My Quest for How Audiophile Electronics Work

Captain Jack Harkness: “No idea. We know how to use it, not how it happened…” Torchwood SE1E1.

With so many consumer electronic buying choices it only makes fiscal sense to understand how and why your CD player, processor or amplifier works. All the way from the discrete electronic components (you know Black Gate capacitors are better than Radio Shack’s, right?) to the complicated recipe made up of multiple circuits. I want to understand audio electronic engineering enough to design and build my own DIY projects and gain the ability to detect bull-crank claims in manufacturer white papers and hi-fi press reviews.

Building the CMOY mint tin headphone amp (unfortunately, I’ve only cut the proto board in half and soldered the jumpers in place) got me curious about the inner workings of all my gear. With the CMOY I can follow the instructions and hopefully get good audio out of it without electrocuting myself, but I want to understand more than the beginner instructions and know how to improve the input, output and power supply circuits. So I bought some books.

To dive into electronic engineering I bought two TAB electronics books: Tab Electronics Guide to Understanding Electricity and Electronics and The Audiophile’s Project Sourcebook: 80 High-Performance Audio Electronics Projects both authored by G. Randy Slone. The Audiophile book is the most interesting to me because it contains many projects that leave you with audiophile level equipment for a fraction of the cost of retail. Without the beginner’s book, I can’t understand any of the theory and schematics behind these projects.

Just reading the first few chapters of Electronics and Electricity I’m already overwhelmed with simple algebra. I think my main problem is the linear and spatial format of a book. Slone will refer to circuit schematics on past or future pages and you either have to imagine the schematic or constantly flip pages. I guess I’m too used to having everything in front of me on a computer screen. My best bet is to get my hands dirty with solder and practice through the tutorials that teach you the math and schematics. I’ll suffer through the schematics and math for my hobby, I must understand how this stuff works.

The internet (forum posts and Amazon reviews) has a varied opinion of Slone’s audio designs and ideals. I haven’t found many hobbyists making his audiophile projects. He is also under suspicion by the hardcore audiophile DIY crowd for being anti-Tube and not realizing the difference between electronic component materials (like polyester caps vs. teflon). I won’t hold these opinions against him.

So let’s say I actually learn all this stuff, make a few kits and headphone amp projects and then start to share my own designs. What’s the benefit? I figure I’ll gain an understanding of internal electronic component synergy: what combinations of power supply, input, processing and output circuits produce audiophile hi-fi. With science on my side it will be easier to evaluate the validity of the more faith based products out there (like the Furutech deMag (only! $1800), that claims to demagnetize vinyl LPs, or more specifically, the ferrous materials contained in the pigments that color the vinyl black).

My main goal beyond the some fun projects will be to crack the mystery of system synergy. I want an understanding beyond, “Well I guess this amp will drive this speaker.” I hope to post an easy to follow guide that will allow you to mate the most electrically compatible audio and home theater compaonents. It can’t be that hard, right?

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