Controller Clinic #6: Wiring My Sound Card To A PA System

Patrick want to know how he should plug into a club's PA system.

Patrick want to know how he should plug into a club's PA system.

Reader Patrick writes: "I'm looking to buy the Focusrite Saffire 6 USB sound card. by what I have been reading it is very reliable and is great for DJs as well as producers, which is what I do. So here is my query. I'm a bit lost when it comes to hooking every thing up, e.g. wires etc. If I was to DJ at a party and I used the venue's sound system which was like a PA system - two speakers and an amp - would I use the balanced 1/4" TRS outputs of the sound card and plug them straight into the amp? Or would I use the RCA outputs and use a XLR adaptor? Or have I got it wrong and you actually need to do something completely different?"

Digital DJ Tips says:

You could plug from either the TRSs or the RCAs into their PA. If their amp has two x TRS ins (it may), then TRS to TRS cables will do it, or their amp may have RCAs in which case RCAs to RCAs will do it, or if their amp only has traditional XLRs (it's possible) you'd need an adaptor. Unless you're using a really long cable (in which case prefer TRSs/XLRs as they're "balanced" and so better over long distances), it really doesn't matter which you choose.

Be aware, that, that usually you'll go through a normal DJ mixer to get to a house PA system, in which case straight RCAs to RCAs will do. You'd plug into a spare channel on their back of their mixer and their mixer will route your signal through the PA to the speakers, remaining itself permanently wired into their PA.

Have you got any advice to add for Patrick? Have you ever turned up at a club to be confronted with trying to plug into a system you couldn't work out or didn't have the right leads for? Let us know in the comments!

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Comments

  1. sameoldsong says:

    As Phil wrote, if you plug into the house mixer, RCA will be fine. After all, your audio interface will be in close proximity of the house mixer so no long cables are needed.

    If you plug directly into the PA (amp, active speakers, or the DSP rack), go for balanced cables by all means. Frequently, you will have to run the cable by lights, speakers or other potential sources of electromagnetic interference. The Saffire 6 features balanced TRS outputs. Plus, balanced cables are reasonably cheap so there’s really no reason not to go for a balanced connection.

    Your best bet is to purchase a pair of TRS-to-XLR cables as it’s most likely the PA features an XLR input (many systems have both TRS and XLR but XLR is the most common). Tip: purchase the cables online because brick-and-mortar retailers tend to charge substantial premiums on cables. Online, you can find quality cables with quality connectors (Neutrik) at very reasonable prices.

  2. In my experience RCA cables are usually all you need to plug into the house mixer. It’s always safer to have more options just in case though, so I always bring a few extra adapters and cables.

  3. I have the same soundcard. Even though, theoretically, it doesnt matter which type of connection you use (RCA or TRS), go for the RCA output due to the fact that it is louder than the TRS on this specific soundcard and it will be easier to “match” with the loudness of CDJs being used by other DJs in th eline up. This way you wont have to adjust the master out of the DJ booth mixer to match a fellow DJ final volume.
    Also, I would advise you to use the second pair of outputs to connect them to the mixer and plug your headphones for monitoring in th emixer – instead of using the soundcard’s built-in headphones output, the reason being its a bit quiet and in a loud club environment you wont hear a thing. By plugging the outs 3-4 to the mixer and your headphones to the mixer, you can apply gain to the volume of the headphones and make it louder!

    • thanks guys this has been really helpful! but im using the numark mixtrack which has headphone gains anyway so will i still need to use a mixer for suitable sound levels do yin think?

      • The reason you plug through a club’s
        mixer is not about levels but because it’s what’s expected of you – your DJ controller is just another input alongside CDJs, record decks etc, and has no place plugging directly into a club PA… unless they don’t have a permanent mixer, in which case, no you don’t need one.

  4. Hey, I HAVE A QUESTION TOO about connecting:

    What’s recommended when grounding turntables: use the MIXER’s ground screw, or my audio4dj screw?? Or is it the same?

    • Pieter Passmann says:

      It should be the same, I myself prefer grounding with the Mixer. It is bigger and has bigger metal parts (I really don’t know if that has any kind of relevance). Also you can move around your Audio4 a bit better, because it only has the RCAs attached to it and the USB.

  5. Pieter Passmann says:

    It kinda comes down to two or three things: 1. Do you only play at clubs and “partyvenues” or do you also have the warehouse-style raves and private partys somewhere in someones home on your list? 2. How prepared do you need/want to be? (kinda of a no-brainer. you should always be prepared for any sort of situation) and 3. Are you playing alone or with a bunch of other DJs?

    I always pack my RCA to XLR DI-box to be able to give either unbalanced RCAs or balanced XLRs. So I can always provide maximum quality to the PA. Here you can score massive points with the sound-tech people at clubs and venues, they apparently love balanced outputs.
    When I play alone, I always take an almost silly amount of spare cables and little pieces of gear aswell as adapters and powercables. Playing with more DJs together you can always swap out stuff or combine your gear (if you are not scared and can trust the others behind the decks of course).

    What you also should consider is renting in equipment. The companies renting out stuff usually put everything in to be able to go straight to a PA. Should you not be sure of this, just contact the company. Say you are playing that gig and you just have 1-2 questions about the PA. Most of the time they will answer you and usually they will also be happy about answering your questions rather than breaking anything because you weren’t sure about what you’re doing :)

  6. I have to agree with sameoldsong; be prepared with every option available. Buy all the Neutrik adapters in pairs, 2 pairs of each. Make sure to get male & female plug-ins. Then purchase 2 50ft. and/or 100ft. XLR cables. To finish the ensemble RCA Hosa cable with all the different connecters: XLR, 1/4″, etc. With this you will be prepared for any and all situations. Most sound boards (Mackie) inputs are really close together and may not give you the room to plug in a Neutrik adapter, so with the Hosa cables you start there and go backwards to gear using straight Hosa cable or using adapters with the XLR cables. Hopes this helps.

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