Old Production Takes From an Old Guy

Category: Batteries (Page 2 of 2)

Battery Shootout Pt. 1

As a longtime proponent of rechargeable batteries, I have gotten into many, uh, discussions of their relative merits. Some people are curious about them and want to learn more. Others are pretty much biased agains rechargeable batteries of any type (except, presumably, the ones in their phones, cars, laptops, cordless phones, PS3 remotes, etc…). In fact, the phrase I hear most often with regard to rechargeable batteries and wireless mics is, “I’ve been burned too many times.” If I had a dime for every time I’ve heard that, I could get at least one, maybe two Venti Signature Hot Chocolates at Star bucks

So based on all that dissension, I decided to do some tests. Now, keep in mind that I’ve been using rechargeable batteries in wireless mics for almost 4 years. I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve had one die unexpectedly on me. Over the last 10 years, I can easily count the same number or more times alkaline batteries have died on me. I know that a good rechargeable battery will easily last one or two services in church. No problem, no worries, I never give it a second thought. But how long will they last when stretched? And how does that compare to a standard alkaline, in our case Duracell ProCells? I figured I would find out.

Here is my test procedure: Figuring that mics draw different rates of power based on the amount of audio they are dealing with, I would try to simulate real-world conditions. I set up a monitor on stage and put 6 mic stands around it. The mcis were identical Shure UHF-R UR2s with SM-58 capsules. Each was set to a +20 dB of gain to get the input stage hitting about where our vocalists run each weekend (without cranking the monitor to a really annoying volume…)

Each mic was placed the same distance away from the wedge and fed a steady diet of sound for the day.I had five NiMh batteries to test: Sanyo’s Eneloop, a low self-discharge battery rated for 2000 mAh; a standard Sanyo 2700 mAh, a Powerex 2700 mAh, my old-standby Ansmann 2850 mAh and a new low self-discharge battery from Ansmann, the Max-E rated at 2500 mAh. Most NiMh batteries will self-discharge pretty quickly if you let them sit around, which is why it’s recommended to keep them on the charge and always go straight from charger to mic. The Eneloops and Max-Es are formulated to retain up to 80% of a full charge after a year of non-use with no charging in between. I’ve used Eneloops for over a year in my digital SLR and can attest to the fact that they last forever. In fact, they last longer than alkalines in my DSLR. Eneloops also deliver a lot more current for a lot longer than most batteries, NiMh or alkaline, so I was curious how they would do.

The batteries in question.I set the battery meter on the UR2s to use a NiMh curve for the rechargeable batteries and left the “control” ProCell set to Alkaline. The reasoning behind this is that NiMh batteries (the most common chemistry of decent rechargeable batteries) have a different discharge curve than do alkalines. Whereas an alkaline has a fairly linear drop off of voltage over time, a NiMh drops from full voltage to an intermediate level, holds there for quite a while, then drops off quickly.

Discharge curve of the Eneloop, a Sanyo 2700 mAh NiMh and an Alkaline. I grabbed this from Sanyo’s Eneloop website.A lot of mics don’t have adjustable meter curves, which makes using rechargeable batteries a bit trickier. You have to know how long they’ll last, and change them regularly, regardless of what the meter says. That is the reason most people get burned. They assume that if it says 3 of 5 bars, it’s OK. However, it could easily go from 3 to 0 in 5 minutes if it’s near the end of the charge. The fix, change them before they do that. Easy.

Once I had my mics set up, I had to figure out a way to keep track of the usage. I’m pretty busy all day and didn’t want to keep checking in to see what they were doing. Since UHF-R mics can be remotely monitored by Wireless Workbench, I decided to write an Automator script that would take a screenshot every 15 minutes (then re-name it with the time the shot was taken). That way, I could set it up in the morning, let it run all day and go back over the pictures at my leisure. By the way, the script took me about 20 minutes to write–just one more reason to like my Macs… But I digress). I started about 10 AM and planned on running until about 5:30 PM when I had to re-set for mid-week Bible study. I honestly didn’t expect them to last that long anyway.

Each of the rechargeable batteries had been conditioned a few times before being fully charged and left in the charger for a few days. Conditioning is a function that a good charger can do; the battery is charged, discharged and re-charged again. That makes sure the battery is functioning at the highest capacity. Each battery was in the charger in trickle mode for at least 3-4 days before the test.

So those were the test conditions. How did the batteries fare? Did the rechargeables come close to the capacity of the alkaline control cell? For that, tune in next time–the results may surprise you!

Thanks to our sponsors

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two companies that made this test possible; Horizon Battery and Thomas Distributing. Both sent a variety of batteries and chargers in for the test. I’ve purchased from both companies in the past and heartily recommend them. David Schliep from Horizon was especially helpful. Also, in the interest of full disclosure and in accordance with new Federal guidelines, I’m required to tell you that Thomas Distributing gave me some batteries and two chargers for this test. That in no way affected the results, or my opinion of the batteries or chargers. I call them like I see them, and I have in the past purchased the same or similar equipment from Thomas.

Why I Use Rechargeable Batteries

There was significant discussion on the CTDRT e-mail list the other day about the use of batteries for wireless mics. Many people suggested different places to get great deals and which ones they use. I suggested using rechargeables instead. That met with some resistance, much of it centered around a bad experience.

I’ll say a the outset, I completely respect that view (and moreover, have a tremendous amount of respect for the people who hold those views). With that said, and at the risk of sounding argumentative (and I’m not really trying to be), here is why I use rechargeable batteries. It’s really a philosophical decision I made a long time ago, and only refined it since.

We’ve All Been Burned

I think it’s fair to say we’ve all been burned by rechargeable batteries. I would dare say I have more experience using them than most (consistent use for the last 4 years), and yes, I’ve had them go out on me. However, I’ve also had alkalines die. For that matter, I’ve had wireless mics act up. I had a $600 DPA headset mic crap out during a sermon. Heck, I’ve had wired mics fail (after someone rolled a piano over the cord). Does that mean I no longer use any of those devices? No. I’ve learned what caused the failure, and found ways not to repeat it.

We all use rechargeable batteries every day. Cell phones, car batteries, cordless phones, the list goes on. We all know we can’t leave the car lights on for 16 hours and expect the car to start. So we don’t. The same holds true with rechargeable batteries in wireless mics. If we don’t ask them to do things they can’t they won’t disappoint us.

They Do Save Money

Rechargeable batteries are going to save you money. How much depends on how you use them. I’ve been at churches that spend an incredible sum of money each year on disposable batteries, often in the thousands of dollars. Switching to rechargeable cells costs a few hundred at most, and you’re pretty much done for a few years. I’ve found I buy batteries to replace the ones that walk away or are accidentally thrown out. Once I’ve made the investment in chargers, my ongoing costs are well under $100/yr.

However, that’s not why I use them.

It’s About Stewardship

Though I don’t mean stewardship of dollars. God’s not broke. Spending or saving $500, 1,000 or even 3,000 on batteries a year isn’t going to make or break the Kingdom. However, consider how much waste we generate with disposable batteries. I’m sure we all have a bucket or box in our equipment room that is overflowing with used batteries. By itself, it doesn’t seem like much. But combine that with 100, 500, 1,000 or 2,000 other churches, and pretty soon, you have a mountain of trash. And it’s not good trash. Add to that the energy consumed in mining the minerals, transportation, manufacture, packaging, transportation again, disposal and you have a pretty large (and dirty) carbon footprint.

Now again, you can make the case that in the grand scheme of things, it’s a small drop in a very large bucket. And perhaps that’s true. But is that a good reason to not change our behavior? I can’t fix the problems with our planet’s environment on my own. However, I can make a simple change that will help a little bit. If everyone did that, a little bit turns into a lot. Then we start looking for other ways to save (eg. my crusade for fluorescent and LED lights).

Whether or not you consider making the switch is entirely up to you. I just know that for me, personally, I am willing to make some adjustments to my production process to make a difference, however small.

If all that doesn’t sway you, consider this: Cirque du Soleil has been using rechargeable batteries in their wireless mics for several years now. For whatever that’s worth.

Rechargeable Battery Update

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about rechargeable batteries. Mainly because there was no new news with the Ansmann brand we had been using, and I wanted to try out the new ones for a while before giving an update. Thankfully, the wait was worth it, and this is good news.

When Upper Room moved into our new space, we ended up with Shure ULX-P microphones. They’re decent mics, and require 9V batteries. This didn’t thrill me as I was hoping to go with AAs as their energy density is a lot higher. But 9Vs it is, so I looked to find the best ones I could. I like the Ansmann rack mount chargers, but at $450+, they were out of the budget. And I don’t like their little 10 bay desktop one. I’ve used it before and it’s not well made. My search ended when I found the Maha MH-C1090F at Thomas Distributing. At just under $50, it fit the miniscule budget. Thankfully, it does not disappoint. One of the problems with the Ansmann desktop unit is the contacts are made of cheap metal, deform easily and then don’t properly contact the battery. The Maha seems much better made in this regard. The batteries snap in place well, and charge quickly. So our charger needs were met, what about batteries?

Maha MH-C1090 10 Bay 9V charger

Maha MH-C1090 10 Bay 9V chargerAgain, Maha’s 300 mAH Powerex battery was the choice. It’s 50 mAH more capacity than the Ansmann’s we were using, and so far, they rock. Our speakers are good about turning on and off their packs and we easily make it through 2 sermons. In fact, the batteries have never dipped below 1/2 on the scale. I can’t see an instance where we would run out of juice, even running for 2 solid services. Your mileage may vary, but I’m happy with them.

Maha 300 mAH 9V Batteries

Maha 300 mAH 9V BatteriesI’ve not been using AA batteries at church for a while, but for my own tests, I’ve tried several at home in my digital camera. I shoot a Pentax K-100, which as it turns out, is pretty energy inefficient. It has a high current draw, and the Ansmann AAs can’t supply enough juice. They die quickly and decisively. Plus, if I left them in the camera for a week, they’d be dead on their own. Not what I wanted.

So I tried some Ray-O-Vac hybrid rechargeables. They are billed as a low discharge battery that comes fully charged. I found them to work OK. Better than the other ones, but nothing spectacular. So I tried Sanyo’s Eneloops. To say these blow me away is an understatement. I bought a set, dropped them in the camera in February and only took them out to recharge before going to California a few weeks ago. Now, I probably only shot a hundred photos in that time, but still–no self-discharge to speak of. When I pulled them to charge, they still read 1/2 on the camera meter. Not bad.

Sanyo Eneloop. Amazing.

Sanyo Eneloop. Amazing.Last week, I was in South Dakota. I shot almost 400 pictures in 2 days. Again, no perceptible drop in performance with the Eneloops. I started carrying a few sets of Li-On batteries as backup, but have yet to use them.Though I’ve not used them in wireless mics, I can’t imagine they would be anything less than spectacular. And since they don’t really self-discharge, they wouldn’t need to sit in the charger all week long keeping topped off. [It should be noted that they do self-discharge, they just do it really slowly. If you’re in a good rotation, you’d never notice it.]

You can get Eneloops at a variety of places, but I got mine at Thomas Distributing. I also picked up a La Crosse BC-900 4 bay AA charger. It was highly recommended on photography forums, and I am also very pleased. It has a variety of charging modes and will charge 4 batteries in under 2 hours and 2 in under an hour normally. And at $35 (with a set each of AA and AAA batteries and a case!) it’s a steal.

La Crosse BC-900 4-Bay AA & AAA charger.

La Crosse BC-900 4-Bay AA & AAA charger.Note: My apologies if the links don’t work, Thomas Distributing runs sales all the time and the links may change. If you find a broken link, just visit their website and search for the item.

Update on Rechargeable Batteries

Last fall I wrote a post on rechargeable batteries, which you can read in it’s entirety here. I know a lot of audio guys who don’t like them, or are leery of them (for good reason, they used to be less than worthless), but I’ve used them with great success now for almost 2 years. They work great as long as you observe some basic rules. I won’t repeat the original post (which is pretty good, I just re-read it), and I’ve updated it with some additional information.

If you’re at all interested in saving money in your ministry, you really should check them out. Last year, between CPC and Upper Room, we spent over $5,000 in batteries. This year, we’ll spend under $200 (and that’s only because people occasionally throw them away–I hate that!). The big upside to that is I now have $4,800 more in my budget for buying new gear, and not throwing it in the landfill. What’s not to love?

Check out the original post here.

Save Your Budget, Save The World

I’ve never watch Heroes. I hear it’s a great series, and I recall the catch phrase from the early episodes—”Save the cheerleader, save the world.” I have no idea what that means, but I have a great suggestion for you to not only save your church some serious coin, but also save the planet. Interested? Check out rechargeable batteries.

Now if you’ve been around this electronics thing for any length of time, you probably have bad experiences with rechargeable batteries. Ten years ago, they had very low voltage (compared to their alkaline counterparts), and didn’t last long. Some devices, especially wireless mics, wouldn’t even run on them. Well, that was then, this is now.

I was motivated to check out rechargeables last year when I was going over the budget I inherited from the previous Tech Director. It was a great budget, but I was stunned when I saw we were planning on spending over $2,500 on batteries for the year. $2,500! On batteries! Are you kidding? Nope, I did the math and sure enough, at our current rate of use, that’s pretty close to where we were.

I did some research and came across Horizon Battery. They claimed to have put their batteries in hundreds of churches across the country. The are even used by Cirque de Soleil. That impressed me. So I did some research and read up on their line of batteries by Ansmann. As it turns out, a rechargeable Ansmann AA battery is rated for 2800 mwh (a measure of how much energy the battery will hold). A typical alkaline is rated at about 1800. They also make a 250 mah 9 volt batteries, and while not quite up to Alkaline levels, they will still power a wireless mic for several hours.

When I did the math, I discovered that I could convert our entire church (main ministry center, student and children’s ministries) for less than $500. Conservatively, we stood to save nearly $2,000 the first year. So I took the plunge. After a year of use, we haven’t looked back. I haven’t had to order batteries for nearly 10 months. Once I figured out how many we needed to keep up with the use, the only problem we’ve had is that some people think they are disposable and throw them out when they go dead. Ongoing education is the key there—we’ve lost about 8-10 batteries to the trash.

Before I rolled them out in services, I did some testing. I found that a 250 mah 9V would power our Shure ULXP transmitters for nearly 4 hours. Amazingly, two 2700 mwh AA’s would power our Shure SLX transmitters for over 10 hours. Not only did we not have to buy batteries anymore, but they lasted longer than the disposable ones!

In practice they have required a few changes to how we use batteries. We used to use one disposable in each wireless for rehearsals, then check it for Saturday night and if it was good, we kept it. We would then change it out on Sunday. Some weekends we would go through 10-12 batteries. Since the rechargeables don’t last quite as long, we replace them before each service. I always hated doing this with disposables, because I knew that there was still capacity left, but we couldn’t take a chance. Now, we toss them in the charger. They exhibit no memory effect that I can tell, and seem to hold a charge pretty well.

As for quantity, for the 9 volts, I took the maximum number of mics we might use in a service or program and doubled it. I figured that they would last as long as the charge cycle would take. So far that’s worked out great. We use AA’s in our student and children’s ministries, and since they last so long, I have a few extras, but basically the batteries last the weekend, then we charge during the week. Horizon sells 10 bay chargers, so we can turn over a lot of batteries in a short time.

We did have one problem with a 10-bay 9V charger about 8 months after we bought it. Four of the bays stopped charging. I called Horizon, they sent me an RMA, and we had it back in about 2 weeks (which was about a week too long, but it didn’t cost me anything). Overall their service was quite good.

My only caveat is that you have to train everyone to change the batteries before the service (especially the 9v ones). When the batteries go, they go quickly. We tried to push the limits with our ULXP series mics because they transmit battery voltage back to the receiver. Problem is if you have 2 bars on the meter, you have between 10-20 minutes before the mic shuts down. It will go from 2 bars to 0 in a minute or two. After having the worship leader’s mic go out a few weeks in a row, we now just change it between every service.

The upside of making the switch was that I saved so much money on batteries that I was able to buy 3 more new wireless mics last year instead of throwing the money in the trash can. If you currently use AA batteries it’s a complete no-brainer to go rechargeable. Get the new 2800 mwh batteries (about $15/4) and a 10 bay charger and you’re all set. If you use 9V’s and can be disciplined enough to change them often, it also makes great sense. You’ll save a ton of money and keep a pile of batteries out of the landfill.  As an added bonus, the NiMH rechargeable batteries are not considered hazardous waste like alkalines are. Like I said, save your budget and save the world. What’s not to like?

Update: 7/24/08

It’s been over 2 years now that I’ve been using these batteries and my enthusiasm has not waned. The still work great for us every weekend, and I’ve cut down the number of batteries we buy to a dozen or two per year (instead of 3 dozen a weekend). I will say now that having used both Ansmann’s professional, rack-mount chargers and the more consumer-level desktop ones, that the pro chargers are the way to go. They are several times the cost, but charge much more reliably. The desktop ones have a habit of letting the batteries pop out of the charging bays, and you end up with partially charged (or not at all) batteries. While the pro series are not perfect, they are a lot better.

I’ve also found that rechargeable batteries self-discharge at a faster rate than new alkalines, so it’s important to keep them in the charger. We made it a policy that when pulling batteries for a mic, you take them out of the charger, and immediately fill the empty slots in the charger with spares we keep in the drawer below. That way we always have 32 AAs (we have two 16 slot chargers) and 16 9vs (two 8 bay chargers) ready to go. 

The usual disclaimer: I am in no way affiliated or compensated by Horizon Battery or Ansmann. I just really like their stuff.

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