Last time, we started a series on things to think about when choosing a new audio console. I probably already ruffled some feathers when I said that I didn’t believe sound quality was the only thing worth considering. In fact, I think for the vast majority of churches in the US, most consoles sound good enough. With that in mind, here are a few more things that I thing should probably be weighed heavier than sound quality.
There are some consoles out there that sound fantastic but I find to be almost unusable due to their user interface. If I told you which ones I thought they were, I’d get a bunch of comments telling me I’m wrong. That’s because usability is a semi-subjective metric. I do believe there are very well designed user interfaces out there and some pretty poor ones. However, you can learn and become good at just about anything given enough time. I’m not entirely sure usability is equal, either. By that I mean, something that I find completely unusable you may find perfectly fine. We’re all wired a bit differently, so it’s important to find the right equipment.
My basic test of console usability is to walk up to and find out how much I can do without any instruction. If I can do all (or most) of the things I would normally do on a weekend without asking any questions, the console gets a high usability rating from me. If I can’t find basic functions, figure out routing, or get channels patched, we have a problem.
Part of the challenge here is that audio consoles are getting more impressive in terms of what they can do, which brings increased complexity. And, in most church settings, you are not going to be the only person to use the console. Or the last person to use it. So we have to step back a bit and try to figure out what will be usable by the majority of people on our team, current and future.
Again, this is subjective. Think about what your team knows already and what they’re comfortable with. What do you know and how do you like to work? Can you make the desk do what you want, easily, without consulting the manual? Keep in mind most manuals are worthless. How many button presses away are common functions? Think about how you work and how the console under consideration works. You may also need or want to change your workflow in order to become more efficient. These are all things to think about.
This may or may not be a factor. Many churches have volunteers mixing their services, and for those churches, it’s important to choose a console they will be able to use. Back in the days when analog consoles reigned, this wasn’t such a big deal. Sure, a really large console would have a lot of buttons and knobs, but they were all labeled and it was generally pretty obvious what they did. In the age of digital, we now deal with fewer knobs and buttons, but many more layers, menus and screens. This can be intimidating to less skilled operators.
Some might argue that if a person can’t learn the console, they have no business mixing. That may be true, but not all churches have the luxury of having only highly skilled operators. Many churches need to get along with guys and gals who want to serve, even if they don’t know all the intricacies of the console.
The fact is, digital consoles can be complex devices, and if your church is planning on buying one, make sure sufficient training is included in the purchase price. The last thing you want to do is buy a console that is so intimidating to your volunteers they all quit. Sometimes this can be eliminated with good training. Sometimes, a different console is needed. Choose carefully.
Of course, if a church has paid operators, either staff or contractor, at that point, it’s up to the engineers to learn the desk. In that case, volunteer friendly doesn’t matter. Know what works for your church.
That last line is an important one. It’s very important when buying equipment for your church that you know what will work in that setting. Buying gear you saw at the big church during the conference—or worse, gear your pastor saw at the conference—may not always be the best bet. It has to make sense for your church.
Next time, we’ll wrap this up with the final three considerations for purchasing a new audio console