After you’ve decided on your basic sound system and how you plan to connect everybody (wired or wirelessly) on stage, we’ve got a few more goodies you’ll want to consider.
Now that you’ve come this far, what type of cables do you choose? If you want to make sure you’re getting the best performance out of your equipment, make sure you’re using the correct cables in the correct manner. Mismatching cables and connections can lead to additional line noise, buzz/hum and in some cases equipment failure. Make sure you understand the difference between instrument cable and speaker cable. Speaker cable is only used to connect the output of an amplifier to a speaker. In our examples of systems using powered speakers, speaker cable would not be used because the amplifiers are integrated into the speaker cabinets. Instrument cables (audio cables) come in two basic types, balanced (TRS) and unbalanced (TS). The most typical unbalanced connections are RCA (phono) and ¼”. Balanced connections include XLR (mic cables) and ¼”. Although they can be balanced as well, unbalanced connections are most common in consumer electronics, keyboards, and electronic drums. All guitar cables are unbalanced. These unbalanced signals can be converted to balanced lines utilizing a direct box which we’ll talk about next. The main advantage of a balanced line is its strength of signal and ability to reject unwanted line noise including RF, buzz and hum. Due to their additional wiring and design you’ll notice that balanced cables are somewhat more expensive. They are especially important in live situations due to multiple power connections and longer signal runs. Although maybe not as critical in a home studio, a good rule of thumb is to use balanced cables and connections whenever possible.
Audio snakes conveniently combine multiple input and output channels into a single, clearly-labeled cable run. The two styles are known as Stage Snakes and Multi-Track Studio Snakes. The most common snake used for live worship environments is the Stage Snake. This snake is used specifically for connecting to the sound system’s mixing console. These snakes allow you to connect multiple microphone and instrument signals into a “fan box.” This “fan box” has not only input connections, but “return” channel connections for connecting signals from the mixer to stage floor monitors. They are available in a variety of channel and connector type configurations.
Multi-Track Studio Snakes are typically used in studio environments in 8-channel configurations. They can have a wide variety of connection types and are generally used to connect mixers, instruments, audio interfaces and patchbays for recording purposes.
Direct Boxes (DI boxes)
These handy little devices are essential tools for connecting electronic equipment, guitars and bass to a mixer in live and recorded performances. Effectively clean up your signal by rejecting RF interference, eliminate buzz and hum, and provide balanced signal levels for longer audio runs without loss of signal strength. There are several different types of direct boxes and it’s important that you choose the right type for your application. Line level sources such as keyboards and electronic drums are perfect for passive designs, while active designs provide more flexibility for guitars that have active or passive electronics. And finally, you can get dedicated DI’s for guitars that combine their own amplifiers and processing.
Speaker Management DSP
Although typically associated with larger installed sound systems, if you happen to move your sound system from location to location or just need help dialing in the best sound for your environment, these little babies can be life savers. The dbx DriveRack systems are popular options. They can quickly remedy live sound issues that contribute to poor clarity such as poor acoustics, inconsistent dynamic levels, audio delay times (ensuring that everyone hears the sound at the same time), feedback squelch and more.
Rack Bags and Cases
From mixers and audio processing to wireless receivers and power conditioners, smaller mobile sound systems are going to need to house the equipment in rugged, easy-to-transport solutions. These are some great options for protecting your investments.
Power management can often be overlooked when setting up a sound system. It’s far more than just connecting your equipment to the standard AC outlet on a wall. High-quality power management protects the working life of your investment while improving the overall sound quality as well. Power strips, power conditioners and UPS’s can provide a wide degree of performance. Most will supply some level of surge protection and line filtering (to clean up dirty power) while other more advanced models can regulate voltage and supply uninterrupted battery backup during a loss of power (UPS). Don’t forget about this vital aspect of your system.