Jim Mathis

Saturday, February 16, 2008


A lot of people seem to have trouble with “gremlins” in their sound system. Gremlins are those little pops, cracks, hums, and hisses that you never know for sure where they come from. I have very little trouble with gremlins. Even using the same equipment as somebody else, I have less trouble. It has become sort of a running joke that I have some sort of an electron gene that causes electronics equipment to behave when I’m around.

The truth is a lot less exotic. The truth is over the years (50, but who’s counting) as an audio service technician, audiophile, and performing musician, I have developed some habits that greatly reduce gremlins.

For example when plugging in a RCA type plug, the type used on consumer electronics, I always give the plug a twist. I then turn it a few times after it is plugged in. Phone plugs, the ¼ type used in electric guitars and amps are left over from telephone switchboard days. They were designed for heavy duty use by telephone operators. Bell labs designed them to endure hundreds of thousands of plugging in and unplugging. They actually work better the more you use them. Still, giving them a little turn as you plug in the cord insures a better connection.

XLR plugs cannot be turned, but you can push them in and out a few times and then, make sure they click. The 1/8 plugs used on iPods and other small devices benefit from the same twisting technique, but they are so delicate, they aren’t going to last a long time anyway. Don’t use them on stage if you can avoid it.

If you develop some of these habits, I guarantee gremlins will seldom haunt you. They may still raise their little heads now and then because Murphy’s Law is real, but your show won’t be ruined by annoying noises, at least not ones you weren’t intending to make.