Category Archives: Audio

Five Audio Mistakes Made by Vloggers and Podcasters

Whether you’re doing a video or audio podcast (or vlog), the importance of good quality audio remains throughout. Your production value is absolutely determined by the ability of the audience to hear and understand the message conveyed in your content. Here are my top five audio mistakes frequently made by vloggers and podcasters…

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Analog VGA Vs. Digital HDMI and DVI Video Connections

VGA has been an active video standard for personal computers for a very long time. DVI and HDMI (along with the newer display port standard) are making a tough case for the aging analog port, though you might be surprised to find out that VGA is still superior in some ways…

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Why are Commercials Louder than the Television Show?

Have you ever been watching television and suddenly the commercials come on and you’re jostled by the booming voice of someone trying to sell you something? Why do commercials sound louder than the television show?

Advertising is typically talking head (one or two speakers and not a lot of music or sound effects) content that benefits from audio compression. Bringing everything to an even tone allows to speaker to sound consistent and avoids imbalance between two speakers that use their voice at varying volumes.

Audio present during television shows has more dynamic range, and rightfully so. Dramatic pauses, sudden surprises, and hushed whispers all need to have varying volume levels in order to draw the viewer in and keep their attention. If audio is compressed during a dramatic show, it’s done at varying degrees.

The audio levels between a television show and a commercial are actually matched as they’re sent over the airwaves (or cables) to your television. This is part of a limit required by law (at least in the US). The change in volume you notice is actually a perceived volume difference because where a television show saves the higher volume levels for action scenes, the commercial maintains that level constantly throughout the program. It does this thanks in part to compression present in the audio channel.

Here’s where your television comes in. Automatic gain controls and other nifty little tools allow the television to unintentionally do the advertiser’s work for them by automatically boosting a signal to a high point if it appears to be hitting a ceiling below the expected line. Your television will actually take audio levels that are set to the average amount of the television show and boost it all by itself.

While the FCC is flooded with complains from people claiming that the network is boosting commercials intentionally, this is actually the result of some clever engineering by the makers of the commercial and an unfortunate side effect of television technology intended to make everything sound even.

Sewell 2 Port 1×2 Powered HDMI Splitter Review

Taking one HDMI signal and bringing it to two screens sounds difficult, but it isn’t very hard if you have the right splitter. Sewell makes a self-powered 2 port HDMI splitter that allows you to successfully split a HDCP signal and send it to two destinations, simultaneously.

The difference between a splitter and a switch in relation to HDMI is based on whether you’re using it to split an output or double an input. A switch will allow you to go between two sources going in to a single destination, as mentioned in a previous blog post. A splitter, on the other hand, gives you the ability to take a single source and feed it to two destinations. The 2 port HDMI splitter made by Sewell is HDMI standard 1.3b compliant and capable of feeding both audio and video of up to 1440p resolution to two places.

Because the hub is powered by its own 5v power supply, the standard 16 meter HDMI cable barrier between source and destination is thrown out the window. Sewell’s site features a video boasting a 100-foot range from source to screen while feeding the same HD signal to another screen at 56 feet, without the aid of a separate booster. Whether or not this is a typical occurrence is yet to be seen.

The metal enclosure appears solid enough to withstand anything normal home usage would entail. In professional environments where use and abuse are part of everyday life, this may work in a fix, but a more professional-grade solution would be in order.

Because the splitter is HDCP compliant, both devices need to be HDCP compliant as well in order for it to work. Reviews at Amazon have indicated that standard definition signals require a little tweaking on the monitors to get right. This splitter can carry a 3D signal up to 24 FPS, so it doesn’t work with all 3D content.

Overall, the Sewell 2 Port 1×2 Powered HDMI Splitter is a standard HDMI splitter at a reasonable price. Available for under $25, it should be capable of filling the needs of any home user that would like to have two televisions carry the same audio and video. If you’re looking for something a bit bigger, you might want to look in to their 1×4 model.

Pelican HDMI Quick Switch Review

So, you’ve got two devices with HDMI out and only one HDMI in port on your projector or television. What do you do? You could go out and buy a new TV, but that isn’t very practical. It could also be a pain in the neck to have to unplug one device and connect another each time you switch between them. Fortunately, you don’t have to.

The Pelican HDMI Quick Switch allows you to plug both devices in to a single HDMI input at the same time by splitting the connection. The Quick Switch automatically detects which device is giving a signal and switches between them. A manual switch allows you to direct the signal to one device or the other should they both be on at the same time.

Unlike more expensive alternatives, the HDMI Quick Split is a simple 2-1 solution (compared to common 4-1 switches) targeted to gamers. You can find them at retail outlets including Best Buy and Game Stop.

Signal quality is clean, delivering great audio and video with little to no noticeable signal loss. Everything from 480p to 1080p can be fed to each input and the result should match appropriately.

One bonus included with purchase is an extra 3-foot HDMI cable that allows you to quickly connect your extra device without having to make another run to the electronics store should you forget to pick up that extra cable.

Overall, the Pelican HDMI Quick Switch gets the job done and doesn’t bother you with any hassle or complications. At $49.99, this cable can put a dent in your monthly entertainment budget, but it certainly wouldn’t make it one of the more overpriced solutions in its class. In any case, it certainly beats having to fiddle with various cables each time you want to play on your Xbox.

How to Make Money with Your Voice Online

Do you have a decent microphone and a unique voice? Have you considered possibly giving voiceover work a try? There are many ways to make money with your voice online, and most of them don’t even require you to leave your home at all.

First, this isn’t a good idea for everyone. It is harder than it looks to master the vocal tone required to grab the interest of the audience and accomplish whatever it is your voice is needed to accomplish. Voiceover actors rarely make big bucks (though they certainly can) doing contract work here and there. If you’re dedicated, and your voice has a quality that casting agents are looking for – you may be able to make money on the side as a voiceover actor (or actress).

You also need to invest in some decent recording equipment. A standard USB microphone might not be enough to capture the rich tones and create a true representation of your natural voice. The WAV files you send in need to be as clear as possible of any background noise or distortion cheaper setups can create. A prosumer or professional-grade condenser microphone, USB or FireWire interface, and sometimes a mixer should be considered to allow you to capture rich, vibrant sounds.

Alright, so you’ve got your equipment in place and you’re ready to start getting jobs? Well, you could find a talent manager and pay them to manage your career (maybe getting you a job, or maybe not). You could also start working now and build up your resume through a few methods online.

oDesk is a service offered online to help people find freelance workers in a hurry to fill certain business needs. Companies or individuals needing help with a website, businesses looking for extra members of a remote development team, data entry services, content-driven sites, and agencies looking for voice talent regularly use oDesk to find the right person for the job, quickly. You can post your resume, portfolio, and link to some samples of your voice as you apply for various positions posted on the site. Once hired, your time and/or fees are all paid through oDesk which, in turn, pays you. This service is a quick way to find work, but it does have its downsides. For one, you aren’t likely to find long-term jobs here. This is primarily a site that helps companies find people to work on specific tasks for short periods of time. If you happen across the right employer, you may have further opportunities, but that isn’t the norm.

Another way to find voiceover work online is through a more traditional online classified system such as Craigslist. This can be a great way to find local employers and increase your chances of finding long-term employment. Radio stations, advertising agencies, and other media-related companies are often looking for voiceover talent.

Do you know of a podcast or show that could use some voiceover work for a frequent segment? Voiceover actors and jingle writers often submit free content to high-profile podcasts on the off chance that they might start using the contributed work. This is one way to build your portfolio without having to go through the frustrating process of tireless interviews and low-profile jobs. This shouldn’t be a primary strategy, but it could help you on your way to something great. Believe it or not, some of the best-known podcasts on the web are using jingles and voiceovers they picked up from emerging artists using this very strategy. Who knows, they may pay you to for more content down the line themselves.

HDMI or DVI: Which is Better?

Should you go with HDMI or DVI when connecting to your television and/or monitor? Recently, Brandon Wirtz of LockerGnome sat down with me to go over a multitude of video cable solutions to determine how to solve many problems facing users as they consider connecting their computer to the television in their living room. Having a media center PC as part of your home theater can be a great thing, especially if you enjoy online video services such as Hulu and Netflix. So, HDMI vs. DVI; which is better?

A lot of this depends on what your video card supports. The original specification of DVI did not include audio, however, that has since changed and audio is available through many modern video cards allowing you to connect your computer to your television (or some compatible speakered monitors) with a single cable.

The downside to HDMI is that you don’t have the ability to secure the connection with screws available on the DVI standard. These screws allow you to move the computer and screen without having to worry about the cable slipping out. For this reason, connecting a computer to a monitor where sound is not needing to be transferred from one to the other is best done through a secured DVI cable.

HDMI and DVI are compatible in that they are both basically the same connection with a different form factor. Until recently, DVI ports did not support audio. Now, with the help of a special DVI to HDMI connector and supported graphics card, you can actually transfer both audio and video to your television with a single cable from the DVI port.

In terms of versatility, HDMI is probably the best option as both the cable and the ports generally support both audio and video with no additional adapters needed.

How do you connect your computer to your monitor? How about to your television?

How to Find the Right HDMI Cable

The cable industry is a racket. Some manufacturers charge a reasonable price for their products while others boost their price to the moon while boasting qualities that just don’t make sense considering the very nature of digital cables. So, which HDMI cable should you get?

HDMI cables range in price from a few bucks up to well over $100. The differences between a cheap HDMI cable and an expensive one is based on a combination of variables including materials, brand, and marketing. Thankfully, the difference in actual overall quality of signal is pretty much a non-issue.

Digital signals are very different from their analog counterparts. A digital video signal is either present or absent with no significant range in quality in between. You may notices some flaws in the signal if your HDMI cable is defective or going out, but the vast majority of cables should deliver a perceivably perfect image no matter what the actual build materials may be.

Plating your connectors in gold doesn’t do anything to improve the quality of a digital signal. It can act as a barrier against oxydation, but at the premium price you could buy a handful of non-gold cables to replace a single premium cable with gold plating and still have money left over.

Snag protection and thicker coating can be useful in applications where your wires being used in a way that requires movement. For the vast majority of consumer uses where the cable will connect two devices and not be in frequent motion, pretty much any cheap HDMI cable will work just fine. If you’re in a professional environment where your cables are being connected and disconnected on a near-daily basis and/or transported from place to place, an investment in a cable with better protection against knotting or snagging may come in handy.

Interference isn’t much of an issue with digital signals. Any marketing you see that targets interference should be regarded with suspicion as the real benefit to thicker coating is in avoiding damage to the delicate wires within the cable during twisting and/or wrapping.

Finding the right HDMI cable is a matter of looking past the marketing terms and finding a solution that transfers information from one port to the other. My best advice would be to find the cable that is the length you need and a price you’re comfortable paying. Cables should never ever cost more than the equipment you’re connecting them to.

Music Services I Use: Rhapsody Vs. Rdio Vs. Spotify Vs. Pandora

So Spotify is allegedly (finally) coming to the US.

I, for one, welcome our new music overlords. Rhapsody pulled a fast one on me yesterday, after years of loyal service with them (dating all the way back to when Windows Media / MTV’s Urge was enveloped). They told me I needed to up my plan. I’m basically giving them an “up yours” and likely switching to Spotify when it’s available. There’s also Grooveshark, but it’s not available in the iTunes app store (which makes it a non-option for me).

How did Rhapsody offend me? They’ve switched their plans, rendering the standing $10 a month option only viable if you have one mobile device. I happen to have two mobile devices (plus Sonos), which would push me into their $15 a month plan – and that’s a bit steep, considering the active alternative: Rdio.

For $10 a month on Rdio, you get unlimited web AND mobile access. While the library on Rdio may not be the same as what’s on Rhapsody, I can’t see Rhapsody giving that much more value for the additional $5 I’d spend with them every month. I was given a trial with Rdio but didn’t renew it. I’m waiting to see what Spotify will have to offer me (in terms of pricing and features) before I spend money with Rdio.

I’m also considering downgrading my Pandora premium account when it’s up for renewal this September — not because I don’t use Pandora prolifically, but because it’s not delivering insane value for the money I’ve spent (and higher quality audio and fewer commercials doesn’t cut it for me). Not to mention: who still uses Flash for Web services?

The good news is: I can easily float between these music subscriptions without fearing I’ve lost much. I can still get access to most (if not all) of the music I love, and not have to worry about buying tracks ala carte or going through the nightmare of managing media in any way. That, and… at least I’m trying to play along with the industry.

Tell me I’m not alone with these music subscription service woes!

Eton Soulra XL Sound System for iPod and iPhone Review

What’s better than an iPod speaker dock powered by solar energy? The answer would be a solar powered iPod speaker dock with 8 speakers. This is what you’ll find in the NSP500B Soulra XL Sound System by Eton.

The Soultra XL connects to your iPhone or iPod and gives you incredible sound with no annoying power cable to lug around. A 72 square inch enhanced monocrystal solar panel produces enough energy to charge its rechargeable lithium ion battery pack and your device at the same time.

When the sun is nowhere to be found, the batteries carry enough juice to keep the tunes going for quite some time. At an expected 4 hours of battery life, it isn’t the longest-lasting battery-powered dock around. This wouldn’t be the best dock to bring with you to an all-night party. Still, its ability to self-power using solar energy can really come in handy in situations where you’re outside on the lawn or at the beach.

Your iDevice sits inside of a chamber that allows you to see its screen, even in sunny conditions. This creates a level of protection so you don’t have to be too nervous about having it around during soccer practice.

The remote allows you to control the iPod from a distance so you don’t have to keep making trips over to the dock to switch to a different playlist, or turn the volume up.

The whole unit weighs 7 pounds, and the included shoulder strap is comfortable. It’s not a small device, by any stretch of the imagination, so you’re probably not going to be taking it anywhere you’re not comfortable carrying a sizable speaker system to.

Sound quality is exactly what you’d expect from 8 speakers. The 22W output and bass boost provide a rich sound with a significant amount of bass. Some smaller systems struggle with recreating bass in particular, though this unit doesn’t lack in that department. Music played through the speakers is very rich and vibrant. The 22W of power behind them also gives you plenty of room to turn up the volume and annoy the neighbors.

Overall, this is a solid solution for users that spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun. Having one of these during camping trips or at the beach makes sense. At just over $250, this product is geared more towards serious outdoors enthusiasts and not so much the homebody or casual music listener. If you want to see a value doors and windows review go here. If you throw frequent outdoor events such as barbecues, you may certainly want to consider the Eton Soulra XL Sound System.

Facebook Skype Calling vs. Google+ Hangouts

In a highly anticipated announcement today, Mark Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is teaming up with Skype to introduce the ability for users to have video calls with each other. Unfortunately, this feature lacks some of the fundamental perks that makes Google+ Hangouts so interesting.

Jake Ludington, a member of the LockerGnome team, joined me for a quick test of this new feature. During the test we were almost immediately made aware of some flaws present in the service which Facebook will need to improve upon if they hope to make a strong case against Google+ Hangouts.

The first barrier to entry (for Mac users) is the required installation of a Java file (not JavaScript) that allows you to make a call. Windows users have a slightly more convenient executable file. Google’s integration requires an installation as well, but the process is almost completely automatic in comparison.

Video quality isn’t great at all, at least not during our test. Jake appeared extremely pixelated when his connection should be more than sufficient for clear video. This may be due to the heavy traffic on the service closely following the announcement, though there was no sign of this clearing up at any point throughout the call.

Audio fed back constantly. This is a common problem with Skype that is only solved by requiring both parties to wear headphones. Ideally, the program should duck anyone except the loudest speaker while they are talking, and this didn’t appear to be the case during the test.

It was nice to be able to move the video window around and place it in a location that didn’t immediately disturb any work you may be doing at the time of the call. The convenience of having it integrated with a social network 750 million users are already a part of is also a big potential draw for this service. Even as frustrating as the initial installation may have been, knowing that the majority of your contacts are more likely to be on Facebook than any of a dozen other social networks counts towards this system’s likelihood for success.

Overall, this new venture between Facebook and Skype doesn’t seem as impressive as Google Hangouts, especially given the lack of group conferencing and virtually echoless audio. If this is Facebook’s answer to Google+, I have a feeling they are facing a competitive and difficult road ahead.

DIY Geek: Home Speakers

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Every so often, I like to get my hands dirty. I needed to replace the ceiling speakers in my bedroom and bathroom ceilings. I had been having issues with audio quality in the bathroom, and found the culprit when I removed the old set: oxidized wires. After talking to my audio/video genius friend Brandon, I knew that my amplifier was over-driving the speakers. It was just time to replace things in general.

While removing the old set of speakers, I learned that the person who had originally installed them had somehow crossed the black and red wires. Could this have led to the audio issues we experienced? It’s hard to tell, but I’m glad to see that the speakers themselves are fine. They are still in great shape, and I’m not even sure what I’m going to do with them at this point in time. Anyone have ideas?

I chose to go with some new Polk Audio RC60i’s and the slightly larger RC80i in-ceiling speakers. I’ve heard some excellent things about these particular products, and the reviews were fantastic. The price point was pretty good, as well.

I happen to have some paint left over from the last time the rooms were done. I keep these handy in case I do a project such as this so that I can touch up any messes I make. I admit that I’m definitely not a professional, but I think it looks okay!

These new speakers sound great – they have a deeper, richer sound. Unfortunately, I couldn’t show off their audio quality since I’m not licensed to share anything with you. I’m totally glad that I did this project.

I love doing DIY projects around my house. What things have you done to improve your home?

Are You Using Google’s Music Beta?

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Google’s Music Beta allows you to place your music collection in the cloud, quite similar to what Amazon’s Cloud Player and Apple’s iCloud do. The tech giants appear to be ready to get into a head-to-head battle with each other, with your tunes up for grabs. As of right now, Google’s Music Beta is free to use. How does it compare to the other offerings, though?

You can download free tracks when you receive your invitation to the Music beta. As soon as it was announced, I signed up for my invite. I received it in fairly quick fashion. The email told me to click to accept, and had me download the program for my operating system. I was then easily able to sync my music into the Cloud with just a click or two.

I don’t use iTunes to manage my music, so this was something I wanted to try out. I have to give Google props for allowing me to turn this into a preference pane. I love the way it’s laid out, how it looks and works on my desktop and the various preferences I can tweak to make it work the way that is best for me.

I’m not the kind of person who really buys digital albums. If I purchase one, it’s a physical disc. I prefer to subscribe to music services, such as Rhapsody. I am able to listen to a large variety this way at any point in time. However, Google’s Music Beta is a great solution for managing and listening to the music I DO happen to own.

I had to run Music in Safari because it doesn’t run well within the development version of Chrome. That’s a pretty big oopsie, but I’m sure that they will address this in a future update… at least, I hope so.

I can browse through my Music folders and find what I want with ease. I can sort via album, genre and artist. The service even lets me give a thumbs up or down to every tune in my library. I’m not sure why you’d choose to own or upload a song you’d want to thumbs down… but that’s a story for another day.

Are you interested in using any of the Cloud-based music services? Which one do you prefer?

Five Tips For a Better Audio Podcast

Audio podcasts are like pre-recorded radio talk shows. In fact, many of them are radio talk shows that have been edited and re-released. The cost to produce a good podcast can range anywhere from free, with equipment you may already have, to high-end productions fueled by thousands of dollars worth of equipment. Whether you’re recording them live with an audience or pre-recording in the privacy of your home studio, here are five tips for a better audio podcast:

Keep the File Size Down
Good quality audio doesn’t have to come with a large audio file. The vast majority of audio podcasts are distributed in MP3 format. This is a lossy format, though when your podcast is primarily vocal and talk, no one should expect audiophile-level quality. Unless your podcast includes a significant amount of music, you can easily get away with a mono 64 kbps MP3 without any significantly noticeable loss of quality.

FM radio, for example, is broadcast at a slightly lower quality than you will find on an mp3. In fact, in the United States, FM is limited to 10 kHz due to FCC regulations surrounding possible interference. A standard mp3 can go well beyond that range.

A large file size can drive away potential listeners as they have to wait to hear your content. This may not be as important in today’s broadband environment, though users downloading through mobile devices over 3G or 4G will note and appreciate the quick downloads.

The Host Should Sound Better
In nearly every case, the host should sound better than anyone else on the podcast. This means better than the guests, callers, and in some cases even the cohost. While you should strive to make everyone sound as good as possible, the host is where you need to really key in settings and make sure everything is absolutely right. There is a subconscious association with sound quality and legitimacy listeners experience when tuning in to your podcast, especially for the first time. This doesn’t mean you should sabotage your guests audio quality. Simply put, things should be set up in a way that works best for your host first before working on everything else.

Normalize Audio
Before you send the audio file out to your subscribers, do some processing on it, even when it’s recorded live. Audio normalization can be achieved through expensive hardware on a live basis, though most independent audio podcasters don’t have the funding to set up a cabinet full of audio equipment. Programs such as Audacity, Adobe Audition, and Garage Band have great tools that can turn bland audio in to something more rich and powerful. Normalization is probably the most important post-process to apply. This takes all the audio from the entire track and adjusts sound levels to reduce the occurrence of sudden loudness and quietness that can occur when the speaker moves towards or away from their microphone. Some people, if not most, have a tendency to make the first word they say in every sentence slightly louder, and this process can help even this out as well.

Choose a Good VOIP Client
Skype, Mumble, ooVoo, Team Speak, Ventrilo, etc. are all decent enough solutions to bringing other hosts and/or guests on the show. If you plan to take calls from the open Internet, set up a phone number where people can call in or open your VOIP client up to take incoming contact requests. For many podcasters on a budget, a solution such as setting up a Skype-In number for people to call can save you on long distance charges and give you fairly good audio quality to boot. Google Voice also allows you to set up a phone number that forwards to your regular phone so you don’t have to give out your actual phone number. Once the broadcast is finished, simply unlink the two numbers and Google Voice will continue to take voicemail messages on your behalf.

If you don’t broadcast live, you may want to set up a voicemail box through Google Voice or Skype so people can leave messages for you. These messages can be transferred to an audio file and processed after the fact, allowing you to improve on terrible phone connections and clip out unnecessary content such as profanity or rambling.

Have a Plan
This is one general tip for anyone wanting to do a show of any kind online or otherwise. Make a general plan beforehand so you know where to move to once one topic or activity gets sour. If you have a call-in show, you can still plan a topic or two to hit once you have a call that throws things off. If your podcast covers news topics, make sure that you and everyone on your panel has a copy of all the stories you intend to cover during the program. It’s ok to go off topic once in a while, in fact, audiences generally appreciate a break from the typical format. It’s important make sure you can point things in the right direction and have everyone on the same page when things need to move along.

Is Music Too Expensive?

The motion picture industry cranks out a healthy amount of movies every year. Many of these films come with a price tag in the millions of dollars, with blockbusters typically reaching budgets of over 100 million. These productions commonly involve an incredibly large cast and crew, each of which is compensated for their time. An album by a major recording artist is a significantly less expensive undertaking. In some cases, a decent recording requires only a handful of individuals, and only a few when in the hands of a capable sound engineer. Big recording houses make a generous amount per hour mastering tracks and getting things just right for release, but their income is negligible compared to the cost of a major motion picture.

So, why does an album cost about as much as a DVD? Why, when you purchase the latest from your favorite recording artist does it take as much out of your pocket as a movie filmed over the course of six to nine months with an all-star cast making millions per picture? Is music too expensive?

Let me start by stating that independent recording artists have more reason than anyone to charge more for their work. Record sales for the average independent artist are dismal at best and breaking even on an album is a fortunate occurrence when it happens. For a record that costs $10,000 (a low-end price) to produce, at least 1,000 copies of the album need to be sold at $10 each just to break even. Unless you have a large enough fan base, this can prove extremely difficult.

When it comes to recording artists signed by a major label, things change a bit. Only a fraction of each album sold goes to the artist and retail store you’re dealing with. The rest goes to the labels. You might expect a bulk of this profit to go towards renting venues for whirlwind world tours, but even those events cost attendees an arm and a leg to attend. In a sense, the music industry has one of the largest middle men of any business.

One recent example of how dropping the price of music may actually improve the bottom line for record labels and independent artists alike is the explosion of sales as the result of Lady Gaga’s latest album, “Born This Way” being put on the Amazon Music Store for just $0.99. Traffic and sales were so sudden and extreme that Amazon’s servers were overwhelmed and went down in the middle of the frenzy. Whether or not these purchases were from listeners that wouldn’t have otherwise bought the album at all is up to interpretation.

What do you think? Is the cost of music too high? Would you be more inclined to purchase if the price were lowered?