What Is Phantom Power?

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Condenser Microphones and DI Boxes that have active circuitry in them require electricity in order to function. Some Condenser Mics and Active DI Boxes have slots to insert batteries. But, no one wants to have to constantly replace batteries.

Phantom Power to the rescue!

Phantom Power Soundcraft EFX8

The phantom power button on a Soundcraft EFX8 soundboard.

Phantom Power is DC Voltage (just like battery electricity) that is sent from a phantom power supply through an XLR cable to the Mic or DI Box at the other end.


Phantom Power Buttons

48V Phantom Power Buttons

Phantom Power Supplies can be stand alone units, but are most commonly built into soundboards. On smaller and lower end mixers, there will be one phantom power button or switch. Once enabled Phantom Power will be sent to all XLR channels. On larger and higher end mixing boards, each channel will have it’s own Phantom Power button or switch. Generally stand alone preamps, used in recording studios, will have a phantom power button or switch.


Phantom Power Supply

Behringer Phantom Power Supply

The amount of voltage generally supplied is 48 volts. However, many condenser mics and DIs don’t require a full 48v. Some only require 9, 12 or 24 volts and have built in transformers to reduce the voltage and not damage the mic or DI box.


Most times it will be labeled as “48v” instead of “Phantom Power”. (same thing)

Avalon 737 Phantom Power

Phantom Power on the Avalon vt373sp

Virtually all modern mics and DI boxes that do not require phantom power (dynamic mics & passive DI boxes) will not have any issues if sent 48v. They simply will not use it. However, some vintage equipment (notably vintage ribbon microphones) can be severely damage if sent phantom power.

If you have the option, it’s best to only enable phantom power to the microphones that need it.


As well, if enabling phantom power, it’s a good idea to mute the channel(s) that will be affected before enabling it. Enabling phantom power can produce a loud pop sound. Once enabled (after the pop) it should not produce any other unwanted sound. If it does, your microphone or cable may be wired improperly.

Phantom power travels through the XLR cable on pins 2 & 3. Audio also travels through the XLR on pins 2 & 3. They do not affect one another. As long as the audio signal is balanced, phantom power does not affect the audio. You should not even know that it’s there! Hence the name, Phantom Power. Sneaky Sneaky!

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Difference Between Speaker Cable & Instrument Cable?

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Is there a difference between Instrument Cable and Speaker Cable?


Speaker Cable vs Instrument Cable

Instrument Cable vs Speaker Cable

Instrument Cable

Instrument Cable

Instrument cable (commonly referred to as Patch Cable, 1/4″ Cable or Guitar Cable) is designed to carry a instrument level signal or line level signal over fairly short distances.

Instrument cables have 2 wires in them. One wire carries the signal. The other is a ground wire.

The signal wire is usually somewhere between 18 gauge to 22 gauge. (quite thin)

The ground wire is either twisted or braided around the signal wire in order to shield the signal wire from waves in the air that add unwanted noise to the signal. See Electromagnetic interference / radio-frequency interference (RFI) on Wikipedia for more information on this.

The longer an instrument cable, the more susceptible they are to picking up interference. So, if you have a 100′ instrument cable, it will very likely be noisy. (no matter how good the shield is) For this reason, instrument cables should be no longer than 25′. The shorter the better.



Speaker Cable

Speaker Cable

Speaker cable is designed to carry an amplified signal over short or long distances.

Speaker cables have 2 wires in them. They are both the same thickness and type of wire. One wire is positive, the other is negative. There is no shielding on speaker cables. Shielding is not needed because the signal traveling through speaker cable is amplified. The strength of the signal is way higher than line level. Radio interference does not affect the signal because it is too quiet to be heard in comparison to the amplified signal traveling through the cable.

The gauge of the wires in the speaker cable vary depending on how powerful the signal traveling through them will be and the length of the cable. The higher the amount of power needing to go through the cable, the thicker it should be. As well, the longer the cable is, the thicker it should be.

Speaker cables should be treated with the same respect as AC power cables. In fact, they are pretty much the same thing. If you have an extension cord with no ground, you can cut the ends off of it, and you will have a perfectly fine speaker wire. (a 2 conductor copper cable)


Can I use one in place of the other?

Both instrument and speaker cables may have 1/4″ connectors on them. They can be hard to tell apart, but are very different and should not be mixed and matched. If you aren’t sure if you are dealing with an instrument cable or a speaker cable, unscrew the connector and have a look at the wires.

What happens if I use a speaker cable for my guitar?

  • You will have a very noisy signal because speaker cable is not shielded.

What happens if I use an instrument cable in between my amp and my speaker?

  • You can damage your amp. (Think about a powerful water pump hooked up to a tiny hose.)
  • You could also melt the cable and potentially start a fire. Instrument cables are not high enough gauge to carry an amplified signal.
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The low cut button. What does it do?

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Low Cut Button

Low Cut Button

When the low cut button on soundboard is pushed in, it engages a ‘Low Cut Filter‘ on that channel.  (same as ‘High Pass Filter‘)

  • It’s called a low cut filter because it cuts out all of the low sound below a certain frequency.
  • It’s called a high pass filter because it only allows the sound above a certain frequency to pass through. Both the same thing.
High Pass Filter on Avalon vt-737sp

High Pass Filter on Avalon vt-737sp


On the majority of soundboards that ‘certain frequency’ is fixed, hence only having one button for it. On most boards the low cut is at 75hz, 80hz or 100 hz. On some higher end consoles and studio gear, you are given a knob to control what frequency the low cut is at. Some even let you control how gradual or steep the cut is.



Why should I use low cut?

By using low cut appropriately you can achieve a cleaner mix, get more headroom out of your PA and reduce the chance of low feedback.


Low cut is, in my opinion, probably the most under-used feature on audio equipment. It is VERY valuable to have a low cut and can make the different between a clean mix and a muddy one.

Different sound sources produce different sounds with different ranges. (frequencies)

  • A Bass Amp can produce low bass all the way up to treble
  • A Guitar Amp produces mainly mids.
  • A Trumpet produces mids and treble.
  • Voices very, but generally produce sound from low mids to treble.

If you want a more in-depth look at what frequencies are produced from different sources, I recommend the following link.
Frequency Chart
(an interactive frequency chart)

Unless the sound source for your channel is producing fundamental bass sound, you should engage your low cut. Doing so will eliminate the amplification of unwanted low sound.

This unwanted sound can be:

  • Microphone handling or floor rumble (from bumping the mic or stepping on the floor that the mic stand is sitting on)
  • The popping of “P’s” and “B’s” from a voice
  • Unwanted electrical hum (60hz)
  • Other nearby sound sources (the bass amp on stage or the pounding subs that are less than 20′ away from your mic)


Low Cut on Soundcraft GB4

Low Cut on Soundcraft GB4

When mixing live, the question shouldn’t be, “Which channels should I turn the low cut on for?“.

It should be, “Which channels should I take the low cut off for?“.

My answer at most gigs would be:

  • Kick Drum
  • Floor Tom
  • Bass Guitar
  • Some Synths (depending on the sound)
  • Sample (depending on the sound – if there are bass drops, you definitely need it off)
  • Some Keyboards (depending on instrumentation)


Another plus to using low cut properly is, that when you reduce the amount of unwanted bass going through your PA, you will increase your headroom. This is because it is more work for your power amps to amplify bass. So again, cutting out the unwanted bass, will allow you to get more volume out of your sound system. Not to mention it will sound less muddy.

Low Cut on a Mackie Onyx 1640 Mixer

Low Cut on a Mackie Onyx 1640 Mixer



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Mic Preamps: What do they do?

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Why do I need a microphone preamp?

The output volume of a microphone is very low. Most times, it’s too low to work with at all.

If you have a mic plugged straight into a Mixer or Audio Interface without a preamp, there will not be enough signal. This will result in no sound at all or extremely quiet and poor quality sound.

Modern day Mixers, Audio Interfaces and Audio Processing Units (compressors, EQs, FX, ect) are designed to accept a signal of +4dBu. The volume of typical microphone signal is -65dBu to -40dBu.

This is why a microphone preamp (mic pre) is needed.

Mackie DL1608 Preamps

Mackie DL1608 Preamps

Does it matter which microphone preamp I get?

Microphone preamps are controlled by just one gain knob and that’s it. Very simple! If all they do is increase the volume, it doesn’t really matter which one you get, right? …… Wrong.

Because mic pres boost the signal so much, they can really affect the sound.  Similar to how the sound from different microphones vary.

A mic pre can color the sound to make it sound warmer, shimmery, fatter, brighter, darker, brittle, muddy, dirty or just plain bad.

They can also keep the sound very clean, transparent, neutral & accurate.


API 512c Preamp

API 512c Preamp

Types of microphone preamps:

Solid State Preamps are small and maintenance free. The nicer ones can sound incredibly accurate and transparent. Generally they sound more neutral than a tube preamp. Solid State pres maintain a very consistent sound a low volumes and high volumes. However, if you push them to the point of distorting, the distortion they produce sounds very bad. (this is called clipping)

Tube Preamps have glass tubes in them. Over time tubes may fail and need to be replaced . Many people try putting in different types of tubes to get different tones from their preamp. Tube preamps are larger, they produce more heat and they require more electricity than solid state pres. Tube preamps generally add color to the sound. They have the potential to make things sound very pleasing. As you turn up a tube preamp, the sound changes. The harder you push it, the more dirty the sound gets. The distortion a tube preamp produces is musical and generally warm sounding. So, you don’t have to worry as much about clipping your tube pre. In fact, many people purposefully make their tube preamps distort to achieve certain sounds.


On the vast majority of soundboards (mixing consoles) these days, each channel is equipped with a solid state preamp. The microphone signal runs through the preamp before going through the rest of the board. (EQ, Aux Outs, Fader) Many audio recording interfaces come with solid-state preamps built in. I’ve also recently seen a couple of recording interfaces that had tube preamps in them. (solid state pres are much more common though)


Avalon Vt-737sp

Avalon Vt-737sp

Many standalone preamps include additional features like:

  • Signal Indicator Lights or VU Meter
  • Clip Indicator Light
  • Phantom Power
  • Pad
  • Low Cut
  • Phase Reverse
  • Unbalanced Instrument Input
  • Equalizer
  • Compressor
  • Impedance Selector

When it comes to microphone preamps, you get what you pay for!  Don’t expect to get an outstanding studio quality pre for $100.

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The Speed of Sound: How fast is it?

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Question: What is the speed of sound?

Simple Answer:

  • 1127 feet/second
  • 343 meters/second
  • 768 miles/hour
  • 1236 kilometers/hour

Full Answer:

Sound is a wave. It needs to travel through something in order to move. The speed to which it travels greatly varies depending on what substance it is traveling through. The denser the substance is, the faster the sound wave can travel through it.

  • Sound travels 1127 feet/second through Air.
  • Sound travels 3041 feet/second through Helium.
  • Sound travels 4862 feet/second through Water.
  • Sound travels 21063 feet/second through Aluminum.
  • Sound travels 39400 feet/second through Diamond.

All of the above speeds are assuming that the temperature is 20°C (68°F).

In solids, the density of the material (not the temperature) affects the speed that sound travels through it. More solid substances like aluminum conduct sound faster than air.

Temperature affects the density of liquids and gases. The colder they are, the closer together the molecules become to one another. Because of this, one would think that as temperature in liquids and gases rise, the speed of sound through them would fall. However, this is not the case.

  • Sound travels 4603 feet/second through Water at 0°C (32°F).
  • Sound travels 4862 feet/second through Water at 20°C (68°F).
  • Sound travels 5006 feet/second through Water at 40°C (104°F).
  • Sound travels 5092 feet/second through Water at 60°C (140°F).
Speed of Sound vs Temperature in Dry Air

Speed of Sound vs Temperature in Dry Air

When we look at the speed of sound through gases and liquids at different temperatures, something interesting happens! When the temperature is increased, the speed that sound travels through it increases too. This is because in gases and liquids, higher temperatures cause the molecules to move faster (and have more energy). Therefore, they can vibrate faster and sound waves can travel more quickly through them.

  • Sound travels 1009 feet/second through Air at -40°C (-40°F).
  • Sound travels 1048 feet/second through Air at -20°C (-4°F).
  • Sound travels 1087 feet/second through Air at 0°C (32°F).
  • Sound travels 1127 feet/second through Air at 20°C (68°F).
  • Sound travels 1166 feet/second through Air at 40°C (104°F).

Humidity in the air has a very little, yet measurable effect on sound speed.

Air pressure is often stated as a contributing factor to sound speed through air, however this is incorrect. Air density on the other hand is a contributing factor. The lower the air density the slower the sound travel will be. Although altitude has no effect on sound speed through air,  it does correlate with air density and temperature which do. As you go up in altitude/elevation, the air density and the temperature drop.


  • In a vacuum where there is zero air density, there is no sound at all! This is because there is nothing for the sound waves to travel through.
  • Volume does not affect the speed of sound.
  • Frequency (Pitch: Bass, Mid, Treble) does not affect the speed of sound.

If you’re looking for more information about the speed of sound and how it’s affected by things, Wikipedia has some more great information.

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Panning: Mixing Live With PAN

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What is pan you ask?

Pan for CookingPeter PanPAN knobs

The Pan that I’m talking about is the audio pan control or pan pot (panoramic potentiometer). The knob that dictates how much of the signal gets sent to the left and right main outs.


What it does:

On a mixing board, each channel has a PAN knob. This knob is usually above the fader. If you leave the PAN knob in the middle (at 12 o’clock), an equal amount of the channel’s signal will be sent to the left and to the right. We call this ‘center’.

Fostex T50RP Headphones

Fostex T50RP Headphones

If wearing headphones or standing out in front in the middle of 2 speakers (in stereo), if you listen to a signal paned exactly center, it will sound like the sound is coming from the middle. (from in front of you) If the Signal is panned all the way left it will be 100% in the left speaker and not at all in the right. That same goes for the right.

For example: If you leave a vocalist panned center, they will sound like they are coming for in between the speakers (when sitting in the center of the audience).

Instead of saying, “panned a little to the right”, many audio techs will say, “It’s sitting a little to right in the mix”.

Left And Right Speakers

Left & Right Speakers

3 Reasons to PAN while mixing live.

(This applies if you’re running a stereo system & the majority of your audience can hear both speakers)

1: To make the lead vocal easier to hear

For the vast majority of music, the most important thing to hear clearly is the lead vocal. The lead vocal should always be heard and should always sit dead center in the mix. It’s a good idea to PAN other mid-range channels away from center so that the lead vocal comes through clearer. The more you PAN away from center, the easier the lead vocal will be to hear.


2: To make the mix sound cleaner

The goal is to make it easier to hear every instrument clearly. When you have multiple instruments or voices that produce many of the same frequencies they should not sit in exactly the same place in the mix as each other. Doing so will result in a loss of clarity. They will clash and it will hard for your audience to hear what they are doing. Multiple electric guitars, multiple toms, multiple background vocals or combinations like fiddle and banjo are examples of things that should not sit in the same place as one another in the mix. Play around with the PAN on your instrument and background vocal channels and find out what works best with your band. Again, the goal is to make it easier for your audience to hear and decipher all of the individual parts in the band clearly.


3: To make the mix sound bigger

Panning things certain ways can make your mix sound ‘bigger’ (or ‘wider’). This can be achieved by panning things like electric guitars, drum overhead, stereo synths & stereo reverbs all the way left and right. This leaves the fundamentals like Lead Vocal, Bass, Kick & Snare in the middle to be heard clearly, while the rest of the channels give the listener a wide stereo soundscape to listen to. When you have synths or digital pianos, DI both their Left and Right outputs. Then experiment panning them hard left & right, 25% left & right or somewhere in between. By doing this you can control how ‘wide’ you want it to sound as well as capture stereo effects that the keyboard or synth has going on much better! (like stereo tremolo or reverb) Mixing with Stereo Reverb also can make a massive difference on how ‘big’ your mix sounds. Adding it to the channels that you have panned dead center (like lead vocal, snare & kick ) can result in your mix sounding wider and bigger. (Note: Don’t over do it with the reverb.)


The following is one example of how PAN could be used at a gig.

Ch 1 – Kick Drum
Ch 2 – Snare Drum
Ch 3 – Rack Tom 1
Ch 4 – Rack Tom 2
Ch 5 – Floor Tom
Ch 6 – Drum Overhead L
Ch 7 – Drum Overhead R
Ch 8 – Bass Guitar
Ch 9 – Electric Guitar 1
Ch 10 – Electric Guitar 2
Ch 11 – Keyboard L
Ch 12 – Keyboard R
Ch 13 – Background Vocal 1
Ch 14 – Lead Vocal
Ch 15 – Background Vocal 2
50% Right
50% Left
100% Left
100% Right
100% Left
100% Right
50% Left
50% Right
25% Left
25% Right
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Mixing Live: 3 Tips To Make It Sound Great!

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Soundcraft GB4 Sound Board

Soundcraft GB4 Mixer

There are so many factors that affect the way a mix sounds live!  The tech (ear, experience, skill), how good the band is, what equipment is used, the room.  In this blog post, I’m going to focus on 3 simple tips for the up and coming audio tech to improve their mix.

Get rid of the bad! (with your mid-EQ)

When doing individual line checks, solo the channel you are working with in your headphones. Now, ‘get rid of the bad’. Do this by EQing out frequencies that sound bad. If you are not super familiar with all of your frequencies yet, here is a fast and simple way to do this. On the EQ for the channel you are working with, find your sweepable ‘mid volume knob’ and turn it up. Now slowly turn the sweepable ‘mid frequency knob’ all the way up and down. If you get to a point where it sounds awful, leave the ‘mid frequency knob’ where it is. Now turn the ‘mid volume knob’ down until it sounds pleasing to listen to. You may have to just turn it down a bit (like at 10 or 11 O’clock). Or if the original sound is extremely harsh, you may want to turn it down all the way. But, be careful not to over EQ if it doesn’t need it. If you take out too much you may lose the tone of the sound source and it may get lost in your overall mix. If you have multiple sweepable mid-EQs on your board, you may want to do this with both of your mids. EQ is usually best used taking out the bad as opposed to boosting. The couple channels that I do however regularly boost the bass on are the Kick Drum and the Floor Tom. Not everything you encounter will need to be EQ’d.


Mackie Onyx 1640 Soundboard EQ Section

Mackie Onyx 1640 Soundboard – EQ w/ Dual Sweepable Mids

Get rid of the unnecessary! (with your low-cut)

Your mixer should have a low-cut button (same a high pass). This is a very valuable tool! What this does is it takes out all of the low frequencies under usually 100 Hz or 80 Hz. (depending on the mixer) If the sound source you are working with is not producing low bass, you should low cut it. If you don’t, it will just muddy up your mix and you will lose headroom. I usually push in the low-cut button on every channel except Kick Drum, Floor Tom, Bass Guitar, Synths & Samples.

One extra thing to note is that Electric Guitar is a mid-range instrument. Guitar Amps have woofers in them. (no sub-woofers & no horns) Electric Guitar channels should have the low cut button engaged. Furthermore, a lot of time I will turn the treble EQ knob down on electric guitar because the amp is not producing hi treble. It will make things sound less harsh and cleaner.


Make sure you can hear everything!

Ask yourself, “Can I hear all of the instruments and vocals?”. If you see something happening on stage but can’t hear it, you have a problem. This could be anything from a vocalist or a snare drum. This sounds elementary, but is many times overlooked. Make sure that you look up at the band often. Look at what is happening on stage and make sure that what you are seeing is lining up with what you are hearing. As well, when a sound guy has his eyes glued to his sound board it’s not good. It’s always good to keep as much eye contact with the band as possible. You never know when a performer may need a monitor mix adjustment (if you don’t have a separate monitor tech). As well, it’s good to keep a watchful eye for fallen microphones or other surprises.


Happy Sound Guy

I’m a happy sound guy!
People like me!

Be pleasant!! (a bonus tip)

No one wants to deal with a grumpy sound guy! Keep a positive attitude. The band will perform better because of it and inadvertently, your mix will sound better!


There are many different tricks, techniques and things to keep in mind while doing sound. I will be touching on some of the following in future blogs:

  • Using Professional Level Equipment
  • Using the Proper Microphone
  • Mixing with Gates
  • Mixing with Reverb
  • Mixing with Sub-Groups
  • Mixing with Compression
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Dynamic & Condenser Microphones – The Difference

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There are different kinds of microphones? There sure are!

The two most widely used types of microphones are Dynamic Microphones and Condenser Microphones. Both types of mics basically do the same thing – they convert sound waves into electrical signal. However the way they accomplish this differs greatly. We won’t get too technical here, but because the technology inside Condenser Mics and Dynamic Mics are different, they sound different and they react different.


Shure SM58 Dynamic Microphone

Shure SM58-LC Dynamic Microphone

How do they sound different?

Condenser microphones are more sensitive. Because of this they respond quicker to transients and generally have a more detailed and accurate sound. 9 times out of 10 a condenser microphone will be used on vocals in a recording studio. (or other things that you want to hear very clear and full)

Dynamic microphones are not as sensitive as Condenser microphones and don’t response as fast. This is not necessarily a bad thing though! Many times a dynamic mic will sound smooth and pleasing on a sound source where a condenser mic may reveal too much. For example: When I am doing sound at a live event and have singers that I have not worked with before (and don’t know their voice), I always use a dynamic microphone. This is a safe choice and will sound good. I could strike gold by choosing a condenser mic that works well with the singer and sounds spectacular. But, I could also have a very bad combination where the microphone reveals harshness in the voice and sounds bad. Dynamic microphones are safer and can sound very pleasing!

Also, the sound from a Dynamic Microphone is generally not a wide as the sound from a Condenser Microphone. What I mean by that is, it generally doesn’t have as high highs or as low lows. Again, this is not a bad thing! On many sound sources you won’t want to pick up really low bass or really high treble. For example an electric guitar amp, a harmonica or a snare drum.


Neumann U87 Condenser Microphone

Neumann U87 Condenser Microphone

How do they react different?

Being the more sensitive type, the Condenser microphone acts very much like the human ear. When someone stands next to you and talks, you can hear them loud and clear. Let’s say that person continues to talk and takes a few steps away. The sound may become a little quieter, but you can still hear them fine. A condenser mic will pick-up the sound like your ears. This is good and bad. A condenser microphone will also hear everything around you (people talking or the loud drum kit 10 feet away from you). Even worse, if you are amplifying the mic signal and sending it out of speakers, the Condenser Microphone can very easily pick-up the sound that is coming out of the speakers and create feedback (a loop of the microphone picking up it’s own sound that’s coming out of the speaker)

Dynamic Microphones are less sensitive. The sound source generally needs to be less than 2 feet away from the microphone in order to pick up the sound well. (Less than 1 foot is ideal) If you move the mic 15 feet away, the sound will be substantially quieter and almost impossible to work with. This can be a great thing though! That means the background sounds will be comparatively non-existent with a dynamic mic. For this reason, most radio announcers use dynamic mics. (Ex: Sennheiser 421, EV RE20, Shure SM7B) In a live band setting, having the background noise not coming through the dynamic microphone is a huge plus. As well, dynamic microphones have substantially less chance of feeding back. Dynamic mics are much more common for live singers for all of these reasons.

If you’re in a recording studio, you are in an environment that is sound proofed and acoustically treated. You generally don’t need to worry about background sound, especially when recording one thing at a time. A condenser mic will

pick-up everything. Unlike in a live setting, this is a very good thing.

EV RE20 Dynamic Microphone

Electro-Voice RE20 Dynamic Microphone

Other Differences:

  • A Condenser Microphone requires phantom power in order to work.This is normally supplied from your soundboard (or preamp in the studio) and runs into the microphone through the mic cable. Some Condenser microphones are powered by batteries that you can insert into them.
  • A dynamic microphone does not require power to use.

    Shure Beta 87a Condenser Microphone

    Shure Beta 87a Condenser Microphone

  • Condenser Microphones are much more delicate. A bad fall can end the life of a condenser mic.
  • Dynamic Microphones are generally very durable and can handle countless falls on the ground and keep ticking!


Condenser Mics and Dynamic Mics are both great for different things!


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