Any gear nut can tell you that one of the issues in dealing with vintage gear is the availability of parts. You may be able to purchase a vintage microphone, preamp or mixing console, but after the honeymoon is over, the real question becomes can you maintain the thing? Or, as one of my clients once said years ago as he contemplated a really good deal on a Sony DASH machine, “You might be able to buy a Ferrari on sale, but that doesn’t mean you can afford Ferrari parts and service.”
Many of us are familiar with a number of classic microphones requiring parts that are no longer manufactured, and it becomes a scary proposition when something you’ve invested in has become subject to those conditions.
What’s more scary is when new gear is difficult to maintain. Two recent conversations provided very different perspectives.
The first was with the owner of a regional sound company that was providing gear for a show I was working. We started talking about how a particular manufacturer’s inexpensive digital mixing console had become really popular in the past few years, while at the same time its price had dropped almost 30%. Obviously, the owner of the sound company is concerned with maintenance and (sometimes) repair of his big-ticket items, but his attitude toward this particular mixer was different. “At this price,” he told me, “I’m never gonna fix it. I can afford to buy three or four for our inventory. They have a feature set that fulfills most riders, they sound good (if not great) and for the amount I paid, I’ll run them into the ground and throw them in the garbage when they break.” No bones about it, those particular mixers will never be sent to the repair shop. For the mid-level businessman, I guess that’s an amicable trade.
The other conversation was with my friend Rowan who owns a recording studio in Westbrook, Maine. A few years ago he purchased a mid-format analog desk. When he had a few recent tech questions, he couldn’t even get a call back from the manufacturer. That’s unacceptable. Granted, he didn’t spend $100K on a large-format console, but he didn’t spend $300 on a Mackie mixer either—and quite frankly, Mackie would probably answer the phone if he called with a tech inquiry. The manufacturer of his desk took the money but shook the responsibility of support, and that’s upsetting.
As Rowan described it, “Sadly, (much like cars today) the console might be too high-tech for a guy with a schematic and soldering iron to fix if it does go down. Used to be when your car died you could take it to your uncle who had know-how and a socket wrench. Recently, I took my car in to the dealer (it was having trouble turning over) and the solution was a software update. I’m not joking, but at least the dealer was there to do the work.”
Most audio gear eventually becomes obsolete, the exceptions being a “classic” compressor here or an outboard mic preamp there. But it’s unfair for a manufacturer to take a customer’s hard-earned cash and slam the door in their face when they need support. In the long run, it’s the manufacturer cutting off their nose to spite their own face because when it comes time for the next round of purchasing new gear, the cash is probably going to flow to a different company.