The Four Horsemen of Troubleshooting

July 31, 2008 at 5:29 pm

When the crew is looking at you, the only person who isn’t ready to roll, you may hope for the Apocalypse. Alas, it is time to start troubleshooting. Checking cables for shorts, gear for correct settings, battery life, and the source of that stupid hum can drive you mad. One of the most difficult tasks the sales department has is troubleshooting. This week I’ve had several situations which garnered big sighs and head scratching. When you have a problem with your gear, there are four possible scenarios which we try to narrow down over the phone or email; intent, user error, incompatible gear, or malfunction.


If you try to send a mic level signal into a line level input its not going to ever work. The system is not intended to perform that way. This is overly basic, but quite often out in the field, you’re asked to do something you’ve never done before. Somewhat like the air cleaner assembly on Apollo 13 you pull out various cables, boxes, and gear. Unfortunately you’re missing the one peace of gear that will save the job, but you don’t know it. A TA3F to XLR cable out of your 442 looks like the right cable, but it could be balanced out of the main outs/direct outs, or a summed left/right out of the tape output. They are not interchangeable.

User Error

Second is the closely related user error. Lack of knowledge of how all of this gear works together is not user error. Forgetting to flip the phantom power switch is. User error happens in stressful times. You’ve performed the task hundreds of times, so you overlook the obvious. It is very common for a wireless user to send in their gear as faulty only to find out they changed the receiver’s frequency .1 MHz. You know better, and you didn’t change anything, so why check the stupid frequency? The answer is simple. Because some “yahoo on the shoot” bumped your pack or your rack and hit the right buttons in a swipe rendering your gear useless.

Incompatible Gear

Incompatible gear is a bit of a misnomer. Countless times products of different manufacturers just don’t jive with each other. Impedance mismatches, levels, connectors, etc. all get in the way. With the release of the RED ONE camera (for more information read Are you REDy?) we received several complaints about distortion on the line inputs. This is where the misnomer comes in. RARELY are incompatible items truly incompatible. We (the industry, the Trew crew, etc.) just haven’t found the workaround yet. There is almost always a solution, and we’ll work to find it. In the case of the RED ONE a simple pad allowed proper headroom for the line level inputs.


Finally malfunction. This can be the most frustrating because you’ve swapped every cable, box, and microphone only to discover that your mixer is no longer interested in providing phantom voltage. Then you need to send it off for repair. These are the times when we really feel for you. Here’s a short list of items and who we recommend to work on them…

Trew Audio Service Department
Fostex PD-4
Fostex PD-6
Cooper Sound
Wendt Mixers
Tascam Portable
Shure FP33

Trew Audio Cabling Department (Sales)
Broken Cables

Products to send to their manufacturers
Sound Devices
Shotgun Microphones

Take it easy on your gear out there!

Skylor Morgan