Choosing a New Audio Console, Pt. 3

We’re in the home stretch! We’ve already covered my belief that for the most part, most modern audio consoles sound good enough for most churches. We’ve talked about how important expandability and usability is, and considered if it needs to be volunteer friendly or not (that may become another post at some point…). Today we’ll wrap up with some final considerations for purchasing a new audio console.

Ecosystem

As much as we’d like all components from all manufacturers to play nice together, the reality is they don’t. Even with common transport protocols like Dante and MADI, it’s not always possible to take equipment from company A and make it work with company B. To be fair, Dante is making interoperability easier, but that comes with it’s own set of complexities. 

Some manufacturers offer a complete ecosystem; consoles, stage racks, recorders, maybe even in-ear monitors. Going this route makes integration and support much easier. When everything is designed to work together, it usually does and works better than systems that were not so integrated. This isn’t to say you can’t mix and match, but you have to be a lot more careful.

Another way to look at an ecosystem is to consider how the systems scale. You may have a main venue that requires a big console, and two or three other venues that only need smaller desks. Does the company make consoles of various sizes that will work in both settings? Whenever possible, I like to keep consoles similar throughout the venue. This minimizes training time and makes it easy for operators to move among rooms easily. This isn’t always possible, but consider it when you can.

Support

Generally, most manufacturers offer pretty good support for their consoles. But some will offer reps who are in or near your town. Others may have a really great reputation for 24/7 phone support. Some do not. This is a good question to ask when shopping for a console. For those of us who work in the Church, we don’t usually have problems between the hours of 8-4 PM, Eastern time Monday-Friday. Our problems tend to crop up at 7:30 AM on Sunday. What happens when you pick up the phone to call? 

Sometimes, it will be up to the dealer to provide support. Again, this is a question you should ask before purchasing. 

Interoperability

This is similar to ecosystem, but I want to emphasize the console being able to work with existing equipment. For the most part, audio consoles will input and output analog audio, which is pretty much universally compatible. But let’s say you have a PA with a DSP that will take AES audio or analog. AES would be better, but how easy is it to get AES out of your console? Some have AES outputs built in, others require a card. 

You may have a dedicated monitor or broadcast desk. How easy is it to make all that work? It may be as simple as an analog split, which may already be in place, however, it’s not the most elegant. A digital split might be better, but will the new console be able to split with the other ones? It may be that you want to replace all the consoles eventually, but how do you bridge the gap?

Perhaps you have your heart set on a particular personal mixing system and you’re looking for options to translate one digital protocol to another. Sometimes that can work OK, other times, it’s a headache. Be sure everything in the system will talk and play nicely before spending money on the new console. 

There you have it. My non-exhaustive list on things to consider before buying a new audio console. It’s easy to get excited about new equipment announcements and articles about how great a given console sounds. But in my experience, the console is usually not the weakest link in a church sound system. Consider the rest of the system, the operators and even the source material. For the most part, most modern consoles sound good enough. Think through the rest of the system and make sure it meets all of the needs

Roland

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