Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Phlatman and Bobbin: Episode Four - R&D Costs

In a listening room...far, far away...

In this episode, our hero Phlatman tries to explain to his trusted sidekick Bobbin why it is important to invest in good interconnect cables. Phlatman , being a facts and figures guy, looks at the numbers and tries to correlate what he sees and hears to what is measurable striving to find the most linear frequency response possible regardless of operating band. Bobbin, a bumbling off-the-wall pimple-faced juvenile who thinks that iPods and ear buds are the bomb, explicitly trusts Phlatman to share sonic truths with him so that one day audio crime will not pay! Donning capes and masks so as to not reveal their true identities while risking getting laughed out of vinyl record stores, our masked marauders are on a continuing crusade to demystify audio subjectivity with supporting scientific data in the never-ending quest for the flat line.

Phlatman was truly shocked when Bobbin brought in his puny Radio Shack RCA cable. Aside from needing repair on the connector-to-wire junction, Bobbin was in a hurry.

"Phlatman, will you P-L-E-A-S-E solder the wire back into my cable? I have to pick up my skateboard at the shop and I can't go there without tunes."


"Leaping Lizards, Phlatman. What side of the bed did you get up on this morning? I said please."

"Bobbin, my dear friend, I am doing you a favor by not repairing this cable."

"Some kind of favor, going without tunes..."

"Bobbin you must understand something and that everything makes a difference when it comes to audio perfection. The weakest link in the chain keeps you from reaching audio nirvana."

"How so, oh great wise guy?"

Meandering over to a heaped pile of dead interconnects, Phlatman points to the pile, puffs up his chest, centers himself, and expounds. "You see all of these broken cables? Well, all of the could have been easily repaired with a spot of solder, some heat shrink tubing, or a new connector. But all of them are not worth repairing. You see Bobbin, all of them basically use a type of coaxial wire first invented to carry radio frequency (RF) signals from antennas to television sets. One day at RCA labs, someone designed an easy-to-use plug-and-jack system using this same RF wire to run audio signals between turntables, tuners, and tape recorders to a preamp. With these cables, you are using the same technology developed from when they were first created back in the 1940s. Audio signals are not remotely the same as RF signals and need very different designs to address very different issues."

"So you're saying my cables are junk?"

"Yes, Bobbin. They are indeed low-fi junk."

"So what do I look for in a good cable?"

"Good is a relative term usually tempered by one's budget. Good to person A means under $100 a meter and good to person B means under $1,000. The problem with designing a good interconnect cable is the initial investment. Just like anything worth doing, you must employ someone who has the expertise and equipment to produce what you envision in your mind. If it costs $50,000 to test out your theory in wire design, you either must have deep pockets or really understand what you are doing."

"So it's not so much the design as the investment in something that is uncommon?"

"Right you are, Bobbin, as usual. You have been paying attention. Now where was I..."

"Startup costs"

"Right. So if you make a mistake and design a worthless piece of junk, you've just wasted your money. Even if you are close but want to change it to get that last little bit of performance out of it, you still have to invest another $50,000 just to make that little tweak. Now the wire costs $100,000 and you have doubled your investment. The only way to recover the R&D cost is to pass it on to your customers and that is why high-end cables cost so much."

"So it just because a gazillion feet of what you want is not available off-the-shelf that drives the cost up??"

"Yes, Bobbin, and this rule also applies to anything else in any high-end industry, cables or otherwise. If you make 1,000 preamps and sell them all, you must spread the entire cost plus profit to stay in business. If you are building something esoteric, and who isn't in the high-end, then these costs must be absorbed by your customers. If you plan to sell only 100, then the price rises correspondingly."

"So that's why Ferarris cost so much!"

"Or a Lamborghini, or a solid gold and diamond-encrusted iPod case. It's an issue of economics."

"I wondered why those cases cost so darned much... I really want one."

So Bobbin, the next time you snub your nose up at the price of a high-end piece of gear, consider what it is these people are doing. Every one of them are trying to make a masterpiece, a one-off, a custom design, and each of them has a lot riding on the idea or design they wish to share."

"Gee whiz Phlatman, I didn't realize that. Thanks for clearing things up."

"Now go down to your local audio salon and get something decent. On your way out, toss your old cables into that pile of junk."

"By the way, Phlatman, where are episodes two and three?"

"I had an idea but it got lost when I tried mixing science fiction with loveable robots and ended up with interconnect cables that sounded like Black Sabbath played at 78 RPM. In the end, my audio addiction may have gotten the best of me... Maybe someday I'll be comfortable enough to rewrite the first three. But you'll have to wait until I finish episodes 5 and 6 first...then we'll see."

Join us next time as Phlatman and Bobbin continue their never-ending pursuit of the straight line audio graph. You may find them in your local audio salon, arms crossed and frown faced, encouraging you to be very serious about the things you allow into your home theater. Until next time boys and girls, remember what Phlatman always says, "On the Eight Day, God created vacuum tubes..."

DISCLAIMER: Phlatman and Bobbin are purely fictitious characters. Any resemblance to any or all real people, politicians, lawyers, or super heroes living, dead, or otherwise is purely coincidental. The USDA does not certify this as 100% organic. These are professional drivers on a closed course: do not attempt to do these things by yourself. Seriously, cars cannot fly. No speakers, capacitors, inductors, wires, tubes, transistors, circuit boards, knobs, gauges, meters, test probes, graph paper, instruments, or electricity were harmed in the production of this thing-a-ma-bob whatchyamacallit. Your mother was right.

My eBook Extreme Audio 4: Interconnect Cables discusses this issue and others that help you make informed decisions about which interconnect cables to try and what you can possibly expect. Knowing the “sonic signature” of a type of cable connected to a type of amplifier can help you narrow-down your search but the final choice should be made with your ears. What sounds right to you is what you should get.

Yours for higher fidelity,
Philip Rastocny 

I do not use ads in this blog to help support my efforts. If you like what you are reading, please remember to reciprocate, My newest title is called Where, oh Where did the Star of Bethlehem Go? It’s an astronomer’s look at what this celestial object may have been, who the "Wise Men" were, and where they came from. Written in an investigative journalism style, it targets one star that has never been considered before and builds a solid case for its candidacy.

My other titles include:

·  Extreme Audio 1: House Wiring ·  Build an Extreme Green Hot Water Solar Collector
·  Extreme Audio 2: Line Filtering ·  The Extreme Green Guide to Wind Turbines
·  Extreme Audio 3: Chassis Leakage ·  The Extreme Green Guide to Solar Electricity
·  Extreme Audio 4: Interconnect Cables ·  Meditation for Geeks (and other left-brained people)
·  Extreme Audio 5: Speaker Wires ·  Althea: A Story of Love
·  Extreme Green Guide to Improving Mileage ·  Build an Extreme Green Raised Bed Garden
·  Extreme Green Organic Gardening ·  Build an Extreme Green Rain Barrel
·  Extreme Green Organic Gardening 2012 ·  Build an Extreme Green Squirrel-Proof Bird Feeder
·  Build an Extreme Green Composter ·  Extreme Green Appliance Buying Guide

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