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Job Security

Steve LaCerra • December 2019On the Digital Edge • December 14, 2019

The author, mixing on a Yamaha PM3000 console at The Gorge (George, WA), circa 2004.

A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with an audio tech from the local sound vendor at a gig I was doing. We were discussing old gear, and he started telling me a story of how the owner of his shop had several Yamaha PM3000 analog mixing consoles in their warehouse, but the consoles had been retired for quite a few years. Some of you young ‘uns may never have mixed on a Yamaha PM3K, but there was a period of time when that desk was everywhere, from rehearsal halls to casino showrooms, touring rigs to club and theater P.A. systems. They were huge, heavy and threw off a lot of heat. They were easy to use and had a ton of flexibility. They had dozens of input and output jacks on the rear panel, and the architecture was modular so you could remove a channel and swap it out for repair. Like any analog console, you could see what was happening in your mix by looking at the work surface, and not have to worry about the booby-trap gremlins that lurk beneath the layers of a digital desk.

‡‡         Goodbye Analog

The large-format analog console is a thing of the past, gone the way of the horse and buggy and the MiniDisc, partly because they’re just plain old — maintenance and sourcing parts is a huge issue — and partly because they’re so clumsy by contemporary standards. The digital console you’re carrying in your phone probably has more extensive processing, onboard effects, total recallability and may even have more audio I/O (I’m kidding about that last part). Most digital desks have much smaller footprints than their analog equivalents, and that’s important for venues that can’t afford to give up a ton of seating space for the FOH mix position. Interestingly, analog desks have not become a thing of the past due to audio quality. For example, the audio path of the Midas XL4 is still a thing of beauty, largely because it was designed to sound good, and not so much designed to sell at a price point intended to attract the masses.

The end of our conversation was a little sad: he witnessed several of his coworkers load those consoles into a dumpster. Yikes. Doesn’t someone want them? I was reminded of an ad I saw a year or so ago: a sound company in the NY area was giving away a similar large-format analog desk. Literally. “Yours for the taking…” said the ad. I briefly suggested to the Facilities Director at Mercy College that we grab it for the Music Production department because those desks are fantastic teaching tools. You can actually see the signal flow when patching into and out of an analog desk. You can see how inserts connect with outboard gear, as opposed to the mystery of the internal sends and returns in a digital desk. Alas, we did not have a cage in which to store this audio velociraptor and had to pass on it.

‡‡         Trendy Today, Gone Tomorrow

Like any progressing technology, audio is subject to the Next Big Thing, so it’s not surprising when it becomes outdated. What’s disturbing is the amount of investment made in the older desks (and that includes early-generation digital desks). By the time you were done with outboard gear and racks, custom cabling and road cases, an FOH rig with a PM3000 or an XL4 easily cost north of $100,000 at a time when $100,000 was worth significantly more than it is now. Look at what you can do with $100,000 these days: probably two mid-level digital mixers, a small self-powered line array, multiple sets of IEMs, a great mic package, and maybe even a used cargo van to haul all that gear to your next gig.

It’s the nature of the beast in our industry. Technology gets smaller, more powerful and (hopefully) sounds better. The challenge is investing your hard-earned bucks with care so that you can purchase high-quality gear that fills riders and performs reliably without forcing you to take out a second mortgage — all of which ensures return on your investment. The good news is that the overall level of performance and reliability attained by most new consoles and powered speakers is higher than ever. We can say the same for wireless gear as well, although investing in RF gear can be a bit of a crapshoot given the FCC’s constant restructuring of the wireless spectrum.

The availability of advanced gear at such affordable prices is a double-edge sword. On the one hand, it provides small sound companies and touring groups with modest budgets an opportunity to afford gear with amazing capabilities — which helps grow business, and ups the ante in production quality. On the other hand, it means that anyone armed with a credit card can walk into a “big-box” music retailer and walk out with a serious array of gear that they have no clue how to operate. Unfortunately, the credit card does not purchase audio expertise at that big box store.

That’s where folks like us come to the rescue. When sophisticated audio gear is placed into the right hands, fantastic things can happen. When it’s placed into the hands of people who don’t know how to use it, there’s likely to be a lot of frustration — and possibly damage to the gear. We’re The Right Hands, the people who know how to deploy the gear, configure it properly, tweak it and get it to sound good. Whether it’s the latest digital desk and powered line array or an old analog beast, a thorough understanding of the gear makes you a valuable asset. And that’s what I call job security.

Yamaha PM3000

Anatomy of a Classic: The Yamaha PM3000

Launched at the New York AES Show in 1985, the Yamaha’s PM3000 8-bus analog console was available in 24-, 32- and 40-channel versions and represented a significant upgrade from the previous PM2000. The first sound reinforcement console to use VCAs (on eight master faders that could be assigned to control faders on any combination of inputs), the PM3000 also offered 4-band channel EQ with fully parametric mids, eight group mixing buses and a stereo mix bus. Other features included an all-aluminum chassis that reduced the console’s weight by 30% over the PM2000, although with a 40-channel version weighing in at 302 pounds (less the massive external power supply) and a 76 x 38-inch footprint, it was far from svelte.

The PM3000 was replaced in 1992 by the improved PM4000 (which featured stereo aux buses, fully parametric EQ on all input channels and in keeping with the growing “input wars,” the availability of a 48-channel version. The fact that today — some 34 years later — PM3000s occasionally show up in clubs, churches and venues of every type, is a testament to Yamaha build quality and durability. —George Petersen

 

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