There is something quite mystical about having some "vintage" gear in our studios. Be it a mid 20th-century Austrian microphone or classic British console there is something nice about old gear and what we feel it imparts onto our work. Or should that be, some old gear?
Not all the old stuff makes it into the vintage category. Now there may be an argument that says they made stuff better back then and in a variety of cases, this is true, however, modern production processes and automation mean that modern equipment will be more consistent and less likely to go wrong. Also, older components were not as stable and regulated as those of today.
As you can see from the image above I own a "classic" or should that be "vintage", or just plan "old" M Audio NRV-10 Firewire mixer from around 2007 making it just over 10 years old and in modern studio terms, this could be considered an old item. Just look back at the software and hardware from that time and you might well wonder how we were ever able to make records using such ancient stuff.
I normally use the NRV-10 for small PA jobs, DJing and garden parties, that type of thing. Yesterday I was prepping the gear for a small event that I was providing the PA for in central London. It was a drinks reception where there would be a piano vocalist performing and some speeches. Simple gig a pair of jack leads for the electric piano and a couple of mics nothing out of the comfort zone of the NRV-10. At the 11th hour (just before I left home) I was asked if it was possible to record the event. Never being one to say no to a client and seeing a couple more £££ in the gig fee I said yes first, and then considered how I was going to record it. The NRV-10 has twin Firewire 400 connections so I could hook this up to my MacBook Pro via some Thunderbolt to FW800 converter then convert again to FW400. But what about drivers? Technically the NRV-10 drivers were only supported up to Mac OS 10.8.4. so tried it. Sadly the driver would not even install on my OS 10.12.5 Sierra MBP so now what to do?
Right at the back of the gear cupboard, I have an older 17" HP Elite Book. It's an early i7 machine running Windows 7. The NRV-10 had drivers for Windows 7. I fired it all up and connected it to an external USB drive, remembering that back then Pro Tools on Windows was happier with external USB drives rather than Firewire drives. I installed Pro Tools 11 and crossed my fingers. The HP saw the NRV-10 drivers with no problem and Pro Tools booted up and ran perfectly and did so for the entire event. Not a challenging recording session, with only 4 channels of recording but none the less it worked. We even ended up running the latest version of iTunes on the PC and ran the audio from iTunes out of channels 7 & 8 set to FireWire receive mode on the NRV-10 so no need for extra cables. It's like they designed it to be a really flexible small format desk for studio and live use. Actually, I think that is exactly what the marketing blurb said back when.
So other than an amusing rant down memory lane where is this going? I think digging out some of my old gear reminded me of a couple of things.
- It does not matter how old or new the gear is. If it's the right piece for the job then it's the right piece. None of the people at the event cared that I was using a mixer that was 10 years old. It sounded great and the client even said how good the sound was.
- If you really know how to use a piece of gear and how to get the best out of it, that is far better than knowing a little bit about every piece of gear.
Do I think the M Audio NRV-10 mixer will ever be a vintage piece that gear heads will lust after and that its prices will sky rocket on the second-hand market? No, I don't think so. If truth be told, I don't think there is a great deal of mid price almost starter level gear from the first decade of the noughties that will ever find it way into the hallowed halls of the vintage audio equipment collector or dealer. But hey, who would have thought that a microphone that cost around $300 when new back in the 60's would now be worth 30 or 40 times that.
If I take one thing away from this experience it is that I should not overlook the gear I have (and I do still have a lot of goodies stacked away, even after my latest eBay cull). I need to continue looking after it, keeping it in full working order and even cleaning it from time to time, as I never know when it may be called on and it might just be the perfect tool for the job.
I'd like to think my buddy Bruce for posting an image on FaceBook of his two Atari ST computers, found during a garage clear out for giving me the idea for this post. I wonder if they still boot up.