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#121085 - 16/10/2002 14:38 Tuners, Patrick, for the review of...
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30789
Loc: Seattle, WA
Just before Patrick left on his recent holiday, he sent an early prototype tuner kit my way for testing. The purpose was to beta test the kit, the parts, the labeling, and the assembly instructions. I built the kit and took extensive notes, giving him detailed feedback on the entire process.

Now that he's back from holiday, he's given me permission to review it here.

I will leave it up to him to post information on exactly how long it will be before orders can be filled, but let me just say that the first small batch is expected quite soon. He's anxious to start making some of his money back on this, because the initial cash outlay for the parts and materials was pretty steep. Not to mention his time, of course.

Okay, on to the review...

Physical Features and Connectors

The box is about the same width and depth as the original tuner module, however it is about twice as tall as the original. This really shouldn't be that big of a deal, it just means that when installing it, you need to be extra careful with wire routing and such behind the dash. I had no problem finding space for it behind my dash.

It is built into a basic off-the-shelf gray "project box" which has not been cut or modified in terms of its shape. Essentially, he chose the box first, then carefully designed the kit to fit exactly within that box.

The external connectors and such are not built-in to the box. Instead, long wires protrude through holes in the side of the box and the connectors are on the ends of the wires. You get the same connections that were present on the original tuner module, they're just dangling on the ends of wires instead of embedded in the side of the box. The numeric address selector switch is gone (as he warned it would be), but since the player software doesn't take advantage of it anyway, this isn't a problem. I believe there might be ways on the PCB itself to change the address, not sure.

In the early draft of the instructions that I worked from, no mention was made of the additional analog voltage inputs that he'd hinted about earlier. There were no external connectors for those inputs. So I can't comment on whether those worked or not. However, there seemed to be plenty of "unused" spots or connectors on the main PCB that looked like they might be used for those things if you had the right information. I'm guessing he'll supply that information before this stuff goes final.

Design and PCB Layout

Come on, this is Patrick we're talking about. The thing is a work of art. It's an incredibly clean design that's logical and clear. There is very little risk of a sloppy mistake when assembling, as it's all made very easy. Components all go in from the same "top" side of the PCBs, and all soldering is done from the bottom side. It's two double-sided PCBs that are assembled separately and then get "sandwiched" together where they connect with some multi-pin plug connectors.

Parts and Labeling

Every part was there, and in the correct quantity. The only thing I needed was solder. At the end of the process, I did not have any leftover parts. Not only that, but the parts were all painstakingly hand-labeled and cross-referenced on the parts list. Everything was labeled so well that I only needed to refer to the cross-reference a few times (and noted those times for Patrick, who will likely update the instructions so that you won't ever have to look at the cross-reference).

All of the parts are the "through-hole" type, and the design is clean and simple, so even someone with mediocre soldering skills should be able to handle this one.

In the two cases where the pins of certain ICs needed to be bent a certain way to fit in the PCB, the ICs came pre-bent and ready to plug into the board. Bravo!

Assembly

This was a breeze. A time-consuming breeze, but for the most part, I never even broke a sweat. He's made it so easy that you hardly even have to think about it.

It took me about 8-10 total hours of work, on and off over a weekend, to get it assembled. But keep in mind that I was taking extensive notes during the process and being extra careful about checking and analyzing everything. The average schmoe should be able to do it on a Saturday if their spouse brings snacks and drinks regularly.

Most of the assembly time is due to the fact that there are so many components to solder. You have to develop sort of a rhythm for soldering in so many resistors and capacitors. If you can get a "system" down for doing each part quickly and efficiently, the work will go much faster.

In a couple of spots, I was worried that a given wire or bundle of wires might not fit through one of the drilled holes. But I discovered that all of the holes were drilled exactly to the correct size for the supplied wires, and that you could get them through as long as you were careful.

Of course, the tuner worked perfectly the first time I tried it after assembly was done, so I was happy.

Instructions

Well, those of you who are interested in the project have probably already given the instructions a peek. (He put drafts on the web in PDF form already, I was working from one of those drafts you've already seen.) So you already know they are clear, to the point, complete, and easy to follow. I simply left the instructions up on my computer screen and worked directly from them there, no need to print them. I did go to the trouble of actually downloading the PDF to my hard disk before opening it. It's possible to open a PDF directly from the web, but I don't recommend trying that for one as large as this one. Having it on your hard disk means that you can scroll through it faster and you won't have to re-download it when you lose your internet connection.

I had one "sphincter factor" moment when one of his suggested continuity tests didn't work. It led me to discover that I had soldered one of the components into the wrong hole. Hopefully he'll update the instructions to give a warning for that particular part at that step and you won't run into the same problem I did.

The instructions were written with "one layman assembling a single kit" in mind. In other words, they seem to be geared toward care and attention to detail instead of mass production. You are told to solder components in only a few at a time and test at each stage. I think that if you're planning on assembling multiple kits for other users, you will probably be able to come up with a more assembly-line-oriented system where you can put whole groups of components into place all at once instead of painstakingly doing them one at a time. This would cut down on the time it takes to put it together.

Some of the preface information in the instructions was very valuable to me. For instance, he suggested having a small box handy to drop all of your clipped leads into. This is something I wouldn't have thought of, but it made the process go so much smoother and easier. I never stepped on a lost lead and got hurt from it, and I'm the kind of klutz who would have done exactly that if he hadn't warned me about it in the instructions.

Operation

Works just like the original tuner. Reception is as good or better than the original tuner, although I have no empirical data to back that up.

One thing that I noticed is that the "temperature whine" problem is completely gone. My original factory tuner has a quirk (and I tried two of them to make sure it wasn't a fluke) where, when it was cold in the morning and the car was warming up, certain AM radio frequencies would make a sine wave noise in the background that gradually faded out as the car warmed up. Patrick's tuner does not exhibit this problem at all.

No mention was made in my instructions about the weatherband capabilities of the tuner module. I don't even remember if he'd managed to get supplies of weatherband-capable modules or not. You'll have to ask him about that. But I'm pretty sure that a new player software version would be needed to make use of it if it were even present, so I can't comment on that either.

Conclusion

Great piece of kit, as they say. An easy and economical way to add a tuner to your empeg. If you want a tuner for your player, don't hesitate to order one as soon as he makes them available.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#121086 - 16/10/2002 21:53 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
msaeger
carpal tunnel

Registered: 23/09/2000
Posts: 3608
Loc: Minnetonka, MN
I can't believe this thread isn't 200 posts by now.
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Matt

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#121087 - 16/10/2002 22:00 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: msaeger]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30789
Loc: Seattle, WA
No kidding.

Oh, one thing I forgot to mention. On the original tuner module, the antenna connector was a European-style one, and a US-to-Euro adapter was supplied. On the prototype kit he sent me, the antenna connector was a US-style, period. Dunno if he's got plans to do anything special for European customers, or if he expects you to buy your own adapter or cut your antenna wire and install a US male connector on it.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#121088 - 17/10/2002 17:44 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
lockuplever
enthusiast

Registered: 30/01/2002
Posts: 264
Loc: Tucson, AZ
Sounds good to this average schmoe. It's been 15 years since I've soldered on a pcb, but I'm ready to give it a shot.
_________________________
Steve

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#121089 - 17/10/2002 18:11 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: lockuplever]
revlmwest
addict

Registered: 05/06/2002
Posts: 497
Loc: Hartsville, South Carolina for...
OK, so I'm not even sub average... I might be somewhere above the uniniated but that's about it. I am however quite interested in doing this. Should I try something else first, while I'm waiting for the tuner to come out? And if yes, then what should I try?
_________________________
Michael West

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#121090 - 17/10/2002 18:13 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
MMorrow
journeyman

Registered: 07/01/2002
Posts: 54
Loc: Louisville, KY USA
Thanks for the review Tony. I too will need to brush up on my soldering. Now the waiting game ... (continues) until Patrick starts shipping to the masses.

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#121091 - 17/10/2002 18:29 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: revlmwest]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30789
Loc: Seattle, WA
Should I try something else first, while I'm waiting for the tuner to come out?

Anything to practice up on your soldering skills. Ask the guys at radio shack what they've got to solder. Maybe they have some project boards and resistors or some kind of kits they can sell you or something...
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#121092 - 17/10/2002 18:33 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30789
Loc: Seattle, WA
Yeah, like get something like this and practice soldering resistors into it.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#121093 - 17/10/2002 18:42 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
mail2mm
journeyman

Registered: 04/02/2002
Posts: 60
Loc: Wyoming and New Zealand
Thanks for the thorough review Tony. I had read the draft instructions and thought Heathkit would have benefited from Patrick's skills. Now you have confirmed that the kit itself is as good as the instructions.

Everything on the old Eico and Heathkit kits I assembled in the 1960s was large. I even had teenage eyesight then. Now poorer eyesight and shakier hands will make tuner kit assembly a challenge but one which I am looking forward to. Now, where did I put my glasses?

Michael

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#121094 - 17/10/2002 20:24 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
genixia
Carpal Tunnel

Registered: 08/02/2002
Posts: 3411
Yeah, one of those boards - plenty of practice holes, and a bundle of the cheapest 1/4W resistors you can find. A 15-25W soldering iron with a 1-2mm tip and some 0.032" solder should be fine for this. ( I can't remember if Patrick made any recommendations in the instructions ?). While you're there, pick up some soldering braid and a solder sucker ( the sping-loaded 'pen' types work much better than the 'bulb' types IME), and make sure you practice a bit of desoldering too.
_________________________
Mk2a 60GB Blue. Serial 030102962 sig.mp3: File Format not Valid.

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#121095 - 17/10/2002 20:39 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
acurasquirrel_
enthusiast

Registered: 14/04/2002
Posts: 241
I just got some practice wiring a parallel crystalfontz LCD screen I bought. I was gonna use it for a homebrew mp3 car player, but when I bought my empeg during the fire sale it found its way into my junk drawer. Its now hooked up to my PC displaying pointless information.
_________________________
Catapultam habeo. Nisi pecuniam omnem mihi dabis, ad caput tuum saxum immane mittam.

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#121096 - 18/10/2002 02:27 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: acurasquirrel_]
g_attrill
old hand

Registered: 14/04/2002
Posts: 1172
Loc: Hants, UK
If your eyesight isn't too hot I would recommend a strong light and one of those little magnifying eyeglasses for inspecting joints. You can also get those magnifiers on a base with a swivel joint, but I've not used one of those.

Gareth

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#121097 - 18/10/2002 07:29 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: acurasquirrel_]
jbrinkerhoff
member

Registered: 02/04/2002
Posts: 148
I wonder how many home brewed MP3 projects are sitting in drawers somewher... I know I have two... Once that firesale happened I though I'd gone to heaven. Never in a million years did I think I'd have the money to buy one of these, but now that I have had it - I would have spent the $1000 in a heartbeat. Worth every single penny of that.

Jeff
_________________________
Empeg Mk2a 60G

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#121098 - 18/10/2002 07:55 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: jbrinkerhoff]
Daria
carpal tunnel

Registered: 24/01/2002
Posts: 3923
Loc: Somerville, MA
The homebrew project is back-burnered and will almost certainly be recycled as another project. The empeg isn't good for the GPS thing I want (even with gpsapp) but neither was the 10" display on an iopener, really. A 15" display is almost good enough for viewing your position on old maps (when scouting out historical things)

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#121099 - 18/10/2002 08:42 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: Daria]
JBjorgen
carpal tunnel

Registered: 19/01/2002
Posts: 3426
Loc: Guadalajara, MX
I had an Advantech SBC running a K6-III 400, a DC-DC power supply, a 8.4" Sharp TFT LCD with touchscreen, a slot-load laptop DVD drive, and a GPS receiver all interfaced together and working. All I needed was to get a good software configuration and install the whole mess.

Then came my empeg. I've since sold off almost all of it to pay for various bills and my second empeg, but it was a fun project while it lasted. I decided that I could use my laptop for GPS and that I didn't need (or want) to watch DVD's or music videos in my car....that's what home theatres are for.
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~ John

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#121100 - 18/10/2002 08:52 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: jbrinkerhoff]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30789
Loc: Seattle, WA
but now that I have had it - I would have spent the $1000 in a heartbeat.

Yeah, that's one of the problems they had in marketing it. Everyone who owns one agrees that it's easily worth every penny. But those who don't own one don't understand.
_________________________
Tony Fabris

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#121101 - 18/10/2002 09:22 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
wfaulk
carpal tunnel

Registered: 25/12/2000
Posts: 16706
Loc: Raleigh, NC US
I, personally, never saw any marketing. The only way I knew it existed was because, many years ago, someone showed me Hugo's mp3mobile page, and I showed it to many other people. Then, when it started to mention that it might be commercially produced, I watched it a lot. I finally was able to afford one not too long after the MkIIs became available, past the initial queue. And I've read this BBS pretty much ever since, and some before.

In all that time, I never saw anything that might be considered marketing promoting or even implying that this thing existed. (I know that much of that time was pre-SB, but I can forgive the empeg guys, as, I'm sure, they weren't marketing guys, and they probably couldn't have kept up with a huge influx anyway. But SB should have promoted it a lot.) I would be interested in knowing anywhere that the RioCar was promoted.
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Bitt Faulk

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#121102 - 19/10/2002 15:33 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: wfaulk]
andym
carpal tunnel

Registered: 17/01/2002
Posts: 3977
Loc: Manchester UK
I knew of Hugo's mp3mobile but actually read about the empeg in a 'lad mag' style car magazine back in 1999. It was either Max Power or Revs on the news page. Only a couple of paragraphs and a URL.
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Cheers,

Andy M

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#121103 - 19/10/2002 16:11 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: wfaulk]
rob
carpal tunnel

Registered: 21/05/1999
Posts: 5316
Loc: Cambridge UK
We went to shows, and we advertised in UK magazines. We sent review units to overseas magazines but an advertising run in a popular US auto mag would have cost more than the hardware prototyping budget!

SB took it to more shows, and put it in a reasonable number of high street stores. I suspect the latter decision may be what provided TTony with his empeg resale opportunity

Rob

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#121104 - 19/10/2002 22:16 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: rob]
wfaulk
carpal tunnel

Registered: 25/12/2000
Posts: 16706
Loc: Raleigh, NC US
As I said, I can hardly blame you guys, pre-SB, for lack of promotion. There's not much that can be done on a low budget. But SB should have done better. I'm not sure auto mags would be the right place, necessarily, but maybe spending some of that money on advertising products instead of that stupid ``Just Listen'' (or whatever it was) campaign might have done some good.
_________________________
Bitt Faulk

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#121105 - 19/10/2002 22:50 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: rob]
number6
old hand

Registered: 30/04/2001
Posts: 744
Loc: In The Village or sometimes: A...
In reply to:


SB took it to more shows, and put it in a reasonable number of high street stores. I suspect the latter decision may be what provided TTony with his empeg resale opportunity




I can confirm that in part. A colleague of mine bought a 10GB unit from TTony.
It came with some "cartoys" marks in various places - including the main playlist on the player was called "CarToys"


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#121106 - 21/10/2002 04:22 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: rob]
frog51
pooh-bah

Registered: 09/08/2000
Posts: 2089
Loc: Edinburgh, Scotland
I never saw any advertising for it either - the only reason I even found it was 'cos way back I had been trying to persuade Kenwood/Sony et al to implement mp3 on CD capability so I could at least divide the number of CD's in the car by 10 or so.

When they said there were too many potential legal issues with mp3's I thought I'd go for a self build mp3 box but on the off chance decided to search the web to see if anyone else had...got straight on the waiting list and bought number 128 after deciding the mkII sounded more useful than the mk1.

Everyone I have shown it to wants one - techies and non-techies, audiophiles and folk like myself. They have just never heard of empeg. So I have a feeling it was maybe the targeting which went awry. I have no idea what would have been a better route, given budget constraints.

These friends of mine are all upset they can't have one - unless they spot a second hand one up for sale somewhere.
_________________________
Rory
MkIIa, blue lit buttons, memory upgrade, 1Tb in Subaru Forester STi
MkII, 240Gb in Mark Lord dock
MkII, 80Gb SSD in dock

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#121107 - 21/10/2002 15:13 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: genixia]
Willd
new poster

Registered: 15/01/2002
Posts: 17
Loc: Sussex UK
Sounds great, can't wait to get my hands on one, soldering iron and a roll of solder ready!
_________________________
Sussex, UK. Rio car 30Gb and Neo35

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#121108 - 21/10/2002 15:21 US Antenna and empeg popularity [Re: tfabris]
elvis
enthusiast

Registered: 18/01/2002
Posts: 270
Loc: Arizona USA
Cruchfield has the US -> Euro adapter for between 5&7 dollars.

As to popularity... The empeg was and still IS a great success. The 'first run' companies that break ground almost NEVER manage to stay afloat. Products die and are later reborn (often in different packaging) when there's greater consumer knowledge. Empeg broke ground, clarion, pioneer etc.. are just following in empegs boot steps.

A consumerized version of the rio-car would sell very well these days. Something between the pioneer unit and an empeg.....
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Elvis

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#121109 - 21/10/2002 18:22 Re: US Antenna and empeg popularity [Re: elvis]
jets
enthusiast

Registered: 08/07/2002
Posts: 231
Loc: Toronto, Canada
I greatly doubt the possibility of the empegs flexibility regardless of what these companies offer to consumers looking for this type of product. Also, If anything does "match" it it'll cost you your first born to get it.
_________________________
It seemed like a good idea at the time.

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#121110 - 22/10/2002 21:09 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: tfabris]
hybrid8
carpal tunnel

Registered: 12/11/2001
Posts: 7738
Loc: Toronto, CANADA
Damn, I'd like to tackle a nice advanced soldering puzzle like this some time, but I have absoltely zero interest in a tuner model for the empeg. In any tuner actually. I don't use the one built into my Clarion head unit as it is.

How about we start another thread asking Patrick to design something else (equally as cool)? I just can't think of what at the moment. Hmmm.. A robot of some sort would be nice. Maybe one that vacuums the floor.... Haha. Ok, I've already started that thread in the off-topic forum.

Bruno
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Bruno
Twisted Melon : Fine Mac OS Software

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#121111 - 22/10/2002 22:27 Re: Tuners, Patrick, for the review of... [Re: number6]
durden
journeyman

Registered: 18/07/2002
Posts: 75
Loc: Texas
Yeah, mine came with some Car Toys paraphanilia as well. I can't, for the life of me, remember who I bought it from though... go figure
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- durden -

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#121112 - 23/10/2002 12:51 Re: Tuners (didn't understand some parts) [Re: tfabris]
rowitech
enthusiast

Registered: 22/09/2002
Posts: 242
Loc: Germany, Cologne
Hi,

because the english language isn't as easy to understand for me (I'm german), I didn't understand all of the posting. So I have some questions:

- Are there new tuners for the MkIIa (too) for sale?
- Is it a project where I can get the circuit diagram and a part list for soldering on my own?
- Or are there packages for sale with the PCB and the parts?
- If yes, can I obtain it in germany?

Maybe it's quite clear what is written but please help me to understand what's going on.

regards,
Rolf
_________________________
Connecting Empeg via Bluetooth or Wireless LAN http://empeg.rowi.net
*** Proud owner of the European Worst Install Trophy 2003 ! ***
RoWi

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#121113 - 23/10/2002 13:00 Re: Tuners (didn't understand some parts) [Re: rowitech]
robricc
carpal tunnel

Registered: 30/10/2000
Posts: 4909
Loc: Orange County, NY USA
- Or are there packages for sale with the PCB and the parts?

This is correct. Packages will be available soon from England.
_________________________
-Rob Riccardelli
80GB 16MB MK2 090000736

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#121114 - 23/10/2002 13:03 Re: Tuners (didn't understand some parts) [Re: rowitech]
tfabris
carpal tunnel

Registered: 20/12/1999
Posts: 30789
Loc: Seattle, WA
This was all covered in a much larger thread in the General forum, called "Tuners, Empeg, for the use of" or something like that.

To answer your specific question:

- The tuner kits are not for sale yet. They will be soon.

- You cannot just make this yourself from just a set of instructions. Some of the parts are chips which are pre-programmed with copyrighted machine language code. Other parts are hard to obtain in single quantities. You are much better off just getting the kit.

- Yes, it will be a package for sale complete with PCBs and all parts. All you need is your soldering iron.

- When it goes on sale, yes, I think it will be likely that you could purchase one from Patrick even if you live in Germany.
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Tony Fabris

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