinda cool. Also built like a tank, the 3-way Mic Switcher lists for $99.
You can find all the Soundtools (plus a few more I haven't mentioned) at the Rat Soundtools website. Or give them a call and ask for Daniella. Tell her I sent you and she'll take good care of you (actually she would anyway...).