Window dressing

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Why does high-end audio equipment sound better in a cigar box than a machined chassis? Hint: it isn’t just the window dressing.

Our very first product, a phono preamplifier, was housed in a Roi Tan cigar box. It sounded spectacular. All production versions of this design were housed in nice aluminum chassis that looked terrific but…. They never sounded as good.

In all the years we have been designing audio equipment, our prototypes have always sounded better than the production versions. I know many of our fellow designers have the same experiences. I used to believe this was due to all the hand tweaking, love and attention prototypes got vs. the build-and-ship process production versions receive. I no longer believe that.

We have learned that everything that makes production possible gets in the way of the sound including printed circuit boards, metal chassis, wires bundled neatly, symmetrical layouts and control circuitry for front panels. Problem is, they also add up to what’s inside every working production unit you can buy and there aren’t currently any good alternatives.

I remember solutions to this were all the rage at one point: Stan Warrens Plexiglas “Space Case”, Counterpoint and Sony’s all copper chassis are great examples. A hand wired point-to-point circuit will always sound better than something populated on a PC board, even the finest available.

I hope the younger crop of audio designers reads this and figures out a way for our industry to have its cake and eat it too, because hand wired doesn’t hold up well for today’s miniature IC’s.

Sometimes we have to point out what we know from our years of experience and hope a new crop of eager designers will have a flash of genius to fix it.

Tomorrow: Broccoli and opera