Clean Sound Starts With Clean Equipment
We have a lot of terms in sound for “clean” that pertain to the quality of the sound you are recording or editing: clean, muddy, wet, dry, dirty.
With all these terms used so frequently, it seems ironic that in the process of recording and our laser-like focus on the edit, many sound technicians, myself included, often overlook the literal concept of cleaning our equipment. Especially when the quality our audio depends on the condition of out equipment.
As a field recordist, I tend to clean my recorder, cables and mics of dust and dirt after every shoot. Admittedly, however, I am much more slack about cleaning my gear after recording in the studio. I tend to leave my gear set up, and ready to record at a moment’s notice, forgetting that there are elements within the studio that can degrade your equipment and, by extension, sound over time.
With that in mind, I wanted to discuss three common elements to consider, that keeps our equipment looking and sounding clean, whether recording in the field, or recording in the studio.
Dust and Dirt
While it may seem insignificant in the studio, dirt and dust, especially in an unfiltered home studio environment (and especially if you, like me, have cats or other pets) frequently travel through the air and can get on or into your recording equipment.
Your microphones, especially if you are using condenser microphones, can collect dust, dander and other elements that prevent the plates inside the microphone from performing their best, by inhibiting conductivity. This can lead to dropouts, mic noises and various squeals that get into your sound.
What To Do About Dust and Dirt
Cleaning your equipment is typically a simple matter.
- A clean, dry, lint-free microfiber towel will handle most of your dust and dirt issues.
- For particularly dirty cables and contacts, regular household grade isisopropyl alcohol works excellent at cleaning equipment, as any excess alcohol will evaporate and not affect your sound, or lead to oxidation.
- For cleaning the insides of you XLR plugs and jacks, canned air and a good gap cleaning brush will handle most dust and dirt.
Moisture is by far the number one enemy of your audio equipment. It gets into your contacts and microphone plates and causes dropouts, high frequency hums and can expedite corrosion on you valuable equipment.
If you live in particularly humid environments, hot air can cause condensation to form on the inside of your condenser microphones and lead to huge problems, including not allowing the microphone to work at all. Cold air can cause the moisture to freeze creating the same issues.
What To Do About Moisture
- The single best trick I have found for keeping my equipment moisture free is to ensure my microphone is put away when it’s not in use. If your microphone comes with a fitted case, the foam lining inside many cases will wick the moisture away from your microphones and audio equipment.
- Many microphone manufacturers provide cases that are only plastic on the inside, or just vinyl zipper cases that provide little to no protection against moisture or humidity. In this case, silica packets, are a great alternative. These little packets come with electronics equipment, shoes, and various other purchases. I collect them obsessively for use in my studio. Keep two or three of these in your microphone cases to absorb moisture and keep it away from you gear.
- If your gear is already experiencing issues due to moisture from humidity or freezing, the best remedy is to place your microphone in a clean, dry place and wait for the microphone to dry out before using it again. Keeping it in its case with either foam or silica gel will help to pull the moisture away. Letting your gear dry over the course of several hours before using it again will protect your other gear from damage.
Oxidation and Corrosion
Even in less humid environments, moisture can get to your microphones and other equipment. Over time, oxygen will get to the metal in your gear and cause plates, terminals, wires and other plates to corrode, causing distortion when the equipment is in use under normal circumstances.
What To Do About Corrosion
- As moisture is a huge factor in corrosion, using methods to prevent moisture from forming and building up are essential. Keep your microphones clean and dry by putting them away in foam lined cases or cases with silica gel packets as mentioned about.
- For exposed metal terminals such as those on your XLR cables, a good terminal cleaner and enhancer like Deoxit Gold works well at keeping your equipment protected against oxidation. If you do a lot of recording outdoors, I recommend you spray and clean your terminals about once a month. For equipment that gets mostly inside use, once a quarter is usually sufficient, unless you are in a particularly humid environment or season, in which case, once a month is still recommended.
Good care and cleaning of your audio equipment is mostly preventative. The object is to keep moisture and dirt away from your equipment and to remove it before problems surface.
A majority of the time a simple regiment of wiping, brushing and properly storing your equipment will prevent issues before they become an issue and affect your sound.
Take care of your equipment and it will last you many years!
Need More Help With Your Equipment?
You'll find courses on podcasting equipment (along with things like editing, interviewing, voice training, and monetisation) inside The Podcast Host Academy. In there, you'll also have access to our regular live Q&A sessions where you can pick our brains about anything you're struggling with, technical or otherwise. It would be great to see you there!