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Electronics — Concepts, Labs, and Projects

Book Review By Hugh Robjohns
Published February 2015

This book provides a great introduction to audio electronics

Electronics Concepts, Labs & Projects Book Review

Back when I first became interested in the world of audio, most people built much of their own equipment. Commercial recording equipment was quite rare back then, and what there was wasn’t affordable to hobbyists, so there was little option for most: we had to build our own mixers, compressors and other equipment.

Thankfully, the audio electronic technology of the day — valves, discrete transistors and, later, the early chip op amps — was relatively understandable and quite practical for home enthusiasts to embrace, and there were plenty of monthly electronics magazines back then providing countless DIY projects and guidance. In the ‘70s and ‘80s I built a great many guitar effects pedals, mic preamps, power amplifiers, compressors, spring reverbs, and even an entire stereo mixer. I also rebuilt a few tape recorders and guitar amps, as well as a valve-based electronic organ (the last of those tried to kill me several times!).

Today, there’s so much commercial studio equipment available at such extraordinarily low prices that only hardcore electronics enthusiasts entertain the idea of making things themselves, which I think is a great shame. Having some understanding and practical experience of electronics is a massive asset for anyone working with audio. Knowing your way around a soldering iron makes it easy to build and repair all manner of cables, saving a small fortune and solving non-standard connection issues with ease. A grasp of electronics allows basic equipment fault-finding and simple repairs, while building your own equipment (or modifying commercial products) can be hugely rewarding, and is an important skill for anyone seeking a career in the engineering side of the music industry.

Electronics — Concepts, Labs, and ProjectsIf my arguments are whetting your appetite but you’re unsure where to start, then Alden Hackmann’s new book, Electronics Concepts, Labs and Projects (ISBN 9781480342439) could be just the inspiration you need. This is a book for absolute raw beginners, with no assumed prior knowledge or understanding, and it explains and illustrates the key theoretical concepts with very practical hands-on projects. To that end, the book’s introduction provides various lists of recommended tools and the components required for the many practical exercises, experiments and projects included in the book, all with Digi-Key (a well-known international supplier of electronics components) part code numbers to make it as easy as possible to get started.

Chapter one hits the ground running with a very pragmatic introduction to soldering, and this is followed with the underpinning concepts of Ohm’s Law (the relationship between voltage, current and resistance) aided by several practical experiments. Chapter three explains the digital multimeter, and how to use one to analyse the previous chapter’s experiments. Next, series and parallel connections are examined, and that leads naturally into Kirchoff’s Laws. Having mastered the basics of DC circuits, chapter six moves on to AC and mains power.

The book progresses steadily and logically, covering key aspects like the resistor colour code and SMD component markings, power, voltage dividers, and potentiometers, and then reactive components like capacitors and inductors, before the basic filter concepts. Chapter 13 enters the world of diodes, LEDs, transistors and valves, before getting into transformers and rectified AC. Having introduced the topic of mains power supplies, the next topic is how to work safely with electricity, and electrostatic precautions. Using standard test equipment (DMMs, oscilloscopes, function generators and so on) precedes a chapter on basic fault-finding procedures.

Three chapters are then dedicated to the operation and construction of TS, TRS and XLR cables, as well as working with piezo transducers, while six appendices cover things like unit prefixes (kilo, mega, micro, pica and so on), equation solving and algebraic maths, key terms and equations, and the various online support files associated with the book.

As I said, this large-format 300-page book is aimed at absolute novices, and it’s a direct hit. It will leave occasional electronics hobbyists cold, but if you’ve always wanted to know how to make or repair your own cables, but were too embarrassed to ask, or if you slept through your GCSE or O-level physics classes and now feel completely lost in conversations about Class-A amplifiers and output attenuators, you could do a lot worse than invest in this book. I will certainly be recommending it to interested beginners. Hugh Robjohns