January 20, 2007
A Serious Soldering Iron Uprade (to the Aoyue 968)
Until today I've never owned, or used, a soldering iron more serious than the Radio Shack starter kit.
The important thing about your iron is not getting some microscopic tip, but how evenly the heating is. A soldering iron that does not have a temperature control is not acceptable. That $10 iron that you got in your freshman engineering kit is completely worthless. However, you do not need to spend more than ~$80 for a good iron these days. Get a good, variable temperature iron from anyone who will also sell you replacement tips.
A few weeks back I decided the next time I needed to place an order at Spark Fun that I would throw a new soldering iron on the order. That time came this week.
Initially I thought I'd just upgrade a little and get a nice Aoyue 2901 but I always loose the battle against the thought that while I'm at it I should make sure I get something that will be good for anything I'll ever need for the rest of my life. You know, because wouldn't it stink if I bought something with less functionality and ended up regretting it down the road. I've never needed a SMD rework station, but have dabbled in hardward hacking enough to think I might need it down the road (if I don't use it for SMD work it's always handy to have a tool for making metal jewelry or fixing stained glass windows).
I looked carefully at the various Aoyue combination SMD/soldering products, comparing the fuctionality with prices at various places.
I decided that Aoyue 968 was the right thing for me when I found that you could get a new one on eBay for just around twice the cost of the soldering gun I originally was going to order on Spark Fun. The decision was solidified when I discovered that SRA Solder (formally SRA), the folks listing the 968 on eBay, are within driving distance of where I live, would give me the eBay price, and let me pick it up to save shipping costs.
When I went to pick up the unit I had a chance to talk to some very nice folks there, get a little tutorial on the 968 and some soldering pointers, and got to see some other pretty cool equipment they have in the shop. These folks are very serious about soldering technology.
I will confirm that soldering is much better with a nice soldering iron. Here are the main reasons (after using it for a few hours) I'm glad I made a switch:
- The tip is 1/4 the size of the Radio Shack cheapo which makes it much easier to get into close spots.
- The temperature control lets me keep the iron at the right temperature required for my solder, which is much cooler than the cheapo. That cheapo made the entire room warmer and was a threat for burning anyone within 10 feet.
- The soldering iron has an on/off switch! Really, it is so nice not to have to keep plugging/unplugging.
- A nicer soldering iron has a stand, with a cleaning sponge and solder holder. The cheapo had a small piece of tin that slid everywhere and could easily fall off the table with a bump.
- The tip just works better. It can hold smaller amounts of solder so you aren't battling with a huge blob when you don't need it. Solder adheres better and seems to come off in a more predictable way.
- It has an exhaust vacuum. I don't mind the smell of smoke from soldering, but keeping it from floating up into my face is nice. (Not sure how much I'll use this feature, but it is nice to have and works fairly well).
Yes, I'm quite satisfied. While the drive home from SRA was spend wondering if it was just foolishness to spend so much on a soldering gun, that all went away after using it just a few times.
Posted by mike at 1:07 PM
January 17, 2007
The SACD Player: Perhaps I'm not *Really* Serious about Audio
I've been looking around at CD players with a thought to get something for my office because playing CDs on the computer is just to loud, and I can't realistically rip my entire collection to mp3 (nor do I particularly like the loss in audio quality).
Yes, they have Super Audio CD players. Can I afford one? Perhaps the bottom of the line. It would have to be a very, very special occasion to purchase a really good one like the Marantz SA-7S1, which currently rings up at $6,499.99. Then again, how many CD players have you seen that have balanced 3-pin XLR outputs?
I guess I'm not really serious about audio if my price range doesn't include figures in the thousands or tens of thousands.
Posted by mike at 12:10 PM
January 9, 2007
Watching Macworld Apple Keynote Delayed, but Unspoiled
A few days ago MacRumors put up a "spoiler-free" page for the Steve Jobs Macworld keynote happening at 9am PST on January 9th (today). The idea is that if folks wanted to watch the keynote without knowing what was coming they could use this page to check for the streaming video and avoid any coverage of what was happening out at Macworld.
I liked the idea of seeing the keynote fresh so I decided to try it. Steve's keynote at Macworld is a must for me, I've been watching it for years (and some day I'll actually get out there to see in person). Yesterday morning I opened a Safari window to the non-spoiler page, shut off my RSS aggregator, and for the past two days avoided anything that might give me a hint about what was coming.
It wasn't too hard to avoid the rumors yestarday, but it became more difficult today during and after the keynote before the video was put up when folks started to invade my inbox with comments. Sorry to the folks who emailed me today and got no response, if the subject looked suspicious I ignored it.
This was a pretty good Macworld keynote to see without any preconcieved ideas. The introduction of the iPhone has a lot folks talking (and gave Apple stock a nice boost). I'm not sure I'll do the same thing next time, it's just not worth the hassle and Steve's keynote has always been great even if I know what is coming.
Posted by mike at 10:22 PM
January 1, 2007
Converting Vinyl (Records) to Digital
I've been resisting converting any of my vinyl to digital ever since getting back into listening to my record collection. I did a sample conversion back then by capturing a few songs and converting them to mp3. The music quality was pretty dissapointing moving from vinyl to mp3, so I've stuck to listening to the pure vinyl.
Yesterday I got an iMic as a gift and am pleased with the results. The turntable connects directly to the iMic RCA connector, which is then piped into the computer via a USB connection.
The iMic comes with Final Vinyl (free download, but only works with iMic) for OS X which is a great program for recording and slicing up the audio. The tool is simple, but has all the key options for capturing audio. This statement from the Final Vinyl documentation sums up nicely what the application is all about:
We’ve put much thought and effort into making Final Vinyl the easiest and most efficient way to transfer your sound library to digital media, with the highest quality results.
The program lets you capture and then easily mark points between songs and cut leading and trailing audio. Makes it really simple to convert an LP to digital audio, saving creates separate songs based on the marked audio. The audio capture is CD quality, 32 bit at 44.1 kHz.
Posted by mike at 7:51 PM