I'll warn you up front. I am going to whine. If that's upsetting, skip reading today's post. Sitting in our management meeting yesterday and our director of engineering, Dave Paananen, was going through all the open projects and their status. When he got to the new Bascom King designed power amplifier, one I am very emotionally invested in, perhaps more than most, I was told we're having trouble locating a CM to build the circuit boards inside. Why? Because the technique we've specified to build it is 'retro'. Retro! I immediately felt old. Like the first time you're offered a senior's discount without asking. Today's method of building circuit boards is different than those of just a few years ago. The parts used today are called surface mount. The parts of yesterday are 'through-hole'. Through-hole parts have wires attached to them that go through holes in the circuit board before being soldered. Surface mount parts haven't any wires and require no holes; they are also tiny compared to the larger through-hole parts. Here's a picture of the two, the surface mount parts size exaggerated to show up in the picture. You actually need a small microscope to work with them by hand. Machines can be used to assemble both styles, but the machines for through-hole are vanishing. The through-hole parts will be used throughout the new power amplifier for several reasons: they handle more power and in this circuit they give us a sound we're looking for. But now it turns out this build technique is vanishing in favor of machines that place the tiny surface mount parts. And we are unwilling to compromise the sound quality. Most of our products, including the DACS, are all surface mount; and this makes sense because it's important to minimize the distance between parts at the speeds which digital information flows. In fact, you probably couldn't build a proper digital audio product with through-hole. We use surface mount in these products because to do otherwise, would compromise the performance, or would be simply impossible to build. But an analog power amp? Through-hole is the best option. I am not going to play the part of the grumpy old man wishing for the good old days. But I am going to whine that the art of through-hole analog construction is going the way of the Dodo bird. That does make me grumpy. But we'll soldier on and find a vendor who can make these for us.
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