We moved to San Diego and I refreshed my computer hardware, so it’s time for another update in my home office blog post series. Here’s what I’m using:
Standing Desk: Xdesk Terra Pro – Expensive, but works wonderfully and is built to last. I love the 3 height presets, and I’ve got them set for sitting, standing, and standing on top of my Fluidstance balance board. (There’s also an Aeron chair out of frame – I wheel it around behind my desk when I’m not using it.)
Computer: Apple MacBook Pro 15″ (2018) – 6-core Intel Core i9, 32GB RAM, 2TB SSD, 4 pounds. CPU & storage advancements finally got the new MBP to the level where I could use it as my primary desktop. This new i9 is 15% faster on video exports than my old Mac Pro desktop. It sits on a Twelve South Curve stand.
Display: BenQ 32″ – I’ve had one since 2014, and it still works great, so I can’t bring myself to replace it. Mine is an older 2560×1440 version, but I’ve linked to its replacement, a 4K one that does 3840×2160. I only use one display – the laptop stays open only because I need a second monitor when I’m doing live webcasts. When I’m showing the students a PowerPoint deck, I like broadcasting a second smaller (like 1080p) monitor, and using my main monitor for the PowerPoint presenter view and the attendees’ Slack channel.
Around the back of the laptop:
Dock: CalDigit TS3 Plus – the MacBook Pro plugs into here with a USB-C cable, and then my video, audio, Ethernet, and USB stuff plug into the CalDigit. The dock is supposed to also be able to charge the laptop at the same time, but I ran into problems with that: whenever the laptop went to sleep, the dock wouldn’t work again normally until it was unplugged from power and then plugged back in. I ended up using a separate USB-C power cable.
Audio input: Focusrite Scarlett 2i2 – inputs for pro-grade XLR microphones, output to USB. My headphones are plugged into the Scarlett, and the Scarlett also outputs a monitor feed into the headphones. This means I hear everything: my own outgoing audio (to check my levels), plus the incoming audio from other co-presenters. I use B&W P5 headphones because they’re really comfortable for extended periods, but I only use them for presenting, not music.
Microphone: Electro Voice RE-20 on a Rode PSA1 Stand – I chose this after reading Marco Arment’s microphone comparison. I’d tried a few expensive shotgun microphones mounted on stands outside of the audience’s view, and I was just never happy with the sound results. Marco writes that the RE-20 is “very forgiving of amateur mic technique,” and wow, has that been right for me. I don’t need a pop filter, and it hardly picks up on the echos in my concrete & glass rooms. I do have to stay right on top of the microphone, though.
With the microphone stand mounted on the desk, and the webcam mounted on top of the monitor, it means I don’t have to adjust anything when I raise or lower the standing desk. Everything moves along with me. The studio lights stay in one position, but they cover so much area that it doesn’t really matter.
Speakers: Audioengine A2+ – No bass whatsoever, but that’s fine for high rise life.
Input devices: Apple Keyboard and Trackpad – Apple’s input devices are polarizing: either you love huge glass trackpads, or you hate them.
Half-hour hourglass: Esington Glass – When I’m working on something, it’s easy to lose myself in focus. I’ll start digging into a client’s indexes, and next thing you know, 4 hours has gone by and I haven’t even looked at their queries. This helps me divide time in a non-intrusive way. As I’m working, I’ll glance over at the hourglass to see if I’ve run out of time on that task yet. I like this better than setting an alarm because those can be intrusive, popping in when you’re not quite at a break point. This lets me check myself at more natural break points. Plus I like having something analog on my desk.
Video and lighting setup
Another change here this year: I’ve switched from a pair of big light box diffusers to a single ring light:
Light: Neewer LED Ring Light – video bloggers rave about these for their flattering light. I didn’t really care about that – I just wanted something more compact than my old light box setup because my San Diego home office is much smaller than my Chicago one. (I have the 18″ kit, but I linked to the 12″ kit – it makes more sense for most folks.) It’s plugged into a WeMo smart plug so I can turn it on/off with Siri.
Webcam: Logitech Brio 4K – the gold standard right now. There is a huge difference between this webcam and the rest of ’em out there. The webcam is mounted in the middle of the ring light, not on top of the monitor – but for me, that’s not about making the picture look good. It’s because monitor-mounted webcams shake a little when I’m typing, leaning up against the desk. I want the picture to be rock-solid steady, so mounting the webcam on the lighting tripod does the trick. It does mean I have to raise/lower the tripod separately whenever I raise/lower the desk, though.
Here’s what it looks like in the daytime:
And here’s a webcam shot from the wee hours of the morning, with only the ring light on, and no light coming in from outside:
The results were better with the two light boxes because they filled the room more evenly, leaving no dark shadows at the bottom right. Made it look like it was normal daylight even when I was up at 3AM. I’m fine with that tradeoff to have more space in my office though.
(No, my desk isn’t centered on the concrete, and I haven’t decided whether that bothers me enough to fix or not, hahaha. I like this desk position because it leaves me enough room in my office for a lounge chair next to the windows.)
Under the desk
I’ve mounted a few things under the desk to keep things nice and clean up above:
RAID array: Blackmagic Multidock – Thunderbolt array with 4 1TB SSDs in a RAID 0 array. I use these for temporary VMs and encoding/uploading training videos. I’ve had a lot of consumer-grade external arrays over the years that kept mysteriously dropping offline under heavy load, and I finally said screw it, lemme get something seriously studio-grade. It’s wonderful and silent.
Audio gain: Cloudlifter CL-1 – basically, it amplifies microphones. The microphone plugs into this, and then this plugs into the Focusrite. The Focusrite provides electric power, and the Cloudlifter uses that electricity to amplify the signals of the Electro Voice.
I still have my old Mac Pro mounted under the desk – need to unmount that this week and eBay it.
Sure, I was supposed to geek out on the tech hardware. That’s great and all, but I was drawn to what you described as a “lounge chair” that appears to be an authentic Eames. Nice choice!
Hahaha, thanks! We’ve got a pair of ’em made custom for the living room, but then we downsized apartments so we’ve got one in my office and one in the living room.
Do I recall correctly that you used to a use a more ergonomic keyboard? Why did you decide to go to an Apple keyboard? I use a big ol’ Microsoft Natural 4000 so I’m curious how it’s faring for you.
Yeah, I briefly tried these: https://ozar.me/2017/01/specialized-input-devices-the-macbook-pro-touch-bar-and-the-ergodox-ez/
I try different tools every year or so – keyboards, trackpads, text editors, SQL editors, etc. I love that Apple keyboard because it’s extremely thin on my desk and has a nice feel. I wish they made an ergo version though.
A very cool set-up. I like your microphone!
I am a bit surprised to see you are using Apple computers since you work mainly with Microsoft server. Is it just a personal preference, or there are performance benefits? I assume you run SSMS on a virtual machine?
Thanks! I’ve been using Macs since Windows Vista came out. It’s just a personal preference. I’ve done all my work in VMs for years anyway because I tend to test a lot of different apps & versions, and I don’t want to hose up my main machine with buggy software.