Essential Tools for Live Sound Engineers
When I was first getting started in the live sound industry, I remember searching everywhere for a list of tools and accessories to include in my workbox/gig bag. Unfortunately, all I found were some message boards and forums.
After years of experience in the live sound industry, I’ve developed this list based on what I carry in my own workbox and what I’ve seen other live sound techs carry in theirs.
Here is the list I’ve created over the years. I hope it helps to ensure you have the most important tools in your kit for live sound.
The Pelican 1510 case is somewhat of a standard in the industry for a personal workbox.
It offers enough space for a good tool kit without being too bulky to take to every gig.
You can toss it on a rolling case, set it up at FOH or the stage, and it requires virtually no extra truck space.
It’s big enough to fit a 15-inch laptop and everything else you need to feel prepared on a show site.
The foam insert that comes with the case is not very good.
The idea is that you pluck the foam cubes out to make compartments for your equipment.
Although this might work for storing specific devices, it isn’t ideal for a tool box you’ll be working out of. The foam starts to tear and your stuff gets mixed up.
The TrekPak is a modular system that is fully customizable. I’ve tried several inserts for the Pelican 1510 case and this is by far my favorite.
It’s rugged, clean, and easy to configure/reconfigure the sections.
Testers & Meters
The Qbox lets you test continuity, generate tones, and monitor inputs with the built-in speaker.
You can plug it in at any point in your signal chain to test that you’re getting signal to that point.
This is so useful when you just want to verify or check what is coming out of a specific output or cable.
SoundTools makes some really cool stuff! This transmitter/receiver XLR cable tester is one of my favorites.
It’s a two-piece tester, which makes it really useful for testing long signal paths. You connect one to the male end of the cable and the other to the female end of the cable.
The LEDs on the end will tell you if your cable is wired correctly and what is crossed or disconnected, if not.
You can also test subsnake heads and breakouts by enabling phantom power. The LEDs illuminate when receiving phantom power.
It’s generally a good idea to carry a multimeter with you. If you’re dealing with 3-phase power and feeder terminals, it’s 100% necessary.
Don’t make the mistake I made and buy a multimeter with an analog meter. This one has a nice digital screen and isn’t that much more expensive than a cheap analog meter.
If you get one tester on this list, make sure it’s a multimeter. If you’re crafty, you can test nearly anything with just one of these.
If you are touring with your own rig, this is a really handy tool. You can quickly test each component in a cabinet before you stack it or fly it.
It lets you check polarity and send a test tone to each component of a 1-, 2-, 3-, or 4-way speaker cabinet with NL8 connectors.
Pair this with an NL8-M to NL4-F adapter to test speakers with NL4 connectors.
A cable tester is a must. This is the best cable tester I’ve found.
It let’s you test XLR, NL8, NL4, TRS, RCA, USB, RJ45, and DMX connectors.
All of that in a relatively small package. Throw it in your case and you’ll be ready to quickly test any cable in the trunk!
The best part is – you can even test cables with different connectors on each end, such as XLR to TRS cables or 3-pin XLR to 5-pin XLR!
Cables & Adapters
A 3.5mm-to-Dual 1/4-inch adapter is something you’ll use every gig. Use it to connect your phone or laptop into the console to test the system.
This can also be useful when you need to provide an auxiliary input on stage. Throw a DI box on this and you’re set.
The great thing about this adapter compared to the 3.5mm-to-XLR adapters is that this one won’t allow you to supply phantom power to your device.
Read this article I wrote about the danger of using a 3.5mm-to-XLR adapter.
This is my favorite way to get auxiliary devices into the system. It transforms any 3.5mm signal into a balanced circuit for running anywhere you need it.
It also has a built-in level knob which is good for when you need to disconnect and reconnect a device without causing a pop.
It’s also perfect for on-stage aux inputs because it’s easy for non-audio people to use and sums the stereo signal into a single channel.
I wrote an article about 3 ways to connect 3.5mm to XLR inputs that could be helpful to you.
Of course, you’ll want at least one XLR cable. I like Rapco Horizon cables because they aren’t as expensive as a lot of the other cables of the same quality.
These have Neutrik XLR connectors, which are more durable and easier to repair. Make sure you get cables with Neutrik connectors – there’s nothing worse than the old school type with a tiny set screw.
The cable is rugged and flexible, intended for use on stage and in studios.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been saved by an XLR turnaround adapter like this one.
Let’s say you have run out of input or output channels on your snake.
Using an XLR Female-to-Female adapter on one end and an XLR Male-to-Male adapter on the other end will let you turn any input into an output or any output into an input.
It’s common for consoles to have TRS inputs instead of XLR inputs.
An XLR Female to ¼” TRS adapter will allow you to connect XLR line level outputs into a TRS input on a console.
You can also use one of each of these (XLR-M to TRS & XLR-F to TRS) on either side to turn a long XLR cable into a long TRS cable.
That means you won’t necessarily need to carry long TRS cables to every show.
XLR Male to ¼” TRS adapters are useful when you need to connect a TRS output to an XLR input.
Like I said before, you can also use one of each of these on either side to turn a long XLR cable into a long TRS cable.
That means you won’t necessarily need to carry long TRS cables to every show.
Black gaff tape is essential for taping cables down that would otherwise present a tripping hazard.
Bright colored gaff tape is really good for labeling snake heads, fanouts, and DI boxes.
You might even find the different widths valuable, but get yourself at least one standard roll like this one.
You’ll want to get a good brand. Pro-Gaff is the type I’ve used mostly. It’s strong, easy to tear, and won’t leave sticky residue on the surface.
You can NEVER have enough Sharpies. You may even want to grab two 36-count boxes. Trust me – if you’re anything like me, you’ll lose them in no time.
They are useful for labeling consoles, DI boxes, snakes, snake heads, subsnakes, subsnake heads, console fanouts, and anything else you can imagine.
Carry extras so that you can lend them out to those less prepared.
Microphones, DIs, & Headphones
You’ll probably have a full microphone package in another case, but it’s nice to have one of these with you just in case.
The SM58 is an industry standard, of course. They are virtually indestructible, and you’re more likely to lose it than you are to break it.
Go ahead and get the SM58S, which has an on/off switch. That way, you can use it as a talkback microphone to the performers and crew on stage.
A DI is also a good thing to have on hand. You never know when you’ll be one DI box short, and you’ll be glad you have an extra when that time comes.
This one is rugged and reliable and sounds good. It’s pro quality at a relatively low price.
You can, of course, use it for keyboards and guitars, but it’s also nice when you need to run a long line to an aux input like a phone or laptop on stage.
You may have your own preference for headphones, but I’ve been happy with my Audio-Technica M50s.
I’ve had them since 2011 and they still sound exactly as they did brand new.
Whichever headphones you choose, get a pair that has a reliable sound that can become your baseline reference for tuning and mixing.
If you carry a laptop with you, you’ll also want an audio interface. This will let you utilize software for tuning, phase aligning, and monitoring with RTAs and SPL metering.
Don’t get anything too fancy. The Focusrite 2i2 has great preamps and will last you a long time.
Mine has been with me since 2015. It’s been dropped, knocked, and rained on. It still works!
I wrote this article that will help you decide which of the Focusrite Scarlett interfaces is right for you.
This isn’t the highest quality measurement microphone in the world. It’s affordable and it will get the job done.
You’ll also be putting it through a lot of wear and tear, so it’s best not to get anything too valuable just to beat it up. This one is remarkably rugged.
It sounds good enough to get practical measurements for tuning and phase aligning large systems.
If you want something a bit nicer, go with the Earthworks M23.
This mic gives you really great quality at a reasonable price.
It’s nice to have a good, reliable microphone for tuning and phase aligning systems.
If you are a system tech and will have time available to really dial in a system, it’s probably worth spending a bit extra for this mic.
Don’t be discouraged by the price tag though. If it’s out of your price range, you can get the job done with the dbx microphone above.