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Emerging Picture: Serpent Story

Confessions of an audio herpetologist

We’ve all spent more than enough time dealing with snakes.

You know, microphone snakes, drive snakes, sub snakes, unscrupulous promoters…

The most dreaded job in sound reinforcement is peeling up and stowing a snake after a three-day metal festival where it runs right along the fence next to the beer garden.

By the end of a regional tour, snakes can swell to twice their normal size with sticky duct tape and used chewing gum.

And why is it always the pair in the middle of the multipin connector that fails?

Snakes have always been one of the difficult parts of live audio.

The snake trunk is the third-heaviest box in the truck pack behind rigging and distro cabling. Transformer splits are expensive and heavy.

Many of the packaging issues we face revolve around connector choices, grounding schemes and signal flow paths.

Sending analog audio signals to multiple locations requires serious attention to load impedances, ground loops, drive levels, phantom power sources and multiple input sensitivities.

In the early 1990s, the sound company I worked for started a serious investigation of alternatives to the copper snake.

We were moving into DSP front ends for our systems, and since we had some experience in the digital recording world (which led the way on digital audio in many ways), we knew that multiple A/D and D/A conversions left artifacts that were not good for the audio signal quality.

We wanted to maintain a digital signal flow for as much of the signal path as possible.

The technology available at the time for digital audio transmission was based on fiber-optic transmission of AES/EBU signals at 16 bits and 44.1/48 kHz.

We soon found that the dynamic range was inadequate for live performance audio, and the inability to control remote mic preamps made the system unworkable for front-end applications.

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