12bytes is BACK! Again! (drama ensues... as well as tips for avoiding shitty VPS providers)

If you have anything more exciting to do, like watching paint dry, by all means feel free to click away and save yourself from the suffering i'm about to inflict upon you.

The primary website for 12bytes went off line for nearly two weeks on the 21st of December, 2022. If you visited here during that time you probably saw this. Getting the website back up was a nightmare.... that lasted 12 days... and nights.

Here's the story...

So i got an invoice from my old host (KnownHost) to renew my service and i diddled around for a while before i decided what i wanted to do. I had the site running on a managed VPS and i have zero complaints with KnownHost. Their service and the reliability of their infrastructure is outstanding. Open a support ticket at 4 AM on a Sunday and someone is on it, usually within minutes, plus their support is not tiered like many other hosts; you always get a knowledgeable tech that writes in fluent English. The problem is that the server was costing me close to $300 per year, plus i wanted to make some other changes. Had i known what i was in for i would've stuck with KnownHost.

The drama begins...

The cost of the server wasn't the only factor that led to me wanting to switching providers. I also wanted to try running a self-managed VPS at a lower price point than what KnownHost could offer, and so i set out looking for hosting companies which, i assure you, is NOT an easy task, even if money isn't a factor. There is a *massive* number of truly shitty companies out there and they probably outnumber the good ones by a factor of 100:1, likely more. Many of them are owned by Endurance International Group (EIG), a.k.a Clearlake Capital Group, a.k.a Newfold Digital, their newest name as far as i know.

In addition to cost, a provider which is protective of free speech was also a crucial requirement and unless you go with an off-shore host, which can be both problematic and costly, there are apparently a very small number of them. BuyVM is one that comes highly recommended. They are certainly one of the most favored VPS providers on LowEndTalk and their prices are quite reasonable. As a matter of fact, a few of the replies i got when querying hosts who didn't care about free speech, referred me to BuyVM. This reply came from Jack Bell of Afterburst:

Honestly you're probably better off with someone like Incognet or BuyVM for controversial but legal content.

And this one from Mike at Asura Hosting:

I would strongly recommend you have a look at BuyVM. Although we do tick basically all your requirements, the main issue is our location being in Europe. You should get a location in US to avoid any GDPR/EU laws

The longest reply i received was from Ryan Arp of Catalyst Host who opened with "Hey friend" and then spent 512 more words telling me that he essentially hates free speech and that i would probably agree with him when i was done reading his wall of text. This paragraph says it all pretty much:

The thing about an AUP for a hosting company is that it has to either be open ended, a lie, or it has to be constantly revised. The reason for this is that if we specify all of the ways someone can abuse our service explicitly, people will just try to skate around it or find new ways to abuse the systems. Regardless of their methods and whether or not we know them exactly up front, I think you'd agree that the big thing is that we can't let a customer harm the rest of our customers. That's really what it's meant to communicate: We love our customers, and anyone who wishes to harm them isn't welcome here.

"His" reply (i hope i'm using the correct pronoun) left me wondering how exactly my lil' ol' website running on one Virtual Private Server on one node in one data center could possibly "abuse" and "harm" his other customers and sink his entire business. That said, i certainly appreciated his honesty.

It's a damn sad state of affairs when several prospective hosting providers all mention the same company with regard to being supportive of free speech. It's sadder still that so many don't give a rocketing turd about their own future, much less that of their kids, or anyone else.

My search went on for several days before i finally rolled the dice and chose Floofy Hosting as my VPS provider. And you thought i was going to say BuyVM, dincha? In all honesty i don't think you could go wrong with them, though i'm not entirely sure i'd count on them if you needed super-duper 24/7/365 99.999999999999% up-time reliability, which is a sales gimmick anyway for the most part. I also prefer smaller companies because they tend to care more about their customers. Matter of fact, one of the very best hosting providers i ever had was run by one guy. He used Digital Ocean's infrastructure, his support was good and, until i opened my big mouth, he was charging me some minuscule amount like $5 a month (OK, maybe $5.95) for a fully managed VPS! I literally felt like i was taking advantage of the guy and so i suggested he charge a little more for the good service he provided. The problem with the one-man-show deal surfaces abruptly however when that one man decides to challenge the coppers to a shootout and loses, shortly after which your website evaporates. Lesson learned: Small is OK, but not too small.

So after nearly a week of searching for a decent company i chose Floofy even though they didn't meet two of my criteria; they haven't been in business for at least 10 years and they don't own their own data centers. My decision to go with them regardless was influenced both by prices, which are really reasonable, and Abdullah's stance on free speech (he's the head honcho at Floofy). Plus Abdullah was quite patient with me throughout our exchange of no less than 16 emails over the course of 6 days before i finally decided to pull the trigger! Poor fella had to work to sell me! So with a VPS provider in hand 12bytes is back in the saddle! Except no.

The drama continues...

Moving to a new hosting company is sketchy in and of itself, by my grandioso goals didn't end there. I also wanted to port this website to a static one; no database, no database server, no JavaScript, no 3rd party crap. And i even had it running that way for... an hour or so. I used Publii to do the heavy lifting, along with a lot of by-hand editing and a generous helping of those lovely regular expressions. Unfortunately Publii is not mature and moving from a ClassicPress CMS site with 700+ self-hosted images to static website by way of Publii left me with an enormous amount of work, and so i pulled the plug on that venture. So there was a few more days down the toilet, though that time did overlap with the other problems i was inventing.

Still not satisfied with the depth of the hole i was digging for myself, i also decided to go with a different VPS control panel, Webmin/Virtualmin instead of Direct Admin. OK, so i'm still too dumb to run without a CP. Make fun of me, go ahead you tech tards. Webmin/Virtualmin is not for the timid nooblet however, let me tell ya. It takes quite a bit of reading and fooling around and forum posting and making mistakes and starting all over again and again and again. Getting DNS working properly and getting a mail server running properly is no easy task. I brought up the virtual host and scrapped it again at least 4 or 5 times before i finally had the site running again.

And more drama...

Having canned the static idea, at least for now, it was a simple matter of installing a fresh copy of ClassicPress, restoring the database and image library and viola! El-completo! Not. At the time, the release version of ClassicPress wouldn't run on PHP 8 and the v7 branch is EOL which means, for security reasons, it's SOL. After figuring that out i decided, the hell with it, i'll go back to WordPress, and so i did. Virtualmin has a nice script installer for WP that configures everything and it had an install up and running in less than a minute, and so i invested several more hours working on it and restoring stuff and selecting plugins and yada yada yada, but restoring the image library was presenting a significant problem. Then i find out there's a development version of ClassicPress that works with PHP v8. Given i watch their news feed i normally would have known that ahead of time, except it hit the feed at the same time i was dealing with this mess i got myself into and so i was too busy to bother reading my feeds.

OK. ClassicPress it is! Install that baby, restore everything, done! Except it would not not NOT connect to the database. Scrap and recreate the database and run the installer again. Nope. Make damn sure i'm using the correct credentials. Nope. Scrap the database again. Nope. Scrap me (my user) and recreate me. Nope. Scrap the whole damned virtual server and rebuild it. Nope! Finally i edited the wp-config.php file manually, using the EXACT SAME CREDENTIALS I USED BEFORE and... it installed. Restored the database and images and here we are!

Jesus mother of pregnant golf balls, what a FU**ING JOURNEY!!!

Now, getting back to how i picked a hosting provider, here's some resources and rules i used which proved to be valuable:

  • Make sure the company is not owned by Endurance International Group (EIG) / Clearlake Capital Group / Newfold Digital. Because the service and support of the companies owned by EIG, Newfold Digital, etc. often nose-dives once they're acquired, they do not usually disclose their parent company but you can reference my list here. Understand though that these offenders change their names and are constantly absorbing more companies, so no list is likely to be complete.
  • LowEndTalk is one of the first places to look for cheap hosting companies and among them you're also likely to find some cheap and good companies once you troll around long enough. LET is fairly free-speech friendly so if a company talks shit, they'll be called out right quick. The reviews section of the forum is here.
  • I'm very weary of big, corporate "review" websites but Trustpilot came in handy. The reviews, at least for web hosting companies, seemed to hit the mark pretty well. I judged the accuracy of Trustpilot by looking at the review scores for companies i know to be good, such as KnownHost for example, and those i know to be horrible.
  • Searching the interwebs using terms such as 'quality vps provider', 'low cost kvm vps' or 'united states vps host' is completely useless! You'll return piles and piles of garbage companies. You have to be more creative with your searches and it helps to use different search engines as well. For example you could craft searches like 'free-speech vps' or 'family-owned kvm vps' or 'privately-owned vps'  or 'we-own data-center vps' or 'dmca-ignored vps', etc..
  • Avoid companies that don't offer a personal note about their business. Look for an "about us" page that provides more personalized information rather than the typical corporate drivel, or none at all.
  • If you care about privacy, pick a host that accepts crypto and doesn't require personal information.
  • Avoid "U.S. based" companies that aren't based in the U.S.. If their English is lousy, it's a dead giveaway.

Here's an example of how deceitful many of these companies are. I don't remember the exact search terms i used to find these idiots, but i apparently included 'united-states' and/or 'about-us' with the intention of finding a company based in the U.S. that had an "about us" page for me to read. Notice anything odd?

Also see:

Here's a template you might want to adapt if you're searching for a hosting provider. These are some of basic question i asked them:

Questions to ask of hosting providers

i'm looking for a new, long-term host and am considering your company - i was previously with <some company> whose service and support were excellent, but i want to move to a self-managed VPS at a lower price than what they can offer

i'd like to ask a few questions before making a decision...

1. are you affiliated in any way with Endurance International Group (EIG), a.k.a Clearlake Capital Group, a.k.a Newfold Digital? if so, there's no need to answer further questions

2. in what country/state is your company registered?

3. are independently owned and, if so, do you plan to remain so, or would you consider being bought?

4. what is your position regarding free speech as guaranteed by the 1st amendment to the U.S. constitution? for example, a portion of the content i publish is highly critical of Israel and it's influence upon various U.S. institutions

5. do you own your data center(s) and, if not, who provides your server infrastructure?

6. where is your support based and what is the average response time for weekends/holidays/weekdays?

7. i see some companies are requiring that all customers, regardless of where they are based, to adhere to the EU's GDPR - what is your policy regarding the GDPR for websites hosted in the U.S.?

8. do you accept crypto currencies?

9. what coupons/discounts are available if any?

AzireVPN: A VPN worth trusting?

Damn her! Naomi Brockwell got my shorts in a knot regarding the VPN Hellscape (read that, seriously). I knew the VPN scene was bad, but i didn't realize how bad until i watched her video, The DARK side of VPNs.

I use AzireVPN because i believe they are worthy of a degree of trust, but believing is not enough and, given my freshly ingested fur-ball of fear due to Naomi's video, i decided to put the screws to Azire and see how they fared.

AzireVPN is one of very few VPN service providers that claim to physically own, secure and install their own servers and, in my book, no company is even worth considering if they can't make that claim (that's right; screw you Nord, PIA, Express, HideMyAss, IPVanish and nearly all of the rest of them!). Furthermore, Azire tells us that they physically seal unneeded ports, run the OS in RAM (no hard drives), and run their servers in Blind Operator mode. And of course they have a zero-log policy and do not require any personal information when creating an account. Even payment can be handled anonymously using crypto currency. But in the end, what is all this talk worth without convincing evidence?

I proposed a few ideas of how Azire could potentially reinforce customer trust:

  • By providing purchase orders and receipts for their servers which could potentially be verified by contacting the vendor. My thought here is that, if they provide such evidence, then there is little reason to doubt that Azire is actually using the equipment they paid for.
  • More photographic evidence.
  • Video of how the servers are prepared showing the sealing of unused ports, removal of hard drives, etc..
  • Live-streaming the server installation at the data center during which an Azire customer would provide a random verification string to the installer via an azirevpn.com email address which the installer would then display in the video. The problem with this is that only one, or possibly a small number of people, would be able to verify the installation and every one else could correctly posit that the whole thing was a setup.

Following is their responses to my proposals:

Hi,

Thank you for writing to us, [REDACTED].

We understand your concerns and this is why we have made such an effort to be as transparent and forthcoming as possible in our content and messaging – and also why we have our service in the first place.

As you mentioned, we’ve shown in our various blogs how we transport and install our servers in various datacentres around the world. Adding to this is our documentation (https://www.azirevpn.com/docs/environment#installation), which I am sure you’ve read through by now, where we list as much information about our service as we can without going the opposite direction and compromising our infrastructure’s security, and in effect our user’s security.

We could provide purchase order receipts for the servers and show what we do with them before they get installed, but there is no way for you to know we actually installed the servers we showed. Unless we had a continuous camera shot from arrival of the server at our office all the way through to installation, there isn’t a fool-proof way to show that we do what we say we do – even then, the video could easily be edited.

Moving forward with our new server installations, we will make an effort to provide more details and documentation regarding ownership and installation. However, at a certain point we have to draw a line for our infrastructure’s security, our user’s security, and of course our own personal security.

If you have any specific suggestions, we are eager to hear them.

And in a follow-up email they said:

Hey,

1. Receipts we will begin posting with all servers moving forward, with certain confidential information redacted of course. However, there will be enough to understand we did purchase the specific servers in use.

2. We will do a video demonstrating how we modify servers (some parts may be removed to help preserve the physical security) but the overall outcome and before/after will be shown to illustrate how we handle our servers. Additionally, we will improve the documentation of transportation and installation and security measures we take.

3. The video verification you suggested may be difficult, we are discussing this internally. That said - we do have a semi open door policy where we are happy to invite users to our office in Stockholm and also provide a tour of the datacentre we use here. If this is something you are interested in yourself, please let us know and we are happy to have you come and visit.

If you have any other ideas or suggestions to help improve our efforts towards transparency and security, please let us know. We are happy to improve things always.

I was very pleased with their response and look forward to seeing Azire follow up with tangible results.

HIFIMAN Sundara Planar Magnetic Headphones - A quick and dirty review

I'm not an audiophile, but i have taken a small step in that direction with the purchase of an external AMP/DAC combo and the $350 HIFIMAN Sundara headphones. If it's a detailed review from a true audiophile you're wanting, i'd suggest listening to both the review and the update by Joshua Valour. If you want to view all the fancy frequency graphs and charts and stuff, see: Sundara | DIY-Audio-Heaven.

Except for the Sundara, the only other cans i have is the open-back QPAD QH-85 headset which caters to gamers (it's got a mic) and so i have nothing else to compare them to.

The Sundara is an open-back, planar magnetic headphone with very thin and responsive diaphragms which produce fairly a well-rounded sound, though it is a bit weak in the bass department. The mids and highs are all well defined in my amateur opinion and the sound stage is roomy enough to not feel too cramped, though it isn't as wide as i'd like (i use a bit of 'extra stereo' effect in Audacious to compensate). I paired the Sundara's with a MOTU M2 Audio Interface and, overall, this combo sounds pretty great to my ears with a bit of EQ to boost the lows.

Very much contrary to what Joshua stated regarding the build quality, i find the Sundara to be really solid. They don't feel cheap at all. Yes, there is some play in the frame, however that is completely irrelevant when wearing them. Compared to my $94 QPAD's however, the Sundara is not all fairy tales and lollypops. The QPAD QH-85 is significantly lighter and more comfortable than the Sundara, though it is also less robust. While the QPAD has a somewhat short and wimpy cable, at least it acts like a normal cable that actually obeys conventional laws of physics whereas the cable that ships with the Sundara is like a damned slinky. It may be adequate as far as conductivity, but the sheathing, which feels like a somewhat stiff and cheap vinyl, is like a coiled rattlesnake poised to strike at any moment and that's only a modest exaggeration. Simply put, the cable is Crap with a capital C. I tried running it through my hands while exerting some pressure to warm it and get it to straighten out, but that didn't help much at all. In the end i purchased an aftermarket cable from Audiophile Ninja for 60-some bucks and, though way overpriced, as is everything in the audiophile market, it is an infinitely better cable and it is actually a lot cheaper than many other custom headphone cables. It did not come with a clothing clip however and, given its weight, it should have. I solved that problem by sticking a piece of the hook portion of hook and loop tape (Velcro) around the barrel of the cable where it splits to feed the drivers. The hook will attach itself to your clothing, at least if it's cotton or wool.

I thought that the Sundara frame design, with its suspended headband that molds to your head, would be more comfortable than the QPAD design, however due to the extra heft of the unit, it isn't. I can wear the phones for about 1 or 2 hours before it starts getting uncomfortable after which i need to reposition the headband just slightly. The same is true of the QPAD, though i could wear it much longer. Also the clamp pressure of the Sundara frame is a bit too tight for my taste. I was surprised to hear Josh rave about how comfortable he thought the headphone was given my experience.

The Sundara ear pads are shallow which is nice because it positions the drivers close to the ears, but they are so close that, with the added clamp pressure, the top of my ears were getting a bit sore from contact with the material that covers the drivers. I wanted to stretch out the frame a bit to reduce the clamp pressure, but the head band makes that difficult because it prevents flexing the frame far enough to open it up. It is doable however and the phones do feel better after i figured out how to accomplish this (hold the unit in both hands near the drivers and open the headband as far as it will go, then with your index and middle fingers, press down on the top of the frame). While i'm very happy with the sound, i expected more in the comfort department for $350 clams and a better cable too!

Another niggle i have with the Sundara is that the pivot points for the driver housings isn't loose enough which causes the ear pads to not conform to the sides of your bean as easily as they should. I put a tiny bit of lubricant on the hinge points but it didn't really help. I've had the Sundara's for roughly a year and a half now and the pivot points feel the same as when they were new.

In the end, the question is whether the substantial difference in price between the QPAD's and the Sundara's equates to $256 dollars worth of better sound and, from my perspective, the answer is no, it doesn't, but such is the case in the audiophile world where one can spend thousands on a set of cans to get an incrementally better sound. That said, they certainly do sound better than the QPAD's for sure and i'm not sorry i bought them.

Product Review: MOTU M2 USB AMP/DAC Audio Interface

The MOTU M2 audio interface is a USB bus powered AMP/DAC with electronics and features typically not found in its price range. I paid U.S. $199 for it in early 2022 and it looks like the price remains unchanged.

Notable features of the M2 include a physical on/off switch, a button to enable/disable phantom power for your microphone, a button to enable/disable microphone loopback, and stereo LCD input and output level meters, though they lack a text db scale.

The MOTU M2, made by the U.S. based company MOTU, has garnered tons of positive reviews, however it's not perfect in my opinion. My comments will not be from the perspective of an audiophile since i don't consider myself to be a member of that elusive club. Instead i'll cover some of the basics and my impressions and experience with using it on a GNU/Linux OS. If you want the impressions of an extremely knowledgeable, unbiased, hyper-geek audiophile, i'd suggest turning to Julian Krause, though the video thumbnail pretty much says it all.

Audio hardware on a Linux desktop OS seems to be a bit of a hit or miss affair and the MOTU M2 is no exception. Part of the problem seems to be the audio subsystem software. PulseAudio, which made its appearance in 2004, is still the prevalent audio processor in many Linux desktop distributions, however it has always had its shortcomings and apparently it isn't a favorite of musicians. The new kid on the block, PipeWire, aims to replace and greatly improve upon PulseAudio and though it works better than its predecessor in some respects, at version 0.3 as of this writing, it has a lot of ground to cover before it goes mainstream, though there are a couple distros as of this writing that include it by default.

In my case i use Manjaro Linux ('Arch for dummies' as i affectionately call it) on a scratch-built desktop PC along with PipeWire, the WirePlumber session manager and EasyEffects. My microphone is a Senal MC24-ES shotgun. For monitors i use the PreSonus Eris speakers and for headphones, it's the HIFIMAN Sundara planar magnetic. Given what i've learned about audio, i guess i would classify my setup as something around the 'advanced novice' or 'budding audiophile' level, though i'm not really a member of the latter since i think my flower has bloomed about as colorful as i care to get.

Regarding audio hardware, it seems to me that you can spend a little and get a little, or spend a moderate amount and get 'good', but exceeding 'good' requires an expenditure on a scale that is completely disproportionate to the minor step-up in quality achieved.

For music, it's strictly lossless for me and i prefer the FLAC format. Having worked long and hard on a Bash music processing script for Linux, and learning a lot about the different formats in the process, i am soooo very done with MP3's! Good bye. Good riddance. You always sucked!

Back to the task at hand, i don't have a lot to add to Julian's review. I think the reputation of the MOTU M2 is very well deserved. The build quality is very good, the knobs are silky smooth and don't produce any static when adjusted (they're digital), the feature set is pretty darn good and the sound quality and quality of the electronics exceeds that of many/most/all audio interfaces in its price range and outperforms that of some more expensive models from other manufacturers. As i mentioned earlier however, it's not perfect.

My gripes with the M2 are few and minor, and by no means are they a reason to avoid it. On my list are the following:

  • Switching between outputs requires lowering the volume on one and increasing it on the other. It would have been nice to have a switch instead.
  • No db scale on the LED meters, but the screen is colored so it's hardly a problem. More importantly, the M2 actually has meters which is unusual at this price point.
  • Contrary to Julian's comment regarding the amp, i feel like it's a little weak since the unit is powered only by USB and since the power output on the USB bus seems to vary among devices, i wonder if this may be problematic for some folks. On the plus side however, no separate power supply is needed.
  • Rather than disabling my mic in the OS when i'm not using it, i use the phantom power button on the M2, however it's located just below, and very close to, the mic gain knob which means it's easy to unintentionally change the gain when hitting the button. Disclaimer: This is probably one of the cheesiest, most inconsequential "gripes" ever, but i'm trying to list 5, so there.
  • None of the controls are backlit, the exception being when the monitor or phantom power buttons are engaged. Obviously this is a CATASTROPHIC design failure of EPIC proportions which has never before been realized! Or not.

One reason why i bought the M2 is because i wanted to lower the noise floor of my microphone and i'm pretty happy in that regard. Another was to replace the two prior amps i had, the Schiit Hel 2 and the Mayflower ARC MK2, both of which have an 1/8" mic jack and are oriented toward gamers. If by chance you're in the market for a "gaming" headphone amp (an amp with a mic input jack), i'd highly suggest avoiding both the Mayflower ARC and the Schiit Hel (my review is here) since they both have issues and, more importantly, at the same price point as the the MOTU M2, both pale in comparison with regard to features, connectivity, build quality and sound quality. That said, if you're dead set on a so-called "gaming" headphone amp (which offers exactly nothing over the MOTU M2), the Hel may be the better, over-priced option.

Now, more on the Linux part of all this...

Linux desktops represent a plethora of non-trivial problems as i hinted at earlier with the PulseAudio-PipeWire issue. Between unethical hardware manufacturers failing to support open-source software, the sound processing software problems and the often anemic drivers in the Linux kernel, the potential for headaches looms and so is the case with audio hardware on Linux from what i'm seeing. Who's to blame with regard to the MOTU M2 specifically, i can't really say beyond the problems with PulseAudio and PipeWire. If you're lucky, and i think chance are good you will be, you'll plug in the M2 and it will just work since it does not require any special driver and isn't built for any specific OS. If luck eludes you however, troubleshooting will ensue. The good news is that there are solutions for many/most problems regarding hardware compatibility issues of any kind on Linux and, regarding sound hardware specifically, the Arch wiki is a good place to start regardless of what flavor of Linux you're using.

In my case (Manjaro) the M2 just worked... and then one day, due to a package upgrade, it didn't. While the solution was a most simple one, discovering it consumed about 2 days of my time. If you have trouble, here's some commands that may be helpful for diagnosing the problem yourself or preparing to ask for help on the web. Some of these are OS specific and some are PipeWire specific:

$ hwinfo --sound
$ pactl info
$ pactl list sinks
$ alsa-info.sh --help
$ aplay -l
$ pw-top
$ journalctl --user-unit pipewire-pulse.service
$ journalctl -xe | grep pipewire
$ journalctl -f

PS: If you're thinking Windows is a better solution than Linux, you may want to read this and this and this and this for starters.

I suppose some sort of an obligatory conclusion is in order in the interest of providing a graceful exit to this somewhat unorthodox review, so with that in mind...

Buy it.

If you're in the market for a reasonably priced, high quality headphone/speaker amp with mic inputs and plenty of additional connectivity that performs exceedingly well given its price, outperforming some other higher priced units, the MOTU M2 is hard to beat at this time. As mentioned, it is a no-brainer compared to the Schiit Hel 2, the Mayflower ARC MK2, or any other "gaming" headphone/speaker amp i researched and the price is the same as the inferior Hel and ARC. There's a reason why so many peeps like this unit and it's a well justified one in my considered opinion.

Considering a drone from Autel Robotics? You'd better read this first...

DJI can rot in hell where they belong. There are major concerns regarding privacy and security with their invasive software, not to mention the over-the-top geo-fencing annoyance, though i suppose it's a necessary evil to keep in check all the idiots that ought to have stuck to Lincoln Logs instead of flying remotely operated aircraft.

With DJI out of the picture, i came very close to pulling the trigger on an Autel Evo II Pro, then i started reading about how the quality of their support has recently sunk like a lead balloon. Apparently Autel used to have great support, but something has obviously changed, including two key people who have left the company for what appears to be grievances with how the company is managed.

The following is a small sample of customer dissatisfaction with Autel's support, mostly from the Autel Pilots forums and most from 2022:

An update on phone service and the tech support/customer service department:

This appears to be from a support tech...

Due to a historically large influx of service tickets, phone calls, and email inquiries, we are experiencing delayed response times. The Customer Service/Tech Support team is a very small team, and we cover the entirety of North and South America. We are working diligently to attend to each ticket and call we have received. We appreciate your patience as we work through the backlog!

Phone service for the Customer Service/Tech Support team will be closed Thursday-Friday Feb 10-11th, and will resume as normal Monday Feb 14th.

Support requests are apparently exceeding the norm, so the answer is to close support rather than hire more people? Really? And why are there so many support requests?

Another customer in the same thread...

This is April 15th, 2022 and I have that problem with a drone I bought two weeks ago and can't get support to answer emails, phones or chats.

And another...

I tried to call them 10 times over April 13th and 14th. Each time waited in the queue and when I was 2 or 1, they asked me to leave a message and hung up after I left the message. On the evening (EDT), I got through to a very helpful gentleman. My three emails have not yet been responded to as of this morning.

And another...

This is VERY disconcerting. Buying a warranty is a waste of money if no one is going to be available to help. I bought my warranty before I flew my drone for the first time had some questions, called, emailed and was able to get a person in the chat window, he told me “let me get someone to help you with that, 30 minutes later I had to go back to work without no one coming to the chat. Is very sad. I bought the light to try Autel before the Evo 3 came out and this situation is directing me to never buy an Autel drone ever again. They will have to show a lot of progress before I can trust them again.

And another...

Anyone else getting any response from autel support? I submitted an email ticket two weeks ago and besides the automated response I've heard nothing. I've called and left voice mail as well but no response.

Is it time to switch to DJI because of a lack of support? | Autel Drone Forum

The last few times I needed tech support it literally took weeks and several emails to get a reply.

I can't even replace my drone or get an answer from tech support and I'm growing impatient. With each passing day, I'm having second thoughts about investing this much money in a drone if the company can't support it.

Another customer...

They aren't responding. I emailed them three weeks ago and chased them up twice but didn't even get an acknowledgement.

And another...

My letter to Autel after months of complaining and no help !

Subject: Non Existent customer service, my words falling on deaf ears.

A slap in the face by Autel | Autel Drone Forum

I have just recently read this on Autel site. I own an Evo 1 and its a shame that they decided not to supply parts or service for it I fly only 8-10 times a year and it sucks that I paid $1000.00 for a drone that doesn't manufacture spare parts/ batteries. Good Bye Autel.

Major change needed at Autel | Autel Drone Forum

With an inability to provide any reasonable connection or response to customers, Autel is more detrimental to their growth and success, than any effort mounted by a competitor.

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From unanswered phone calls and unanswered messages to unanswered or unrealistically delayed email responses. This is the unfortunate mode of operation for Autel.

Just read on Autels Facebook group that Ken Booth is leaving Autel | Autel Drone Forum

One of the problems that may be related to the horrible support lately was the leaving of one of their most liked support techs, Ken Booth. One customer wrote...

"Just wanted to let you all know that my last day with Autel Robotics is Sunday. I feel that under the current conditions at the company that I can no longer provide the support that I'm known for. I wish the user base the best."

Another user comments...

Yep! I read this sad news as well ! I’m sure wherever he goes, he’ll got more appreciation because he is the top 10 in customer services. Autel will regret to lose him.

And another...

Guessing he ran into the same brick wall CEO Randall Warnas ran into trying to get things done. Unfortunately Maxwell Lee has always wanted his son to run the company and it was said years ago the only reason Maxwell Lee (Autel) started into drones was to give his son a company to run.
Looks like he is running it into the ground.

And another...

I don't know what the managerial dynamics are in Autel but it's obvious things are not good. Maybe the younger Lee is finding out what Randall also learned after joining the company. Working with the owner is just not possible.

And another...

Sadly with Ken’s departure, things won’t get better. He was the strongest thread between Autel and the consumer. He pushed for a substantial improvement of their customer service platform and was essentially met with an “We don’t care” response from executive levels. One can rarely get through by phone and rarely receive responses to email inquiries currently. Autel needs to drastically change and improve their customer service and communication. At present, Autel isn’t a stellar company. They do have some great drone platforms but that not what it’s all about. If Autel cannot service their vendors or customers efficiently and effectively, they literally are no better than their competitor. Currently Autel executives are their own worst enemy due to inexperienced and unprofessional business tactics.

Randall Warnas quits Autel | Autel Drone Forum

So much promise and Randall confirmed Autel is just another Chinese monopoly with no desire to look out for their employees and one would reason, their customers.

Autel, should learn from B & H how to give customer service

No response from Autel so far. I tried calling and was on hold 25 minutes and suddenly they shut the phone by saying We will try calling you back I did not choose that option !

Feb 16th I kept checking if they had replied to my Email, no I kept trying to reach them on phone and finally got through.

She said there is no way she can help me fix the problem over the phone, I will have to ship both back and since its a user problem they will not cover the shipping even tho its under warranty ! They seem to know the problem and when I asked why have the Standard and Smart Firmware in the same line next to one another, I got no answer back.

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February 23rd and still waiting for a reply from Autel. Both Autel EVO2 Pro not working due to firmware issues.

It seems Autel is waiting for my warranty to expire on both drones so they can throw the Hot Potato at me !

Shame on you Autel.

Has anyone had problems getting Autel Robotics support to reply to their request for help? | Autel Drone Forum

Two weeks ago, I emailed Autel Robotics tech support about my water damaged EVO II. I got the automated reply that said a support representative would be contacting me soon. I didn't hear anything so after about 4 days I sent another email. Still nothing. After 10 days, I sent yet another email, still nothing. Now it's been two weeks and I have sent them a fourth email and I'm not hold my breath waiting for a reply. Is this normal? It's frustrating as hell.

This has not been my experience in the past.