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Open Systems

Reflections on the Heathkit and other open systems of days gone by

3 min read

Occasionally, I indulge in a bit of nostalgia over those long-ago days of Heathkit. Of course, building a Heathkit was the electronics equivalent of painting a Rembrandt by the numbers, but I remember how proud I was when a project was done. It was a great starting point for growing up to be an engineer. There's something else to cherish about those Heathkits, though: their openness. Whatever might go wrong with the Heathkit, I could fix it. I had access to all the parts and complete schematics and circuit descriptions. It was truly mine.

The electronics world of today is profoundly different. None of the many gadgets that litter my house could be considered open. "No user-serviceable parts inside" is the ubiquitous phrase of warning—you're apparently going to be electrocuted if you open the back of the gadget, and worse yet, you'll void the warranty. Many won't let you add memory or even change the battery!

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Deep Learning Could Bring the Concert Experience Home

The century-old quest for truly realistic sound production is finally paying off

12 min read
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Image containing multiple aspects such as instruments and left and right open hands.
Stuart Bradford
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Now that recorded sound has become ubiquitous, we hardly think about it. From our smartphones, smart speakers, TVs, radios, disc players, and car sound systems, it’s an enduring and enjoyable presence in our lives. In 2017, a survey by the polling firm Nielsen suggested that some 90 percent of the U.S. population listens to music regularly and that, on average, they do so 32 hours per week.

Behind this free-flowing pleasure are enormous industries applying technology to the long-standing goal of reproducing sound with the greatest possible realism. From Edison’s phonograph and the horn speakers of the 1880s, successive generations of engineers in pursuit of this ideal invented and exploited countless technologies: triode vacuum tubes, dynamic loudspeakers, magnetic phonograph cartridges, solid-state amplifier circuits in scores of different topologies, electrostatic speakers, optical discs, stereo, and surround sound. And over the past five decades, digital technologies, like audio compression and streaming, have transformed the music industry.

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