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Old 26th July 2013, 01:07 PM   #1
mrubey is offline mrubey  United States
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Default Cost of building from scratch

My son is a mech. engineer and has offered to build me an amp if I come up with the schematic and parts. I started looking at books on valve amp theory and practice last night and ran into a theme in the comments that it is much more expensive to build than to buy a finished product. I assume this is because the cost of parts at retail is many times what they can be bought for in wholesale bulk. Perhaps these DIY amp builders are also placing a value on their time though I'm not concerned about that aspect of it.

My son works in a shop that makes fancy printers for the medical industry and has access to all sorts of test equipment. He thinks the kits I've found are too expensive and that he can build it from scratch much cheaper.
He has wholesale access to common electronic parts but not specialized items such as transformers.

My question is, is this true in your experience?
Assuming we engage the learning curve at a serious level and learn how to tune our result, are we able to build an amp that will rival a Sofia?
Thanks,
Mike
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Old 26th July 2013, 01:43 PM   #2
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IME, a commercially available product is usually cheaper. Transformers, enclosures and other specialized parts can set you back quit a bit when bought separate. It's a bonus you can get mainstream parts like resistors, caps. etc. at wholesale prices though, but these don't cost a whole lot to begin with (I'm not talking about e.g. 'audiophile grade' caps, that's another matter).

That being said, there's no comparison to the pride and fulfillment of a true DIY amp. Who cares if it's more expensive, when you had such fun designing, testing and getting the whole thing to work like YOU want to (and the occasional frustration and blowing stuff up of course). Second, commercial products tend to cut corners due to cost and efficiency. Since with DIY your in full control, you determine the quality of the parts and build.

I can't comment on the the 'learning curve' since I don't know your level of expertise, your ability to get comfortable with the new material and the drive to push on when things don't work as expected.

Last edited by funk1980; 26th July 2013 at 01:46 PM.
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Old 26th July 2013, 01:49 PM   #3
DF96 is offline DF96  England
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It is the items like transformers which cost the money.

With some valve amps you are paying a high price for the 'designer' label, but this can be true for solid-state too.

I build for three reasons:
1. I enjoy designing and building.
2. I want the design to incorporate my design compromises rather than someone else's design compromises.
3. I can never be entirely certain that a commercial design was produced by someone competent, however much it cost. (In fact, very high cost can be a sign of poor design.)
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Old 26th July 2013, 01:56 PM   #4
mrubey is offline mrubey  United States
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I am 54 years old and in nursing school. I am living on student loans at the moment.
The cost is for me the paramount issue at the moment.
My son wants to learn this stuff with an idea of possibly putting it to commercial use someday. Even though his degree from CSM isn't in electrical he had a lot of it and feels confident with it and with being able to negotiate this learning curve to a high level.
After all, 1930's tech isn't the space shuttle.
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Old 26th July 2013, 02:37 PM   #5
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... and there's this forum to help him out

But if cost is the issue, DIY might not be the best approach. The things I tend to build rarely work exactly the way I want at the first try, so I have to invest in new components, sometimes several times. And there's the fact just connecting components like a schematic dictates will not necessarily result in a proper, good sounding device.

The knowledge gained is invaluable though and will extend way past the realm of tubes. And it's a hell of a lotta fun!

Another approach might be to not reach for the moon at first try, but start with something cheaper, simpler but still usable, like e.g. a preamp or headphone amp, to gain knowledge without to big of an investment before attempting such a big build. Get to hang of it and see if it's your (or your son's) cup of tea.

Last edited by funk1980; 26th July 2013 at 02:41 PM.
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Old 26th July 2013, 02:59 PM   #6
hpeter is offline hpeter  Europe
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comercial amps are (can be) quite expensive. look at 300B some products,costs arm and leg(s).
these tubes come from 90€/x up to >300€/x
IMO you can build stronger, and different amp for same money or maybe sometimes less.
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Old 26th July 2013, 03:07 PM   #7
mrubey is offline mrubey  United States
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Thanks for the wisdom guys.
I'm building speakers based on the Cornscala idea so fleapower will work.
Ultimately I want a very refined 300B setup.
I've noticed a few that have a volume knob on the monoblock allowing direct source input.
I am willing to be patient.
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Old 26th July 2013, 04:58 PM   #8
DF96 is offline DF96  England
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Quote:
Originally Posted by mrubey
After all, 1930's tech isn't the space shuttle.
Much of the development in electronics since then has been about devices and miniaturisation. Not many new circuits, just a few. Given the crude technology they had to work with, my view is that engineers from those days were often smarter than us; they had to be!

My personal experience with learning electronics is that it takes 5 years to think you understand, then another 5 years to realise that you don't. Some people seem to get stuck at the first 5 year point but don't realise this.
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Old 26th July 2013, 04:59 PM   #9
TheGimp is offline TheGimp  United States
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While not space science, building (or working on) tube amplifiers is potentially dangerous as any tube amp will have potentially lethal voltage/current available in the B+, particularly at the filter capacitors.

Please have your son read the sticky threads and take the necessary precautions.

My suggestion is to build a less expensive amp first before building a 300B setup. The cost of the less expensive setup may well offset cost incurred through lack of experience in building a 300B amp.

While transformers are generally the most expensive item (along with chokes) it is possible to get reasonably good transformers at a very good price for a beginner amp.

For SE amps the Edcor GXSE series of output transformers are excellent for the price.

EDCOR - GXSE Series Output Transformers

Using the 15W transformers in a lesser power amp results in better low frequency response.
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Old 26th July 2013, 07:39 PM   #10
mrubey is offline mrubey  United States
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Yes, I certainly had no intention of disparaging those old engineers. There is great genius in what they were able to do. I appreciate old school everything. There was still something very human in it that we have gotten away from. When I wrote that it's not the space shuttle I meant that it's doable.
I appreciate the concern for safety. I ran saws for thirty five years. We used to call it the electric zen master. Same deal here, probably even more so.
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