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Old 16th September 2005, 04:14 AM   #1
ALBQ is offline ALBQ  United States
diyAudio Member
 
Join Date: Dec 2003
Location: Albuquerque
Default Laughter is the best medicine

Laughter is the best medicine

I had the opportunity today to have a moment of clarity that I felt compelled to share with my fellow engineers and DIY’ers. When posting something to a forum, the owner of the thread replied something to the effect that the “theme of this thread is to build a professional high-end preamp not a prototype for experimenting.” Out of surprise I responded back with some senseless drivel about my particular design choices but, upon reaching my office, I suddenly burst into laughter followed by the warm glow of my own silliness. As a person with over 25 years electrical engineering experience, I thought about why I continue to come back to this board in my valuable my spare time and what a “professional high-end preamp” might look like if the company I work for decided to do a design. Upon pondering this for a moment, an a lot of laughing, I thought I would share some engineering wisdom and humor with my fellow engineers as well as aspiring DIY’ers.
Cheers -ALBQ

What might a theoretical “professional high-end preamp” look like in the real world?

In no particular order:

1. None of the big consumer electronic manufacturers use PICs, Stamps, Atoms or any other odd what-not cpu in their design. Why? Simply put, to low mips/dollar and they can roll their own if it makes sense. Maybe something from Intel, Moto, Philips, Toshiba, Samsung, Ti might fit the bill but, few devices the average hobbyist would consider, or even be able to get unless you can afford the licensing and buy in 1000 unit quantities make it into commercial designs

2. Analog and signal processing? Again, because we buy in bulk and can customize our own firmware (IP agreement with our suppliers), we could use a programmable building block (all in one DAC, mixers, signal processing, amplifiers, etc..) or buy commercial products that fit our needs and price target. Plus, we can use our mixed signal modeling software to test and determine the specs for the entire design to ensure the parts work well together as a whole. If it doesn’t, we can easily change things in software, firmware or work with our parts suppliers to optimize a part for our particular needs. Don’t forget optimizing for cost as well

3. With our cpu and analog logic defined, comes software. Here’s where it gets more interesting as some of the code needed requires a Dolby, HDX, DTS and other licenses. After paying our licensing fees, modeling the hardware/software in our CAD/design systems, the software team would work to optimize the code (in assembly of course) for performance and to fit within the smallest possible memory footprint – hey, memory cost money

4. Surface mount multi-layer boards are the norm these days. Using our CAD/CAM capabilities, we would optimize the design and number of layers to achieve our design specs (noise, spurious signal rejection, RF interference, meet FCC guidelines, safety, reliability, etc…) while minimizing machining and ease of assembly. Don’t forget the PCB needs to meet packaging, user interface and cost criteria as well

5. Interface - Building stuff that humans use always presents a challenge. First, as intelligent as were are, we are easy to confuse. Second, a confused and frustrated human is a dangerous animal that can quickly break all but the most robust knobs, switches and displays. This is the reason the industry has moved to electronic encoders, touch-pads and LCD/VFD/OLED/etc.. displays - no or minimal moving parts and they’re cheap – yes, money again

6. Power Supply - A little known fact about consumer electronics is that the PS is often the single most expensive assembly on a parts list. The reason is that transformers contain lots of copper (expensive) and batteries contain dangerous chemicals (expensive). If we use a traditional supply, would use switching to get the transformer size down while optimizing the design to minimize noise at the line and PS switching frequencies – can use cheaper caps then too! If the supply is batteries, especially rechargeable types, cheap with the ability to last the expected product lifetime is the order of the day. By the way, except for perhaps the user interface and power supply, there is absolutely nothing in our design so far that would not fit comfortably in a package smaller than a credit card or weigh more than a quarter

7. Case and metal work – well nobody beats China, Korea and Mexico when it comes to stamping out cases and injection molding - enough said…

8. Packaging - Here is a second little known fact about consumer electronics. You know the new computer motherboard you bought? Well, the cost of packaging and shipping it from Southeast Asia is MORE than what the board cost to make. So, depending on the form factor for our product, the cost to put it in an eye catching box and ship it to the States will likely be as much of more than what it cost us to have our Asian manufacturing sub-contractor to put it together

9. Finally, the specs of our little project. Because of the technical resources we are able to bring to bear, access to advanced design tools as well as access to our parts and manufacturing partner’s IP, we can guarantee jaw droppingly good specs. This is not to say it will sound good but, from a specs standpoint, near perfection

The best for last – Even if there was a market for our “high-end preamp”, it is unlikely as a corporation we would every want to build it. Reason being, it takes 10K’s to millions of units to turn a profit so, unless we were introducing the product as a means of moving the market or enabling sales of something else (technology enabler / loss leader), best left to small companies who are willing to work on small volumes servicing specialized markets or the big boys already there – barriers to entry

Besides, if the world really demands audio is really so superior that everyone must have it, Texas Instruments will integrate the whole thing on a single piece of silicon and sell it to the planet for $2.49… in 1000 unit quantities of course… =^)

I love this hobby –ALBQ
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