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    A Relic of their Apogee: The Kenwood KA-8300


    2015 - 04.06

    The Kenwood KA-8300

    Probably the coolest piece of audio gear I have is this 1975 Kenwood integrated amplifer, the KA-8300. Kenwood’s not typically a brand associated with hi-fi now, but back in the day they built some real beasts. And beastly the ‘8300 is, weighing in at 35 pounds. It looks and feels like Kenwood had something to prove with this unit. Power is 80W RMS per channel into 8Ω with 0.1% THD rated from 20Hz to 40kHz. That power rating, being from ’75, is surely conservative. It can also handle 4Ω or 16Ω speakers too, which is somewhat unusual for this time period. The most obvious distinguishing features of the amp are those sweet-looking meters on the front. Watching these is a pleasurable novelty and has actually taught me a bit about the amount of wattage required for typical listening levels…not much! There is a toggle button which swaps the meter range between 3W and 100W. This switch is almost always left on 3W if you want to see the needles bump at all. That surprised me, just how little power is actually used for most listening.

    The KA-8300 has pre-amp outputs which can be used simultaneously with the speaker outputs if you want. When I bought a power amp off Craigslist those came in handy for testing it out. But maybe the most useful feature on this unit are the turnover controls, which are 3-position levers that affect the frequency of the “bass” and “treble” tone knobs. Having the option to move those frequencies around actually makes quite a difference in the usefulness of the bass/treble knobs since it allows the user to tailor the controls to match the speakers being driven. Similarly, the “Loudness” EQ adjustment (which boosts highs/lows for better listening at quiet volumes) has two settings. When listening on the Marantz HD-770s which have a 12″ woofer, setting #2 definitely sounds better whereas on their little brothers, the Marantz HD-440s, switching to setting #1 gave a better bass sound. Loudness is a nifty little circuit which I do prefer to use when the volume is at a low/normal level.

    Although this model was not Kenwood’s top-of-the-line unit, I believe it was only a rung or two below that. For the extreme collector, there is a rare copper-colored faceplace and a slightly higher wattage unit that was otherwise virtually identical in feature-set to this one. Those amps command a much higher asking price but I felt this one hit the sweet spot of equalization features and power for the dollar.

    The KA-8300 is totally built like a tank. The proof is in the pudding too, since when I bought this unit on eBay from a vintage-electronics restoration shop, the faceplate was in perfect condition. As you can imagine, I was quite disappointed to see that it arrived with a bend on the upper right corner despite the fact that the unit was very well pacakged by being wrapped up with bubble wrap and styrofoam around that. 1/4″ aluminum plate doesn’t bend easily and after attempting with a large pliers and channel locks, I gave up and decided to call it character. What I learned in the process is that it would take a lot of force to bend that faceplate, meaning the unit sustained a pretty good impact and has kept right on ticking, functionally. All the knobs and switches work good and I hope this one should be a centerpiece of my audio collection for the rest of my life. Here’s to many late nights of musical enjoyment…

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    Kuo Horng 12″ light painted with lasers


    2014 - 10.20

    Couple years back I caught myself on of those svelte Taiwanese plastic fans from Kuo Horng I thought looked cool.  This fan debuted in a post which I think has the title for longest post name on the whole blog.  I have a 16″ Galaxy on duty in the bedroom and I’ve found that 16 is really overkill for most situations so I opted for the 12″.  Here is it light painted, because lasers are cool.

    Kuo Horng 12" oscillating desk fan, light painted

     

    Although you can hardly tell it here, the blade is a medium grey, and the piano keys on the pedestal are darkening shades of gray to match.  Probably the coolest part of the design isn’t seen well in the light painted image, but the photo at the bottom shows the graphic around the piano keys:

     

    Kuo Horng 12" oscillating piano keys

    Tis the season


    2014 - 10.12

    … to drink like ze Germans

    Local Texas Octoberfests

    Primo Vino Art: Tic Tok


    2014 - 08.28

    IMG_5330 v2 BLOGSIZE tic toc

    Another cool but simple one.

    A King from Cleveland, ’67


    2014 - 08.26

    So maybe a year ago my mom bought an old King brand cornet at a farm auction.  I recently got it serviced at last and resolved some odd tuning issue it had.  And I gotta say, this thing is hot.  Maybe it’s just been a long time since I’ve played on any new instrument especially at length but man, this horn is really a breath of fresh air.  One with an awesome high range too.

    King Cornet.  Tasty.

     

    Hail to the King, Bb

    Primo Vino Art: V.No


    2014 - 08.25

    IMG_5324 BLOGSIZE V-NO

    This label’s pretty simple compared to a lot of the others in this series, but I figured I’d include it anyway because of the lighthouse and also it’s called V.No; a ready-made answer to that age old question, whatcha drinkin?

    Pacifc Coast Extension: Progress Pics Pt.3


    2014 - 08.23

    So onward and literally upward with the Pacific Coast Extension model railroad project.  I’ve begun work on the upper level which will have two very large steel viaducts, a model of Union Station in Seattle with long platforms, some kind of industry switching (although I have not decided exactly what yet), and oodles of cool mountain scenery.  That’s what I see when I look at it.  For now it’s all plywood sheet and pine boards.  My benchwork is improvised as I go along rather than pre-planned, which results in some interesting choices, as you can see below.  I don’t mind the added challenge though, since it helps me improve my woodworking skills.  I thought I ought to take some shots of the layout before the upper layer is mounted, because once that happens it’s probably never coming off again.  Here is a view which  is taken from the same perspective as the image in the previous post, which shows the upper layer benchwork that’s new.  Also visible is a wide variety of trains… notably the SD40-2 #156 with the red white n blue Bicentennial paint scheme right in the foreground.  Immediately behind him is a Broadway Limited SW2 which I’ve loaded up with an old Kato NW2 shell that’s actually superior to the brand new Broadway shell despite its age.  Behind that are two observation cars which both have lighted drumheads although–oops–the layout was off when I took this photo so they’re not lighted.  The Northern Pacific North Coast Limited is seen in green, alongside the Heavyweight Columbian observation car.

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    And here is a view from above:

    IMG_5256 v2

    Visible there is the ascending track which will slowly build in elevation until it unites with the upper level.  Lastly, the same view with the beginnings of the top layer added.  The piece that covers the access hatch from the lower level will be a hinged-section which will swing outward toward the camera, allowing top-level access to the track closest to the wall on top.  Since this photo was taken I have already changed the upper two tracks in the background which will be the station platform tracks, so what’s seen here is still subject to adjustment.  Although you can’t really tell it from these photos, the upper level is just below eye level for a six foot tall person, so the layout is actually quite tall.  These shots were actually taken holding the camera above my head to show everything.  The upper level is 20″ above the lower.

    IMG_5265 v2

     

    First Infrared Timelapse Video


    2014 - 03.30

    So I actually made this a long time ago but am just now getting around to posting it.  It’s a short video of 4 timelapses that I shot on my infrared-converted Canon XTi.  One really important trick which allowed me to do this easily was told to me by the guy who did the conversion for me: take a photo of green leaves or grass, preferrably blurred out.  Then use that image as the source for a custom white balance.  Now if you take a photo using that custom white balance, it looks exactly as you see in the video!  No processing required, no color shifting.  Now that is a convenient tip!

    First IR Timelapse from Microcosmologist on Vimeo.

    There’s also a color night sky timelapse from the T3i in there, shot on the night I proposed to my wife.  Obviously pretty special to me!  The sky looks really awesome in that IR landscape shot.  I want to do some more timelapses like this with moving clouds since the sky shows up so contrasty and dark in IR.

    Primo Vino Art: Fetzer Crimson


    2014 - 03.19

    IMG_2482 v2

    Pacifc Coast Extension: Progress Pics Pt.2


    2014 - 03.05

    So it’s been a while since I posted an update on my model railroading progress. I’ve been dabbling with a host of side projects but the two main accomplishments of the last few months have been 1. the organization of my workbench and 2. the completion of my staging area.

    RR workbenchIt can be hard to motivate yourself to put work into the space where you do your work, rather than devoting that time into actual projects themselves. But my overly-cluttered railroad workbench had reached an overpopulation of ridiculous proportions. I don’t have any “before” images to provide for contrast because taking a photo of how it used to be would be an embarassment. At Home Depot I found one of these 30-drawer organizers meant for screws and washers and that has worked out positively brilliant for the bulk of my small objects which need to be kept in sensible order. It’s been one of those upgrades to your work situation that makes you say to yourself “geez, why on earth didn’t I do this sooner?! I’ve been languishing in the dark ages and this thing only cost me $20!”

    The desk itself is fairly primitive; constructed of spare 2×4 segments left over from benchwork construction and half of a cheap ikea desk surface I sawed in half. There’s a power strip screwed into the base which provides juice to lamps and the soldering iron. Sitting on the tabletop is a stack of white paper which I use to keep greases/glues off the actual green desk surface and a spare piece of foam for setting down delicate engines while I work on them. It’s nothing impressive but it’s been functional. I guess the main takeaway here is that maaan, a little organization sure goes a long way to making life easier.

    The second, more exciting bit of progress I’ve made is to complete the staging yard–which is a short sentence to say but a lot of work to accomplish. Laying track is time consuming work when you want it to operate well. I added more work by deciding to have the whole yard hooked up to an autoreverser. It’s an “AR1” from Tony’s Train Exchange which monitors its (electrically isolated) track section thousands of times per second to see if there’s a short circuit compared to the main. If it detects one, it flips the polarity on its track to match, and does it so fast that the DCC system can’t detect that a short ever happened. It’s actually a pretty impressive little piece of technology if you stop and think about what it’s doing. The practical function here is to allow trains to enter the yard from either direction and never short anything, which allows me to turn long trains around. Very handy indeed! I chose the AR1 model specifically because it draws power from the track and therefore doesn’t need an independent power supply. It also has the capability to use the polarity flip to trigger a switch machine. So far I have zero switch machines on my layout but if I decide to add some in the future I could use that functionality.

    Staging Yard West End

    Speaking of switch machines, I installed a whole bunch of Caboose Industries ground throws and I learned something I wasn’t expecting; when using curved turnouts, you need to make sure that your passenger cars or autoracks don’t smash into the throw! If you position it even somewhat close to the track, it’s almost surely going to cause a problem. I ended up having my throws mounted all the way at the end of each switch throwbar. And it turned out that there was one curved turnout with a parallel curved track next to it which had zero possible placements where a throw wouldn’t cause crashes. I didn’t even think of this when I was coming up with the track plans! Fortunately my local hobby shop had a cheap mechanical solution which I could mount underneath the layout. It’s a Rix hand operated throw which doesn’t have any spring or tensioner in it so I’ll need to keep an eye on it if I use it repeatedly, but I think it ought to work well enough for that particular track.

    And speaking of underneath the layout, I was also surprised at the amount of work it took to add wire drops from each section of track and make sure everything was getting powered. Long stretches of flex track are pretty forgiving when it comes to conducting the signal but add in a bunch of switches and wow, all sorts of connection issues start appearing, even though I was using brand new, snug rail joiners. I had to go back an add more connections once I thought I was done. Now that it’s all complete though, it sure is nice!! I can have several long trains all on the tracks at the same time and choose which ones I want to take out and run, which is the whole strength of DCC afterall. It’s a milestone to now have a yard that allows me to take greater advantage of this.

    Staging Yard East end