Unified Blog Started

A blog per product is a great exercise in focus, but curiously, it’s also a distraction. There are too many of them now!

In 2009 we started the DACport blog that showcased the development of the DACport. Stereophile Magazine just named DACport runner up for Product of the Year in total of three categories!

In 2010 we started this here DACmini blog. DACmini was an instant hit and the biggest issue is that we can’t make them fast enough. The product was well received at CES, we signed up new dealers and ran out of stock again. Right now we are building our largest batch yet and projecting availability in late February / early March. Please place your order now to get a spot in line. I’m focused on delivering inventory right now. Nothing else until that’s handled.

In 2011 we have started a unified corporate blog called Loudline.  It will chronicle the corporate life with (almost) daily persistence. It may hint at new products in development and offer specials, news and entertainment. At some point we may start another blog focused on a particular product, but for now we will “spill the beans” in the unified corporate blog.  If you want to read more about our products, please point your browsers to Loudline. It is receiving most attention at the moment. It’s also livelier, since it talks about many products at once.

Where are we now?

Sorry about a gap in posting – I took some time to rest over Thanksgiving and afterwards did some more business travel.

So where are we now? We shipped the early-bird units in November, as planned, we are fresh out of stock (unplanned), we are getting more DACminis next week, and we are building a large batch in mid-December. That batch should last for a little while longer than the earlier batches (I hope).

We’ve also had a record month in sales, signed up new dealers and most importantly, got enthusiastic customer support for DACmini. The pitch-black noise floor, the high amount of gain in the headphone amp, the cleanliness of the power supply, the great build quality and good looks are all adding up to what’s become a successful product right from the start. My favorite user comment is “Great WAF”. If the Wife approves, we must have done something right :)

Thanks to everyone who contributed to this successful project. The great news is that the bulk of the work is now complete. DACmini measures up much better than DACport and therefore we have achieved our goal, which was to outdo ourselves and make an even better USB headphone amp.

In the next couple of weeks we will continue collecting the product’s statistical performance, post the measurements on the website, update the website with more info, additional design notes, etc. and make sure that we don’t run out of stock… again.

I plan to continue posting from time to time, but probably not as often as before. Need to switch over to something else. Teaser: The CES show is coming up and there will be a juicy announcement, which our customers will be glad to hear…

Variable output fixed

I wrote that title and realized that it reads like an oxymoron. And it probably is….

We fixed the bug that caused the popping noise in the variable output scenario.  The variable output units should work as well as the fixed output units now. However something still doesn’t sit well with me about the whole variable output scenario… There are two reasons for that:

1) It ended up being a time-consuming mod.

2) While I understand that some people will be driving external speakers with it, I still don’t know too many home stereo pieces that have a variable RCA out…

Oh well, one way or another, we’ll be shipping more outstanding orders today. When the FedEx person comes, you’ll get something like this:

One of the early units sitting on the shipping room floor, ready to be taken to the post office.

Shipped the first units last night!

The capacitors have been fixed. We instructed our supplier to never again use that brand.  While it was fun for the engineers to see the caps explode – we don’t want to ship that to our customers. We want our products to last for a long-long time, so we painstakingly changed all caps to a more expensive and more reliable brand. Lesson learned!

This is an exciting time as DACmini is now officially shipping. We shipped the first small batch of units last night and will be shipping more today, to clear out the outstanding orders.

This goes true for the fixed-output version. The variable-output version is giving me a little more grief, because it pops when you turn it off. I don’t think that having your speakers pop is a good user experience, so we are making a final effort to clean that up in firmware. Stand by on that.

Otherwise, I’m extremely pleased with how the product turned out. The sound quality is top-notch, input switching is flawless, the looks are great (If I say so myself) and compatibility/isolation is superb. Once we clear the variable-output bug, it will be time for a small glass of champagne, just in time for the Thanksgiving break. A break is needed at this point :)

The Amazing Exploding Capacitor

Burn is recommended. Heck, burn-in is required! We plug in these DACmini units to burn them in, and what do we see? Well, first we didn’t see anything, but we smelled smoke. Then we saw some beautifully charbroiled capacitors on the PCB. That’s truly a spectacle! We have a lingering suspicion that the wrong part was installed on the PCB…

Replacing as we speak. “Hard Talking” with the supplier is on the agenda for tomorrow…

The Amazing Exploding Capacitor

Firmware is Fixed

Good news. We have a breakthrough. After a long, tireless weekend we managed to squeeze the firmware code into the available space and now everything fits.

When we posed the traditional question “Are we ready to ship” to one of the test engineers, we got back an optimistic approval: “The recent version gives me much more confidence for commercial release”.

With that, we are back on track to shipping. A little hiccup notwithstanding. The plan now is to assemble and ship by the end of the week.

A Firmware Delay

Turns out product development is not always smooth. Sometimes you hit an unexpected snag. Today is my time to apologize for an unfortunate delay. We hit a roadblock while loading the firmware into DACmini’s internal memory. It turns out, we have too many features and now the code doesn’t fit into the allotted space. We now have to spend some time to optimize the code, so it would fit in.

I know that a number of early-bird customers are waiting for their units, and I’m truly sorry about missing your expectations.  We will be working non-stop to fix the firmware bug this weekend. Please let me know if you have any questions meantime. I’m committed to shipping your unit out to you as soon as possible!

Power Supplies and Packaging

The first production units will be shipped with a non-standard power supply. This one will be smaller than our standard unit, but will still have enough juice to power the DACmini just fine. It’s a world-wide, universal power supply. Our standard power supplies are held up at the supplier so we had to do some work to find an alternative. The new power supplies are scheduled to show up tomorrow (Thursday) and will be packaged with the units going out later this week (keeping our fingers crossed).

We’ve also selected the shipping box for the initial run. It’s a sturdy 9″x12″x2″ box with thick internal lining that will protect the precious cargo from the hazards of the road. We’ve chosen 1/4″ foam to pack the contents inside the box and our tests show that this will give the unit sufficient protection.

Lastly, we’ve tweaked the firmware somewhat, improving the headphone switching and power management. However, since firmware updates can be done in the field, we reserve the right to continue improving the firmware (the code running inside the unit) until we are 100% happy with the performance. In the result you may need to update your unit later on (don’t worry – the audio quality is not affected, just controls).  The process for updating the firmware is very simple, it’s done by downloading the updater application and running it on your PC. The updater will do the rest.

Back to the bench I go. Tons more work to do for our small, but committed team before we can ship these out.

First Production

Today a short post and a picture. The goods came in one day ahead of schedule. We are testing, assembling, testing some more, verifying and then will be shipping this week. A busy time, so no phone calls or emails :)

Parts lined up for First Production Run

AES and back

This weekend I took a quick trip to AES in San Francisco. While it was still rather small, compared to previous years, there was a lot of activity on the standards groups and engineering meetings. The long-awaited AES-42, the digitally-interfaced microphone standard is finally released. I chaired the working group 10 years ago and wrote the bulk of the standard before I quit Shure and had to pass the torch…  It’s exciting that the work is finally public, even though it took so long to get all microphone manufacturers on board with a common standard.

Networking is all the rage these days. Both in home and pro audio. New standards and chips offer promise of easy interconnections for the installations of the future. An exciting area for many companies, including CEntrance. It was good to look into the future.

Next week we are planning to get back to business and ship the outstanding DACmini orders. Many more are coming… It’s going to be a busy Fall. Everybody will get a tracking number once their unit ships.