Dave Horn

Dave Horn

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"You're kidding me, right?!" is what I said to Eric when he came up with his new idea for a series of articles to write for you.  I've been after him for months to write about some really cool, advanced audio mixing techniques, and this is what he comes up with? 

"Eric, you do know that we make our money when people actually spend money, don't you?!"  He grinned and emailed me his first submission.  It was entitled something like "No-budget improvements that don't require you to spend a dime on new gear."  Uggh.  Check it out

I write that only semi-seriously.  Eric's new series is called "No-Budget Tips to Improving Your Sound."  Our hope is to make it a weekly series from here until Eric runs out of tips, if he doesn't put us out of business along the way. 

Truly, we want you to know more about the gear you have; we want you to better understand mixing technique; and we want you to be stretched and challenged and to grow as an audio mixing technician.  Sure, we need to sell products, but helping you make the most of what you have is what matters most. 

You're always welcome to call or to ask a question.  We look forward to hearing from you. 

If you'd like to make sure that Eric keeps up his end of the weekly bargain, or ask him a question, please feel free to send him an email at eric@geartechs.com. 


Thursday, June 17, 2010 02:50 PM

So June 12 has passed - now what?

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With the FCC-mandated changes to the wireless spectrum, there has been a lot of activity around here over the past few weeks.  We've sold a lot of wireless microphones, but we've also found that only about half of those who called had an actual system in the 698-806MHZ range that needed to be replaced.  I enjoyed giving the good news to those who had purchased from us and for whom we were able to help avoid the issue.

So now what?  The FCC has made those microphone systems illegal, but since many people's wireless microphones still worked on June 13, they're taking their chances.  You may get away with it for awhile, but like happened in my own church back in 2008, you'll get caught - not by the "wireless police" but by a licensed user (like AT&T, Sprint, Verizon, and others) with a very large transmitter that will cause your wireless microphone system to become worthless from interference.

If you choose to take your chances, don't be surprised one day when your systems cease to work properly and you're calling to figure out what to do next.  Interference in the 698-806MHZ range is inevitable, and for many, it has already been a fact of life.  Until June 30, 2010, Audio-Technica, Shure and Sennheiser are offering wireless trade-in rebates to help offset the cost of new systems.  Many manufacturers are low on stock, so please don't wait until the last minute.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010 05:37 PM

Backup Twice AND Test!

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Over the past few weeks, things might have seemed a little bit quiet on the blog/new products/website updates front, and for not so good reason - a preventable reason at that.  On May 14, we suffered the corruption of data on one of the hard drives here.  Suffice it to say, we've been limping a little and waiting for the data recovery people to do their magic.

I finally received the call today to say that they were able to recover 102,000 files which would be classified by type, but not necessarily in any order, and none with names.  A File Type Recovery, I've learned, is the last chance, the end of the line, etc.  What we'll be left with is hundreds of folders with thousands of files and there is no way to tell one .jpg file for an advertisement from one .jpg from the iPhoto library, a .xls from any other, etc.  Boy, that'll be fun.

My point is not to elicit any sort of response from you, but to warn that you must back up and subsequently test your backups.  Most of our data was backed up, but the data had not been tested for integrity, so even though we have some pieces, not all work, and only a few work perfectly.  We restored from what we thought were valid backups of some files only to find that they didn't work.

Will we get much usable information back from the data recovery company?  Other than a Microsoft email database, it appears unlikely.

Make sure that you set up a backup routine both on-site and off-site and test the backup files from time to time to make sure that you can restore your operations from the backups.  Had we done that, we would have found some holes to fix, and until you've lived through putting the pieces back together, you can never appreciate what a pain in the tail it is.

Backup!  On-site, off-site and test!!

Sunday, May 09, 2010 05:56 PM

The microphone cable that kept coming back.

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This morning in preparation for worship, I had one of those "it couldn't be" moments.  I arrived early to make sure that everything was set up for the band and vocalists.  We started the sound check and something just wasn't right with the vocal sound.  I listened, took a quick glance at the channel equalizers for each singer, and everything looked right, but a quick check in the headphones let me know that I had a bad microphone cable.  But we don't have any bad microphone cables, do we?

As it turns out, I had the same problem a month or so ago and had thrown a specific type of cable away.  Someone had done the church a "favor" and fished it out of the trash can.  It ended up in the storage room with the other cables.  I guess that I could have repaired it, but the reality is that if a cable doesn't fail right at the connector that it can be very difficult to repair.  I usually throw the bad ones away and get another one.  I needed to throw this one away outside the building, I guess.

All of that to say that if you have a bad microphone cable, either set it aside for repair in a way that makes it obvious that it can't be used, or throw it away in a place where it doesn't end up back in the "good" cable storage without your knowledge.

Thursday, April 22, 2010 03:31 PM

When compatible isn't really compatible.

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A few weeks ago, one of our long-time clients and I decided to try some "compatible" projector lamps for his Panasonic LCD projectors.  They were lots less expensive and had a longer warranty, so we decided to give them a shot.

I've always been a believer that there's a high cost to low prices, and that you don't always realize it up front.  I live it myself with some of my own purchases, and sometimes, you decide that the savings was worth it. Sometimes, it isn't.

To make this post a quick one, we ended up shipping six lamps to the client.  Two were bad out of the box, one burned out almost immediately, and one had a loose lamp base that prevented its use.  Two worked just fine.  We also sent two Panasonic brand lamps, and both of those were perfect in terms of condition and performance and were slightly brighter, to boot.

I completely understand your pain in paying $350-500 for a light bulb and that a "compatible" for $100-200 less can be tempting.  Just be aware that there's often a high cost to low prices, and in this case we both paid dearly.

 

Saturday, March 27, 2010 09:02 AM

This is how I decide where to shop.

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This morning, as I contemplate buying a new dehumidifier for my basement, I envision stopping at Lowe's to buy it.  Why Lowe's?  It's the same reason that I eat at certain restaurants, shop at specific stores, fill my car with fuel at certain stations, and have it fixed at the dealership - even though rumor has it that the dealership is more expensive.

At Lowe's, my friends Matt and Adam are managers there, at the same store in Hilliard, OH.  Why would I shop there?  I want their store to do well, I want them to get the quarterly bonuses instead of others and promotions to new positions for a job well done.  Plus, it never hurts to know the manager if you have a problem.

Why do I eat at Black Creek Bistro, the Food Corner, Minelli's, Buffalo Wild Wings, Chipotle, and Rooster's?  Most are locally owned, one sponsors our church basketball and softball leagues, they're in or near my neighborhood, one employs a member of our church in an executive position (and we all need jobs), and it's important to me that these companies remain in business and do well.  If they do well, I do well.

I buy toys for kids at Larson's Toys on Lane Ave. because it's easy to get in and out, they're experts on what my nephews and niece will like, and they're family-owned and have been for years.  Great, expert service.  Yes that's important, even with toys.

I buy gasoline from United Dairy Farmers (and ice cream, too).  The Lindner family from Cincinnati have supported my  alma mater Judson University with millions of dollars over the past 25 years.  Why wouldn't I buy what they sell from them? Plus, they have the best Cookies & Cream ice cream on the planet.

And the dealership.  Toyota West in Columbus, OH saved me $2500 when they didn't even know that they knew me.  Several years ago, I bought a vehicle from a Florida auto auction, sight unseen.  A friend of mine who's an auto broker picked it, and it was beautiful.  There was just one problem.  It was delivered without the master key.  To make the story short, you need a master key to make additional keys.

After 3-4 phone calls to different dealers and plenty of disinformation, I called the service department at Toyota West (the dealership closest to my home and the one I assumed knew the least about my vehicle).  The service manager looked up the parts in his book, confirmed that the price would be $2500 or so to replace the main computer (plus the cost of the keys themselves - about $375 each, plus programming labor) and to issue a master key due to the type of chipset.

The service manager could have stopped there, but he chose to tell me that, even though he could make no promises, Toyota used to offer courtesy replacements of the computer for just such occasions (lost keys) only if I bought two new keys and paid the labor (which I had to do anyway). He had me over the proverbial barrel, but he chose to do what he'd want someone else to do for him.  All of the other dealerships were ready to collect the repair fee and move on.

I called the toll-free number for Toyota parts, and was connected to a human who promptly shipped the new $2500 computer at no charge, along with two new keys. I paid $875 for what might have been a $3375 repair.

Seven years and 85,000 miles later, I still drive that Toyota (and it's still beautiful), and I have all of the service work done at the dealership because I was treated honestly right up front - and because Toyota West keeps treating me right, and keeps the vehicle like new mechanically.  And as it turns out Scott, the service manager, is the sister of a girl with whom I attended high school, and the dealership employs a couple other old friends, too.

It never hurts to know the service manager, and when I buy my next Toyota, it'll be from Toyota West.

Think about those businesses that are important to you.  Why would you buy what those businesses sell anywhere else?

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Every once in awhile, I get a clear thought about the importance of buying equipment from a dealer that you know and trust.

We're bombarded by price-related requests like "can you match" and "will you beat" and "I'll only buy from you if."  Interestingly, it's not the "superstores" whose prices are tough to beat, but it's the grey- and black-market companies that spell trouble - for us and for you.  And with the Internet, there are thousands of places from which to buy.

We're a factory-authorized Sanyo dealer, for example.  Not every company that sells Sanyo products is an authorized Sanyo dealer.  Even some of the really big Internet companies are not authorized dealers.  You might be tempted to say, "Who cares?" whether a dealer is authorized, or not.  It's all about getting the lowest price, right?!  Not so fast.

If you buy any Sanyo product -- projector, display, projector lamp (bulb) -- from a non-authorized Sanyo dealer, how long is your warranty? The standard warranty on the projector is three years, if you buy from an authorized dealer.  The warranty is null-and-void otherwise.  Zero, zip, nada, nothing.  You get the idea.

Sanyo is one of a growing number of companies that chooses to tell you that you're on your own, if you choose to buy from an unauthorized source.  If you need warranty service from Sanyo, the warranty claim has to be accompanied by a dated copy of your invoice from us and by the invoice number from Sanyo on which the projector was sold to us. We can supply that information for most of sales we've made since 1992.  We retain actual paper records for at least seven years back.

That's a big deal if you need service under warranty, or if someone steals your equipment, and you forgot to write down the serial number.  You do write those things down, don't you?!

Let's face it; there are lots of ways to get unauthorized products.  Some are bought from other countries.  Even units made for the Canadian market don't automatically have a US warranty.  Some are used and passed off as new.  Some are stolen - plain and simple.

We received a call last year to be on the lookout since a truck full of flatscreen televisions had been stolen and to be aware of special "deals."  The police never found the truck, but I'll bet that all of those televisions are being used in homes around the country.

A few years before that, a local pawn shop was raided for selling a truckload of tool sets stolen from Home Depot.  The owner had bought hundreds of factory-sealed sets and had sold them on a well-known Internet auction site to unsuspecting buyers.  The pawnshop had a 100% positive feedback rating from its auction customers, but it was selling stolen goods.

We once had a client who called to ask one of our installers how to change his new Sony camera menus from Chinese to English.  We had to tell him "Sorry pal, that camera wasn't made for the US market.  You own an expensive paperweight from one of those New York camera shops."

I could go on, but my point is that reputable dealers pay similar prices for the goods that they sell.  All have significant investments in training, inventory, people, systems, etc.  Those things cost money.  If the price seems too good to be true, watch it.

Remember the camera with Chinese menus?  We had offered a factory-sealed US version to the client for $2599.  He told one of our guys that we were crazy and that he could get it for $1499.

Like we did with that guy, sometimes we have to suggest to someone that they buy elsewhere because we can't match the price.  Pro audio and video dealers wish that we made $1100 on every $2599 sale, but we don't.  It's not even close.

Be aware that there's sometimes a high cost to low prices - whether it's quality or the fact that you're on your own if you have a problem.

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Since I started here in 1991, the technology business has seen lots of changes with respect to price versus quality, and with respect to availability and accessibility.  I think of the days when a 16x4 audio mixer cost $5000, when it was common to pay $1200 for a mid-range wireless microphone system, and when a video projector used to be as big as a motorcycle and as expensive as a house.

The "race to zero" (as we call it) has allowed more people utilize technology and has increased its use, but since a product can't cost nothing, something has to give.  Have costs of production been reduced?  Yes.  Has component quality been cut?  In many situations, yes.  Did manufacturers make "too much" money way back when?  I have no way to answer that.  The bottom line is that more people can buy more equipment, and that's a good thing.

Lower prices bring more people into the buying equation, but once prices are lower, what have we come to expect?  Even lower prices and lower prices again.  At some point, the equipment we offer has to be made of something and it still has to work, and people have to be paid to design and produce it.  It has to cost something.

How are lower prices achieved?  Think cereal boxes and toilet paper.  Smaller, shorter – less for more.  Our suppliers have to give us less to keep prices the same or to lower them in an inflationary environment.  It's the same for everything.  You get what you pay for, and there's a cost to low prices.

How many of you make less money than you did in 1991?  The engineers who design these products don't either, but modern production techniques make better equipment more available than it's ever been.

In the technology business, it's usually quality and performance that suffers.  We have cheap equipment that behaves like cheap equipment.  And the really good stuff is still expensive.

Again, please be aware that much of the savings has come at the expense of something (whether US jobs, component quality, or profit margins), so please select your tools well.  My goal is to find products that meet the quality/value equation and feature them.  Sometimes, those are lower-priced products that work really well, and sometimes, those are more expensive pieces that you'd be wise to save for if necessary.

Spend some time in our Product Reviews section to find the products I believe in most.

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Last night, I made a late stop at church and happened to notice that no one had picked up the mail from the mail slot, so I did.  What I found was a catalog from a competitor, so I did the natural thing - I threw it away!

No, I didn't throw it away, but I did look it over.  One of the products featured on the cover of the catalog was a video projector for under $500 - a great deal right!  Or maybe not.  How do you know?  The ad boasted "superior picture quality" and 2600 lumens and the "vibrant color imaging."  That was just what our church needed!  I almost ordered one.  Not really.

Most people don't know better, but this projector won't have "superior" picture quality because it's SVGA native.  SVGA is a computer screen resolution measured at 800x600 pixels.  Most projectors are XGA (1024x768 pixels) or higher.  SVGA was the standard for computer screens and projectors 10 years ago, and newer XGA projectors (which are on their way out now, but are many times more compatible with existing computers) are only slightly more expensive.  Fewer pixels means a grittier picture.  The little squares that make up the picture are larger, so the image can't be as smooth as a projector with more pixels.

"Superior" when compared to what?  15-year-old technology?  Well, okay, you got me Mr. Marketeer.

Equipment using old technology promoted as "New!" and "superior" is simply hogwash.  If you need something inexpensive, take some time to make sure that you're not buying something that's cheap because the manufacturer should have retired it 4-5 years ago, or because the dealer hasn't been able to sell it.

The right equipment doesn't always cost a lot more, and buying older technology assures that you'll be stuck with an expensive paperweight much more quickly.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010 05:24 PM

Meet your needs and your budget!

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Despite what others have led you to believe, the products we sell are not essential to support human life.  Food, water, and temperate shelter qualify as essential - professional audio and video equipment do not.  Even so, the equipment we offer is essential for effective communication, and that's a big concern, especially in the worship setting.

So what do you do when the Finance people say, "There's no money for that?"  Or, "You'll have to get by for $2000 when your lowest bid came in at $4000."  Many days, I talk with people facing these challenges, and just today, we did a 50% "haircut" on a video system project that will deliver 85% of the intended impact of the original proposal.

When a project seems impossible, it's likely that there are sections of the proposal that can be adjusted while retaining much of what you hope for.  The system might not remain quite as user-friendly, it won't have all of the bells and whistles, but it will meet your needs and your budget - if the changes are made with care and thought towards the future.

Let us help you find the right solution so that you end up right where you want to be.

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