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.
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 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.
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!
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.