Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Month: March 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Shure Axient Wireless System: So What?

Over the last 3 posts, I’ve spent considerable time (and 3,000 words) telling you about the Axient system. Yes, it’s impressive. Yes it’s expensive. But the real question is, “So what?” Why should Axient even be on the radar? I think this is an important question. And it’s one that’s a bit tough to answer definitively at the moment, but I think will become more clear over the next 2-3 years. 

The reality is, our spectrum (or more correctly, available spectrum) is shrinking. The government has figured out it can make a boatload of cash by selling it off, and much like a heroin addict, will continue to do whatever it can to keep selling spectrum. There are a bunch of proposals before congress and the FCC right now that may (or may not) directly affect our ability run wireless mic’s in the spectrum we’re currently using. One proposal is to have TV stations re-locate to another channel, opening up their existing channel for sale. 

The FCC has been granted permission to sell more spectrum, and that option to sell has to take place by 2022, but we don’t know exactly what the plans will be yet. So while there is no immediate threat, change is coming. 

Second, as part of the DTV transition, we are starting to see TVBDs (TV Band Devices) showing up. The first stationary TVBD transmitter went live in Wilmington, NC on Jan. 12 of this year. As these devices start popping up, it’s going to mean all kinds of fun for us in the church world. The spectrum that was happy and clean at rehearsal could suddenly become a crowded mess when people start showing up in our auditoriums with TVBD-enabled tablets (or whatever they come up with). Again, not an immanent threat, but over the next 2-3 years, this is something we’ll be dealing with.

It will really become incumbent upon us as TDs to become experts at RF management. Of course, the first line of defense is to wire every mic that can easily be wired. But our pastors and worship leaders have gotten very used to being wireless, and telling them they can’t do that anymore is going to be a tough sell. 

On the other hand, they are going to be none too happy if their mic keeps getting knocked off air (or bombarded with interference) every weekend. That’s where a system like Axient really shines. You can set it up so that you are almost impervious to RF interference (at least from the congregation’s standpoint). 

Yes, Axient is expensive right now. But I suspect two things will happen over time; first, the price will likely come down a little bit as the system gains traction, and second, the technology will move downmarket. Other manufacturers will have to come up with a similar system as well, and competition will also force prices down. 

Several companies are already going to digital transmission (Line6 and AKG for example), and once you go digital, there are some cool things you can do. 

To some extent, the Axient system is sort of like early mini-computers in that it is offering unheard of power and performance at a premium price. Over time, that technology will migrate to the rest of the line, and in a few years I suspect that active interference avoidance will be “standard issue.” OK, maybe it will be 5-7 years, but I think it will happen—if only because it will have to.

Shure said they are working on more stuff based on this technology, and you have to know that other companies are as well. I think the upshot of this system is that it indicates we are on the cusp of a RF technology revolution. As someone who makes his living with technology, I am excited by this. 

Now I want to hear from you; what say you about the Axient line?

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Shure Axient Wireless System Pt. 3

 

So far we’ve discussed the transmitters and receivers, Spectrum Manager and ShowLink, and today we’ll move on to the final components of the system. First up is the AXT630 Antenna Distro (I told you the names weren’t that creative…). Like the familiar AWB845 we’re used to, the AXT630 is a wide-band distro; meaning you don’t have to select a frequency band. Unlike the 845, the 630 can be set up to filter the input to the band you’re using however. That keeps you from bombarding the receiver with a bunch of RF that’s outside their selected tuning range, presumably delivering a cleaner signal. 

Another new feature is adjustable gain and attenuation on the outputs. The 630 features 4 outputs plus an unfiltered cascade output. It also has two network ports that supply POE. Which, come to think of it, is something I should mention. All the Axient rack gear comes standard with 2 POE network ports and a built-in switch. So at a very basic level, you could build a system of a receiver or to, a Spectrum Manager and a ShowLink that can be powered right off the Ethernet port. But I digress…

The 630 is network controllable and boasts a very low noise linear design. And that’s about it. But what do you want, it’s an antenna distro.

AXT-200 Battery (left), AXT-100 Battery (right)

The other piece of the Axient puzzle is one that I’m particularly excited about; the new LiOn battery system. All of the Axient transmitters are designed to run on these new rechargeable batteries. You can buy a three AAA battery case for the body pack, but there is really no reason to do so, given how capable the recharging system is. 

The heart of the battery system is the AXT900 modular rack-mountable charger. There is a module for the body pack batteries, and another for the handheld cells. You can mix and match them, up to four modules in a rack (with each module holding 2 batteries each). They chargers are designed to hold the batteries for shipping, so after the show, you can throw the batteries in the rack, and the rack on the truck without worry. This is especially nice for portable churches. 

The batteries themselves are medical grade LiOn (Lithium Ion) with an onboard chip to monitor battery health and charge status. The chip communicates with the transmitters to deliver run-time information that is accurate to within ±15 minutes. Speaking of run time, because you have a lot of options with the transmitters, run time will vary. But you can figure on something like 7 hours with the body pack running at 10 mW; around 5 hours at 100 mW. The handheld will vary more, depending on whether you’re using frequency diversity or not. In single channel mode at 10 mW 9-10 hours seems likely; and it drops to 4-5 hours running in frequency diversity mode at 50 mW. 

The good news is that the chargers will put a 50% charge on the battery in 1 hour with the rest of the charge coming in another 2-3 hours if I remember right. As for life span, Shure claims the batteries will do 500 complete cycles and still be 80% of original capacity. 

As someone who has used and written about rechargeable batteries extensively, I’m glad to see the manufacturers going this way. It’s really not financially or ecologically responsible to continue to use disposable batteries any more, and this looks like a great system. 

Finally, the AXT620 is a ruggedized 10/100 Ethernet switch. It contains 8 ports, 4 of which are POE. Shure was careful to say that you don’t need to use their switch for the Axient system, but this one has some handy features on it. First, the ports are at the rear so you don’t have cables running from front to back (though there is a convenience port on the front). They also included a hard switch on the front to turn the DHCP server on and off. This is a great feature in and of itself. It’s also built to withstand the rigors of the road. Again, for a portable church setting, this would be a good investment.

Well, that’s the system. As I said at the beginning of this series, it’s pretty complete and well thought-out. The one question we’ve not yet addressed is the elephant in the room; how much does it cost? That question was brought up at the demo, and Shure was very cagy about it. This is the one point that I personally think will get them in trouble. When someone asked point blank, “How much is a receiver?” they couldn’t (wouldn’t?) tell us, saying only that it depends on how you configure the system. But let’s be honest, it’s a SKU; it has a line item price. Why can’t we just have that? 

The real reason is that it’s expensive; and I think justifiably so. When pressed, they said that a complete system would come in somewhere around $8,000 a channel. While that seems outrageous at first, consider that Sennheiser charges more than that for 5000 series, and it has none of the spectrum management and active interference avoidance Axient does. It is a scalable system, however, so you can build it in pieces.

But it gets interesting when you factor in the new ULX-D systems. I asked my rep to price out (at MAP) two systems; the first is a UHF-R system of 16 channels of ULX-4Ds, 16 UR-1s, 16 UR-2s (w/ SM58s) and antenna distro; the second consists of 2 AXT400s, 2 AXT100s, 1 AXT200 (so you can run the pastor and worship leader in freqency diversity mode), ShowLink, batteries, then 12 channels of ULX-D with both body packs and handhelds. Both are pretty complete systems, and would probably serve a 2000-4000 person church well.

When priced out at MAP (minimum advertised price, you may be able to get a better deal), the UHF-R system came it at about $54,000. But check this out: The Axient/ULX-D system came in at $52,000. I’m getting my first experience with the ULX-D as I write this, I my initial impressions are that I would replace UHF-R with ULX-D without a problem. 

Now, granted this is a 16 channel system with all the bells and whistles. It may be overkill to do both packs and sticks for all 16, and if you only need 12 channels, the price points may converge. But if you view Axient as part of a system, it’s more affordable than you might think.

Now if you’re still thinking, “So what, it’s still too expensive,” let me have you defer that thought until my final Axient post next time.

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Shure Axient Wireless System Pt. 2

Last time, we looked at the basic building blocks of the Axient system, namely the AXT100 body pack, the AXT200 handheld and the AXT400 receiver. We finally got to hear actual voices and instruments played through those components for the first time, and I was impressed with the overall sound quality (especially on vocals). The RF section is solid as well. But if these three pieces are the cake, the next few pieces of the system are like a really good gnache frosting. Let’s start with one of my favorite pieces, the AXT600 Spectrum Manager.

The Spectrum Manager is basically a wide-band RF scanner that constantly monitors the RF landscape, building a list of interference-free, compatible frequencies for the systems in place, and hands them out as needed. Put this in a two- or four-space rack and pair it with Wireless Workbench 6 and you have a killer RF spectrum management tool. At the most basic level, Spectrum Manager will build the list of main and backup frequencies for your gig. You can manually assign those frequencies to the gear on the network, then use IR to pair the transmitters. That’s nice, but it gets so much cooler. 

The next piece of the system is the AXT610 ShowLink access point. The engineers at Shure were clever enough to include 2.4 GHz radios into each of the transmitters that will talk back and forth with ShowLink. They used the Zigby protocol, so it won’t interfere with WiFi networks. Each 610 can control up to 16 transmitters and gives you complete control over every adjustable parameter of the transmitter. Ever set the gain on a handheld and get back to FOH during the gig and see the audio meters pegging into the red? With ShowLink, you can just dial that right back. Or if you want to save battery life, you can mute the RF section between sets. But it gets better.

When paired with Spectrum Manager (I told you it was a system), Axient can automatically detect and avoid interference. Yes, you read that right; RF hits on your wireless mic’s are a thing of the past. Here’s how it works. Say your handheld is tuned to 625.00 MHz. And let’s say someone shows up with one of those fancy new TVBD (TV Band Device) wireless internet gadgets (they’re coming; just wait!), and it’s also operating on 625. When that little bugger fires up, it would knock a conventional wireless system off the air. But the Axient receiver sees the interference and requests a new, clean frequency from Spectrum Manager (which always has a list of several dozen standing by). The receiver re-tunes to the new frequency, and ShowLink tells the transmitter to retune as well. This all takes place in under a half-second, and the audio dropout is barely audible. 

In fact, when the Shure folks were deliberately tuning to channels in use by the band, we didn’t hear anything; there was enough sustain and overall volume to cover up the incredibly brief audio dropout. And we never heard any fuzz, hiss or RF noise. Now, what I’ve just described is the single-channel operation. Personally, I think it’s good enough for 90% of wireless applications. But for that last 10% where even the slightest audio dropout is unacceptable, you can switch to frequency diversity mode. 

As I mentioned last time, the handheld has two complete RF radios in it and can tune to two frequencies at once. To use frequency diversity, you put the receiver in frequency diversity mode, and like RF diversity, it constantly compares the the signals coming in and outputs only the clean audio. All the audio switching is done in the receiver; all four outputs (ch 1&2, analog and AES) output the same signal, so there is nothing the FOH engineer has to do. If one channel takes a hit, the system goes through the re-tuning process I just described, but only after switching to the clean audio. 

The result is completely uninterrupted audio at all times. It was really impressive to watch both Jenn and David trying to knock the band’s wireless off-line during an entire song. They had multiple transmitters that they were tuning to the band’s frequencies, and Axient just kept moving around the interference. It can be set up to happen completely automatically, or only after a human confirms the change.

If you are using body packs, you can also use frequency diversity; however you need to to use two body packs. This is a specific design choice made based on user feedback. The broadcast guys said they were going to double-mic the talent anyway, so they might just as well have two packs. Otherwise, the system works the same. 

By now, the system is getting pretty impressive, but like a late-night infomercial, just wait! There’s more! And we’ll get to it in the next post. 

This post is brought to you by CCI Solutions. With a reputation for excellence, technical expertise and competitive pricing, CCI Solutions has served churches across the US in their media, equipment, design and installation needs for over 35 years.

Shure Axient Wireless System Pt. 1

Last week, Van and I had a really cool opportunity to fly out to Vegas for a day to see the newly released Shure Axient system in the wild. Well, perhaps not the actual wild; it was a Shure event, but there was a pretty good band there, and the Shure folks did their best to knock out the wireless during a couple of the sets. We’ve seen small, controlled demos of Axient before, but this was the first time we heard actual source material through it. Spoiler alert; it’s impressive. And expensive. But keep reading, because this is some pretty trick stuff. 

The folks from Shure—Dave Mendez and Jenn Liang-Chaboud—emphasized throughout the demo that Axient is a system. There are multiple components, and you can pick and choose individual items and get some of the benefits. But if you want to realize the full potential of Axient, you need to buy the whole package. I don’t think this is a bad thing, but it does affect how you design your wireless system.

In this series, we’re going to take a look at the Axient components, talk about how they work (and work together) and finally why I think this is important (dare I say it’s a game-changer?). It’s a bit hard to know exactly where to start, but the Shure folks started with the transmitters, so that’s what I’m going to do. 

 

The AXT100 is the body pack; the AXT200 is the handheld (as you’ll see, the naming is not terribly creative overall; though it does roughly follow what we know from the UHF-R series). The transmitters have 60 MHz of tuning bandwidth and operate in bands that correspond to UHF-R. In fact, it’s possible to use UR-1, UR-2 and UR-1M transmitters with the Axient system, albeit with scaled back functionality.

 

One of the biggest deals with the Axient line is the tight RF tuning. They call them “ultra-linear, custom RF amps.” We saw a demonstration of their tuning width, and they were about 20% tighter (meaning they don’t over-tune into adjacent frequencies as much) as UHF-R or Sennheiser 3000 series. That means you can pack about 20% more channels into a given slice of spectrum. As the spectrum becomes more cluttered, this is going to be a real issue. 

The body pack can operate at 10 mW or 100 mW, and boasts a 113 dBA S/N ratio. The handheld has 10 or 50 mW options, and can actually transmit on two frequencies simultaneously for frequency diversity (more on this later). It can also be configured with a talk-back switch option, meaning you could have one frequency routed to the house and another one routed to the band’s in-ears, for example. This would be very handy for last minute set or order changes. They also stressed that all Shure wireless is built to Mil-Spec. I think they mean UHF-R and Axient; I’ve seen SLX and I’m not sure that would pass Mil-Spec. But whatever. Like UR-2 transmitters, the head is interchangeable with the standard Shure/E-V thread.

The AXT100 is in between a UR1 and UR1M in size, while the AXT200 is pretty similar to a UR2. The AXT200 is a little more ergonomic, with a pleasant taper for your hand. Both feel well-built and durable. 

Perhaps the real star of the Axient show is the AXT400 receiver. It’s a dual-channel unit (the only configuration available) in a single rack space. While the audio in the Axient system is transmitted analog, there is some digital processing that happens inside the 400. In fact, the receiver has AES outputs available, which is a real boon to those of us with digital consoles. Latency is stated at less than 1 ms. Like the UHF-R+, the AXT400 offers networking with cascade, and RF cascading. Using the analog outputs, you’ll see an S/N of 118 dBA; but it jumps to 133 dBA with the AES outs. 

But this is where it gets interesting; the AXT 400 is a wide-band receiver. That means it tunes to the entire UHF TV band, a full 228 MHz! Rental houses will love this; they can stock one receiver and send out transmitters tuned to the geographic region of the gig. This wide-band tuning does come with a catch; you must select the 60 MHz band you wish to tune to—you can’t split the bands. That’s not a really big deal, but it’s something you should know. 

They touted the custom-matched IF filters, 250 KHz channel spacing and very low IMD specs. While that is all really cool, the proof is in how it sounds. When it was A/B’d with a UHF-R system, the Axient clearly sounded better. The Axient was much more open and natural with far better transient response. Through the Meyer House PA, it wasn’t possible to hear a difference in the noise floor, but I suspect it was noticeable through in-ears based on the artists comments. 

So far, what we have is a really good wireless mic system. It’s quiet, sounds good and includes some great features. If the system stopped here, it would be on par with the Sennheiser 5000 series. But it doesn’t stop here; it only gets more interesting. And that’s where we’ll pick up next time.

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Rinse Your Cottage Cheese

I’m still working my way through Jim Collin’s classic book, Good to Great. The other day, I came across a concept that they called, “Rinsing your cottage cheese.” The analogy came from a world-class athlete named Dave Scott. Scott won the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon six times. To train for these events, he would ride his bike 75 miles, swim 20,000 meters and run 17 miles. A day. Every day. Yeah, nuts, right? 

Clearly, he didn’t have a weight problem; still he believed that sticking to a strict low-fat, high-carb diet would give him an extra edge. So he would literally rinse his cottage cheese to get the extra fat off of it. Sounds crazy, but he did win the Ironman six times, so I guess he has something going on.

Now, what does any of this have to do with being a church tech? Well certainly some of us could stand to rinse our cottage cheese (and perhaps lay off the fried cheese sticks…). But that’s another post. No, the point of the analogy is that when you’re striving to get really good at something, it takes a lot of hard work, dedication and attention to detail. Seemingly small details, like rinsing your cottage cheese, will make you just a little bit better. 

How does this play out? I think it will vary from person to person, but for me it’s a lot of small details. For example, I always do things the exact same way. This is something I learned early in my career; find a system that works and do it the same way every single time. My board is laid out the same way each week. I cable the stage the same way every week. The only time it changes is if I feel I can improve on it. 

I also take the time to label stuff. Sometimes it looks excessive (like labeling the RJ-45s that plug into my network switch at FOH), but when we’re having a networking issue, it’s really nice to be able to quickly see if the SD8 has network lights flashing without having to trace the cable back.

All of the input connections on my stage rack are labeled, not just the snake channel, but what it is supposed to be. That seems excessive until you have a card failure on Sunday morning and need to repatch the system while the band is on stage waiting to rehearse. 

We record the message in 4 different formats on three different machines each week. Again, it seems excessive until the one week when the first 3 fail and you still need to get the podcast up on the web. 

So much of what we do as techs comes down to little details. I use a lot of snapshots every week, but on every transition from music to prayer, I always run the speaker’s mic up manually then fire the snapshot so I don’t miss the first words. I also push it up a little higher than normal so he carries over the band while the snapshot takes the band down to underscore level. It’s a little detail, but it makes a difference. 

Those are just a few examples. What little things do you do that add up to a better overall experience on the weekends?

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Automating Reaper with MIDI

Long-time readers of this blog will no doubt know that I love to automate and remotely control things. The way I see it is simple; we have all this amazingly cool technology at our disposal, so why not use it to do as much grunt work as possible. That’s why I fire off my weekend recording sessions with an AppleScript triggered at a certain time with iCal. And that’s been working great. However, I knew we could do more.

Before we go further, I should note that I’m using a DiGiCo SD8 and Reaper for mixing and recording. Much of what I will describe can be done with other console/software combinations, but you’re on your own to figure it out. Google is your friend here…

There were a few additional things that I wanted to be able to automate. First, we edit the message portion of the service into a podcast between the 9 and 11. Because time is tight, I need to do that as quickly as possible. We try to remember to drop a marker on the recording timeline when the message starts so we can find it quickly but we often forgot. So I figured we could automate that. 

Second, I’ve totally forgotten to stop the recording after the 11 AM service. Sometimes I get talking with someone and we just keep rolling. It’s not a big deal, but it does increase file sizes more than necessary.

Finally, we multi-track the 11. But I don’t need to multi-track 32 channels during the message. Again, we tried to remember to disarm those tracks once the message got going, but it’s easy to forget. It’s not the end of the world, but it does chew up disk space faster than necessary.

I knew that our SD8 could output MIDI commands when snapshots are fired. I just needed a way to connect the Reaper computer (a 17” MacBook Pro) to the MIDI port on the SD8. I landed on the MOTU FastLane USB MIDI interface. I first tried a little EMU unit, but it was broken out of the box. The FastLane has 2 MIDI channels, which is nice, though I only use one (for now…). 

Once all the connections were made, it was a simple matter of assigning commands in Reaper to be triggered by MIDI commands. The first step was installing the MOTU driver so the Mac would see the FastLane. Next up, I enabled the FastLane in Reaper. Finally, I selected the appropriate actions in Reaper and assigned them commands.

Now, I’ll admit that I don’t really know much about MIDI. I do know I can output all kinds of values from the SD8, but I chose Control Channel controls, since I’m doing control. In the SD8, I simply choose the port (A1 in my case), the type of command (Command Channel) and the value. This is where it gets fun.

I chose the value 1 to drop a marker on the recording timeline. So every time Reaper sees the value 1 on the Command Channel, it drops a marker. I put this command in my message snapshot, and presto, when I fire that snapshot, a marker appears. 

Second, I set up an action that will toggle the arming of track 3. I did this because my kick is always on track 3, and all of the band tracks are grouped together so they all arm and disarm together. When I get to the snapshot in the service after the band is done, I add a CC 2 and it stops recording the band. 

Finally, Reaper has a command to stop recording and save tracks. I set that up to activate with a CC 3 command and I no longer have 20 minutes of blank track at the end of my session (and the tracks all get saved). 

This is a typical weekend of snapshots and MIDI commands.

It takes just a few clicks to insert those commands into the SD8 and it saves me a ton of time. At some point, I will also set the system up to start and stop my walk-in/walk-out music playback as well (as soon as I get the MIDI commands working in MIXX). 

So that’s my latest adventure in remote control. What and how are you controlling gear in your tech booth?

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Extending Rechargeable Battery Life

UPDATE 1-21-13: Having tried turning our chargers on and off out for about 6 months, I’m not convinced it helped us extend the life of our cells. In fact, it may have shortened them. I’ll leave this post online for those interested in the process, and I still think rotating them is a good idea. The timer power strip, however has been put to another use. END UPDATE

Though I’ve been using rechargeable batteries for almost 6 years now, I’m still learning the best way to maximize their life and run time. I am a firm believer in continuing education, and we try to monitor the life of our batteries, look at the data and feed that information back into our systems that get tweaked for better performance. 

As I said in my previous post about batteries, I was a little disappointed in the life I got of my first set of AAs. I don’t blame the manufacturer; I suspect we didn’t use them in a way to maximize their life. So we’ve made a few changes. These changes are based on our usage patterns, so consider them as principles we’re trying, not absolutes to follow.

Rotate

The first thing I did was to establish a rotation pattern for our batteries. We have 32 AAs in stock, and use 12-16 for a normal weekend. However, now that I have a team of volunteers who help set up on Saturday (and this includes getting batteries for the mic’s), I noticed that they would gravitate toward some of the chargers and leave the batteries on the other ones. I suspect this led to some of the batteries being used a lot more often than others. This would explain why I have 12 or so batteries from the original set that still work great, and others that are pretty much done for.

Based on our usage, I designated two chargers (they hold 8 batteries each) as Saturday and two as Sunday. That way, everyone always grabs the batteries out of the right chargers, and we don’t end up using the same ones for the whole weekend. To further randomize the rotation—and because we sometimes have to dip into the other set to accommodate all the mic’s, or because we don’t use them all—when I charge my AAAs for the stand lights, I pull all the AAs out, put them in a box, and randomly put them back in the chargers.

My theory is that this will average out the usage patterns for all the batteries to be roughly equal. While the Saturday on time is a little longer than Sunday, the fact that they get mixed up and put back in different day’s chargers should even that out.

Timing the Charging

My friend Dave Stagl pointed me in this direction; a timed power strip to turn on and off the chargers so they’re not sitting there trickling all week. A the time, it sounded like a good idea. As I’ve done more research, that is confirmed. It seems that NiMh batteries don’t like to be on a trickle charge all the time, as that can lead to over charging, or just lazy batteries. It is recommended to charge them, take them off the charger, then top them off before use. While I could do that, it’s a lot of work—and you know how much I like to automate things.

This power strip, made by GE and available at Amazon or your local home center, costs about $30. It can be programmed for seven days, which would be great if you had a mid-week service or rehearsal that you needed the batteries topped off for.

Enter the timed power strip. By setting the power strip to turn on at 5 PM on Friday and off at 5 PM Sunday, I have fully topped off batteries for the weekend, they fully top off on Sunday afternoon, then rest during the week. Of course it’s too soon to tell how this will extend the life, but based on my research, I’m hopeful.

Keep Refining

In the past, I recommended leaving the batteries on the charger all the time. I’m changing that stance based on new information and experience. This is not back-peddling or being wishy-washy; I’m simply committed to finding better ways to do everything. As new information becomes available, I update my position. I think that’s healthy.

Also, if you’re interested in learning more about rechargeable batteries, I encourage you to check out Battery University. There is a wealth (and I mean a wealth) of information there about battery technology, chemistry, charging, discharging, etc. It’s pretty impressive, really. And a hat tip to reader, Frank Dengel for making me aware of this resource. 

This post is brought to you by Horizon Battery, distributor of Ansmann rechargeable batteries and battery chargers. Used worldwide by Cirque du Soleil and over 25,000 schools, churches, theaters, and broadcast companies. We offer a free rechargeable evaluation for any church desiring to switch to money-saving,  planet-saving rechargeables. Tested and recommended by leading wireless mic manufacturers and tech directors. 

Rumored to be Dead

Yesterday I had the immense privilege to hang out with 20 or so church techs and TDs from all over SoCal. It was a CTL meet up, held at the really hip Planning Center Online offices in Carlsbad. PCO was a very gracious host, with our good friend (and former TD) Daniel Murphy as point man. The guys there are really terrific and I feel confident I can speak for all of us that we felt very welcome.

After a really cool Axient demo by our friend Criss Nieman, we got a sneak peak at some a hot new product that PCO will introduce soon. Sorry, no spoilers; we were sworn to secrecy (and we want to be invited back for lunch again!). But trust me, it’s pretty cool and will be public in a few weeks.

After lunch, we got to spend some time with our dear friend Roy Cochran. He led us through a passage that I really hadn’t seen before in this light—partially because it’s in The Message translation, I’m sure. He read this to us and told us how much is applies to the church tech. As he read, I was amazed at the parallels to what we go through weekly (and sometimes daily). Take a look:

Companions as we are in this work with you, we beg you, please don’t squander one bit of this marvelous life God has given us. God reminds us, I heard your call in the nick of time; The day you needed me, I was there to help. Don’t put it off; don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing. Our work as God’s servants gets validated—or not—in the details. 

People are watching us as we stay at our post, alertly, unswervingly…in hard times, tough times, bad times; when we’re beaten up, jailed, and mobbed; working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love; when we’re telling the truth, and when God’s showing his power; when we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God; terrifically alive, though rumored to be dead; beaten within an inch of our lives, but refusing to die; immersed in tears, yet always filled with deep joy; living on handouts, yet enriching many; having nothing, having it all.

2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Does that strike a chord with anyone besides me (well, and the rest of the guys who were there today)? Some key phrases stuck out to me. 

Don’t frustrate God’s work by showing up late, throwing a question mark over everything we’re doing.

Working hard, working late, working without eating; with pure heart, clear head, steady hand; in gentleness, holiness, and honest love…

When we’re doing our best setting things right; when we’re praised, and when we’re blamed; slandered, and honored; true to our word, though distrusted; ignored by the world, but recognized by God

If you work in church tech, chances are you can relate to some or all of that. I was encouraged to know that what we experience is not a new problem. The Apostle Paul himself struggled with the very same things. And while the Church still really doesn’t know what to do with us techs, God does. He appreciates what we do—what you, yes you do!—and is pleased when we do it with a joyful heart. 

I don’t have much more to add to this; I think it speaks for itself, really. So my fellow church tech, take heart! What you do is important, critical even. The gifts you bring to the Church are being used to advance the Kingdom. Don’t give up hope. While we may not be recognized by the world, we are acknowledged by God. We may have nothing, but we have it all!

Today’s post is brought to you buy Heil Sound. Established in 1966, Heil Sound Ltd. has developed many professional audio innovations over the years, and is currently a world leader in the design and manufacture of large diaphragm dynamic, professional grade microphones for live sound, broadcast and recording.

Rechargeable Batteries: Year 2


Battery-graph-1-year-later.jpg

These were the results of the 1-year test.

OK, the title of this post might be a little misleading. I had actually indented to do multi-year tests to see how the rechargeable batteries in heavy rotation would hold up over the years. However, the answer is this; not quite as well as I had hoped. In fact, we got about 22 months out of the batteries before they were not performing to level that I was comfortable with. To be fair, some of the batteries are still going strong, but others have thrown in the towel. So I’ve replaced my entire stock.

And right away, all the naysayers will jump in and say, “Ha! I told you rechargeables were a bad idea!” Not so fast, cowboy. I’ll come back to that in a minute; first let me lay out the timeline. 

In January of 2010, I started buying chargers and batteries. By March, we had switched over completely to rechargeable batteries, which is also when I did my first round of tests. Those batteries were used every weekend and at mid-week, and as a group, performed exceptionally well. We did have one or two cells go bad, and those were replaced. Those cells got us through Easter, Christmas, and another Easter, not to mention outside events and other special services. 

Last fall, I started noticing that some of the cells began to drop off in capacity. I never had a mic die during a service, but I started seeing them drop down lower than I was comfortable with. Some batteries would end the second service on Sunday at 1 bar, which I didn’t like. I marked those batteries, tried re-conditioning them, but eventually decided that it was time to replace them. So in late November, I ordered a new set of 32 batteries and retired the old ones. 

Now, let’s do some math. We used the original batteries for about 22 months. We used to go through approximately 36 ProCells a week between weekends and mid-week. So here’s how it breaks down:

22 Months = 95 Weekends/Mid-Week (weeks)

95 Weeks x 36 batteries/week = 3,420 Batteries (if we used ProCells)

3,420 batteries x $0.32/ea = $1,094.40

So, if we had stuck with ProCells, we would have used roughly $1,000 worth of disposable batteries in that time frame. When I bought new batteries in November, I spent about $120 including shipping. Now it’s true I do have a few hundred dollars in charger cost, plus the original set of batteries. But on the high side, I’ve spent less than $500 on everything including chargers in the last 2 years. And now that the chargers are paid for, I can plan on about $120 in new batteries every two budget years.

But wait, there’s more! We also use AAA powered LED music stand lights every week. We have about a dozen of them in rotation, and we typically use about 6 on any given weekend. Those take 3 AAAs apiece. I also switched those over to rechargeable batteries about the same time. Only with those, I use low self-discharge (Ansmann Max-E) batteries so they don’t need to live on the charger all week. Let’s do some more math.

6 Stand Lights/week x 3 AAAs x 95 weeks = 1,710 AAA batteries

1,710 AAAs x $0.39 = $666.90 (I knew disposables were evil!)

Now there’s another $550 or so in savings (I have about $100 in Max-E AAAs). And those batteries are still going strong. I found that I can get about 3 weekends worth of service from those batteries in those lights. So, every three weeks, I pull my AAs out of the chargers, and charge up the AAAs. It takes about 10 minutes of my time, and we save $500/year. Not too bad. 

And this doesn’t count the community room, which I’ve also switched to rechargeable batteries. There is an event using a wireless mic over there almost every day, and they are on the same set of batteries they’ve had for nearly two years. Because the event times are shorter, a decrease in run time hasn’t been as big of a deal. Still, I may have to drop another $25 and get a new set of 8 AAs over there in the next month or so.

Earlier I mentioned that the performance was dropping off past where I was comfortable. I’m often asked, “When do you replace the rechargeable batteries?” The answer for me is, when I’m not comfortable any more. If I start seeing the cells drop down below 2 bars regularly after a service (when they used to hold at 4), it’s time to swap them out. Basically I’m replacing my rechargeable batteries when their weekly performance drops just below the level of a ProCell. 

How long that takes for you will depend on how you use them. I know people who use them far more often than I do, who will have to replace them more often, but when you do the math, you still come out way ahead.

Remember, those ProCells were going in the trash when they got down to 2-3 bars. With a rechargeable, you throw it on the charger. So it still works out. 

If you’re still on the fence, I encourage you to do the math. Figure out what you are really using now, and what the payback is. I can almost guarantee you the result will be savings when you switch. And we already know that rechargeables in good condition will outlast ProCells anyway by 30-50% and at end of life they are still on par; so there is really nothing to loose.

Next week, I’ll share my current strategies for (hopefully) lengthening the life of my rechargeable batteries.

Have you made the switch yet? If so, what is your experience? If not, what are you waiting for?

Today’s post is brought to you by Elite Core Audio. Elite Core Audio features a premium USA built 16 channel personal monitor mixing system built for the rigors of the road. For Personal Mixing Systems, Snakes, and Cases, visit Elite Core Audio.

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