30 November 2010

SuperCables CookBook - Review (1/2)

Recently I got a chance to read the "SuperCables Cook Book" (3rd edition) by Allen Wright of Vacuum State Electronics and I thought I would share my findings.  As the title implies, this is an instructional book on how to make various cables.  The book covers balanced and unbalanced line level (interconnect) cables,  speaker cables, mains (power) cables, digital cables and even video cables.  The book is just shy of 200 pages and retails for 40 Euro and that price includes worldwide postage.

I thought of writing a book review only with no chat about the technical gems held within. That was until I finished reading the book through. I found not only some cable designs I would like to build but some confronting mathematical and theoretical proof that thin wires rule over thick wires.

SuperCables CookBook

SuperCables CookBook Review
The book is spiral bound, with a clear plastic front cover, black card-stock back cover and the paper quality is low.  For about the same money one can purchase beautifully bound, hard cover manuals full of color photos, but let's not judge a book by it's cover.  One plus about the spiral binding is the book will lay flat which makes it easy when working from a particular page.  Unfortunately the image quality is poor and boring – the images look like black and white copies of color photos.  You don’t find yourself looking at a picture of a good looking cable and think “I want to build that”, but don't let that discourage you.  Some of the images are of such poor quality that it is hard to work out what point is being displayed.

Apart from the usual trademarks, disclaimers, copyright warnings etc. The book opens with Contents, About the Author, Introduction and A Brief History.  It then works you through the theory and concepts of electricity traveling through a conductor.  The book then works it way into speaker cable constructions, interconnect cables, mains cables etc.  Toward the back of the book more varied cable types can be found, balanced, digital and even video cables. The list of cable types is very comprehensive.  I must congratulate the author on covering such a huge range of cables. 

Reading the Book 

There are three ways you can go about reading the book.
  1. You can read the book cover to cover;
  2. You could skip the preface, author, intro, theory and concepts and jump right to a cable recipe.  For many you can follow a recipe, construct the cable and enjoy while never looking back;
  3. But here is my suggestion after reading the book.  Read from the front cover to the theory. Jump the theory but read the concepts.  Then find your first cable to build and you will likely not stop at one.
Working through the theory and maths, no matter which famous mathematician developed them, will not make you a better cable builder.  However, understanding and the concepts for better cable construction and applying those concepts will.  If you read nothing else prior to your mystical journey into strange cables, read the concepts section from pages 42 to 52.  Other portions of the book that are must reads, Connector Basics and any of the other “Basic” sections in the book.  This may be “basic” information, but it is good information that is often overlooked or forgotten.

Cable Construction Pages
There are 35 projects in the book and the project page layout is excellent.  Across the top of the page is the cable project you about to start, “#7 Intimate Silver Foils” which makes it obvious what this cable is made of.  The other guides on this page are: Sonics, Difficulty, Pro’s, Con’s.  Some have a numerical rating other a verbal description.  The next section outlines the Materials required supported by some more images.  The Materials are numbered.  From here we go to Method, once again numbered.  At the end of the method, which is really a step-by-step list of how to put the cable together, you may find some other notes.  For example, “if using Lemo’s (a brand/type of connector) and “if using RCA’s”.  This layout makes it simple to follow and construct.  The author also makes comments about what you may experience when listening to the cables in an attempt to rate and compared the many cable recipes in the book.

Lessons Learned
Here’s what I discovered and do agree with:

  • Thin (even ultra fine) wire is better than thick wire;
  • Thin foil is better than thin wire;
  • Cheap light weight plugs are better sounding than extra heavy ones;
  • All dielectric is bad, some not as bad as others;
  • The best plug is no plug;
  • Separated wires sound better than clumped;
  • Solid core wire is better than stranded,
  • Solder with a few percent silver or copper is good;
  • The shorter the wire length the better (I think we all can agree here);
  • Skin effect does occur at audio frequencies;
  • Plumbers Teflon tape has more than one use;

Summary - SuperCables CookBook Review
As I stated earlier the book is very comprehensive on the subject of cables.  It also highlights tricks and traps when making cables and safety issues when dealing with mains power cables.   The book is well thought out, hand-holding and thought provoking.  The SuperCables CookBook challenges preconceived ideas about materials used in cables, cable construction, plugs and even how a cable should look.

At around $AU60 the book is not cheap.  Do I recommend the book? Yes I do.  If you want a good read, buy a novel.  If you are a DIY Hi-Fi nut, this book will ease your cravings.  Expert or novice the book guides you through each build with the goal of producing a better sound from your system at very little cost.  Just don’t tell your friends you replaced your expensive speaker cable with a few strands of 30 AWG silver plated copper wire wrap.  They may have you certified.

Mark Houston - retro-thermionic.

To email Mark, type out the email address.
Part 2 of the SuperCables CookBook review covers how a couple of the cable recipes from the book perform in my system.  In the 3rd installment of the series Mark and Ron give the 30AWG wire wrap cables a good listen.  See The Fine Wire Audio Cable Shoot-Out for the story.

DIY Hi-Fi Cable Projects

15 November 2010

Fundamental Amplifier Techniques with Electron Tubes

About 6 weeks ago Rudolf Moers shared with us the details around his parallel push-pull 300B monoblock tube amplifiers.  We noted that the design of the parallel push-pull 300B tube amplifiers is explained in his new book Fundamentele versterkertechniek met elektronenbuizen, ISBN 978-90-5381-226-6 which was at the time only available in Dutch.  Good news!  The English translation of Rudolf's new book is now available - Fundamental Amplifier Techniques with Electron Tubes.

Fundamental Amplifier Techniques with Electron Tubes by Rudolf Moers is the latest Elektor publication on the subject of vacuum tubes.  The 800+ page hard bound book covers just about every topic you need to know about the fundamentals of vacuum tubes and how to apply that information towards audio amplifier design.

The aim of the Fundamental Amplifier Techniques with Electron Tubes book is to give the reader practical knowledge about vacuum tube technology and how to apply that knowledge in audio amplifiers.  The practical applications include power supplies, audio design and DIY construction of tube based amplifiers.  This new book is much more than just building a tube amplifier from a schematic, it walks you through the theory so you understand the design of circuits and the accompanying calculations.  Then with a multimeter, signal generator and an oscilloscope, you can verify the actual circuit parameters to confirm the theory and practice are very close.  The 834 page book Fundamental Amplifier Techniques with Electron Tubes, by Rudolf Moers is bound in a hard cover and sure to be a must-have reference source for all tube audio fans. 

Fundamental Amplifier Techniques with Electron Tubes, by Rudolf Moers, ISBN 978-0-905705-93-4 is available for $104.90US (plus shipping) from Elektor.  The table of contents is available from the publishers site and you can take a look at Rudolf's parallel push-pull 300B monoblock tube amplifiers to get a visual image of the book contents.

More DIY Audio Books

12 November 2010

Oatley K272A Head Amp audioXpress Review

The December 2010 issue of audioXpress magazine includes a review of the $30AU Oatley Electronics K272A tube based Headphone Amplifier Kit.  Mark Houston completed a review of the Oatley Electronics K272 Headphone Amplifier Kit in August 2009 and since then many hobbyists have enjoyed this inexpensive audio kit.  The hybrid headphone amplifier kit uses 6418 sub-miniature vacuum tubes and a headphone driver integrated circuit (PT2308).  Adding appeal to the tube based kit is battery operation. 

Highlights from the audioXpress Reliable Review of the Oatley Electronics K272A Headphone Amp by Aren van Waarde.

"Oatley Electronics (www.oatleyelectronics.com), which sells electronic parts and used equipment in New South Wales (Australia), has launched a small range of audio kits based on tube technology.  My interest was raised by glowing reviews written by Mark Houston, ..."

 "My initial impression of the sound of the K272A: warm, pleasant, and detailed.  Organ music sounded great."

"... the K272A/Grado combination produced excellent sound: a fne bass (powerful and deep but not overblown), detailed mid-range, sweet top-end.  Tonal colors of string instruments and vocals of male and female soloists were naturally represented. Many small, previously unnoticed details of recordings were revealed."

"In direct A/B comparisons, the K272A sounded better than the G4OEP (3/08 aX, p. 36) and even slightly better than the Stor class A amplifier (6/03 aX, p. 30)."

"For the asking price of 30 Australian dollars, the K272A is an absolute bargain.  And it does not involve any dangerous voltages."

The full review of the Oatley Electronics K272A Headphone Amp is available as a direct download from audioXpress [PDF- 737kB].

Additional Oatley Electronics Audio Kit Information:

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