I’m asked this once a week: “Which microphone|camera|lens|mixer|etc. should I buy?” This always requires a conversation (which I do love to have).

Most of the time, there’s an option that’s 90% as “good” as the 10x-as-costly option, but the expensive one has great knob feel.

Most people don’t really have a choice here. They need to get in as unspendily as possible and even the “cheap” option represents a big investment. But if budget is available, the choice is not as simple as it would seem.

Knob feel matters. A lot.

The difference between a sound file that comes out of a cheap mixer/recorder and a Sound Devices mixer/recorder is like the difference between a filet mignon from Outback and a same-source filet mignon from Ruth’s Chris. Ruth’s Chris will be better, but they’re both filets.

The difference between the feel of using a cheap mixer/recorder and the feel of using a Sound Devices mixer/recorder is the difference between eating an Amtrak-microwave hamburger and a 12-course meal prepared by a Michelin-starred chef.

By the way, I’m mentioning Sound Devices here because they are one of the OG grandmasters of knob feel, but I do have to mention that the legendary Sound Devices knob feel is absent from their MixPre series (which are totally fine, I have one, but that ain’t knob feel, folks).

You can try to convince yourself that you don’t care about the feel of using a tool, but that isn’t true. The creative process is complex and psychologically messy. Sensations, emotions, and friction that come from using creative tools always affect the process and the output.

The good news is that if the only thing that matters to you is output sound/image quality, audio/video prices have never been lower, and quality is pretty much maxed out.

The better news is that, in many cases (I can tell you which ones), investing in tools with knob feel is less costly in the long run than investing in tools with cheap plasticky knobs.

This is my Leica M3. It was manufactured in the 1960s. I could sell it right now to a happy buyer for $2,000 or my great-great-granddaughter can just use it for her entire life and then leave it for her great-great-granddaughter. And the knobs, by God, these knobs…

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You’ll always have to pay up front for knob feel.

True knob feel cannot be mass-produced or outsourced. Knob feel requires attention and care. There’s no recurring revenue to attract investment in knob feel.

Many product categories may have experienced their last great knobsā€¦