Decibel Dungeon

Site Philosophy

After the initial thrill of discovering the World Wide Web, I soon started to notice some of the less satisfying aspects of surfing it. I decided that when I got around to building my own site, I would try and avoid the features which had caused me most irritation.
So, hopefully on this site you won't have to put up with:
  • Being presented with a screen and no indication of what to do next.
  • Menus written in text so small you need a magnifying glass to read the options.
  • Complicated site layouts where you easily get lost and can't get back to the page you want.
  • Long, long pages where you have to scroll all the way back to the top.
  • Two or more clicks to change pages when one will do.
  • Small print and long lines that make your eyes tire quickly.
  • Waiting forever for a page full of graphics to display.
  • Cluttered screens that only confuse you.
  • The one we all hate most - A screen which takes ages to load and then says 'Click here to Enter'.
I've tried to make this a friendly site for anybody new to the subject of DIY hi-fi. Technical terms are printed in italics and are explained in a separate panel to the right of the main text. TECHNICAL TERMS are explained in a panel like this.
As most of the site is by way of a tutorial, I have tried to include enough pictures and diagrams without slowing the load times too much.
As regards the content of the site, I hope that I have been fairly accurate in my description of the technical side of hi-fi. I have deliberately avoided going into too much detail because:
  • I am not an expert.
  • The topic has been covered in detail elsewhere.
  • I don't want to confuse novices.
  • I want to get this site online and continue with the rest of my life!
Some hi-fi issues are difficult to prove or disprove and often lead to heated debate. I have expressed my views on some of those issues and accept that my opinion is not necessarily correct. The Internet has allowed millions of us to broadcast the contents of our minds but it doesn't check that we are right or wrong. That job is up to us and I urge you to be mindful of that while you are visiting this site.
If you are new to DIY hi-fi, and there is an issue which is not covered on the site, please let me know and I will add it if I can. If you have any comments on the site, it's structure or contents, please e-mail me.
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Site design details

This site is designed to be viewed with Firefox at 1024x768 - 1280x800 and should also work well with most browsers including IE.
The site design is written in HTML using a CSS style sheet. I wrote the code using 'Edit Pad Lite' a text editor similar to 'Notepad' but with extra facilities like 'search and replace'. I validate and spell check my code using 'HTML Validator lite'. Both these utilites are free to use and I thank their creators for their kindness in saving me so much work .
I use 'Fire FTP' to upload my pages to my web space which is kindly provided by Free Hostia. The site counter is kindly provided kindly provided by Amazing Counters. Finally, the site search facility is provided by Freefind.
Please remember that I am not paid for maintaining this site, it is a labour of love based on a genuine desire to help others enjoy DIY hi-fi. I have tried to make the site compatible with most recent browsers, displaying at the most common screen resolutions (800x600 to 1280x800). I have had a number of people saying that they can't see the text clearly or that something doesn't display properly, only to find that they are using a very old browser version or one of the less popular browsers. I respect people's rights to use whichever browser they prefer, but please don't expect me to spend even more time trying to make this site compatible with all of them!
I am always pleased to answer questions (if I can) and have provided a feedback form so that you may contact me. I would request however that you have made sure that the answer to your question is not already covered on the site. A search facility is also provided on each page to help locate specific information.
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The information given on this web site is given in good faith. However the author cannot be held responsible for any injury or damage to property resulting directly or indirectly from the use of any of the information given.

Some of the activities involved in DIY hi-fi do involve working with possibly lethal electrical voltages. The site contains warnings to this effect and you are advised to heed them. If you are not competent to do something suggested on the site, please do not attempt it.

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Where do you start?

Having completed this site, I have had the time to sit back and assess it differently to when I was constructing it. One of my goals was to produce information for those new to DIY hi-fi that was clear and easy to follow. In providing as much information as I have, about the many different aspects of the hobby, I now feel that the site is lacking a clear starting point.
To remedy this, I am going to provide an outline plan for those of you 'starting out' which I hope will point you in the right direction. This plan is a guide, rather than strict rules to follow so use your discretion in how closely you adhere to the following.
There is always a temptation to dive in and try to get the best sounding system in the shortest possible time but it is sensible to start with the basics and slowly proceed along a well planned path. So what are the basics?
First, whatever equipment you use, it will sound much better if you get your listening room optimized and the equipment installed and supported properly.
Second, the same applies to the quality of your mains power supply.
Get these 'basics' sorted first, before you change any of your equipment and it will also help you learn to listen for changes in the sound of your system, a skill which you will need as you develop your system in the future.
Now decide what sort of system you are going to build. The possibilities include:
  • A basic system, i.e. integrated amplifier and passive loudspeakers (with crossovers).
  • A 'full-range' system, i.e. amplifier, 'full-range' loudspeakers (without crossovers).
  • A bi-amped system, i.e. two amplifiers, loudspeakers (with crossovers).
  • An active system, i.e. pre-amplifier, active crossover, power amplifiers and loudspeakers (without crossovers).
Of the above, the first two will cost less, as there is less amplification. They will also be slightly less complicated to assemble for complete beginners. My preference would be for a 'full-range' or 'active' system.
Now you need to decide which of your existing equipment you will be keeping. When I started on my upgrade, I nearly sold a perfectly good amplifier because it was 'old'. Fortunately, someone pointed out that this was actually a good amplifier and I am still using it. I could have unnecessarily spent several hundred pounds to replace it with something inferior! If you are not sure get some advice.
Next, work out a budget. You will almost certainly get hooked on your hi-fi project and find that this budget grows later but it's useful to have some kind of figure to work with. How much should you allocate to each item? That's very difficult to answer. There used to be long discussions in hi-fi magazines about 'system hierarchy' and how much should be spent on buying the source component, amplification and loudspeakers. As ever, opinions varied but with DIY hi-fi it's not really possible to be specific as other factors, like how much you do yourself, are involved.
Now, the difficult bit, deciding how much you will do yourself. This will depend on your current skills and how confident you are about learning the required new skills. That's something that I can't help you with, other than to say that I had very little electronics experience when I started and I have not found it beyond me to build a lot of my current system.
Next, decide the order in which you will upgrade the various parts of your system.
By now you should have a clearer idea of what you are going to do and how much it will cost. Don't set a time limit for completing your project; it will always take much longer than you think. If you are doing things properly, you will do a little at a time and then spend an adequate time listening and assessing the changes before moving on to the next stage.
For those who are still uncertain which way to go, see the Project page for full details on building an active system, very similar to my own. It should be possible to construct this high quality system consisting of preamplifier, active crossovers, power amplifiers and loudspeakers for around 600UKP. Enough detail will be given to enable even beginners to complete the project.
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What is a good hi-fi?

Ask just any successful person what the secret of their success is and most of them will tell you that it has little to do with luck. Rather than happening by chance, their success has come about as a result of some deliberate action(s), starting with them setting a clearly defined goal.
If you are aiming to build a really good hi-fi and want to be successful, then it's a good idea to have a clearly defined goal rather than tackle the project haphazardly. It's not much use saying that you want a 'good hi-fi' if you can't define what you mean by good. Of course, 'good' means different things to different people. And as the variety of music which is played through hi-fi systems is so wide, 'good' in hi-fi is a less useful term.
Discussing this subject with other hi-fi enthusiasts, it's clear that we all have varying opinions as to how the ideal hi-fi system will sound. Consequently, writing a definition of the ideal hi-fi system is only useful inasmuch as it will give others a starting point in their own thoughts on the subject.
After randomly tinkering with my hi-fi for over a year, I eventually realized that I was in need of a plan, if I was to prevent myself from going around in circles. I had a vague idea of what I was trying to achieve but I decided that I needed to more clearly define that aim. The first thing I did was to sit down and try to list the positive attributes of a good hi-fi (irrespective of whether they were ALL achievable). This is what I came up with:
  • Good frequency range (ie reproduces a large range of frequencies)
  • Flat frequency response (ie. with 'enough' bass and treble.
  • Clear detail.
  • Large, three-dimensional sound-stage.
  • Clear imaging.
  • Sufficient dynamic range to reproduce all music without distortion.
  • Good (fast) transient response.
  • Precise timing.
  • Ample power.
FREQUENCY RANGE - The range of frequencies over which an item of audio equipment will operate, but not defined in terms of relevant level.
FREQUENCY RESPONSE - As frequency range but with the relative level defined. ie the level of each frequency varies by no more than a defined amount.
DYNAMIC RANGE - Put simply, the difference in decibels between the quietest and loudest bits of a piece of music. Classical music obviously has a higher dynamic range than somebody talking.
At that stage I realized that the above features, although very desirable in a hi-fi, didn't say anything about the overall sound quality, at least not the one I was trying to define. So I sat down again and asked myself what it was that had thrilled me most about the best hi-fi systems which I had heard, and which had given me most pleasure.
I arrived at the following conclusion:
  1. The hi-fi must be musical.
  2. There must be a high degree of reality and a sense of 'being there'.
I place a lot of importance on these two qualities, particularly the first. After all, if you are reproducing music it should be musical! Sadly, a lot of so-called hi-fi isn't musical and just goes through the motions of reproducing the recorded sound. You can tell, a good hi-fi, it will convey the emotion that is in most music, at times making the hairs on your neck stand up or reaching out from between the 'speakers and 'punching' you in the solar plexus. In my opinion, not much commercial hi-fi achieves this although I have come across some notable exceptions like the Cambridge Audio CD4SE CD player, Rothwell amplifiers and Audio Note ENJ loudspeakers.
Obviously, the attributes in the first list contribute toward the qualities in the second. I would say that one of the most important attributes for musicality is good timing. If you can identify which attributes have most effect on each sound quality, then you are some way to defining your goals.
One of the problems with trying to optimise a hi-fi is that striving for one quality can adversely affect another. For instance, greatly boosting one frequency causes the rest of the frequency range to alter (perceivably). So you may spend a lot of time and effort on your super sub-woofer system only to find that your system seems to lack detail at the top end. This isn't always the case but it is wise to remember that tweaking hi-fi can sometimes be a case of one step forward and two steps back. That's one reason that it's a good idea to change one thing at a time so that you can retrace your steps if necessary.
Finally, do make sure that the various pieces of equipment in your chosen system all work well together. One problem often encountered when 'mix-and-matching' pre amps and power amps is to find that there is too much gain. This results in virtually no control over the volume at quieter settings and other related problems. If you do find yourself in this situation, all is not lost as there is a simple but clever solution in the form of an attenuator. A well-produced example of this item can be found at the Rothwell Electronics site.
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Latest news (14-06-2012)

VERY IMPORTANT - Decibel Dungeon has moved to a new server. If you are on the old site, please go to the new site and remember to bookmark the new URL). Yes, once again I have moved DD to another host. While the ATSpace host didn't place ads on this site, it was so slow to load that I simply couldn't leave it there. Hopefully Freehostia will prove to be satisfactory but I am almost willing to believe that you can't get a decent web host for free! Unfortunately, being unwaged, I can't justify paying for web hosting, and was tempted to not bother with DD. However, from the number of visitors, and emails that I receive, it is still proving very useful to many so I will keep it going for as long as I can.

I have been contacted by Julian Chappell, brother of Paul Chappell who designed the ETI mains conditioner. In the past I have had many requests for compentents, or information on components for this mains conditioner and was unable to help. However, Paul Chappell has sets of components to build the ETI conditioner, and there is a link on the page to contact him. Supply is limited so I suggest that you grab a set while you can.
The visitor counter has now passed the 273,000 mark and, as usual, I would like to say thank you to all those who have visited the site. I hope that this statistic is indicative of how many people are enjoying the wonderful world of DIY hi-fi. It certainly seems to indicate that Gainclone building is still going strong!
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For Sale

Propod cases - please see this.
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Although I have included links to many interesting sites related to hi-fi and hi-fi DIY throughout the rest of Decibel Dungeon, I am listing a few of my favourites here on the 'home' page for quick reference.
Vertex AQ. Not really a DIY site but very interesting from a hi-fi point of view and producing some of the best (and most innovative) hi-fi accessories on the market. Their 'Tips & Talk' section is well=worth reading too!
Hi-End Audio is another site created by a keen audiophile and DIYer with a lot of useful information.
Arts and Media (audio links)
Avondale Audio
UK hi-fi circle
Farnell Electronics
US supplier of audio kits
Zero Distortion another excellent DIY site.

My dream house
My overland trip to Nepal
Some of my non-hi-fi pictures.
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