Is the Best Gear the Best?

Is the Best Gear the Best?

I spend quite a bit of time scouring the net for usable information about anything to do with sound production. It’s always interesting to see the new stuff out there that’s going to better your sound, make your job easier, and prevent you from screwing up. But then it dawned on me. Can a piece of gear actually make you a better sound op?

Really, think about this. If I gave an entry-level shotgun and a high-end shotgun to someone just learning, would they record better tracks with the higher-end mic? My answer is no! In fact, the chance of them screwing up is probably greater with a more sensitive, more precise, wider dynamic range mic then an all round entry level one. The same argument can be made with mixers. Would the average sound op out there be able to get better results out of a 6 channel mixer with multiple outputs, numerous routing options, sweepable high pass, numerous monitoring options, and multiple metering options, but better mic-pre’s, over a straight forward 2-4 channel mixer? Again, I gotta say no. I taught location sound for 9 years and if there’s one thing that rings true, its “keep it simple, and learn how to walk before you run”.
 

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Too many ops start out with mid to high-end gear. Gear that requires quite a bit of experience to get high-end results, and they never really learn their craft. Or they buy the “automatic everything” equipment that gives them a false sense of this is easy. Through my years of learning location sound, having to work around and understand equipment limitations of the entry level equipment taught me a lot about sound and even more about equipment.

“Just because you can afford a guitar, that doesn’t make you a guitar player”.

What do you think? Am I just being a “that’s the way I had to learn it” old fart, or is the “I can afford it and no screw up equipment” environment allowing operators to get a positive start in the industry? Is it furthering or hindering the abilities of the new crop of operators?

Talk to me seasoned pros and soon to be pros. Is this a good thing or just marketing to sell more gear? Or, is it technology moving forward and I’m being left behind.

Dean

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4 Comments

  1. March 8, 2013, 12:00 pm   /  Reply

    Hello!
    Good post and excellent question. I guess one have to define what is “good” equipment, and what is high-end. If it means expensive and a ton of options, then no, it doesn´t make good recordings. I think “good for the task” is a better term, and today you can get cheap equipment that is good enough for most tasks. I just swapped my $3k and 2kgs bag with a $200 and 0,2kg setup, getting pretty much the same , or even better results soundwise. Except now I record 10 times as much since I have a lighter, more expendable and more flexible (physically) setup. Today the difference in sound-quality between pro and consumer gear is less than ever, having cheap easy-to-use prosumer products coming out all the time, which sounds better than professional gear sounded just some years ago. People, and atleast new recordists should be learnt that whatever equipment they have at hand is probably good enough for what they´re trying to do, and a bit of experimenting and research will bring them a long way. It´s a shame that people refrain from recording because they think their gear is not up to the task. Also the music and sound industry is full of over-priced and hyped gear, both recorders, microphones. To teach newcomers a bit of scepticism and trusting/using their ears will help them save money and time. My 2 cents:-)

  2. March 8, 2013, 12:22 pm   /  Reply

    Hey Dean,

    I agree with what you had to say. I have found my self going gear crazy at times. But the good thing is high end gear holds its value. I can always sell what I don’t use.

    I also believe in “build it and they will come” theory. I have done many big projects because I have the gear to handle them. Which means I can make more money :)

    But if that’s not your thing then no you don’t need all the toys. You want to build your kit for the type of work you want to do. I love all types of work, doc, corporate, drama, any of it. I love jobs that challenge me, so I own lots of gear to handle anything.

  3. Richard Van Dyke, CAS
    March 9, 2013, 8:23 am   /  Reply

    I’ve been a production sound mixer for 37 years, from analog all the way into the digital era. The best “tools” don’t make you the “best” mixer, it’s the knowledge of how to use those tools to get the best result. What I believe is most unfortunate, is that we have embarked on the “good enough” age of film and sound work. The public, and many of the so-called “professionals” now working in the film industry, have a much lower standard of quality, than ever before, and this is sad to me, but it’s the reality.

    The most important lesson to learn, as a sound professional, is what good sound is and how to recognize it when you hear it! When you’re starting out, any gear is “good” enough, especially if you have a mentor or teacher that is qualified to teach you to recognize what is good and what is bad sound.

    The goal should be to work with the best and highest quality products out there, so that you can be turning in the highest quality product you can produce, your sound. However, if you don’t know how to utilize those tools to achieve the quality, then you’re not going to be producing the highest quality that those products have the ability to capture.

    Sadly, we have many people who like to learn on their own, and this can create many bad habits, only because they didn’t seek out proper training. They merely bought the products and believed that by owning these products, they were now a “professional sound mixer.”

    I’m at the end of my career, and in many ways I’m glad, as I always strived for the highest quality in making my recordings, in this new era of “good enough,” I don’t think I could have survived.

    The next time you think that something “sounds good,” ask yourself, why does that sound good? If you can’t articulate the why, then you might not know what you’re doing.

    Good Luck to all of you, these comments are not meant to discourage, but to stimulate and prod your mind.

    Cheers,

    Richard Van Dyke, CAS

    • Dean Miles
      March 9, 2013, 9:49 am   /  Reply

      Brilliant Richard! I 100% agree with with your comment “if you can’t articulate why something sounds good you might not know what you’re doing”. Thanks for the excellent post.

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