Fighting gear acquisition syndrome a.k.a How Age Of Empires 2 saved me unessecary purchases

Note: This piece is intended for the hobbyist engineer, or student. Experienced engineers will likely already have their shit together enough to have an internal version of this.

I’m an audio engineer, at least a student one. Therefore I’m a nerd, a massive nerd.

As a kid video-games dominated my life until around 2010, the landscapes of Tamriel, the alleyways of city 17, the tall grass of the safari zone and so on. In short, I’ve played a lot of video games which is where this piece finds it root. Some of you may have played real time strategy games such as Age of Empires or Supreme commander, a lot of these have a system of progression in your units and buildings where you must upgrade everything across the field before you can advance to the next level. This is called a tech tree, here’s one from Age of Empires 2.

As you can see the player can upgrade their units as they advance through the ages, each variation of soldier requiring their own research and progression path.

This all may seem irrelevant to you, the audio engineer, but I found that by adapting this system into how I buy gear that I can end up saving myself lots of money and stop unneeded or unusable purchases.

By creating a chart of my current rig and the sensible progression it should take, you can focus on this upgrades that really matter. Like in AOE2, you would place high priority on upgrading to pike-men if your enemy used mainly cavalry, You would place high priority on getting some better monitors if you found your current to be inaccurate, or more inputs if you find yourself a couple of sockets short of a drum kit.

My point is here that by writing yourself up a tech tree of purchases, you can streamline and realize your priorities. One of the best questions you can ask yourself while drooling over stuff on gearslutz is “Do I actually need this”. Have you found yourself in a session going “Shit, I don’t have enough inputs” or “My microphone locker isn’t performing well”. If the answer is yes, then you need to stop eying up U47 clones and address the problem immediately. 

Gear acquisition syndrome is a hard thing to deal with, especially when you’re starting out and you don’t have much gear beyond the essentials of a DAW+Interface/Tape Machine and a single microphone, you want everything, you want to experiment. But you can end up crippling yourself straight away by having loads of expensive gear going through a low quality D2A converter, think of it as having a really nice blazer jacket but then wearing it with a curry stained ripped white shirt and dirty ripped jeans.

What this requires from you is to analyse your rig, compare it to others, see where your weak links are, research the upgrades and put them in your tech tree. Here’s a working example, here I have my home rig/portable rig for tracking out in the field, it’s weak and cheap because I’ve only just started to adapt the system, and you can see how much more powerful it will be if I stick to the tech tree and don’t buy random assorted stuff just because it is cool. I’ve included a “cool stuff” section, but note it’s a lot less serious and is obviously for when I have some disposable income and no upgrades in high priority.

As you can see, I think the weakest link in my system is the monitors, they’re difficult to mix on and I struggle to get a mix close to “finshed” on them without going to university and finishing the mix on the HS8 monitors in one of the edit suites. This weakness could be to do with the acoustic properties of my room, but I have used Rokit 5s in acoustically tuned environments at college and still struggled to get anywhere near finished without using the other suite which used Mackie HR824s. So this is the upgrade I place highest priority on.

Then it is a split between interface/microphones, as both are lacking in a portable rig, but both need to be upgraded to get the best out of both, so after monitors, I will probably focus on getting more microphones and upgrading my interface.

You should by now understand the overall point of this, target the things you NEED, not what you WANT. Doing this will likely save you a lot of money and will ensure a steady progression of your rig, rather than a bunch of snap decisions where you end up with gear from various tiers.

This can all be summed up in a short sentence:

“Buy it when you need it, not when you want it”