A brief intermission…

Over the next weeks until Christmas things are likely to be even more quiet here than usual as I will be moving from my current apartment to a (small) house 😀

It’s only a few miles away but since I have to juggle all the moving tasks together with my normal job it’s going to take some time and focus away from other tasks. Also, given the sheer amount of audio/electronics stuff and (mostly) half-completed DIY projects that I have to pack up and move as part of the process then it is going to be a bit of a challenge. On the plus side once I’m settled in I should have a bit more space for my parts and projects 🙂

There might well be updates in the mean time as I have several projects in the works that are nearly ready to write about, but I can’t really guarantee anything at the moment. Since winter is getting closer it also means just taking pictures in daylight is more or less reserved for the weekends 🙂

Last, but certainly not least, I’ll finish 2017 and start 2018 with a two-week trip to Asia which normally ends up being a little audio- and DIY-related so maybe there will be some updates from that as well.

In any case, “normal” service – whatever that means – should then resume some time in January 😀

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Small thing – big difference

I don’t normally write (much) about the commercial gear that I buy, but for once I’ll make an exception.

I’ve actually owned both the previous versions of the Audioquest Dragonfly (DF) USB DACs but sold them after a relatively short time because I did not really need them anyway. Thanks to an ad on a local classifieds page I now find myself as the owner of the third generation DF as well – the Dragonfly Red. Apart from the new looks – which I really like – the new series of DFs also have the benefit of much lower power consumption, meaning they can be used with mobile devices.

I therefore tried hooking up the DF to both my iPhone and iPad. To be honest I wasn’t expecting that much, but it really does make a significant difference to the sound quality. The downside is of course that your phone becomes quite a bit less portable with a couple of extra dongles and adapters hanging off it, but the benefit in sound quality seems worth it. I wouldn’t use it every day, but if I really had to travel light then using the DF would save me packing and carrying a separate music player which could be very handy.

Photo of the device and a “real” red Dragonfly as well for comparison 😉 (that picture was taken by yours truly in Hong Kong – coincidentally exactly two years ago today)

Distractions….

Once again I find myself in a period where “real life” is intruding significantly on my build time. Not only at work (which is the normal reason), but also in my personal life. Therefore, the progress I am managing on my projects is mostly so incremental that it doesn’t really make sense to write about it – it would be the DIY-equivalent of a book with every page as a separate chapter!

However, the inspiration for projects is still there and both the various online forums and my blog-feed serve as good sources of new ideas and inspiration. One recent example that I specifically think is worth mentioning is this post on Arduino “watchdog timers” for standalone Arduino projects where a self-reset capability in the event of an error is a good idea. Like all the other posts on the site, this is very comprehensively documented and easy to follow and in this case it’s a topic that I didn’t think about but immediately thought would be useful.

And the best part is that even if you are busy, sketching out a simple PCB doesn’t take that long – does it? 😀

(note: hat-tip to the referenced wikipedia-article for the image below)

(Yet another) anniversary!

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – and this year it’s the fourth anniversary of the blog 😀

Not a lot to say that I haven’t already said the last couple of years, but I still expect to continue writing as much as time allows. I am also still very excited and greatly appreciative of your questions and comments, so keep it up 🙂

Picture below is of what is (currently) sitting near the top of my project pipeline, namely four 4U diyaudio special-edition pre-drilled heatsinks. These are specifically intended to accelerate (as much as possible) the completion of my Pass VFET project as well as one other Pass project using boards from the diyaudio store that I have wanted to do for some time now 🙂

Paypal grumble…

Slightly off-topic post, sorry. Like most people that shop online (especially on Ebay and from private sellers on discussion forums) I use Paypal extensively. Normally it’s relatively easy, safe and convenient. However, earlier this week I started getting error messages that the two debit/credit cards I have linked to my account were no longer usable as payment. I managed to link a third card and complete the transaction, but I started wondering what was going on.

It turns out that Paypal at some point last week have made the default option for transactions the same currency that your credit card is issued in, even if there has for a long time been an option to set this per credit card you use. I’m sure that somewhere this is listed as a “customer service initiative” or “security initiative” (yeah!), but nevertheless it is one that just happen to give Paypal a further few percent commission on the exchange rate (I haven’t calculated it exactly but it looked like a 3-5% markup depending on the currency). This is of course unacceptable when I pay fees already (or the seller pays them, which means in the end I pay them).

Fortunately after some googling it turns out there still is a way to pay the actual transaction amount and let the card issue handle the conversion (which in my case they do with 1% commission on the official rate from the National bank). Before completing the purchase, click to change payment method and then click the exchange rate to change back to using the card issuers rate. I haven’t tried with a direct Paypal transaction (only via Ebay) but I will be keeping my eyes open in the future….

Oh and, needless to say I will from now on always avoid using Paypal if there is another payment option listed where I shop…

EDIT 29/11-16: Have now tried to send money via Paypal directly and here I can’t change the conversion option. Then I spotted this in the latest revision of the user agreement “Where your payment is funded by a Debit or Credit Card and involves a currency conversion, by entering into this agreement you consent to and authorise PayPal to convert the currency in place of your Credit or Debit card issuer.” Which basically means that they decide the exchange rate and if you don’t like it you can f*** off…

Anyone know of any good alternatives to those Paypal bas***ds?

Shopping in Japan (again…)

Yes, I’ve just returned from a two-week trip to Japan – my third in as many years. Apart from a load of sightseeing and general holiday’ing, just as the two previous trips (see here and here) I had a chance to do some shopping. Not the only reason for going, shopping in Japan is in my opinion an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed for any audio and electronics enthusiast 🙂

Although it is no doubt just a shadow of its former self in this respect, Tokyo’s Akihabara district (and it’s less well-known counterpart in Osaka, Nipponbashi or “Den-den”-town) are still interesting places for DIY’ers to walk around and browse. The pictures below are from a couple of the shops I’ve passed on my way and I’m sure you’ll agree it looks interesting 🙂 Finding adresses can be a bit tricky – and not everything in Japan is on the ground floor for all to see – but there are a few good resources available online on where to go, such as Pete Millet’s “Parts in Asia” page that covers Tokyo and various blog posts.

Is it cheaper than buying online? Not always to be honest, but it’s definitely much more fun! 😀

So, what can (or should) you buy in Japan then?

Well, if you are from Europe like me, most Japan-made items will be cheaper there. If you are in the US, the prices might not be all that competitive for everything but it’s still worth having a look around.

Apart from finished electronics that aren’t wall-powered (anything wall-powered is often 100V-only for the Japanese market and so not useable anywhere else), that means headphones and other gear from the likes of Stax, Audio-Technica and all the usual big-name brands like Sony, Pioneer, Denon and Onkyo. Smaller electrical items which use outboard power supplies may also work, provided you factor in the cost of replacing the PSU and of course accept that the warranty on Japanese items usually isn’t valid outside of Japan.

It also means cables and connectors from the likes of Canare, Mogami and Oyaide as well as a heap of excellent-quality tools. I’d especially recommend the Japanese “Engineer” brand where everything I’ve seen and tried seems to be excellent quality. There are several other interesting tool brands as well, but the stuff from Engineer seems to be consistently good and prices in Japan can be 30-50% lower than the EU prices I’ve seen (although the yen has climbed a fair bit against the Euro over the last year).

I also saw several places selling loose connectors of the most well-known series from Molex and JST. These can be hard to get as well, so being able to get singles just off the street might be helpful. There were a few shops with audio-grade parts like ICs, pots and capacitors and again, Japanese brands like Muse capacitors and Alps pots were generally cheaper. A bonus should be that these parts are probably less likely to be fakes than if you shop on ebay etc.

If you are into tubes, there are a few good places for both tubes and accessories such as transformers (see Pete Millets page for details). Don’t expect to find screaming bargains (although you might) and ignore at your own peril that tubes don’t necessarily travel well and transformers will tend to take a big chunk out of your airline luggage allowance 🙂

Oh, and of course regardless of whether your shopping allowance is more limited (or far greater) than mine, Japan is still a phenomenally interesting place that I highly recommend visiting if you get the chance 🙂

Third anniversary…

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – the third anniversary of this blog. Just like last time, I never imagined I’d still be here etc. etc.

I still very much enjoy writing here when time permits. I also have plenty of unfinished projects to write about, so even if we’re nearing 150 posts I hope there’ll be many more to come.

A “virtual” toast to that – and of course to all of you reading out there! 🙂

 

RIP…

Just read over on Innerfidelity that the founder of the Headwize site and namesake of the CMoy headphone amplifier, Chu Moy, has passed away recently.

As a relatively early member of Headwize, I can remember discovering a site with an active discussion forum and a lot of inspiration for a novice audio diy’er like myself. Apart from the direct contribution of the Headwize forum (including the projects gallery that I have mentioned several times in the past), Headwize of course also spawned head-fi.org and many other international and local headphone forums that still run today.

Headwize was also the birthplace of the first community headphone amplifier build projects (like the ones from Tangent and AMB) that have helped others get started in this new hobby. I am sure there are quite a few people out there who first experienced the elation of playing music through a self-built amp via one of these projects 🙂

Although I never knew Chu Moy personally and he was out of the “spotlight” for many years, I am very grateful for his contribution to the audio hobby and of course for being one of the reasons why I am in this at all 🙂

Full story by Tyll Hertsens

One-button listening…

I know I’m not supposed to admit this, but over the last months I’ve become more and more aware that sound quality isn’t the only factor in deciding how much I listen to my system.

I’ve mentioned this in a previous post, but my first “real” audio system was a Harman-Kardon CD and integrated amp. One of the things I still remember – more than 20 years on – is that I could get music just by turning on the two components and there was next to no waiting time. By contrast I am now using a MacMini as my primary music source, which means having to wait 30-40 secs. for the computer to start up and then controlling the sound either from an iPad app or by having to turn on the TV, selecting the right input etc. It’s a much more complicated process, not to mention that I still need a separate remote to control the integrated amplifier and so on.

Part of my response to this incredible hardship obvious first-world problem ( 😀 ) was to start listening more to vinyl, but something still wasn’t perfect. Vinyl is great for “serious” listening – I enjoy the involvement in the process – but for background music while I’m doing something else I find vinyl is less than ideal.

All this changed a bit when I recently sold the Musical Fidelity integrated amplifier that I was using in my main system. Instead I went back to using some of my DIY-stuff together with a newly-acquired Arcam IRdac (the “old” version as Arcam has just announced the IRdac II). The original IRdac has an input for an Apple-device to which I’ve connected a 160GB iPod Classic filled with lossless files (officially the Classic isn’t supported by the IRdac but I can report it works fine 🙂 ).

This is excellent for background music even if the MacMini with iTunes/Amarra does mean a step up in sound quality. The remote for the IRdac can control play/pause and forward/backwards skipping on both the iPod and in iTunes which means my whole system can be operated with a single remote. When using the iPod the whole thing is ready to play in the time it takes to switch on the three components as the iPod turns on immediately.

Soundwise the new setup is is a bit better than the Musical Fidelity integrated, but from a usability perspective it’s honestly miles ahead – I can use a “simple” source (the iPod) when I just listen to background music, and I can use a more “complicated” source (computer or vinyl) if I want to. The only thing I need now is that the IRdac remote can control volume as well. Sadly this isn’t possible with a stepped attenuator (for obvious reasons) but this could be the starting point for another project 😀

So, you might ask – what’s the point of this post? Well, I don’t know if there is one, only that this part of the “customer experience” with a product should not be forgotten and might play a bigger role (even subconsciously) in how a product is perceived than most people might think.

Happy 2016!

As 2015 closes behind us and 2016 is just beginning, I would of course like to say a big “hello!” and an even bigger “thank you” to all of the people following my blog and reading what I post.

Lately the posts have been a bit further apart, but despite this the reader numbers are quite high – in fact much higher than I expected and I am of course grateful for that. The blog has now been visited by people from more than 120 countries around the world which I think is extremely impressive – I am not entirely sure I could even name 120 countries 😀

In terms of what 2016 will bring there’s plenty of potential content in the pipeline I guess, but as usual work is intruding quite severely on my build time 😉

As a small appetiser of what’s coming, one of the long-term projects that I’ve managed to make som progress on lately is my first AMB Beta 22 headphone amplifier. I built the boards several years ago but then didn’t really make any progress for a long time. Finally a few months ago I summoned up the courage to test the boards and as they seemed to work fine I started on the mechanics. All that’s really left to do now is a bit of wiring and some final adjustments, so maybe sometime this summer is a realistic timeline? 😉

Best wishes for the new year to everyone out there reading 😀

b22preview