Mixing consoles are known to attract dust and dirt, and they are difficult to keep clean. Will the dust and dirt affect audio quality? How can they be cleaned?
Mixing consoles attract dirt, there's no doubt of that. And with all those knobs and buttons it is very difficult to clean. There are three kinds of dirt that the mixing console is prone to collect - dust, smoke and finger marks.
Dust is all around so you can't do much about that. Well you can - you can live outside of the big city and away from diesel engines in particular. The diesel engine is without doubt the dirtiest thing known to mankind. It is said that a modern petrol engined car following a diesel bus or truck actually makes the air cleaner by sucking up and processing the muck the diesel produces. Back to the point...
Cigarette smoke is a known killer of consoles. I once met a studio manager who knew this first hand as he had two identical consoles in similar control rooms. One was regularly operated by a non-smoker, the other by a smoker. The 'smoky' console was close to being a wreck after a couple of years.
The problem with dust and smoke is that it enters the moving components - the faders, potentiometers and switches. These are devices that rely on good electrical contact through surfaces that merely touch. Separate them by a dust particle and you get the familiar scratchy sound of old equipment. The better varieties of these components are sealed more effectively, but then they cost more.
Grease from sticky fingers isn't a problem in itself, but it makes the dust cling. Stickiness from spilt drinks is even worse, although that can be avoided by keeping drinks trays below the level of the console, so they only spill on the floor. Consoles benefit the most from regular cleaning so dust doesn't have time to form a stuck-down layer.
So, to clean a console you need something that will get in the crevices, and a vacuum cleaner is ideal, with a very small nozzle. Use this daily and your console will be spotless and your faders and potentiometers smooth and not scratchy. Let some dust collect and stick and you will need something more aggressive - a paintbrush is good, about 25 mm in width. Obviously one that has never been used for painting!
When dusting the console with a brush, try not to brush the dust into the components but away from them, particularly the faders.
If you are ever lucky enough to work in a studio as an assistant, your console cleaning abilities will earn you brownie points with the manager that you can trade for free use of downtime!
By David Mellor, Course Director of Audio Masterclass, previously published in Record-Producer.com or in print, republished by Music-Recording.com September 1, 2008