Consumer Goods – the cost of buying cheap

Consumer Goods - counterfeit, knockoffs and grey imports

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Consumer Goods – there is no free lunch

Whilst a great many consumers are very price conscientious, many fall foul of the two most common traps – unknown grey imports and street peddling. Have you ever heard of anyone buying a bargain on the street corner? I doubt it. One of the more recent scams was the street peddling of flash drives – usually faulty units. Another, known brands of car audio amplifiers, weighted to feel the same as the original. Until you open the unit. Oh yes, they work – just not the way the manufacturer intended. So what’s the beef with grey or parallel imports. Same product, different price and warranty. Most consumers do not check the warranty of a product, let alone have the serial number registered or printed on the invoice or receipt.

Consumer Goods - counterfeit, knockoffs and grey imports
Shupu – Knockoff Shure
Courtesy:  Victorgrigas – Wikimedia Foundation

Many, if not most parallel importers sell their products slightly less than the RRP. If it sounds too cheap, then it is. Distributors pay premium for 3 year warranties, parallel importers not. In fact many of them offer their own servicing, mostly by unskilled repair personnel, cannibilisation being the norm. This of course means the original bill of material is affected. It also may mean an unsafe appliance, especially where certain components must be replaced by that for it’s intended use, be it mechanical or electrical. The general rule of thumb – buy known brands and scrutinise the warranty and find out whom the repair agents are. Do a web search, do your homework.

Consumer Protection Laws

The consumer protection act in many countries forces store owners to disclose grey imported products. The products may be required to indicate address of manufacture, possibly the distributor and hopefully list the service agent. Not all products get serviced of course. This applies to foodstuffs and cosmetics as well. Motor vehicles get imported, often through an unofficial distribution network. Read up before paying out any money – often the company doing the import is fully aware of the risks but don’t tell the potential buyer. This includes safety issues, recalls and whether RH or LH drive vehicles are even permitted on the roads.

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Once an item is out of warranty many companies sell generic parts to assist in repair. Authorised service agents are not unknown to mark their products up by sometimes as much as 1000% or more. The motor industry is full of horror stories. The internet has made available lists of companies selling top quality spares, accessories and even dedicated parts for all makes of vehicle. Be cautious as to whether the motor industry approves such parts and be especially cautious of counterfeit semiconductors. An expensive, high end component will not be sold cheaply – it will be counterfeit. Unfortunately, those that purchase through eBay will often bump their heads unless they can get a guarantee of some sort. Returns are always available of course, at your cost. Ensure that there is a minimum of a 30 day cash bounce back – one where you can get your money back. Do not purchase lubricants, especially those for hard working industrial, marine, aviation or vehicle purposes from a dubious source. It’s not worth the $10 000 repair.

It has been disclosed that unsavory manufacturers are now producing counterfeit aviation spares. This now no longer is just a case of blatant fraud but opens up a whole new can of worms. It has lead to lengthy jail sentences as well as capital punishment (in China). Rightly so. This now no longer is a parallel import in the true sense of the word but blatant disregard for human life. Aviation and marine critical parts are very expensive. Ditto for motor vehicles. This would include air bags, brakes, linkages, suspension parts etc. How many of these parts can be purchased around the corner from you? This obviously applies to motorcycles as well, possibly more so.  In this increasingly technologically advanced world we live in, electronic, electrical and mechanical components are subject to extreme working stresses and this calls for proper parts to be used, by original manufacturer, type and for sustained use in extreme working conditions. Would one purchase a no-name brand parachute? I doubt it. Likewise for these parts. Even lenses used in motor vehicle lighting needs to be bureau of standards or D.O.T. approved. In many cases we do replacements with a cheaper part not realising the safety significance. Or the legality of it.

Consumer Goods – critical parts

Microwave ovens use parts which are easily sourced and replaced yet in many instances there is huge risk associated with using incorrect parts. This applies to all high energy circuits. A grey import of a microwave oven from a known manufacturer does not carry the same risk as that where a component has been blatantly copied or counterfeited. Whereas a well known trick years back was for auto tape decks and CD players to be counterfeited, with a near exact match of for example the Yamaha badge been fitted, this has not nearly anywhere the risk associated with counterfeit safety components such as brake shoes or pads.

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As mentioned previously, grey imported parts nearly always lack the safety standards required. Purchasing overseas may save you a couple of dollars in the short run but you will nearly always lose in the long. Although it may have an international warranty, many dealer/distributors will not honour the warranty unless under instruction from the manufacturer. Grey imports in some instances are welcomed because it keeps the service industry alive and flourishing – but without the manufacturers blessing you will be subject to heavy overcharging by service agents.

Consumer Goods – Printers and Consumables

Although the CPA warns manufacturers to tread warily when it comes to generic imports of printer consumables it is a known fact that consumables in many cases are vastly inferior to the original product. Especially those sound sold as loose ink or toner for the user to refill. Are these inks actually UV tested? Manufacturers can no longer make a product warranty void if the end user uses generics. As most manufacturers rely on consumables to keep their industry afloat, measures are put into place which prevents the use of generics. It does not take long to circumnavigate these constraints however. In many cases where there is print head damage through contamination it is because of the usage of cheap generics or user tweaking.

Price Protection

In some instances a parallel import makes no difference. A typical example would be where an authorised reseller gets a rebate allowance or price protection to sell to one specific buyer. If this falls flat the reseller then opens the sale to other buyers. The supplier may see this as a grey import. A typical example of this is a mass resale of hard drives, purchased in at a great price point for resale to a local collage or university. The reseller then changes his buyer to that of mass retail to get his product in through the door over that of a rival which did not get that price protection.

Software Licensing

Another area of concern is software licensing. This usually applies to specific regions and is prohibited from sale outside those regions. Check the pack terms and conditions and licensing restrictions. Besides being unlawful the user will end up without any software for his product.

Consumer law does not always protect the user against defects in the event it is used outside the country of purchase. The law may state that the user needs to take the matter up in the country of purchase.

Safety Standards, FCC and Radio Frequency Emissions

This is a very tricky subject and one in which many importers fall foul of chiefly due to ignorance or have their heads very deep in the sand. Every country has a standards commission or bureau. Using the wrong plug and someone is electrocuted is serious business. If your house burns down by the poor wiring of an appliance may be a deciding factor as to whether the insurance company pays out or not. Many third world countries are shipped appliances with the incorrect plug top. If it does not coincide with local regulations you may not resell this product. By importing directly the supplier often disregards the plug type – this needs to be replaced by yourself or your contractor. What about radio interference? It’s not (always) illegal to sell a device which emits radio interference, it’s illegal to use it. Any device which can interfere within the radio spectrum, even the audio spectrum needs to be tested by the relevant authorities and certified. This includes stomp boxes using digital circuitry. Fines are hefty. If the equipment falls foul of safety regulations and/or radio emissions you may face a jail sentence. If it’s safe to use in the USA does not mean it is safe to use in England or Australia. You must follow local regulations – if in doubt don’t use it. Definitely don’t resell it.

Summing Up

So to sum up, not following the authorised channel may deem your product to have no warranty and support whatsoever. It may be an illegal purchase. It may be a dangerous purchase. It may even be your last purchase. If the product causes an accident or God forbid, a fatality, the buyer has no recourse other than taking it up with the authorities in the land of purchase. This is an extremely expensive process. Hell, you can even be sued. Be aware that some countries do not have a consumer law for you to fall back on. Importers and distributors ensure that all products are backed up by a warranty and that the manufacturer will follow consumer protection laws outside the country of manufacture. The user has a choice, to sue the reseller, distributor or manufacturer or all three. If you have imported the product yourself for resale you may find yourself in very muddy waters.

So besides the fact that you end up with grey consumer goods, you may end up in a very grey area of the law – usually the wrong side.


 

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The Global Top Semiconductor Companies

World's Top Companies - Samsung

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Top Semiconductor Companies – 1) Intel 2) Samsung 3) TSMC  (May 2014)

Now that we have just added Texas Instruments to our business listing ( about time) it also made us think about the top semiconductor companies in the world. What direction are they taking and how does it all affect us?

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World's Top Semiconductor Companies - Samsung
World’s Top Companies: Samsung

The first three that springs to mind are obviously TI, then Samsung and Intel in no specific order. Those of us fortunate enough to have been around for the last fifty years will always remember Texas Instruments and the first silicon transistor and co-inventor Jack Kilby’s Germanium IC. From the East we have Samsung, a juggernaut with 100s of subsiduaries, which has made mind boggling headway in the last ten years to become the second largest semiconductor manufacturer world-wide. Samsung also manufacture the chipsets used in Apple iPhones and Tablets. However, Intel still lead the way. From an innovation point of view my personal favourites are Texas Instruments and Micron.

In order, the top ten for 2014, we have Intel, Samsung, TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company), Qualcomm (Snapdragon used in S5), Micron, Hynix, Toshiba, TI, Broadcom and Renasus. Surprises are Hynix moving up two positions and TI moving down one. And of course only one Japanese entrant, Toshiba in the top twenty. Qualcomm which is Fabless (manufacture) is boasting large revenue growths like Micron/Elpida (the largest). Although Intel remains still the global number one PC chip manufacturer, ARM (Foundry) grows steadily thanks to the tablet and cell phone sector.  (For those confused about Foundry and Fabless, thanks to Wiki, as always: “Fabless manufacturing is the design and sale of hardware devices and semiconductor chips while outsourcing the fabrication or “fab” of the devices to a specialized manufacturer called a semiconductor foundry“).

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For those thinking that Intel is going to be floored by Samsung, remember that Intel not only sits in first position as chip manufacturer but also generates nearly 50% more revenue than Samsung’s semiconductor division. We are talking big league here. If one talks performance we think in terms of the Intel i7 and not any ARM processor which is ‘roughly’ on par with the Intel Atom processor. One thing is clear though, Intel are not taking a back seat in the Atom versus ARM war which reflects in jittery ARM investment. Read Adrian Kingsley-Hughes’s article on ZDNet. In terms of horsepower Intel still comes out as favourite. In case you are wondering, AMD has shown positive growth in revenue from 2013 to 2014 but still remains at #14. X86 architecture still remains supreme. Much thanks goes to Dell’s PowerEdge platform as well.

For those looking into the analogue to digital conversion world we have Cirrus Logic (acquired Wolfson Microelectronics) which is rated at #24 in America’s best small business according to Forbes. A good thousand yards behind Intel in revenue but yet boasts some of the best ADC chips in the world. Burr-Brown, which was acquired by TI in 2000 is rated amongst the finest high performance audio manufacturers. Legend!  At number 296 on Forbes 2000 we have Philips, another team favourite. My team at least.

We all recognise the semiconductor manufacturers listed above which includes some of the very best ADAC chip manufacturers, past and present. Processors and chipsets, Intel rules. Consumer products, tablets and smart phones, go to ARM. As China takes the top three slots under Forbes 2000, it’s going to be an interesting ride over the next ten years to see where semiconductor manufacture takes us.  Look no futher than Hon Hai Precision Industry or Foxconn showing dwindling returns over the last five years. Company culture is wreaking havoc and so it seems, Apple, possibly their largest client, must be growing increasingly nervous. TSMC is hoping for Apple business so watch this space.

In the words of Albert Einstein: “You have to learn the rules of the game. And then you have to play better than anyone else”.  In modern times it’s also about playing ‘faster’ than anyone else. Top performing semiconductor companies are exactly that. If you snooze, you lose.

 

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Texas Instruments

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admin 2014-11-02 04:52:18
admin

Company/Business Texas Instruments
Website http://www.ti.com/
Business Type Manufacturer
Category/Genre Electronics – Semiconductor Design and Manufacture
Posted By
admin

Core Business Semiconductor design and manufacturing company
Address 1 12500 TI Boulevard
Address 2
Suburb Dallas
Town/City Dallas
Region Texas
Country United States of America
Zip/Postal Code 75243
Telephone 972-995-2011
Details/Additional

Texas Instruments is known to be one of the most ethical companies globally. TI = Think.Innovate

About TI:
TI is a global semiconductor design and manufacturing company.
Operating in 35 countries
Serving more than 100,000 customers worldwide
Innovating for nearly 85 years
More than 100,000 analog ICs and embedded processors, along with software and tools
Industry’s largest sales and support staff

Who we are
For more than 80 years, Texas Instruments has used increasingly complex signal-processing technology – with advances ranging from the incremental to the revolutionary – to literally and repeatedly change the world.

Every day, our semiconductor innovations help 90,000 customers unlock possibilities for a smarter, safer, greener, healthier and more enjoyable world. Our focus on building a better future is ingrained in everything we do, from responsible semiconductor manufacturing, to employee care and active involvement with the communities we live in.

TIers are a tremendously diverse group, coming from every continent, embracing scores of different cultures and viewpoints, and speaking dozens of languages; yet we all share a passion for discovery. After all, innovation is what we do.

TI’s amazing past is a prologue to an even more incredible future. And in many ways, our story is just beginning.

What we stand for
We dream big, just like you. But we don’t take shortcuts. Our core beliefs – high ethical standards, respect for individuals, an appreciation for long-term relationships, a concern for the environment and a commitment to the communities we live in – are the same now as they were when TI was founded more than 80 years ago.

But innovation isn’t enough to succeed in the long run. Trust matters. We treat our customers with respect and deliver on our commitments, always with a keen eye on tomorrow’s possibilities.

We’re moving with you into a new century, one good decision at a time. TIers embrace professionalism and honesty and see mistakes and setbacks as stepping stones to success. Without first making some mistakes, Jack Kilby wouldn’t have given us the integrated circuit, and Larry Hornbeck wouldn’t have invented DLP technology.

Knowing what’s right, doing what’s right and valuing what’s right are integral components of TI’s culture. This passion has always been a large part of our identity; and it will continue to be reflected in the way we treat our customers, each other, our shareholders and our communities.


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Quality Audio Preamplifiers – the INA217 and NE5534

INA217 - Texas Instruments

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Imagine paying U$5 000.00 for a stereo pre-amplifier? Ever notice how the more exotic brand names carry a hefty price tag?

INA217 - Texas Instruments
INA217 – Texas Instruments

The INA217 is sterile – rightly so!

The one thing that amazes me in the audio wars and also based on forum topics is why we have a jaundiced eye on sterile sounding pre-amplifiers. If I were to purchase a power amplifier I would ensure that there are no changes made to the input signal except amplitude. The pre-amplifier which is essentially a voltage amplifying device needs to be able to boost and cut frequencies as well as replicate the input signal at a higher amplitude with minimal noise introduction. The perfect preamplifier would therefore be a typical microphone preamplifier with inserts to add FX and frequency equalisation. Adding RIAA equalisation to the front end for vinyl reproduction would be a must have as well. Would Texas Instruments have brought out the INA217 for any other purpose? Exactly, yet I believe through the numerous articles on the web that certain of the audiophile community find the sterility of this instrumentation op-amp just plain ‘boring’.  Personal opinion is also divided when it comes to great audio equipment such as the likes of the NAD 3020. Many believe it to sound like a tube amplifier. The 3020 series had 2N3055/2N2955 bipolars in the final stage. These, compared to modern audio output devices just lack a piece of everything but yet the 3020 is known to be one of vintage audio’s greats, putting good sounding equipment at the reach of the budget audio spectrum. I had the 3020 preamplifier which was sold as the 1020 – it even had the open space ‘through holes’ for power amplification on the board. The downside, (excuse the pun, intended) was that the RCA sockets used to work loose – poor design but it wasn’t designed for ‘disco’ work. Read as in “mobile”.  The point I am making here is that the NAD 3020 was all about the pre-amplifier, methinks, and compared to modern equipment I doubt this pre-amplifier would really stand out yet, indeed, the quality was superb for it’s price tag. I also believe this pre-amplifier came into existence because the ‘audio-phile’ community in those days were using the 3020 to jump start bigger output stages than the 3055/2955 combination. Yes, there are better preamplifiers out there but they cost a darned sight more than this unit. (this pre-amplifier cost about $175 in 1984). Pre-amplifiers have come a long way since then in terms of SNR and dare I say it, bandwidth.

Minimalistic Audio at premium prices

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Essentially the biggest jump we have had in terms of performance of consumer and pro-audio goods has been the handling of digital data. This comes with a hefty price tag as well of course, good DACs cost an arm and a leg. Do we really need to handle digital data – yes, if we want surround sound. Many audio buffs only use stereoscopic imaging which then does not rely on a DAC for the reproduction of audio from a turntable. Some of the best systems I have heard is vinyl, to pre-amp, to power amp to loudspeakers. For this minimalistic setup users pay premium prices – frankly I am in awe of anyone shelling out 10 000 dollars for such a system but if this is your hobby and passion then so be it.

Why the INA217

Whilst we have avid collectors of audio equipment clambering over themselves to get the ultimate system, emphasis always remains in the small signal amplifiers, power amplifier power supply and loudspeakers used. Good quality, nay, exceptional quality power amplifiers can be built at very cheap cost except for the power supply and cooling. Audio monitors and pre-amplifiers not. The ISA110 from Focusrite is an incredible piece of equipment yet it uses the humble NE5534. I have an entry level powered mixer which uses the NE5534 as the staple diet chip. Everywhere. For it’s price point many musos and engineers believe it to be one of the best. Audio-philes swap them out for lower noise chips when and where possible. The INA217 is a better performer, yet pundits believe the 5534 sounds better.  For the price point yes but the specification tell us another story. (they are not interchangeable by the way).  Go to the AudioMasterClass website to read the story about the 5 dollar preamplifier which outperforms a 1500 dollar boutique pre-amplifier. There is a lot that goes unsaid but the truth is, embarrassingly enough, blind listening tests proved that the basic, raw bones INA217 was the better performer. Pundits are unhappy about this however as their argument is that the listener hears what they want to hear. Right, of course yes – that is why it was a blind test. You heard what you wanted to hear and the cheapest pre-amplifier came out best. Such is the way of modern audio equipment – price is not always the deciding factor. What is important here is that the INA217 is a fantastic IC, designed as an instrumentation amplifier it lends itself perfectly for accurate audio reproduction. Of course the $5 test also was a huge promotion for this chip.

The 5534 and Why do we add noise to the signal path?

The NE5534, likewise is a great chip but yet is not recognised as top class. Strange, because the ISA110 proves it is. To move on to another strange phenomena, the tube/IC hybrid. The low noise chip pre-amplifier is proven to be a winner in many aspects on the audio front but manufacturers design equipment with a tube pre-amp, usually the 12AU7 or 12AX7 (ECC82/83) in the voltage amplification stages as well, often used to over-drive the signal to get classical tube sound. What’s more, the tubes run at very low voltages, often only at the phantom supply rail of +48V (used for powering the condenser mic pre-amp). You may think this defeats the object but this pre-amplification technique is very popular amongst musicians which can and does sound very good depending on where it is used, usually for instruments. Moving on to FX inserts on a microphone/line pre-amplifier, this is also used quite often to reproduce classical tube sounds, varying through all the well known tube amplifier brands. BOSS is one famous manufacturer producing stomp boxes, usually in line with the instrument. Now here is a thought, producing effect units for home use or consumer products. The biggest problem one faces when purchasing an integrated amplifier for surround or even stereo use is the lack of quality effects. Even amongst the best of them when selecting Hall 1, Hall 2, Music, Movie etc sounds very cheesy. In fact I wish they would rather just add in a decent tone control for each channel. More so, buy a separate effects block for between pre- and output stages. The reason why I harp on about this is because if you want to listen to music then why change what the sound engineer spent months trying to get right. Over compression is a typical example of a poor recording etiquette but there is enough on that subject from way better qualified persons than myself on the internet. Why buy an amplifier which needs to have ‘music’ effects added. Bizarre, to say the least!

So the problem here is that you have a great pre-amplifier, a great power amplifier and we go and mess up all the hard work by adding more noise to the circuit. In many cases this is done deliberately, if one knows the whys and hows but in the hands of a consumer wanting the best out of his system it makes no sense whatsoever. Just as we do not put cheap speakers on to a high end amplification system or vice versa we should not interfere with the signal path. That’s my honest opinion.

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The INA217 makes things happen

To sum up, paying $5 000.00 for a stereo pre-amplifier in my mind is ludicrous. A quality rack mountable chassis will set you back 100 dollars at most. It’s not the box that counts but what happens inside. Sometimes fewer components is just that much better. The INA217 makes this happen. Being a bad boy I prefer to put all the electronics inside the box which includes the power supply. If the scope don’t see it, I don’t hear it.

Stockists:

There are obviously other companies out there selling this product. Be cautious of where you buy from. The companies listed are well-reputed. Who knows, maybe TI will give you a free sample. They are just that kind of company.

[Ed: This TI chip is a direct replacement for the SSM2017. It is RoHS compliant. Costs vary globally. THAT produces the 1510, a drop in equivalent. I am in the process of prototyping an INA217 MC preamp but time is a problem otherwise I would have published photos of the finished product. It will be used to feed a mixer. Results so far are very encouraging. Input from VinylEngine. Note the bias current problem).

 
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