Study Hall

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Bringing Common Sense To Gear Purchasing

How do you best go about the process of choosing which new "thingamajig" exactly right for your situation?

So you need a new “thingamajig” for your system? The problem: there are so many brands and types of this thingamajig available, how do you best go about the process of choosing the one is exactly right for your situation?

Sometimes buying a new toy – rather than being fun and exciting — is instead fraught with frustration and indecision. And the need rarely comes at a “financially convenient” time.

Purchasing professional audio gear can’t be an impulse decision, because nothing in this business is cheap. If you guess wrong, it’s very difficult (and likely financially not possible) to justify buying yet another unit. Therefore, the first rule is to determine right up front that there will be no hurry, and that emotions won’t rule the day.

“What Do I Really Need?”

That is the key question. Start by evaluating your market and considering your chosen place in that market.

The needs of a small company primarily providing systems for local bands in clubs and smaller events are going to be quite different from a regional provider working concerts and larger festivals.

Meanwhile, a regional provider shopping higher end pro gear still might not actually need the level of gear required by a large company specializing in touring packages.

A personal example: My company is a regional provider whose primary clients are promoters of concerts attracting crowds of 2,000 to 4,000, as well as festivals that host “rising and falling” national acts.

Our current primary consoles are Crest Century Series — excellent desks that have all the necessary features while being non VCA models. Would we prefer VCA? Absolutely. But will our market support the cost of VCA consoles? Absolutely not!

A Yamaha PM4000 or Midas Heritage desk can’t pay for itself in this market, and this is a fact we’ve come to grips with. Once or twice a year, we encounter an artist that insists on a VCA console, so we’ve lined up a reliable source (several hundred miles away) that cross-rents us the required desk. It’s a much more economically prudent approach for our particular business.

Note that this approach keeps emotion and ego out of the equation, leaving a carefully considered solution meeting the real need. O.K. – let’s go shopping!

Those Pesky Numbers

Budget is the very first aspect to be determined:

— How much can you afford to spend on this thingamajig?
— Is there cash on hand or will a loan be necessary?
— How much should realistically be invested?
— And, will buying this item impact the ability to purchase other needed items now or in the near future? (This is what I call the “other needs” question, and it’s a big one.)

Right off the bat, narrow down the money issue. With, say, $500 to spend, all of the “Cadillac” brands and units are likely off the table. But with $5,000 to spend, the MI stuff probably isn’t a consideration. Where to start looking depends upon what you have to spend.

Now, enter the “other needs” question, which helps further clarify the situation. In our business, for example, we’ve often had to settle for something a little more cost-effective to keep our inventory intact. Checks and balances.

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The focus then becomes compiling a list of possible gear choices. There are several resources to access in compiling this list, topped by talking with fellow sound people, and even better, visiting them to see what they’re using and how they’re using it.

Also be sure to ask how they like a component, and whether they’d replace it with something else if they had the chance. But keep this input in perspective – we’d all like to have the latest and greatest, but think budget first, not emotionally and apply that filter to any input provided by others.

Two other important aspects to be sure to ask about: reliability and service. Has the component been reliable, and if not, what were/are the problems? And is the company responsive to answering questions and providing all assistance possible if a problem occurs?

Remember that with some components of a lesser price, you get what you pay for, and this goes well beyond feature sets.

Most of us get at least three or four pro audio magazines every month. Browse them, noting the advertisements and product reviews, while, of course, keeping these two aspects in their proper perspective. Make note of candidates that pique your interest while realistically fitting both system and budget needs.

Visit the web sites of manufacturers who offer possible choices, and by all means, explore the web sites of all pro audio manufacturers you can think of in order to see if they offer any units you weren’t aware of. None of us can ever possibly know everything that’s available.

What Is Requested?

Your list should now have a number of viable “possibles” on it — time to start narrowing the focus. Here’s where keeping all those riders of past bands/gigs can come in handy. (You do keep old riders, don’t you?)

Search these riders and see what the band engineers have requested in the recent past. (Don’t go too far in the past, because technology keeps advancing, especially these days.)  Are there trends? Does anything stand out as requested repeatedly? AND: is there anything that some have specifically listed as taboo?

At this point, your list should be reduced to a much more manageable size. Time to compare apples to apples, and I do this by carefully reading the published specifications for all units on the list. This information can almost always be found on manufacturer web sites.

For more information, look up manufacturer sales representative firms (reps) serving your region. If this isn’t provided on the web site, call the manufacturer to ask. You’re likely going to place an order with one of these rep firms anyway, so it’s good to make contact before your final decision. Besides, any good rep will bend over backward to do whatever it takes to get your business.

Your list should now be quite short, and after consideration of the various bells and whistles on each unit, you might be down to the final candidate. But what if there are two candidates and you just can’t pull the trigger on a final decision?

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More Sources

Time to access additional recommendations from colleagues. This can be done via conversations (phone or in person), but also keep in mind there are several on-line pro audio communities where folks get together to air likes and dislikes.

Most notable among these is the Live Audio Board (LAB) and the LAB Lounge on ProSoundWeb. Before diving in to ask your questions, be sure to do a search and review previous conversations that could well address what you’re looking for. If not, post your inquiry, and you’re bound to get a least a few replies with first-hand, specific information.

Further, if there are any hidden foibles in any of these devices, someone is bound to bring it up. Issues of reliability and service will also likely be addressed, particularly if someone has had a bad experience or if a company has gone “above and beyond.” Just don’t forget that with open forums, a lot of what you get is opinion .

Once all of the information sources have been exhausted and there’s been an opportunity to fully digest the research, it’s time for a decision. Now, and only now is the time to dive in!

Whether you float or sink depends on how well you’ve done the homework. And in the end, only you (and you alone) can decide which item is right. Happy shopping!

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