What is “Squelch” on my Wireless Mic?

I’ve had several people ask me recently about squelch on their wireless mics. Squelch is an important factor in radio transmission and must be utilized correctly if you intend to use wireless mics in a sound system. Wireless mics are highly susceptible to interference from other radio transmissions and setting the proper squelch is just as important as ensuring your frequencies match on your transmitter and receiver.

Squelch means to “to completely suppress”. Its function is to mute the audio output of the receiver when the radio signal falls out of an acceptable range. Without a signal to “latch” onto the open receiver may pick up another signal or radio noise from somewhere else. This is typically heard as “white” noise and is often much louder than the audio signal from the desired frequency. As you can imagine, we don’t want to hear unexpected white noise over any loud PA system. HAM and CB radio operators are familiar with adjusting their squelch on their radio receivers to ensure clear communication and to prevent the same white noise from playing back through their receiver.

We can easily adjust the squelch on wireless mics with just a few steps. Most setting can be adjusted in the main menu or the near the same menu as the frequency settings. In some cases the squelch might be a physical knob which can be found on the back of the wireless receiver unit. Check with your owners manual or manufacturer for specific steps regarding your wireless unit.

Shure provides these steps for their wireless systems.

  1. Set the receiver volume control to minimum to avoid excessive noise in the sound system.
  2. Turn the receiver power on.
  3. Observe the RF and audio indicators on the receiver.
  4. If the indicators are showing a no-signal condition the squelch setting may be left as-is.
  5. If the indicators are showing a steady or intermittent signal-received condition increase the squelch control setting until a no-signal condition is indicated. Set the squelch control slightly past this point to provide a threshold margin.
  6. If the no-signal condition cannot be achieved even with high squelch settings it may be possible to find and eliminate the undesirable signal. Otherwise it may be necessary to select a different operating frequency.
  7. Turn the transmitter power on.
  8. Make sure that the receiver indicates a signal-received condition with the transmitter at normal operating distance.

5 PowerPoint Shortcuts You Should Know

Hot keys allow us to quickly execute a computer task without having to go through multiple steps to receive the same outcome. A hot key, also known as a shortcut, can be many different combinations of keyboard or mouse strokes pressed at the same time to trigger the paticular command. Most people are already very familiar with shortcut commands like ctrl+c (copy) or ctrl+v (paste) and ctrl+s (save) but I’m surprised how many people do not use these wonderful shortcuts in their every day life. Many of my clients are public speakers who give presentations for a living and I usually try to provide them with these same quick shortcuts to use with PowerPoint. The below shortcuts are for Windows PC only. The Apple Mac equivalents are slightly different but most Mac users will know which key to substitute in the hot-key combination.

  • Ctrl+Z: Undo the last action

  • Ctrl+E: Centers the text in the selected shape

  • F5: Starts presentation from beginning

  • Shift+F5: Starts the presentation from the current  slide

  • B: Blacks the screen (while presenting)

Forcing Direct Downloads with Google Drive

Google Drive is great in all aspects except for the fact that you can’t just email out a direct download link. It’s nice to be able to send files to someone and only have the option for download rather than having it render in the browser.

Most people prefer to use Dropbox or a file transfer site like Hightail, WeTransfer, or DropSend which are all great options but if you’re already utilizing Google’s services doesn’t it make sense to just send a download link directly out of drive? Hopefully this is a feature that Google will someday add to it’s user interface but until then we have a quick solution.

For this to work properly you will need to share the file publicly and allow anyone with the URL to view/access the files. Creating a quick edit of the URL will essentially force the browser to automatically download the files.

The below examples work for files that have no Drive equivalent such as .zip, .mp3, .mp4, and .jpg. All you have to do is make note of the FILE_ID in the original URL and use it in the modified URL.

Force Direct Download from Google Drive share

Typical Drive Share URL:
https://drive.google.com/file/d/FILE_ID/edit?usp=sharing

Direct Link Format:
https://drive.google.com/uc?export=download&id=FILE_ID

Google services such as Docs, Sheets, and Presentations require a slightly different modified URL. Check the quick edits below to force a direct download of those particular file types.

Google Docs

Typical Docs Share URL:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/FILE_ID/edit?usp=sharing

Direct Link Format:
https://docs.google.com/document/d/FILE_ID/export?format=doc (to download Word file) https://docs.google.com/document/d/FILE_ID/export?format=pdf (to download PDF)

Google Sheets

Typical Sheets Share URL:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/FILE_ID/edit?usp=sharing

Direct Link Format:
https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/FILE_ID/export?format=xlsx (to download Excel file) https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/FILE_ID/export?format=pdf (to download as PDF)

Google Presentations

Typical Presentations Share URL:
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/FILE_ID/edit?usp=sharing

Direct Link Format:
https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/FILE_ID/export/pptx (to download PowerPoint) https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/FILE_ID/export/pdf (to download PDF)

What does XLR mean?

A colleague of mine asked the other day what the acronym XLR stood for. We are both seasoned engineers with years of experience and I have probably plugged/unplugged at least one XLR cable every day of my life for the past 17 years. I was stumped. The last time I had even thought about it was maybe in college on some test or something but I did remember that it was an interesting story and there was no particular correlation between audio terminology and X-L-R. I had to rush home to the books to look it up and refresh my memory.

Today’s standard microphone connection

The term XLR is nothing more than the prefix of the product number for the Cannon cable connectors invented back in the 1950’s. The rarely used “X” series of cable connectors became

popular when Cannon added the latch mechanism that locked male and female plugs together hence the addition of the “L” in the product prefix. Later modifications to the design added Resilient plastic surrounding the female contacts for durability and the term “XLR” was born.

However it took nearly 2 decades for the design to become standard operation worldwide for both engineers and manufacturers. Many other renditions of the 3-pin connector were still popular throughout the 60’s and 70’s including “P” style and “UA” connections used by companies such as RCA and Neumann. Companies such as Switchcraft and Neutrik later started mass producing these connections and it finally stuck as an industry standard.

A couple other things that I find interesting is that the XL series established Pin 1 as shield/ground and also made the female Pin 1 slightly forward in it’s shell so that it would always make connection first and break last. It’s amazing how many renditions of connectors the industry had gone through to finally find a standard that worked.

GMail for the Outlook Lover

Google is a powerhouse when it comes to email services and Outlook has been a business staple since the beginning of time. Google’s mail services are a popular choice with virtually unlimited online cloud storage, lighting fast speed and reliability. Many IT departments are letting Google handle their email servers all together and noone is blaming them. It’s a good choice and helps clear up those old office closets that hold the office email servers. Web interfaces are also now the norm. That means that you can directly check your mail through a browser rather than in a “mailbox” program such as Outlook, Thunderbird, or MacMail.

Although you can set Outlook to fetch and send mail using Google servers you may find a benefit to using the web user interface. After-all, that’s what it’s built and designed for.

Google Labs offers great features

You’ll find advanced features, sorting and organizational options that Microsoft could never offer you in Outlook products. The Google GMail web interface is also free to use so no more shelling out the big dollars for expensive Outlook software. Some of my clients have grown up using Outlook for 15+ years and GMail tends to be a little foreign and confusing. Just like everything, it will take time but after you learn the interface you will be glad you did. I routinely get asked if there is a way to make the web interface of GMail feel more like Outlook. The short answer is “Yes!” but only on a limited scale. If you truly cannot give up that Outlook operation style and fear learning something new then staying with Outlook or similar mail program is your best bet.

To make your transition from Outlook to Gmail as seamless as possible you can enable a few features in your settings that will make your inbox look a little more like Outlook. All setting can be adjusted by going to the gear icon in the upper right corner and then by selecting “settings” in the drop down menu.

ENABLE PREVIEW PANE

  1. Open Settings and select the Labs tab at the top
  2. Search for Preview and the Preview Pane lab will appear
  3. Check the Enable box & click on Save changes
  4. Return to your inbox, a Split Pane button can be seen at the top.
  5. Select the Vertical Split option from the drop-down menu.

Click on any email in the list and you’ll see it previewed in the side pane just like in Outlook.

DISABLE CONVERSATION VIEW

Gmail groups messages together by default based on the subject line. If you have used the newest Outlook then you might have some experience with this view, but most old school users find this feature annoying and would rather turn it off.

  1. Go to Settings
  2. Scroll down to the Conversation View and check Conversation view off
  3. Click on Save changes

ENABLE GOOGLE CALENDAR GADGET

  1. Open Settings and navigate to the Labs tab
  2. Search for Calendar and the Google Calendar gadget will appear
  3. Enable it and Save changes

RETURN SETTINGS TO DEFAULT

If you want to revert back to the default Gmail look go: Settings>Labs>Disable Preview Pane>Save changes

Wireless Spectrum Reallocation

As you may have already heard The US government as yet again authorized the Federal Communications Commission to auction off a portion of the wireless spectrum (TV bands) to make those frequencies available for future wireless broadband and cell phone usage. These frequencies are where many professional wireless mics and in-ear monitor systems have been operating for years. So what does this auction mean to you, the wireless audio gear user? I have compiled a short list of resources regarding the issue.

It’s only been 6 years since we had to deal with the auctioning off of the 700MHz band. Now the 600MHz band has been listed as the next to go. We are seeing a high demand for these frequencies to be utilized in other areas of technology such as radio communications for emergency responce although the largest reason is likely because of the popularity of cellphones. You can bet that 500MHz will be affected sometime in the unforeseeable future so plan accordingly.

There’s a good chance that if you have purchased a system within the past few years you are safe with a 900MHz or one of those that are not currently affected. From my experience, integrated AV systems and sound systems that were installed by a contractor tend to have affected equipment even if it was installed after the FCC’s announcement. This is likely due to supply houses and contractors trying to unload inventory before they themselves end up with nothing much more than an expensive paper weight. I saw this with the 700MHz reallocation a few years ago and am seeing it again now. Make sure to check you wireless frequencies and budget to replace if needed. Luckily the 3 largest manufactures offer trade-in rebates on affected wireless systems. You must have proof of purchase and file for the trade-in rebate before the deadline. Sennheiser’s deadline is June 30th, 2018 and Shure’s deadline is July 30th, 2018. Audio Technica’s deadline for rebate is set for sometime in 2019. You can refer to each manufacturer on trade-in specifics and how to collect your rebate.

The affected frequency bands are 616–653MHz and 663–698MHz. Wireless systems that operate within these frequencies will need to be replaced before the end of 2018. The exact change over date is a little confusing and each region in the country is operating on it’s own timeline. If you are a touring musician or travel with wireless equipment then you’ll need to know that each state is set to go into affect at different times. It’s safe to say that you should replace your system before the end of 2018 in most parts of the country. The FCC’s auction concluded on March 27,2017 and was given a 39 month transition window before the frequencies are reallocated for different use. All transitions are expected to be completed by 2020. I live in the mid-west and don’t travel much outside of these boundaries so I really only care about this region. Indianapolis, Chicago, and Nashville are part of Phase 6 of the transition and is set to conclude on October 18, 2019. By comparison Las Vegas is set to conclude transition on November 30th, 2018. July 13, 2020 is the final day of the transition. After this date you cannot legally operate a wireless device in the 616–653MHz and 663–698MHz band.

 

Fix Pro Tools Issues by Trashing Preferences

Sometimes ProTools session just won’t open or if they do, they don’t function properly. This is primarily visible in systems that deal with session files from a variety of sources such as professional recording studios. Recording artists will routinely bring in previously recorded material from a variety of studios all using different version of ProTools. Most the time sessions will open without issue but only have annoying features such as the size and function of windows, transport placement, and UI settings. If you find yourself with a crashing system and a paying client it’s a good idea to purge your application preferences first to see if that will solve your issue. Trashing the Pro Tools preferences is easy and is a good way to reset the ProTools software to it’s default state. You can find steps on Avid’s site for all the versions of ProTools for both Windows and Mac.

Mac

Pro Tools 11 & 12

1. With Finder as the active application, click on the Go menu, hold the Option key and click Library.

2. Click on the Preferences folder and delete the following items:

  • Preferences > Avid > Pro Tools
  • com.avid.ProTools.plist 

ProTools Preferences Location in OSX

3. Open the Trash, click Empty, then Empty Trash. Once done, restart your computer.

 

Windows

Pro Tools 11 & 12

  • Go to C:Users > *Your User Name* > AppData > Roaming > Avid and delete the Pro Tools folder. Then, restart your computer.
    • NoteIf you cannot find the AppData folder, click on the View tab, above Show/hide check Hidden Items
ProTools Preferences Location in Windows 10

ProTools Preferences Location in Windows 10

Quick and Safe Data Transfers

File backup is a must nowadays. Sometimes I find myself transferring gigabytes of data between different hard drives and folder locations. I’m going to cover some of tools I like to use when transferring large amounts of data from one location to another. This is a different process than hard drive cloning which I’ll cover later in a separate post. Transferring files is the process of dragging and dropping or copying and pasting from one location to another within your operating system environment.

When it comes to transferring multiple files in Windows, the built-in file copying feature can at times be unreliable by missing a corrupting data. In fact, the tool is pretty much worthless if you need to copy anything over 2GB and should be avoided at all costs if intend on making functional backups. Microsoft has a excellent rather unkown alternative that runs from the command line called “Robocopy,” which is short for “robust copy”. Robocopy is built into the Windows file system and can recover from data faults and copy interruptions. The downside is that it runs completely in command line and is not very user friendly to your everyday computer user.

Robust file copying for Windows

I have used Robocopy for years but recently discovered a nice alternative called TeraCopy. I have heard of this program before but never really gave it a shot. I was always scared away by its paid version but I must say that the free version is a great tool. This integrates with Windows Explorer’s right-click menu and can be set as the default for copying files. It skips over bad files instead of terminating the whole transfer like the built-in copier functions. It can also run checksums after it’s done to check for errors.

For Apple device I have never really needed a robust file copier. Apple systems seem to be built better at the root which has never really showed issues with file transfers. There are plenty of options out there such as XFile and UltrraCopier.

 

New website and hosting

www.audiosyntax.net

It’s been several years since I’ve updated the site so I decided to take some time this winter to do some long overdue maintenance. I also found it was a perfect opportunity for me to switch hosting providers. I have multiple websites and servers that I manage both for myself and clients so ultimately I was attempting to consolidate and get everything in one spot. You might have already noticed that I’ve now added a blog section to the new website. I’ll be trying to blog as much as I can about everything technology related. I would really like to have an ongoing list of tech-tips and things that I find useful in the industry that will help the everyday user. I also plan to go into details about my hosting and wordpress move along with steps on how you can do the same. Check back in the near future for more blogs (hopefully)!

T568A and T568B Wiring Standards

Copper based, twisted pair ethernet terminations come in 2 different flavors recognized by ANSI, TIA and EIA. T568A and T568B. You may have heard the term crossover cable which is a cable terminated with both standards on the 2 opposing ends. All “normal” cables have the same termination on both ends also known as “1 to1”. T568B tends to be more widely used in normal twisted pair cable manufacturing than T568A. Although there is no apparent performance difference between the two there is still some debating in the industry as to which one is better.

Twisted Pair Pin Configurations

The only difference between T568A and T568B wiring standards is the orientation of the green and orange wire pairs. You can see in the attached image that pins 1 and 2 swap orientation with pin 3 and 6. Some older equipment uses standard “A” which might require you to use a crossover cable while using a new computer. Crossovers are also useful if connecting 2 computers together without a switch in between. Nowadays there is rarely a need for crossover because gigabit switches and NIC cards started auto detecting the pin configuration and started doing the pin reconfiguration within the electronic chip electronically. This technology is called auto-MDIX which stands for automatic medium-dependent interface crossover.