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Welcome. I wanted to provide stripboard layouts I've made to help people new to electronics and even the more experienced get into different aspects of electronics.

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Saturday, 19 November 2011

Locus Designs Snakeoil Cable Rant (first of many)

This is going to be a biased review because I am reviewing a pet love/hate of mine. I hate it because people are ripped off horrendously and I love it for it's comedic value - it's long been a hobby of mine seeking out the idiocy of the common Audiophile and there is no bigger folie in the mind of an audiophile than their belief that a certain cable can improve the transmission of a digital signal over a cheaper cable.

Locus Design was brought to my attention by a friend on KVR forum who wanted to point out their USB cable costing $3,500. it's kind of hard to poke fun at this company as they do it so well themselves. Their opening page comprises of multiple awards they have received over their products. They have mocked up little certificates to illustrate this point. but the funiest thing on this website besides the outrageous claims with scientific sounding bullshit is this little gem copied and pasted directly.

Trial Policy: Any custom Locus Design cable may be returned within 30 days for a refund, if for some odd reason it does not perform as expected in your system. A 20% restocking fee (of the the total price) will be charged and any shipping charges incurred will be the responsibility of the buyer. In order to be eligible for return, the cable must be in 'new' condition (this condition will be evaluated by myself, ie., I will be the judge), returned within 30 days and have a valid RMA attached to the packaging.

So if you get this thing home and it doesn't do anything more than that $5 cable did (which is won't)  they will allow you to return it for a refund minus $710 + the shipping and of course he will be the judge. elsewhere on the site they mentioned that to cut costs to the consumer they don't use any special packaging so quite what this guy will be judging is beyond me and why it will cost him over $700 to put it back on a shelf with all the other bullshit he's got is also beyond me.

So what about the cable itself? I hear you ask. Well the USB is a digital medium, it sends data in binary - it is on or it is off, there is no grey area. either the cable works or it doesn't. So having said that, there is no signal degradation and if the cable is crap (broken) it just won't work. If you've spent thousands on a cable, the data transmitted through it won't be any better. Having gold plated interconnects won't do anything and having it shielded by pixie dust, diamond etc. certainly won't do anything - it is a digital signal.on - off fin.

Then we get to the "testimonials" section of the site which is quite populated however something a little strange stood out to me and that was that, none of the people had full names or even real names, it was either initials or aliases 
of course no testimonial would be complete unless the album "dark side of the moon" had not have been mentioned by some dick still stuck in the 70s. I just don't understand why this album is used as a audiophile reference point to test any piece of "high end" gear, if I were Roger Waters I'd be pretty pissed off. Not only that but engineering in sound has vastly improved since those days and I personally grow weary of the word "analogue" by some old bearded twat with his collection of gatefold special edition vinyl displayed neatly. I do wonder if these people actually enjoy music or not. but I digress.

The next thing that I feel I should point out was the contact page that said this... "by phone: 1-877-849-0400. However, please be aware, we almost never answer the phone" 
well I have to be honest here, I know almost nothing about business practices but the one thing I do know is that if you're charging extortionate amounts for a piece of wire you better answer the bloody phone to your customers.

In conclusion: This company do pretty well everything I've seen other audiophile companies do which is: making claims that audio will be enhanced, clarified, sharpened, smoothed and all those other things they say about sonic fields of shit knows what, they love their buzzwords, their scientific explanations which kind of sound credible if you have no idea how this kind of thing works.
I didn't really mention the "analogue" cables but it's the same kind of thing really in regards to the stuff they try to claim, they will say it's cryogenically frozen (seriously),burned in and all sorts of other things but again as long as the cable in question makes good contact between the signal source and destination then there wouldn't be a problem with a $5 cable in place of their magic cables.
IF it did ever alter your sound then the cables aren't presenting you with a true signal ie it is coloured in some way which then makes the cables unfit for purpose. However this is not the case, if you spend thousands on a single cable the only effect it's likely to have is the placebo effect put in place by your brain after all it's easier than admitting to itself it was stupid enough to fall for this garbage.
   The thing that annoys me most of all about these companies (usually spearheaded by some disillusioned idiot) is that they honestly think they are doing you a massive favour, not only that but they think they are better than you especially if you don't think that data cables need cryogenically freezing and so on.
then there is the "I'll pick up the phone or read your email if I can be arsed" attitude to it all and should you want to return anything he will judge whether you're allowed to or not depending on whether it looks new or not. I would love to see how he gauges the condition of returned "goods" because they don't look all that good anyway and I'm going off the publicity pictures, the pictures that are meant to be the best side of a product.
The Trial policy would be good were it not for this ridiculous "administrative fee" it's almost as if he's as annoyed as his customers that he has to enforce such a big fee but as he is doing so much for the planet and it's audio it is a necessary evil. 

so to the owner; offer a trial period with no restock fee then we'll see how many people keep those waste of money cables when they don't potentially lose $700 for returning them.

I know this "review" was directed more at the business practices than the product itself but there's not much you can say about a piece of wire really, it conducts electricity and sure as hell ain't worth 3 grand and if you think it is then to be honest you deserve to be fleeced of all your money. If you are someone who was tricked into buying this crap with someone throwing confusing words at you or telling you there isn't a cheap alternative (that happens a lot) do everything in your power to get every penny they conned out of you. 

Buzzword Of This Site: Damping

Thursday, 10 November 2011

iTeadstudio Review

I came across this website when trying to source a cheap way in which to get small quantity of PCBs (Printed Circuit Board) manufactured for the purpose of prototyping new designs. I heard about iStore which has the subsidiary "iTeadStudio" who advertise the manufacture of PCBs at an extremely low cost.10$ for 10 2 x 2" boards. 25$ for 10 5 x 5" boards and so on.

I wanted to really put them through their paces as a company by acting as though I didn't know what I was doing, the reason being that I would primarily recommend a service like this to hobbyists and people new to the field of PCB design who may have difficulty in just getting a design to manufacture. 
      To start the ball rolling I purchased 10 5 x 5" boards which came to about 30$ and as per instruction I then emailed my Gerber files in a .zip to the email address they provide on the itead website. I submitted a Gerber that I knew to be in the wrong format and missing the drill files. *
I few days later I received an email from iTead to explain that I hadn't sent all the files needed for the components specified by the CAD program ie the drill files were missing.
       I then exported the drill files but this time I changed the unit of measurement so that it wouldn't line up correctly with the board they already had the Gerbers for and resubmitted that to iTead.
A few more days passed when I got an email from them to say there was a further problem and at no extra cost, if I sent them the source files they would sort it out for me so I sent them the source files.
5 days later my boards arrived in the post - they had even given me 2 extra boards.

so after all this great customer relations and willingness to help me, you might say, "were the PCB's any good?" well the short answer is Yes. tThe traces/pads/ground planes all matched up to my design perfectly. the 0.01mm traces were also perfect, no shorts between close proximity component pins which is often a worry I have personally.
Once the actual circuit was built up, it worked as expected.

I can certainly recommend this company to people starting out in PCB design and indeed professionals needing a small run of PCBs to test out a design because it is so cheap and the boards are such high quality (they have since added a red option if you want a red PCB)  the staff were courteous and extremely patient with me unlike some much higher priced US/UK manufacturers have been in the past. If you still etch PCBs when there is an option like iTeadStudio out there then honestly, you need your head examining. 

I'd also like to mention that they have a fantastic additional service in which you can agree to open-source the hardware you've submitted and you receive 2 PCBs at random that other people have designed. Specifically they will make 12 PCB's of your design, send 10 of them to you and send the other 2 at random to other people who opt in for the same open-source service which for me is just a brilliant idea.
Keep up the good work iTead.

* Back when I started out I did this accidentally, I wanted to mimic my first errors as someone who was once new to the field-I would also like to add, that was a US manufacturer and they just manufactured the boards with no holes for the through-hole components which rendered the boards useless as they relied on 2 active sides using vias