Planned Obsolescence and Home Recording

We’ve all experienced something like this: the new iPhone comes out. A new operating is released around the same time, and all of the sudden your 2 year old phone starts to feel sluggish.

Is this a conspiracy?

Unfortunately not. Planned obsolescence seems to be a factor. Planned obsolescence is when consumer goods are produced with a short life span in mind. Think of products that become obsolete when everything around them gets upgraded. Eventually, you have to buy the new model just to get any function.

Rather than go down the rabbit hole with phones, I wanted to share my experience with three top-of-the-line pieces of technology and how their planned/unplanned obsolescence has been a thorn in my side. I’ll give my current recommendations based on my less-than-desired experience and tell you how I’ve “fixed” my issues for the time being.

Pro-Tools

About 3 years ago I purchased the industry standard recording DAW Pro-Tools. At the time, I had the option to buy a monthly subscription or buy the program out right (which is called a perpetual license). While the price tag on the latter option was significantly higher, I figured I wanted to really own this program and not have to pay monthly for something I might use off an on.

Big. Mistake. When you buy Pro-Tools at full price, it does not come with software upgrades for subsequent versions. “So what, I’m sure the old version is more powerful than I’ll ever need.” It’s not that simple, friend. As Apple (in my case) updates operating systems, older versions of Pro-Tools may not be compatible with the newer OSX. In my case, the version of Pro-Tools I bought less than 5 years ago will not run on the most current Max OSX: Sierra.

And what does Pro-Tools offer the customs? “You may purchase the new version at full cost.” Score one for them.

Altiverb

Altiverb is an amazing reverb plug-in. The geniuses who made it went in to some of the best sounding studios, venues, churches, etc. and ran sine waves through them to capture the true reverb of the room. Sounds amazing, ridiculously customizable, and worth the $520 price tag…when you can use it.

Here’s another case of as things upgrade, it loses functionality. For quick and dirty recording I like to use GarageBand for Mac. (I also use GarageBand when, say, Pro-Tools doesn’t work!) When I first got Altiverb, it worked like a charm. With subsequent releases of GarageBand, it stopped working. When I reached out to Altiverb, they recommended reinstalling the iLok software (which ensures you have a license to use the product). After doing so, the software equivalent of “unplugging and re-plugging the internet router to fix your WiFi,” Altiverb still didn’t work.

The final solution from Altiverb? “Well GarageBand isn’t listed as one of our supported programs anyway.” Go figure.

Apogee Element

It’s exciting to get a new computer. Enter: the new iMac with the amazing M1 processor! For those of you unfamiliar with the M1, it’s Apple’s new processing chip which is apparently able to handle much more simultaneous information at a single time, especially when compared to their previous processing chips. This chip was introduced in computers around November of 2020 and has promised to be a game-changer in Apple’s computers. In July of 2021, I was able to get my hands on the new Apple iMac complete with the M1 processing chip.

Enter: the Apogee Element series. The Apogee element is piece of hardware which acts as a digital converter for analog audio inputs. In other words, you can plug your XLR cables (connected to your microphones) into this device and the Element has a thunderbolt 2 output which converts the audio signal to a digital format with near lossless quality. While many users may be more familiar with the Scarlett by Focusrite or M-Audio’s AIR, I chose the Apogee Element because of the super high-quality signal it provides. Of course, the price is multiplied accordingly when purchasing from Apogee rather than its competitors.

So why tell you about the M1 and the Apogee Element together? Because they are not friends. While Scarlett and M Audio have released software updates so that their hardware can work with the M1, Apogee has not. Given that the previously mentioned companies work at such a lower price point, you figure the “Ferrari” of interfaces (Apogee) would be all over this update. No such luck. While Apogee promises to have a solution “soon,” they have yet to release anything concrete about this.

Solution: Running two computers

Ian and I are currently working on an album, so not having all this expensive gear work is not an option. For the time being, I’m forced to run two computers. My new Apple iMac with the M1 chip is used for video editing and just about everything else besides recording.

My old Apple iMac (from around 2014) has been wiped of everything and I reinstalled the old operating system so that I could use my old version of Pro-tools along with the Altiverb plug-in. The Apogee element also works with my old iMac, so now the old machine has become my dedicated recording machine. This seems to be working for the time being!

Recommendations

Software: At this point, I’d say when given the option between purchasing a perpetual license and a monthly subscription, go for the subscription model. In the long run, it’ll cost more because of monthly payments, but your program won’t go obsolete in a couple of years. Subscription models generally come with support and updates. For what I paid for the full version of Pro-Tools, it’s incredibly disappointing that the software company doesn’t attempt to support the product after a couple years.

Hardware: it’s hard to recommend what to do here. I think it’s very odd, to say the least, that the more expensive, high-end company is less on-top of software updates than the bargain brand. In the future, I guess shop for quality while keeping an eye on what users say about the lifespan of their products.

At the end of the day, this is where consumerism and demand meet innovation and corporate bottom lines. While I understand it makes companies more money if you continually pay a subscription or upgrade to the newest model, I would hope that high-end products would last more than 5 years. Like our phones, it seems that planned obsolescence is a factor when investing in software or hardware products I hope this little vent session helps or at least you all found it slightly interesting.

Do you have any experiences with your planned obsolescence affecting your music projects? Share in the comments and we’ll all have a nice therapy session.

1 Like

This has been a frustrating undertaking to say the least…

Sean and Ian, irst of all, the two of you are so talented on classical guitar that any album you two put out(even if recorded with Voice memo on your Iphone) would be stunning in composition and performance.

I don’t record much at home (except for quick ideas on voice memo or garage band) and there is a “DAW” based $220 a day studio I work at about once a year a half mile from my house in Arizona.

I LOVE going to the studio (and spend $200-400 a year there) because I believe being a skilled recording engineer takes as much practice skill as being a virtuoso musican and also when I go to the studio I tend do be “More rehearsed” vs. “Overdubbing at home 200 days a year and 3am and rehearsing as I record”. Also going to studio with my trusted engineer Brandon at "The Library Studios, Surprise AZ " is a special treat because he places mics on my acoustic guitar, lets me use his Orange 4x12 electric guitar cab, has a $800 bass guitar for overdubs vs. my $120 “Made in Asia” bass and its like “going to a fancy restraunt where I get waited on” vs. me trying to have the raw ingredients, prep time, prep labor to be my own 5 star chef when cooking a meal at home ".

I also believe that every formal “recording project” should have a budget of “Time, money, and heartache” and having “studio time booked” for a particular day(s) keeps me on track with all 3 of those and I LOVE the collaboration of someone “twisting the knobs for me” as they take my input and use their skill and pro audio gear. :slight_smile:

On my last laptop from 2 years ago, I had a digital USB Keyboard and to get it to run, I downloaded a DAW(not pro tools) on 30 day trial and I got so frustrated(and my laptop probably did NOT have proper memory) that I ended up ditching the USB keyboard for a full on digital piano because when I’m teaching music lessons in person , I need to “just turn it on, have speakers at the ready and go”.

If I ever do download another “DAW” and get into pro home recording(not likely) from what I’ve heard from pro studio owners is that “DAW world” of “yearly” or monthly subscription and also perpetual software levels and hardware updates I’m sure will continue. Just like in the “Video viewing” or “music consumption world”, I’m pretty sure most recording software will be “subscription based” vs. buy it outright and with “Planned obsolescence” of software.

Ian and Sean, I so can’t wait to hear your new album! For now the repurposed “dedicated older computer” with your software hardware sounds like its working adequately so thats good news.

I read somewhere that some “hit record producer” with billboard top 100 songs is still using 2010 software version of Pro Tools as of 2020 because he is not super techy and more about the music than upgrading . (Hey if Led Zeppelin IV was recorded on multitrack analog, that still sounds great too! I saw a documentary about upstar artists and when artist Beck recorded his first single “Loser” in the 1990s it was done on a Fostex 8 track reel to reel in back room of a record store owners property who “backed him” and the takes were so good, the 8 track reel takes is what you hear on a hit single even though mid 1990s most were doing 24 track 2 inch tape reel to reel with automated mixing desks like SSL4000.

In my humble opinion, when there are limitations on even guitars, amps or microphones or other gear it “helps us get outside the box”. When Bon Iver recorded “For Emma, Forever Ago”
Armed with just an Mbox and a limited “M-Powered” version of Pro Tools, Justin Vernon spent a winter in his family’s hunting cabin in the woods of Wisconsin tracking and layering guitars, vocals and horns with his SM57. Another limitation on gear is when “Pre major label” Eddie Van Halen could not afford a “Analog Delay Slapback Effect” in late 70s and “invented finger tapping” instead to simulate a quick echo because he did not have the cash to buy lots of effects before Van Halen went major label :slight_smile:

1 Like