How to maintain cables
It’s an important but often overlooked part of the signal chain. Alice Gustafson asks what should a HOW do to keep its cables in good working order?
As experienced sound technicians will know, good quality cabling is an essential part of the signal chain for a house of worship’s services. However, when tasked with maintaining a HOW’s A/V system, a less experienced church volunteer lacking the essential know-how and guidance on the ways in which to properly maintain cables may run into difficulties.
The proper care and treatment of A/V cables is vital in order to maintain clear, noise-free signals and crucially, will ensure that a cable will not cut out during a church service. Aside from essential maintenance, investing in good quality cabling is key to the success of a smooth running church A/V system, acting as the device that links each source, be it microphone, instrument, or projector.
‘The best way for a church to keep cables in good working order is certainly to invest in good products,’ explains Peter Rieck, distribution and key account manager at Sommer Cable. ‘High-quality cables are easier to work with and are more durable. Also, the use of materials such as copper and PVC composites – and in particular the proportion of chalk and quartz sand – really do play an important part. Most Sommer Cable lines are almost free from chalk and quartz sand. Obviously, a higher-grade cable will inevitably cost more than an inferior product.’
For some houses of worship, running the cable can be one of the hardest parts of an installation due to the amount of cabling needed and the distances they are required to cover. In addition, cables can be difficult to hide – a fact that is not always ideal when trying to blend with a HOW’s aesthetics. However, it is important not to cut back on the cable budget, and to invest in the various types required for the numerous sources.
‘There are budget-priced cable testers which can be used to check the performance of the cables,’ explains Mr Rieck. ‘For example, microphone cables can be tested very quickly and easily, such as with Sommer Cable’s MCT8.’
Answering the query often asked by church volunteers: ‘how often should the cable be checked?’ Mr Rieck offers: ‘This depends on how often they are used. If the cable is strained mechanically on a regular basis, you ought to check it regularly.’
However, some parts of the cabling require more attention than others. ‘The junction between the connector and the cable is always strained the most,’ he advises. ‘A cheap line will most likely be damaged at this point. The proper cable handling makes all the difference! In particular the reeling and storing technique, and of course the prevention of overly high mechanical strains.’
Many people are not aware of the correct way to wind cables, which can lead to a range of negative side effects. Coiling cables the right way leads to stronger and cleaner signals as well as a much longer cable life. In addition, winding cables correctly will save valuable time, sparing the engineer from having to untangle metres of expensive cabling before use.
‘They are best reeled with as little twist as possible and then hung up on a pole,’ states Mr Rieck. ‘The winding radius should not be too tight. Many people tend to wind up a cable over their wrist and elbow. Doing this may be harmful to the cable, because the way that a person winds it has no regard for its inherent twist.
‘All Sommer Cable lines are very durable,’ he adds. ‘However, in general their lifespan depends on the way that they are used. If the cables are extremely strained mechanically, a common example being if they are jammed in the case lid or wedged in under sharp edges, they won’t last very long. When used properly, a life cycle of 10 years or more may be achieved.’
Explaining why cables are essential to the smooth running of a church’s A/V system for worship ceremonies and musical performances, he offers: ‘This is very simple: each source, such as a microphone or instrument, requires a transmission medium. With most sources this still happens to be a copper cable. Cheap and low-quality products simply are no fun at this extremely important position in the signal chain,’ he concludes.