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Technology: Troubleshooting basics for HOWs

Technology: Troubleshooting basics for HOWs

Technology: Troubleshooting basics for HOWs

Regardless of experience, AV systems can present audio professionals with a variety of issues, so don’t panic, says Ashly Audio’s director of technical support and service, Jim Schwenzer

One of the highest-quality traits to have in the professional audio field – and one that doesn’t necessarily require years of experience to gain – is the ability to effectively and calmly troubleshoot a problem. Ask yourself: how well do you react when things go awry in your HOW’s workflow? Are you an individual who begins snatching cables in a mad panic? Or are you the quiet, methodical thinker who pauses a moment to fully assess the potential fault?

Unfortunately, more of us tend to lean toward the frenzied reaction approach than we’d like to admit. But, acknowledging that we all tend to react first and think later is the first step in ensuring improved decision-making when the pressure is on and your audio suddenly cuts out – which, it most assuredly will at some point in your career and something you may have to deal with no matter what level of AV expertise you carry.

Stop and think

I know that many will laugh at such a simple piece of advice, but years working technical support have shown that personal paralysis caused by a system failure can hit anyone, regardless of experience or technical know-how.

The reality is that when a problem occurs, adrenaline kicks in. Human nature is to try and fix problems by making multiple changes in a single step. Common explanations that the technical support team hears over the phone are those that attempt to address a million potential issues. For example: ‘We swapped the microphone cable and I patched it into a different channel’ or ‘We just swapped everything out and now it’s a different problem entirely.’

From a troubleshooting approach, everything about this is wrong. The first thing to do is quite simply stop and take a moment to ask: what is the one incremental change I could make to better understand this problem? Often, common sense will be enough to get you through.

Live music at Manley Baptist in Tennessee, USA, taking place without a technical hitch
Live music at Manley Baptist in Tennessee, USA, taking place without a technical hitch

A case in point

Consider an example where a church has multiple zones for audio – for example, the left and right side of the sanctuary, a separate infant care room or a delay on under-balcony speakers. Now consider what happens when audio stops working in one of those zones. The cooler heads will begin to take something of a flow-chart approach.

  1. First, is there confirmation that the other zones are working? The answer to this can quickly become a tool in solving the problem.
  2. Assuming the other zones are working, you will need to test the speaker and the speaker line. Try moving the speaker line over to a working amplifier output. If you have audio, you now know the line is good.
  3. Move the speaker line back to its original position. Now move the input that feeds the live zone over to the input for the amplifier channel that isn’t working. If that works, we now know the amplifier channel works.
  4. Now reconnect the original cable to the amp input in the unfunctional area and move the other end to the output driving a functional zone. If audio returns, we can establish that everything between the processor and the speaker is functional.

This may not be the end of the troubleshooting, or you may discover the problem within the first few steps. Either way, a focused, more granular approach will allow you to zero in on the likely trouble much faster than if you quickly replace components without rhyme or reason.

This approach can be further applied from everything to dead microphones (always check the batteries first) to ground loop hum – a problem that truly requires its own write-up, as ground loop is not the only source of hum.

Be prepared for trouble

Another way to avoid trouble is to expect it’s coming and be prepared with backup options. System breakdowns can be quickly avoided during critical events – such as holiday pageants or live performances – by keeping additional cables, batteries, power supplies and microphones on hand.

Adding an extra power amp to the rack is also an affordable upgrade for even the small- or medium-sized church or worship venue seeking to insure against a worst-case scenario.

Ashly HOW projects such as Moorings Church (left) and St Nicholas, both in Florida, USA, required technical support
Ashly HOW projects such as Moorings Church (left) and St Nicholas, both in Florida, USA, required technical support

Partner for success

Finally, the biggest step you can take in ensuring your worship venue remains up and running is to partner with an integrator and manufacturer that provides troubleshooting options and support. You don’t need to sit there alone working out a problem with only your search engine as a guide.

Live support can come in a few different forms:

  • Committed manufacturers provide live technical support both for end-users and the integrator. That means that even if the system installer needs to get involved, they too will have support from the people that are powering the system.
  • Manufacturers are also beginning to rethink the product design in many of their solutions for the HOW market. One major change is the integration of web servers within devices. This means a third party can remotely connect to a system and check things from the software side before they head out to your facility. This is a huge boon to the end-user as it adds to the potential of a quick fix.
  • A partnership with the company that integrated your system means you will always have a local support team. Make sure you are keeping in touch with your trusted integrator partner throughout the year about any potential changes to your system or any issues that you notice. Early detection of problems goes a long way to avoiding any bigger issues.

If you partner with the right manufacturers and integrators, you’re assured a helping hand when things do go awry. And, if you combine that with appropriate planning and a level head, you’re sure to be ready when things do eventually get problematic for your HOW venue.

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