By Dan Moren
September 19, 2022 1:21 PM PT
How I’ve revamped my desk setup, fall 2022
One fun thing to do while you’re out on parental leave is to redo literally your entire office technology setup.1
This came about for a few reasons, some of which were of my own volition, and others of which were borne out of necessity, but the end result is that my tech setup now looks substantially different than it did just six months ago.
Just before I went out on leave, I decided to revisit my podcast recording setup. For many years I’d been using a Heil PL-2T arm with a Blue Yeti and later a Pyle PDMIC58 connected via Audient’s EVO 4 interface. But I hadn’t been entirely satisfied with that setup, so on a whim I decided to replace the Pyle with a Shure MV7 and, while I was at it, pick up Elgato’s Wave Mic Arm LP—the LP in that case stands for “low profile”, as in it’s an arm that’s designed to mount the mic below your face, rather than hanging down in front of it.
The rationale for me was that I’ve been spending more time doing videos, both over at The Incomparable for Total Party Kill (our actual play D&D podcast) as well as right here on Six Colors. The Heil always hung in front of my screen and both looked awkward on video as well as making it harder for me to see my entire display.
The Wave Mic Arm is a very nice piece of kit, with solid cable routing and very smooth swiveling. If I have a complaint it’s that certain adjustments, like raising and lowering the arm, require you to loosen and re-tighten a knob. Beyond that, it’s been great. (I did have to mount it closer to the front of my desk, because of the angle, but I love how easy it is to push out of the way when not in use.)
Likewise, the MV7 is a pretty solid mic that supports both USB and XLR, making it a versatile choice that can conceivably also work as a travel mic (though I’d have to find a more solid stand, probably). In general I’ve been pretty pleased with it, though I am disappointed that its onboard port is micro-USB rather than USB-C, and I feel like when I’m using it via an XLR interface, I don’t like the sound of my voice over the monitors. Whether that’s the fault of the interfaces or the MV7, however, I have yet to determine.
On to the main event. In July, shortly after I went on leave, my 2017 Retina iMac gave up the ghost. I’d already been planning on replacing it with an Apple silicon Mac as soon as there was something that fit my needs and budget, but with that event likely still in the future as of this writing, I had to figure out a stop-gap for when I returned to work.
That came in the form of an Apple Studio Display connected to my M1 MacBook Air. Given that the most likely Mac I’ll be picking up is a revamped Mac mini, hopefully announced later this fall, I was going to need a display anyway, and the M1 Air is capable enough to handle all my needs in the meanwhile. I already have the keyboard and trackpad I was using with my iMac, so all I had to do add was the monitor.
But which Studio Display? I dithered between the height-adjustable stand and the VESA mount option, but ultimately the latter’s flexibility and—even including the price of the VESA arm—affordability won me over. (Not to mention that the VESA mount version of the Studio Display was readily available, whereas the height-adjustable stand would have taken several additional weeks to arrive.)
For the monitor arm, I eventually opted for the Fully Jarvis as an affordable and generally well-reviewed option.
My feeling on the arm is a little more mixed. I appreciate the styling, the installation was pretty straightforward, and mostly it’s pretty adjustable. But ironically in contrast to the Retina iMac, which tilted easily but resisted pretty much any other form of adjustment, the Jarvis can be easily tweaked in every way except tilting. I suppose that’s a fair tradeoff, but honestly, I was hoping for something closer to the classic iMac G4 which, amazingly, nobody—not even Apple—has ever managed to duplicate.
On the whole, I’ve been pretty pleased with the Studio Display, especially once applying the software update that fixed the webcam cropping.2 But Apple should definitely make a tool for tweaking webcam options—or, at least, provide an API for third parties. The current state of affairs for the Studio Display’s webcam is embarrassing, pure and simple.
One other problem I had to solve when adding the Studio Display was that while an eventual Mac mini (or whatever replaced the iMac) would likely have more ports on offer, I was lacking a few key options, including Ethernet. Having specifically wired my office for networking, I wasn’t about to give up the hardline connection, though I also didn’t relish the idea of devoting one of my USB-C ports to the Ethernet adapter I already had.
There are a lot of powerful (and powerfully expensive) docking options to be had, but as the MacBook Air remains a stop-gap solution, I opted for cheap and expedient. That ended up being a Satechi hub that connects to the Studio Display via USB-C and provides Ethernet and three USB-A ports for other peripherals, like my Litra Glow and my Stream Deck. (It is somewhat disappointing that the Studio Display’s only Thunderbolt 3 port has to be the upstream port, but needs must.)
The only thing the Satechi hub ended up lacking was audio. I have a pair of PreSonus Eris monitors on my desk, and while I could replace them with the Studio Display’s internal monitors (or, I suppose, my old pair of HomePods), well, I’ve already got these setup. But they require a headphone jack and I didn’t want to get yet another USB adapter. Again, I opted for the simplest solution, plugging the speakers into the MacBook Air’s headphone jack. It’s one more thing to unplug when undocking the Air, but as I said before, this is meant to be a temporary solution. Here’s hoping Apple doesn’t have too much courage when it comes to this next Mac mini update.
If there’s one downside to all of this, it’s that I’ve ended up with a bit more in the way of cables strewn about my desktop. The Fully Jarvis does offer some mediocre cable management options, but I quickly learned that it doesn’t play well with my sit-stand desk—I need to leave the Studio Display’s power cord free, otherwise it’s not long enough when I raise the desk.
The other issue I haven’t quite figured out is what I’m doing with my external storage. My old iMac had two USB drives attached: a partitioned drive that included my SuperDuper! backup and miscellaneous other storage (mainly for offloading big files from the iMac’s drive), and a 4TB drive that served as a Time Machine backup for both the iMac and the MacBook Air. That drive went kaput3, which means I’ve been without a Time Machine backup for some time. At the moment I don’t want to deal with unmounting external drives every time I want to undock the MacBook Air, so this may have to wait until I’ve figured out what’s going to replace it.
Anyway, that’s the current state of the art here at Six Colors’s East Coast Bureau. Stay tuned for next month when, if Apple does indeed announce new Macs, I’ll probably have to tear this all apart again.
- Narrator: It was not fun. ↩
- I actually did an entire episode of TWiT before I’d gotten the patch applied. My super low-tech solution for framing myself correctly—after trying a number of software solutions that just didn’t work—was to lower the monitor. Thank heavens for the Fully Jarvis arm there! ↩
- Possibly related to the iMac? It’s unclear. ↩
[Dan Moren is the East Coast Bureau Chief of Six Colors. You can find him on Mastodon at @firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him by email at email@example.com. His latest novel, the supernatural detective story All Souls Lost, is out now.]
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