Should we upgrade? That’s the short version of an email I received this week. Every piece of gear will eventually need to be repaired, replaced, or upgraded. There are four times when a replacement or an upgrade is due.
I need to pause and say that an upgrade does not mean an improvement in sound. Horrific room acoustics or bad mixing techniques aren’t solved by better equipment. Annnnd, we move on.
The Four Times for New Gear
1. Wiggle wiggle
The moment equipment becomes unreliable, it needs to be repaired, replaced, or upgraded. For example, if an audio cable has to be wiggled just the right way for your cheapo DI to work, then the DI needs to go.
The repair, replace, upgrade decision is easy with the affordable gear. For example, a cheap DI would be cheaper to replace than to get repaired – assuming it’s no longer covered under warrantee. Keeping with the DI example, it’s now a matter of evaluating the needs of the DI, the budget, and matching that with what’s on the market. For example, would a Whirlwind DI be good or would a Radial be more appropriate.
What about audio consoles?
I’ve had to take an old mixer in for repair on more than one occasion. For an analog console the hourly bill rate for repair could quickly exceed the price of a replacement. And this gets into picking a replacement console which is another matter.
2. Coming to you from 1973
There are many ways gear can affect the sound quality, from the age of the gear to the quality of the gear. For example, speakers will eventually need replaced because of aging. Speaker components can be replaced but let’s keep this simple.
Another area is the age of the technology. I have a guitar effects rack unit that was state of the art, twenty years ago. The sounds it produces sound old. And I don’t mean it has a vintage tone, I mean it sounds dated.
Just because it has worked for years doesn’t mean you should still use it.
3. Where would you like this?
Now we get into dangerous territory. You’ve got a 24-channel mixer and you’re using every channel. Now you’ve added more musicians and you need more channels. A popular cheat is running all of the acoustic drum channels to a sub-mixer. While this works, it’s a bandage fix.
What works and what’s best aren’t always the same thing.
4. The end is near
You’re not going to like us. Brian and I both agree equipment has a life expectance of five-to-ten years. After that, it can:
- Sound outdated.
- Become unreliable.
- Stop working completely.
Any time equipment is nearing the five-year mark, you need to have a plan for a straight replacement or an upgrade.
There are a few exceptions to this life expectancy rule:
- Microphones. A top-notch microphone is worth its weight in gold. However, a low-budget microphone should be replaced when the money is available.
- Vintage gear. And when I say vintage, I mean its street value is significantly higher now than when it was first released. Honestly, this is more for stuff a musician might own.
- Great quality passive direct boxes.
The Take Away
Upgrade gear because it’s unreliable, sounds dated, is near or passed its ten-year life expectancy, or can’t meet the current task – I’m giving her all I’ve got, Captain!
It’s usually not easy to get approval on big-dollar gear upgrades. I developed a six-step approach to ask for such an upgrade. And, it includes giving the upgrade “the screen test.”