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Glass Breaks Through the Copper Ceiling

Optical cables a great solution for live recording

Most discussions of audio applications for optical USB and Thunderbolt cables focus on studio recording and certain types of location recording where you can set up a ersatz control room, such as capturing an orchestra in a concert hall. In both cases, you may have an audio interface in a control room and noisy computers and hard drives in a remote machine room—an improvised machine room for location work —connected by long optical cable runs. Corning’s thin, flexible, roadworthy optical cables are perfect for these applications.

But there’s much more you can do with optical USB and Thunderbolt cables that are much more difficult with copper cables.

Recording from Front of House
Many artists record their shows in order to produce live recordings and identify performance and equipment issues that need to be addressed. For rock concerts and other high-volume shows, unlike orchestral work and studio recording, the main issue is not computer fan and hard drive noise. The recording is often done directly from the front-of-house mixing console, and with all that high-decibel sound, it can only be superficially monitored on headphones. Critical listening must be done later.

In these situations, optical cables offer superior convenience, versatility, and roadworthiness. Whether the front-of-house console has a built-in audio interface or you’re recording with a separate audio interface located in a rack at front of house, along with the hard drives, the challenge is to place the computer — typically a laptop—within easy reach, yet out of harm’s way. The screen should be clearly visible so you can monitor input levels and audio analysis software.  

With conventional copper cables, however, cable length is severely limited. Thunderbolt is limited to 3 meters over copper cable and cannot be extended. With USB 2.0, you can run copper cables up to 5 meters (about 16 feet, 5 inches), and USB 3.0/3.1 is limited to 3 meters (about 9 feet, 10 inches). You could achieve longer USB runs with KVM switches or USB extenders but at a live show, the last thing you need is more layers of technology, switch boxes, and so on. If you want USB or Thunderbolt cable runs long enough to place that laptop in the perfect spot, you need optical cables.

Your cable run must be out of the way, so you can’t necessarily run the cable in a straight path. Cables can get twisted and stepped on, too. Murphy’s law  in live shows—Anything that can go wrong probably will. Reliability is essential, and copper cables are a common weak point.

This is where Corning optical cables are at their best. Thin, lightweight, optical cables can be run virtually anywhere, regardless of twists and turns, with no loss of functionality. If you run a Corning optical cable across the floor, and someone steps on it, your recording won’t miss a beat. You can even tie the optical cable to a rack for strain relief, so it won’t get accidentally unplugged. The cable’s performance will be unaffected. Now that’s the kind of reliability you want for live recording!

Recording from the Stage
Depending on the size of the venue, the recording interface could also be placed onstage, so analog cable runs from the audio splitter to the interface are short. One lightweight optical USB or Thunderbolt cable can then be run (even flown) to a recording computer at front-of-house, backstage, or any other location away from the stage and microphones.

Corning’s optical cables will eventually find uses in a variety of audio applications. Consider this simple, clean, effective solution for any sort of installation that requires moderately long USB or Thunderbolt cable runs.

For more information on optical cables by Corning see here.

See also:
There’s a technology solving some of the most vexing electrical and acoustic isolation issues facing audio professionals
Quiet! We’re Recording! Find out what technology audio recording professionals are considering to combat noise
Optical cables offer multiple advantages for remote recording

Bio: A long-time professional touring and session musician, sound designer, and occasional front-of-house engineer, Steve Oppenheimer is probably best known for his accomplishments as editor in chief of Electronic Musician, Remix, Onstage, Music Education Technology, AudioInsider, and other music-technology magazines and Web sites. An editor and corporate manager for more than 20 years, he served for six years as public relations manager at PreSonus Audio Electronics before founding the public relations firm White Dog Communications in January 2015.