Ask Eddie: From the Ground Up

Oct 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Eddie Ciletti

WHEN PLUG-AND-PLAY MEETS THE NOISE MONSTER

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While you are browsing the AES Convention aisles later this month, keep the foundation of your audio facility in mind, and by that I mean the power and ground distribution (P&GD). A humble project studio can be pretty much plug-and-play, but as it gradually morphs into a “facility,” the P&GD infrastructure becomes critical.

This month’s long-distance infrastructure question put me to the test, but before diving into the answer pool, I have a few questions of my own.

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Q. “Why is there never enough time to do it right, but always enough time to do it over?”
Actually, this quote is from David Hewitt, and it rings even more true today than when I heard it more than 25 years ago. Then, David was director of the New York Record Plant’s Remote Truck division, not too long before he and Kooster McAllister purchased their respective vehicles. You don’t take a studio on the road without being over-prepared.

Q. “Why is the customer not always right?”
For all of us in the customer service business, this link will make your day.

Our goal may be to give clients what they want, but experience often requires us to speak the truth. This is not always what clients want to hear. You can invest in power and ground infrastructure well into the land of diminishing returns, but without an experienced consultant/contractor guiding the way, random purchases will not ensure that your “silence” is truly golden, especially when the facility spans multiple rooms.

AND NOW, THE REAL QUESTION…
A reader recently asked for assistance in solving power-related noise issues with a side dish of odd digital artifacts. To quickly gain insight into the system, I asked more questions than I answered, and though my consultation fee was more than fair, I’m not sure how much I “helped.” The client was never able to provide me with any wiring documentation (a drawing of the wiring/grounding scheme would have been very helpful), though I did get a picture of the circuit breaker box.

The client’s new studio was a significant upgrade, and as a result he needed to be a bit more particular about power and ground distribution. When the system ground is compromised or overwhelmed, it can also reveal non-power-related noises. That’s why I typically ask for noise samples to differentiate between real problems and technique-induced problems, like when lots of gain and compression are used to create stereotypical heavy-metal guitar tones. And while we are crawling around on the noise floor, grounding issues can aggravate not only power-related noises, but also reveal “the limitations of the equipment.” (Remember when a similar “warning” came on CDs?)

In my control room, a recent noise problem revealed itself while I was experimenting with a phono preamp. The prototype was picking up noise that resembled “some type of data,” the source of which turned out to be my CD player’s display! I’ve been in the same space for 12 years; obviously, the preamp needs to evolve from prototype to market-ready.






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