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.