The noise you are hearing is perfectly normal.

I hate unintentional noise.  Background hiss, hum, buzzing, and the clicking-beeping noises of cell phone signals bleeding into the audio path, all drive me nuts.  There are a great many potential sources and causes of noise, and an equally large number of ways to prevent or mitigate the noise.  Here’s a great article on that subject.  But what really makes me mad is when a product is excessively noisy under normal and proper use, and the manufacturer refuses to acknowledge that there could be a problem.

T.C. Electronic, Audere, T-Rex, Glockenklang, Presonus, and Metasonix are all companies that have pulled this crap on me, and I’ve read that Phil Jones plays this game too.  How it goes is: I buy their product, and it is just too noisy, usually with a high hiss.  I contact the company to ask for advice, and they respond “our products have no noise” or “our products have lower noise  than any of our competitors”.  I respond that in fact I’m hearing a bad noise; they reply that I must be using the product incorrectly.  I ask them how they intend for it to be used correctly, and of course they describe the exact same normal usage as I was already doing.  Audere has a FAQ on their site about noise from their product; when I told them “I’ve read the FAQ and followed all of its advice, but I’m still getting hiss”, their actual response was “you should read the FAQ on our website”.

In each company’s case, after I insist that I have done everything they suggested and followed all the instructions carefully, and I’m still getting an unwanted noise, they all end the discussion with some absurd dismissal.  Audere said “you must just not like active electronics”, implying that all preamps normally have the same hiss.  Metasonix would not openly answer when I asked if his products normally had the loud hum I was hearing, but he said “for $150 I can cut some traces on the circuitboard, that might help”—implying that he knows there’s a problem, but it’s not his problem.  T-Rex and T.C. Electronic just flatly denied there could be any noise, end of story—implying that I am just imagining things.

For my part, I am willing to grant that there may be something particular to any one rig or environment that causes noise in a given new piece of gear, so conceivably what I’m hearing is not the “fault” of the item that sounds noisy to me.  But that concession loses most of its value when I change my rig and change my environment, yet the noise persists.  In trying to solve these mystery noises and “prove” the cause, I have bought many different preamps and listening devices, new cables, and a variety of power distribution systems; I have isolated each item’s chassis with non-conductive material; I have tried different outlets, different rooms, and different neighborhoods; and I have tried to get help from electronics experts.  Out of all of those experiments and efforts over the years, there were only two times where the noise problem was solved in that way—and neither of those times was with one of the brands I mentioned earlier.

Even so, I always make it clear when I’m calling or emailing a manufacturer that I know the levels of complexity in tracking down noise causes… so why do they refuse to show me the same respect? Why do they just insist there is no way their product could be noisy—and then why do they backpedal and try to say that the noise I am hearing is perfectly normal?

Manufacturers:  Don’t try to cover your butts in the short term, trying to avoid dealing with this sort of complaint.  You only alienate and anger your customer that way, ensuring that they will never buy your products again.  Instead, work with them—acknowledge that they might be right—and earn their respect.  That way, even if they never solve the noise problem with that one product, they will still think well of your brand, and buy other products from you in the future.

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  1. JohnP said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 9:20 am

    Good observations B. The Emperor’s Gnu Clothes-ness (?) of certain marketing is so insidious..whole (bass guitar) companies have been built on this horse poop. Fanned by the seemingly inexhaustible desire to have some sort of one upmanship that people in a few forums espouse, companies with NO business selling instruments and electronics become the soup d’ jour, and if you disagree or point out that their pants are around their ankles..umm…

    the sad thing about this is: on the one hand you are doing bass playing musicians a great service with your non hyped reviews and explanations of how things actually work (not how things PRETEND to work, or what the ads say ) while at the same time, the organizations who should be paying you for this are probably not going to, because what would happen to their advertising if JA forbid one of their big sources of revenue should be seen for what it really is?

    Again, thanks for your reviews and commentaries..I don’t like to hang out at TB..but I am subscribed here, as of today.

  2. Cyrus said,

    January 29, 2010 @ 10:23 am

    Yeah, I forgot to mention how the dedicated fans of those brands will rabidly defend their naked emperor. Any time I post on TB asking “is anyone else having a noise problem with XYZ product”, or “how can I solve this issue with XYZ”, invariably one of the loud-talking Defenders of the Faith shows up and says “There is no such noise” or “there is no such issue”, and they do their best to deflate anyone who doubts them or the brand they love.

  3. Livingston said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 12:32 am

    You’re right on as always Cyrus, but I thought I could contribute some thoughts.

    Although you are among the most well-informed consumers, you must be aware that many musicians are not technically savvy or tech-minded, and that many people, across all strata of consumption, don’t necessarily inform themselves fully before complaining about a perceived issue. Even those of us with more of a tech background sometimes have our amp set in some stupid way which will generate hiss or whatever.

    So it’s a difficult position for CS reps to be in, when, for every person like you who really has read the FAQ and tried every reasonable solution you could think of, there are maybe 5 guys who haven’t but say they have, and the answer to their question really is there in the FAQ. It’s unfortunate because to err in one direction risks talking down to folks like you who are on top of things, but to err in the other direction means spending all your time answering things that are covered in the FAQ. Ideally a company should never treat any customer like a dummy who needs to RTFM, but realistically these big companies aren’t going to shell out for an EE to answer every single email they get in detail.

    The other thing is that with Metasonix, I think it might be a reasonable response to just say that “the noise you are hearing is perfectly normal” – this guy designs things that are intentionally wrong, of course, and defying sensible engineering practices is sort of their selling point. So I personally wouldn’t fault him for some hum – if you want something that sounds good in any way, I figure you’ll be looking elsewhere! Would you be up for telling us the specific product it was? I’m curious which of their things was up your alley – I always took you more for a “subtle” kind of guy…

  4. Cyrus said,

    March 3, 2010 @ 2:56 am

    You’re right, certainly, both about the dilemma of company CS reps and about the Metasonix devices being “intentionally wrong”.

    Regarding the CS situation, I had one deal just recently (spelled out in another post) where one CS rep was unhelpful, and then his manager was unhelpful, and then finally a VP of product management actually helped me–and it was very easy for him to be helpful! All he had to do was take me seriously and give me the sincere impression he was looking into my concern. It took more labor hours for the other guys to argue back and forth with me, telling me they couldn’t do anything, than it took for the one guy to simply try to help. So I agree with your description of the CS dilemma, but I also know from experience (having done many years of CS myself) that being briskly unhelpful to a customer usually results in more work and hassle for me, down the road.

    Regarding Metasonix, it was one of their envelope filter pedals. You’d be surprised “what kind of guy” I am. 🙂 In addition to the infinitesimal audio minutiae and subtlety I obsess on here, I also love industrial noise music, the heaviest metal, and the dirtiest funk. I’ve spent more years making horrible gleeping and blonking noises with a battery of synth modules and effects, than I have spent being a “refined connoisseur”. So in theory, the Metasonix line is right up my alley. The problem I had with that particular pedal was that the “background” hum it made was in fact just as loud as the actual effect sound, making it really, really annoying and monotonous. It also hissed loudly; I could have expected and tolerated some hiss, given “what it is”, but the loud hiss on top of the very loud monotonous hum was just too much. So I emailed the Metasonix guy and asked him if this was the normal sound and behavior of the unit, or if it needed service. I ended up having to asking him this question three times, because he would not answer that question at all. That’s what I’m talking about here. If he had simply said “yes, this pedal hums and hisses like nobody’s business, and that’s just how I meant it to be”, then I would have thanked him and been able to move on, unconcerned and whistling. Instead he gave me the run-around, the stone wall, and the shaft.

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