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New Purchases: What To Look Out For

Tips & Techniques By Martin Russ
Published June 1994

Martin Russ talks you through what to do when you've just bought a new piece of hi‑tech gear.

OK, so you finally made the decision and bought it, eh? And here you are, back at base with the box, and you've just opened it up and delved inside. This is probably the wrong moment to remind you, but there are a few important little things to do now to make sure that all goes well in the future. So, stop for just a moment and read on.

The first impulse when you get a new piece of equipment is to plug it in, turn it on and try it out. After all that waiting, the suspense can be almost unbearable! But before rushing into things, here is a checklist to follow. If you spend just a few minutes now, you may save lots of time later.

  • Keep the box, plastic bags, polystyrene foam, cardboard, and so on, which came with your new purchase. If you ever need to return the equipment (for repair or servicing), the original packaging is usually the best way of ensuring that it will arrive safely. Even if you buy flight cases for all your gear, what happens if you try and sell the equipment later on? Amongst other things, the original box helps reassure people that you were the purchaser, and that it is not stolen.
  • Check that everything is in the box — and that it is what you expected. Mistakes do happen! There is often a list of items that you can tick off as you find them. If anything is missing, you need to follow it up immediately. Of course, there is always the possibility that you may have overlooked (or thrown away) a hidden goodie — what demo disk?
  • Note down the serial number, model number and any other important details on either a piece of paper, or in an 'equipment book' (also useful for insurance claims). This is a good time to see if these details are needed on the warranty or guarantee form, and it is wise to fill it in now whilst you are thinking about it. A clearly marked envelope or A4 folder makes a good home for associated documentation: the original order, or a photocopy of it, and any invoices, delivery notes etc.
  • Use one of those ultra‑violet security marking pens (available from most stationers) to mark your post‑code and house/flat or other identifying number on the equipment. You should try to locate the marking in a couple of places, one well hidden from a casual glance. It is a good idea to check that the marker pen does not damage the finish before you start scribbling on the front panel — although there is a school of thought that slightly defacing equipment ruins its resale value and makes it much less nickable.
  • Check the power supply arrangements:
  • Mains‑powered equipment needs to be examined to make sure that it is designed for the local voltage. 110 volt equipment has been known to turn up and subsequently be connected to the 240 volts mains found in the UK. The fuse should also be appropriate — 13A fuses are rare in most hi‑tech equipment. 5A or 3A are much more common — make sure you have a stock of them, and never replace them with a 13A or a piece of wire. Some equipment arrives with moulded leads with a 3‑pin IEC connector on one end, and an American 2‑pin plug on the other. Cut off the 2‑pin plug and replace it with a good quality (MK preferably) 13A mains plug.
  • Mains‑powered battery eliminators (also known as mains adaptors) need to be checked for fusing, but you should also check that the connector is secure and of the correct polarity. Some adapters enable the voltage and polarity to be set — make sure you know what the equipment requires. If the manufacturer specifies a particular type of adaptor, then use that one in preference to a 'universal' one.
  • Battery‑powered equipment can be bad news: for the environment when the batteries are thrown away, and for you when the batteries die mid‑way through a performance. Both of these can to some extent be reduced by only using rechargeable batteries, and using a freshly charged set of batteries just before you use the equipment.
  • Some equipment is 'phantom' powered, and derives its power supply from something else — microphones and some MIDI accessories work in this way. It is wise to test these items separately — without connecting to anything else apart from the power supply. If there is anything wrong, then all you damage is the equipment and/or the power supply, instead of everything!

(Regardless of the power supply scheme, proper earthing of equipment is essential. Do not remove earth wires from equipment unless you know exactly what you are doing. The Musicians Union produce an excellent booklet on electrical safety, or contact an electrician).

  • With the power supply checked, make sure that the equipment is connected to nothing else, and then turn the equipment on. Flashes, bangs and smoke are obvious indicators of problems, but you should test for excessive over‑heating too. Getting a burn from a very hot panel could lead to a more serious accident. Most equipment performs a 'self‑test' routine when it powers up, and so if the front panel lights and displays work OK, then all should be well.
  • If all is well, check that the equipment is functioning correctly — front‑panel headphone sockets are a good way of testing for excessive audio outputs, and can save your speakers and your ears. Connect the headphones up before putting them on! A cheap pair of headphones is a good investment for this purpose.
  • You should now turn any audio sliders or knobs which are associated with the new equipment to their minimum position. You can then try connecting the piece of equipment into the rest of your setup. If any fuses blow at this stage then you may have a problem with an incorrectly wired mains lead or socket (it does happen), and you should seek professional advice from an electrician.
  • Once powered up, try moving the audio sliders or knobs slightly and see if you get any audio output. Mains hum, loud clicks and bangs and continuous tones can all be deadly to speaker cones or ears. Some equipment has a nasty tendency to produce loud clicks when it is turned on or off, so beware of turning it off too!
  • If all seems well, you can then verify that it is working correctly. Reading the owner's manual is often surprisingly helpful!
  • Before you get too involved, make a note of any internal factory parameter settings that were present when you switched on the unit. You may need to restore these at a later date — especially after losing all the settings with your first edit. Most MIDI equipment allows you to transmit the contents of its internal memory via a System Exclusive dump, and many sequencers will allow you to record this information in a song file. Making backup copies of 'factory settings' and storing them away in a safe place can be very useful if the battery‑backed RAM ever vanishes and wipes away all your favourite setups. Quite a lot of musical equipment arrives with its RAM stuffed full of sounds — which usually means that the first few edits you make wipe those 'factory' sounds away forever. A Sysex dump of the RAM saves you from buying a memory card, and you can edit without worries.
  • This is also a good time to make a note of exactly how the new item fits into your setup. Having marked leads (self‑adhesive coloured tape is useful) is all very well, but you need a map of how everything is connected together to help keep track of what goes where. MIDI equipment often needs connecting to a patchbay or Thru box, and this should be noted down for future reference. I keep a spreadsheet on my computer with all this 'studio snapshot' type information.

There we go. Perhaps an extra ten minutes of effort, but the reassurance of a documented and tested installation. Believe me, the first time something goes wrong, you will wish that you had taken the time to do it properly.


1. Keep the box

2. Check contents

3. Serial Numbers

4. Security marking

5. Check Power Supply

6. Check separately

7. Check audio — headphones

8. Check when connected up

9. Check the audio

10. Verify that it works

11. Make backups of factory settings

12. Document what you have done

If in doubt, seek professional advice!