Ruffling feathers

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Sipping my morning cup of java I stared aimlessly out the kitchen window. My reverie was suddenly interrupted by the loudest cacophony of angry, chattering, magpies I have ever heard—an easy dozen of the white trimmed black birds all with feathers ruffled. Below them, next to my neighbor’s fence, was a small bobcat who clearly was unhappy for all the attention, and they chased the poor critter off the property. Man! That was an exciting morning.

I think yesterday’s post probably ruffled just as many feathers as that bobcat. I had suggested that up until recently our cherished remote controls corrupted sound quality, a claim I stand by with some explanation.

Remote control wands are harmless devices. Neither their infrared or RF signals are bothersome to sound. It is what those wands control that causes me to make such claims. Before all the remote control fuss, preamps were simple collections of switches and pots. For example, a good friend of mine, Jim McCullough still builds high-end handcrafted non-remote control products under the Cello brand. Here’s a picture of its insides.

A beautifully built piece of kit. You can see the care and attention paid to the switches, wires, and pots. Are these the perfect solution for sound quality? No. Nothing is perfect and everything comes with its baggage, though I’ll refrain from delving deep into particulars after receiving this note from the designer.

“No snarky comments tomorrow about how metal to metal contacts in the input selector and palladium wipers in the volume control matter less than not having to drag yourself across the room to change the volume.”

If we hop on our way back machine to the earliest days of replacing the manual volume control with a remote, the very first schemes were simple motors replacing your hand. Klunky, but effective, these earlier motorized pots struggled with fine volume adjustments but worked. The degrading compromises I spoke of had yet to enter the scene.

The plot thickens when motorized pots were replaced by electronic volume controls. Depending on design types sound quality took a big hit with their introduction. The myriad of schemes were all over the map: relays and resistors, CMOS and resistors, op amps, and so on.

The advent of electronic volume controls is where the problems for sonics really kicked in. We’ll delve a bit deeper tomorrow.

See! No snarky comments about wipers.