How do below-freezing temperatures affect audio equipment?


I now have an attic to use for studio space. We've spent some time taping down noisy windows and sweeping and vacuuming, putting some pieces of carpet down, and we did some sound checks today. While this isn't a perfect space, it's acoustically better than my small studio room. There's only one problem: It's winter, and this space has no heat.

A space heater will help during tracking sessions, and we plan to put one in. However, the temperature at night will dip below freezing, and leaving a space heater on all night isn't an option, for safety reasons.

We're planning to remove all instruments and equipment except for cables each night, assuming that this will be a problem. (Fortunately, the drum kit has been kept in an outdoor shed for many years, so there's very likely little that additional exposure to cold can do to it.)

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Here's our plan for what stays in the cold and what gets brought down:

Bring down each night:

  • Macbook with MOTU interface
  • Dynamic mics
  • 3 condensor mics
  • Guitars, bass, mandolins
  • Delicate hand percussion
  • Studio monitors

Leave in the attic, can be exposed to cold:

  • Sturdy hand percussion (plastic tambourine, shakers, etc)
  • Mic stands (leave in position)
  • Cables (taped in position to desk)
  • Power conditioner
  • Instrument stands
  • Full drum kit (for reasons above)

My question:

Does this plan make sense? Should we be worried about the cold on studio electronics? Or is this even an issue--are we worrying for no reason?

I've always assumed that cold is a problem for electronics, but I'm not certain why.

Goodbye Stack Exchange

Posted 2012-01-13T17:53:28.277

Reputation: 1 631



I'm not sure how the electronics will react to the cold. Usually the owners manual will have an operating temperature range that will at least tell you what the manufacturer recommends. That being said, I've left my keyboard and laptop in the car in freezing temperatures several times with no adverse effects.

One thing you will need to pay attention to is moisture. Just think what it is like for someone wearing glasses to go from outside on a cold day into a warm house. The glasses fog up immediately. You don't want your electronics or instruments to have this happen since they could easily be damaged by excess moisture. This shouldn't be too much of a problem with the things left in the attic because they will be warmed and cooled fairly gradually, but you will want to make sure to warm up the place before bringing in the instruments.

Keep in mind that all instruments will be affected by temperature and all wooden instruments will be affected by humidity (moisture causes the wood to swell). If the temperature/humidity changes during a set, the entire sound may change not to mention the instruments will require frequent tuning.

One thing that may help keep the room from getting too cold is to add some insulation in the ceiling and walls. This will change the sound of the room quite a bit, but should keep in some of the heat leaking through from the lower floors.

Don't forget, you may run into some trouble in the summer also due to excess heat, but it's probably safe to put an air conditioner in the window to keep the room to a reasonable temperature when the room is not in use and just turn it off while recording.

Friend Of George

Posted 2012-01-13T17:53:28.277

Reputation: 3 426


As long as the electronics are off, they'll probably be OK. For example, Apple's MacBook Pro Technical Specifications give a minimum storage temperature of -13°F/-24°C.

You didn't indicate what type of condenser mics you're using, but (for example) a Shure SM81 (the first one Google found me a temperature range for) is spec'd for storage in -20°F/-29°C.

Check the manuals (or search only) for the technical specs on your electronics, normally storage temperature is given.

I'm not sure where you live, but once summer comes, I'd be much more worried about the high temperatures during a summer day. Cooking kills electronics much quicker than freezing.


Posted 2012-01-13T17:53:28.277

Reputation: 266


There are two enemies of solid state electronics: heat and dust. Excessive heat will shorten MTBF (mean time between failures), while a significant build up of dust will act as an insulator and trap heat. Often I see computers that have died prematurely because the internal fans were so full of dust they clogged and stopped functioning. While you are worried about excessive cold, I want to tell you that some electronic devices are purposely refrigerated to optimize performance. I am referring to the radio receivers on astronomical radio telescopes, the cooling assists in improving the signal to noise ratio.

Although this is a rare case, it appears appropriate for your situation. Because you are dealing with more than solid state electronics, such as monitors, guitars, mic, etc., taking precautions is a good idea. I think the main thing you want to consider here is the change from below freezing temperatures and normal room temp (~68 F) and back again. These changes will affect expansion and compression of the materials. I would not leave a $2000 dollar Gibson or any guitar I cared about in a room that was not temperature and humidity controlled. I would prioritize your expensive instruments as the first things that need to be cared for as in allowing the room to warm up before bringing them back in the attic.


Posted 2012-01-13T17:53:28.277

Reputation: 1 594


Just as an anecdote I was working in Alaska and we had an outdoor event and we set up some huge projectors. Needless to say the fans froze and even though it was freaking cold the thing didn't survive that long.... Anyway, I think your approach is good as far as to what to remove and what to leave in the room. As you state, leave the mic stands in position since the plastic would break easily at low temperatures. I really hope the weather is somewhat warmer during the day because your musicians won't make a good record at all, give them hot chocolate and keep them happy :-) Also treat transducers like ladies, the plastic used as suspensions (the one around the diaphragms) are very picky and vulnerable to extreme temperatures.


Posted 2012-01-13T17:53:28.277