Sunday, April 14, 2024

Does your gear matter?

Does your gear matter? Simple answer: yes.

Those populists who say otherwise are perhaps simply currying favour. Or, to be generous, perhaps they are attempting to counteract the overwhelming commercialisation of the internet, where everywhere you turn someone is proclaiming the newest trinket to be the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time).

But both extremes are wrong. The newest tool won't make your practice better. But it's also true that ignoring the quality of your gear is foolish. This article will assert the review principles that I abide by, so as to place my articles here in the correct context.

It should be plain to anyone who has tried to learn music that a poor instrument is detrimental. You can't finger nimbly if the string tension or height above the fretboard is wrong. A split reed doesn't sound right. You can't get good tone out of a cheap string. Using a poor instrument can instill bad habits or frustrate the learner to the point that they lose enthusiasm.

Considering that I am trained as an audio engineer and teach on a media course, I often get asked my advice about gear for audio, photography, and video. Sometimes the reply does not suit the questioner, since there exists a threshold of expenditure that one must commit to. Spend any less and your equipment will hamper your tasks. Spend any more and you get only incremental benefits. Somewhere in between is a sweet spot, but that is rarely found at the cheapest end of the spectrum.

Sometimes the answer is disappointing for the opposite reason. If someone invests a substantial sum in an item, they have a vested interest in believing it is a wonderful tool. I have been a critical thinker since I bought my first synth at age 17. I immediately saw the value in a different keyboard, and traded my Korg for a Moog. I then stuck with that device as the optimal tool for the money. Had I been wedded to my first choice I would have done myself no favours.

In some disciplines there are bargains to be had. One of the goals of this blog is to highlight tools whose value is out of proportion to their cost. That's why I've been actively testing lenses lately. My first step in this process is to read voraciously to determine recommended options. Then I can obtain a few of the most likely solutions, compare these for myself, and eventually narrow a large field to a small toolkit.

I share this process not to feed my own ego, but to make life easier for those that follow my footsteps.

I hope that you can trust my reviews and opinions, which come from a questing belief in finding optimal solutions. My general principle, after years as a starving artist, is to be frugal, to limit consumption, and to enjoy what I do own to the fullest. If occasionally I recommend a more expensive option, it is because that tool provides substantial benefits that cannot be found elsewhere.

Please bear these principles in mind as you read my audio, photography, and computer articles. These are extensions of my practice as a researcher and teacher. I have no interest in encouraging over-consumption, as that is antithetical to my lived ethos.


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