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From Circuit Tweaks To IT Geeks

In today’s hardware, the componentry is largely surface mount

In today’s hardware, the componentry is largely surface mount, the solder lead-free and interconnections are often crimped ribbon cables. For the “hacker” crowd (in audio hardware parlance, folks who strive to improve original circuits or bend devices to new applications), it’s getting harder to tweak and modify electronics.

Components are tiny. Lead-free solder melts at higher temperatures, increasing the chance of damaging circuit boards. Multi-pin, miniature ICs are extremely difficult to de-solder and replace by hand. There’s no surface mount equivalent to popping out an op-amp, popping in a socket, then experimenting with different chips.

The easier gear to modify, such as boutique tube mic preamps with point-to-point hand wiring, are typically the types of devices you’d least want to modify, the designs having been lovingly finessed towards a particular sonic goal. Presumably, that sonic character is why you bought the device in the first place. There are equivalents in factory-built gear, devices designed by audio professionals who listen as well as measure, who have a keen sense of what their customers need, often because they are also designing a piece of gear that they want to use themselves. In the more mass-produced devices, densely packaged and miniature circuitry serves to squelch the hacker’s desire, to resist improvement.

Component level maintenance has become a bit of a dying art. Today’s studio techs, have to become IT experts of a narrow sort. With the studio infrastructure collapsing into the confines of computers, the need is more often for management of software drivers, of backup schemes and networking infrastructure. These endeavors are less about the manipulation of audio-processing hardware than about connecting all the bits of hardware that surround the digital processors. The real work is done by software that is un-tweakable by most. The good news is that such software has become evermore competent.

For most, the IT world has irrevocably collided with the hardware world. A new generation, not predisposed towards traditional ways of working, will develop and embrace more radically different tools and methodologies. It’s been a fast ride for a couple of decades. Mind your footing; the wave of change is going to do nothing but accelerate.