The death of hand wiring

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Printed circuit boards, those thin copper strips laminated to fiberglass, paper, or ceramic plates routing complex electrical signals are common today. It wasn’t always so.

PCBs, as they are known, poked their collective heads out of infancy in the late 1950s after being invented by an Australian engineer, Paul Eisler, in 1936. They languished in labs and acted as proximity fuses for the US Army in World War II before being released for commercial use in the year I was born, 1948. They picked up steam in the early 60s through the late 70s thanks to the burgeoning aerospace industry, exploded in the 80s because of computers, then crept into other technologies like consumer audio over time.

When HIFI manufacturers weren’t using PC boards we were using something else to connect our resistors, capacitors, and tubes together. Point-to-point wiring.

Point-to-point wiring, the technique of connecting each part together with pieces of insulated wire and welded to parts with solder and flux, was hand-done one at a time and with great skill. Manufacturing mistakes common today, like a wrong part inserted into the wrong place, were made worse because more than just the part had to be changed: the wiring and location were suspect too.

The advantages of point-to-point wiring narrowed down to the wire itself. It was heavier gauge than the thin strips that run around circuits like a maze of cobblestone streets in Rome. Technically speaking that heavier gauge wire meant little unless there was a lot of current flowing, but there are those that argue point-to-point sounded better too.

I can attest to the fact that my push-pin prototypes with their heavy gauge connections and occasional connecting wires sound different than the PCBs they spawn. But better? I am not certain.

I’ve spent some time video memorializing more thoughts here.