Monday, January 26, 2004

Obsessing over audio cables lately. I've gotten heavily into DIY cable mode. I recently resurrected some spools of silver cable I had laying around. I bought this years ago but never did anything with it. After becoming interested in the litz braiding technique popularized by vendors such as Kimber Kable, I decided to make up a test set with this spare silver wire. I wasn't sure what to expect so I cobbled together a twisted pair with some old switchcraft connectors. I was slightly blown away. This inspired me to get serious so I ordered some nice neutrik rca connectors and supplies from Parts Express. I then figured out how to do a proper litz braid with with three conductors (two ground, one hot). I've been refining my design over the last several weeks and now have a design, with a bit of heat shrink for channel identification and strain relief, I am happy with. So far I've testing this on my tube system. I may test on my big rig down the road after I complete some anticipated upgrades.

At the same time, I happened upon another cable DIY site that had a listing for some interesting cables. The parts can be purchased from MCM electronics. I liked the looks and design so I took a chance and ordered a set of parts. Basically, its a classic stranded coaxial design with a heavy shield and teflon insulator.

The recommended connectors are similar in design to those on DH Labs cables. The assembly can me done without soldering or one can solder the signal tip through a opening provided. I am experimenting with both options. I also broke down and bought a roll of silver Wonder Solder. At $28 it's pretty expensive but what the heck. One fly in the ointment is a tolerance issue with the connectors.

I found that that the design causes extremely tight connections that actually don't fit about 75% of all the components I tried to plug them into. I think MCM needs to adjust the tolerances a bit on this one. As a work around, I bought some emery paper and am sanding away a few microns of the inside outer shield which is just enough to allow some expansion of the actual inner rca shield to fit more comfortably. It's tedious to do but seems to solve the problem. Sound wise these cables seem to be competitive.

After continued thought, I have concluded that purchasing the McCormack HT-3 three channel amp is overkill for my home theater rear and center speaker. It costs about $2400. I have revisited the Outlaw Audio products and have settled on buying three of their 200w M-Block amps. I can get three for under $900 and I may also try some of their cables as well. I think this is a good compromise and will not unduly sully the overall sound. I think this makes sense.

Oh boy, I am starting to get net timeouts. Looks like the venerable Comcast network is once again straining under heavy load. Lots of telecommuters today I bet.

Thursday, January 08, 2004

Started a new Blog today. I'm calling it CB Raves. It will be a place for me to recommend various things such as music, audio equipment, and computer software/hardware.

One thing that confused me is that a new banner ad appeared at the top of my new blog. It seems that this is a new money making scheme by Google. Oh well. I guess I could pay something and it would go away. We'll see.
Been a long time since I blogged. Pretty busy with holidays and whatnot.

Lately, it's been adult toys keeping me busy again. After much confusion, I finally decided to buy a new digital camera to replace my aging Canon S10. Nearly four years old, the S10 was a 2 megapixal and 2x zoom. I found a good buy at on the Pentax Optio 555 which had a lot of the features I wanted. It's a 5 megapixal, 5x optical zoom digicam that is actually smaller than the S10. I've only taken a few test shots but it looks promising. I had considered a lot of cameras including the Olympus 750 (10x optical zoom) and the Nikon 5700. I also thought about the new Canon EOS Rebel Digital SLR for $1k. The Pentax had a $50 rebate which brought it down to the $430 area. It also uses the SD memory card which I had already started using since getting my Palm Tungsten E. The Pentax also got good grades for long battery life. So, I could switch to the Optio 555 without spending a lot on additional accessories right away. I did pick up another 256mb SD card on sale for about $70. Hopefully, SD cards will continue to drop in price and I can go to a 512mb card soon.

Today, my Plextor 708 8x DVD burner arrived from Dell. Got to send in the rebate for this one as well. This is part of my new computer build that I have been assembling for a few months now. I've been taking my time in picking out parts and buying when a good deal comes along. I already got the Antec Sonata Piano Black silent case. I have a spare 40 gb hard drive I'll use to test the system and then buy a really big drive when a good deal comes along. I had pretty much settled on all the components which included an ABit IC7 Max3 motherboard. I then happened upon an ABit forum and saw that a lot of people were having problems with this board. Since I will be going away soon, I had decided to wait until I get back to place my order. I figure prices will certainly be lower by then. I'm glad I waited since I have now abandoned the ABit in favor of the ASUS P4C800E-Deluxe. This looks like an equivalent board but is getting a clean bill of health from users. I also like that the northbridge chipset has a passive heatsink. The ABit had this odd cooling tunnel that included a fan. It looked like this would be a noise issue. I try to use as few fans as is possible. These little fans are way too noisy. The XFX Nvidia 5200 based graphics card I've selected also uses a passive heatsink. So, this new system I am building will only have 3 fans - CPU, PSU, and Case. The PSU and Case are Antec silent pc rated so the only variable is the stock CPU. I can upgrade that down the road. So, I'm ready to order and build this PC but will have to wait until I get back.

I also got the brand new Shure E3c canal headphones I ordered. The advance buzz (BusinessWeek, CNet, Head-Fi) on these phones as been terrific. I hope they interface well with my original Nomad Zen. I've also been listening to music with my Tungsten E since it turns out to have very good sound for a PDA. I immediately got a 256 mb SD card just for music. I installed the great Aeroplayer which is free to use with the Ogg Vorbis audio format. Using the standard 64k settings for Ogg, I am getting surprisingly good sound with this setup. Using this size economical format allows me to get several hours on a 256 mb card.

I also recently received the two Dell Truemobile 2300 Wi-Fi routers and the Dell 1300 laptop Wi-Fi (b & g) card. I will have to wait until I return to replace my wireless setup. I had a read a good review about the router and decided to upgrade my whole setup the 802.11g. The thing that sealed it is the fact that the router can be reconfigured to be either a repeater or bridge. I need a bridge for my setup upstairs. Some people had some trouble with the config but I read a bunch of posts on the Dell forums and I think I understand the issues. Anyway, I don't want to mess with this stuff until I have a large space of time to work on this. Looks Iike I will be real busy in the early spring.

Let's see what else there is to comment about.

Oh, I got the bug to make my own audio cables again after reading some articles on line. As it turns out I had a couple spools of solid silver wire I bought many years ago but never did anything with. This is fairly thin. It's probably about 30awg or so. Not really sure what I've got. Anyway, I rounded up some old switchcraft rca connectors I had around and twisted together a three food pair of cables using one silver segment for the hot wire and two for the ground. This was a quasi litz wire config although I didn't understand how to braid properly for my first attempt. Even so, I hooked the newly made cables to my tube based living room system withe the new SACD player and was pretty amazed at the results. There may be something to this silver thing. I went ahead and ordered a bunch of nice connectors and a new soldering iron station (Weller) from Parts Express. While I waited for the parts to arrive, I figured out how to braid and now have some nice looking braided silver wires in a litz wire config similar to what the Kimber PBJs look like that are ready to be terminated. I'll get these soldered up over the weekend.

Due to my improving personal economy, I've decided to upgrade my upstairs PC setup which itself was a hodge podge upgrade. The current system is still too noisy for listening to music so I want to improve things. I read a review of the new Shuttle XPC shoebox PCs. They are on rev G4 of this form factor and seem to have improved things over time. Also, because they use a heatpipe these systems are very quiet. As soon as I complete the current PC build, I'll order the Shuttle and start assembling this system which will probably take me into the summer. I am also going to be ordering OEM Windows XP Home for both these systems. If I am going to take the time to reinstall all the software I might as well be up to date in the OS arena. Windows XP is pretty underwhelming but it does have some tweaks in the audio driver area that are important to me.

As I predicted in a previous blog, the Microsoft Spot watch is getting roundly criticized. This product has no future. Give up!

I think I'll quit for the moment. This blog is way too long!