What’s It Worth?

Working in a creative technical position I have to spec out solutions for various audio/video/lighting projects. One thing that I’ve learned is the difference in price does not give you the exact same proportional improvement. There is a point of diminishing returns for the extra cost vs. the improved performance/ features/ reliability/ durability/ etc…

A $5,000 Rolex does basically the same thing as a $10 Casio, they keep fairly accurate time. One illustration I’ve found helpful is asking if this were a car we were buying what model would we be looking at? Do we need a cheap economy car (the smallest and cheapest Kia)? Do we want a reliable car (Like an Accord or Camry)? Or do we want something that has all the bells and whistles (Cadillac)? My bosses can’t always appreciate the difference between a Mackie analog console and our Yamaha M7CL but they understand the car analogy.

But working in a church we often have a limited budget and we are to be good steward of our resources. So how do I make good recommendations when spec’ing equipment for the church?

1) I’ve learned that if the piece of gear is going to be used on a regular basis, lets try to buy it once. Let’s think through all the possible scenarios this will be used for during the year. Will it meet those needs? If not would it make more sense to buy a product that will or rent gear for those few times it won’t.

Is this piece durable and will it hold up under regular use. The youth pastor spoke in our main service a few months ago and I used our DPA 4066 headset on him. He had had problems with a Countryman e6 staying in place but the DPA gave him a great fit and he sounded great. But he was shocked when I told him it was a $650 headset! Yes it’s probably the most expensive headset mic out there but for us the spoken word is important. And the quality (durability and sonic quality) is worth the price over a cheaper version (at the time the e6 was not available in a double ear set. He balked at the price and asked for an alternative. I found an Avalex headset for something like $250. I read a few decent reviews and pitched it to the youth pastor. It was in a price point he was comfortable. I told him I didn’t have any experience with the mic and for the price they are leaving something out. Well The connector that connects the mic to the bodypack has been stripped out 2 times. It could be them mishandling it, which they deny. The cable is replaceable but they’ve bought 2 of them in 3 months at $69. At this rate they’ll be at the cost of a DPA by next year.

If the piece of gear is not going to be used on a regular basis than I’m fine cutting corners. Or portable rig has been pieced together from left over gear from other rooms and you know what I’m fine having a old small mackie mixer because it does what we need it to 90% of the time. The other 10% I rent gear. It’s finding the balance.

– In our church we have multiple service going on at the same time. So for me I’ve started spec’ing similar gear for each room. If a presentation switcher is needed you get a Kramer VP719 or 724 depending on your needs. Everyone has the same CD players and CD recorders. I’ve even started spec’ing the same sound board if it meets their needs (currently the Mackie Onyx 24-4) board for several rooms. They use Easy Worhsip or ProPresenter just depends if they want a PC or Mac workflow. It makes training easier because if someone knows how one system works they can work the others.

– Know the weakest link in the chain. If you put a sports cars on bad bald tires guess what it’s not going to perform at it’s best. I try to keep the equipment at a constant level through the signal flow. This includes the talent in front, the operators behind the equipment and the acoustics of the room. In our sanctuary we had put in a nice sound system, we had good musicians and operators, decent acoustic and a good keyboard. But when we swapped out the 10 year old $25 DI with a nice DI the high end of the keys just popped out in the mix. Besides the speaker cable the DI was the cheapest part of the chain and the cheapest to upgrade. At the same time we don’t over do it. A Shure KSM9 handheld mic can sound great with a great singer. But I don’t need to put the backup singers in the youth band on a $700 handheld mic. It’s finding the balance.

I feel like this post has been a mental dump. I’ve been asked to come up with some solutions and then to reevaluate them with a lower budget. So I’m working through this process myself on a couple of projects. Looking for the best bang for the buck solution. But want to make sure it’s going to work for us and last. Or at least make sure my boss is aware we may need to replace said gear in 2 years when it breaks.


August 7, 2008. Random, Sound, Tech Stuff, Video.

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