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Finding shorts in your cables

From: Video Production Techniques: Location Audio Recording

Video: Finding shorts in your cables

Now I want to talk about a particularly dangerous And then, we're going to plug in our headphones.

Finding shorts in your cables

Now I want to talk about a particularly dangerous audio problem, and that is the problem of shorts. When you have a short in your cable or connector, it results in audio pops, dropouts, and crackles, and otherwise unusable audio. What makes this problem so dangerous is that it's an intermittent problem. So, sometimes it may be there, sometimes it may not. So, you could do all of your due diligence, and the night before check all of your equipment, and do an audio test, and everything sound fine. And then get on set only to discover that you have some serious audio issues, that you may not be able to easily overcome.

So first I want to talk about what causes shorts. One of the things that causes shorts is rough handling of XLR cables. It's not at all unusual. Then I will admit, I've done it myself as a student. That we've done the shoot, we've unplugged it, and then what do you do with the XLR cable? Drop it right to the ground. Well, when you do that, it can result in knocking the little the little wires that are connected to the back of these prongs right here, are soldered on there. So this is what the inside of the connector looks like. And right inside of there you can see there's little pieces of solder.

Well, when those little pieces of solder get knocked loose, it results in that wire coming loose, which results in a short. So when the wire is in contact, everything sounds fine. You turn it this way, wire falls off, things don't sound so good. So one of the main things we can do to avoid getting a short in the first place, is be careful how we treat our XLR cables. These things are just like you know, a smart phone. It's only got so many drops in 'em. One of those drops is going to be the last one that's going to allow you to safely use that cable. So how can we detect a short? there is a device called a short tester that you can get.

This is something you would do if you were more a, a audio professional. You don't necessarily have to invest money in that. I'm going to show you a less expensive and fairly reliable way to check for shorts. And that is to get all of your XLR cables that you might possibly be using or taking with you on the shoot. Hook them all up together end to end. We're going to put a microphone on one end. And we're going to put the other end into our mixer. And then, we're going to plug in our headphones. You can do this with a camera, too. You don't have to have a mixer. But you want to plug something in that's able to listen to the microphone.

And then, once I have everything plugged in, I'm going to just jiggle the cables around as I listen. And what I'm listening for is any audio crackles, pops or dropouts. Just make sure I turn on my phantom power there. And as I'm going around, I'm not violently jiggling the cables. But I am picking 'em up, giving them the normal amount of wear and tear they might have. And I'm particularly listening for anything that crackles or pops. If I do this, and I hear any anomaly in the audio then chances are I have a short. So I want to figure out exactly which cable that is, and then I'm going to take the offending cable and label it as bad.

And make sure that I don't use that cable again. Now, another thing that can cause shorts that I want to talk about, because this is the most dangerous type of short of all is, shorts on your camera port. Now, this results from one of two things from what I've seen in common use. One of them is, sometimes people have awkward adapters that they might get. So you might have an adapter, or something like this, to work with a certain microphone or sound accessory you've got. Well this is a lot of weight on the port. And if you add an XLR cable on the end of here, you can imagine how much strain that puts on your camera.

It's not going to happen right away. But if you're doing it for 10, 12, 20 shoots over the course of a year, it puts a lot of wear and tear on this port. Also, if somebody just walks by and trips on your cable and yanks it, that can often be enough to cause a short right here. This is the most dangerous type of short, because now you have a very expensive camera repair. And if you have an older or less expensive camera, chances are that repair will not be cost-effective. So this is something you definitely want to look out for. One thing that can help you avoid that, is that if you ever do have to use an adapter for whatever purpose, you want to use L shaped adapters.

So look for something that's like this. You'll notice when you go to buy XLR cables, that you often see the regular kind like this. And then you'll see the L shaped one that will appear to be the exact same, except the L shaped one will cost $10 more. Well, that extra $10 could save you an extra $300 down the line. So, I recommend that if you do have to use an adapter, or put something funky on here, try to get something that's got a L shape. That's going to put all that weight down to the bottom, and not put as much strain on your port. So remember, before you go out, each and every time, you want to always check your cables for shorts.

And if you do get caught out there, and discover that you have a short on set, often, you might find that you can just jerry-rig it. Maybe tape it in just the right position, once you figure out which movement is causing the short. And just get through that shoot without it. And listen very careful to make sure that you don't pick up any unwanted crackles or pops. But if you take those simple steps, you should be able to avoid this most dangerous of audio issues.

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