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Right To Repair

Discussion in 'audio' started by Tony L, Dec 15, 2020.

  1. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    The point I’m trying to make (as someone with old-school IT experience) is that the ICs are not inherently unreliable. You can find countless Apollo space program era ICs that still work, though other aspects of the circuit will have dried up and failed.

    There is not a hope in hell of fighting progress, no one in human history has ever achieved that goal. The simple fact is LSI and SMD is where we are and no one will be going back.

    Sure, there will always be traditional niche markets like bespoke hi-fi, guitar amps and FX pedals etc that are even proper old-school hand-wired, let alone through-hole, but in most cases most things have already moved to SMD technology, even in the audio industry. I am simply arguing that with the correct access to parts and documentation these can be kept alive for decades as the same kind of thing fails on these boards as fails on all electronic kit (caps, batteries etc).

    There will be cases where there is no economic fix, but there is on a lot of traditional vintage stuff too, e.g. say an old Pioneer receiver where the mains transformer and output stage has failed. At that point it becomes a valuable donor unit and good parts can be harvested to keep others alive. Again, documentation and service procedure being available in the public domain is the key here. This is an access to information about the things you own thing.

    If people start thinking and arguing logically maybe we can get to the point we aren’t sticking 50” flat screen TVs etc into landfill every few years because they are undocumented and maybe even un-openable. Consumer pressure will eventually win out, but no one is going to make a smart TV or tablet using through-hole technology. It just isn’t possible. We just need the right of access to service 2020 technology. Throwing something away because some crappy low-cost Chinese surface mount capacitor has crapped itself is not acceptable, and in many cases that is actually the issue.
    Old Shatterhand likes this.
  2. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    Afraid not. Too long ago now.
  3. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    It depends on the details, but if this was enshirned in law then parts makers would themselves have to stock a supply for future repair work, or provide a way for 'newer' ones to be used as replacements *or ensure their parts had a very low MTBF*.

    Similarly, big companies who sell in large quantity can afford to keep stock of special parts which can reasonably be expected to be needed for repair *if they didn't simply decide "you can sod off and buy a new one" as now.

    And smaller makers may tend to use asics, which means replacements can be generated in small quantities. If they won't do that, they could be required to release the burning data so someone else can.

    So there are often ways to deal with this - if the makers stopped simply assuming you can another TV or whatever from us in five years time, chum, and thus send more plastic to landfill, and nasty chemicals to 3rd world kids to strip off boards, etc.
    ff1d1l likes this.
  4. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Here’s an eye-opening Wired article about e-waste processing where vast quantities of our unserviceable junk are shipped to third-world economies and harvested and dumped in truly appalling conditions. In many ways this is Exhibit A in the Right To Repair argument. Cheap disposable shit is hugely environmentally toxic and the market in disposal could not be more exploitative.

    The basic product lifestyle for so many modern consumer goods is to build with horrendous slave/child/low-wage labour conditions, then market, sell and briefly consume in the west until it breaks or is obsolete, and finally send it right back to be pulled apart by children in environmentally disastrous third-world slum areas.

    We should IMHO at the very least attempt to keep this mindset right away from anything to do with our audio purchases. I feel trapped with modern computing, TVs etc as everything is made this way and nothing is designed to last, but we can control what we buy in so many other areas.
    Nytechy, Durmbo and Darren L like this.
  5. wylton

    wylton Naim and Mana member

    The problem is though that we are so far removed from the golden era of radio and TV. Back then, there was virtually a radio shop on every corner, whereas now, you would struggle to find a repair shop for a television. Even modern hi-fi is getting difficult, judging by the number of 'is there a hi-fi repair shop in my area' threads.
  6. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Agreed, I’m certainly not underestimating the challenge we face. I just think if we at least do our part in making it an issue that people consider we are moving in the right direction.

    There is a lot happening across the planet at present, e.g. a lot of overlap between say Right To Repair and Extinction Rebellion, the wider green movement etc. The first step is just to think. To make informed decisions. pfm and similar communities clearly can’t change behaviour, but we can certainly platform good ideas in the hope people take them forward.
  7. Avonessence

    Avonessence Consistency Rapporteur

    It is an interesting subject, with many stakeholders and some very powerful and controlling ones, who will do anything to protect their revenues.
    Although EC legislation has attempted to answer the right to repair, it has fallen short of the mark, with it being controlled by the powerful stakeholders.

    The cost of electrical/electronic goods coming out of China, whether whole appliances or parts for appliances to be assembled in other countries, is frightenly very little when volume purchases are involved (as an aside, its the distribution chain where the majority of the money is made, especially the end retailer).

    Recycling, reuse etc, for the majority of electrical/electronic goods costs more to do than the original cost of the individual item leaving the factory. Even a 4 or 5 figure audio appliance is materially worthless. The current recycling/reuse being carried out is only paying lip service to the whole green/eco subject. Manufacturers cant afford to support it 100%, they do the bare minimum just to curry favour from the green/eco minded consumer base, if you actually looked at their efforts in the reuse/recycling arena it could possibly leave one thoroughly disgusted.
    Circular economy, recycled materials cost significantly more than virgin materials, with the latters quality and consistency guaranteed. Again, lip service is being paid here, with manufacturers using small percentages of recycled materials in new products (potentially manufacturers buying in recycled materials, but it then bypassing production and being added to production wastes)

    My points here, are:

    1) General appliances, schematics, spares etc, you will get a few manufacturers who want to do the right thing. In the main, the majority if manufacturers will ignore, resist, lobby, hoodwink the general public and legislators to prevent anything coming of it. In addition, they need to control the use and disposal of products to ensure that they are meeting the safety and energy efficiency legislation.

    2) Recycling/Reuse, most discarded products get smashed to bits in the disposal chain, making reuse and a high percentage of recycling prohibitive, with alot ending up in waste to energy plants.

    3) Keep the hard wired gear going by repairing and helping each other through social media.

    I myself like to repair my items myself, where I can. There is always someone on the Web or You Tube who had already done it.

    Everyghing is right in supporting Right To Repair, I think it will remain in the capable hands of individuals and small cottage industry specialists, who have created the knowledge through hard work and determination to repair products.
  8. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    To my mind it actually goes a step further than that in that with genuinely good information in the public domain there are many areas where anyone with real patience and a willingness to learn can in many cases service and future-proof their own kit.

    I was a school failure, a dropout, someone who truly hated and got nothing from the whole process, yet over the past decade I have managed to restore and/or future-proof a whole raft of my vintage kit (Leak Stereo 20, Quad 303, JR149s, Verdier Control B, WMD6C, BBC Micro, ZX Spectrum, old bakelite telephones, Avometers etc etc), and do so to a very, very high standard. I build my own bicycles too, so can obviously repair them. Anyone with the right aptitude and sufficient time and patience can learn the necessary skills to do this. It is not magic. It is very much a mindset thing and a huge part of what is so good about the Right To Repair movement is the freedom of information aspect. That is freedom to teach techniques as well as the right of access to documentation. The freedom to ask what you do not understand and to be helped.

    It is a fascinating movement all through as there is unquestionably an element of politics to it, and it really doesn’t break down to a simplistic left/right thing at all. It is way more nuanced than that. I keep on linking to Louis Rossmann videos as he probably has the loudest mouth and knows the right swear words to articulate many concepts, but much of what he advocates is actually sharing information. He is, like me, a school failure, yet he taught himself electronics, board logic and micro-soldering. He shares everything he knows, his YouTube channel is hundreds and hundreds of hours of board-repair videos, and whilst there is a lot of banter/piss-taking/ranting about all manner of things he also takes time to explain his diagnosis processes and techniques.

    He stuck a video up yesterday which I’ll link here as it gives yet another political slant to this contrasting rioting low/slave-wage employees in India with well paid service technicians in the west and also spotlights the sheer hypocrisy of Apple (though every other modern high-tech company that manufactures in this way is just as bad, likely even worse as they float under the radar). Funny and sweary as ever:

  9. Darren L

    Darren L pfm Member

    Pretty much my stance point in a nutshell
  10. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    It isn’t a binary thing. It is already happening on many levels.

    PS It can’t be blamed on capitalism either, just look at the toxic radioactive wasteland communism has left for the world. There is nothing even remotely green about authoritarianism of any colour. Any change has to be consumer-led, and that’s us lot! If you don’t buy shit it doesn’t get made and doesn’t need disposal. We can’t opt out of everything, but we can certainly be selective in the many areas where we have choice.
    Darren L likes this.
  11. Timcat

    Timcat pfm Member

    To a certain extent it is possible to build in reparability, but it costs. The German domestic appliance company Miele design their washing machines so that parts which wear can be replaced and the machines keeps in service. For example, the drums in their machines are constructed so that bearings, seals etc. can be replaced without difficulty. However, their machines cost two or three times that of competing machines, in which the drum assembly is a single piece that is cheaper to manufacture, but which cannot be repaired. It is actually worth buying Miele machines because they can be kept in service for 20 years or so, but most people don't look past the sticker price!

    Phones, computers and the like are different. Processors, memory and other hardware are improving so fast (Moore's Law) and allowing software to become so much more powerful, it is inevitable that older machines will simply become redundant and inevitably landfill. I can record or watch a movie in 4k on my iPhone, which would simply be impossible using 10 year old devices. I can edit 4k movies on my Mac, which wouldn't even play on my 2005 model.
  12. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    To my mind as someone who started in computing in the BBC B & IBM XT era I feel Moore’s Law has pretty much ground to a halt for all but real power users (hardcore gamers, video editors etc).

    For a very long time now computers have genuinely been fit for purpose. Gone are the days where every Windows upgrade mandated a new computer as the old chip and RAM architecture just wasn’t even remotely up to the job and even if it was chances are it would crash doing something as basic as printing a 20 page document. My main computer at the moment is an eight year old 13” MacBook Pro. Ok, I’ve upgraded it to 16GB RAM and a 1TB SSD, and it was the top-end i7 chip of its time, but it is still a great computer now and easily able to run say Logic Pro X with lots of audio channels and soft-synths etc, and that’s challenging stuff. For day to day browsing and accounts the only issue with it is with the announcement of Big Sur it is now orphaned from the current Apple OS. It has got to that entirely arbitrary end with dignity. Even so it would make a stunningly good Linux machine if that worried me at all (it’s actually still running Mohave as Catalina looks like a crock of arse).

    To put this in perspective eight years, how long my MBP has remained useful fast and responsive running current software, is the the time-frame between the Intel 8088 in the original IBM XT and the 486, the gap between the Commodore PET and the Amiga was also eight years. The timeline between the 6502 BBC B and the ARM RISC chip debuting in the Acorn Archimedes was just six years!

    It’s the same with phones, my iPhone 6S must be getting on for four years old now and to be honest it does everything I need a smartphone to do. Admittedly I don’t play games on a phone, but it does all the internet, photography and phone things I need plus has a headphone jack so I can use proper old-school cans with it.

    If I could buy something high-end, modular, serviceable and not built by slaves to replace my MBP with I would, but annoyingly like everyone else I’m locked-in to the ecosystem even though I run my IT kit for far, far longer than most people do. Sure, I’m a totally obsessive ex-IT guy so I can own stuff without doing all the dropping it, spilling coffee on it, throwing it at a wall or whatever so many people seem to do. I can often fix it too. My Macbook could still all but pass for NOS! And yes, I do even clean the inside now and again to make sure the fan can do its thing. I do plan to replace it soon, but no way in hell is it going into landfill. I actually plan to keep it as it has been such a great computer it deserves to sit next to the BBC B, Spectrum etc in the retro pile, and I’d far prefer to retire it working.
  13. wow&flutter

    wow&flutter pfm Member

    This is an interesting subject and I can approach it from a few different positions.

    In the mid 80’s I was invited by a mate to get involved in the distribution of spares aimed at tv and video businesses.I guess the bulk of the items initially covered the bread and butter manufacturers that had been around for years, your Philips, Ferguson, Amstrad, Grundig, Sony, JVC, Sanyo, Hitachi, Panasonic, you’ll know them all!

    Most will be aware there were links between many of them, for example some Ferguson models which were basically a JVC chassis with a different fascia. This pattern also continued with those portable tv/video of that era with the bulk being just branded copies.

    This era also saw mass introduction of the str and stk modules used in video power supplies and output devices in amplifiers. Now most of these were not manufacturers originals but bought in by them as a relatively inexpensive solution to reduce the parts count and keep costs down. There were a few that came branded from memory, I remember Pioneer branded STK 4141 sticks in mind for some reason as does a Sanyo STK 5481!
    For those unfamiliar these were typically that size of a large box of matches but about half the depth and most of them failed at some point in the machines life. Some due to lack of heat sinking and maybe the demands being made were very close to the design spec.For convenience I’d say 95% of the service guys just fired a new one in at a cost to them of £5 or £10 max though it was maybe just was no longer feeding out a 12v rail which could easily have provided by a 20p L7812. That 5% is worth noting.

    I witnessed as in almost any industry some real stars, some with massive talent and huge technical expertise and very important in that era the ability to learn as digital started appearing on their benches. I met many who’d come from the Thorn style training school, a massive group who trained as apprentices and that were so familiar with the chassis designs they knew exactly what was wrong when they walked into the customers house or before sticking it on the workshop bench.They had real in depth training of which I believe at the time was only matched in the hifi industry by B&O. I did however witness a chap from Revox in a retailers workshop once going through a B77 and it was a joy to watch and listen to!
    The final few groups were the real characters. Some from the latter group and in their latter years, some actually I’m not sure if they were trained at all.Many just board swappers and I remember many straight up asking me “which parts do I need for this one”!
    It was a fascinating time and remember this was an era when shops still rented TVs, I remember seeing a guy fitting a coin box for the first time in my life and the apprentice engineers would go round and empty the cash every week!

    How many audio manufacturers actually train engineers on their products these days?

    It’s fascinating for me to see the diy room some 35 years later with people requesting BC or BD transistors etc, I bought them in bags of 100, Likewise STK, STR modules and TDA ic’s again I had by the antistatic tray full!
    The BU208, BC556, BC557, TIP41/TIP42, L7805,L7812 were also bread and butter items back then. You even had ‘universal line output transformers’.
    I wish my memory was better as I had drawers full of different types of these items. If I had that stock today I’d be worth a bloody fortune!

    Heading towards the 90’s things changed dramatically as the specification demands on the equipment increased and manufacturers became the only source for an increasing number of OEM bits.
    In a quest to reduce their stock holding many of the manufacturers got in bed with the Likes of Farnel, CPC, SeMe,Charles Hyde and a few others. This was an interesting time as it opened up spares to non authorised dealers. So your local guy that didn’t have a Panasonic account for example could now get that switch, cover or doofer they required.
    Into the noughties I remember a mate who was originally a customer telling me that one manufacturer was no longer supplying warranty parts. They would now automatically replace it as the savings over holding a stock of spare parts was substantial.
    That same mate also sung the praises of a certain big UK amp manufacturer. He could phone them up and speak to the guy at the bench ( like you could do with Revox back in the day as well). A quick chat would either result in a direction to take in terms of fault finding or as the likely faulty component was no longer made they would send out a good board from a used machine FOC. Out of warranty FOC spares who’d have believed it !
    This process continued for years until someone with no knowledge done this and appeared at their door demanding that the ancient item b.........d by themselves be fixed under warranty. Understandably that manufacturer put a stop to it and from that day forward would only supply spares to authorised dealers.

    Support for authorised dealers is of course hugely important but I wonder how many of their items are now landfill as the authorised dealer and his overheads demand a repair fee that condemns an item with minimal faults!

    I supplied a number of guys in Tony’s position back in the day. Those that repaired purely as a hobby and It wasn’t uncommon for me to be at someone’s house or in the back of their garage at 9pm in the evening dropping off that transistor or whatever to get something up and running and as it was generally their own item they were happy to wait a week till I was passing and certainly couldn’t the minimum required order amount.

    Consumables were a big hit as well, both Ambersil and Servisol products not surprisingly were also big sellers along with things like solder and tools. The items that would hike the post and packing costs and were generally only bought to top up an order so as not to incur shipping fees with the big companies.

    I remember one car audio dealer who started a contract fixing those old Ford car cassette radios that had the old mechanical Blaupunk transport in it. He was inundated with private work and the local Ford dealer requesting repairs as well. Through an intermediate source I got a very large quantity of the transport assemblies. So chassis, motor, head assembly everything. So it was just case of soldering a few wires and the units were fixed.
    He happily picked up a few every time I was passing and paid what I was asking and as a gift at Christmas he gave me some alcohol, a massive drum of it! Pure isopropyl alcohol! He’d taken it as payment for a repair and even cleaning ten cassette heads and pinch rollers a day he’d never get through it in a lifetime!
    On the way home I visited a fireman who in his few days off a week fixed stuff and he advised me about the max container volume permitted for transporting a specific chemical group. Never knew anything about the transportation of chemicals though I did have to learn it later when I acquired a hazpak license!
    A drum of isopropyl turned out to be quite profitable even taking into account buying the bottles and getting the required docs.
    I tried to buy a pill bottle size of it this year from a Chemist and they wouldn’t sell it without a prescription although you can buy via eBay.

    Anyway, great times! I scrolled throughout the country via Google Earth last year and don’t remember seeing any of those business being still there.
    There was no drugs but lots of sex and rocknroll. Happy days!
  14. matt j

    matt j pfm Member

    I think with regards to servicing and repairs (not specifically Hi-Fi, just in general) somewhere along the way we've gone from the cheaper option being to have a knowledgeable, trained repair engineer(s) go out and fix things, to now the cheaper option being to bin off the repair guys and it being cheaper to send out a new one.

    From my own experience it would be great to be able to remove an item, take it away to a repair workshop and spend the time to properly diagnose, service and repair it, then sufficient time to properly test it, but the reality is I get an hour on site to strip it down, diagnose, repair, rebuild and test. Which is ridiculous given the complexity of some of it.

    It's all about banging through the jobs these days rather than allowing time to do the job properly, about 75% of the stuff I don't even get time to test properly, if it fires up and works then job done, if it should need further work then we just go back another time. Plus there's no training, at least 50% of the stuff I work on it will be the first time I've ever seen one. Nothing gives a worse impression to the customer than not even knowing how to get in the bloody thing to begin with. No manuals and no technical line to phone for guidance, just flying by the seat of your pants and hoping you can figure it out without it taking too long.

    You're expected to effect a quick, efficient and full repair without the allowance of the things said repair requires- time and training.

    I used to think repairing things was a decent living, but it just gets more and more stressful as time goes on, they want miracles but only want to pay peanuts for them.
  15. Dowser

    Dowser Learning to bodge again..

    I was a repair technician after leaving school, started with VCRs at J2T (assembled JVC/Ferguson VCRs in Newhaven), then moved into Hi-Fi and TVs. I saw the writing on the wall by the late 80s, and made a conscious decision to move into computers and IT. Consumer electronics were becoming less repairable, with manufacturers shifting from providing replacement parts to replacement boards, especially with newer digital products. This seemed to me to be because they were more complex to fault find, and the manufacturers figured it was cheaper to replace whole PCBs than write decent technical manuals/test procedures/test equipment to be able to fault find to component level.

    I find it a shame, but I also do not see it changing - technology is moving too fast, it doesn’t make financial sense for manufacturers to make something repairable when it’s old tech a couple of years after release. At least, not unless the total cost of a products life is accounted for...including its recycling costs (or, lack of recycling, and the cost of that).

    in the world of hi-fi we’re lucky - pretty much everything is still repairable. Long may that continue.
  16. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    I agree with the first point provided we make clear it is a specific *type* of capiltalism which is currently being inflicted upon us. This can be changed, and may have to be because of many reasons beyond the scope of this thread.

    Nor do I agree that making things that are more reliable and repairable means a vast increase in the retail price. Makers can avoid that simply by making the items more durable and/or ensuring they have spares and the item can be repaired. And the bottom line is that short-term goods with 'built in obsolescence' cost the consumer more in the long run anyway because they have to keep buying a new one, and indirectly past the costs of disposal of the old ones. i.e. we end up paying in, say, taxes, what wasn't on the ticket are initial purpose.

    The soloution seems to me to need a combination of:

    1) Legal requirements that put the cost firmly back onto makers if a device fails or needs repair/replacement within, say, a decade, or can't be mended for a longer period because they didn't stock spares, etc. Require them to have insurance for this so it can work even if they try to dodge by 'going out of business' with one name and popping up with another.

    2) Require makers to pay the costs of *safe* *green* disposal, and ensure they don't simply ship and dump in the 3rd world.

    3) If necessary tax/levy them.

    4) All relevant repair, etc, info to become openly available at such time as they cease being willing to repair and item.

    This could easily be limited to larger makers on the basis that to dodge the measures smaller makers made stuff that can be repaired. And a suitable tax could be applied that means planned obsolecence is no longer profitable.

    Of course, none of it will happen until voters demand it on pain of a party losing office. :)
  17. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    TBH I also suspect big makers will lost their advantage over small ones as the rise in smart small systems like the Pi's and the use of '3D printers' rises and gives small producers the ability to make things and compete.

    I'm old enough to recall people laughing at the small (sic) things that Spock and Uhuru stuck in their ear when working on te bridge of Starship Enterprise. They don't look so impossible now, do they! You can see people using stereo pairs of them every day. Things change. Just a matter of knowing which direction we should go in. :)
  18. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Though this isn’t any cleaner or less toxic, it is actually arguably far, far worse. The Pi, like pretty much every other computing device, is still be made in China using cheap labour and poor working conditions, likely far worse than Apple as it is far further out of the media spotlight and the expectations of such a cheap product is less. As a low-cost device there is even more incentive for the user to just throw it in the bin when the first cap fails or when it’s already low spec is obsolete. There is certainly no way it can be economically viable to pay for board repair on a £50 SBC the way it is for a £2k+ Apple laptop. Much as I love the ethos of the whole Pi thing I see it as a massive part of the problem we face, as of course is the tons of ugly crap people squirt out of 3d printers.

    In a way I’m actually arguing for things to become far more expensive! Build really well for a long service life.
  19. Jim Audiomisc

    Jim Audiomisc pfm Member

    You're taking for granted that because it is that way now it will always be so. My point is that it is in our hands to change that. But will require people to both vote for changes by legislation and decide where they spend their money.
    Darren L likes this.
  20. matt j

    matt j pfm Member

    People want cheap, first and foremost ( I mean regular people, not enthusiasts) I really can't see your average punter wanting to lay out double, or more, the initial cost of a TV for example just because it will be more reliable. I mean who has even had a recent TV fail? I've not heard of it being a common thing. By the time some of this new gear is getting old enough to fail people have had enough of it and want the latest whizz bang version anyway.

    I think back in the day the life cycle of a product was much longer, there wasn't a new TV coming out every 6 months so once people bought one they kept it for donkeys years, that mentality of 'it's still working, why do I need a new one?' where as these days folks care not whether it still works, they just want the latest bling.

    That's not to say I don't agree that people should be able to get stuff repaired, I just can't see it gaining any traction in the real world without a MASSIVE change in mindset from the general public.
    Arkless Electronics and Nagraboy like this.

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