Fake News

One of these is a Neutrik Speakon connector. The other is Karma.

One of these is a Neutrik Speakon connector. The other is Karma.

New Years Eve. I've settled into an episode of The Man in the High Castle, a tasty burrito and a fine craft beer. Beer, like whisky and hi-fi, is best when truly "craft". It's the worst night of the year to go out; teenage drunks, traffic, crowds, hot, ugly. I will be slaughtering some teenagers tonight though, after dinner, when my rat cunning will trump their youthful reflexes playing Call of Duty online. I've made it through another year. What could possibly go wrong tonight...  

Then the phone rang. Bollocks! I thought it was in flight mode. 

"The DJ is on in half an hour and the whole left side of the PA keeps cutting out when I touch the amp; what should we do?"

"Stop touching the amp... "

"What?

"I don't know, I'll be there in ten minutes."

I look longingly at the cooling burrito, the warming beer, the frozen perfection of Alexa Davalos paused on my TV, and head out.  

In darkness I crouch behind the amp rack, like Gollum contemptuously evaluating an inadequately sized fish: The problem is obvious. The club recently had a major refit, PA included. The contractor has used a knockoff of the excellent Neutrik Speakon connector, obviously to save a buck. The attempted clone keeps unlocking itself, because the latching mechanism is not properly formed. Five minutes later a real Neutrik Speakon is in place, the DJ is up, I'm at the bar being paid with Laphroaig 32 Year Old and the evening has strayed far from my well laid plan. 

Laphroaig 32; I may be easy, but I'm not cheap. 

Laphroaig 32; I may be easy, but I'm not cheap. 

The problem of fake brand name components is getting worse. And a problem it is indeed. This is not confined to the realm of audio, of course. For example, it's likely you have flown in an aircraft containing parts that were, at best, not approved by its manufacturer. A US Senate investigation in 2011 found over over 1 million counterfeit parts had been sold to the military, 70% of which were traced back to China.

Partnair Flight 394 crashed due to counterfeit parts, killing 55 people.

Partnair Flight 394 crashed due to counterfeit parts, killing 55 people.

The Mosfet on the left in the photo below is a genuine Semelab device, made in the UK. It sells for about $20, which is quite reasonable considering what it can do.

The one on the right is a Chinese clone. Well, clone in the Star Trek Nemesis sense of the word. One can buy it on Ebay for about five bucks. Ohhh goody! Just way too good to be true! That thing on the right will be a Mosfet, of sorts, but don't expect it to behave like the venerable BUZ900; don't expect it to behave at all.

Wow, Picard's clone is as indistinguishable from himself as a Chinese BUZ900 is from a real Mosfet! Nemisis: the worst Star Trek ever. Wrath of Kahn: by far the best.

Wow, Picard's clone is as indistinguishable from himself as a Chinese BUZ900 is from a real Mosfet! Nemisis: the worst Star Trek ever. Wrath of Kahn: by far the best.

I saw the charred remains of one of these resistors in an amplifier a few weeks ago:

The resistor at the top of the photo that is. It had been substituted for a real 100 Watt resistor (bottom of the photo) in a soft start circuit. The result was a dead PA amplifier, a ruined live recording and massive embarrassment for the venue. The real resistor cost about $10. The fake can be found on Ebay for around $3. What was the dollar value of the grief it caused? What if the grief it caused was in the form of fire? I could go on; there are literally thousands of examples to choose from, but my point has been made. 

These resistors were blown apart by a dying Mosfet, substituted for the original Hitachi. Its failure mode was completely different, and catastrophic.

These resistors were blown apart by a dying Mosfet, substituted for the original Hitachi. Its failure mode was completely different, and catastrophic.

A component purchased from a reputable supplier will have a pedigree certificate available for one to confirm that it is indeed the device one is paying for. Here is a screenshot from the website of one of our suppliers:   

Not only is the country of origin clearly stated but full documentation verifying its mechanical and electrical specifications, the materials from which it is made and recommended applications is available at a mouse click.   

If you find on Ebay a CD laser that has been obsolete for years, an amplifier chip that just nobody has, or anything else in the "too good to be true" category, don't be surprised when it works as well as Communism, or costs you a lot more than you anticipated.

William Crampton