I really enjoyed RobotGrrl‘s post on EMSL where she unboxes a mint Heathkit AC Voltmeter kit and assembles it. She finds all sorts of amazing components like RCA “electron tubes”, a crystal diode, and a gloriously old skool instruction book. See her unboxing and build progress pix.
And if you’re into Heathkits, be sure to read Dale Dougherty’s ode to Heathkit in our MAKE Kits special issue.
16 thoughts on “RobotGrrl’s Heathkit Unboxing”
Are there really insufficient rabid Heathkit fans to support a small surviving kit source? (“sure dude, but it’s called ‘adafruit’ or ‘sparkfun’ or ‘make-store-shop-kit-whatever'” …hm… maybe, but do any of those have a kit like a whole shortwave receiver to assemble? “shortwave?, wutzat?”)
…reminds me of the situation with all the rabid firefly fans and still the money can’t be recruited to make a few more episodes -sigh-
I suspect that the shift to digital technology has a lot to do with the decline of things such as heathkits; an Arduino kit combined with a motor shield or an Xbee has a lot more relevance to a young dabbler in electronics than a shortwave radio. Personally, I think it might be cool to build a shortwave radio, but I have no idea what I’d do with it after building it.
I have dozens of Heath electronic devices that started out as kits, including one of those vacuum tube voltmeters. Their design quality and instructions were excellent. Some of their audio components rivaled the best factory made gear. You can certainly do a lot with an Arduino, and it’s a quick learning curve. But I’d argue that building analog kits, and especially building specific purpose-designed circuits, teaches you more electronics concepts. With Arduino you’re adapting a complex general purpose device for a specific application. It will work. but you get less of the how and why.
Audio stuff still has a similar problem to radio equipment, though: young people, by and large, don’t spend much time listening to the kind of stereo speaker systems that an amplifier belongs in. An MP3 player feeding into headphones or some sort or a rather crap sound system generally suffices.
I think that the general approach of “kits sold well when we were selling lots of ham radio and amplifier kits, let’s try selling ham radio and amplifier kits” is rather wrong headed; one has to offer something that is still somewhat relevant from a modern perspective to entice people in to what will ultimately prove to be an educational product.
I may personally have an appreciation for tubey things and big old stereo systems, but my own appreciation will not a kit company support.
This is true. I’m involved in a lot of audio hobbyist stuff and it tends to be us old dudes with coffin sized ( or larger) boxes and big receivers in our living rooms. The youngsters with the white earbuds are conspicuously absent, though they do show up on DIY headphone sites like HeadFi. My first Make project was a rehab and upgrade for vintage speakers (Econowave). There was some reader interest but not a lot. When I developed the Squelette, a DIY desktop amp that can drive speakers or headphones, and can run directly from a MP3 player the response was much greater. Like it or not, that’s the way things are going. Now I’m working on developing compact or portable DIY devices optimized for digital player sources. Gotta follow the customers.
Speculation: if Heath was around today I think they’d be selling robotics, home fabrication, home automation and smartphone interface kits. These technologies are accessible for a small manufacturer in a way that products requiring custom integrated circuits are not. With the rise of integrated circuits, consumer products got very complex and development costs priced small players out of the business. Plus obsolescence cycles speeded up and purchase cost came down, which favors sellers with big development budgets, high volume and low unit incremental costs.
They were “around” until very recently, and would have quite gladly sold you a ham radio, amusingly enough: http://hackaday.com/2011/08/19/heathkit-is-back-from-the-dead/
I totally agree with you about the direction that these kinds of businesses should be going in, though. Or, in other words, I agree with you that we should have kit businesses operating under a different business model.
[…] along as Erin “RobotGrrl” Kennedy continues to build the vintage Heathkit voltmeter she unboxed earlier this month. Now she’s continuing the build! Last part we unboxed the Heathkit, looked at all the […]
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