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Positive Feedback ISSUE 10
october/november 2003


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Auroville 24 - On DIY
by Srajan Ebaen

It’s nearly axiomatic to belabor the aging of card-carrying audiophilia and the lack of younger entrants filling the vacated spots, to restock the numbers of folks who actively purchase High-End audio gear and thus grease the mighty engine of hardware sales.

Fingers are customarily pointed at the decline of quality music that would make the audiophile pursuit worthwhile to newbies not already infected with the virus. Other fingers point at computer-related toys which compete for discretionary income with audio; the music-file download phenomenon and associated compressed file formats; or, if any fingers are left, to new mobile forms of music listening and shortened sound-byte attention spans that can’t understand the appeal of prolonged sweet-spot listening.

Perhaps. But then there are signs of a resurgence, particularly in used vinyl sales. Given that used records tend to cover older music and that many of its buyers are younger listeners does suggest that the pendulum is swinging back, to a listening mode more serious than bopping along skateboards with cheap Sony phones slung across the occipital.

Most of us know all the arguments floating 'round this kettle of fish but would also have to agree that the magic three letters DIY tend to not surface. Do It Yerself. This market segment is barely covered by the mainstream press, mostly because firms catering to DIY don’t have dealers, and because the reviewers don’t have the time or inclination to assemble and report on kit projects.

If our take on the state of High-End audio, or audio in general, was primarily shaped by press reportage, then DIY remains essentially non-existent, a non-factor. Which, if you attended VSAC, seems plainly untrue. Makers like Doc Bottlehead and Ron Welborne, though also selling assembled kits, see the vast majority of their sales go to solder jockeys. Talking to them and others, it seems that the DIY scene is far bigger and more active than most mainstream audio lovers would know or estimate.

If the current establishment of audiophiles thought back, many would confess to having started their own journeys way back when with Dyna or Heath kits. Replace that hallowed name with some of those seen at VSAC -- or equivalent audio fests across the country—and you’d see the same phenomenon alive and kicking in 2003, in parallel to MP3 and iPOD sales.

Will these folks eventually tire of their DIY kit to enter the sales aisles of "proper" audio and thus not only appear on the general radar screen but be romanced by the makers of regular assembled gear?

This, one assumes, would depend on the quality of the current DIY kit available, how closely it came to mainstream audio, or whether, in fact, it eclipsed it in performance for, naturally, pennies on the dollar. One observation that might prove helpful? VSAC sported many a system that epitomized a very gentle sound in complete opposition to the highly detailed, intense assault often favored on the sales floors or in demo rooms or trade show exhibits.

It’s kinda like cranked-up TV alley where, to compete, brightness and sharpness controls are maxed out to vie for your attention. Half the systems at VSAC would have driven the archetypal audio-shopping punter—hustling from store to store on a Saturday to line up the contenders and come to a quick conclusion—completely bored. No sizzling trebles, no booming bass, no high SPLs—definitely not impressive.

But what if this gentle-sound phenomenon—think older Quads, then translate that sound onto amps and preamps as well—were in fact a healing potion that certain listeners self-administered in response to customary High-End demos?

What if these folks had tired of all the hype—on paper and coming out of regular speakers—and searched for a more relaxed, less stressful way to enjoy their tunes, and found it in certain tube kit and single-driver speakers?

What if 2-channel audio were far bigger than assumed, but partially underground—DIY?

I couldn’t begin to predict its actual size, safe to state with conviction that this underground activity not only exists but is flourishing. To tease it into the light of day requires giving it attention. And what better way to do that than to begin reviewing kits where a reviewer documented the entire process, reported on the quality of instructions, hurdles encountered, then put the assembled product up against mainstream competition to reflect on the old value/performance equation?

Of course this requires folks who are comfortable with the DIY prospect, have the interest and time for it and possess the requisite writing skills to get published. But that doesn’t seem that much to ask. Perusing websites and interactive forums dedicated to DIY routinely shows well-written commentary that wouldn’t at all be outa place in a print magazine or On-Line 'zine.

To get this process started, 6moons’ Paul Candy has just been signed up to build Ron Welborne’s Ultrapath battery-powered kit as well as Solar HiFi’ s DIY cable kit in collaboration with Jena Lab. Today’s brief column is now an open invitation to experienced kit builders and DIYers worldwide to join the ranks of 6moons and Positive Feedback and assist the visibility of this widespread culture into mainstream consciousness.

After all, the mere fact that numerous music lovers labor in the relative obscurity of their own homes means that the "2-channel audio is dead" is plainly untrue. And might there not be plenty of potential DIY newbies and prospects ready to pick up their first soldering iron if they felt assured—via the usual review route—that said kit was, in fact, completely manageable even for an utter electronics dork as long as one knew how to read and follow instructions; and that the cost involved and final outcome possible were very compelling reasons to get into it in the first place?

I for one believe that there not only is but should be room for DIY coverage in the audio press. So how about it? Any DIYers out there who own a digital camera to document their process, who can write and wouldn’t mind becoming visible spokespeople for this exciting "counter-culture" enterprise?

Visit Srajan at his site

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