Gear Talk: Reasonably Priced Alternatives Part 4

Welcome to the last week of my series on reasonably priced alternatives. Over the last three weeks I hope I’ve introduced you to something you haven’t looked into or given you the courage to look at more than just the name brand stuff (Week 1 – Direct Boxes, Week 2 – Podcast Mics, Week 3 – Touchscreens). This week I’m going to finish up the series talking about the Waves Axis One. At first I was nearly 100% against people buying the Axis One based on it’s MSRP but I’ve learned a few things about it and because of a deal, got one myself. Here is what I’ve learned. 

First, let’s talk about what the Waves Axis One actually is. Waves has quite a few applications it uses as plugin hosts for any audio environment you find yourself in. SuperRack, eMotion LV1, and SoundGrid Studio, are all run from a computer and not on their trademark processing servers. For the longest time they just gave a set of specs and we’d do the best we could to meet or exceed those specs. But a few years ago Waves came out with a compact machine that is purpose built to run one of those three pieces of software. Windows has even been slimmed down and setup to be better suited to audio production. The computer is also easy to rack mount with the use of a shelf you can even buy from Waves itself. If you want a pre-built and setup option that is incredibly reliable and ready for you then the Waves Axis One is for you. It is running Windows Enterprise which ends up being beneficial because it only gets the critical updates required for security and performance fixes (causing far fewer problems) and comes shipped with software pre-loaded for your convenience. You can also plug 3 monitors into it in order to maximize screen usage in LV1 applications. My only real problem with it was the price. At $1499 MSRP it’s a bit expensive for a small form factor machine.

Enter the fully equipped Intel NUC (this is only one option of the many available). If the form factor is a consideration to you than look no further. At $724.95 you have yourself a definite competitor to the Axis One. The included i7-10710U stacks up very competitively to the i5-8500 in the Axis One (link to comparison on Passmark). In fact it beats it in many categories being only bested in single core rating (which likely won’t come into play in our scenario). Add that to the fact that this thing is just under half the MSRP you will find yourself a contender. The biggest downside is a lack of display outputs. However, with the onboard usb C port, this could be overcome (at a price). So if you’re in sticker shock about the price of entry to the wide world of plugins, this might be a healthy choice. The only thing to note is that it is a laptop CPU verses the Axis One’s full desktop CPU the difference will likely not be felt too much however.

The only question to answer here is why did I end up getting an Axis One myself. Well there are two simple reasons. The first is the killer deal I got from my vendor, Amplio Systems. For right around ~$2100 I could get an Axis one and a 64 channel license of LV1 (I was setting up a broadcast studio rig) along with a few accessories. The Axis One portion of that price I estimate was around $850. I was originally not even going to dedicate a machine to Axis One because I already had a big multi-tracking and utility machine I could run it on, but in the end, having a dedicated machine meant a bit more stability and reliability. Then it came down to monitors. If you know me, you know I love having as many monitors available as possible so I can spread things out and have access to as much info as possible. The Axis machine with three built-in monitor outs meant I’d have what I needed right out of the box and a computer that I can just let Waves service when I have an issue. If you’re in the same boat as me, be sure to get actual prices from your vendors. If you don’t have a vendor, message me and I’ll hook you up with Amplio (not sponsored, yet, I just love the guys over there). But if you’re just getting a smaller or portable setup and one monitor is enough, you could save the hundred or so bucks and use that money for more plugins!

Well that about does it for this week and this series. Hopefully my perspectives and ideas have helped you either save some money or meet some new gear. The biggest thing to remember when you are looking for reasonably priced alternatives is compare ALL the options. If specs are the same but prices are different, give it a try and share around if you find something that works but is a lot cheaper. As always, please, if you never want to miss a new blog post, check out this link, fill out the form, and subscribe! Don’t forget to also comment below or on Facebook if anything you’ve read leaves you with a question or an opinion you’d like to share. I don’t pretend to know everything so lets hear it! In the immortal words of the Red Green Show, “remember, we are all in this together!” See you next time! 

Gear Talk: Reasonably Priced Alternatives Part 3

Welcome back to Studio.Stage.Live! Hopefully this week finds you busy with new work. It’s been a strange season for all of us that’s for sure. Over the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking about reasonably priced alternatives. For the first week we talked about direct boxes and compared the Radial Lineup to one of my personal gotos in a pinch, the IMP. Last week, because so many of us are doing studio work or podcasts, I compared the SM7b to the SM58 and things were a lot tighter than even I expected when I started writing it. This week I have another hopefully useful alternative for you to consider. A lot of us use touchscreens, whether for a Waves program or remote control app for a mixer. The one every company suggests that you get is the Dell P2418HT, which is a great option but I think there is a product that we can find (I’ve personally bought several of) that has similar specs and maybe a few extra features. 

But first the Dell. With a native resolution of 1920×1080 it checks basically all the boxes for most applications (there are quite a few touchscreens with a much lower native resolution). This monitor is an IPS panel with an hdmi port and a full displayport for connection options. The display also supports a full 10 finger multi-touch which is the other feature to make sure your screens have before you buy them. There is even a built-in usb hub built into the screen itself so that when you plug in the usb cable for the touch support, you get a few extra ports near the monitor itself. All of this with no extra driver necessary for operation. Probably the one thing you get with this monitor that most others don’t have is that if you keep it on its stand, you can lower it down to the desktop or raise it up quite a bit. But the biggest feature is the ability to rotate and have it sit vertically. Add all that to an anti-glare screen surface and a basically miniscule bezel, you are left with a product that is well worth the money. We have several of these in service and have had nothing but predictable and extremely reliable service. Sometimes the anti-glare service is a bit uncomfortable to use but in the environments we are working in, anti-glare is incredibly helpful. There are also VESA mounting options which is always important for me and can be handy down the road. The only real problem here is that MSRP is over $300. Even used, if you can find them, isn’t that much cheaper. I also have not seen any additional sizing options if circumstances warrant a smaller option.

But the good news is that there is a great alternative that at the very least is cheaper so that if you want a touchscreen, the cost of entry is more reasonable. That alternative is the Planar Helium PCT2435. This display checks all the boxes, at least for me. It has that native resolution of 1920×1080, it supports 10 finger multi-touch, built-in USB hub, and an HDMI and VGA connector set for use with your computer’s video card. Much like the Dell option, this monitor also has built-in Windows 10 support. While the stand doesn’t get as tall as the Dell does, it does support turning the display 90 degrees (not natively, you’ll need to take off the mount and manually remount it). There are also VESA mounting holes. A side benefit is that the monitor does come in three sizes: the 24” we’ve been talking about as well as a 22” model and a 27” model, priced accordingly. There are some different stand options as well. The only catch to this is that the price of this display fluctuates wildly. I’ve bought one for ~$225 before which is a great deal but as of right now, they are sitting just below the Dell monitor. Something to keep an eye on. But, remember the screen size options. If 24” isn’t a needed thing, check out the smaller models. The 22” with just a regular stand ( also includes VESA) is ~$100 cheaper. This was the first screen we bought from Planar as a test subject and it’s currently in use at my FOH position for Waves SuperRack. It doesn’t have an anti-glare coating but because of where the monitor is located that isn’t an issue. The timing of this post isn’t too great from a price standpoint but I still wanted to write it knowing the price will go down. The Planar displays have been really great and I feel like they might even be a better value. I love the presence of the VGA port instead of the displayport and when a pandemic isn’t on, they are usually $75-$100 dollars cheaper. Would I buy the Dell if they are about the same price? The answer to that question is maybe. But right now there is still about $20 difference and for me, working where I work (at a church), every dollar counts. The good news is that even now, on Amazon, they have a used option that is quite a bit cheaper than the Dell. Because we have Amazon Prime and can return if there are issues so easily, it’s a no-brainer for me.

Hopefully this week, as well as the others, have introduced you to some alternatives to the mainstream gear. There is a lot of great stuff out there that if you’re willing to try, you might save some big bucks with and be able to pick up a few extra toys. If you have any questions about my experiences with Planar displays, just drop me a message either here in the comments section or on Facebook. I have a few more posts talking about some other reasonably priced alternatives so if you don’t want to miss anything, click this link, and subscribe to this blog. Have a great week!

Gear Talk: Reasonably Priced Alternatives Part 2

This week, I wanted to do a comparison of studio and podcast mics. I’ve seen the whole gamut of mics being used by podcasters, streamers, friends, and pros. Some people are even just using the headset mics built into their headphones (don’t worry, I’m not stooping that low). The premier mic that I’ve seen used in the most places and with the most clout, is the Shure SM7b but the hard part came when I was picking a reasonably priced alternative. I looked at ElectroVoice offerings and even some other Shure products. But it came down to the price, what could I find that was both reasonably priced and still sounded at least decent to good. That was the Shure SM58. Yep, the 58 strikes again.

But before we go there, here, let’s start with the SM7b. It is a standard dynamic with a cardioid pattern that does a great job in rejecting off axis input. The mic ships with two pop filters to suit your needs but Shure really brags on its built-in “shock absorption” that really helps to keep your audio free of pops and mechanical noises that result from air and movement. Another great feature that Shure added to the SM7b is an extra layer of shielding that helps protect mic itself from hum and buzz from computers and other electronics that may be in your studio. Lastly the SM7b has some built in filtering options that might be useful in various applications to help it capture specific sources more effectively. Probably the only downside to the mic (also occurs in most of its direct competitors as well) is that it takes a lot of gain to power the capsule (this is likely due to the lack of transformer, we’ll discuss that later). In order to combat that you’ll need a Cloud-Lifter or a pre-amp with plenty of overhead. What people love about this mic and probably why it is so useful is so many different applications (I personally love to use it with guitar amps) is that the response curve is very flat for a dynamic microphone (link to spec sheet with response curves). If you take all of those features and combine it with Shure’s legendary reliability you’ve got a package that, in my opinion, is well worth it’s MSRP of $399 (be sure to check with your Shure dealer for better pricing!).

Then comes the SM58. On the surface, especially when you consider the price at $99, you’d think these mics are in completely different classes. But they are essentially different shells to very similar capsules. The SM58 has been a staple in the live world for decades and except for one thing is very similar. That one thing is the presence of a transformer in the SM58 that serves to boost the outgoing signal. That transformer however does change the response curve making it a bit less balanced and flat as the SM7b that we talked about above (link to spec sheet with response curves). You’ll also be without the added windscreens and extra shielding. While there is a small amount of shock absorbing inside the shell, it is far less effective. There are a couple videos on youtube you can watch that compare them (here is a link to one, the video will start at the A/B comparison) if you level match them, it will be hard to tell the difference, especially when the speaker has good mic technique. It may not be near as sexy as the 7b but it sure does sound good and if you’re on a budget, $99 is just about right. 

Whether you’re looking at starting a podcast, looking for a better-than-a-headset mic for streaming or zoom calls, the SM7b and the SM58 are great choices to accomplish either of those use cases. The great thing is that if you don’t have the money for the SM7b now you can get the 58 and upgrade later and because it’s the SM58, you’ll find a use for it elsewhere I’m sure. I’ve personally used both of these mics and can vouch for both, be sure to reach out with any questions you have to or in the comments here or on Facebook. Also, if you’re starting up a podcast and have any questions hit me up somewhere and I can share with you how we got ours going. We are continuing this series next week talking about touchscreens. See you on the flipside!