Q: I’ve been comparing “X” and “Y” consoles. Which one is best for us?
A: This is a bit of a tough one for me because I work with one particular brand of console several days each week. However, what follows are just straight facts.
When evaluating consoles, it comes down to a few key points: number of processable inputs, number of processable outputs, workflow, and tech support. Price point is a factor, but by the time you get through the first two points of the list you’ve set yourself into a price zone.
Processable inputs – this is how many inputs that can be processed – not how many physical inputs are available – but how many can actually be processed with EQ, compression, or a gate. If a worship band has 28 inputs, know that you need to process at least 28 inputs, and add at least a few extra channels for future growth.
Processable outputs – this is how many outputs that can be processed – not how many physical XLR sockets there are – but how many different mixes that can be sent out. Another way of phrasing it is the number of available buses. On some consoles, there may be four buses (that’s a weirdly low number but stick with me here) but 10 outputs. This means you can create four different mixes but you can send them out to 10 different places. Do you need more mixes? Or do you just need more copies of the same mix to go out to more places?
OK, you’ve probably moved yourself into a particular price range. Next up is workflow. The workflow is how you maneuver around the console while you’re using it and how it compares to how your brain prefers to work. Some folks really love how to get around on certain brands of consoles, while others prefer the simplicity of others.
Workflow is something you can only get with your hands on the board. Getting a demo is not overly difficult if you work with local reps, integrators, or dealers of the brands you’re looking at. It’s always a little slow learning something new, but you may find a better workflow or something quicker than what you’re currently using. You won’t know until you give it a try with an open mind, but the workflow holds a lot of weight in determining what console will be right for you and your team.
Finally, tech support. People don’t give this enough thought, in my humble opinion. Something will go wrong. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, and I always like knowing it’s easy to contact a company or a support line (or even a community) to get it fixed in a timely fashion.
If a manufacturer is known for non-existent support services, maybe don’t go with them. It’s like insurance. It seems like a waste of a thought right up until you absolutely need it – then you’re eternally grateful.
Do some research, ask questions of others about their experiences with tech support. How do you contact them? Will you get to talk to a human? People have strong opinions about tech support so they probably won’t be afraid to tell you how good, mediocre or horrible it is.
Q: How do I know what our church should be spending money on in terms of tech?
A: There’s a lot of gear out there. Tons. Some of it’s amazing and comes at a cost, some it’s terrible and still costs a lot, once in a while there’s something both great and relatively inexpensive. I’ve talked about this in one of my podcast episodes, but will lay it out a little more here.
Let’s start with wireless system channels. You truly get what you pay for across the board. Determine how many channels of wireless you absolutely must have and see what you can afford. If you need four channels of wireless and there’s $2,000 in the budget, you’re going to get four pretty solid, dependable channels. But if you’re “in need” of eight channels with that same budget it can be a different story.
Batteries seem to have a lot of give and take in them as far as pricing/quality. Simply, it comes down to trying out different brands and seeing how long each one lasts. Safe to say that batteries should probably last at least one service.
Plugins. I try to get the most done I can with stock processing (a reason to invest in a nicer console) because I don’t like relying on third-party gear in my chain. I’m sure many third-party plugins are amazing, I just don’t like adding in tons of variables into my signal chain. I’m a simple person looking to make a big impact with the tools at my disposal, so if it’s up to me, I’d save money on plugins and get a console with some heft.
Finally, take a look at all your church’s tech gear, audio or otherwise, and take note of what is (and what “feels like) on its last legs and/or is so outdated that it’s no longer supported. And remember: buying for the sake of buying is not a good practice.
Q: I vaguely know what IP addresses are and see them on almost all digital audio gear. What should I have them set to?
A: The quick answer: usually whatever the default IP address of the gear in question will work just fine. But not always! Like most things in audio, the real answer is, “It depends.” But let’s shed a little light on this topic. Dan Leafblad has a great ongoing network series of articles that are worth checking out on ProSoundWeb (here) for more information on the topic.
An IP address is not unlike your house address — it’s a way to specify a specific location amongst many possible locations. Every device on a network (a network, for the sake of this example, being some devices connected over WiFi or Ethernet cable) needs an address so other devices can see it. It’s like asking the mail person to deliver a letter on Main Street but there aren’t any address numbers on the buildings — how will they know where to deliver the letter?
You’ve likely seen an IP address that looks something like this: 126.96.36.199. Each little section of that IP address is called an octet.
The next field you’ll usually see in the network settings of wireless systems and digital consoles will be what’s called a subnet mask (usually looks something like 255.255.255.0). In our little audio networking world, these are the two most important fields. The subnet mask, simply, is a way to dictate how many octets need to match between devices in order to see one another.
Let’s say I’m going to set my console and want to use my iPad to mix. The console is on its default IP address of 192.168.1.60 and has a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0. This means my iPad’s IP address will need to match the first three octets of my console’s IP address in order to see it and connect. If my subnet mask on my console was set to 255.255.0.0, it means the first two octets would need to match. So, if my console is set at 192.168.1.60 with a subnet mask of 255.255.255.0, I will have to set my iPad to have an IP address of 192.168.1.X (anywhere from 1-255).
It’s good practice to have audio gear set to static (unchanging) IP addresses (compared to something called DHCP, which is a sort of auto-assign). That way, you always know what it is and can easily find it on what might be a large network. It’s also highly recommended to have all audio (and video and lighting) gear on its own special network that nobody else has access to. (Again, see Dan Leafblad for details on why.)
My recommendation is to set gear at their default addresses (or change the last digit) and have all tech gear on its own network. This creates ease of use and added security. Once you start putting gear on large networks, the conversation can get a little more complicated so be sure to work with a qualified IT member during setup.
To troubleshoot connectivity, I always advise checking the IP address of the devices that are being connecting together and make sure things are matching where they should be matching. If the devices still can’t find one another, take an Ethernet cable and plug one directly into the other (no WiFi and no switch – we’re eliminating variables here!) and try again. In my time in this field, I’ve found that extra gear is often a culprit, as well as network settings on a computer.