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Phantom Power Checker By Hugh Robjohns
Published October 2010

The classic nightmare scenario for anyone involved in setting up microphones, whether for a studio or location recording or for a live sound event, is to fade up a mic and hear no sound! Way back when tape was the only practical recording medium, I discovered the immense value of the 'Bright Eye' phantom checker for avoiding confused panic stations that this scenario instantly conjures up. At a basic level, a 'Bright Eye' tester comprises just one or two LEDs and a few associated components mounted inside a male XLR body — and a web search for 'phantom power checker' will find some simple DIY models. Plugging the tester into the microphone end of each cable as you rig immediately confirms the presence of phantom power. If the lights don't come on, either the phantom power is switched off, the cable isn't plugged in, or the cable is broken.

DPA PPC4000While a simple phantom detector is an enormous aid to spotting problems early in the rig, knowing that the phantom supply voltage and current supply are adequate and up to spec is increasingly important, and that's where the DPA PPC4000 phantom power checker comes in. This modestly priced device is typically Scandinavian in the simplicity of its styling; just a black Neutrik XX‑series XLR body with a single tri‑colour LED poking subtly out of the cable gland. Internally, a small circuit‑board is crammed with surface‑mount components which derive power from the phantom supply and assess both the voltage and the current availability of the phantom‑power supply at the far end of the cable under test. The unit won't light up at all if the supply can't deliver at least 3.5mA per cable core, without a sagging supply voltage.

If all is well, the LED glows bright green, but it turns red if there is a problem with the supply reaching pin 2, yellow for a failure on pin 3; and alternately flashing red and yellow if both pins 2 and 3 exhibit a problem. If the cable's screen is damaged (or phantom power isn't present at all), there'll be no illumination of any kind, of course. Usefully, these error-mode indications are printed on the XLR body too, in case you forget.

I've carried a self‑made Bright Eye around with me for the last 25 years, use it almost every day, and have long since lost count of the number of times it has found cable faults during rigging, saving considerable time, effort and frantic last‑minute panics to track down the reason for missing mic signals! Despite its compact size, this DPA phantom-power checker is a very sophisticated tool which not only confirms the presence of phantom power, but also guarantees that it meets the required specifications — and that peace of mind is well worth the modest price. Hugh Robjohns

£38.19 including VAT.$47.