Saturday, November 7, 2015

Driving A Throwaway World

My hometown theater spent about $150,000 on audio gear this year. The theater was pretty well equipped before, with JBL MP418SP subs and JBL MP415 mains, a decent collection of QSC power amps, perfectly functional monitors and side-fills, and a 24-channel Yamaha analog mixer. Everything worked and it was paid for, something hardly anyone cares about in today’s jacked-up credit card and second-mortgage world. For the $150k, the town got a 48-channel DiGiCo SD-9 Surface & Two D-Rack. SD-9, Dynacord PWH subs and Dynacord Cobra tops, with Dynacord VL 262 under-balcony fills and front stage boxes, and a crap-load of EV power amps oddly located about 100’ from the speaker boxes (a whole ‘nother discussion). So far, pretty much no one substantial who has played the auditorium has wanted to mix on the DiGiCo. So, mostly the ~$40k spent on the mixer has been for some pretty undemanding shows with the toughest stuff being low-turnout local pop bands. As a local taxpayer, I’m less than impressed with the decision process the city used to spend my money.

At a completely different end of this discussion, though, I can’t see anyone having a good justification for spending more than $5-8k on a digital console of any sort. Using actual business rationale, the payback on digital gear has to be really short to make any sense at all. The Return on Investment (ROI) should be calculated to arrive in 3-5 years (max) because the equipment will be obsolete and unrepairable in about that time. If you don’t think that is either a reality or an important part of the decision-making process, you are part of the reason that we live in an unsustainable throwaway society.

my boots

On a much lower economic scale, I recently bought a pair of Red Wing boots. I live in Red Wing and some of my neighbors make these things, so I decided to spend big and buy local. The boots I bought, on the left, are pretty high priced but they are tough and well-built and super comfortable and (above all, for the investment price) are repairable. They can be resoled by pretty much any shoe repair shop anywhere in the country. I expect to be wearing these boots the day I die. On the other hand, Red Wing and pretty much everyone else imports boots from China and other low-labor-cost places like the boots on the right. redwing_606_bootsThey are, admittedly, a little cooler looking, cheaper, and just as tough and comfortable. I don’t know if those things are true, but I assume they are and don’t care. I can not convince myself to spend $200 on a pair of boots that I’ll wear out in a year and have to toss because the soles are not replaceable. Crazy, right? Probably.

Likewise, I can’t convince myself that there is any sonic or functional value to a $30k DiGiCo console over a $5k Midas or Yamaha or, even, a $2500 Presonus digital console. I sincerely do not believe there will be any noticeably audible difference in any of this equipment and I fully expect each of these products to be junk in well under a decade. Since you could buy 6 of the Midas/Yamaha consoles for the same money in that period, I’d think the decision is a no-brainer. Why it wasn’t for our city confuses me.

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Wirebender Audio Rants

Over the dozen years I taught audio engineering at Musictech College and McNally Smith College of Music, I accumulated a lot of material that might be useful to all sorts of budding audio techs and musicians. This site will include comments and questions about professional audio standards, practices, and equipment. I will add occasional product reviews with as many objective and irrational opinions as possible.