Something everyone (no one?) wants to read about: Microphonics in earbud cables…

People are always telling me that I should blog about things everyone wants to read about.

So, I thought about it and I came up with the subject of microphonics, so-called cable microphonics specifically. Those of you who read (over and over, I’m sure) Wires, Baby! know I’ve recently slipped the bounds of the 21st century and gone back to wired earbuds because for the most part they simply sound better.

Now, oddly, inexplicably I’ve found that a good number of wired earbuds suffer from what’s been called in many corners microphonics.

When people say this they referring to hearing extraneous bass coming through their earbuds, such as the sound of their own footsteps, as they walk.

It can be damned annoying and some decent buds are let down by this. The problem is that it’s not actually microphonics. As pretty much all of you know, microphonics are when a mechanical/acoustic object generates an unintended electrical signal that’s amplified and heard during playback.

The oldest example of this is in relatively high gain small signal phono tubes. The 12AU7/ECC82 was notorious for this, but any small-signal tube that is part of a circuit with enough gain could suffer from this effect. And, as an aside to you tube guys, the 12AU7 is really not appropriate for use in a phono circuit when there are so many dandy 12X7 and 6922s laying around.

Just saying.

A more recent example is the stylus/cartridge assembly of a turntable being excited by in-room low frequencies that looped those frequencies right back through the system with predictable non-musical results.

In contemporary parlance the word microphonics has been applied to the cables of IEMs and earbuds but that’s not truly what’s going on.

The thud effect is induced by at least these factors:

1 The profile of the cable, with so-called tangle-free cables (often those with a roughly rectangular cross sections) being especially likely to exacerbate the problem.

2) The durometer of the cable’s exterior jacket and to a lesser degree its dielectric (if it’s separate from the jacket, which it usually isn’t). Harder and stiffer make it worse where usually they make things better.

Go figure.

3) The degree of the acoustic seal that the earbud tips create within the ear and/or ear canal.

What this means is that what is heard is a simple drum effect, not actual microphonics. This can be proven quite easily. Simply tap on your earbud’s cables with your device on mute, or even turned off.

Yup, thud, thud, thud.

What’s interesting is that some brands (Apple) figured this out years ago. The cables on their modestly priced buds don’t suffer this kind of annoying drum effect at all. Other brands like Beats (one wonders why didn’t they just ring up their cousins over at Apple for help with this) and Skullcandy can’t be bothered to eliminate such a simple mechanical problem.

I also understand that Etymotic Research is plagued with this in their $300 ER4SR IEMs.

Come on, folks. You have the word research right in your name so go do some!

Look, personal audio has come very far very fast and we’re all loving it. But let’s not be so focused on making the world a better place that we miss fixing easy problems that ruin the music.

Something everyone (no one?) wants to read about: Microphonics in earbud cables…

I’m 168,000 words into my novel, Cottonwood

I really regret not keeping up with progress reports on Cottonwood over the time I’ve been working on it. The funny thing is that I until I checked I couldn’t even remember how long I’ve been working on the book. Now that I have checked I see it’s been a good long time since my first novel, John J. McDermott & the 1971 U.S. Open came out in April of 2019.

Cottonwood is a sequel of sorts. No, I guess it’s just a plain old sequel. It takes the lives of the two main characters from the early 1970s in Pennsylvania all the way to the desert of California and the late 1970s. I didn’t really have another book with the same characters, or at least some of them, in mind when I was putting the finishing touches on JJM. But suddenly, when I was totally done with it, I realized that I wasn’t totally done with it.

I imagined the book continuing into the future, the future being nearly a decade later. I saw the book continuing into my own time and closer to some of my own places. So much of the first book was an educated guess. Oh sure, I’d been to Pennsylvania when I was a kid but I didn’t have any real memories of it, other than staying with my mom’s cousin in an ancient row house in Reading, Pennsylvania one summer when I was about 12. Worse, I’d never been to Wales or anywhere in Europe for that matter (still haven’t, in fact). That was a huge problem. I spent hours looking at maps, imagining how the sun rose and set in various parts of the country. I read about how much it cost to take a ship from New York to Wales and how long the voyage took. I came to know some of that stuff, as we know facts that are printed on the page, but I couldn’t know them as experiences.

They say to write what you know. It makes a kind of intuitive sense but the need to know breaks down quickly when you start to write. The important thing for me has been to know and understand my characters. From there, my book is only a measure of how well I can bring my imagination and my relationship with my characters together. I think that Cottonwood will be a better book than JJM, or at least I hope it will be. It’s certainly a longer one and it’s not quite done yet. I wanted Cottonwood to have a more leisurely quality than JJM but life over the last two and a half years got in the way, both for me and the main characters. Life up and took away some of the meandering feel that I had hoped for the book and replaced it with something more intense, and I guess that’s Ok. We all write, partly, to make a character come to life. I hope that Cottonwood will do more than keep the characters from JJM alive. I hope it will show them as they change and meet challenges in the world they exist in much as I try to do in my own.

Anyway, it’s been a long effort and I happy to have made as much progress as I have. I can see the end of Cottonwood coming and also the beginning that will follow it close behind.

Looking down on the setting for Cottonwood

I’m 168,000 words into my novel, Cottonwood