Why You Should Test Those Cables

Test Those Cables On A Regular Basis. A hard-earned lesson from the field. When things go wrong, be sure to check the "simple" things first.

Gary Zandstra  ·  August 19, 2016

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Operating the sound system from the mix position during a Sunday worship service, “it” all began when the first note from our grand piano was distorted.


We’d checked the piano channel and sound prior to the service, and all was fine.

My first reaction to the distortion now being produced was to reduce the gain on that console channel, thinking perhaps the piano player was “nailing” the keys very hard.

Yet the problem remained. Next, I did a pre-fade listen (PFL) in my headphones – yes, it was definitely distortion on the piano channel, no question about it.

To capture sound from this grand piano, we use a magnetic pickup from Helpinstill Designs, which sends the original vibrations of the strings (the source of the piano’s sound) directly to the mixing console.

Anyway, my next thought was that someone had accidentally bumped the pickup so that it was hitting some of the strings. Oh well, nothing could be done until the service ended, so I just did my best to work around and minimize the problem.

But a quick look right after the service showed that the pickup had not been disturbed. Finding nothing else apparently wrong either, we set up a couple of microphones to capture the piano in case we encountered the same problem during the next service, scheduled to start in less than 30 minutes.

And sure enough at the service began, here it came again - big-time piano distortion! We quickly switched over to the mics, which covered us without major incident.

But now I was completely perplexed. What could it be? Perhaps the pickup unit itself was failing – my most logical guess at this point.

Prior to that evening’s service, we needed to move the piano to a different location on the platform. Looking at the microphone cable linking the pickup to its jack in the floor box, it finally dawned on me to check that cable. Sure enough, it was going bad.

Thus, a $10 mic cable was compromising the sound of our $30,000 grand piano fed to our professional caliber sound system! It often is the simple things, isn’t it? And yet another hard-earned lesson for yours truly.

To avoid this disruptive and embarrassing problem, all I had to do was invest in better cables, and further, regularly (say, once a month) check the performance of each one with another small investment: a cable tester.

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