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post #1 of 35 Old 01-25-2011, 08:02 PM - Thread Starter
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I just peeled the cover off an MC12 for the first time and I have to laugh! To get the signals down to the balanced output option chassis the unbalanced analog audio from the DACs travel across about 4 inches of PC board track right through the digital EPOT control traces, onto a piece of computer ribbon cable, you know the stuff your floppy drive used to have, down to the balanced amp board.

Now as an EE with 25 years experience in broadcast engineering I see nothing wrong with this at all. Rupert Neeve used ordinary ribbon cables in his 128 fader mixing consoles for years. This ribbon cable bussed were over 10 feet in length.

I just have to laugh over all the hype I see posted here about balanced audio and the precision required to implement it and this is what's going on inside a professionally engineered high end processor. Just goes to yet further prove all the hogwash these cable shops try to push.

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post #2 of 35 Old 01-25-2011, 10:05 PM
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It sounds like the MC12 is just screaming out for a high end modder to fix it .
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post #3 of 35 Old 01-26-2011, 05:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Glimmie View Post

I just peeled the cover off an MC12 for the first time and I have to laugh! To get the signals down to the balanced output option chassis the unbalanced analog audio from the DACs travel across about 4 inches of PC board track right through the digital EPOT control traces, onto a piece of computer ribbon cable, you know the stuff your floppy drive used to have, down to the balanced amp board.

Now as an EE with 25 years experience in broadcast engineering I see nothing wrong with this at all. Rupert Neeve used ordinary ribbon cables in his 128 fader mixing consoles for years. This ribbon cable bussed were over 10 feet in length.

I just have to laugh over all the hype I see posted here about balanced audio and the precision required to implement it and this is what's going on inside a professionally engineered high end processor. Just goes to yet further prove all the hogwash these cable shops try to push.

They are not all made that way. From pictures of the internals of many of the surround processor, the build quality and methods are all over the place.

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post #4 of 35 Old 01-26-2011, 05:15 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Bulldogger View Post

They are not all made that way. From pictures of the internals of many of the surround processor, the build quality and methods are all over the place.

My point is there is nothing wrong with the Lexicon design at all.

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post #5 of 35 Old 01-26-2011, 05:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Glimmie View Post


My point is there is nothing wrong with the Lexicon design at all.

My point is that you can not make a generalization about all surround processors based upon one, with one of the poorest build qualities, even if it is ok by your standards. I would note that high-end home theater can and very often does exceed pro sound quality.

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post #6 of 35 Old 01-26-2011, 05:50 PM
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Originally Posted by Bulldogger View Post

My point is that you can not make a generalization about all surround processors based upon one, with one of the poorest build qualities, even if it is ok by your standards. .

Theta?

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post #7 of 35 Old 01-26-2011, 08:37 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Bulldogger View Post
I would note that high-end home theater can and very often does exceed pro sound quality.
Well, here's the problem with that:

If your selected HT equipment exceeds the quality of professional stuff, then what's the point? You can't see or hear what isn't there in the first place if it was thrown away by the highly inferior mastering equipment.

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post #8 of 35 Old 01-27-2011, 04:20 PM
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I think he meant it exceeds pro-audio quality on the playback, not the mastering equipment quality in the studio.

A crown amp and Peavy speakers can be considered "pro quality" if one implies pro audio to just be DJ equipment.
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post #9 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 01:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Glimmie View Post

Well, here's the problem with that:

If your selected HT equipment exceeds the quality of professional stuff, then what's the point? You can't see or hear what isn't there in the first place if it was thrown away by the highly inferior mastering equipment.

I think the playback chain still matters or the high-end would not exist. Many have complained about the sound quality of Lexicon. I think you are just figuring out why. Looks like they have more in common with a cheaper processor like B&K.
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post #10 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 04:32 PM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Bulldogger View Post

I think the playback chain still matters or the high-end would not exist. Many have complained about the sound quality of Lexicon. I think you are just figuring out why. Looks like they have more in common with a cheaper processor like B&K.

You obviously lack the technical knowledge to understand what your are looking at.

Ok the power supply wiring in that first picture is a bit sloppy. But that has absolutely no affect on sound quality. In fact the shorter direct path may be of subtle improvement since there is less wire to act as an antenna coupling noise into the supply rails.

As for the second picture what's the problem there? I see a high quality circuit board. I know, I have been designing and building circuit boards for 25 years for broadcast video equipment. I see no evidence of poor quality components or substandard workmanship on that board at all.

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post #11 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 04:37 PM
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I'm not sure what that first picture is, but the MC-12 on the right looks fine, with a circuit layout a damned sight better than most high-end audio components.

Would you tell us what the pictures tell you about the sound quality of each device?

--Andre
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post #12 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 04:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Glimmie View Post

You obviously lack the technical knowledge to understand what your are looking at.

Ok the power supply wiring in that first picture is a bit sloppy. But that has absolutely no affect on sound quality. In fact the shorter direct path may be of subtle improvement since there is less wire to act as an antenna coupling noise into the supply rails.

As for the second picture what's the problem there? I see a high quality circuit board. I know, I have been designing and building circuit boards for 25 years for broadcast video equipment. I see no evidence of poor quality components or substandard workmanship on that board at all.

I agree that they look about the same quality as the Lexicon.

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post #13 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 04:50 PM
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Originally Posted by AndreYew View Post

I'm not sure what that first picture is, but the MC-12 on the right looks fine, with a circuit layout a damned sight better than most high-end audio components.

Would you tell us what the pictures tell you about the sound quality of each device?

--Andre

I can not of course tell about sound quality. I am referring to similar design. B&K is lower cost but uses similar build.

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post #14 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 06:57 PM
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I am missing the point relative to B&K .

Here is MC-12 guts:



And B&K Reference 70 you posted:



If anything, B&K looks like the typical mass market product with a big box but much less inside .

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post #15 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 07:08 PM
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Originally Posted by amirm View Post

B&K looks like the typical mass market product with a big box but much less inside .

Actually, there have been a number of very expensive "high end" amps that could best be described as a big box with little inside

But then, I remember one designer explaining it had something to do with vibration dampening and control, which is critical to SS amp design

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post #16 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 07:35 PM
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I'm not sure what you can tell from the closeup of the MC-12's audio board that tells you about build quality. To someone who has built and manufactured circuit boards, the Lexicon board is standard surface-mount, multi-layer design, which anyone who does conventional manufacturing processes would get. In other words, it doesn't speak to build quality. If you could get a copy of the layout, that would tell you lots more.

Here's what I appreciate about both pictures, the B&K and the Lexicon.

The B&K's biggest fault would appear to be doing voltage regulation far away, and off the board containing its op-amps and other ICs. See that board near the bottom, to the right of the transformer, with the rectifier, the 3 big purple electrolytic caps, and the giant bundle of wires coming out of it? There are two voltage regs which appear to set the voltages for the rest of the boards.

This is not good if you want good CMRR at the full-operating bandwidth of your ICs, especially the really fast ones. The local bypass structures might be OK on the B&K and may even mitigate this some, but clearly, the power regulation was built to a price point.

The Lexicon on the other hand follows standard good practices for highish-speed design, unlike most high-end audio boards I've seen. They use multi-layer, surface-mount design. Multi-layer lets you route closer and tighter as well as use continuous ground planes to control return currents and shield from noise. Surface mount reduces parasitics from component packaging: the capacitors are closer to pure capacitors than the leaded (ie. components with wire leads, not Pb) caps you often see on "high-end" designs.

These parasitics include inductance which slow down the response of the power supply bypass structures. Since many op-amps and DACs operate at many megahertz, and often much higher, it is essential to have a power supply bypass structure that responds at those frequencies. If you have a leaded bypass structure, you don't have that kind of response.

Also notable is the ferrite bead on the far left of the close-up picture of the Lex. The picture doesn't show the whole power regulation scheme, but having looked inside MC-12s, it is done with more care and attention to detail than most other power regulators I've seen. That ferrite bead is one indicator of what they did.

Having said that, one poor example of high-speed design is Theta's Extreme DAC board. Note all of the big yellow, bulbous caps on the DAC board (the board to the left of the board with the blue resistors). I would not be surprised if those were 2-layer boards. Considering how cheap 4-layer, nevermind 8-layer, and if you were charging high-end audio premiums, HDI boards, are, to me, this is one of the most inexcusable practices of high-end audio. The circuit layout expertise is like from the 70s. Based on this alone, the Lex already has much higher build quality.

The Theta's power regulators also have to work through that slow modular connection to the DACs. It's like B&K-style design!

And finally, I LOLed at the pink heatshrink on the two voltage regs near the bus connector that keeps it from shorting out pins. If you look at the Premium card in the same gallery, they appeared to have fixed it by flipping the regs around. Build quality much?

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post #17 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 07:41 PM
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One more thing about the Theta: it is not surprising that it's so expensive. All of that throughhole stuff requires a lot of handwork. It's not as efficient, nor as high-performance, as a surface-mount board, and it costs more to manufacture!

--Andre
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post #18 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 07:48 PM
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Great post Andre .

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post #19 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 07:50 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Raul GS View Post

Actually, there have been a number of very expensive "high end" amps that could best be described as a big box with little inside



I used to repair stereos in 1970s. I can't tell you often we would get a fancy stereo, open the huge box up, and just see a tiny board near the front panel a little power supply out back and huge amount of space in between! None sounded good and invested more in bling (front LED lights and such) than real quality parts. Tiny IC amps and such ruled.

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post #20 of 35 Old 01-30-2011, 07:52 PM
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After such informative posts (amir, Glimmie, Andrew), I think this 'eyeballing a circuit board to determine sound quality' theory can be laid to rest... embarrassing.

There are more than a handful of [op amps] that sound so good that most designers want to be using them as opposed to discreet transistors. Dave Reich, Theta 2009
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post #21 of 35 Old 02-03-2011, 10:06 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Raul GS View Post

Actually, there have been a number of very expensive "high end" amps that could best be described as a big box with little inside

But then, I remember one designer explaining it had something to do with vibration dampening and control, which is critical to SS amp design

Blu-ray players too

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post #22 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 12:05 AM
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Originally Posted by AndreYew View Post

One more thing about the Theta: it is not surprising that it's so expensive. All of that throughhole stuff requires a lot of handwork. It's not as efficient, nor as high-performance, as a surface-mount board, and it costs more to manufacture!

--Andre

There is a little more to these boards then meets the eye and from the pictures it is impossible to tell some things.
Perhaps a reason for all of the handywork is just not so simple as it appears and the boards are actually of higher performance then you realize.
I apoligize for not identifing the material in these boards in the gallery you link to and can tell you that they are deffinitely not part of what you have termed as the "inexcusable practices of high-end audio".

The DAC boards are in fact made of Teflon where the copper traces are, instead of the typical glass that you assume.
This of course is even more difficult to manufacture then glass since nothing sticks to it easily!

In other words, how do you get copper traces to adhere to the Teflon boards and do it cheaply? The cheaper process that you describe can only be done with the glass that you're assuming it is.

Yes other people can do it too, Theta is not alone here.
Mark Levinson for example uses these boards, and when they do, they always charge more for the same product but made on their upgraded Teflon boards!
These have typically been in what they refer to as their 'S' models but may be included in some of their new models as well.

Mark Levinson and Theta prefer to use these boards because there is an advantage to Teflon over the less expensive glass, even though it is so difficult to work with.
This advantage is that Teflon has a lower dielectric constant, which is represented by a lower capacitance.

So while it was a great post and I did enjoy reading it, perhaps not everything you state there applies to this particular DAC card because of the more expensive and more difficult material they choose to construct it with.

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post #23 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 01:27 AM
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Originally Posted by thebland View Post

After such informative posts (amir, Glimmie, Andrew), I think this 'eyeballing a circuit board to determine sound quality' theory can be laid to rest... embarrassing.

At this point, I will agree with you one more time.
It was quite an informative post, it was realy very very good, a refreshing change to the typical drivel that can often be found in these pages.
As you say 'eyeballing a circuit board to determine sound quality' can be very difficult and in some cases it's impossible to tell what is really going on with the circuit. Since we can never actually get the whole picture from a picture, as in this case the actual high quality material that the board was constructed of was described or pictured to be totally wrong because this is not theta's design at all and only the design of an armchair engineer, I understand and forgive that, it could've happened to anyone fed improper informtion.

As soon as one would realize it's Teflon, just about every arguement easily went right out the door, at least in my mind It did. Which to me, changes that whole picture completely and adding this new fact that I have, should entirly change their previous position...the embarresment that you stated here does not belong to Theta in any way. As far as I am concerned, knowing what I do, the DAC can now stand on it's own high quality merits.

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post #24 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 05:19 AM
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Originally Posted by AndreYew View Post

One more thing about the Theta: it is not surprising that it's so expensive. All of that throughhole stuff requires a lot of handwork. It's not as efficient, nor as high-performance, as a surface-mount board, and it costs more to manufacture!

--Andre

Most of the product I buy are handmade in the U. S., Canada, France, etc. I luv that! I plan to tour the Mcintosh factory. They build the same way. I have Mcintosh amps. Mass produced in the Far East is just not what I want to support. So you not did tell me anything I did not seek out already. Oh, I do like a lot of the Japanese made stuff as well.

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post #25 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 11:22 AM
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Originally Posted by bigbrother52 View Post

The DAC boards are in fact made of Teflon where the copper traces are, instead of the typical glass that you assume.

I've addressed the Teflon issue in one of the many Theta threads, but here's a summary: PTFE board material as opposed to the normal FR-4 (fiberglass) is used when you want to run really high speeds, because the dieletric constant of PTFE is lower. In other words, for the same geometry (ie. same trace length and width, and stackup), there will be less parasitic capacitance and dispersion in a PTFE board.

When does this matter? Consider that FR-4 can easily run signals at over 3 GHz, PTFE is used when you need to run many gigahertz. Is there any signal generated in a traditional (non-PC-based) audio component that is even close, like 1/10th, of that speed? Not really.

And even if there were things on the Extreme board that ran at that speed, there are other design choices made on the Extreme board that will totally negate this: the use of throughhole components to bypass the DACs and their opamps, the use of modular connectors between the supposedly critical ICs like the DACs and opamps, and their voltage regulators, and the seeming use of 2-layer PCBs. In other words, there are much bigger problems, electrically speaking, to fix on the Extreme board before a PTFE board will even matter, should it even matter at all.

PTFE is expensive not because it's hard to get stuff to stick to Teflon: does Walmart charge you an arm and a leg for a non-stick frying pan? It's expensive because it's not commonly done and there aren't the production volumes to bring down its costs.

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Most of the product I buy are handmade in the U. S., Canada, France, etc. I luv that! I plan to tour the Mcintosh factory. They build the same way. I have Mcintosh amps. Mass produced in the Far East is just not what I want to support. So you not did tell me anything I did not seek out already. Oh, I do like a lot of the Japanese made stuff as well.

Handmade doesn't mean good. In this case, most of the production houses near Theta (we probably use many of same ones in my day job) have to hand-solder the big connectors and probably many of the throughhole components like the capacitors and resistors because they don't have a machine that can place components like that, especially those blue resistors standing up on the volume control board.

--Andre
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post #26 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 11:27 AM - Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by bigbrother52 View Post

The DAC boards are in fact made of Teflon where the copper traces are, instead of the typical glass that you assume.
This of course is even more difficult to manufacture then glass since nothing sticks to it easily!

The board stock in that picture sure looks like standard FR4 to me. I am specifically looking at the cut edges. Teflon doesn't look like that.

And even if it was teflon, with the rather low the frequencies encountered in an audio DAC, that is less than 10 mhz, Teflon board material is not of any consequence. Sure it costs more and allows the manufature to use the old "mil spec NASA" diatribe. But it offers no additional benefit to audio quality over plain FR4 epoxy glass.

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post #27 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 11:48 AM
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From op amps to Teflon, where is this going? We have two experts here giving answers but there still seems to be this need to dissect the piece down to the farthest depths of minutia. What is hoping to be concluded here? I don't recall teflon being an issue when I have my LEx MC12 B...

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post #28 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 01:57 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thebland View Post
From op amps to Teflon, where is this going? We have two experts here giving answers but there still seems to be this need to dissect the piece down to the farthest depths of minutia. What is hoping to be concluded here? I don't recall teflon being an issue when I have my LEx MC12 B...
Since it is always the Theta products design that gets questioned, trampled and stomped into the ground, perhaps you should inquire with the Harman Group as to why they sometimes prefered the use of Teflon in their Mark Levinson product?
You know, those guys who own the company that made your Lex that had no issue since it did not use Teflon!

You may not have realized or even noticed but it is by delving into "the farthest depths of minutia" that the high-end has managed to exist at all. It is through these efforts that strives are made to further the existing SOTA.

I know other advances have been made in board technology and constuction since the advent of Teflon.
But there is no question in my mind, having owned certain Mark Levinson and Theta gear that contained Teflon, that when you do "disect" this gear looking for reasons why it sounds like it does, that you find its that Teflon gives some of the sweetest possible sound that can be had through its careful use.

I know since Theta is no longer discussed here, and yet another thread about even a used piece of Theta gear has been deleated, (who knew even the mention of A'gon might be considered marketing) I am probably not even allowed to have this opinion of the sound a Teflon board might have because of the gear it might be associated with.

I will leave you to discuss whatever topics you have left with your experts.
Or, simply just take the two guys opinion who you highly regard as fact every time and don't even bother with any discussion at all!

TURN IT UP!
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post #29 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 02:29 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bigbrother52 View Post
I know other advances have been made in board technology and constuction since the advent of Teflon.
But there is no question in my mind, having owned certain Mark Levinson and Theta gear that contained Teflon, that when you do "disect" this gear looking for reasons why it sounds like it does, that you find its that Teflon gives some of the sweetest possible sound that can be had through its careful use.
!

How could you possibly conclude teflon was the reasoning for superior sonics when there are 100s or 1000s of other pieces inside? Sounds like a complete guess!

My hamburger tasted great at lunch. Was it the greasy grill? The cook? the cow? The fact is was not frozen? Was I just plain starving and anything would've tasted great? This is my point... You cannot know by a cursory examination of an SSPs insides why it sounds the way it does... too many factors. All you can do is guess when you do not have all the facts. I've never even seen the Theta engineers in interviews ever make such claims about such.

When the Lexicon came out, and after I bought it, I never saw teflon or opamps discussed. Why?

I've been reading Stereophile for many years and teflon boards have rarely came up in my reading. Opamps, for that matter, either. They may've come up, but I just can't recall any article on them. But the significance levied here with the obscure is so weighty - and much of it seems made up. Shawn and Glimmie are pretty smart guys and knowledgeable in the field, yet that is ignored.

Of any product I've seen discussed here, this level of fuzzy science to try and convince others that it is from a better pedigree is unprecedented. This is where a lot of arguing comes up. The facts get challenged here.

There are more than a handful of [op amps] that sound so good that most designers want to be using them as opposed to discreet transistors. Dave Reich, Theta 2009
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post #30 of 35 Old 02-04-2011, 05:21 PM
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Teflon based substrates are typically used in RF printed circuit boards designs, where you are trying to minimize dielectric losses and exploit the lower dielectric constant of Teflon. At audio frequencies, there is no particular advantage to Teflon board material, and it certainly doesn't sound "better". That's total nonsense, like many "audiophile" beliefs. Regular old FR4 board material (epoxy glass) is mechanically more robust and also costs a lot less. And that's not Boston Baked Beans talking, either!
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