I Can’t Hear You: Correct Audio Connections
After we get our computers stable and video cables connected, it seems to be the audio wiring that befuddles us the most.
By Chris and Trish Meyer | February 17, 1997
I felt compelled to write on this subject because of a real-life experience that happened years ago. Trish and I were scheduled to show tapes and speak about our work at an event. We had both BetaSP and VHS tapes, as well as some QuickTime movies to show from a Mac. As is our custom, we asked to inspect the gear before we were scheduled to go on, just to make sure everything would go smoothly.
I started at the BetaSP deck. There was nothing connected to its normal audio output connectors - a problem, since we really focus on the interplay between audio and visuals in our work. However, there was something plugged into the "monitor" output on the back of deck. This is an extra RCA-style output jack meant to be connected to the corresponding input on some video monitors (to hear your work through that great two-inch speaker so generously built in). They were using this, but not with a phono plug inserted - instead, they managed to jam into a Walkman-style headphone plug into it, which then went to a pair of RCA connectors. An inauspicious start.
This went not to an audio mixer or amplifier, but to the audio inputs on the back of the VHS deck. Well, okay; when nothing is playing, many decks pass the audio and video from their input straight to their outputs - kind of handy, actually. However, there was nothing plugged into the audio outputs from the VHS deck - puzzling. I moved around to the front of the deck, and audio was being taken from its headphone output jack instead (through a couple of adapters, by the way).
This didn't got to a mixer or amplifier, but instead to some inexpensive computer speakers on the desk we were supposed to speak from. Finally, audio was taken from the headphone jack on the front of one of these speakers, and routed to the amplifier that powered the main speakers in the room.
It worked - more or less. One channel of the BetaSP didn't really come through, and overall, it sounded lousy. So why did they wire it this way? Not because they were stupid or because they were out to get us; they wired it that way because they didn't know any better, and audio wiring isn't discussed in most desktop video manuals and books for them to learn from.
If you (however sheepishly) find yourself in a similar boat, read on - and we'll untangle some of the mysterious mess of audio cabling.
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