Essential Tools For Sound Engineers

- Jul 24, 2020-

Most sound engineers focus on the key parts of their sound equipment. Products such as the latest mixing boards, unique microphones, popular headphones and other high-end equipment dominate their thinking. However, when encountering live audio problems, some cheaper items are also essential. Here are some questions that should be considered.

B&H Photo, a major professional audio distributor in New York City, cited some of the necessary equipment that every sound technician in his kit needs. One is a cable tester. When signal flow problems occur, suspicious eyes are always cast on the cable. Wiring problems may cause signal distortion, low level, polarity reversal or disappear completely.

Instead of replacing a bunch of cables to see if the problem goes away, the time of sound technology will be more effectively used to test the cables to see if they need to be replaced. Test the cable before use or install it in an inaccessible area.

The dbx CT-3 cable tester is compact and easy to use.

The dbx CT-3 cable tester ($129.95) allows operators to test 11 different types of cables-XLR 3-pin, MIDI 5-pin, RCA, BNC, DMX 5-pin, Banana, RJ11, RJ45, 4-pole speaker, 3.5 mm And 1/4" TRS/TS. It is battery powered and has an adjustable level tone generator.

Another recommended device is a polarity checker. In addition to cable issues, microphones, speakers, and wireless systems may also have signal presence and polarity issues. Galaxy Audio CPTS Cricket ($99.99) is a battery-powered polarity and continuity detector with independent transmitter and receiver modules that can be used on each end of long-distance signal lines.

Galaxy Cricket is equipped with a microphone, speaker and pulse generator.

Cricket has a built-in microphone for speaker testing, a built-in speaker and audio pulse generator for microphone testing. It can drive snakes and speaker boxes, and has simple green and red LEDs to indicate positive or negative polarity.

In addition to checking basic signal continuity and equipment polarity, if you are analyzing room or equipment problems or defects, audio technicians may need to test frequency response characteristics, SPL values, phase correlation, reverberation time, etc. For these complex problems, B&H recommends the use of portable audio analyzers.

Phonic PAA3X audio analyzer.

Phonic PAA3X ($749.99) is a handheld model with a built-in detachable condenser measuring microphone and a backlit color LCD screen. Its basic functions include 31-/61 band spectrum analysis (RTA), 31-/61 band equalizer setting display, RT60 (reverberation time) measurement and SPL measurement up to 130 dB.

It also provides dBu, dBV or volt line signal check, phase check, signal generator capable of generating pink noise, sine/scan wave, polarity test signal type and instant snapshot to the provided SD card through balanced XLR. It can be powered by a rechargeable lithium-ion battery or AC adapter.

Phonic PAA6 ($1359.99) expands the functions of PAA3 by adding more functions, dual-channel operation, color LCD touch screen with touch pen, two balanced XLR inputs and two built-in capacitance measurement microphones, which can be placed in six different positions . Additional functions include 61-band RTA, FFT, THD+N, LEQ, oscilloscope and general signal generator with more signal types.

It can be powered by the included AC adapter or built-in lithium-ion battery, and supports bracket installation. Bonuses include audio text signal CD and import/export data via USB or SD card.

If you use audio, you will often listen through speakers and/or headphones. Listening through speakers involves two factors that compromise accuracy-speaker frequency response and room characteristics. Listening through headphones introduces frequency response variables and problems with correct translation to the speakers. There are software programs and plug-ins designed to remedy these problems and improve the accuracy of monitoring in a major way.

Sonarworks software

Sonarworks Reference 4 Studio Edition ($299) includes software for calibrating speakers and headphones, and can be used inside and outside the DAW. It has an easy-to-use guided step-by-step process. The speaker calibration software requires a measurement microphone (including an omnidirectional condenser) to analyze the frequency response of the display in your room, and then create a new response curve to produce a flat and accurate sound according to your personal settings.

It also provides monaural monitoring and selectable presets to mimic other speakers. The headphone calibration software automatically adjusts the output frequency response according to the selected headphone model. Its analog mode allows to pass through your own analog speakers or different headphones.

WAVES NX is a plug-in room simulator.

Waves Nx ($99) is a plug-in that can simulate physical room acoustics through headphones. This is all about room simulation rather than frequency calibration. With adjustable room ambience, speaker positioning, head styling and head tracking, it can make the sound mix on the headset look like it is mixing on the monitor in the room. It also provides 5.0 or 5.1 surround sound monitoring.

If your recording or mixing situation involves multiple music instruments or configurations with direct boxes and microphones, then you are dealing with important phase relationships. Negative phase interactions often result in frequency cancellation, resulting in undesirable "hollow" sound quality. Since the phase is related to the frequency, it is best to adjust the frequency in an adjustable way.

Radial Phazer

Radial Engineering Phazer ($319.99) is a single-channel analog phase adjustment tool. It is suitable for unbalanced instruments and balanced line signals. It provides polarity reversal, up to 180 degree phase shift and selectable low pass filter, with two range positions and variable cutoff frequency.

Although the "wow" factor of these tools may be low, each tool is very useful for working sound operators. All of these are considered essential tools that professional sound operators usually rely on.