Your Console: When to Upgrade?

by Vince Lepore
in Sound Sanctuary
Modern perks (such as a reduced footprint, ease of recording, simple-to-use touch screen access, versatile connectivity options and remote Wi-Fi control via an iPad or tablet), as found on this DiGiCo S21, can contribute to a decision to consider a new desk.
Modern perks (such as a reduced footprint, ease of recording, simple-to-use touch screen access, versatile connectivity options and remote Wi-Fi control via an iPad or tablet), as found on this DiGiCo S21, can contribute to a decision to consider a new desk.

Who doesn’t want to upgrade their digital console? I always want the latest and greatest, newest digital console on the market. I’m always bored with my old, tired console, with failing faders and touch screens that just don’t calibrate the way they used to. It’s easy to tell yourself that, isn’t it? That having a brand new, shiny digital console would make your tech team so much better off? From my own experience, that’s not always the case.

From a financial perspective, don’t be too anxious to replace your consoles. You want to maximize the large capital investment your church made in your existing console. In a church environment, where consoles aren’t being tipped and loaded into trucks every night, there’s no reason why a console can’t last between 10 and 15 years.

New Technology: Yes, It Can Be a Valid Reason to Upgrade

It is easy to have console envy. As you get into that tenth year of console ownership, new technology coming out on the market looks rather attractive, and other churches already have it. Technology is moving so quickly that consoles are feeling outdated faster than ever before. Having the newest technology is, in fact, a valid reason to upgrade — if it solves challenges you have with your current technology. However, if your current console is still operating effectively, having the latest and greatest isn’t reason enough to invest in something new. If you do feel that you’re having problems that can be solved with a newer console, list those problems out. How does a newer console solve those challenges? Are there ways that you can do things differently with your current console that might squeeze a few more years of life out of what you own now?

Training

As regular digital console users, we become accustomed to the workflow of one or two consoles that we use on a regular basis. I read an interesting interview with Robert Scovill recently where he talked about how the workflow for each manufacturer’s product is so vastly different that it makes each console completely unique, and it’s very difficult to jump from console to console. This needs to be considered when purchasing any new digital console. Your team needs time to adequately acclimate to a new console workflow, and this might affect the timing of your purchase. Ideally, you might choose to purchase a new console but keep your old console in place for a certain period, allowing your staff and volunteers to work with the new console on a training basis for a few weeks before taking it into a live worship environment. You might also time your purchase strategically to fall during a part of the year where things are slow at your church, providing ample time to learn and get comfortable on a new system.

Taking Advantage of Deals

Equipment manufacturers often work with their distributors to provide special deals or incentives towards the end of their fiscal year or towards the end of a quarter. In some cases, manufacturers even look at their sales monthly and try to push through deals before the end of a given month. I recently encountered some special “before the end of the month” pricing with a large lighting manufacturer, but was unfortunately unable to take advantage of it. If a manufacturer has a lead on a potential sale, they might be willing to shave a few percentage points off a previously written quote.

Another common incentive is for manufacturers to throw in “extras” along with a purchase. For example, you might get a free lens with a projector purchase, or an additional I/O card along with a digital console stage rack. Finally, another phenomenon of the digital console age is the “trade in your analog console” incentive. Those days are fading fast as many people have already gotten rid of their large format analog consoles, and now this deal has morphed into the “trade in your previous generation digital console” deal. Many digital console manufacturers have been offering loyalty incentives that reward repeat business, but in some cases manufacturers are willing to accept any brand console for trade-in value towards a new digital board.

Modular and Scalable for the Long Haul

When the time to upgrade does come, consider how your choice of console will scale and grow with you over time. If you assume that a console is a 10-year capital investment, it becomes difficult to envision your needs 10 years from today.

One of the great benefits of digital consoles is the modularity and ability to scale over time. There are numerous ways that this can take place, but modularity typically happens in three main areas. First is the mixing surface. This seems to be less and less common as time goes on, but some manufacturers still offer sidecar type mixing surface expansion, where you can add more faders to the system.

Second, the I/O on many digital mixing consoles is modular and scalable. Some consoles offer fixed-format I/O, with additional I/O available by purchasing more fixed-format stage boxes. Other manufactures offer modular stage racks, where additional I/O cards can be loaded into a frame, and additional modular racks can be added if your I/O needs exceed the capability of a single rack. Finally, some consoles still offer DSP upgrades to enhance the processing power of the system, should that need arise in the future. In any case, make sure you do diligent research on the available options and find what is most suitable for your situation and your church. Good luck in your search! 

Vince Lepore is the technical director at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Orlando and teaches live production at Full Sail University.

Current Issue