Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Buying a New Mixer Pt. 3

I didn’t intend for this to be a 3-part series, but Justin raised an excellent point in a comment to my last post. I’ll reprint his comment here:

Having just gone through the whole mixer selection process, I wonder do you think there is a tipping point, so to speak, where the benefits of a digital desk more than account for the extra cost over a large analogue? For example, the absolute minimum requirements for us were 32+4 and 8-10 aux. In Oz this puts us in the 10k price range, where the Yamaha LS9 and Roland M400 come in at about 12k and 14k respectively.
I couldn’t justify 10k on a large analogue which hardly allows for future expansion and growth, when for a bit more you get more channels, double the aux sends, inbuilt FX and EQ, dynamics, scenes, better channel eq, VCA groups (roland), matrix mixing etc. I think in a few years I would have been cursing myself for not recommending a digital option.

[EDIT] It’s been pointed out that here in the states (I believe Justin is in Australia) an LS-9-32 can be had for $8,000 or less with no optional cards, and an M-400 is just a little bit more, depending on which digital snake option you choose. An analog desk that would meet his specs might be an A&H GL3800, which can be picked up for under $7,000. While our numbers are a little lower, the concept is the same. Thought I’d clarify that. [END EDIT–1/10/09]

I totally agree with Justin–there is a point where the two paths converge (or at least get close) and you must decide. In this case, a large analog desk would do the job, and be a little cheaper–at least initially. However, when you factor in needed outboard gear, and future expansion, the analog desk is going to be quite a bit more expensive.

One thing I can’t stand doing is buying something twice. Certainly companies do this, but churches are notorious for it. We all know the old saw, “most churches are on their third sound system.” That’s because they bought for the short term twice. They thought they were saving money, but they were spending it in the future.

Let’s take Justin’s example, because it serves the point well. He could have spent $10K on an analog mixer that would meet the needs of today. However, in a growing church, there are always new additions to the sound system, which means the need for more inputs and outputs. As the programming complexity increases, so too will the demands on the audio system. With the extra features (as listed above) a digital desk provides, spending an additional $2-4K today will save you $10K down the road. Not clear on the math? Look at it this way: Spend $10K now and in 3 years, spend $15K on the digital desk you should have bought today (you don’t think they’ll get less expensive, do you?). Total price for the digital desk=$25K, minus whatever you can get for a used analog board in 3 years. Or, you could spend $12-14K now, and be done for a good long while.

We must always think ahead when we purchase equipment. I know I’ve written this many times before, but for the new readers, it bears repeating. And, it’s always worth looking at higher end options, because quite often, you can get a lot more functionality for not a whole lot more money. For example, I’m in the market for a multi-function copier/printer/scanner for our church. When I priced out a 20 page per minute model with modest capabilities, it came out to be $3 more per month to lease a 25 PPM model with significant upgrades in features, quality, finishing options and speed. I’d be a fool not to recommend the higher model.

My rough rule of thumb is this: If spending 20% more today gives me an extra 5+ years of service on a piece of equipment due to increased functionality, service life or expansion, it’s worth it. Sometimes that threshold is higher or lower depending on actual dollar amounts. Alternately, if spending a little more now will add significantly to the feature set, even if you hadn’t identified those features as critical, it’s worth looking at. You may discover that those features will save a lot of time, make operation easier or simply add new functions you didn’t know it had. Often it’s worth it.

You do have to be careful, however. It’s easy to get sucked into the “just a little bit more” trap. Like extended fabric protection and rustproofing sold at the auto dealership, it’s easy to spend more for features that don’t add any value. Back to my copier example, I could spend a little bit more to get a hole puncher. Someone on staff even asked about it. However, we do so few pages that need to be punched that it’s more cost-effective to simply purchase drilled paper and print on that when we need to. Or spend $12 on a 3-hole punch. It’s not worth $35/month for 4 years. It would be cool though.

Thanks, Justin, for an excellent question. That’s one thing I really love about this forum–we can all learn from each other. All of us are smarter than one of us!

If you missed Part 1 or Part 2, well, there they are.

14 Comments

  1. sldghamr@hickorytech.net

    Mike, I’m just curious if you think the life of a digital mixer will really be long enough for this to be true? Won’t they be like computers? Do you know of any folks that didn’t buy way overkill to start with in a digital mixer over 5 years ago who are using the same unit? Just curious.

  2. sldghamr@hickorytech.net

    Mike, I’m just curious if you think the life of a digital mixer will really be long enough for this to be true? Won’t they be like computers? Do you know of any folks that didn’t buy way overkill to start with in a digital mixer over 5 years ago who are using the same unit? Just curious.

  3. sldghamr@hickorytech.net

    Sorry, I realized I wrote that a bit hastily. Perhaps the question really is, is there a difference in the usable life of an analog mixer vs. a digital mixer – for the original application (almost anything can be re-purposed after being superseded.)

  4. sldghamr@hickorytech.net

    Sorry, I realized I wrote that a bit hastily. Perhaps the question really is, is there a difference in the usable life of an analog mixer vs. a digital mixer – for the original application (almost anything can be re-purposed after being superseded.)

  5. justin.langman@gmail.com

    Hi Rick, this is also a point I considered, albeit briefly. I have no doubt that digital desks will be superseeded quite quickly. In fact I believe A&H are about to announce a low end mix rack system that compares very well on features and price to the yamaha. That may not be on the market for a while though. I’m sure soundcraft will be doing a small digital as well.

    I guess it ok’s for something to be superseeded, as long as it still meets your requirements and doesn’t become obsolete. Computers become obsolete as they accumulate software, slow down, and new programs arrive that require more processing power. A sound desk is a locked down hardware platform, that only ones run program, and performs one primary function, as such, it will always mix sound as it did from new.

  6. justin.langman@gmail.com

    Hi Rick, this is also a point I considered, albeit briefly. I have no doubt that digital desks will be superseeded quite quickly. In fact I believe A&H are about to announce a low end mix rack system that compares very well on features and price to the yamaha. That may not be on the market for a while though. I’m sure soundcraft will be doing a small digital as well.

    I guess it ok’s for something to be superseeded, as long as it still meets your requirements and doesn’t become obsolete. Computers become obsolete as they accumulate software, slow down, and new programs arrive that require more processing power. A sound desk is a locked down hardware platform, that only ones run program, and performs one primary function, as such, it will always mix sound as it did from new.

  7. derekstudt@gmail.com

    I just wanted to make a quick comment on the pricing quoted on the LS9. I AM NOT A DEALER. I’m tech director at a church in Tampa who is going to be getting the 32 ch version and just wanted to chime in and say that 12k for an LS9 is highway robbery! According to MAP pricing (minimum advertised price) an LS9-32 is only $8300 or $8400 (can’t remember which). Obviously that’s no road case, aviom card, or shipping, but you get the point…the actual street price is significantly cheaper than what is listed above. That is a LOT of money in the church world. If you have a solid relationship with a dealer you can certainly get it even cheaper than that. Surely Justin is quoting list price.

    The bottom line is that the LS9 can certainly be had with an aviom card for no more than $9k just by buying at MAP pricing. Something to chew on for those who are considering this console as an option and are looking for an accurate pricing comparison. Kinda makes it even more of a no brainer IMO if you’re looking for a 32ch console with 16 outs. Not to mention that you don’t need to buy outboard gear for channel inserts.

  8. derekstudt@gmail.com

    I just wanted to make a quick comment on the pricing quoted on the LS9. I AM NOT A DEALER. I’m tech director at a church in Tampa who is going to be getting the 32 ch version and just wanted to chime in and say that 12k for an LS9 is highway robbery! According to MAP pricing (minimum advertised price) an LS9-32 is only $8300 or $8400 (can’t remember which). Obviously that’s no road case, aviom card, or shipping, but you get the point…the actual street price is significantly cheaper than what is listed above. That is a LOT of money in the church world. If you have a solid relationship with a dealer you can certainly get it even cheaper than that. Surely Justin is quoting list price.

    The bottom line is that the LS9 can certainly be had with an aviom card for no more than $9k just by buying at MAP pricing. Something to chew on for those who are considering this console as an option and are looking for an accurate pricing comparison. Kinda makes it even more of a no brainer IMO if you’re looking for a 32ch console with 16 outs. Not to mention that you don’t need to buy outboard gear for channel inserts.

  9. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Derek raises a good point. I’ve gotten quotes on an LS-9 for $7,400. Even if you add in an Aviom card, an EtherSound card and the new Stage Box, you’re still under $12,000. If I’m not mistaken, Justin is located in Australia, and pricing is going to be different. I didn’t take that into account when I wrote this post.

    However, the point still stands…even if the LS-9 were $14,000, it would still be worth the cost do to the significant increase in features over a $10,000 analog desk. And you’re right–at $9,000, it’s a no brainer. Cheaper and better, how often does that happen?

  10. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Derek raises a good point. I’ve gotten quotes on an LS-9 for $7,400. Even if you add in an Aviom card, an EtherSound card and the new Stage Box, you’re still under $12,000. If I’m not mistaken, Justin is located in Australia, and pricing is going to be different. I didn’t take that into account when I wrote this post.

    However, the point still stands…even if the LS-9 were $14,000, it would still be worth the cost do to the significant increase in features over a $10,000 analog desk. And you’re right–at $9,000, it’s a no brainer. Cheaper and better, how often does that happen?

  11. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Rick–that’s a good question. Though digital desks are essentially big, single purpose computers, I don’t think the same rules of obsolescence apply. Computers become “obsolete” because new ones come out that will run new software with new functionality better and faster. Even in that case, however, the old computer still works and one can still be productive on it. Just under a year ago I sold a 8 year-old PowerBook G3 for $350. It still ran fine, and while certainly slower than my MacBook Pro, still fetched e-mail, surfed the web and allowed me to compose documents and spreadsheets. Was it obsolete? Probably. Useless? Not really–I was using it daily until I got my new laptop.

    Justin said it well regarding digital desks. I don’t think they will become obsolete any faster than analog one would. We replace analog desks when the faders get noisy, inputs start failing, knobs break off or it no longer meets our needs. A digital desk will be the same, though I don’t think it will happen any faster. As long as it passes signal cleanly and has enough inputs and outputs for the task at hand, it will be functional.

    In fact, digital desks (at least some of them anyway) have an advantage in that regard. If you spend $8,000-9000 on an LS-9-32 today and in two years decide you need another 16 inputs and outputs, for well under $1,000 you can drop in a MY-Card and you’re in business. Try that with an analog console. In that sense, it makes sense to buy a digital desk with expansion capability, and it will stay useful far longer than a comparably (or lower) priced analog console.

  12. mike@churchtecharts.org

    Rick–that’s a good question. Though digital desks are essentially big, single purpose computers, I don’t think the same rules of obsolescence apply. Computers become “obsolete” because new ones come out that will run new software with new functionality better and faster. Even in that case, however, the old computer still works and one can still be productive on it. Just under a year ago I sold a 8 year-old PowerBook G3 for $350. It still ran fine, and while certainly slower than my MacBook Pro, still fetched e-mail, surfed the web and allowed me to compose documents and spreadsheets. Was it obsolete? Probably. Useless? Not really–I was using it daily until I got my new laptop.

    Justin said it well regarding digital desks. I don’t think they will become obsolete any faster than analog one would. We replace analog desks when the faders get noisy, inputs start failing, knobs break off or it no longer meets our needs. A digital desk will be the same, though I don’t think it will happen any faster. As long as it passes signal cleanly and has enough inputs and outputs for the task at hand, it will be functional.

    In fact, digital desks (at least some of them anyway) have an advantage in that regard. If you spend $8,000-9000 on an LS-9-32 today and in two years decide you need another 16 inputs and outputs, for well under $1,000 you can drop in a MY-Card and you’re in business. Try that with an analog console. In that sense, it makes sense to buy a digital desk with expansion capability, and it will stay useful far longer than a comparably (or lower) priced analog console.

  13. justin.langman@gmail.com

    Yes I only mentioned it quickly in passing but I am from Australia. Prices are a little different over here. I used the Roland for the first time in anger (a service) today, and had so many positive comments about the clarity of the sound. I was smiling for the entire service. It was truly a joy to mix this morning. I could not be happier.

    The band were also amazed at how clean and clear their foldbacks were since I could insert some 31 bands on our tricky mics instead of hacking the monitor GEQs. There was even a last minute special 3 vocal/acousitc guitar item, and I only thought at the last minute to set up a different scene for them. It was fantastic to have them pick up the singers mics, but then set seperate eq, fx and foldback and not have to remember to turn 37 knobs, or thereabouts :). That in itself makes it worthwhile!

  14. justin.langman@gmail.com

    Yes I only mentioned it quickly in passing but I am from Australia. Prices are a little different over here. I used the Roland for the first time in anger (a service) today, and had so many positive comments about the clarity of the sound. I was smiling for the entire service. It was truly a joy to mix this morning. I could not be happier.

    The band were also amazed at how clean and clear their foldbacks were since I could insert some 31 bands on our tricky mics instead of hacking the monitor GEQs. There was even a last minute special 3 vocal/acousitc guitar item, and I only thought at the last minute to set up a different scene for them. It was fantastic to have them pick up the singers mics, but then set seperate eq, fx and foldback and not have to remember to turn 37 knobs, or thereabouts :). That in itself makes it worthwhile!

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