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NwAvGuy: The Audio Genius Who Vanished (2014) (ieee.org)
33 points by monort on Jan 24, 2016 | hide | past | web | favorite | 20 comments

I used to be fairly active on a popular Headphone Forum, both before and after NwAvGuy appeared and disappeared on that forum.

Nobody with a real engineering background and strong belief in the scientific process could actively participate in that community and maintain a healthy state of mind. Lots of people simply cannot let go of the possibility that maybe they cannot actually hear they things they claim they can, and there is a severe psychological bias to supporting people's fancies, spending, and quests for "perfection."

NwAvGuy is unique in that he tried to educate (and was very adamant about this) the community and designed a superior and relatively inexpensive DAC/Amp to show people that many other people building eqiupment were full of crap. And because of this I think somebody would have tried to harm him if he ever revealed his identity - I'm not exaggerating.

There were/are a lot of people who tried to help on that forum by presenting general engineering principles and sensible methodologies (e.g. volume matching) for testing. And eventually they all stopped participating because any push towards a scientific methodology was responded to with vitriol and hate.

So I'm not surprised he just vanished. I used to get attacked for asking the most basic questions (e.g. did you try to volume match when comparing two amps). I can't imagine the hell he went through. Why would you tolerate that hostility for a hobby?

Is it really a violation of the ND clause to PRODUCE something from a changed version of the "SOURCE CODE" (so to speak)? As long as the changed version is not being distributed...?

Quote from the 'details' page [1]

"Perfboard DIY – Don’t try this! While a basic Cmoy might work cobbled together on perfboard or protoboard the O2 is different. The higher performance and greater complexity mean you’ll almost certainly have problems without using a proper PC board."

Does anyone have any insight into the nature of the problems that might result from a quick lash up on Veroboard?

PS: the comment made in the OA about the verbosity of NwAvGuy certainly struck a chord!

Section 2-29 of:


And the entire article at:


Its easy to make something that amplifies, but he's trying to make something that provides specs maybe 10x to 10000x better than human hearing can detect, which is much harder. You can build something that outputs 0.1% THD and you won't be able to hear it, but he wants (wanted?) to build to 0.001% THD and he's got the rather expensive test equipment required to prove it.

JDS labs sells a PCB for less than the cost of shipping (you'll spend more on UPS than on the board) or a full parts kit for $60. This has been around for years and I've been tempted but haven't built one. I just checked JDS and its still in production and in stock. Being CC- licensed there are probably other places to get PCBs and kits.

"Let’s take a quick detour and look at vibration damping. Vacuum tubes, and certain components in very high gain circuits like phono preamps, can be “microphonic”—vibrations can affect them in audible and measurable ways"

OK, I'll do the reading (verbose-ness!).

The quote above makes a degree of sense - I can remember valve based consumer electronics and having fun with the microphonics. Dad used a piece of dowling with a grommet on the end to check for valves that 'rang' so he could replace them.

According to whois he's still around as of 2015:

   Domain Name: NWAVGUY.COM
   Registrar: 1 & 1 INTERNET AG
   Sponsoring Registrar IANA ID: 83
   Whois Server: whois.1and1.com
   Referral URL: http://1and1.com
   Name Server: NS57.1AND1.COM
   Name Server: NS58.1AND1.COM
   Status: ok https://www.icann.org/epp#OK
   Updated Date: 10-mar-2015
   Creation Date: 09-mar-2007
   Expiration Date: 09-mar-2016

So come March 9th and if it doesn't expire, we'll know somebody is taking care of things.

I was very pleased yesterday to see someone posted one of his articles. When I first discovered him a few years ago I read them with great enthusiasm; all the electrical theory I learned came together and clicked (for audio anyways)

I was recently in the home of an old friend who reps for a few ultra high end audio companies. The entry level speakers were $30k. The mids, $90k. The 700lb top shelf models? $220k.

Some things exist purely so they can have their purchase price shared and in the instance of high end audio, I can only imagine the margins involved.

If this guy made the waves the article implies then someone in the industry tracked him down and incentivized him to go away.

I doubt anybody from the industry tracked him down and made him go away. Headphone AMPs/DACs are typically made by smaller vendors or are low volume for big vendors. The major vendors are selling the "Beats by Dre" brand to people at Best Buy, and that isn't the same crowd NvAvGuy interacted with.

The audiophile community is full of fanatics as extreme as religious fanatics, and probably he valued his sanity and mental health over dealing with those types of people.

"The audiophile community is full of fanatics as extreme as religious fanatics.."

No it's not.

Yes it is. Maybe I should have said "has many fanatics" instead of "full of" but they are absolutely as adamant and caustic as some religious fanatics. And on forums these people create the same kind of environment as the worst internet trolls. I'm not going to claim they are the type religious fanatics who would cause physical harm to a group of people, but they are as adamant in their beliefs as some extremely religious people and they preach their beliefs with similar aggressiveness.

10 years ago I would have never believed I would write the statement above. But after being on that forum and interacting with people in that community (e.g. at meets) for years there are most definitely people like that.

While I'll agree that just about any decently made amplifier of the same power level, is just the same as the next. Speakers certainly do sound different. $220,000 different? Probably not, but out of every piece of audiophile stuff that is mostly hocus pocus, a set of speakers make the biggest difference. When it comes to solid state components, it's just all parts everyone else is using. The processing features are just about the only thing that separate them.

One guy who I would describe as a genuine 'Audiophile Genius' is Nelson Pass. See: https://passlabs.com/

Nelson Pass has designed a series of innovative amplifiers that he sells as commercial products. He also releases circuit diagrams and build instructions his amplifiers, and helps out DIYers on public forums.

In contrast, it is great that NwAvGuy has designed a budget headphone amplifier, and released the design with a no derivative works allowed Creative Commons license. But that falls a long way short of what Nelson Pass has produced over the years in my opinion.

I think if you asked Nelson Pass whether or not all 'decently made' amplifiers sound the same, he would suggest you need do a bit of listening to different high quality designs.

Probably not? Definitely not. At damn near a quarter mil for speakers you're way beyond the what the human ear can detect on the curve of diminishing returns.

We agree though about speakers and the quick win they represent. They're like your car's tires, the primary interface between you and the medium, and an upgrade is the lowest hanging fruit.

Cost is irrelevant honestly, it's just an entirely different market. Just like hyper cars. Are the Zondas, Ageras, and Venenos worth $2+ million. Of course they aren't. You're paying for the prestige and image. Price is just what someone is willing to pay for.

Once the conversation shifts from performance to prestige and image, you're back to my original statement, which is about something existing primarily to have its purchase price shared.

Your car example is perfect. If performance was the only metric the buyer of a Pagani cared about, he'd have bought a ZR-1 Corvette. But because anyone with a six figure income and a 730+ FICO can buy a Vette, the gazillionaire buys the Pagani, something that exists (in part) because it projects the buying capability of it's owner.

The solution is simple: 1) make your design changes 2) email the NwAvGuy with your plans and a requested deadline of 30 days for a response 3) if he does not respond negatively by the deadline, feel free to proceed with your plans 4) NwAvGuy may then choose to pursue legal means of enforcing his strange license choice, or not

I'm betting not.

This is an advertisement - Any time there is a model number or a price in an article it has been placed by someone who paid to have the article written.

EDIT - I guess people don't understand why they see articles like this when they do.

I just read a bunch (more) about audio design, which I find very interesting. As a software engineer who is getting an electronics lab together, after a 40 year hiatus, things like this are worthwhile.

Definitely beats another hiring thread on HN :-)

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