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Sounding Off By Jeff Mearns
Published January 2000

Jeff Mearns wonders why we still suffer from gear lust, when old, faithful, well‑worn studio equipment so often produces the best results...

A few years ago, when my credit was still good, I decided to go 'State Of The Art'. I bought an Akai S1000, a PowerMac 7200/66AV, Logic Audio, a Tascam DA88, a Wavestation... I had arrived, as nice girls say. I even snapped up a Yamaha Promix 01 and a new set of guitar strings on the way home as an afterthought. This wasn't just about music any more, this was digital! (apart from the strings). The possibilities were endless: I could expand into broadcast post‑production, desktop publishing, Web design, blah, blah, blah... even the tax man would get his returns in colour. Surely no‑one could want, need, or for that matter, deserve, a more hi‑tech setup than this?

SOS reader JEFF MEARNS.SOS reader Jeff Mearns.Now, of course, when I sit looking at this, this... antiquated pile of junk, this groaning, creaking collection of garbage that cost me the best part of £50K but is now worth marginally more than a front‑cover sample CD (and yes, I use them for coffee coasters as well), I sometimes wonder why I bothered. At the time, I was well pleased. For one thing, I was glad to be shot of my previous sampler, the notorious Cheetah SX16. The S1000 was, by contrast, a feast for the eyes, with its seductive blue display. Bit of a shame, really, that the backlight died, but I've got a lovely torch now, so we get by.

My new Mac had a super‑fast 66MHz processor, 500Mb hard drive and Logic Audio with four channels of real‑time audio. All very impressive, but even this was nothing compared to the sheer pleasure of having a colour monitor. Predictably, however, after the first couple of weeks I stopped colouring in all those little tracks and waveforms. In fact, now I never even bother to name the tracks or instruments (yes, doing remixes two years down the line is a nightmare, but will I learn?). Nevertheless, my Mac is still ahead of its time in some ways — the lithium battery ran out years ago, and as far as me and my computer are concerned it always was, and always will be, August 17th 1958. What millennium bug?

Channels 13 and 14 on the Promix have bitten the dust, and I never use channels 1 to 8 because the balanced sockets I soldered on keep falling off. Never mind, if you include the stereo inputs I've still got a full 8 channels, and who could possibly want more than that?

The Tascam suffered a brief onslaught of guitar multitracking, but these days pretty much acts as a big sync box when I'm working to video. Still, the pretty lights are always worth switching it on for. The Wavestation is absolutely indispensable — for one patch (Noble Strings). Other than that, it sits there patiently waiting for me to get to grips with Sound Diver.

This all sounds very sad, doesn't it? But the thing is, I've knocked out most of my best stuff on this equipment. And I have done some post‑production, desktop publishing, and so on. Yes, it is way out of date, and yes, it's depreciated frighteningly in value, but it's also kept my head above water for the last few years and I have great respect for the way it's flogged itself to a standstill.

Surely, therefore, I have conquered the irrational urge that once made me lust after the state of the art? After all, I know my ageing equipment inside out, I understand its peculiarities and whims, and I know how to get the best from it. Wouldn't it be sensible to remain faithful to this trusty old gear, rather than throw away another £50K buying another collection of studio kit, spend two years learning to use it, and then find that this too is obsolete?

No way! The moment I get my hands on some money, I'm after a G4 and Logic Platinum and an S6000 and an 02R. Will I learn?