An Introduction to DIY Audio

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DIY Audio is short for Do It Yourself audio and it means just that. Rather than buying audio equipment, you build it yourself. So you may be thinking that you don’t have the skills or the technical background to build your own audio equipment. You are probably wrong! Just about everyone that I have met with a keen interest in audio has at one point or another completed some level of DIY audio. Likely it was just a basic speaker cable like a 12 gauge zip cord with screw-on banana plugs or crimp-on spades. Or perhaps it was some sort of system tweak like a wooden or stone platform resting on tennis balls split in half to isolate your turntable (racquetballs or squash balls also work well). On the other end of the scale, DIY audio can also be quite complicated with advanced projects that involve building an entire component from scratch such as a high-end speaker, a large mutli-channel amplifier or a CD player. Regardless of your skills or technical knowledge there is some level of DIY efforts that you will be able to apply to your system.

There are a number of reasons why people will put effort into DIY audio. The most common reasons are the potential for cost savings, a sense of self-satisfaction and the opportunity to custom tailor your system to any level of detail that you desire. For me it’s a combination of all these reasons, plus DIY makes a great hobby. The costs savings potential can in some cases be significant. The savings typically result from avoiding the marketing and advertising costs often associated with hi-fi equipment. Also, as with almost everything we buy, repeat shipping costs can add up to represent a good portion of the overall cost (think – heavy amplifier from the manufacturing plant, to the parent company, to a regional distributor and finally to the retailer). Of course for some items, the DIY route is not always the lowest cost. It is not all about saving money and some improvements that can be had with your system are not ones that you simply go out and buy. Little system tweaks and adjustments can often be applied to your system or listening room through trial and error and they may not cost anything but produce a noticeable improvement. Not all DIY efforts need to be a complete project – simply upgrading crossover parts or swapping in your favorite capacitors can improve sound quality. A tube amp can be nice too. No matter how big or small, there is some portion of your audio system that could benefit from DIY efforts.

When I started tinkering with radios and electronics as a kid, good information was often difficult to come by and generally limited to the odd magazine or hard to find books. In just two decades the problem has gone from a lack of resources to a wealth of information, most of it free, that is now available. There are a number of great books that one can refer to like the Loudspeaker Design Cookbook by Vance Dickason and Building Valve Amplifiers by Morgan Jones. The internet is also a tremendous resource and includes a wide variety of information that ranges from simple project by hobbyists up to high-end amplifiers by legendary designer Nelson Pass (passdiy.com). Another good resource is the diyAudioProjects.com website which I help administer.

For first time builders, something very simple like interconnects, speaker cables or a record clamp are an ideal project. Check out the June/July 2009 issue which included a Furutech DIY power cable project. If you have some basic electronics and soldering skills, a battery powered headphone amplifier can make a very good project (search for “cmoy amp” on the internet). The popular CMoy tutorial is simple to follow and it will also give you some insight on how to get good use out of a protoboard. We don’t advise that you jump into higher voltage projects until you develop your skills and are familiar with the various aspects of electrical safety. Some of you will possess good woodworking skills and building a loudspeaker enclosure may be a very simple task for you. Even if you don’t know anything about loudspeaker design, there are plenty of well documented DIY loudspeaker projects available that you can follow. For those of us who are not skilled at woodworking, there are plenty of speaker and subwoofer kits that can be purchased. You can find complete kits that are simple and come with all the required parts including finished cabinets. For the more advanced builders, the sky is the limit. I personally am very fond of the sound of tubes especially when coupled with high sensitivity speakers. While you may be under the impression that vacuum tubes circuits are complicated, some single-ended designs are actually very simple, often requiring only a few parts and can be easily constructed with point-to-point connections. Of course you should familiarize yourself with high voltage safety before attempting any higher voltage projects. There are also plenty of tube amplifier kits which are available for purchase. For those who wish to try one out, the inexpensive K-12 tube amp kits by S-5 Electronics are fun, simple to build and can sound really good with the right loudspeakers. There are a good number of DIY projects, ranging from simple to advanced, on the diyAudioProjects.com website that you can follow. There is also a photo gallery of DIY projects that you can browse through if you are looking for inspiration and a discussion forum where you can ask questions. DIY is simpler than you think.

You likely already own most of the basic tools required for a DIY project such as a drill, pliers, wire strippers / cutters, knife, screw drivers, etc. In addition to the basic tools, a soldering iron and multimeter are generally sufficient for most projects. If you are not familiar with soldering or using a multimeter there are several well written guides and video tutorials online. There are a number of great Canadian suppliers that can provide you with many of the tools and parts that you’ll need to get started with DIY.

Parts ConneXion (partsconnexion.com), Canada’s largest DIY part supplier, is located in Burlington, Ontario and has been serving DIY hobbyists since 1988. They have a huge selection of products that includes resistors, capacitors, inductors, semiconductors, tubes, transformers, enclosures, knobs and much more. Their products are generally available in a range of quality from basic to high-end providing many options for just about every budget.

Audiyo Inc. (audiyo.com) is located in Richmond Hill, Ontario and has been supplying high-end audio products and parts since 2003. They have a good selection of high quality components that include cable wire and connectors, capacitors, inductors, resistors, vacuum tubes and more. They also have kits which are available for purchase and include power cables, a CD player and modules from Tent Labs and DACT which include power supplies, clocks and preamplifiers. Audiyo is the distributor for Furutech, Mundorf, Techflex, Tentlabs, DACT and 1877Phono products among others. Rumor has it that Audiyo is working on a number of high-end DIY kits including a CD player and an integrated amplifier.

Solen Electronique Inc. (solen.ca) is located in St-Hubert, Quebec and has been in the loudspeaker business since the early 1980s. In general, Solen is your one-stop Canadian source for loudspeaker projects. Solen manufacturers high performance crossover components and is a distributor for some of the highest quality speaker drivers available. In addition to their Solen line of crossover components they distribute drivers from Audax, Eton, Fostex, Fountek, Morel, Peerless, Scan-Speak, Vifa and many, many more.

Local sources for parts will vary widely depending on where you are located. Search your phone book to see if there is a retailer in your area. Active Electronic Supplies Depot (active123.com) is located in most major Canadian centers and you can check their website for a location near you. They carry most of the basic parts such as resistors, capacitors and semiconductors and the full line of Hammond products. They also have a wide selection of tools, testing equipment, soldering irons, protoboards and even some audio kits. The Source (formerly Radio Shack) has a limited number of parts available and some handy tools.

We hope that this introduction to DIY audio has provided you with some useful resources and that it has inspired you to give DIY audio a try. We have some very simple DIY projects planned for the upcoming issues. Work safely and remember, DIY audio can be a lot of fun!

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