Car maintenance costs eating into your budget?

Lowest maintenance costs through reliability

Maintenance Costs – keeping your car running without breaking your wallet.

Nothing in life is certain except death, taxes and ridiculous automobile maintenance costs.

While we cannot stave off the former two you can keep your wits about for the latter, your car running costs.

All men like to drive either huge luxury cars, fast and slick performance cars or American muscle cars. Hybrids and Breadbins on wheels are for Woosies! Real men are brawlers, lovers and saviours. Now let’s get to the real world. Your first and last car will be a money pit – hopefully not a white elephant but certainly a money hog. Wheels, tyres, suspension, brakes and fuel. No financial return except for maybe the thrill of it.  Motorcycles are even more expensive to run – they eat tyres, sprockets and chains and just one fall will put you back more than a few month’s salary in repairs and medical bills. What’s the solution?

  1. Eat your pride and start doing what the girls are doing: smaller but practical cars. No!
  2. Cut down on your home mortgage? No!
  3. Throw your swimming pool out and grow a vegetable patch? No!

The solution is to stop trying to compete and buy second hand – a car known for reliability. If a new car loses 50% of it’s value after three years what does that tell us? Unless you are a peak performance sales person whom needs his wheels to get from point A to B every day, chewing up to 40 000 miles per annum it might be a very good idea to start looking at what your current disinvestment is worth in real terms – both to your health and your pocket.

Lowest maintenance costs through reliability
Toyota Corolla – Photo Credit: CEFICEFI

It is a known fact that if you buy Toyota you may be buying one of the few cars on the road that give you value in terms of reliability and performance. Audis and BMWs look great, perform great but don’t buy one unless you have a full motor-plan and plan to stick to it for the period you intend on keeping it. I know of two BMW owners that have their car more on the ramp than on the road. I have nothing against BMW, they make stunning vehicles but most wannabe 2nd hand BMW owners forget the risks – parts can be expensive and like the Audi, catastrophic failure of engine or gearbox may cost more than what the car cost. What a way to go!

No, the reality is all cars have a life-span – that at which it becomes unstable and dangerous on the road, the engine doesn’t start, electrics are problematic and the upholstery starts to give. Where to start and where to finish?

If the marketing hype is to be believed these vehicles are the classic best-sellers:

  1. Toyota Corolla
  2. Hyundai Elantra
  3. Honda Civic
  4. Toyota Camry
  5. Volkswagen Golf
  6. Kia Rio
  7. Ford Fiesta
  8. Ford Focus
  9. Volkswagen Passat
  10. Volkswagen Jetta

Most people do buy cars with low maintenance costs. Their running costs are low because they are made to last!

Above is not not in any particular order but they all have one thing in common – reliable, good pricing and maintenance costing pretty fair.

Both BMW and Audi are also huge sellers but in the high end designed for executives planning to get there fast and enjoy the ride. Then we also have Mercedes. All three made and designed for someone with a big wallet – not for driving but for maintenance, just in case you do decide to go the second hand route. If something does fail you are in for a big fall.

I know many Corolla owners and not one of them has had any form of major failure – some of them are onto their 200 000th mile and the engine has not even been stripped. One is a 80s model, done nearly 250 000 miles with the engine overhauled at about 150 000 miles when he purchased it for $1,500.00. The Toyota Camry is also a long distance runner.

Ever notice how the Fiat Uno keeps on running and running. Cheap to maintain and cheap to run.

The small Ford Bantam 1600cc pickup is one of my personal favourites – no longer available but the second hand market cries for them. Easy to fix, cheap to run and an overhauled engine at less than $1,000.00. While talking about small pickups what about the Nissan 1400cc? Out of style, out of date but what incredible reliability. The Opel Corsa springs to mind but too may tales of unreliability and shoddy workmanship. Better looking than the Bantam maybe but we are looking at running costs.

No SUVs and 4x4s. If you need a 4×4 buy a proper 4×4. Land Rover. Land Cruiser. Possibly Jeep. I live in Africa. The one that has stood the test of time can only be the Land Rover. I believe the Land Cruiser is just as good. Think of Botswana and the old Rhodesia, now Zim. Three foot of strong wire and it will fix any problem.

My personal opinion:

  • Toyota Corolla or Conquest or Yaris and Camry.
  • VW Polo
  • Honda Civic
  • Hyundai Electra
  • Ford Bantam
  • BMW 3-series
  • Fiat Uno
  • Ford Ranger
  • Vintage Land River for 4 x 4
  • Jeep – ex-US army

What others say about owning a car with lower maintenance costs, in this case cars that can do over 200 000 miles.

Hyundai Tiburon
Nissan Quest
Toyota Tacoma
Ford Ranger
Mini Cooper
Lexus IS
Ford Escort
Mazda Miata
Honda S2000
VW Jetta
VW Golf or Jetta
Audi A4, 2000 or newer
Subaru Impreza
Honda Acura RDX
Chevrolet Avalanche
Honda Ridgeline
Lexus RX 350
Mazda MX-5 Miata
Scion xB
Scion xD
Toyota 4Runner
Toyota RAV4
Toyota Yaris
1981-1994 BMW 3-Series
1999+ Chevrolet & GMC Trucks
1983-2012 Ford Ranger (& Mazda B2300) w/2.3l 4cyl
Honda Civic
Jeep Cherokee & Jeep Grand Cherokee w/4.0 6cyl
1994-1999 Nissan Maxima
1989-1999 Subaru Legacy & Subaru Outback
Toyota: 4Runner, Camry, Corolla, Land Cruiser, Prius, Pickup, T100, and Tacoma
Volvo 850 & S70/V70
1983-1999 Volkswagen Jetta/Golf/Corrado
Isuzu Trooper

In no particular order and taken from ten different websites. Interesting to note that the early model 3-series Beamers do well here, including the early model Audi A4.

What to look out for when buying second hand and knowing that maintenance costs are going to eat into your budget:

  • Like all things mechanical have the right mechanic come along for the ride. Belong to the AA to get the best of tests.
  • Sometimes you may miss something – include one of your pedantic friends or spouse/partner.
  • If you are shopping for a particular model, know the quirks – read the forums.
  • If the neighbourhood looks dodgy so will the car.
  • High mileage cars can be dealbreakers – know the price.
  • NO oil leaks thank you.
  • Slipping clutches, dodgy gearboxes and wheel bearings. Quick to check and not so cheap to fix.
  • Rust, chassis repair and please check the roof.
  • Rust and/or corrosion around the battery housing.
  • Wiring / looms.
  • The less gadgets the better – much against our personal opinion, the less the better.
  • Maintenance log.

Top tip is the AA. Many years ago, 20 to be exact, a friend of mine had a potential buy, a ‘good condition’ BMW checked out by a local garage. Good to go they say. I recommended him to pay the fee and have the AA check it out. The vehicle was involved in a crash they say. Here’s the interesting bit, it took the technician come mechanic exactly 30 seconds to tell us this. He checked the steering wheel alignment first then the under-body. We did not see anything amiss, neither the garage workshop. It pays to be 50 years old and with 30 years of experience.



(Mike has 20 years experience in the motor industry, has a 1958 Land Rover, loves Toyota, any Ford Mustang and drives a Ford Ranger which he believes has very low maintenance costs. He deals in motor vehicles. – Admin staff).








Rare Motorcycles: 1969 Honda CB750 sells for $148,100.00

Rare Motorcycles - a sheep in wolf's clothing

Rare Motorcycles get top bids

The latest edition of the magazine Motorcycleclassics brings to us the unbelievable selling price of a very rare Honda 750, in fact one of only four which were pre-production run shipped to the USA in order to promote and sell these beautiful four cylinder machines.

Rare Motorcycles - a sheep in wolf's clothing
Drawing of an 1886 Roper powered velocipede – author Harold Melvin Stanford

A 1952 Vincent Black Shadow sold for $134,000 last year. It came as absolutely no surprise for a machine which was ahead of any competitor in top end and general performance. They didn’t come cheap either in 1952.

A 1914 Indian F, originally owned by screen legend  Steve Mcqueen, was sold for $50,000.00. In all sincerity one would have thought the bike would have taken a much higher bid although it only consisted of a 500cc engine in what appears to be bolted to a bicycle frame. Modern bicycles actually have brakes, this one did not, neither gears or a clutch.

1954 AJS Porcupine E95 received a bid of $650,000 which did not meet reserve. Futuristic or just plain ugly?

Rare Motorcycles - just plain ugly?
AJS E95 – source: Craig Howell a.k.a. “El Caganer”

Research shows that Ducati, BMW, Indian and Harley get the most bids – out of the newer machines the Dodge Tomahawk gets a whopping $555,000.00. I tried to find out what the Roper Steam Cycle was eventually sold for but with no luck.

Like most items receiving top dollar at an auction, rare motorcycles are no exception. With our satellite and cable receivers giving motor vehicles more than enough air time, what about rare two wheelers? I’d love to see some history on the Katana, the CBX1100, the Kawasaki z900 and the RD350.

Like the four wheeled variety, rare motorcycles perform well at auctions. The Roper Steam Cycle on auction was indeed not the first of of Roper’s builds and neither the world’s first as this arguably goes to Michaux-Perreaux but the fact remains that this should push the winning bid to the highest ever recorded for a machine powered two wheeler.

Incidentally a motorbike is in one in which, according to Oxford, is powered by an internal combustion engine.

Rare motorcycles, love them or hate them they are here to to make money, big money. From what I gather, the uglier the better.


Demystifying Water Evaporative Coolers Anyone?

Water Evaporative Cooler

Are Water Evaporative Coolers as good as their claims?

Three trains of thought from three different individuals, two of them ‘experts’ in air flow, refrigeration and air conditioning and one, a professional installer of a known brand.

Water Evaporative Coolers
Evaporative Cooler – source wiki: Nevit

What they say about water evaporative coolers:

  • Won’t work in our environment, too close to the sea and too many computers – mechanical engineers, air flow expert doing chain stores.
  • Just done two factories with the water chiller, near the sea and working perfectly – electrician, air-con expert.
  • It should not be a problem but be careful of the humidity. We normally install in area ‘x’ and ‘y’ known for their hot, dry environment – professional installer.

Here’s the take though. The company needing the air conditioner installation has a power supply limit of 150A. The maximum current draw currently sits at about 120A ~ 130a at full load.  The area needing to be air conditioned is double volume and a minimum of 100 000 BTU is required. We will have a power crises in hot weather if using conventional a/c. The water evaporative cooler is about our only solution.

My own experience with water evaporative coolers is pretty much none existent except for the wares sold at the mass retail stores. They work well but already in an air cooled environment.

  • I do know that they are very poor performers in humidity.
  • They are also known as swamp coolers in the USA.
  • They draw much less current than the air conditioner we would have liked to use – approximately 80% less.
  • Believe that the maintenance is straight forward and costs less to repair.
  • The unit we will have installed would be coupled on to the existing ducting.
  • The premises is situated about 1km away from the sea. The climate is known to be hot and dry in summer.

Our current climatic conditions indicate humidity of 54% and temperatures of 32 degrees C / 90 degrees F.

What I don’t know is just how effective they are?

Will this type of cooler work for us or be a total or a total waste of money?

Any professional installers of air conditioning equipment be able to shed some light on evaporative coolers? The web is full of information about how it all works but what is lacking is hard core information regarding the installation, BTU performance and of course – has anyone done an installation near the sea?

Please give us your comments. Links and business details are welcome.



Getting to know common Technical Jargon

Technical Jargon - RPM vs BHP

Technical Jargon: Much confusion amongst the different power factors.

There are three common areas of confusion when one is caught up in the world of electronics or the auto trade:

  • Shaft, BHP,  Horsepower and Torque
  • Peak Music Power, RMS Power, Continuous Power
  • VA ratings compared to Watts

In the real world most of us mere mortals don’t like to base our preferences on advertising hype or opinions of others. In fact, if I am like others, we actually switch off when an individual boasts about the performance of his car over your own or others.  Discussions on motorcycles bring about the worst in us – so what if the Hayabusa is or was the fastest street bike. So what if that Rotel amplifier has more power than my Yamaha. So what if the Focus outperforms my Polo.

I work in the electronics and computer sector. The biggest mistake one can make is to assume that the end-user is a dunce because (a) you don’t know the person and (b) many end-users do research on a product before requesting guidance from the sales person.

An electrician friend of mine overheard a sales person telling a young couple in the process of purchasing an audio system for their home that the amplifier developed 150W of Real Mean Sound, a friend of mine told a client that his transceiver and antenna system had a problem with the Signal Warning Resistance and even worse, in my younger years my brother believed the car engine ran in reverse to push the car backwards. I was a total lover of Popular Mechanics, reading it religiously through the month until the next one arrived, like Practical Wireless, Popular Electronics, ETI and Elektor. The problem here is that you need to know what the abbreviations and technical jargon means before trying to impress someone with your gift of knowledge. Along came the computer and I more less saw the demise of any terms used by the IEEE (The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) or lesser so, The Society of Automotive Engineers. Our knowledge tree was ruined. So many abbreviations, so many the same but all with different meanings.

A bigger problem when it comes to technical jargon is whether it is used in the correct context or not. We pick this up especially when doing comparisons between the Mac and the PC, petrol versus diesel, watt versus VA, Class D versus Class AB and a very common – identifying which camera has the best pixels. We need to start at the very beginning.

Torque vs Horsepower

I use imperial here although of course a direct conversion can be made to metric.

Horsepower = power. Equal to lifting 33 000 pounds one foot in one minute.

Torque = rotational force. Torque is the measure of force applied to produce a rotational motion measured in pound-foot. If you want to be clever: One pound-foot = 1.3558179483314004 newton meters.

There are many trains of thought here – ft/lbs, ft-lbs, lbs/ft or lbs-ft? I only use lbs-foot (Pounds-foot) or N.m (Newton-meter). Be cautious of interchanging the lbs-ft with ft-lbs. See below.

Always ensure that there is no ambiguity in the way you have defined either torque or horsepower figures because there is another interesting aspect to all of this technical jargon at play here: Work!

Two things to remember: Work and Torque are not the same. HP is not independent of torque.

Technical Jargon - RPM vs BHP
Powerbands for different engine types. Source: Wiki

The Worlds biggest suppliers of Engine Parts

Engine Parts - shopping properly

Engine Parts – why the big deal?

Over the years the biggest advancement seen on the internet is social interaction and marketing and while big name brands such as Toyota car, Honda motorcycles and Texas Instruments have a significant online presence it has become quite difficult to sift through the mountains of online stores which supply either niche services or obscure parts. There are two things which are immediately apparent when I did research for this article – it pays to be at number one slot with Google and secondly, I feel some of the marketing pertains to key words which are not relevant to the search and a lot of time wasting does indeed take place. Oh, yes there is even a third – once you have the website which may have a solution you must still phone in or drop an email. Is this lack of search optimisation or lack of a detailed search?

From a global perspective eBay seems to be the way to go but yet shipping costs can make or break a deal. In my native South Africa many companies do advertise on the internet but only to have a web presence – these websites lack the ability for the user to control what they want to look up and view. I get the impression that many of these companies are stuck in what I call the ‘magazine’ era and take less of a practical ‘cataloging’ approach.  A very good website is Mantech Electronics – first page advertises their suppliers/manufacturers and the rest is cataloged using a simple but effective search mechanism.

Engine Parts - shopping properly
ECU engine analyser – Source – Alibaba

The Hunter Gatherer Mindset

I do firmly believe that there are two styles generated by many websites: the magazine – for the gatherer and the catalog – for the hunter. Ever shop with your spouse. Men supposedly know what they want – search, find, pay. Women also supposedly know what they want – browse, gather information, collect and pay. Do men shop more effectively? No. Do women shop more effectively? No. Websites usually cater either for the hunter or the gatherer. Why go to a website where one must download the catalog of goods sold which is retrieved from a database. Some of the biggest stores with the most capital behind them have the most primitive websites.  There are many exceptional websites as well – one being Texas Instruments which covers both, hunter and gatherer. The second is Mantech Electronics – see above.

I am overly simplifying this – the bottom line is that websites do not necessarily cater for the many user types. We need to use a combination of techniques to attract and keep our visitors.

The Strength of the Website – Engine Parts advertising

Imagine a world where every household had a machine which could be coupled onto an industry standard connector in their car or motorcycle or boat or whatever which could diagnose a problem, send you to a website where you could order the parts or as in most cases send you to a list of companies authorised to do the repair and displaying all costs, including those usually hidden.

Did you know that there are software diagnostic tools used on your home computer that do just that. Most printer companies have software which tells the user when their consumables are running low and take you to an online store to purchase these consumables. Refrigerator manufacturers have software which tells you when perishables are running low and can even do online orders for you. Marvellous world – not the auto industry though. The more sophisticated the auto electronics the more they should be able to communicate effectively to the user what is really going on – not just an ECU check light coming on. Someone driving a 200 000U$ Mercedes is certainly not going to do the work himself but lets get some options into the equation like telling us before a problem occurs, not when the problem occurs.

Zongshen 250cc watercooled - source Alibaba
Zongshen 250cc watercooled – source Alibaba

Back to Engine Parts

We need to look at how companies specialising in motor spares are advertising on their website. Of course this can apply to most industries where there is use of mechanical parts. We focus on the home mechanic here. The motor manufacturer supplies a trouble-shooting flow diagram on the internet. Images are stored and at certain click-points on the diagram the image is displayed. This may or may not equate to a problematic part. The part number is displayed. This is referenced on the manufacturer database as a number of probable replacement parts for that particular VIN number. The user then goes to the world’s biggest supplier of engine parts and checks pricing, availability and shipping. Of course there will be a disclaimer telling the user that replacing a working part is his or her problem, not theirs.  Feasible? Very much so – watch how insurance companies know your needs without you even asking them.  Insurance and banking sectors are so far ahead of the pack in this respect that I just cannot understand why the very sector that needs it most is behind the times. We know of course that the automobile has many secrets – most of which only the technician or mechanic knows about. It’s what keeps the industry flourishing. There are many home mechanics that are very talented, do know their way around even the most modern technology but get stumped when they need to get the proper part.

Engine Parts Suppliers

I have come across some real gems in the automobile industry. As mentioned before, it pays to be number one:

Online Car Parts SA – well thought out, great pricing and yes, they follow a great catalog structure (categories).


I have singled out this website – we are not affiliate to this company, they do not endorse us by any means and what I state here is strictly based on my own honest opinion. It is THE best website for auto parts on the internet. No flashing lights, bells, whistles and click here to win a free holiday to the outer Hebrides. This is a no frills website.

I spent over two hours going through Google search returns and was not impressed by what I saw. It comes down to the gist of this article – the DIY home mechanic often knows what he wants and now needs to buy it. Why should so many thousands of websites dedicated to providing this service not provide it. Why should we have to hunt around for a part?


A really great website on the GS and GSX motorcycles from’76 to ’85 is ‘the GS Resources‘ website. Yes, Suzuki made really great bikes then as they still do today but these bikes put Suzuki on the map. What makes this website great is not the lack of a parts search facility but the fact that it endorses the ‘club’ mentality which really does facilitate easier parts finding on rare and sometimes obscure parts. There are tons of ‘club’ websites out there – some really great ones too but if you are a die-hard Suzuki fan, especially of the older bikes, this website takes a typical magazine approach. (gatherer of information).

These two websites point typically to the two different approaches website administrators and/or owners take.  It is well known that amongst our eCommerce fraternity too little information will lead the reader to be indecisive or worse still make a decision based on pricing alone.

Engine Parts – Catalogs and Documents we really don’t need

I find it appalling that some of the largest companies known to man have a catalog which can be downloaded. Period. Am I the only one that thinks like this?  They are using state of the art servers and databases which allows one to retrieve a catalog. How many users will print this catalog?

The truth of the matter is that we do need an international repository for all VIN numbers and then a breakdown of part numbers affiliate to that VIN.  The online companies (and of course not so online) can feed off this to provide a service to the end user.

Mix and Match

Some parts for motorcycle, boat and car engines are interchangeable. High performance boat engines cost an arm and a leg. A well informed stockist can often assist a potential buyer to get the most bang for his buck. But why should they? Profit is a big motivator in all industries.  Be especially aware of the electronics. We do not know the part numbers and if they are the same most often they can be interchangeable and yes, often cheaper too if you know where to go to.

Pie in the Sky

Many readers may think this article is pie in the sky but the relevance of having a proper catalog for all part numbers is becoming more important. The Chinese are walking the talk with cheap replacement parts for most makes of vehicle but sometimes generic car parts are just not suitable and of course dealer prices in these times are totally exaggerated.

In Conclusion

When looking for suitable Engine Parts (in this article) does not mean it MUST come from the manufacturer of your car or bike – they may have been made by another manufacturer where pricing is going to be far cheaper than through the dealership. A 1000% markup is not that uncommon so know where to go and what to look for. Right now we are being shafted big time. Be informed!

Windows Firewall – error code 0x8007042c

Error Code 0x8007042c

What to do in the event of not being able to switch your Windows Firewall On or Off – error code 0x8007042c

Error Code 0x8007042c
Error Code 0x8007042c

I was not even aware that I had a problem until Windows told me that my system was not firewall protected. I have used the following spyware and anti-virus software with great results:

  • Avast – antivirus
  • Malwarebytes – malware
  • Spyhunter – malware

And then the dreaded error code 0x8007042c when trying to switch the firewall on. Looking through the pages and pages of Google search returns on this error I was absolutely delighted to find that I was not the only one. The returns revealed the following:

The Windows Firewall has been disabled and on enabling comes up with error code 0x8007042c
The dependency service or group failed to start
The dependency files associated with Windows Firewall are corrupt or missing

Not going into detail about how to restart the dependency service or group of which hundreds of tech-minded gurus kindly explain the process, it became apparent that this was not working and in all likelihood the firewall code had been compromised. I then proceeded to run the Microsoft safety scanner – the downloadable file is 100MB and at 20:00 on a Saturday night this was going to take a while so canned that idea quickly and then proceeded with Microsoft FixIt, hopefully to see the last of error code error code 0x8007042c.

Microsoft FixIt

Microsoft have written a host of FixIt applications which for the end user is a Godsend – go there. However in this case it still did not help. The FixIt processes are quick and I am sure, gauging by the responses on Bing or Google searches there are millions of happy customers out there. I tried this first because error code 0x8007042c is directly linked to a Windows application and if anyone should know something about Windows it would be Microsoft. Right? Well it did not work and I was still not prepared to dive into the registry only because at 20:00 in the evening one error would mean a restore – if I was lucky.

Tweaking with the Gurus

The problem here is not just that an application has failed but from what I gather a larger problem. From the technical gurus themselves, the Windows Firewall is not a freestanding software application but is embedded into the soul of the operating system. The only way one would therefore, clinically, do a repair is hoping that a reload would suffice. I was not prepared to do that either. I am human and therefore inherently lazy. I need a quick fix. And indeed there was a fix for error code 0x8007042c – found right under my very nose. This may sound like one of those pathetic advertisments written by the online marketing squad but we all know that Windows 7 is possibly the most robust of Microsoft operating systems so we do not need to tinker and tune and change and change again. Yet, here lay a gem of a website called – in this case a repair to your Windows Firewall.

In conclusion

The entire process of downloading and running the executable took less than two minutes (i7 processor). No bells and whistles. The Firewall was resurrected and I could load Kaspersky. (original problem was that Kaspersky could not communicate with it’s server to register the activation code.

I am not an advocate of diving into the deep end first – often software problems are user related. I work in the IT sector and see how end-users blame hardware for very apparent software related issues, using incorrect hardware drivers, flashing with incorrect firmware and the old “I didn’t load it, how did it get there” mystery. I don’t blame end users alone, manufacturers should take some responsibility – we are at a point in technology where it should be absolutely impossible to load the incorrect driver. Microsoft often take a lot of unnecessary abuse – yes it may be a money making machine but this machine is not run by idiots. In every case I have picked up problems it has been a virus or third party software.

Websites or companies dedicated to providing a free service to the millions of Windows (and Linux and Mac) users to tune and repair their PCs, like are really what the internet is about. Having a system open to hacker attacks is one thing, to have an entity providing free intellectual capital to assist in a repair is the ultimate in sacrificing your own potential earnings.

The Error Code 0x8007042c is not caused by Microsoft – it may have been a virus or third party software. In my case I am sure it was my own stupidity that got me into the mess in the first place.

Digital Signal Processing – an over exploitation?

Digital Signal Processing

Digital Signal Processing – is it necessary in audio amplifiers?

The long and the short of it is no. For most professional audio engineers they can get the same result from a free standing unit which can also be rack mountable. I don’t use one, possibly as a result of using one a few years back which I felt was seriously very cheesy. I also have ahome theater system which sounds best in ‘unmodified’ 5.1. I am also a firm believer in that in the real world I want to hear the original sound track only in a magnified manner and not with cheap tricks and computer control. Having said that, there is a place for them and that would be with the audio engineer or in live recording. These units can be expensive though – the DSP pre-amplifier to me is the way to go if you do need the luxury of computer control. Home theater systems are often the chief offender – even some of the more expensive units.

Digital Signal Processing
Creative Labs Sound Blaster Live – photo credit: Konstantin Lanze

What does DSP do?

Anyone knowing their way around a computer will have a general idea as to the merits of sampling, storing and changing the wave amplitude and frequency, with or without external modulation. Anything done in the digital realm can be classified as DSP and this can be audio or light. DSP can be used for reducing feedback howl on the stage as well by phase shifting the signal but this can be from the pre-amplification side and not the power amplifier. Again, a common misconception is that Class D power amplifiers are digital amplifiers. The reality is that as of now this applies to switching amplifiers only. In future this may change – in fact, it will change but the main advantage of Class D amplifiers are efficiency. There are many books written on the subject of class D amplifiers and digitising the partial or the entire audio spectrum which is most often used in the front-end and not the power stages. Gimmicky? In my view digital signal processing is just that when used for home use. I mentioned that for professional audio engineers DSP is a necessity – it is only because they know what the scope of the functions are and how to use them. I apply this equally to many non-professional audio people whom do not use the merits of DSP. However they don’t see this as a plaything but an advancement to their craft. DSP is an extremely useful tool in the hands of the right people. The Soundblaster Live card from Creative was a very popular card for the home user. For professional use you will need to go to Tom’s Hardware and read the reviews. Mac standards still seem to be the way to go. See ProAudioDSP.

The advantages (to name a few)

  • Controlling phase shift – feedback howl
  • Immunity to noise
  • Filters – Large scale production is cheaper
  • Accuracy
  • Feedback and remote control

Digital Signal Processing in general

DSP is here to stay, like it or abhor it. The simpler the better.  Amplifier effects can be generated by your home computer – in professional audio amplifiers many of the functions are beyond the users level of expertise. This is not to say the user is a dumb animal – far from it. There are certain ranges of frequencies which suite certain loudspeakers better than other and it’s simplest form this would be highs, mids and lows. Most home users would not have the time or the inclination to stack amplifiers, set up the audio filters or have the space for multiple loudspeaker systems. Audio compression is best understood by professional audio’ists and should not be necessary when playing back program material from a CD or DVD. Who cares if it is valve, opto, FET or VCA compression?  Some of the best sound systems I have heard had the least controls – straight from a moving coil pickup head.

Digital Signal Processing – the last word!

DSP is here to stay and the more gimmicks the manufacturers can throw into the mix the better it sells. Unfortunately for the home user most of this is totally unnecessary. According to a pro-audio expert friend whom does sound installations for the rich and famous, most systems sold are based on name brand and price – whether it is used properly or not is immaterial. Many times the speakers are fed anti-phase without the listener even detecting a problem in the image reproduction.

The only advice one can give to a person buying an entry level amplifier is to forgo the gadgetry and listen to it in it’s rawest form which is after all to amplify a signal to be driven through a loudspeaker. If it sounds like it’s playing in a coffee can, well all I can say is welcome to the modern home theater system.

Note: As an aside some of the best audio equipment is still manufactured by companies following old practices. With DSP one can disguise not so apparent problems with sound quality, dynamic range being one of them. If this weren’t true listen to your best audio material through a class-A amplifier and good headphones.

Further reading on Digital Signal Processing:  Pre-emphasis and De-emphasis, compression and limiters, Audio Signal Processing.