When Cheaper is Not Less Expensive

Photo courtesy of Tim Parkinson

Photo courtesy of Tim Parkinson

Now that much of my time is spent developing AVL budgets for churches, I’ve spent a lot of time considering what constitutes a good value. One of the things I’ve noticed for a long time is that many churches shop based on price only. They may be comparing two pieces of equipment that do similar things and choose the least expensive. Sometimes that’s a good idea, but more often than not, it turns out the lowest price doesn’t equal the lowest cost. 

This is especially true when you begin to factor in the cost of labor. This has been one of the more fascinating thing for me to start looking at closely. Here’s an example that might surprise you.

A Tale of Two Microphones

Shure makes two mid-range digital wireless mic systems, the ULX-D and the QLX-D. Both offer similar audio performance, but the QLX-D brings several key features to the table. They also make a ULX-D dual and quad system, which is two and four receivers in a single rack space. 

Now, if you look at the line item pricing on the ULX-D Quad, you might think it’s a lot more expensive per-channel than both the regular ULX-D and the QLX-D. However, when you price it out with all the accessories you need for four channels of wireless, and consider the installed cost, the Quad actually comes out ahead. How can this be?

The big selling factor for the Quad is the fact that it’s four receivers in one space. The installers take it out of the box, rack it up, connect the four audio lines (or better, the Cat5 for Dante), connect power and two antenna lines and they’re done. With ULX-D single or QLX-D, they have four units to unbox, build into two rack mounted units (the receivers are normally 1/2 rack space), rack, wire, and then on the QLX-D, there’s the antenna distro. 

The extra time of doing all the work, especially when you go beyond four channels really tips the scales in the favor of the Quad. So we use it almost all the time. The more expensive product is actually less expensive for the church. Now, if a church wants to do all the install themselves and they have the time and knowledge, then the QLX-D is a better deal even with the antenna distro. 

Choosing Poorly

For years I’ve regaled you with tales of tearing out poorly chosen equipment that didn’t meet the goals of the church. This happens with speakers, wireless mic’s, projectors, lights, and a myriad of other gear. Often, it happens like this: 

The church has a need for something, say, new speakers. They’ll head down to the local Guitar Center or music shop or do some shopping at one of the large online retailers. They’ll talk to a salesman and ask, “What speakers should we buy?” The salesman may suggest something good, they may not. Speakers are bought, installed and everyone is disappointed. It may not be loud enough, clear enough or focused enough. Then they buy more speakers. If two are good, four are better, right? Then the sound gets worse. No one can figure out why the sound keeps getting worse. 

Finally, perhaps out of desperation, they’ll hire a company like the one I work for and we will actually do a design (for which we get paid), and take down all the “less expensive” speakers, and put up some good ones. Quite often, I’m taking down 2x as many speakers as we put back up, and people are stunned with the results. 

At the end of this road, the church has wasted a good deal of time, money, energy and may have even lost some members. The original intent was to save the congregation some money by not hiring one of the “expensive” integrators. But all they did was waste money and time. 

Doing it Once is Always Less Expensive

This is my rule; do it once, do it right. Spending money twice for a given system will always be more expensive than spending it once. This is just math. If you call me for a new PA and I tell you it will cost $50,000, then you decide to try to do it yourself with a $20,000 PA that we end up taking down in 2 years because it didn’t work, how much do you spend for the $50,000 PA? Hint, it’s more than $50,000. 

Here’s the bottom line: Get good advice. Take good advice.

Roland