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A More Sustainable Audio Industry Appeal (Right to Repair)
Old 19th March 2018
Here for the gear
A More Sustainable Audio Industry Appeal (Right to Repair)

This is an appeal to my fellow musicians, audio engineers and more broadly any media professionals who rely heavily on the use of a computer and peripheral devices for their work. Recently I posted a video from the Right to Repair Movement (Stand Up For Your Right to Repair — The Repair Association). They are an organization dedicated to not only informing people about how to repair their electronic devices but pushing for legislation that prevents manufacturers from creating roadblocks to user repair. The primary driving force behind this movement is to promote sustainability and reduce the number of electronic devices that fill our landfills today.

Recently I made the switch to a PC system for my home studio from a Late 2012 Mac Mini. Mac has traditionally been the “creative person’s computer.” There are a variety of reasons for this and they have primarily been the stability of use of programs for audio/video editing and mixing. It was only recently that I felt comfortable making the switch due to the relative “leveling” of stability between the two platforms. I also felt comfortable because of my nearly 3 years of working in the audio technical support field and even then I was still in contact with my former colleagues to get things up and running. There is nothing that really makes Windows better than Mac, in fact I’ve had to work out quite a few quirks and growing pains, but one of the primary reasons I made the switch was “modability” and traditionally that line is drawn between Mac and PC. Basically, with a self built PC I have the option to replace failed components or upgrade them as software requirements dictate as opposed to buying a completely new computer. Even my 2012 Mac Mini had some measure of user repair-ability. I was able to upgrade my RAM myself and repairs on my 2011 Macbook Pro such as hard drive replacement, RAM upgrade and battery replacement were relatively simple and straightforward. Subsequent generations of these models have made that harder and have driven repairs to go through Apple, who often push the purchase of a brand new machine.

Another thing that makes Apple the primary choice, at least for audio users, is that until recently, Thunderbolt (the hardware interface providing the fastest data transfer speeds) was only available and supported through Apple (although Intel insists that they own the full rights to Thunderbolt). I made the switch as Universal Audio had released thunderbolt compatible drivers for Windows about 6 months previous (albeit for a specific support list of motherboards and laptops). Universal Audio is fairly unique in this regard. Many other interface manufacturers have either not developed Windows Thunderbolt drivers for their interfaces or have created dual Thunderbolt/USB2 interfaces with the USB2 I/O being dedicated for PC (a much slower data transfer speed). This would all be fine if Apple were both more affordable and more mod-able, however their current trend has been towards smaller and more portable devices. While not an ignoble goal, I don’t believe that portability and convenience should take priority over sustainability and environmental concerns.

While us creative professionals make up a fairly small portion of electronics users, I feel strongly that we should take responsibility for our impact on our environment. Especially in this time when there are few agencies that would hold us accountable. We must also not forget there are plenty of hobbyists who use these tools as well. In my years working tech support I noticed that many people who consider themselves primarily “creative” are the first to admit that computers are “not their thing” and often border on techno-phobia, which makes them more inclined to not make repairs or even want to attempt their own troubleshooting. I can certainly understand that not everyone feels comfortable diving into the BIOS of their motherboard and making changes. While this is understandable, it’s not sustainable. Below are some things that I believe us as consumers should push for in the arena of computer audio, video, animation etc. I know that the presence of modular systems creates a lot of challenges, such as increased resources on the part of interface and software manufacturers to accommodate the exponential increase of hardware combinations and I also understand that market forces don’t necessarily incentivize what I am suggesting, however I think we are still responsible to do our part an realize that we as creative professionals are not an island and we have to share this planet with everyone else.

-Improved compatibility and features for Windows users and/or a push for Apple to become more modular (I recognize the latter is a bit more lofty)

-More modular audio interfaces (and their equivalents in other fields, which I am admittedly less knowledgeable about) perhaps things like swappable preamps, the ability to incorporate upgraded peripheral connections as time goes on (one existing example is the UA Thunderbolt option card for the silverface Apollo), upgradable DSP within the interface (for platforms like UA, Antelope, DigiGrid etc)

-More troubleshooting resources and perhaps involve ourselves with the Right to Repair movement

-Tackle techno-phobia and encourage “tinkering.” Have a broken or unused computer? Give it to a kid who’s interested in technology and let them take it apart and study it. In a more broad sense, parents need to stop discourage tinkering because of its “destructive” capacity. Knowledge is far more valuable than a singular hunk of plastic and metal. Even beyond audio, the time has passed where we can afford not to be “computer people” after all, our whole society depends on them

-Continue to push legislation that promotes the idea that people have the right to repair their own devices without significant hindrance

-A push for a more egalitarian software culture with emphasis on open-source development
Old 20th March 2018
Lives for gear
mikefellh's Avatar
(Just so you know my background, when I was a kid I used to repair our tube TV's with my father, and became an electronics technician repairing computers, VCRs, and the odd TV...but I stopped doing that when surface mount came out.)

What "right"???? When was there a right?

I remember when the Commodore 64 came out back in the 1980's the original power supply was repairable, but after a year they redesigned the power supply to make it cheaper (and tended to die more easily) but to reduce certification costs they designed it so it WASN'T repairable, they poured in epoxy so it was basically a brick:

A lot of them ended up in landfills...I killed 5 of them myself before I built a higher capacity repairable one.

Interesting thing though, you can look up the Commodore schematic for it online:

In general though the hobbyist electronics industry has been decimated due to surface mount technology (SMT). Other than large can capacitors just about everything in electronic devices are either SMT, or hidden under epoxy blobs:

How do you fix that???? And where you have daughterboards instead of using plugs make it easy to swap out to save money the company solders them together. But that's the price WE pay for cheaper, smaller electronics!

Don't get me wrong, I love electronic devices that I can repair/upgrade...right now I just ordered the upgraded PLCC logic chips for my Kurzweil K2500R to fix the bugs it has...I couldn't do that if they were soldered in place instead of using sockets, or maybe I'd have to replace a whole daughterboard. But I also hate in older electronics you had to replace the ROM chips to upgrade it, whereas today you just download a file and upgrade it that way.

Companies AREN'T making the devices today the way they do so they can't be repaired. They are doing it that way to make building them cheaper. My iPad, there are no screws to take it apart to replace the battery...but if I had the same specialist tools the repair outlet has and order the parts I can take it apart myself and replace the battery. If companies made the device so it can be repaired by the end-user, it would just cost more money.

Even when electronics had replaceable components (tubes), it still gave warnings on the back (and for good reason). How many average people could solder and replace even a capacitor, or find out which component is bad?

Going back to what I said earlier, just look at the hobbyist electronics industry...Radio Shack started aimed at the hobbyists...I used to buy capacitors, resistors, transistors, LEDs, etc. there. Today it's now "The Source" where they sell consumer electronics, and phones, and they sell only a few electronic parts. I can go through a whole list of stores in Toronto that were aimed at the electronics hobbyist and are all gone...I can count the ones left on one hand, and still have a few fingers left over.

I think this video says it better than I can:

I do regularly watch channels about electronics and old audio equipment, but I admit it's been a few years since I've actually built something and only took out the soldering iron to repair cables. But I recently bought myself a kit to do waterdrop photography that times the drops and triggers the camera, so I hope to keep inspired and build some synth stuff too in the future:
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