Buying Guide for Professional Audio Equipment

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Buying Guide for Professional Audio Equipment

Professional audio equipment is not always of a higher quality than consumer-grade equipment. This is sometimes the case, but there are, in fact, high-end consumer products that are just as well-made as any professional audio equipment. It is not just a matter of price, either; as some consumer audio equipment can be expensive, easily falling within the normal range of professional equipment pricing.

Professional audio equipment has quite a long life and is widely available. While it can be difficult to just pop into any high-street retailer and find professional audio equipment, it is often available in specialty music shops, and occasionally in charity shops. Those who prefer to shop the greater variety available on the web can find them at many Internet retailers as well as online websites like eBay.

The real difference lies in the fact that professional audio equipment is designed to meet different requirements as opposed to consumer audio equipment. While both are intended to reproduce sound, home audio equipment is generally designed to do so under a much more limited set of circumstances than professional equipment. For example, home audio gear will normally be set up once, in either a living room or perhaps a home theatre situation, whereas professional gear, more often than not, needs to meet a completely different set of requirements, which makes the buying process that much more involved.

Differences Between Home and Professional Audio Equipment

One of the first things that stand out when looking at professional audio equipment is size. Professional equipment looks bigger than most consumer grade equipment; and often, it is. Part of the reasoning behind this is simply that it does not matter whether professional grade equipment looks good, either in a wall unit, or as the centrepiece of a home theatre.

The requirements for professional audio equipment are based on functionality, not aesthetics. Furthermore, professional grade equipment often needs to support a greater number of speakers,, and a variety of configurations. The same equipment may be required to fill an arena for a concert one night, and an intimate theatre setting the next. Additionally, in one situation the requirement might be for an entire audio system, while in another it may be necessary to interface with an existing setup. These are generally the types of situations most home users never need to face.

Specifications and Requirements

Another major difference between home audio and professional audio equipment is in the area of specifications. Not only are many professional components designed to much higher specifications, especially when it comes to power, they also tend to meet those specifications over a wider range of conditions. With a home audio amplifier,, the sum of its per-channel outputs may be greater than its overall maximum output; or perhaps the maximum output may only be achieved under certain circumstances. On the professional side, these numbers are not only likely to be higher, but the amplifier will also need to be able to meet its specifications in a greater range of conditions. One reason for this is simply liability. If a piece of professional audio gear fails because it cannot meet its specifications, it can lead to a lawsuit.

Professional Audio Equipment Interfaces

One more factor to consider, especially for those buying professional equipment for the first time, is that professional audio equipment does not always interface smoothly with consumer grade equipment. For one thing, it does not always use the same connectors. Most consumer audio equipment relies on certain standard connectors, such as RCA for analogue and S/PDIF for digital, whereas professional grade audio equipment uses XLR connectors for both analogue and digital connections.

However, it is not only the physical, but the electrical connection which needs to be taken into consideration when looking at professional audio equipment. Professional equipment uses different standards, not only does it use more power, it also measures audio signals on a different scale. Professional audio equipment generally provides balanced signals, where consumer equipment makes do with unbalanced signals. These are just a few of the differences between the two types of audio equipment.

Why Professional Audio Equipment

When a buyer looks at the higher costs and different interfaces, they may ask themselves why they should choose professional audio equipment. For a person who does occasional work as a DJ at friends' parties this may be a valid question, but for almost anyone else, the answer is simple. Consumer audio equipment is simply not up to the demands professional equipment needs to meet. Not only will it not interface with existing installations already using professional audio equipment, it is not designed to withstand the same operating conditions.

Consumer audio often uses relatively delicate connectors, which can be a problem if the same piece of equipment needs to be set up and torn down half-a-dozen times per week. There is also the chance of damage to the less robust consumer audio equipment when being transported.

Choosing Professional Audio Equipment

The key to choosing the right professional audio equipment is to start by identifying the needs it has to meet. Will it be permanently installed in a single fixed location, or will it be moved regularly? Also, how complex will the installation be? Understanding exactly what the audio system is intended to do will make selecting components that much easier.

For instance, a public address system often needs to support a large number of speakers spread out over a potentially large area, which is why it is normally a permanent installation. Although it needs to reproduce a single source, usually a human voice clearly, it is not usually designed to reproduce music faithfully. So while it needs the power to drive those speakers, it does not need to handle complex inputs or a wide dynamic range.

A touring band will have a very different set of requirements than the fixed public address system. They will need fewer but more powerful speakers, and the ability to mix multiple inputs into a combined output on the fly. They also need equipment that is tough enough to deal with rough handling, and that can be set up and torn down quickly and easily.

The following table provides a guide to some of the more common professional audio components:

Component

Usage

Amplifier

Raises output levels to the point where they can drive speakers

Preamplifier

Levels and enhances signals prior to amplification, often used in conjunction with a microphone

Mixer

Adjusts levels and combines multiple signals before amplification and processing, commonly used during live performances

While amplifiers and preamplifiers are common to both consumer and professional audio equipment, mixers are less commonly used outside the professional sphere. This is partly because they function somewhat similarly to an equaliser, save that they work with different sources, rather than just different frequency bands.

How to Buy Professional Audio Equipment on eBay

eBay is an excellent place to buy professional audio equipment.. You can find anything from amplifiers to mixers quickly and easily. All you have to do is enter the terms you want in the search box, which you can find on every page, and watch the results come up. Once you have the results on your screen, you can use the filters in the sidebar to narrow them down to just the ones you want. You can filter by anything from manufacturer, to seller location, or even by price range. eBay's sort options ensure you focus on just the components that meet your needs.

After you have found the professional audio components you are looking for, the next step is to find the seller that best matches your needs. The best place to start is at their eBay seller's page, where you can see everything from their location and feedback, to any special shipping policies they might have. You can also see if they have any bundle options, or whether they will let you pick up your professional audio equipment in person and save on shipping.

Conclusion

Professional audio equipment is more than just home audio gear with a higher price tag. It is designed to operate under much more difficult circumstances and in a wider range of conditions, and both its price and construction reflect that. Professional audio equipment also differs from consumer and home audio gear in that it uses both different connectors and different scales for measuring signal strength. Professional gear also uses different protocols as well as connectors for digital signals, which means that it is often, though not always incompatible with home theatre equipment.

It should also be mentioned that while home audio equipment is primarily concerned with the reproduction of prerecorded music, professional audio equipment is often used in conjunction with the production of live music, and at a variety of venues. Still, the basics of buying professional audio equipment are fairly simple to understand. The most important point is to apprehend the needs the equipment has to meet, before deciding. Knowledge is always the key to a successful purchase.

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