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?

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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 🙂

Back from Japan…

I am now back again (physically at least) from two weeks in Japan. As the trip was a holiday and I could set the pace myself there was plenty of time to explore audio-related stuff 🙂

My credit card statement tells me I have managed to take full advantage of the fact that there is a good selection of DIY parts shops in both Tokyo and Osaka – and while domestic prices in Japan tend to be lower than where I am that’s easily fixed by simply buying more stuff 😀

Special thanks to Pete Millett for providing a useful page of links for where to go shopping. Although I found most of these places on my last trip to Tokyo, Pete’s page has been very useful to me both in Tokyo and Taipei so definitely worth a mention here.

As was the case last year, this year’s expensive souvenir was also a pair of expensive Japanese-made headphones, namely these:

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