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What’s the Problem? Three Tools for Troubleshooting Audio Systems

The key to troubleshooting audio problems is having the right tools for the job. Here are the top three essential tools for troubleshooting an audio system.
March, 17 2014 |

Courtesy of Michael Pettersen, Shure's Director of Applications Engineering.

Whether you're preparing to play a show for an intimate crowd of twenty or prepping the audio solutions for a headlining tour, the odds are, audio problems will find you. The key to troubleshooting is having the right tools for the job. Here are the top three essential tools for troubleshooting an audio system.

Start with Headphones

Determining where the problem first appears in the signal chain should be the first task in effective troubleshooting.  Start at the microphone end of the sound system and methodically work toward the power amplifier.

Headphones provide a reliable way to assess audio quality throughout the signal chain. Have you ever noticed that certain Shure products, including the SCM810, SCM820, the UR4+ receiver and the MXW-ANI have a headphone jack in the front panel? This headphone jack is an audio quality test point. You can connect headphones and assess the quality of the audio signal leaving that Shure product. If you don't find the problem here, then the problem lies downstream.

No headphone jack? No problem! You can make a simple electronic circuit that can be fabricated to hear the line level signal via headphones. Additionally, you can use a battery-operated headphone amplifier to monitor the audio signal at any point in the signal chain.

Use a Volt-Ohm-Amp Meter (a Multi-meter in other words)

A multi-meter (view a multi-meter on Amazon) gives you the option of checking multiple aspects of a sound system. To narrow down the source of the problem, the meter can test for a short circuit, an open circuit and the presence of phantom power.  The meter can also test an external power supply to ensure proper voltage and current is supplied. Lastly, if the audio connector isn't properly soldered or if a wire isn't correctly fastened to a screw terminal, the volt-ohm-amp meter will conveniently test that too.

Grab a Dynamic Microphone

That's right: this product is great for testing a variety of inputs. For instance, if an input works with a dynamic mic such as the Shure 588SDX, but not a condenser mic, it's likely that phantom power is not activated or doesn't exist on the microphone mixer.

What if you're still not getting a sufficient audio signal when connected to a wireless mic receiver?  Simply substitute the dynamic mic for the receiver. If there's still no change, then the problem is that the input required a line level signal, not a mic level signal. Even though high-impedance mic inputs are rare in today's products, they can be found in older versions from the 60's and 70's. Checking this type of mic is simple; just add the A95UF transformer to the end of the XLR cable and you're good to go.

Bottom Line

Without headphones, a Volt-Ohm-Amp Meter, and a dynamic microphone, it is extremely difficult to effectively troubleshoot a sound system.

If you're looking for more troubleshooting gear, below are three additional recommended tools:

1. Flashlight with fresh batteries to inspect wiring in the back of equipment racks

2. Tone generator such as the Shure A15TG 

3. User guides, setup guides, operational guides, et cetera

Davida Rochman
A Shure associate since 1979, Davida Rochman graduated with a degree in Speech Communications and never imagined that her first post-college job would result in a lifelong career that had her marketing microphones rather than speaking into them. Today, Davida is a Corporate Public Relations Manager, responsible for public relations activities, sponsorships, and donation programs that intersect with Shure at the corporate and industry level.