Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Make it loud here.
Post Reply
User avatar
Larsongs
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1025
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:39 pm

Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by Larsongs » Mon Sep 18, 2017 5:51 am

With regard to all the talk about Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit Boards I have a few questions.

Is there a reason why I'd want a Hand Wired Circuit Board over a Printed Circuit Board?

Is there really an audible discernible difference between Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit Boards on Guitar & Bass Amps?

Are Hand Wired Boards superior in Quality in some way?

Thanks,

Lars

User avatar
somebodyelseuk
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 267
Joined: Mon Oct 13, 2014 11:45 pm

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by somebodyelseuk » Mon Sep 18, 2017 6:16 am

Larsongs wrote:With regard to all the talk about Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit Boards I have a few questions.

Is there a reason why I'd want a Hand Wired Circuit Board over a Printed Circuit Board?

Is there really an audible discernible difference between Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit Boards on Guitar & Bass Amps?

Are Hand Wired Boards superior in Quality in some way?

Thanks,

Lars
In theory -
1 - higher resale value
2 - No
3 - No

In practise, because they're charging you more, they may not be exactly the same circuits, so they probably sound different. Add to that, the expensive option will most likely use components with better specifications, possibly better quality, so again, may sound different, AND should last longer, and a handwired amp is 'in theory' easier to repair when it goes wrong.
If the parts are the same and the soldering is the same standard, it makes no difference whether they're handwired or pcb mounted.

User avatar
sookwinder
Mods
Mods
Posts: 9790
Joined: Mon Sep 11, 2006 6:47 pm
Location: Melbourne Australia

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by sookwinder » Mon Sep 18, 2017 6:20 am

I build my own amps... hand wired.
What confirmed my belief that they are better than those amps with printed circuit boards* is the following:

I have a Hot Rod Deluxe and it was only ever used in my studio for short periods of time every couple of weeks, yet after about 2 years three tracks on one of the printed circuit boards lifted and cracked. It cost me about $300 to have those tracks repaired. Now even though the HRD is "fixed" I really do not trust it to perform without issues.

An amp build with discrete components and using hook up wire rather than a printed circuit has more chance of surviving (be it "on the road" or heat related issues)

* Note it is certainly possible to create a printed circuit board that is sturdy enough to survive ... the military do it all the time. It is just manufactures like fender do not.

Also it is far easier to repair a hand wired amp compared to a circuit board with tracks amp.

Do they sound any different .. I suspect they do, but this maybe due to the fact that the components used in a hand wired amp will be different to those used in a printed circuit board version of the amp.
relaxing alternative to doing actual work ...

User avatar
Arthon
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1432
Joined: Sun May 08, 2011 2:33 pm
Location: Montréal, Québec

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by Arthon » Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:06 am

Larsongs wrote:With regard to all the talk about Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit Boards I have a few questions.

Is there a reason why I'd want a Hand Wired Circuit Board over a Printed Circuit Board?

Is there really an audible discernible difference between Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit Boards on Guitar & Bass Amps?

Are Hand Wired Boards superior in Quality in some way?

Thanks,

Lars
1- Easier to repair.
2- With the same component/same value : No difference.
3- With the same component/same value : No difference.

In 2017, hand wired amps are very high end or boutique, so components are normally better then the one you see on printed circuit board normal production amps. They are exeption, like the very well made Laney Lionheart amps.
Last edited by Arthon on Mon Sep 18, 2017 10:18 am, edited 1 time in total.
The Blues Cartographer
(sorry for the spelling, I speak french)

User avatar
mbene085
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1217
Joined: Tue May 24, 2016 5:07 am

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by mbene085 » Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:12 am

I don't personally believe in any tone difference. It all depends on what tolerances the components are built to (yes, boutique hand-builders generally use low-tolerance/higher-quality components but that is not implicitly part of a hand built design).

However, as has already been pointed out, the real difference lies in reliability and serviceability. Hand-wired, discrete components are very easily replaced in the case of failure (e.g. Filter caps), and absolutely hold up better to the vibrations and knocks of travel and touring. Seeing tube sockets mounted to PCBs makes me cringe...the idea of the pressure and torque of people pulling out and pushing in tubes repeatedly on that flimsy piece of plastic, which has been subjected to the heat from the tubes for so many hours...

Tube sockets should be mounted to the chassis, period. And some PCB-based amps do so, I'm sure. But I've also seen them on the boards themselves.

Anyway, point is, durability is absolutely the biggest, most tangible difference, followed by your ability to replace faulty components and repair damage.

User avatar
HNB
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 8336
Joined: Tue May 10, 2011 7:55 am
Location: Puyallup, Washington
Contact:

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by HNB » Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:15 am

The one bonus I know of to hand wired is you don't have a chance of the tracks lifting or cracking. Also I like it better when pots and things aren't wired to a circuit board. Easier for me to replace a bad component when it is just removing one wire or piece at a time. No solder pump needed to get a pot or capacitor or tube socket that might be bad or broken.
[Christopher]

User avatar
Larsongs
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1025
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:39 pm

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by Larsongs » Mon Sep 18, 2017 8:58 pm

It appears it's not so much a Sound thing unless, of course, upgraded Circuitry, Board etc. are used. Also, Hand Wired Boards are more likely to be sturdier built, will work harder, longer with less failure & are easier to repair.

Those are all xlnt points, pun intended, & that all makes sense.

I was under the impression that the PCB's could be as durable & maybe more precision built. With Every Amp Built to exacting Specs for ultimate performance. Less failure & less expensive to repair or replace.

User avatar
OffYourFace
Mods
Mods
Posts: 12010
Joined: Thu May 03, 2007 2:59 pm
Location: Sherman Oaks, CA

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by OffYourFace » Mon Sep 18, 2017 11:12 pm

There are so many... things. I used to think that the sole reason that PCB amplifiers came to exist is due to manufacturing; less time to build + higher quantities built in less time, etc.
But PCB does have it's advantages, especially in more complicated 'high gain' ckts. You can get a lot of cross talk and oscillation if certain wires are too close together in hand-wired ckts. Also, certain areas of the ckt need to be grounded differently than other areas. PCB design has solved a lot of these issues and has made amps more consistent sounding. Mesa Boogie has this down to a science.

The Fender Hot Rod amps sound great but they break down a lot. It's usually the contact pads that lift up, not actual traces... in my experience anyway. That's the area around the hole where the component legs get soldered to. If Fender used chassis mounted power tube sockets and input jacks, they'd last a lot longer.

When I worked at Matchless, where the amps are TRULY built point-to-point, every component had to have its legs covered with a vinyl coating (usually stripped from a roll of surplus wire) or shrink wrap. Each 'run' from each part of the various ckts (preamp 1 or 2, tremolo, reverb, etc) had to be routed in a very specific path to avoid noise issues. Then all parts were cloth wire braided to make everything look tidy like finely built British military equipment in the 1940s-50s. These amps are built like a cross between a classic american muscle car and a sherman tank but take forever to build... and are crazy expensive. Is the sound $2k-$3k better than a PCB amp? Some people think so but most probably couldn't tell the difference. I love the Matchless amps and they sound and mix in amazingly well when you're playing with a band.
But I prefer my 1979 Marshall JMP 50w master volume with its PCB ckt board. I mean, I guess it would be more fun to be inside a Rolls Royce while stuck in traffic but my Kia does just fine in traffic. The radio works just fine.
@mikal_oor on Instagram

User avatar
Despot
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 4742
Joined: Fri Jul 20, 2012 9:11 am
Location: Dublin, Ireland

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by Despot » Tue Sep 19, 2017 6:48 am

I don't have enough knowledge to argue on whether or not a PCB or hand wired amp will sound better or worse, though I suspect that the logic described above (where a hand wired amp, being more expensive, probably has better quality parts used as part of the 'premium' nature of the offering) might have a lot to do with any perceived quality difference.

I have four amps.
1. Fender Vibrolux Custom reissue (so, a PCB amp)
2. Swart Atomic Space Tone combo (hand wired)
3. 1973 Fender Princeton (hand wired)
4. 1971/2 Fender Princeton Reverb (hand wired)

All four amps sound great. I don't see the Vibrolux as sounding inferior to the older Princetons - in fact, I use the Vibrolux quite a bit these days despite having the two Princetons to hand (and both being easier/lighter to cart about).

The main advantage of the hand wired amps is the ease of repair. Both Princetons have been in the shop since I bought them, getting various things replaced/repaired. Both are now running well - but the work done would have been a whole lot harder on a PCB amp.

In theory if someone down the line inherits the Vibrolux, and it needs work ... that'll be their issue to resolve. I've had zero issues with the Vibrolux (which is from the '90s and has been through the wars) and I imagine that it will last me my entire playing life given that it's not relied up to gig night after night these days.

User avatar
Larsongs
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 1025
Joined: Mon Aug 18, 2014 9:39 pm

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by Larsongs » Wed Sep 20, 2017 5:51 am

Seems both have their good points. (Pun intended!) Regarding both PCB's & HWB's what causes them to break down & how do we avoid Break downs?

Thanks,

Lars

User avatar
øøøøøøø
PAT. # 2.972.923
PAT. # 2.972.923
Posts: 11984
Joined: Sun Jan 06, 2008 8:26 pm
Location: Brooklyn, NY
Contact:

Re: Hand Wired vs. Printed Circuit??

Post by øøøøøøø » Wed Sep 20, 2017 6:54 pm

There are "theoretical differences" and "practical differences." There are advantages to both. Many have been covered in the excellent replies above. With printed circuit boards, it all comes down to implementation. Broadly speaking:

Advantage printed circuit: Expedience of manufacture. Repeatability. Cost-efficiency, very often.
Advantage ptp/eyelet/turret construction: Serviceability. Reliability (in many cases).

There are theoretically plausible things that could cause a difference in sound-- capacitance between co-planar traces in two dimensions versus wire runs in three dimensions, etc. Although none of this is likely to make any difference at frequencies of interest, as long as nothing is oscillating, etc. I seriously doubt there's any difference pronounced enough to be empirically provable.

In reality, these things are very seldom single-variable. Hand-wired versus PCB models of the same amp almost always have other differences-- different parts suppliers for transformers, capacitors, speakers, cabinets, etc. And these things are FAR more likely to make an audible difference.

The big disadvantage of PCBs in amps centers around heat. Tubes produce a lot of heat, and in very warm environments, cheaper PCB substrate material can be challenged. In the Fender Hot Rod amps, for instance, I've often seen evidence that the heat makes the substrate flex, which stresses joints and pads.

Other disadvantages in terms of reliability: an arc on the board can take out a broad section, requiring a board replacement or other extensive repair. Not ideal.

My personal litmus test is to avoid PCBs with tube sockets mounted directly to the PCB. Too much heat too close, too much risk of arcs when the tubes inevitably fail, etc.

But if the tube sockets (particularly for output and rectifier tubes) are mounted off-board and the substrate is nice and thick with a good solder mask and through-plated holes, etc? Reliability can be very good indeed.

I used to be far more picky about it than I am now. Reliability and implementation is a concern at times with PCB amps. But sonically? The mode of construction is FAR, FAR down the list of factors, if it's even an influence at all.

Post Reply