When Cecilia was starting to think about using effects with Kingfisher I posted asking for advice on the right way to hook this up. This is a protocol problem:

  • Electric guitars and similar give you an unbalanced output (signal and ground) that connects to a high-impedance input. The guitar pedals ecosystem works with this protocol.

  • If you want a fiddle to sound good at a dance you generally use a clip-on microphone, which has a balanced output (signal, inverse signal, and ground) and requires phantom power.

The three main solutions we discusses in that post and the comments were:

  • Use the Radial Voco-Loco. It is designed for exactly this, is well built, and should last very well. But it costs $360.

  • Use a mini-mixer. There are lots of options that both provide phantom power and can be configured to route the signal out through an unbalanced 1/4 jack and back. Cost depends on manufacturer: the Soundcraft Notepad 5 is $125, the Mackie Mix 8 is $93, and a no-name mixer is $50.

  • Use the main board's effects insert. All you need is a $9 insert cable.

Why not just use an insert cable, then? It's not going to work everywhere: the board needs to have an effects insert, and not all do. Or the board might be on the other end of a snake which only takes balanced signals. Or the board might be too far away on stage for your insert cable to reach. Using an insert cable requires a different interface with the venue: you're swapping the reliable and standard "musician → venue" setup for a much less typical "musician → venue → musician → venue" setup. Still, I think it's worth bringing along an insert cable since it's small, cheap, and will work in many configurations.

In our case there's another reason I don't like the insert cable approach: it doesn't work with our recording setup. I've been bringing a multi-track recorder to dances, which I connect with XLR Y-cables. While in theory I could tap the insert cable as well, with a 1/4" Y, something about that makes me pretty nervous.

Instead, we've been bringing a mini-mixer. I wish I could say we haven't had any problems, but at two of our last five dances we've had an issue with it and needed to fall back to an insert cable. It's possible that the mixer is flaking out, but it's also possible that the configuration is just enough fiddly steps that we plugged things together wrong or had a switch or dial in the wrong position.

For now I think we'll stick with the mini-mixer, and insert cable as backup, though the Voco-Loco is pretty tempting.

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