KEN DELORIA: Your desk job

New API columnist asks whether blasting the budget on a high-end, fully-loaded console is always the best option.
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Pro audio veteran Ken DeLoria has joined Audio Pro International as a regular contributor.

DeLoria has had a diverse career in professional audio for over 30 years. He has extensive experience of touring, product design and system engineering, and was most notably the founder and CEO of Apogee Sound Incorporated, a leading manufacturer of processor-based loudspeakers, amplifiers, and related equipment during the 1980s and '90s.

As his first topic, DeLoria asks whether spending the majority of your budget on a high-end, fully-loaded console is always the best option...

We all like to be a little self-indulgent I think, at least those of us who aren’t wearing robes and sandals in a Tibetan monastery. So it follows that we want the one item that’s central to our work; that which we look at and touch all night; she who we spend countless hours getting to know; we want the sexiest, coolest, most rewarding piece of kit possible, do we not? Indeed, I describe the console, gentle reader.

The console is to the balanced engineer what the guitar is to the musician. You caress it, you stare at it, you turn its knobs, slide its faders, and you depress its buttons. And if stories be true, you might even sleep with it (or under it) like Hendrix was said to do.

But is it really the optimum spot to park your budget? Will €20,000 of speakers and amps sound that much better fed by a €75,000 console? Or would €85,000 of speakers and amps result in a far better sound system, even if used with a lowly €10,000 console?

Setting priorities can be tough. Who doesn’t want the control of workflow, the on-board effects, the sheer luxury of mixing on a top-flight desk? The feel of those silicon-damped faders?

The question to ask, as a responsible member of the production team, is this: will a stunning desk make the act sound better? Or will higher quality loudspeakers and amplifiers provide the artist with the tools needed to better express their musical vision?

The answer requires some consideration. A pop/rock/fusion festival with eight, ten, or more acts will absolutely benefit from scene presets to keep the go flowing. In such a case recallable effects – as many as are needed amongst the roster of acts – becomes essential. If set changes are to be kept to a few brief moments, nothing but a large digital desk will suffice.

On the other hand, a festival of traditional jazz artists (think Monterey and Montreux) may require little or nothing in the way of presets and effects. Nor are jazz acts likely to need a mega channel count. But by the same token of inherent simplicity on the technical index, the demand for clear, clean, natural, transparent, unadulterated sonic quality begs a compelling argument for shifting the budget – the distribution of wealth, if you will – towards providing enough PA so that amplifiers and loudspeaker elements are not pushed to their upper limits where distortion becomes so bad that differentiating between a trumpet and a sax requires visual cues. Bad sax, as we all know, is something we should not permit ourselves to experience, no matter what.

Conversely, great sax requires a great PA – stacks and racks, that is – and of course a console with a clean signal path. If a modest console lacks the loads of features that are of limited value anyway, is that not the responsible choice to make? While the very expensive desk is likely a joy to behold, if it punches a hole in the ‘outgoing mail’ portion of the system by precipitating a budget limitation, you can feel gratified that you directed the budget money to where it will do the most good.

So, gentle reader, when you’re next entering numbers into your spreadsheet of choice, balancing the costs of front-end finesse versus sonic delivery muscle, consider what’s best for the show…painful though that may be. You can always wear a T-shirt with your console-of-dreams emblazoned upon it, and only a few will notice the difference.

Email: kdeloria@gmail.com

Do you think you have what it takes to be an Audio Pro International contributor/columnist? If so, send some information on your background in the pro audio industry, as well as some article ideas to API editor Adam Savage via adam.savage@intentmedia.co.uk.

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