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Positive Feedback ISSUE 1
june/july 2001


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DIY Audio: the Journey
by Kevin Haskins

I once walked from Millinocket, Maine to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. It was a long journey, about 1100 miles. The distance is not as great by automobile, as the roads are straight and the path well-documented. I chose to walk instead, preferring a simpler and kinder means of translocation. Walking gets you much closer to the earth. You become a part of what you travel through. The trip required months of planning and research, and more than a little of my scant income. It took about three months of saving to pay for the trip and another three to complete it.

I had no reason for leaving from Millinocket or arriving at Harpers Ferry. I had no friends, relations, or business at either location. Rather, I had business at places in between. It struck me as funny how many people understood the reason for my journey, and how many did not. For those who understood, there was little that needed to be said. For those who didn’t, likewise. Spiritual events have certain things in common, one of which is the misunderstanding of those looking in from outside. Music is a spiritual event, a reflection of our emotional and intellectual being and the expression of a journey. The recreation of it through technology is an attempt to write down its legacy. Like other spiritual matters, this road is fraught with peril, open to misunderstanding and ignorance.

As with my hike from Millinocket to Harpers Ferry, I often get strange questions about audio. Why is the recorded event worth so much effort? Why is it more important than the resources and time that could have been spent otherwise? I don’t have an easy answer. Many people understand and many don’t. Like the trip from Maine to West Virginia, there are many paths to take. Which one you choose says as much about you as the trip itself. Choosing a way of reproducing the musical event is as much a choice as that between walking and driving. Both will get you there, but you’re not likely to experience the same thing. One will get you there faster, the other is much more fraught with difficulties and challenges. When I had completed my walk through the mountains of the Northeast, I was thirty-five pounds lighter, fit, lean, and intellectually sharp. After a long drive, I’m usually ready for only a shower and sleep.

Building your own audio equipment is much like taking a long walk. You have to research and invest much more planning and preparation than when "driving." It carries certain risk, and many people won’t take the leap simply because of the barriers. Like walking, however, building your own audio equipment has many rewards. It can get you closer to the land you travel across. Like walking, DIY audio is laborious and sometimes trying. You don’t get instant gratification. You often expend a lot of effort to make minimal progress. Nevertheless, at other times your effort is rewarded with experiences that the asphalt-bound traveler will never understand.

In the months ahead, I’d like to talk about the path between here and there, covering some of the terrain in the world of DIY audio. There are lots of adventures to be sought. I’ll cover the territory in a broad and sweeping pattern, giving you the opportunity to see a number of projects that are available to those with the inclination. In the process we will build a complete audio system—source, amplification, cables, and speakers—along with covering some of the joys and frustrations of traveling this path. I’d like to cover items that are applicable in a wide variety of audio systems. Some readers, I’m sure, will want to take the entire walk, building a complete system, but many will just want to walk through particularly interesting areas. Others may just want to observe.

Many of the decisions in audio are based on personal preference. The path I’ve chosen for this journey is based upon many factors. One is the availability of certain components and my familiarity with the kits that I build and sell. Since DIY audio is a business for me, the specter of conflict of interest is going to arise. I make no claims of being objective. Just know that the sales of projects I cover stand to benefit my pocketbook, and know that objectivity is not a standard to which I cling. I will cover things that I don’t sell, mainly because this gives me an excuse to buy them, and I will try to give honest opinions on the pros and cons of my products and those of others. No piece of equipment is perfect. What works for me may not for you, so take my opinions for what they are. If it matches your inclination, read along, and join me on a walk from here to an unknown destination.