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Modular Synthesis — A Beginner’s Guide

Modular Synthesis — A Beginner’s Guide

Those familiar with Hosa will no doubt have seen the number of modular synthesizer products we manufacture. When we set out to make a “beginner’s guide”, we thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get some of our modular friends involved. This week’s blog is by Kris Kaiser from Noise Engineering. Kris shares a basic rundown on modular synths and demystifies a few things along the way.

Modular Synthesis — A Beginner Guide Patch Cables Spaghetti Noise Engineering Hosa

What is this weird spaghetti monster?

At Noise Engineering, I get a lot of questions from musicians who are interested in modular synthesis. Many seem entirely intimidated by it, or just don’t even know where to start. Introductory modular tutorials abound, but few I’ve found are written to really help musicians capitalize on the knowledge they already have. Today we’re going to dive into modular synthesis using concepts and techniques that you, the musician, already know. We won’t focus on specific modules, but rather concepts. For more information and details, pop on over to the Noise Engineering blog.

I’m a synth player. That doesn’t look like a synth.

I’ve had more than one person approach me at NAMM with the challenge to “teach” them how to play a modular synth. The reality is that a modular synthesizer is still a normal synthesizer, it’s just presented differently and with a lot more flexibility. Like any instrument, it takes time to master. Most people don’t pick up any instrument and master it in 20 minutes; a modular synth is no different.

Modular Synthesis — A Beginner's Guide Patch Cables Keyboard Noise Engineering Hosa

So, how do modular synths differ from prebuilt synths, exactly? And more importantly, how are they the same?

Think about the standard Korg, Yamaha, or whatever fixed-architecture synth you last bought (or drooled over). In a traditional synth, it comes with a lot of things built in. Everything is prewired and preprogrammed “under the hood.” You press buttons and turn knobs, select the premade sounds, and tweak the parameters that have been built in for you. These can run the gamut of really basic and easy to use to incredibly flexible, but you don’t really get to change the basic architecture of the product.

As the name implies, a modular synth is modular. Instead of an off-the-shelf solution, you pick and choose the components that will allow you to create the sound you desire. Each module does one (or a few) things, so you’re choosing it specifically for that function. This means that if you don’t like the filter you’re using, you can just use a different one, either by putting a different one in the system or pulling the patch cable out of one and putting it into another. Traditional synths aren’t built for that, making it much harder to do in that landscape. In a modular system, you get to build it, not the engineers at SYNTHCORP. You choose your parts and then you make the connections using patch cables (check out Hosa’s Synth Playground for all your cable needs). Just like with a fixed-architecture synth, you make patches, but here they are physical, tangible things.

And the choices! The choices are part of the joy, but also can be overwhelming. There are hundreds of manufacturers, each making anywhere from one to a complete line of modules. In general, they all work perfectly fine together. This means that you can choose a suite of modules from a single manufacturer, build a system with modules from all different manufacturers, or anything in between. The world is your oyster with modular synths.

Modular Synthesis — A Beginner's Guide Patch Cables Noise Engineering Hosa

Key differences between a traditional (keyed) synthesizer and a modular synth

  1. Both types of synths have a primary sound source (an oscillator)
  2. When you want to make a sound with a keyed synth, you hit the key. When you lift your finger, it (generally) stops making sound. The oscillator in a modular synthesizer, on the other hand, just…oscillates. This means that rather than “telling” the instrument to make sound, you have to “tell” it to not make sound, typically by patching it to other modules.

  3. While most traditional synths have a keyboard, modular synths do not
  4. Sure, you can find a keyboard module or interface with an external keyboard, they are not part of a standard setup. So you control modular synths differently, not just starting and stopping and shaping the sound but also pitch sequencing. Rather than the key you press determining the sequence of pitches, modular synth composition is generally more sequencer or DAW oriented. That’s great news for those of you who never mastered those piano lessons, less good for the piano proteges out there.

  5. Since a traditional synth comes prebuilt, its functionality is constrained by what’s inside
  6. With modular, you build the connections every time you use it, which means you essentially have a brand new synth each time you patch. You can change patches or even modules at will. Tired of the sound of one oscillator? Replace it with another! Don’t like that reverb? Drop a different one in. The possibilities are infinite.

  7. A traditional synth is ready to make sound when you buy it
  8. Power it up, plug it in to your monitors, bang on the keys, and you’re making sound. Modular synths require you to do a bit more work: signals flow between components through patch cables, and you decide where it goes, so you have to set up a signal path. Before the fear comes back out, know three things.

    • You won’t break it by patching modules together
      I’ve had literally hundreds if not thousands of people plug patch cables into our cases at this point, and we have never had someone break something. The worst thing that can happen is that you get no sound or you get a sound you don’t like, and you try something else.
    • Patching isn’t that different from routing modulation to parameters on a traditional synthesizer
      The LFO envelope amount knobs on a subtractive synth? That knob lets you make a connection between the envelope and the filter, which you’d just do with a cable in modular. Many synth plugins also let you route modulation sources to a plethora of destinations: that’s almost exactly like patching a modular synth.
    • Repeat after me: You won’t break it by patching modules together.

Modular Synthesis — A Beginner's Guide Knucklebones Noise Engineering Hosa

Modular synths have a reputation for being finicky

It’s kind of a well-deserved reputation. To be fair, vintage analog AND analog modular oscillators drift over time and need to be re-tuned regularly; both are also dependent on the temperature. Digital oscillators alleviate the drift and temperature issues in both fixed-architecture and modular synths, and some digital oscillators have the benefit of “remembering” their pitch after power cycle. But the real issue with modular is that it can be painfully difficult to replicate sounds. There are solutions, but many are more advanced. For a lot of touring musicians, performing with modular can take a lot of prep work.

If you’re already a synth person, modular isn’t that different. There are tradeoffs, and while some people we know use modular as a tool in every piece they compose, others use it for very specific applications, while others love noodling around on it and finding happy accidents. You will never be disappointed at the diversity of timbres you can get out of a modular synthesizer, even with a comparatively small setup. Most manufacturers are small and friendly and happy to help answer questions.

Ready to get started? Check out Noise Engineering’s blog for some ideas on small systems to get you started, and lots of other useful guides to getting started in modular synthesis.

Synth Accessories

There are a lot of moving parts to a modular setup, and with a ton of accessory options to keep you patching and help keep things organized. Hosa offers traditional patch cables, Hopscotch piggy-back patch cables, Knucklebones passive mults, and Monkeybars, an extremely versatile cable holder that can be set up three different ways depending on your needs and space requirements. It’s not usually on top-of-mind, but don’t overlook the importance of cable ties to keep your OCD at bay. For more information on Hosa’s modular synth accessories and where to buy, visit their Synth Playground landing page.

- Kris Kaiser, Noise Engineering

How to Use Hosa’s Universal Power Adapter

While most electronic devices come with their own power supplies, some do not. Even when they do, we sometimes misplace or lose them among a sea of cables. The Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter is an inexpensive, portable, and versatile solution, ideal for most small electronic devices.

Voltage

AC Input Voltage

The Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter auto-detects AC input from 100-240V, 50/60Hz allowing for global use. All you need for use outside of the United States is a US to local power plug adapter.

Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter Details

DC Output Voltage

Many devices on the market have different voltage requirements, and the Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter allows you to switch from 3, 4.5, 6, 7.5, 9, or 12 V operation with a simple turn of the knob on the face of the adapter. Just make sure to have the ACD-477 unplugged from any device when changing DC output voltage. The ACD-477 runs at 80% efficiency with a 1200mA maximum output.

Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter Front

Plugs & Polarity

Many small electronics are made with many different sized plugs. The Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter conveniently comes with six of the most common types on the market, giving you the versatility to use the same power supply across multiple devices.

Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter Plugs

The polarity can easily be changed between positive and negative if required by simply reversing the plug. If you require negative polarity, align the “-” sign with the “TIP”, and likewise for positive polarity, align the “+” sign with the “TIP”. Make sure you are always using the correct polarity for any device in order to avoid damaging the electronics.

Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter TipHosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter Tip+

Short Circuit Protection

To protect your device from experiencing electric spikes which could damage them, the Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter has a built in SCP (short circuit protection). When the LED light starts to dim, you should unplug your device to prevent any damage.

Portability

Many professionals keep safeguards when they’re at a gig in case there is some type of failure. The Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter is light, small, and the AC plug folds into the design, saving storage space and making it even more compact for the gigging professionals.

Daisy Chain Extension Cord

For devices like pedalboards where you can utilize one power supply for multiple devices, Hosa also offers the PDC-373 Daisy Chain Extension Cord. These split a single 2.1 mm DC plug to up to 2.1 mm DC jacks, often used for guitar pedals.

Interested in purchasing your own Hosa ACD-477 Universal Power Adapter? Get yours today.

- Hosa

Setting Up Your TRACKLINK USB Interface

Hosa’s TRACKLINK USB interfaces give players and creators the option of bypassing a traditional audio interface in order to record or practice. TRACKLINK interfaces are USB cables with ¼ inch, XLR, or MIDI connectors on one end meant for guitar, microphone, and keyboards.

Getting set up with TRACKLINK is quick, easy, and convenient. We’ll take you through the setup steps for both Mac and Windows operating systems, but bear in mind there may be some variation as operating systems (OS) are often updated. The same rule applies to the recording software (DAW) you’re using, since all have some degree of difference in how they arm inputs.

XLR or ¼ inch to USB

First start by plugging the UXA-110 into a microphone, the USQ-110 into a guitar or ¼ inch output, then directly into your computer and follow the directions below based on your OS:

Mac OS 10.0 or later

  1. Go to Apple Menu > System Preferences and click Sound
  2. Click the “Input” tab
  3. Select “USB PnP Sound Device”
  4. Input level of your computer should reflect incoming signal
  5. Click the “Output” tab
  6. Verify your normal output option is selected
  7. Close window

Windows 10

  1. Allow Windows to install the driver before proceeding
  2. Go to Start Menu > Windows System > Control Panel
  3. In Category View, open Hardware & Sound
  4. Open Sound
  5. In “Playback” tab, select your desired playback option and click the “Set Default” button
  6. Click the “Recording” tab
  7. Select “USB PnP Sound Device” and click the “Set Default” button
  8. You can verify and adjust input levels by clicking the “Properties” button
  9. If you made any changes, click the “Apply” button
  10. Click the “Okay” button

*If you have Windows 7 or Vista, here are links to additional instructions for the UXA-110 and USQ-110.

Start Recording with Your TRACKLINK

Each software will be a little different, but it is important to select the TRACKLINK USB interface as input only and arm your audio track. Make sure the levels are low enough so you don’t pick up unwanted noise.

Below are quick visual guides for setting up your TRACKLINK USB interface:

MIDI to USB

First start by plugging the USM-422 into your keyboard, synthesizer, or drum machine, and then directly into your computer. Be sure that the red input is plugged into your keyboard’s output, and the black output is plugged into your keyboard’s input, then follow the directions below based on your OS:

Mac OS 10.0 or later

  1. Go to Applications > Utilities and open Audio MIDI Setup.app
  2. If MIDI window is not visible, go to the top menu and select Window > Show MIDI Window
  3. Verify an active device named “USB 2.0 MIDI” exists
  4. Highlight device and select “Test Setup”
  5. Clicking the arrow pointing out of the USB 2.0 MIDI icon should cause the green light on the TRACKLINK interface to flicker
  6. Playing keys on your MIDI keyboard should cause the blue light to flicker and the IN arrow in the computer’s MIDI window to become active
  7. If the test succeeds as explained above, close the window

Windows 10

  1. Allow Windows to install the driver before proceeding
  2. Go to Start Menu > Windows System > Control Panel
  3. In Category View, open View Devices & Printers under the Hardware & Sound category
  4. Confirm “USB 2.0 MIDI” icon is present
  5. Close Control Panel

*If you have Windows 7 or Vista, you can find additional instructions here.

Functions and Indicators

• Solid red LED indicates proper USB connection
• Flashing green LED indicates MIDI transmission from computer
• Flashing blue LED indicates transmission from MIDI controller

Start Recording

Remember that MIDI transfers only data, not audio, so you need to arm the MIDI track in your DAW with a sample. A demonstration for how to assign the input and arm the track for PreSonus Studio One can be seen here:

Below is a quick visual guide for setting up your TRACKLINK USB MIDI interface:

TRACKLINK Limitations

It’s important to note that any cable of this variety is taking the place of a traditional audio interface, and thus all of the analog-digital conversions happen inside the cable. Given the size and component limitation, you can sometimes pick up extra noise or experience some latency. These are not meant to be a 1:1 direct replacement for a proper audio interface, but rather a simple and affordable solution for beginners or those who don’t feel a traditional interface is necessary for their limited purposes.

For more information on where to purchase a TRACKLINK USB interface, you can find a local or online Hosa reseller here.

- Hosa

How to Wrap a Cable

After using our audio cables, most of us don’t think about the proper way to wrap them other than to quickly get them out of the way and cram them into whatever space available. However, the way you wrap and store your cables can have a significant effect on their longevity.

Incorrect Ways to Wrap a Cable

Over-Over

This is definitely the most common wrapping method out there. On the surface, it makes sense, right? You wrap the cable in the same consistent motion.

Wrap Cable Over Over Twist Hosa

Wrap Cable Over Elbow Twist Hosa

The problem with wrapping cable in this way is that the cable is continually twisted along its length and when dropped, there are all sorts of tangles and kinks that must be laboriously undone.

Aside from the simple inconvenience, the twisting over time can put stress on the cable and increase the likelihood of internal shorts which may cause it to stop working, or open gaps in its shielding, allowing for more interference. This is especially important for instrument cables and microphone cables, which are prone to pick up more noise.

Tying

Some will wrap their cables in a bunch, or do the over-over method and then use the cable to tie itself together. This adds even more stress to the cable and will decrease its life significantly quicker, so we highly discourage you from this method.

Tie Cable Around Itself Hosa

The Correct Way to Wrap a Cable

Over-Under

It may be a little funny to get used to at first, but once you start wrapping your cables in this way it becomes very intuitive. As we mentioned before, the issue with the over-over cable wrapping method is that the cable is continually twisted along its length. The over-under method means as you are twisting with the “over”, you are untwisting with the “under”.

Wrap Cable Correct Over Under Hosa

Wrap Cable Correct Over Under Hosa

This will reduce the tension on the cable while wrapping and as it’s stored, making it easier to uncoil and ultimately increasing the cable’s longevity.

You’ll know you’re doing it right when you can throw your cable and it uncoils without any snarls or kinks.

Toss Cable Flat Wrapped Correctly Hosa

Cable Storage

When storing your cables, try to keep them either hanging or laying in a relaxed position as much as possible. Cable ties come in very handy for keeping your cables neatly organized and separated, especially if you have them in a pile or gig bag. Hosa offers a wide array of cable organizers to help keep things efficient depending on your preferences.

Wrap Cable Wire Tie Velcro Hosa

If you’ve had cables stored for a while that you don’t frequently use and don’t know whether they still work or not (because you certainly don’t want to test them at a gig), it’s also helpful to invest in a cable tester. This allows you to test each connection point on your cables and make sure everything is in working order before putting them into commission.

- Hosa

How to Set up a Guitar Pedalboard

With so many effects and hybrid multi-effects guitar pedals on the market, it’s easy for beginners to quickly feel overwhelmed. There is a conventional order for guitar pedals based on which effects ideally work with a dry or processed audio signal. We’ll do our best to demystify things as briefly as possible.

Guitar Pedalboard Mini Hosa

The Most Important Rule is There Are No Rules

While many guitarists place pedals in a conventional way, there are no set rules. Just remember that when you have multiple effects engaged, the pedals closer to the end of the chain will filter the entire sound before it. The most important thing is to be creative and find the sound that inspires you. If that means you assemble your pedals in an unusual order, nobody can tell you you’re wrong.

Your Guitar Pedalboard Set-up – Getting Started

Pedalboards

If you’re like the average guitarist, pedals probably find their way on and off your board. It’s important to know when building a guitar pedalboard how many pedals you need, between those you currently have and maybe some you expect to get in the future. Pedalboards come in many different shapes and sizes to accommodate large and small setups. One helpful resource is the Pedaltrain Pedalboard Planner. You can select from popular pedals and the different size boards Pedaltrain offers to see how they fit.

Guitar Pedalboard Hosa Edge Cables

Power Supply

Each guitar pedal will require power to operate. Most pedals will have a DC output which gets powered through a power supply. There are many options on the market, but you want to make sure your power supply has enough outputs to power the pedals on your board, and with the correct voltage required for that pedal. It may not always be the most ideal solution, but it’s sometimes necessary to use a Daisy Chain Extension Cord from the same power source to various pedals.

Power Supply Build Pedalboard Hosa

Footswitches

For amps that have multiple channels, you may want to save room on your board for a footswitch. Some amps come with their own, but Hosa also makes TRS Footswitches that will work with most amplifiers and are economical in space.

Patch Cables

One thing you learn quickly is that cables take up a decent amount of real estate on a pedalboard. Each pedal has either side mounted or top mounted inputs and outputs that will influence both where they are placed on your board and what types of guitar patch cables are needed. For pedals connected right next to one another, 6” cables work best, but often you will need 12”, 18”, or 24” patch cables to connect pedals around your board.

As each pedalboard has unique requirements, Hosa currently offers seven variations of guitar patch cables. Hosa’s assortment provides players with nearly every option they could need, including variations in length, space-savings, and sonic integrity.

Guitar Patch Cables Edge Pro Pedalboard Hosa

Pedal couplers are also another option, though these are not great solutions for pedals that will be stepped on. This solution can damage the coupler or the jack on your pedals over time as jacks are never truly aligned perfectly and applying weight with your foot will add stress. If you use these, make sure they are for pedals that will always remain on and may be engaged with a loop switcher.

Common Order for Guitar Effects Pedals

Tuner

The best place for your tuner is right at the start of your chain. That’s because when you tune, you want the purest signal directly from your guitar. If a pedal were to be before it, the signal might be manipulated or degraded and tuning becomes inconsistent. Most tuners also mute anything after it in the chain when it’s engaged.

Filters

The most common filter is a wah pedal. These work well earlier in the chain to manipulate the raw sound of your guitar to then add textures with other effects later in the chain.

Wah Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

Compressors

Compression will add fullness to your sound. It can also help your playing sound more dynamically consistent, such as light and heavy strumming having a similar attack.

Compressor Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

Pitch Shifters

These are effects like octavers, arpeggiators, and anything that changes the pitch of the notes you play. You likely want these before any type of gain since a clean signal gets a more accurate representation of that pitch.

Overdrives

Probably the most common effect on any pedalboard, overdrives boost the signal from your guitar into the amplifier, which is why they are often called “boost pedals”. These are used to add some grit to clean sounds or tighten the low end on high gain amplifiers since they emphasize the midrange, and the guitar is a midrange instrument.

Overdrive Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

Gain

Distortion and fuzz pedals add compression and “dirt”, giving the sound a harder edge that is quintessential for rock and metal-style playing.

Gain Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

EQ

This is a hard guitar pedal to know where to place since it’s there to refine a sound, either to emphasize or minimize a certain frequency. Some players EQ the raw sound coming out of their guitars, others put it here after distortions, which can create harshness in certain frequencies that an EQ pedal will help tame.

Noise Gates

These can also go several places in the chain depending on where the most noise is generated that you want to control. Often noise gates are added after the gain stage, since increasing the gain also increases noise and distortions that not all players find pleasant, especially if they want a tight, articulated sound.

Noise Gate Guitar Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

Modulation

These effects include phasers, flangers, chorus, tremolo, and vibrato. You would most often use these to modulate the entire sound up to this point.

Modulation Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

Time-based

There is some debate among players as to whether the delay or reverb pedal should go first, but in most instances reverb goes after the delay. These pedals help give the listener an impression of the environment everything is being played in. Less reverb and delay makes things sound more focused, while lots of reverb and delay gives the listener the impression of a larger space and sound stage.

Time based Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

Volume

Some people also prefer to have the volume pedal in the beginning of their chain, meaning if they do volume swells, time based-effects like reverb and delay will give a more spacious, ambient trail effect. At the end of your chain, the volume pedal will quiet or silence everything immediately.

Volume Pedal Pedalboard Hosa

True Bypass vs Buffered Bypass

If you’re researching pedals, these are terms you have encountered many times. A true bypass pedal means that when it is disengaged, the signal passes through the pedal unaffected. While that doesn’t color your sound, it extends the run of cable through your board, which can sometimes lead to signal degradation. Buffered bypass pedals boost the signal even when disengaged, allowing for you to have longer cable runs without the signal strength degrading, though this will come with some form of coloration to the sound.

Change is Inevitable

Each year there are more and more new pedal options and manufacturers. Chances are you will go through different pedals and boards trying to find the right fit for you, or maybe it’s just fun to experiment with all the sounds and options out there. In either case, just as innovation and evolution are the norm in the pedal world, so should it be in your creativity. Experiment and blaze your own path.

If you want more information on the different patch cable styles Hosa offers, please visit the Guitar Patch Cables page on our website. With options from pancake style connectors to genuine Neutrik tips, Hosa’s assortment has what you need to best fit the type of board you’re making, on any budget.

- Hosa

Equipment Needed to Start a Podcast

Podcasting is a medium that is seeing more and more creators every day. It’s become one of the most digested pieces of modern media. Successful podcasts can range from minutes to hours in length depending on the style, content, and audience.

Question is why do podcasts that are hours long succeed, when we’ve been telling each other for years that people’s attention spans are too small? The truth is probably a mix between the medium itself attracting an audience that enjoys long form content, and that people’s attention spans may not be as short as we think.

Unlike video content that tends to be more scripted, edited, and polished, podcasts have a very natural, conversational feel. They can just as easily be about niche interests or broad conversations that span from food recipes to the latest video game strategies in the same hour.

Given that it can be so simple and affordable to set up a podcast, it makes sense that new ones are popping up all the time. If you have any type of interest in a particular topic or something to say, chances are you already have most, if not all, of what you need to get started in podcasting.

So, what equipment do you need to start your own podcast?

What Equipment You Need for Podcasts

Computer

The thing everybody already has, right? The good news is recording audio requires modest CPU performance, so even if you have an older computer, you can likely make it work. As you look into software for your podcast, pay attention to the requirements and make sure your machine is compatible.
Podcast Equipment Computer iMac iPad Laptop Tablet Hosa

Audio Software for Podcasting

Make sure you have a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) – this is the music production software that you will record your podcast audio into. Having the right DAW will also help should you need to edit or process your audio such as boosting levels, adding compression, or removing part of your podcast. Some free and inexpensive options available are:

Podcast Microphones

Single Microphone Setups

If this is a podcast that only features yourself, one of the most convenient ways to get started is with a USB microphone. These will allow you to plug directly into your computer and bypass the need for an audio interface. Some popular options available are:

Should you already have a podcast microphone, Hosa’s TRACKLINK XLR to USB Interface cable allows you to plug your microphone directly into your computer and bypass an audio interface. Keep in mind with these solutions the analog/digital converters inside are quite small, which may result in some latency or additional noise.

Multiple Microphone Setups

As you introduce multiple microphones for co-hosts or guests, your need for additional podcasting equipment increases. The first thing you’ll need is microphone cables. If you’re starting out on a budget, we suggest our Pro Series mic cables, which offer upgrades from our standard range at a minimal price bump. If you’re after the best signal-to-noise ratio and are investing in some nicer microphones and equipment, we suggest our flagship Edge series.
Hosa Pro and Hosa Edge Microphone Cables

Audio Interfaces for Podcasting

Using an audio interface to record your podcast will allow much better analog/digital conversion, better microphone preamps, multiple microphone inputs, and multiple headphone outputs when compared to a direct to PC setup.

Some common and affordable options include:

Audio Mixer

An audio mixer will allow you to easily control the levels in the room with a simple knob or fader, and run a single output into your interface. There are also some USB mixer options that take the place of an interface and plug directly into your computer.

Additional Podcast Equipment

There may be some podcast equipment and accessories you don’t think about until you need them—don’t overlook these unsung heroes.

Microphone Stands

Microphone stands come in a lot of different styles, and can help keep your microphone secure while recording your podcast. You may prefer a tripod, tabletop, boom arm, or shockmount depending on your budget and setup.

Headphone Extensions

Chances are as you expand your podcast setup, your microphone will likely be further away from your computer, mixer, or interface. Since cables on headphones tend to be relatively short, you may need a headphone extension cable to reach wherever you’re speaking so you can hear yourself and any co-hosts or guests during recording.
Podcast Equipment Headphones Headphone Extension Cable Hosa-Pro

Cable Ties & Organization

Our 50 pack of velcro cable ties will help keep your area free of cable clutter. As your podcast setup expands, so will your audio cables. To minimize confusion, try using Hosa’s Label-A-Cable Cable Labels to help identify your connections.
Podcast Equipment Cable Organization Cable Ties Hosa

Pop Filters & Windscreens

These will help reduce levels of breath noises and sibilance, such as sharp S’s, allowing for smoother audio and less need for processing after recording. We also offer windscreens for traditional vocal mics.

Podcast Hosting Platforms

There are lots of platform options available for where to host your podcast, with a few popular, free, and inexpensive suggestions below:

Ultimately, you should look at the different podcast platform options available to see what features they include and find what best fits your needs.

While the equipment to start a podcast is important, always remember that being a good host includes some preparation, even if the medium feels very free-flowing. Marketing Showrunners wrote a great article on what it takes to be a great podcast host.

So get out there and find your audience, because people have shown they’re willing to listen.

- Hosa

How to Disinfect and Sanitize Musical Instruments and Audio Gear

Inevitably when you use music and audio equipment, you’re going to get some wear and grime build-up – and potentially expose yourself to unwanted germs. We use these tools with our hands and mouths and often leave them exposed to environmental elements. We want to highlight a few simple and inexpensive ways you can disinfect your gear and help maintain top performance and cleanliness.

How to Sanitize Microphones

Microphones are probably the most challenging piece of gear to clean and sanitize given how frequently they come in contact with our mouths. Most cleaning solutions require pre-saturated wipes or a cloth partially saturated in an alcohol-based solution. However, there are some more convenient options.

The solution we most recommend is our Goby Labs Microphone Sanitizer. This sanitizer has the added convenience of simply being sprayed directly onto the microphone grill. It soon evaporates, without damaging the inner electronics. It’s the easiest way to sanitize quickly for venues and karaoke clubs where a single microphone is used by many people on the same night.

Goby Labs Microphone Sanitizer and microphone

How to Clean Your Guitars

Guitars go through a lot. Not only are they used at home, but they are tools used to perform in front of hundreds or thousands of people at a time. Finger smudges, dirt, sweat, beer, germs, and sufficient DNA to clone someone are usually collected on any given guitar.

Guitar with Goby Labs Guitar Polish, cloth, and cleaner

There are plenty of guitar cleaners on the market, and even some traditional cleaners that work well, but you want to find something water-based like our Goby Labs Guitar Polish to help protect your guitar’s finish. Delicate finishes will damage with the caustic chemicals found in some alcohol-based cleaners, but water-based solutions are safe to use. Just be sure not to use too much on any open-grain guitar, which will absorb moisture. Make sure to always apply cleaner and polish with a microfiber cloth so that you don’t scratch the surface in the process.

How to Sanitize Fretboards

Speaking of caustic chemicals, some solutions can dry out unfinished fretboards if used improperly. Rubbing alcohol is fine to use for disinfecting unfinished woods like rosewood, ebony, and maple. If you have a lacquered board, a cloth very lightly dampened with soap and water will do the trick. After disinfecting porous woods, like rosewood, apply our oil-based Goby Labs Fingerboard Conditioner to cut through grime without damaging the wood. Just make sure to apply it with a microfiber cloth and remove any excess oil after applying.

Goby Labs Fingerboard Conditioner with Guitar Fretboard

Goby Labs Guitar Polish and Fretboard Conditioner come conveniently together with a microfiber cloth in the Goby Labs Guitar Care Kit to ensure you have everything you need to care for your axe.

How to Sanitize Audio Hardware

Surfaces on hardware usually only need a towel or rag lightly dampened with water or surface cleaner to wipe them down. You want to protect the electronics inside, so it’s never a good idea to spray anything directly on the surface, and always remember to power down any electronic device before cleaning and sanitizing to avoid shorting out the equipment.

Audio Equipment and household cleaners

For home studio applications, our Goby Labs Equipment Care Kit includes Headphone Cleaner to remove the dirt and grime build-up without damaging delicate electronics, Screen Cleaner that’s safe for use on LCD screens, Microphone Sanitizer, and a microfiber cloth.

Goby Labs Equipment Care Kit and gear

How to Clean Audio Cables

It’s usually a good idea to keep water away from cables so you don’t promote oxidation and corrosion, but after they’ve seen a few gigs and have been stepped on a few hundred times, we get it. A lightly dampened cloth with soap and water is sufficient to run along the length of the cord and housing of a connector, just don’t pull too hard to avoid severing the solder or creating a short in the cable.

Cleaning Audio Cables

Maintaining Your Connectors

If you wish to clean the contact points of your cables, it’s best to use an electric contact cleaner like CAIG Laboratories’ DeoxIT Gold, a less concentrated maintenance cleaner that leaves behind an added layer of protection.

How to Keep Your Hands Clean

At this point, you probably don’t need us to preach the efficacy of hand sanitizers, but it’s worth noting that Goby Labs also offers a 2oz spray bottle of FDA-approved hand sanitizer that fits conveniently next to our other cleaning solutions for gigging professionals on the go. Of course, good old-fashioned soap and water always works when available. Just make sure you wash your hands thoroughly for the recommended 15-30 seconds to ensure they are disinfected. A simple way to time yourself is singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

For those wearing gloves, we all know the sacrifice is your natural touch-sensitivity. This is why Hosa also offers HAND-E-GLOVE, a lotion that leaves a thin, invisible layer covering your hands. This allows for the best of both worlds with the protection of wearing a glove while preserving your natural sense of touch. We also offer HAND-E-SCRUB to clean and exfoliate your hands after use.

For more information on what solutions we offer to clean your musical instruments and audio gear, visit our Cleaners & Conditioners page.

- Hosa

XLR vs. DMX: What’s the Difference?

There are certainly a number of cables that serve different functions but look similar or use the same connector types. For instance, 1/4 in patch cables and instrument cables, or 3.5 mm patch cables and stereo AUX cables that you would use to connect your phone to a speaker.

Perhaps a few of the more easily confused cable types are XLR and DMX. Both have the standard 3-pin configuration and similar builds, and maybe, in some cases, the connector is exactly the same on both. But, go beyond the connector and you have two cables with fundamentally different purposes.

XLR cables are what’s most often used for analog functions such as microphones and interconnects. Analog has a much lower impedance requirement so cables don’t have to be rated, but usually the impedance is around 45 ohms.

DMX cables are what we use for lighting. The cables’ purpose isn’t about carrying an audio signal, it’s carrying information or data that will communicate changes between lights and the source. The impedance required for this is 120 ohms. They also come in 5-pin configurations, and can be converted from 3-pin to 5-pin or 5-pin to 3-pin using our DMX adaptors.

Given how similar XLR and DMX cables appear, a common question is “can they be used interchangeably?” In some circumstances, you might be able to, but it’s not suggested.

An analog XLR cable is not rated at 120 ohms; so, transferring data may experience some interruptions, such as strobing or flickering lights since the cable can’t transfer the necessary voltage.

On the flipside, you could theoretically use a DMX cable as a microphone cable. However, the cables aren’t built with the same shielding, so noise interference might become an issue. Likewise, its build-quality isn’t meant to be as rugged, and DMX cables are much more expensive.

The bottom line is, always use the appropriate cable for the appropriate application. If you’re doing lighting, invest in some DMX cables to make sure the voltage is uninterrupted. If you need to go out from an interface to a pair of monitors, invest in some XLR interconnects, and, of course, use a dedicated microphone cable for all mic and performance functions.

- Dylan

Why Cables Matter – Your Questions Answered

Breaking down what a cable’s made of and why it makes a difference

It’s often the things we don’t think about that can have a huge influence on our results. In the world of cooking, it may be the type of knife or cutting board we use; in automobiles, the grade of oil put in our engines; in audio & video, the quality and type of cables can make for dramatic differences that often get underappreciated.

There will be some people out there who say that a cable is just a cable, that varying prices and shiny features don’t really matter or make a difference. Today we’ll be focusing on the construction of audio cables like instrument, microphone, speaker, and interconnects, and explaining the many differences you see in the marketplace and why they do, in fact, matter.

What is a conductor?

The conductor is the copper wire that transmits the signal from one end of the cable to another. How we measure the size of the conductor is in AWG, which is an initialism for American Wire Gauge. It’s important to know when measuring gauge, the higher the gauge is, the thinner the wire will be and the more resistance there is to the flow of current. The thicker a conductor is, and thus the less resistance there is to the flow of current, the lower its gauge number will be.

For example, our standard series speaker cables use a 16 AWG OFC (oxygen-free-copper) conductor, and our Edge series speaker cables use a 12 AWG OFC conductor. You can see the difference in the thickness of each cable alone, but you can’t just rely on thickness since there are instances where companies use a thin conductor with a thicker jacket surrounding it.

Why are there such stark differences in the size of conductors from cable to cable? Simply put, some require a larger conductor depending on how much voltage they’re trying to transmit. The amount a speaker cable needs to transmit signal & power requires much more than an interconnect that you would use to connect your audio interface to your studio monitors.

Along with copper, you may see other metals used in conductors and shields such as aluminum, silver, and gold. Our Zaolla Silverline cables, for example, use a solid silver conductor, which is much more conductive than copper. Our Edge guitar cables also use Neutrik connectors with gold plated ends, which is more conductive and less prone to corrosion than nickel. Of course, adding these components is significantly more expensive, hence you see them far less. On the opposite end, aluminum is a less conductive metal than copper but some inexpensive cables will use an aluminum conductor with a thin layer of copper over the top to reduce cost.

 

What are the types of shielding and what are the differences?

There are two main types of shielding used in audio cables: braided, and spiral or serve shielding.

Braided Shielding

Braided shielding is a woven mesh of bare or tinned copper wires which provides a low-resistance path to ground but does not provide 100% coverage. Depending on the tightness of the weave, braids typically provide between 70% and 95% coverage. Since copper has higher conductivity than aluminum and the braid has more bulk for conducting noise, the braid is most effective as a shield. However, it adds size and cost to the cable along with reduced flexibility depending on the tightness of the mesh.

Our own guitar cables use braided shielding and vary in this same regard, as well. For example, our standard series guitar cables provide 90% braid coverage, while our Edge series guitar cables provide 95%.

Spiral Shielding

Spiral or serve shielding is similar to a braided shield, but instead of being woven together, the copper strands spiral around the conductor. It’s more flexible, cheaper, and quicker to manufacture than a braid, but as it’s bent or twisted, you get more opportunities for gaps in the shield to open and absorb interference as the strands unspiral.

Our interconnects rely on spiral shielding, which is more than enough due to the fact that they stay mostly stationary and their signal is boosted to line level that’s less prone to pick up interference. Mic and instrument level is significantly lower, so any interference it picks up will amplify dramatically when the signal is boosted, hence the need for more robust braided shielding.

Foil Shielding

Although not common in the types of cables we’re covering, another shielding type you may encounter, such as in our network or Cat 6 cables is foil shielding, which is a thin layer of aluminum that provides complete coverage of the conductors it surrounds. It is thin, which makes it harder to work with, especially when applying a connector. It also tends to be an added layer to an existing shield.

 

Why so many types of connectors?

If you’re like most people and have owned multitudes of cables from different brands, you’ll no doubt have noticed that connector types vary widely in aesthetic and in build quality. While it would take a whole post itself to explain nuances for all the different connector types, we’ll use the XLR cables from our Standard, Pro, and Edge series cables to illustrate:

The standard uses a common connector with nickel-plated pins, metallic housing, rubber strain relief, and the conductors use lead-free solder connected directly to the pins.

The Pro series connector is made by REAN. It uses silver-plated contacts, which is a more conductive metal than nickel or copper, zinc diecast housing, chuck-type strain relief, and a rubber boot kink protection.

The Edge series connector is made by Neutrik AG which uses nickel housing with a zinc diecast shell, gold-plated contacts which are more conductive and less prone to corrosion than nickel, chuck-type strain relief, and a boot with polyurethane gland.

 

Are more expensive cables better?

In some instances, but not necessarily. Component quality can absolutely influence whether a cable is more expensive or not, but often times other factors like labor play a bigger part in how much the item costs. Take the example of Neutrik; While the components are top quality, much of the resulting cost is for the time, quality control, and lower tolerances used in their construction. You could build a connector using those same components overseas and the result would be less expensive to the consumer, but Neutrik’s manufacturing also comes with a well-deserved reputation of quality craftsmanship. There are other in-between scenarios where raw parts are manufactured overseas but then assembled in the United States to save on labor and material costs while still providing some quality assurance. So, having a cable manufactured overseas doesn’t inherently make it inferior, but it depends on the level of quality in craftsmanship that the manufacturer uses before putting products on the shelf.

We hope that was informative so next time you see a cable that lists its specifications, you have a better understanding of the quality to cost ratio in order to make an informed purchase based on which option best suits your needs. Any other questions, you can leave them in the comments of the YouTube video, or contact us directly with this contact form and we’ll be happy to answer them.

- Dylan

Future Proof Your Network

Category cables have been in use for a number of years. Most consumers will know these as network cables, Ethernet cables, or possibly even Cat-5 cables. However, they may not understand what Cat-5 means or how to determine if that is really the cable in use. Category cables have been upgraded multiple times and the vast majority of consumers are probably using Category 5e cable in their home networks. As our networking needs have increased, so have the cables, and a change is already underway to go beyond Cat-5e.

Category cables are designed to transfer data within networks. They are the standard method of connectivity for Ethernet networking. Cat-5e is still the most common cable but it is close to its limits. In fact, larger networks requiring higher bandwidth and better interference protection have already abandoned 5e. We are demanding more from our networks, transferring more data at faster speeds than ever before. In addition to Ethernet networking, category cables can now be used for audio and video networks. Dante audio networks transfer uncompressed multi-channel audio via category cables and HDBase-T promises to be the future of home audio and video integration. HDBase-T transmits high-definition audio and video, Ethernet, device control signals, USB data, and power all through one category cable. Category 5 cables cannot handle this much data.

In order to meet the bandwidth needs of newer networks, we must use Category 6 cable. Category 6 improves bandwidth and crosstalk protection over previous generations of category cable. It has been tested to perform up to 250 MHz and can transmit 10 Gigabits per second (Gbps) for up to 55 meters. This is not to say it cannot go beyond these points, only that this is how the cable was tested. Category 6 cables also have several shielding options. You can purchase cables in the more traditional Unshielded Twisted Pair (UTP) construction, or with shielding around each twisted pair, the full cable assembly, or both. Hosa’s CAT-600BK series is an example of Category 6 cable with both shielding around each twisted pair and around the entire assembly.

In addition to the original Category 6 cable, a revision to the standard later added Cat-6A cable, also known as Category 6 Augmented. This cable provides even better protection against crosstalk and has been tested up to 500 MHz. Cat-6A can run 10 Gbps Ethernet up to 100 meters.

It’s important to note that while Cat-5e was the updated version of the original Category 5 standard, there is no Cat-6e version recognized by ANSI/TIA.

The good thing about category cables is that they are backward compatible. If you are setting up a new network, it is a good idea to use Cat-6 cable even if you do not believe your network will need the added bandwidth. Taking that step now should make things easier in the future.

- Jose