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Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

World’s most popular IC

Here’s a bit of nostalgia for you. My first, and to date only, attempt at  audio programming used the world’s most popular integrated circuit ever manufactured—the venerable 555 Timer.

The 555 timer is a simple device. It is an 8-pin IC that can be configured as an oscillator, clock or simple timer with the addition of one or more components. Since its introduction in 1972 more than a billion of these devices are shipped each year. By my unofficial count that would add up to nearly 50 billion of the little black cockroaches timing their way through every manner of consumer and industrial products all over the world.

It was the late 1970s and Stan and I needed an easy way to make our front panel LED blink while our new preamplifier was warming up. The task of turning an LED on and off in a timed sequence might seem trivial by today’s standards but in those all-analog-days, it was rather a challenge. To turn an LED on and off you need an electronic switch. A simple transistor will do nicely but then you need another element to instruct the transistor to turn on and off and then that has to have some type of timing mechanism referenced to a clock and so on. (To put this in perspective the 555 Timer uses 25 transistors, 2 diodes and 15 resistors inside—as many parts as one channel of our entire preamp just to blink a light)

By placing a simple capacitor across two pins of the 555 we could adjust the on/off timing of a built-in switch by simply raising or lowering the value of the capacitor (bigger got you slower timing). It took me all of 5 minutes to breadboard the circuit and voila! A blinking green light erupted from the PCB and I went running across the building with excitement.

Today that story draws chuckles. The same size component can now hold bazillions of parts and perform what back in 1972 would have seemed like witchcraft.

We’ve come a long way, baby!

Asheville, Walnut Cove, Biltmore Forrest and Western North Carolina’s Audio and Home Theater specialists present Cane Creek AV and Paul McGowan – PS Audio, Intl.

Sounds like wine

A friend dropped off a bottle of pinot the other night and I just got around to enjoying a small glass before dinner. It tastes nothing like the light, soft and easy on the palette pinots I am familiar with. This particular blend reminds me more of a rich Burgundy (of course the Burgundy region of France grows Pinot Noir but I can’t afford fancy French wines). Which got me thinking about stereo equipment and how it’s tough to categorize sound by its varietal beginnings.

When we think of HiFi varietals like tubes, FETs, and bipolars, we like to place them in familiar boxes: warm and lush, closer to tubes, accurate and sterile. Yet, there’s plenty of examples of each electronic varietal breaking with accepted norms. Just like wines.

A great take away here is to invest enough energy and thought into breaking with accepted stereotypes of performance. That’s helpful because high-end audio designers are very much like vintners: we blend a little of this and a lot of that to craft the sound signature we hope to achieve.

So, the next time you want to listen to handcrafted audio magic, it may make more sense to look to the designer/vintner than the particular varietals he’s used.

Like a good glass of red, it’s more the art of the vintner than the grapes he’s given.