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.