Hi-fi and work.

chebby

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A few recent threads have brought up some old thoughts about hi-fi and the work ethic.

High-Fidelity was properly established with developments like FM and the Microgroove LP (1948) and developments in electronics and amplifier design that emerged from wartime research and the huge expansion of national TV broadcasting shortly afterwards. (Just look at how many key hi-fi industry figures emerged from BBC engineering & research alone.)

Back in the 1950s and 1960s hi-fi (for many) was very much a 'hands on' hobby with numerous articles in magazines like Hifi News and Wireless World publishing plans and circuit diagrams for home kit-builders to make their own turntable plinths, loudpeakers and amplifiers.

Debates between commercial designers of such gear took place in the pages of popular magazines along with contributions from amateurs too. Even the adverts were often (by today's standards) 'learned essays' in the design and manufacture of a company's products. (50 years of 'dumbing down' ensures we'll never see ads like that again!)

Building a kit amplifier or a corner speaker was assumed to be well within the range of experience of the average reader/hi-fi enthusiast of whom it was expected that basic soldering and carpentry skills were almost universal. (My own father - who was no expert - along with millions of others had built his own 'crystal radio' set as a kid during WW2.)

Starting around 1980, I read hifi magazines, for about a decade, and such DIY involvement had long since disappeared from them.

Nowadays, aside from some very exceptional cases, all hi-fi is consumerised/commoditised and leaves the consumer nothing to do but plug it in and enjoy it.

I reckon this leaves a gap in the whole experience though. The 'gap' (user involvement in the process) used to be filled - in the golden age of Japanese hi-fi - by massive tower systems with a plethora of switches and knobs and sliders and displays that had their ultimate expression in such things as graphic equalisers.

The big Japanese manufacturers had no room left for the practical hobbyist of previous decades, but it gave him (consumers were mostly 'hims') control. It may have been excessive control and even fake or unecessary control, but the keen hifi buyer could have a great time with a multitude of 'functions' and controls and meters to personalise the experience.

He was no longer a 'maker' but instead was now part of the recording and playback process with the ability to make all the final decisions over the sound. A sort of amateur studio engineer lurking in semi-darkness with a tower system that lit up like a Christmas tree and needed his tender ministrations to fine tune the sound, especially with recording tapes and cassettes. (Lots of different Dolbys and bias/equalisation settings and head azimuth. Head cleaning, de-magnetisation, level settings, choice of the right kind of tape etc.)

It was still 'work'. We were no longer making any parts of the equipment but we had been given lots of other things to do.

What now? The monster tower systems have largely disappeared. Digital downloads have killed home taping. Only a handful of expensive kit still bears VU meters (Accuphase, Luxman, MacIntosh and a few others) and everything is plug-n-play.

30 years of 'Flat-Earth' philosophy left our amps bereft of any controls and (almost) 30 years of CDs have left most people without even a cartridge to align!

Where can the 'work ethic' find room to express itself in our hi-fis now? Choosing. That's it. Choosing cables. Choosing stands. Choosing combinations of components to get the 'ultimate sound'. Choosing after-market replacements for equipment feet. Choosing a supermarket bought chopping block to 'tweak' the bass or something.

In 50 years the keen hi-fi hobbyist (as opposed to someone who just wants to buy a good system to listen to) has gone from part-maker/designer/assembler/tester/carpenter of the system to 'home recording expert' and 'system controller' to...

...chooser.
 

tino

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There's still room for the hobbyist but few people these days are willing to put in the effort, especially when the sum of the parts usually costs more than the whole - you can buy an amp for less than what it might cost you to build. I do however make analogue interconnects myself, that is a doddle and does work out cheaper.

I am willing to mess around with power supplies, valve amps, and class D amps but even that usually means buying an off the shelf PCB + components and designing and making a case to fit. Alternatively finding some good vintage gear and upgrading the components e.g. caps and resistors to modern, non aged equivalents is another possibility, but a little bit risky without a good service and repair manual!

With the the move to streaming solutions, the experimenter/tweaker can find solace in ripping bit perfect CD copies, tagging and downloading/photoshopping artwork, tweaking and customising software if they are sufficiently adept. Or at least that's what I do :)
 

MajorFubar

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I think you're absolutely right Chebby, but what's also gone are people who want to get involved at that level, by and large.

So it's difficult to say what's cause and effect.

It's like the motor industry. 40s/50s/60s every Sunday was service-the-car-day. Grease the various grease-points, check the oil and coolant. By and large most drivers were male, their pride and joy was a 'she', and 'she' was lovely, whether or not 'she' was a Rolls Royce or a slightly scabbly Austin A35.

These days you've got a generation of drivers who by and large know how to fill the car up with fuel and that's it, and the cars of today are designed to cater for their dumbed-down interest and abilities.

But what's cause and what's effect?
 

Paul.

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Surely people got in to hifi because of a love of music, and for most the fettling of hifi was a means to an end, not the hobby itself?

For some reason I get more enjoyment out of bike building than I do tinkering hifi. I do get equal enjoyment out of film and music as I do out of cycling, but for me HiFi and AV is the barrier for entry on the sport, not the sport it self.
 

matthewpiano

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Very interesting thoughts there Chebby and I wonder whether, in part, this is why so many of us cling on to the analogue world of vinyl.

I've never built any hi-fi and I doubt I would have enough skills or knowledge to do so. It is important to point out that there are lethal voltages lurking inside hi-fi equipment and most of us don't have the pre-requisite skill-set to make tinkering in this way safe. This is certainly what has put me off getting involved on the building level. I've often wondered about building a kit speaker though and I'm sure I would find it a very enjoyable project. The trouble is, I'm not sure the end result would be worth it. There are so many well designed and well made products already out there.

For me, the music is the starting point and increasingly so actually. I grew up with 70s amplification (in the 80s!) and used to enjoy the tone controls, loudness switch etc. That control element was definitely part of my listening back then. The truth is, though, that I haven't used tone controls for a long time. Every amp I've had in recent times has lived in 'Direct' mode and I'm quite happy this way. Very shortly I'll be getting a Rega Brio-R and that only has a volume control and a source selector, but I'm going down the Rega route because music is their starting point and it is clearly evident when you listen to any Rega products.

However, I do like some 'work' and the tactile experience of handling physical media is still very important to me. I love buying, handling and listening to vinyl and I've always enjoyed CDs (though less so). Downloads hold absolutely no interest to me because they don't offer that tactile experience.
 

Frank Harvey

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chebby said:
Nowadays, aside from some very exceptional cases, all hi-fi is consumerised/commoditised and leaves the consumer nothing to do but plug it in and enjoy it.
But this is a good thing. It has made it more accessible for everyone.

The big Japanese manufacturers had no room left for the practical hobbyist of previous decades, but it gave him (consumers were mostly 'hims') control. It may have been excessive control and even fake or unecessary control, but the keen hifi buyer could have a great time with a multitude of 'functions' and controls and meters to personalise the experience.
I don't think the Japanese were trying to give the end user control - I think they were just trying to give value for money - the more features it had, the more chance of selling the product.

He was no longer a 'maker' but instead was now part of the recording and playback process with the ability to make all the final decisions over the sound. A sort of amateur studio engineer lurking in semi-darkness with a tower system that lit up like a Christmas tree and needed his tender ministrations to fine tune the sound, especially with recording tapes and cassettes. (Lots of different Dolbys and bias/equalisation settings and head azimuth. Head cleaning, de-magnetisation, level settings, choice of the right kind of tape etc.)
I do miss those days, and as much as I enjoyed fiddling about, I'm glad it's over and done with!

What now? The monster tower systems have largely disappeared. Digital downloads have killed home taping. Only a handful of expensive kit still bears VU meters (Accuphase, Luxman, MacIntosh and a few others) and everything is plug-n-play.
I have to admit I do miss the VU meters, as useless as they were. It was nice to see Onkyo bring it back last year, and it'd be nice to see other manufacturers doing it too. I'd also like to see some proper, over-engineered, back breaking hi-fi that needs a strengthened rack to house it, like we had in the 70's and 80's, like Yamaha's 25kg CDX10000 CD, and the CX10000 and 43kg MX10000 pre/power - even the separate phono stage was 20kg. Beautiful stuff.

In 50 years the keen hi-fi hobbyist (as opposed to someone who just wants to buy a good system to listen to) has gone from part-maker/designer/assembler/tester/carpenter of the system to 'home recording expert' and 'system controller' to...

...chooser.
The changing world we live in I suppose.

As already mentioned, I think most people nowadays just don't have the time to mess about building stuff, and if they do, they're into that more so than the music. I think the other thing is that hi-fi back in the 70's was simple - today's designers use computers to analyze every aspect of a product, and are able to pick up on small things having an effect on sound that just weren't possible to detect back then. Even though amplifiers are essentially the same as back then, they've also changed a lot.

I know it's quite easy to stick some drivers in a box, but the trial and error of getting a speaker right has been virtually banished by computer R&D.
 

CJSF

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Mmm . . . 'computer R&D has taken over'? . . . thats why we get speakers that people complain about; to bright, no base, bland, dont match . . . etc. If thats computer development, I'll stick with 'old fashioned' and trust my ears, no I dont make my speakers but I have been tuning my system to the way I like/want it, mainly via TT mods and adjustments (might be why I like my 25 year old PMC's, no computer rubish there) . It seems these days people cant do it or dont trust there ears, or, maybe they dont know what they are listening for? Perhaps the dealers should be pointing in the right direction?

Sad aint it, "fiddling, glad its over and don with", thats a dealer as he holds hand out to take money . . .

Music was and is, to be enjoyed, however, to get the best from it, especialy if its analogue, adjustments and tweaks have to be done to get the best 'bang for your buck'. Even digital, the way I see it, needs due consideration, giving value for money, for instance, cables, good reasonably priced speaker cable is available. I searched and phoned around, £13 per meter was the lowest price that was suggested. Queried it, the intimated answer more than once seemed to be; we have got to make some money somehow!!! I have found Chord and Linn make decent cable for £5-£6 pm, 521 strand speaker cable can be had for £2-£3pm. I know interconnects fall into the same brackets . . . I used to make and sell them! I know other who did the same.

To bring the balance . . . I did find a couple of dealers who were fair in my quest for speaker cable that did not require a mortgage, and I've seen it sugested on this site to serch out the standard Naim interconects that come in the box as standard, not bad quality at all it was sugested.

CJSF
 

CJSF

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Well Chebby, thats a bit of a turn around in thinking . . . considering you told me, Rega TT were plug and play? You are now leaving the door open to the 'heresy' of tweaking:?

In my other life I was very involved in manufacturing valve amplifier's, capable of wielding a soldering iron, however the tech stuff was not my forte . . . so I was the 'ears' and the 'stupid, off the wall suggestion' . . . that often worked! (side ways thinking). I remember, I designed and made the PC board for our first pre amp.

These days I'm happy to let 'them that know', make the amps, but I also know, 'stupid suggestion though it be', many quality TT are capable of being tweaked to good effect. Its not difficult, parts are available, it does take time and a little effort but brings its rewards with a delivered sound that has a satisfying 'quality', choose wisly and it dont have to cost fortune either.

I have no doubt, if I had been into hifi in the 50's I would have been a 'shed creeper' . . . to young, no money, I remember old radios I used to modify, I once built a crystal set with a piece of 'coke' as the crystal. Electric motors, what we used to do with electric motors . . .

I think the potential for putting 'ones mark' on ones hifi is still there. Plug and play if you will, its the way society is, they would rather stare at, or let a computer do the thinking and the work for them. But put a bit of time and thought into an analogue system and it can sing way above it station in life. This can even be extended to CDp's and amplifiers by looking carefully at sitting . . . no where else to put it? OK, how can the site be improved . . . as you know, I disappeared into my shed, emerged with the parts that have totally transformed a disastrous, TT, CD and amplifier site, with nothing more than a sheet of 2'x4'x1/2" MDF, a large tank cutter, a saw and some sand paper, add couple of Morrison granite chopping boards, a tin of black spray paint . . . get the little grey cells working, walla! . . . O'yes there was also a sq M of black felt and four 1.5"x5mm stainless steal bolts with nylock nuts.

Manufacturers know how to make speakers, amplifiers and turntables but good old fashioned mechanical (analogue) issues are still a 'black art', "the sum of the parts often exceeding the whole" . . . working out this black art is part of the fun, pleasure and satisfaction, even frustration . . . at least you know where you have gone wrong in the event of frustration . . . 8)

CJSF
 

Inter_Voice

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chebby said:
In 50 years the keen hi-fi hobbyist (as opposed to someone who just wants to buy a good system to listen to) has gone from part-maker/designer/assembler/tester/carpenter of the system to 'home recording expert' and 'system controller' to...

Electronics was once my hobby. I assembled my first tube radio when I was young about 35 years ago. Then I learnt to make my tube hifi system with huge output transformers. Later the transistors, FETs came in and I built some power amplifiers of Class AB and C etc without the need of big transformers. It was fun by that time when I designed and made the PCB etc myself. After some time the ICs, opamps entered into the hifi world and by then I lost the interests as it was quite difficult to diy PCBs using these small electronic items and the circuits were far too complicated. It was at that stage I resorted to off-the-shelf hifi products.

Don't think I am an electronic engineer, I am NOT. Electronics was once my hobby in the past. Apart from electronis I love music and I played violin as well (but not now). Luckily I still got a pair of good ears and nowadays music listening is one of my hobbies.

The world is advancing and hifi products are becoming more and more sofisticated but relatively cheaper when compared with the past. Good hifi system though cannot 100% reproduce the actual musical environment it is however quite close to it which in the past was unachieveable unless you were willing to spend a lot of money on it.
 
Not wanting to hark back to John Snaggeesque rose tinted view of yesteryear, when it comes build your own components, true, there aren't that many suppliers out there these days. One of the biggest problems IMO is lifestyle: Certainly when I was 14 I loved building my own speakers. They were pretty crude looking but sounded pretty darn good compared to speakers from a £20.00 record player (vintage 1977). These days do we have the will to make time for such projects? I certainly don't at the moment. Plus it was a cheap option to just buying from a hi-fi dealer.

What I would like to do is build another pair of speakers, after the festive period, with good quality cones and see how they stack up against shop bought.

It is amazing what can be achieved with some old plywood, sheets of cotton wool, decent car speakers and a smidgen of thought.
 

Inter_Voice

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In the good old days I also built my speakers at home but the result was far from satisfactory. Eventually I gave it up and bought speakers from off the shelf products.

May be I am wrong IMHO when DIY your own speakers there are too many unforeseen variables. Therefore there is no guarantee to have a decent product unless you are an expert in this area, like CJSF. Nowadays manufacturers use computers including finite element analysis to find out the behaviour of their design that a hobbyist will not be able to afford. Hobbyist can just use their ears to adjust their design but that is time consuming and needed a lot of try and error efforts.

BTW pp if you have completed your DIY project do let us know your result. Hope you can succeed.
 

chebby

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I was also trying to explore the idea of the 'work' element of hi-fi as a pursuit/hobby.

Is there still a vestigal Calvinist streak in us that makes us a bit guilty about spending big money on something that is only designed for passive pleasure?

Earlier hi-fi enthusiasts would often build their speakers and even break out soldering iron and component catalogues to make a kit amp. They could feel they had earnt their 'guilty' pleasure through exercising practical skills.

The keen 1970s/1980s hifi enthusiast could still have a 'work' element by having to master large instruction manuals and the art/skill of making perfect recordings/setting up a cartridge/using the myriad controls and meters to fine-tune the hifi like a home recording engineer.

In the arena of home computing (and especially gaming) there are still those who like to build their own 'customised' PCs. So it could be argued that their 'work ethic' has a niche that is catered for in a way that is no longer catered for with hifi. (They even have magazines dedicated to building/customising computers.) They can 'earn' their pleasure like the home hifi builder did 50 years ago.

Interesting to read some of the old articles from magazines like Wireless World in the 1950s and 1960s to see just how well-informed they were.
 
Inter_Voice said:
In the good old days I also built my speakers at home but the result was far from satisfactory. Eventually I gave it up and bought speakers from off the shelf products.

May be I am wrong IMHO when DIY your own speakers there are too many unforeseen variables. Therefore there is no guarantee to have a decent product unless you are an expert in this area. Nowadays manufacturers use computers including finite element analysis to find out the behaviour of their design that a hobbyist will not be able to afford. Hobbyist can just use their ears to adjust their design but that is time consuming and needed a lot of try and error efforts.

BTW pp if you have completed your DIY project do let us know your result. Hope you can succeed.

Yeah, I'll certainly do that...I'm not expecting miraculous results, as you've mentioned there are so many pitfalls, but with care and attention there's no reason why they can't be satisfactory, but the SQ isn't so much the issue. It's more the pride of building something to your liking.

BTW, I won't use the Leema or Arcam CDP, just in case - I think it'll be the Alpha 7 and Rotel CDP sitting in the attic.

Remember I've no aspirations of becoming a commercial hi-fi builder, just for experimental purposes only.
 

Frank Harvey

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CJSF said:
Mmm . . . 'computer R&D has taken over'? . . . thats why we get speakers that people complain about; to bright, no base, bland, dont match . . . etc. If thats computer development, I'll stick with 'old fashioned' and trust my ears, no I dont make my speakers but I have been tuning my system to the way I like/want it, mainly via TT mods and adjustments (might be why I like my 25 year old PMC's, no computer rubish there) . It seems these days people cant do it or dont trust there ears, or, maybe they dont know what they are listening for? Perhaps the dealers should be pointing in the right direction?
There's a lot of aspects of speaker design that can only be engineered accurately with the help of computers. Obviously these manufacturers also use real analogue ears too.
 

CJSF

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FrankHarveyHiFi said:
CJSF said:
Mmm . . . 'computer R&D has taken over'? . . . thats why we get speakers that people complain about; to bright, no base, bland, dont match . . . etc. If thats computer development, I'll stick with 'old fashioned' and trust my ears, no I dont make my speakers but I have been tuning my system to the way I like/want it, mainly via TT mods and adjustments (might be why I like my 25 year old PMC's, no computer rubish there) . It seems these days people cant do it or dont trust there ears, or, maybe they dont know what they are listening for? Perhaps the dealers should be pointing in the right direction?
There's a lot of aspects of speaker design that can only be engineered accurately with the help of computers. Obviously these manufacturers also use real analogue ears too.

I can see all the points, however there are always two sides to any coin . . . One will never accept a computer designed and measured hifi component as right, may be thats all we have, but right it rarely is. Going back to the 80's, japanese amps were here, perfect measurements but they often sounded awful, flat and uninteresting. It was realised, eventually, that our ears are not perfect and are used to listening to all sorts of strange sounds, and filtering same. Said Japanese amps started to improve when they listened, I believe Rotel was a leader in this.

One remember a Ramada Heathrow hifi show one year, in the evening, after closing time, we all got together in one of the larger dem rooms to play, as we often did . . . its a bit vague . . . but I think it went something like; a 'Jardine' valve amp, about 7 (seven) wats of output, 12% distortion, walked all over a Krell on musicality, it was no slouch on the dynamics either, that might have been 12w of power and 7% distortion??? but which ever way round, is was simply stunning.

I can accept entry level equipment has to be built to a price, not so much R&D, probably more effort on working out how to produce it. Quality equipment; less is more, by less, I mean fewer models less frequent launches, get it right first, rather than release it onto the unsuspecting public. See if they accept it . . . if not, O'dear, here is the MkII . . . . ? Or on the other hand, withdraw a perfectly good and well loved product, issue a MkII 'dog'????:?

I have my cynics hat on this evening . . . change is not always for the best, IMHO.

No, modern DIY is not practical, tweaking on analogue kit is essential, buy sensibly . . . my speakers are very old and never seen a computer, I also have a very high regard for the even older and much used LS35a, no computer back when they were conceived. I use a modern Croft Integrated amplifier, not even a circuit board in side, hard wired, built to order, it is so sweet, lets me hear every tweak I make, good or bad . . . the old'uns are the best . . . ?

CJSF
 

Andrew17321

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I started making amplifiers and other electronic stuff as a hobby in about 1958, using Government surplus components. Only valves were available, and my best one was a 11 valve, 10 W mono amplifier. When the first 10 W transistors (OC35s) became available I built a 10 W mono transistor amplifier, before commercial ones became available.

Oddly, I had little interest in music then, the electronics was the hobby. Now listening to music is my hobby, and I am happy to buy the good kit that is available today.

However, I am not scared of high voltages – I used 350V RMS in the old days, and over 1000 V for some things – and can use a soldering iron when needed. More importantly, when I detect a hum, or other defect, in my system I know intuitively how to fix it – so the old knowledge is not wasted.

The same is true in other fields like cars (anyone remember the choke and the gear stick, and hammering the spark plugs back into a VW Beetle when they blew out?), and computers: I have gone from punch cards, to microcomputers where I needed to fix operating systems and use machine code and hexadecimal, to the pleasure and usability of the iPad.

All great journeys, wouldn't have missed any of it. Plenty of challenges and hands on skills needed in the garden!

Andrew
 

matthewpiano

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Interesting that when the previous Rega Brio 3 was launched, Roy Gandy said it didn't measure that well but sounded better than a prototype that had measured well. (Wish I could remember where I read this, but I definitely did).
 

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