Cold Weather and Your Gear

Snow-Shoveling

By Stu Chisholm, “The Complete Disc Jockey”

Each year about this time, DJ chat forums buzz with questions about weather. It seems that a good many DJs prefer to store their huge DJ systems in a trailer, truck, van or garage. When fall rolls around and temperatures begin to drop, DJs wonder: will it damage my equipment?

THE GOOD…

If that describes you, then I’ve got both good and bad news. I’ll start with the former; today’s DJ gear is surprisingly hearty! Modern speaker systems can be totally frozen and, once warmed up, can perform as if nothing ever happened. And yes, I’m talking repeatedly. If you think about it, that’s a good thing, since most factories ship their goods in unheated cargo containers that spend considerable time in cold cargo holds and warehouses. As long as you allow your gear to get up to room temperature before turning everything on, it should perform well and keep doing so for a good long time.

THE BAD…

Do NOT ignore what I just said above re: “room temperature!” Moisture is the great killer of electronics. If you bring in frozen or extremely cold gear into a warm room, condensation will happen. It’s a fact of physics; water molecules in the air will affix themselves to the colder surface. They absolutely must be allowed to dissipate naturally. Arrive about 30 minutes early and pop the covers of any and all amp racks and console cases. Let the room air work its magic.

THE UGLY…

This warm-up period is especially important for speakers! The voice coil may shrink when frozen, causing friction, which is disaster for a speaker. Some of the exotic materials used in modern speaker cones can become brittle. For these reasons, I suggest another 20 to 30 minutes of low volume operation even after the half-hour warm-up.

JUST ONE MORE THING…

When we’re talking about computers and hard drives, forget everything I just said. Except for the moisture = death part, none of it applies. Although spinning disc computer hard drives don’t mind being cold, they don’t hold up well to a hard freeze, especially repeated ones. This is due to the natural contraction of the disc and read/write heads, which can cause problems reading the data and even actual physical damage. Further, computers and tablets have screens, and freezing can cause “pixel death” in LCD and LED screens. My standard rule of thumb for screens and hard drives: if you feel uncomfortable, then it is “uncomfortable” too. As far as my hasty research has found, this doesn’t apply to solid state drives, which have a very generous operating temperature range.

CAUTION FLAG!

On a side note, a few DJs mentioned that they installed electric heaters inside their trailers. In principle, there’s nothing wrong with the idea. In reality, the downside could be extreme! Besides being by and large unnecessary, such an installation should be done by a professional. A garage fire that could be far more expensive than replacing some gear! Also, bad things could happen to any items stored too close to, or touching, the heater.