Stubborn values

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Before the 1970s, there were almost no detachable line cords. In those days, every stereo component had a fixed line cord held into the chassis by what we call a strain relief, a small black plastic 2-piece clamp held together by a thin strip of material. Here’s a picture of one.

 

There was even a special tool used to clamp the strain relief over the line cord before installing it into the chassis. Once in, you could dangle the unit from the line cord without it coming out.

Fast forward to 1970 when the IEC, the international electrical regulatory agency, released IEC 60320 Appliance couplers for household and similar general purposes. This daunting document ushered in standards for the detachable line cord, something we today consider de rigueur.

Change can be difficult for some. I remember a number of hand wringing discussions at PS Audio over the costs. A strain relief cost us less than $0.25 and a line cord about $1. An IEC AC inlet, on the other hand, hovered around a buck and a detachable cord an easy 3 bucks, plus additional labor to install the IEC with screws and nuts, an expensive custom punch die for the irregular shape that now had to be cut out of the chassis. All in, we went from easy and cheap to painful and expensive.

I can remember William Zane Johnson, owner and head designer of Audio Research, with arms folded in defiance. “Over my dead body,” was often heard from him when addressing the subject of switching from a captive line cord to the detachable variety. In Bill’s case, it wasn’t the expense but the insult of allowing outsiders to have a choice in what fed his equipment power. This was just at the beginning of the power cable wars and he wanted nothing to do with that lunacy (as he called it).

Of course, today, we wouldn’t think of building products without detachable cords. But change comes hard.

Our values can remain fixed and, if they’re good ones, they should be inviolate.

But, that doesn’t mean we have to be stubborn with trying new ideas that might reinforce those same values.