I (Might) Wanna Hold Your Hand

Since moving to the Twin Cities, most of my business relationships have begun via e-mail. 2/01/2004 7:00 AM Eastern

Since moving to the Twin Cities, most of my business relationships have begun via e-mail. And, because it's sometimes hard to judge whether the “Johns” want real service or are attempting to engage in some fantasy-based role-playing, the interaction has the feeling of an online porn message board. Once successfully past the courting/screening phase, however, relationships are generally long-term.


Until writing this article, I never thought that the courting/screening phase would be such a challenge, especially with those curious souls who won't (or can't) compose a decent e-mail, leaving me to figure out their all caps/no punctuation/complete stream-of-consciousness messages. Did these people ever go to high school or are they just so “excited” about the release of audio information that they can't write and think at the same time?


I welcome (and congratulate!) those correspondents who ask the “right” questions; you'll find the answers below. On my good days, my proactive response to the “wrong” questions is to write an article or update my Website. On “crustaceous” days, some people find out just how sensitive my trigger can be! Somewhere in between Captain Nice and Captain Nasty, I become the nearly apologetic Great Inquisitor, grilling the techno-curious so that they better understand their goals. I often ask for CDs of their best work or a sample of whatever the problem might be, and only go for the jugular after discovering an ulterior motive.

Way back in October 2000, capacitor and op amp upgrades were featured in “Tech's Files,” a topic that generated numerous inquiries. The question is not whether an upgrade is possible — anything can be done for a price — but what other impediments to sonic bliss are taken into consideration. You wanna make the investment worthwhile, right? What good are faster op amps and low-leakage caps if the pots are scratchy and the switches are intermittent? I'd fix those items first, or bail.

Exact replacement parts for a recording console that is 10 to 20 years out of production are not likely to be readily available. In this case, older is better, because newer products use application-specific pots in terms of bushing, shaft and knob dimensions. The better “generic” pots are easily $5 to $10 a pop. Their shafts will be round and not keyed, longer than required and not compatible with the old knobs. Upgrading 24 channels of mic preamp hardware could cost $600 in parts — a deal if D.I.Y. — but add the labor and you might as well have bought new preamps.


Some of the replacement pots for a Sony MCI 600 Series console, for example, would be customized parts that typically cost $25 to $50 each and require a 25-piece minimum from a pot manufacturer. I do not believe those parts are available from Sony, but is worth a look-see.

Because of the Internet, awareness of op amp options has never been higher. Every geek has a preference: Some may arrive at their choice by extensive research, others may be content just finding a better part. I don't really want to compete or pass judgment on what other people are doing, yet many people put me in that position. If you're looking for a turnkey upgrade, has a list of popular recorders, consoles and signal processors — including prices. I can't speak for the company's work, but you gotta admire the site for its detail; it's definitely a great reference source.

Of course, there are improvements for the oldest op amps, such as the 709, 741, 4136 and 301, but not every op amp can be easily upgraded. Here's one very obtuse example: An Eventide Omnipressor uses an LM301 single-channel op amp in the DC sidechain as a comparator via pin 8. The circuit in question, detailed in Fig. 1, allows users to limit the maximum gain and attenuation. Figure 2 shows the standard single op amp pin-out (I/O on pins 2, 3 and 6, power on 4 and 7) plus the LM301's pin 8 idiosyncrasy.


Also note the 1k-ohm input and 33k-ohm feedback resistors; comparators typically have lots of gain. Two identical resistors would result in unity (zero) gain. A careless attempt at a substitution/upgrade would make the Omnipressor nonfunctional. A lucky guess and a spare IC fixed that problem. An LM301 is more than adequate for the application.


Eighties-era Panasonic and Otari semipro products featured XLR connectors but were unbalanced: One company chose pin 2 hot while the other chose pin 3 hot. Interfacing with standard XLR cables did not yield a signal. Combine external wiring, patchbay variations and a slightly unstable circuit design, and the unexpected will be the norm: mysterious crosstalk, oscillation or worse — smoked and fried tweeters. At the patchbay, for example, are the sleeve/shield connections independent or bused together? If the latter, are they tied to ground? I bus and ground patchbays, wired to multipin connectors and then hold up the garlic when a client wants to rewire a punch-block bay.


Consider the DAT machine for sale on eBay for $150. Some people are willing to take their chances rather than paying more for a rebuilt machine with a warranty. Worth at least $450 with a 90-day warranty, the chances of finding a machine in good condition for $150 are pretty slim. Reading an eBay seller's comments, you'd think that they were pitching a fine used car. I guess I'm just too honest. I recently sold some tape machines and accessories to a guy who spotted an ad on my Website; the stuff had been “up” for at least a year. I spent several days making sure that everything worked. Who wants the hassle of shipping stuff back and forth?


A customer with money to burn put a deposit on a balanced power transformer and then asked my opinion. After a little inquiry as to why they bought their BPT, it was determined that they weren't concerned about noise issues but rather, in the summertime, the high level of power demand in their neighborhood dipped the juice to below acceptable levels. One solution is to contact the power utility company, get it to confirm the sag and retap the transformer to bring the voltage swing within an acceptable range. Another solution, an uninterruptible power supply, was posted by John Klett in the October 2003 edition of “Tech's Files.” A UPS would regulate and clean the voltage, two things that a BPT cannot do.


The moral here is that the quality of service delivered is directly proportional to the amount of freedom, respect and trust given to the service provider. Trust in a relationship is an intangible, but nonetheless critical, component in love and business. Mortgage companies call it “good faith.” When two parties enter into an agreement, understanding and trust can ensure mutual satisfaction and a long-lasting relationship.

Who do you trust and why? Nominate your favorite geek, mentor, lover or pet.

There are plenty of items to conquer in Eddie's pursuit of knowledge — antenna theory being of current interest. Twin City citizens should check for the frequency of his pirate radio station.

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