Goodbye Walter Becker

I got into Steely Dan after coming across the stunning album cover for ‘Countdown to Ecstasy’.

Steely Dan's 'Countdown to Ecstasy' album cover.

Steely Dan’s’Countdown to Ecstasy’ album cover.

Their music was a variation on the Americana mix of jazz, rock, blues.  It had style, humour and a crisp, clean sound – they were really fussy when it came to sound quality.

Their music led me on to Donald Fagen’s; I love ‘The Nightfly’ and ‘Sunken Condos’ but I never even thought that the other half of the band could have his own solo albums.  I’ll need to have a listen to them.

Sadly, Walter Becker has now gone and far too soon at the age of only 67.  Thanks for the fun Walter.

Here is an interesting post about Steely Dan’s track ‘Deacon Blues’ and why it is used as an audiophile standard for comparing HiFi equipment (thanks to Graham for pointing me in this direction):

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Clean Mains Connections = Good Sound

I recently bought a second-hand tuner, an Akai AT-550.  The condition of the mains plug pins was the worst I have ever seen.  Even though the connections pass relatively high voltages, they still need to be clean or sound quality will be affected.  I am particularly fussy about the earth pin connection.  Here is a picture of the tuner:

Akai AT-550 Tuner.

Akai AT-550 Tuner.

To clean the brass pins of corrosion and dirt, I use a fibreglass stick but sandpaper or even a knife can be used.  If you have the confidence, it’s worth taking a look inside the plug to make sure all three connections are good and that the fuse connections are not corroded or lose.  This shows the plug:

Showing the mains plug earth pin badly corroded.

Showing the mains plug earth pin badly corroded.

Showing the mains plug earth pin partially cleaned.

Showing the mains plug earth pin partially cleaned.


Showing the mains plug earth pin fully cleaned.

I cleaned all three pins, not just the earth and when finished, they were all shiny.

If anyone needs an explanation of how to connect a mains plug properly, please do ask me and I will upload a post showing how to do it – not everyone knows.

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Every band member should read this . . .

. . . and anyone who loves music also, so they get to know what really goes on in the music business.

A good friend of mine has brought an article to my attention, written by Steve Albini; an American singer-songwriter, audio-engineer, band member of Shellac and much more.
It outlines (some of) the massive problems faced by up-and-coming bands trying to break into the music industry, at any level above playing pubs and clubs.

I recommend it:

‘The Problem With Music’ by Steve Albini

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Basic Media Amp and Speakers Idea

I finished working out the Box Construction Jig and found I had some 12mm MDF wood left over on the sheet.  I have some nice parts left over from the design of the Boombox and coming system so I thought I’d use the spare MDF to build a simple, compact HiFi system for our kitchen.  Nothing fancy, just an On/Off switch, a selection switch for only two inputs – Bluetooth and USB and that’s all.  The design is now complete and I’m about to add it to the cutting information for the MDF sheets.

But I think this would be a good production model and many others should find it a useful little amp.

So there are now two additional amp models, here are their salient points:

  1. a 14Wrms/channel and a 60Wrms/channel amp,
  2. only Bluetooth and internal DAC (USB fed),
  3. no tone controls,
  4. front panel has only On/Off and input selection,
  5. my amplifier PCB and top quality parts,
  6. small full range loudspeakers (Peerless?) with optional stands that include subwoofers,
  7. as small a footprint as possible given the internal components.

The MDF layout is almost finished, I’ll post pictures as it’s constructed.

Posted in Amp Cabinet, Amplification, Design, High Definition Sound, Loudspeakers, Media, Power Amplifier | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Box Construction Jig Design

My next job is to build the boombox cabinet (or box).  It will be made from 6 and 12mm MDF and I need to make sure that when glued together, all the sides are exactly perpendicular and not leaning over at all.  Over distance, a very small angle can make a big difference.

I am designing a jig to make this gluing job easier and more accurate.  It will also be of 12mm MDF.  The ‘Ls’ will be 10cm deep so won’t flex longitudinally at all.  The four ‘Ls’ will slide into each other like two combs coming together.  That can only happen in one direction so the upper two ‘Ls’ are broken and need bolting or gluing together once in place – you can see three holes in the corner, on the drawing below.

Box construction jig bracing.

Box construction jig bracing.

The above bracing will then be faced with 12mm MDF (as shown below).  This surface will allow me to push the panels that need gluing, up against the facing knowing it is absolutely perpendicular.  The jig will be laser cut by Exeter Laser so will be reliable true.

Each facing panel will be glued to the bracing at a distance of 30mm away from the other two facings.  This will allow up to 25mm MDF sheets to be glued together without becoming glued to the jig.  Any excess spilling out of the joint, can then be removed after the glue has set.

Box construction jig facing.

Box construction jig facing.

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CS4397/8 – A DAC Good Enough to Include?

I am a big fan of people with a passion for what they do, being enthusiastic about it and doing their best to do it well.  One such person I have come across is Lukasz Fikus who runs a family business dedicated to high quality HiFi and their web site is (new window).  On his site he talks about the sound and build quality of CD players he has come across or more specifically – their DACs.

On the page (new window) he talks about the DAC chip CS4397 and CS4398 from the IC manufacturer Cirrus Logic (a quick explanation of what a DAC is and why you might need one is given at the bottom of this post).

I wasn’t going to include a DAC into my boombox as the digital audio world has been changing so rapidly recently that I thought it best to concentrate on the amplification system and let people chose the input they want/can afford.  There was also the extra cost involved, both monetarily and time-wise, as I would have to buy and listen to a few to find one suitable.

But having been reading Fikus’ ramblings for a while now I have come to respect his authenticity and lack of sales bias and now feel that if he says this DAC is that good, I should be comfortable in including it into the boombox.  Most importantly, it is the right price!


CS4398 DAC Board

It will be a squeeze to get it in since most space has already been taken but I’m sure I can do it and this will give the boombox complete usability as it will be possible to connect it direct to a computer via USB as well as the current Bluetooth, Phono, 3.5mm jack, 6.5mm jack combination currently catered for.  It is important for me to include a DAC if possible as I see the prevalence of computers being the future source of music listening (I’m not alone in this, it doesn’t take a genius to have worked that little gem out).  I know vinyl is resurgent and many argue that the sound quality is better than digital and in some ways I agree and in some ways I very much disagree – but that’s a different argument and the fact remains; if done right, a digital signal source is at least as good as an analogue one and in many ways (not least the convenience but also sound quality) is much better.  Digital amplification is a different argument and not one I will tackle here.

Actually, having thought a little about what to say when it comes to what DACs are and why they are needed, I think it best to make that a separate post as it will need a little thought and effort on my part to explain.  So maybe the next post?  Sorry to disappoint but I’ll have to make images and make sure the language is correct and not too technical.

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Chinese eBay HiFi Scam

Whilst looking for a used CD player on eBay, I found an amazing deal; a stunning and expensive CD player for a ridiculous ‘Buy It Now price’ – a deal too good to be true?  I was immediately sceptical so did the usual scroll down to look at the seller’s feedback and information.  Below that info, eBay shows ‘Similar Listings’ and that’s where I came across a notice from another member highlighting a scam being set by Chinese members.  I copied the listing in order to propagate the information.  I can no longer find the original member who highlighted the scam but many thanks to him for his input!

Chinese HiFi scam on eBay.

Chinese HiFi scam on eBay.

This is a copy & paste of what his listing said:

“Excuse the dramatic headlines but it had to catch peoples attention. This is a warning to all on Ebay UK because people are still buying these things. There are hundreds of under priced items being listed by scammers from China. I have pages of them in my watchlist some of which people have been bought and paid for overnight. An example is a Sonos Play 3 for £23.46 or a pair of Quad Electrostatic speakers for £45.26 with free postage. Most of the scammers (though it could just be one opening hudreds of fake accounts) have a name that consists of random numbers and letters. Some with a – or an underscore _ at the end of their name followed by a number. Also the title of most of their ads have ebayt or Ebayq or a random letter at the end of the item title plus none of them have a feedback score. Don’t buy off these scum thinking it’s a legit ad. I’ve reported over 400 of them but ebay have only removed some of them and they’re still coming. In the time it’s taken me to edit this and re-list this there’s 19 more crooked ads popped up so be careful what you’re buying folks. ”

An good example is shown in these two screen grabs of a listing:

Chinese HiFi scam on eBay example A.

Chinese HiFi scam on eBay example A.

Chinese HiFi scam on eBay example B.

Chinese HiFi scam on eBay example B.

Have you bought some HiFi that turned out to be a scam?
Do you have any ideas on how eBay could stop this happening?
Feel free to make any comments that would help.

Here are messages from other members in response to my listing:

Chris C**********
“Hi Matt – I saw your ‘scam alert’ listing. Thanks for taking the time to put it on. Last year I was scammed for £3,300 for a pair of B&W Nautilus speakers – from China. A mighty tempting price. The guy insisted no paypal – bank transfer only. The guy actually did have the speakers – I asked him to write my name on a piece of paper and put the paper next to the speakers and take a photo. And he did, and it looked real, and probably was. But after transferring the money he said he had big customs fees to pay to export them – believe it or not – and I grew wary. Eventually gave up. His account was closed by ebay as it turned out it was hijacked. So … if you can add this story to your scam alert thing it would be useful to others. If it’s too good to be true, it very probably is.”

i reported this to ebay a month ago on the phono
to no avail

they are list item far to cheap with free post ie speaker 1000 a pair for £33,76

an buyer are paying for them and will never receive items

so easy to see ebaya / ebayb / ebayk and so on

if they pay buy credit card because its under 100 pounds it lost to them

good thinking scam card but ebay do not care”

“Hi matt,

Your add is appreciated. I have seen loads and loads of adverts from China, top end stuff marked really low. I mean a B&o system for £24 with free shipping. You have to think really!?

Like you said a lot of ppl are buying these and thinking what a bargain. More of an impulse automatic buy.

I don’t think you will ever beat them, as they will continue doing the same scam. Maybe Ebay needs to do something, verifying an account / a person before they let anyone just open a account.

Ebay is good in terms of money back guarantee but they really need to do something to stop the problem.

Best of luck, and if it’s too good, then it probably is.”

“I’ve reported lots of these.

Let’s hope eBay don’t take this listing down

Good work”

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