DIY Cables: braiding video essentials from the interwebs

If you’re into headphones and DIY, here’s a nice intro to DIY cables, the styles, and the math involved.

Audio Primate

So if you’ve ever looked at aftermarket cables, you’ve probably seen about a million braids. The most common is the quad braid, usually seen in a round variety, but I do happen to own a flat braid quad cable that I bought in the UK. I’ve not made any of my own cables yet, but think it is about darn time I start. Honestly, I feel bad asking a friend to do it for me. It’s lazy, and unnecessary.

So for braiding, we should have a number of wires in multiples of 4. The reason is because this is what you’ll need to make a balanced cable. When you see cables that only have 2 wires and are balanced, it’s because the wires have multiple enamelled cores that they are splitting out, so essentially the wires are still working in multiples of 4. Even if you are going to use…

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Another Muchedumbre lives

I finished another Muchedumbre build with some slight variations.  This has two outputs and two inputs (easily switchable back to the 1+3 arrangement).  The power supply CLC filter uses all motor run caps instead of a mix of motor run and electrolytic. Other than these small tweaks, it is built as designed.

The wood apron is a very nice piece of walnut with a lot of prominent grain motion and color variation and the panel is inset rather than sitting on separate interior spacer boards. This is going to live a very happy life in Madison, WI.

I love kits, too

Especially when they are high quality kits.  Here are the contents of a TubeCAD Aikido kit that just arrived. John Broskie’s boards are top notch, the parts are bagged and labelled logically, and the included manual is excellent.  I’ll be building this kit up in a unique way (see TubeCAD’s article on the SRCFPP) and will post a build and my impressions in the coming weeks.

In the meantime, if you aren’t subscribed to and reading The TubeCAD Journal, you should be. Also consider contributing to John Broskie’s Patreon: for less than the cost of a Netflix subscription, you’ll support excellent vacuum tube DIY content and resources for everyone in the hobby.

Music: New Iron and Wine album, Beast Epic

Although I truly do listen to a little bit of everything, I have an especially soft spot in my heart for Sam Beam and so I can’t help but post this bit of news.  Excellent showman, guitarist, and poetic lyricist. Here’s the first single for his upcoming album (which I just pre-ordered).

Recording quality for Beam’s projects is typically good, though the earlier stuff gives off a very bedroom-with-a-Tascam vibe (which I think is charming nonetheless). Later albums (The Shepard’s Dog and Kiss Each Other Clean are two personal favorites) have more layering to the tracks and are a good way to show off a hifi system.

Album drops August 25th in LP, CD, digital, and (get this) cassette. I think Beam might be jumping the gun on the cassette format, but hey, if it gets you listening to something you enjoy, who am I to argue?

USB interfaces for DIY audio measurements

USB interfaces

Looking for a better way to measure my line-level and amplifier projects, I decided to investigate some USB prosumer interfaces. Rather than options like the QA401 with its required software suite, the Keithley 2015 with uninspiring THD specs, or HP 8903 with a footprint and compatibility penalty, I wanted something small, flexible, and with performance good enough for tube audio. A USB audio interface will require voltage dividers for many measurements (whereas the lab equipment usually allows a higher Vrms input), but recording interfaces are inexpensive and flexible with software. Also, I don’t have the play money for an AP or dScope rig.

RMAA interfaces screenshot

These were all measured back to back on the same laptop with latest drivers and the same unbalanced cables. The same -1db level was used for all interfaces to get a relative distortion/noise baseline. RMAA doesn’t necessarily give an absolute and repeatable spec, but it is good enough for relative comparisons. All interfaces were measured several times; the displayed specs capture the “average” performance (calculated by eye).

  • The MBox 3rd Gen is an obvious winner in just about every regard. It was also a much more expensive interface when it was new.  MBoxes are no longer produced, but used interfaces aren’t difficult to find. This would be a decent basis for THD measurements of amplifiers (my intended use).
  • The M-Track 2×2 did rather well (as much as I hate to admit it) but doesn’t have two identical channels for this kind of thing (one TRS and one combo jack with mic pre). Wouldn’t recommend it for measurements for that reason.
  • The old Fast Track Duo (Avid branded bu made by M-Audio) blew chunks. Can’t rule out that my unit has some kind of issue.
  • The AudioBox USB looks good but there is a cross-talk issue. Possibly grounding with the unbalanced cables. The knobs are also too fiddly for fine adjustment in my opinion.
  • I really wanted the iConnectivity to perform the best here. In my opinion it’s the nicest piece of hardware. Unfortunately, the relative measurements don’t make it the best choice. It can be run from a 9V supply rather than the USB bus though and I may try that to see if there’s any improvement. No supply handy for this test.
  • The AudioBox 44VSL does pretty well (this is what I had been using for measurements). It also requires a 12V external supply and is a larger 4 mic pre interface, making it a little less convenient for a bench-top test setup. The 22VSL is smaller and may measure just as well (don’t have one to play with).

Here’s after some fine tuning the MBox levels in REW (sampling rate set to 96khz):

mbox-96k.png

This is close to the -110db THD Avid spec’d. All in all, I think I can live with the MBox for a while for my testing. Although all the caveats of RMAA and testing conditions/methodology apply, performance is on par with some specs I’ve seen on the cheaper audio analyzers and definitely a cut above the other USB interfaces here.

Link to RMAA software

Link to REW software