Know Audio: A Mess Of Cables

We’ve now spent several months in this series journeying through the world of audio, and along the way we’ve looked at the various parts of a Hi-Fi system from the speaker backwards to the source. It’s been an enjoyable ride full of technical detail and examining Hi-Fi myths in equal measure, but now it’s time to descend into one of the simplest yet most controversial areas of audio reproduction. Every audio component, whether digital or analogue, must be connected into whatever system it is part of, and this is the job of audio cables, sometimes referred to as interconnects. They are probably the single component most susceptible to tenuous claims about their performance, with audiophiles prepared to spend vast sums on cables claimed to deliver that extra bit of listening performance. Is there something in it, or are they all the same bits of wire with the expensive ones being a scam? Time to take a look.

What Makes A Nearly Good Cable

In a typical domestic audio system with digital and analogue signals you might expect to find two types of cable, electrical interconnects that could carry either analogue or digital signals, and optical ones for digital signals. We’re here to talk about the electrical cables here as they’re the ones used for analogue signals, so lets start with a little transmission line theory. Continue reading “Know Audio: A Mess Of Cables”

Charger Caddy Shows What 3D Printers Were Meant For

As computers became more popular in the late 80s and into the 90s, they vastly changed their environments. Of course the technological changes were obvious, but plenty of other things changed to accommodate this new technology as well. For example, furniture started to include design elements to accommodate the desktop computer, with pass-through ports in the back of the desks to facilitate cable management. While these are less common features now there are plenty of desks still have them, this 3D printed design modernizes them in a simple yet revolutionary way.

While these ports may have originally hosted thick VGA cables, parallel printer cables (if they would fit), and other now-obsolete wiring, modern technology uses simpler, smaller solutions. This doesn’t mean that they aren’t any less in need of management, though. This print was designed to hold these smaller wires such as laptop chargers, phone chargers, and other USB cables inside the port. A cap on the top of the print keeps everything hidden until it is lifted by hand, where a cable can be selected and pulled up to the top of the desk.

While it might seem like a simple project at first, the elegance of this solution demonstrates excellent use of design principles and a knack for integrating slightly older design decisions with modern technology. If you have a 3D printer and a cable management port on your desk, the print is available on Thingiverse. Not every project needs a complicated solution to solve a problem, like this automatic solar tracker we recently saw which uses no complicated electronics or algorithms to reliably point itself at the sun.

Illustrated Kristina with an IBM Model M keyboard floating between her hands.

Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Chinese Typewriter

As much as I’d like to devote an article to each and every bit of keyboard-related what-have-you that I come across in my travels through the intertubes, there just aren’t enough hours. And after all, this isn’t Clack-a-Day. To that end, I gained editorial approval to bring you a periodic round-up of news and other tidbits on the keyboard and keyboard accessories front, and here we are. So let’s get to it!

Continue reading “Keebin’ With Kristina: The One With The Chinese Typewriter”

The Simplest TS100 Upgrade Leads Down A Cable Testing Rabbit Hole

By now, I must have had my Miniware TS100 soldering iron for nearly three years. It redefined what could be expected from the decent end of the budget soldering iron spectrum when it came on the market, and it’s still the one to beat even after those years. Small, lightweight, powerful, and hackable, it has even spawned direct imitations.

If the TS100 has a fault, it comes not from the iron itself but from its cable. A high-grade iron will have an extra-flexible PVC or silicone cable, but the TS100 does not have a cable of its own. Instead it relies on whatever cable comes on its power supply, which is frequently a laptop unit built with portable computing rather than soldering in mind. So to use it is to be constantly battling against its noticable lack of flexibility, a minor worry but one that I find irksome. I determined to find a solution, making a DC extension cable more flexible than that on my power supply. Continue reading “The Simplest TS100 Upgrade Leads Down A Cable Testing Rabbit Hole”

Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era

After over a decade of laptop use, I made the move a couple of months ago back to a desktop computer. An ex-corporate compact PC and a large widescreen monitor on a stand, and alongside them a proper mouse and my trusty IBM Model M that has served me for decades. At a stroke, the ergonomics of my workspace changed for the better, as I no longer have to bend slightly to see the screen.

The previous desktop PC was from an earlier time. I think it had whatever the AMD competitor to a Pentium 4 was, and if I recall correctly, its 512 MB of memory was considered to be quite something. On the back it had an entirely different set of sockets to my new one, a brace of serial ports, a SCSI port, and a parallel printer port. Inside the case, its various drives were served by a set of ribbon cables. It even boasted a floppy drive. By contrast the cabling on its successor is a lot lighter, with much less bulky connectors. A few USB plugs and a network cable, and SATA for its disk drive. The days of bulky multiway interconnects are behind us, and probably most of us are heaving a sigh of relief. Continue reading “Living At The Close Of The Multiway Era”

Dirty Now Does Cables

PCB makers Dirty made a name for themselves in the prototype PCB biz, with a convenient web form and numerous options for PCB color, thickness, layers, silk screening, and so on. Now they’ve branched out into custom cabling with Dirty Cables.

You can design it yourself by dragging wires and connectors out of a sidebar and arranging them on a workspace, deciding which wire goes to what pin of the connector. Your choices for wires include various gauges and ribbon configurations. You choose a color (they have eleven) select connectors and drag those out too–choose from 17 cable-to-cable and cable-to-board connector families. We made a quick cable with four 32ga wires and two 16ga wires, with two different connectors on each side, with pricing updated realtime. If you want a sample pack of connectors, Dirty sells them for $10.

The downside to the service: there’s a minimum order of 100, though paying Shenzhen prices might make it worth your while. Just imagining crimping all of those connectors makes Hackaday’s hands hurt.

To get a sense of the diversity of connectors out there, read Elliot’s piece on the connector zoo that we published last year.

[thanks, Akiba]

Retrotechtacular: Submarine Cable Splicing Is Serious Business

Really. As this wonderfully narrated talkie picture from 1939 will attest, keeping even one drop of water from penetrating undersea cables is of the utmost importance.

How do they do it? Many, many layers of protection, including several of jute wrapping. The video centers on splicing a new cable to an existing one in the San Francisco Bay to bring the wonder of telephony to a man-made island created for the Golden Gate International Expo.

The narrator makes these men out to be heroes, and when you see how much lead they came into contact with, you’ll understand what he means. Each of the 1,056 individually insulated wires must be spliced by hand. After that comes a boiling out process in which petrolatum is poured over the splice to remove all moisture. Then, a lead sleeve is pulled over the connections. Molten lead is poured over the sleeve and smoothed out by hand.

At this point, the splice is tested. The sleeve is punctured and nitrogen gas is pumped in at 20psi.  Then comes the most important step: the entire sleeve is painted with soap suds.  Any gas that escapes will make telltale bubbles.

Once they are satisfied with the integrity of the sheath, they wrap the whole thing in what appears to be lead cables and pound them into submission. Surely that would be enough, don’t you think?  Nope.  They weld the cables all around and then apply two coats of tar-treated jute wrapping, which retards saltwater corrosion considerably.

Continue reading “Retrotechtacular: Submarine Cable Splicing Is Serious Business”