Whether you are a touring FOH, Monitor, or System Engineer, freelancer working corporate or local events, house tech at a club or other venue, or AV tech setting up endless breakout rooms, there are tools, testers, supplies, gadgets, and gizmos that can make your work life easier and safer. Frankly, these things help you be better at your job.
We’ve compiled a list of the most popular things that everyone who works in live sound should have in their tool box. From earplugs to multitools to headphones.
On to the list!
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Rat Sound XLR Sniffer – Test XLR cables remotely without bringing ends together. Perfect for quickly checking snake lines or other long runs when you don’t have both ends of the cable!
Hosa CBT500 Cable Tester – This is one of the most versatile cable testers to quickly tell if your audio cable has a problem. Tests XLR, 1/4″, Phono, and speakON connectors. Also tests DIN, Ethernet, BNC, and USB Type A to Type B cables.
Whirwind Q Box – This handy box is not as well-known as it should be. It’s often confused for a cable tester, which it isn’t. Let’s say the video guy reports that he’s got nothing down the line. You walk over with your Whirlwind Qbox and unplug the XLR from his camera and plug it into your Qbox. Turn on the speaker that’s built into the box, and you hear that sweet sound of your signal. So, you’ve just proven that your feed is showing up and the problem is on his end. The Qbox also generates a 1kHz tone at both mic and line level, which is super handy.
Extech SPL Meter – Measure from 40-130 dB with all the features to keep an eye on how loud your mix is.
Whirlwind Cab Driver – The Whirlwind Cab Driver sends pink noise down the line to check individual drivers inside a speaker cabinet. The connectors include Speakon NL8 and NL4, 1/4″ TS, and banana jacks. An XLR line output allows you to feed the pink noise signal to self-powered speakers. Handy during system verification on a show and back in the shop.
Fluke True RMS Clamp Meter – Just how much current is that amp rack drawing? Did the electrician connect your distro correctly? Find out and protect yourself and your gear with this Fluke meter.
Leatherman Wave – A variety of pliers, replaceable wire cutters, wire stripper, cap crimper, plain and serrated knives, saw, spring-action scissors, ruler, can and bottle openers, files, and screwdrivers. Get one in black or silver.
Leatherman Surge – The Surge is equipped with 21 tools, including knives, pliers, screwdrivers, wire cutters, an electrical crimper, a wire stripper, scissors, bottle and can openers, files, a saw with blade exchanger, an awl, and a ruler.
Detailed Comparison of the Leatherman Wave and Surge
Leatherman Supertool 300 – The Leatherman Supertool 300 has fewer tools than the Wave or Surge, but Leatherman claims that the Supertool 300 has the strongest pliers of any of their tools.
Leatherman Skeletool – The Leatherman Skeletool is equipped with 7 tools, including a knife, pliers, a large exchangeable bit driver, wire-cutters, and a carabiner/bottle opener. It comes with an extra bit stored right in the handle. It weighs just 5 ounces.
SOG PowerAssist Multi-Tool B66N-CP – Powerful pliers and 16 hand tools including pliers, screwdrivers, bottle and can openers, even a blasting cap crimper.
Radial ProAV2 Multimedia DI – A professional “Swiss Army knife” direct box that will get the job done. Convert 1/8″ connections from laptops, phones, and iPads to balanced XLR connections. Inputs also include RCA and 1/4″ connections.
Rapco Horizon LTIGLBLOX Laptop Interface – This little box is a simple way to convert a laptop of phone audio feed to XLR with a handy level control and ground lift switch.
20dB Inline XLR Pads – In case of emergency, insert pad! Did someone (cough, DJ, cough) send you a super hot signal? Pad it down 20dB quickly with this handy inline XLR pad.
Zoom H4n Flash Recorder – Be the hero and record the band’s set for them. Or save the day when the video guy completely overloaded his camera inputs. With the Zoom H4n recorder, you’ll always have a clean copy of your mix.
Radial Engineering Catapult Cat 5 Audio Snake – 4 channel XLR snake over a single Cat 5 cable. Super handy.
Lav Bullet – Do you place a lot of lav mics on performers or speakers? The lav bullet is a cool device to help run a lav cable down someone’s shirt. Simple plug in the mic connector to the mic bullet and the weight of it easily makes it’s way down the shirt and out the waistband.
LP Mic Claw – The LP Mic Claw is handy to have in your case. Drummer bring an extra tom? Did a pair of congas show up surprisingly? No problem. Clip on the claw and you’ve got one extra mic stand at all times.
Ebtech HE-2 XLR Hum Eliminator – 2 channel, hum eliminator and line balancer that uses 1:1 isolation transformers to break loop antenna and balance audio lines.
Sescom IL-19-SS Inline Hum Eliminator – In-line XLR male to XLR female transformer to eliminate hums from your audio system.
RF Explorer Handheld Spectrum Analyzer – Tame those wireless microphones by looking at the RF spectrum that you are dealing with. Measures 240MHz – 960MHz and comes with software for your PC for enhanced functionality.
Headphones and In-Ear Monitors
Most Popular headphones over $100
Sennheiser HD25 – Capable of handling very high sound pressure levels. Very isolating to keep outside sounds out. Comes with hard travel case.
Most Popular under $100
Sony MDR-7506 – The Sony MDR-7506 headphones have been a favorite for audio folks for a long time. They are a solid choice.
Audio-Technica ATH-M50x – Highlights of the ATH-M50X headphones is that they come with a detachable cable for easy replacement and they come in different colors to fit your style. They also offer studio quality sound with deep bass extension.
Beyerdynamic DT-990 – The Beyer DT-990 boast a frequency response of 5 – 35kHz. Made in Germany. Soft, velour ear pads ensure high wearing comfort.
There are a lot of good In-Ear Monitors available on the market and you can spend a lot of money on very high end sets. These two models are good, budget sets that sound good.
Shure SE215 In-Ear Monitors – The Shure SE215 IEMs are a good value balancing audio quality and cost. They are lightweight and low profile, and come with
Westone UM Pro10 In-Ear Monitors – The Westone UM Pro10 IEMs feature good sound quality, and extra rugged twisted cable and a 2 year warranty.
Most Popular Flashlight
Maglite Mini Flashlight (available in incandescent or LED) – The classic flashlight that comes with a holster. Rugged, bright enough, and takes 2 AA batteries, and we all know there are always half used AA batteries around from the wireless mics.
Runner Up Flashlight
Streamlight 88033 ProTac 2AA Tactical Flashlight – This is a brighter (250 lumens, vs. 97 lumens with the Maglight), slightly more expensive light. The Streamlight 88003 has 3 beam patterns (traditional, high lumen, and high performance).
A Serious Flashlight
SureFire P2X Fury – 600 lumens, Mil-Spec hard anodized for extreme durability; weatherproof–o-ring and gasket sealed. This flashlight is an investment.
Most Popular Headlamp
PETZL – TIKKINA Headlamp – Solid, 150 lumen LED headlamp. 220 hour battery life and an optional rechargeable battery. The PETZL – TIKKINA headlamp even comes in several bright colors to fit your current mood.
A More Serious Headlamp
Black Diamond Spot Headlamp – The Black Diamond Spot headlamp is a solid step up from the Petzl Tikkina. It’s features include 200 lumens, red night-vision mode, runs on AAA batteries, and it’s waterproof!
Clip Anywhere Light
Mighty Bright LED Music Stand Light – The Mighty Bright HammerHead Clip is super handy to have around. It provides a wide beam light for music stands, scripts, rack work, or even for reading a book in your bunk on the bus! Runs on AAA batteries and also via AC adapter for long time use.
Xcelite Strippers/Cutters – High quality strippers and cutters set for stripping wire when making and repairing audio cables.
Weller High-Performance Soldering Iron – Quality, powertable soldering iron for in the field work. The Weller soldering iron has an LED light to illuminate your work area.
Wera Kraftform Insulated Screwdriver Set – A set of 6 insulated slotted and phillips drive tips. Lifetime warranty
Wera Kraftform Micro Jewelers Screwdrivers – A set of 12 slotted, phillips, and hex micro screwdrivers in a nice soft travel case.
Leica DISTO D2 New 330ft Laser Distance Measure – Measure up to 330 feet with this laser measuring tape. Perfect for telling you how far the backline is from the PA, setting rough delay speaker times, array trim heights, and more.
Klein 10-in-1 Screwdriver – This Klein 10 in 1 screwdriver is a must have for your toolkit. Features 5/16-Inch (8 mm) and 1/4-Inch (6 mm) nut drivers, #1 and #2 Phillips, 1/4-Inch (6 mm) and 3/16-Inch (5 mm) slotted, T10 and T15 TORX, and #1 and #2 square-recess.
TEKTON Long Hex Key Wrench Set – 26 piece Ball End Hex Key Wrench Set
Kershaw Clash Folding Knife – The Amazon reviews tell the story on how awesome this knife is.
Craftsman Socket Set – 42 Piece 1/4 and 3/8-inch Drive Bit and Torx Bit Socket Wrench Set
Klein Tools VDV226 RJ45 Crimper/Stripper/Cutter – If you work with networking cables, this All in One Ratcheting Modular Crimper / Wire Stripper / Cutter for RJ45, CAT5e, CAT6, CAT6A is one of the best tools around.
iPad – So much can be done with an iPad. Control consoles, run SPL or RTA type apps, store product manuals, play BGM or other music.
Transcend Military Drop Tested External Hard Drive – A USB hard drive that is has military-grade shock resistance, and advanced internal hard drive suspension system.
Corsair Flash Survivor Stealth 128GB USB 3.0 Flash Drive – One of the toughest flash drive available. aircraft-grade aluminum housing, EPDM water seal, and molded shock damping collar.
Eargasm High Fidelity Earplugs – Eargasm ear plugs reduce the overall level, but don’t change the frequency response. A much more enjoyable experience than using the foam plugs. You’ll soon forget you have them in because they sound so natural.
Mechanix Work Gloves – Everything you want in a comfortable, machine washable work glove. The Amazon reviews speak for themselves.
Outdoor Research Rain Hat – Protect your head from the sun and the rain with this Outdoor Research lightweight rain hat. Comes in all kinds of colors and styles.
Howard Leight by Honeywell Earmuffs – If you are forced to work in an environment where there is loud equipment, protect your hearing with the Howard Leight Earmuffs. These are active. The built in mic amplifies normal conversation and other normal sounds around you, but when it detects a sound over 82dB, it springs into action and sharply reduces levels.
iMBAPrice USB-MFAN USB Mini Desktop Fan – Cheap USB powered fan to keep you or your gear cool.
Black Sharpies – Everyone needs them.
Silver Sharpies for Writing on Black Gaff Tape – The most discreet way to label wireless microphones and IEM packs is using back gaff tape and these silver sharpies!
PTouch Label Maker – Handy label machine for organizing all your stuff!
Small Binoculars – These compact, lightweight binoculars are perfect when you need to check out a mic placement, for taking a look at your flown speakers, or just checking out interesting people in the audience.
Pelican 1510 – The Pelican 1510 is the perfect size for your toolbox. It’s the maximum carry on size determined by the FAA and it has a lifetime guarantee.
Best Coffee Tools
Travel French Press Coffee Maker/Mug – Cheap and small maker and mug in one. A great way to make a great cup of coffee anywhere.
Hydroflask Coffee Mug – Keeps your coffee hot for 6 hours!
Be The Hero With These Things to Save Other People’s Butts
Save the Presenter’s Butt…
Save the Drummer’s Butt…
Save the Guitarist’s Butt…
The Backstage Handbook – First published in 1988, Backstage Handbook is one of the most widely used stagecraft textbooks in the United States, with about 10,000 copies sold every year.
Sound Systems: Design and Optimization Book – This is “The Bible” for sound system design and optimization. Written by Bob McCarthy who is a pioneer in the design and optimization of live sound systems. He has been involved in the development of all three generations of the SIM source independent measurement system from Meyer Sound.
Yamaha Sound Reinforcement Handbook – This is a classic. The book features information on both the audio theory involved and the practical applications of that theory, explaining everything from microphones to loudspeakers.