The order in which audio gear gets turned on matters. Those of you with a bit of experience know this already but still, sometimes we forget. Or we get involved with something else that takes up mental bandwidth and the next thing we know, we have sent a speaker-shattering transient through the PA. It is a source of amusement and derision for pretty much everyone except the unfortunate soul who owns the PA in question.
For those who are still learning or who missed this part of class, a transient in the world of sound is just what it sounds like. Something that comes and then goes. Quickly. In a matter of milliseconds. Mostly when you hear talk of transients, it is in discussions about mics. How well do they handle transients. In this case that is gonna mean sounds with a very hard attack. Think of the initial crack of a snare drum or the impact of a cymbal. In both cases, the sound sustains and develops over a longer period, but 90% of the sonic energy comes in those first handful of milliseconds.
In this case we are not talking about any sound produced by any instrument. We are talking, pretty much, about electricity. It is a lot less of an issue with modern digital gear, but older analog stuff is different. If you have ever plugged a mic in to a system that is already on, you have heard one kind of transient. What you may not know is that some audio gear produces the same kind of “sound” when it is turned on. And that “bang” through the system can do bad things. Like shred speakers.
It is with this in mind that the Rockn Stompn Sequential Power Strip was created.
(Here’s a video. Shot by soundguy extraordinaire Keith Nachodsky at a venue where he does some work. This system is on a pro-level sequencer but something is turning on out of order. You can hear the thump as SOMETHING is turned on after the power amps are providing power to the speakers. As “thumps” go this one is minor. Imagine this at roughly 10 times the volume and you get an idea of the damage that can be done by turning a system on out of order.)
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The name sucks. Just way too goofy. So from here forward, we will use the MODEL name with is the RS-4 PLUS. It looks like your basic black heavy-duty power strip with eight outlets divided into four pairs. And on the end there is a stompbox-style footswitch. That footswitch is the on/off switch for the unit with a timely twist. When you stomp it, only the first pair of outlets initially gets power. Then a few seconds later, the second pair lights up and then the third and finally the last pair. (There is also a pair of very small rotary switches on the side that alter the timing of how everything turns on. More about this later along with an illustration of how I can be an idiot and how one should actually RTFM—Read the F%*$ing Manual—even for something as seemingly straightforward as power.)
The idea is that the stuff that actually powers speakers—power amps or powered speakers or even a guitar or bass amp—gets plugged in to the LAST pair of outlets. That way, there is no power to the speaker when anything “upstream” gets power. So those upstream items still produce a voltage transient when they come on, but you are not amplifying that and sending it out to blow up your speakers.
This is a real thing. I own a couple of old Mesa Boogie guitar amps and the coolest one is sitting in the shop right now, really unusable until the speaker gets re-coned. Any of you who have ever played a Mark Series Boogie (this one is a Mark IIB) know that they are LOUD amps. And I play gigs where we are often deemed “too loud” before a single note is played. That is partially the burden borne by anyone leading a band with a horn section and partially the kinds of gigs we play. Mostly casinos and some where the clientele is a bit on the grayer side and they are not really there—most of them—to hear the band. They are there to drink and gamble and pick up chicks and the band lies somewhere between added bonus, audio wallpaper and an actual annoyance for some of them. Bottom line is I have never had that amp turned up past about 2.
So how did the speaker get toasted? Probably by me unplugging and plugging in guitars while the amp is on. That horrifying sound you get when you do that is a kind of transient. Not the kind that the RS-4 PLUS is gonna help with—only me getting smarter and using a silent cable or switching the amp to Standby before switching guitars is gonna help that, but you get the idea.
It can literally happen with just one mistake. Turn the system on out of order one time and it CAN be enough to ruin a speaker. The re-cone on mine is gonna run me a couple hundred bucks. Expensive mistake…
It is not just the act of turning things on. If you have everything in a rack-mounted system—mixer, outboard gear and power amps—all plugged into one strip and you turn the STRIP off to save a couple of seconds instead of turning off the amps and then everything else, you have a possible speaker shredding on your hands.
My only negative when gigging with the RS-4 PLUS was pilot error.
We go through a lot of batteries between wireless mics, guitar packs and in-ears. A minimum of four on an average gig and as many as 20. So after a ton of research, I finally found rechargeables that are worthwhile. (For the record, we use Eneloop Pros. ) When we are on a multi-night gig, one of the things I do at the end of the night is to gather all of the batteries together and put them in their charging bays. At the time we did the review, I had to have three different multi-unit chargers—we are now down to two. One of those was plugged into the RS and one into the Furman Voltage Regulator/Power Conditioner that in turn, fed the RS. The battery chargers we were using at the time had to be removed from power and have power re-applied AFTER the batteries were placed in them. Force of habit, I loaded up the chargers and then powered off the Furman and powered it back on. The charger directly attached started charging but the one attached to the RS did not. This is because when it loses power, it does not come back on when power returns. You have to hit the foot switch again. So, the next night I was in a serious scramble for batteries.
But this does point to something to be aware of. If you blow a fuse on your club gig, when the lights come back on, your gear will NOT when using the RS-4 PLUS unless you hit the switch again.
Except it actually will.
This is where I should have RTFM’d. I never looked at those rotary switches or read the instructions printed right on the bottom of the RS-4 PLUS. This updated model has several different modes. The rotary switches are labeled On and Off with positions from Zero to 15. In “Standard Mode” each click represents one second. You can determine the amount of time between each pair of outlets turning on and have a different timing for them turning off. But when one of those is set to Zero, things get interesting.
With the On switch at Zero, you access Instant On Mode. Which would have saved me from myself. In Instant On, the RS-4 PLUS comes on—one outlet at a time—as soon as power is applied. The number on the Off switch determines the amount of time between each power segment and the times for both the On and Off sequences are the same.
With the Off switch at Zero, the first pair of outlets (Receptacle One) is ALWAYS ON, regardless of the sequence. You can use this mode to make sure power is never interrupted to something crucial. Like a computer that may be playing backing tracks, for instance. In this mode, the number on the On switch determines the delay in the on-off sequence.
When both are set to the same number, you access a Timer Mode in which the entire strip powers off after a set period of time. In this case, the seconds become hours. This is a great feature for venues where those who usually turn things on and off may not be around at the end of the gig. Example: A church gig on a Wednesday night youth service where the sound guy goes home to actually spend some time with his family before the festivities end. (Sound familiar, James Elizondo and Bob Lindquist and all you other church sound guys?)
All in all. The RS-4 PLUS is gig worthy and well-built and looks good. (Note to all musicians, white power strips form Home Depot do NOT look good an stage and they make you look like an amateur.) The new modes in the updated model make it as powerful as a high-end rack-mount sequencing units from, say Middle Atlantic costing close to triple the price tag on the RS-4 PLUS. (And if you happen across one that is not updated, no fear. The new modes can be added to older units via a firmware update which the company is doing for free. And the power-strip format (versus a reach mount) actually make it useable in more situations than a straight rack-mount.
You need to carry at least one power strip almost regardless of the instrument you play. Get one that makes you look like a pro AND protects your expensive gear at the same time.