Millclock are based in Ukraine and offer a range of assembled clocks and thermometers, as well as some kits. We're going to focus on an assembled clock in this review, which is one of the more simple clocks available from Millclock.
One point before we start about the kits: There's been some negative press about the kits, but you should take that with a pinch of salt; The complaints were that the assembly was difficult because the components used are SMD (Surface Mount Devices), but that's entirely clear from looking at the pictures on the site. The complaints are a little unfair, and the Millclock site states that there is some assembly skill needed.
However, we're talking about a fully assembled and tested item in this review: The IN-12 Nixie Tube Clock With Walnut Wood Enclosure.
The package arrived quickly from the Ukraine; the shipping costs part of the price, and the priority postage that Millclock uses means that you won't have to wait very long for the clock to arrive. The clock itself was well packed and in perfect condition, well padded with polystyrene against the worst that a postal service can do. Inside the box, there was a power supply, the clock unit, and a very short instruction sheet, which covered half a side of paper. Clearly there isn't a lot to configure in this clock.
A 12V 1A power supply with a EU plug on it was in the box, and all you need to do to get the clock going is to plug it in and set the time! Very easy indeed.
The clock is very small, and is quite a triumph of miniaturization. The front panel is barely larger than the 4 IN-12 tubes, and the depth of the unit front to back is slightly larger than the height. There are two buttons on the top of the case, and a small hole in the top. This is for cooling on the pre-production unit, but will be removed for the mass production, because the clock does not produce very much heat.
The case is entirely in wood, and nicely finished, with an etched logo on the back panel, which is a nice touch. The rounded corners and the grain of the wood give the clock a nice feel. The unit is comfortingly heavy in the hand. In the front between the hours and the minutes, there is a single small neon indicator.
The unit measures 113mm wide, 44mm high and 44mm deep, and weighs about 160g. The new international Nixie measurement standard of a 100g Toblerone, which is 210mm, so that means that it's just over 0.5T wide in the new units.
There were a couple of slight problems in the final assembly of the case, but I think there are because the unit I have is an early pre-production model. They are not very serious problems: The back panel is glued on, and it does not look to be easy to change the battery. Some screws would have been a better solution, because eventually the battery will need to be replaced.
Also, on the review unit, the power lead is very short, it is only xx cm, and this means it's sometimes difficult to find a good location for the clock close enough to a power outlet. The power adaptor is glued directly into the case, and it's not possible to change it. The application of the glue was not very pretty.
Operation of the clock is quite straightforward, justifying the single page of instructions. It covers all the normal functions of a small clock. You can set the time and date, you can set the time format to 12 hour or 24 hour mode, you can turn on or off the back light, and you can set whether you want to have the date displayed. It's that simple!
Clearly, inside this clock there is a small SMD PCB which holds the electronics and the tubes. Measuring an IN-12 against the unit we can see that it looks like the tubes are mounted directly on the board, and that is not going to leave much room for electronics. My statement about the miniaturization seems to be true.
The operation is super simple, and it's perfect for a small, easy "fit and forget" clock that you might keep in an office or a bedroom. The left hand button is the "menu" button, to move between menus when you are setting the clock, and the right hand button, adjusts the setting, or shows the date when you are in normal time mode. Each time the date is shown, the display does a little scroll through animation, which also serves as a rudimentary anti cathode poisoning.
The menu is easy to understand. First press the "menu" button (the left one), and the neon stops flashing. This is an indication that you are in setting mode. Then you can press the "adjust" button (the right one) to change the settings. After you have set the hour, press the "menu" button again to move onto the minutes, and again you can press the "adjust" button to set the minutes. When you move onto the minutes, the neon stays on. This is the clock's way of telling you that you are in setting mode, and you are working on the right hand pair of digits, in this case, the minutes.
Pressing the "menu" button again takes you into the date settings. The neon is off, so we are working on the first two digits, which is the day of the month. Set this, and then press the "menu" button again, and the neon shows us that we are looking at the right hand digits, which is the month.
Press the "menu" button again, and now we move onto the year. The next option is the 12 hour or 24 hour mode. "00" means we are in 24 hour mode, which is the default, and "01" is 12 hour mode.
The next pair of options is the back light which can be "01", meaning back light on, which is the default, or "00" meaning back light off. It would be nice if the back light was turned on or off when you change the setting, but it only sets the back light LEDs once you exit the settings mode. The next setting is whether to show the date by default. This means that every so often the date will be shown automatically. "01" means show the date (the default) and "00" means do not show the date.
You will notice that there is no option to set the seconds, because this is done automatically when you exit settings mode. When you finish the setting up, the seconds are set to "00" automatically.
IN-12 tubes are super robust, so the anti cathode poisoning isn't really that necessary.
The time is battery backed, meaning that if you turn it off, it still keeps time perfectly. It's not using something like a super-capacitor, which will keep the time for a few minutes, it has a battery so that it will keep counting time as long as the battery runs, and the life of these batteries is usually measured in years. Millclock tell me that the life of the battery is rated as 10 years.
This is an excellent tiny little clock, pretty much the smallest enclosed clock that you can make with the hardy IN-12 tubes. It doesn't have a lot of functions, but the ones it has are dead easy to use, and cover what you want for a clock in an office or a bedroom. It has all the beauty of Nixies, in a small, modern package, with a high quality case. I think it's a little pricey for what it is, but bear in mind that the cost includes priority shipping and some high quality materials.
There are one or two little finishing touches which it would be nice to take care of (the glued back to the case and the missing strain relief around the short cable), but apart from that, it's a high quality, uncomplicated, accurate clock.
There is also a "dark chocolate" version available.
The guarantee is 1 year.
All in all, a nice little clock.
There is also a tear down of the clock. Bear in mind that this is a pre-production version of the clock, and the electronics looks pretty complete, but there are a few little rough edges in the case and construction. The teardown video is here:
Is this (click on the image to see the full resolution picture of the madness):
I'll be testing myself against it in a fight to the death:
Who will win? (My money is on the clock).
This is my first Numitron clock, and frankly I'm entirely taken by the elegance and clean lines of the digits presented by Numitron tubes. Probably the whole of the rest of the world already knows about Numitrons, and I'm the last person on earth to discover them, but all the same I'm happy it happened late rather then never.
Numitrons are the seven segment technology from before the time that LEDs became ubiquitous. LEDs were so cheap and robust, and made so few demands on the driving circuitry that they killed everything that came before. This stopped the production of tubes like Numitrons, and nowadays they are becoming increasingly rare and difficult to find. Even rarer are the tubes used in the "NumiQueen", the IV-13 tube, the so called queen of Numitrons. Nixies seem to be still fairly easy to come by in comparison, but Numitrons are the much exotic (and some say more beautiful) cousin. The IV-13's used in the NumiQueen are the largest and most beautiful examples of the already beautiful Numitron.
The technology itself is fairly simple: A filament s driven until it glows red hot in a vacuum, much like an under powered light bulb. Modern filament lamps with a retro look are based on the same idea: A filament glowing warm orange in a vacuum will last for a long time, provided that you run them in the correct way. If you drive them too hard, they can age quickly, and drive them too softly, and they will not glow correctly.
This is the innovation that the NumiQueen brings: The filaments are driven using a regulated constant current driver, meaning that manufacturing tolerances of each filament are rendered insignificant. The problem with driving tube filaments with an unregulated, or even regulated constant voltage driver is that the circuit will place some filaments under stress because they have a lower resistance, leading to a higher current in that filament and shorter overall tube life. The NumiQueen manages the drive current (not the voltage), and therefore adapts the drive voltage to provide the correct current.
Back in the days of tungsten filament light bulbs, you may remember that they usually broke when the light was first turned on, and this is due to the inrush current at the moment of turning the light on while the filament is cold: tungsten filaments have a positive temperature coefficient, and the initial current drawn when the light turns on is higher than during normal usage, because the filament has not reached operating temperate and its resistance is low. After a few milliseconds, the filament heats up and the current falls. However, the inrush current at the moment of turning on is stressful for the filament. Constant current sources don't have this problem: The current reaches the limit level and the filament has time to heat up without being stressed.
Additionally to the current limiting circuitry, the NumiQueen has another trick up it's sleeve: The filaments are pre-heated with a low current before turning them on fully. This further reduces the stress on the tubes.
The NumiQueen does everything possible to preserve the life of these valuable and rare Numitrons. Just because so much emphasis has been given to this doesn't mean that you should worry too much about the life of the tubes: They have a rated life of 50,000 hours, which is about 6 years in constant use. The NumiQueen is clearly trying to extend this already long life by treating them as gently as possible.
I bought the tubes for about $30 dollars each, as the kit came without tubes (there is a kit option including tubes, but I preferred to source them myself), but had to look around to find someone able to sell me the tubes. If this is too much trouble for you, Jürgen at NixieKits can supply the kit with tubes, which means that you'll have an easier time of it.
Brian used to do a size comparison with a standard "Diet Coke" can, but for two reasons that standard device is going to have to be changed. First of all, I don't drink that crap, and secondly the cans where I live are a different size and shape to the ones that used to be used. Perhaps Brian can ship me the standard can that he's been using. I promise I'll only use it for the size comparison and I promise won't drink it. (That was not hard to promise). In the mean time, we'll just have to find another size comparison object.
Here we see the clock built from the parts I received in the kit. As I said, I sourced my own IV-13 tubes. You can see the tiny filigree filaments that there are inside, arranged as a standard seven segment display. There is also a decimal point which you can see on the last digit. Each clock also has a serial number, which you can see on the bottom
The acrylic case is a nice touch as well. It allows you to finish the clock to be something that you can proudly show to others, without having to wait for a case or build one yourself. You can easily build this clock in an evening, right up to and including the case.
There is also a power supply in the kit package, with a plug suited to your country available by selecting the appropriate option on the NixieKits site. I chose the back lights that randomly change colour, so you can see that it looks a bit like a circus, but there are other, more sober options also available when you order.
Another feature that you can just make out in this light is the filament pre-heating. You can see the faint glow of the filaments which are not lit up. This is the controller making sure that they are ready to go without the risk of giving them a thermal shock. This is a great feature and really shows the attention to detail.
There is a separate article about the process of constructing the kit. However it suffices to say that the construction is not particularly difficult, and no special tools are required. Construction time is about 3 hours if you are moderately experienced.
The kit comes complete with a power adapter and a neat and tidy acrylic case, which is a nice touch, meaning that you will have a presentable clock right away at the at the end of the build, which is highly satisfying.
The NumiQueen offers a fairly standard set of features for a tube clock, and if you have previous experience of either a PV Electronics or a NixieKits clock, you will find no surprises here. The NumiQueen is a totally faithful translation of Nixie clock features into a Numitron clock. Normally the features of this firmware doesn't really excite me very much, but along with the Numitrons, it works very well. The Numitrons themselves become the talking point of this clock, not the stunts that the firmware can do.
There are all the normal features you would expect:
The clock has 4 buttons on it, meaning that setting is quite straight forward and logical. One of the buttons is used for turning DST on and off, another is used for managing the alarm, and the last two are used for setting the clock up.
I set up the clock to use an NWTS, and this was really quite easy. Set option 12 to "4" (GPS module) and option 13 to "1" (9600 baud) and that was it. The unit acquired the time right away. I did have to play with the DST settings for a few minutes to make them right, with option 14 set to "0" no hours difference and option 16 set to "1" (add the hours).
I was impressed by the brightness and elegance of the Numitron tubes. It's the first time I have seen them in real life, and it is a learning experience with them. They fit tightly into the sockets on the board, and putting them in for the first time was quite stressful: The new sockets are tight, and the tubes look so fragile. By a process of "wiggling" them in, they fit snugly against the case and all work perfectly. The sockets are really nice, high quality items, but you need to spend some time getting them aligned on the board so that the tubes stand up straight.
In use, they emit some heat: This was worrying at first to someone more used to Nixie tubes, which tend to stay more or less cold, even after hours of use. However, this is normal, and they didn't get so warm that it really worried me. It wasn't clar how much of the heat came from the tubes themselves, and how much came from the driver circuitry.
The time keeping of the clock is of course excellent, especially with the addition of the nwts which is already in my collection, and which seems to work with pretty much everything. The time seems to be consistently up to 1 second out, but the time drift does not get worse over time when using the nwts unit.
Changing from and to DST is easy to do because there is a button and an indicator for it, but there must be a better way to achieve this in 2017. It seems somehow a bit perverse that a high tech time keeping device needs a human to intervene to tell it the time. Admittedly, it's definitely a first world sort of problem, but really? DST rules are being largely simplified, and we're not dealing with a space shot, so a second here or there is not going to kill anyone, but there must be a better way than this.
The NumiQueen is a great product. It is well presented, not that hard to build, gives a really professional looking result, right down to the case. The Numitrons are a bit hard to find, and moderately expensive (but not as expensive as large tubes), but any troubles finding them, and Jürgen can supply the tubes with the kit.
Do I like the NumiQueen? Well I guess that this is already clear: It is my favourite clock of the moment.
Would I recommend to buy it? Yes, if you are looking for something a bit different from the more of less run of the mill Nixie experience, then the NumiQueen is a great answer to that. It's a bit expensive, but it gives a result that is out of the ordinary.
This is an IN-1 Nixie Clock that I made a while ago. It has some rather unusual features:
* A 3 x 2 layout of the IN-1 tubes
* Back lighting of the IN-1 tubes (they said it wasn't possible!)
* The case, which is an old presentation box for a bottle of Grappa or Port
* The WiFi time provider module, which means you never have to set the clock ever again
* The WiFi configuration
I guess not everyone will like the 3 x 2 format of the tubes, but the format was inspired directly by the shape of the case.
The video takes you through the way the tubes are mounted, using gallons of hot glue, a trick to make small neons look bigger and brighter, and the WiFi configuration of the clock.
Full Disclosure: I make the Nixie Clock Module and the WiFi time provider module!
You can get the modules here: http://www.nixieclock.biz/Store.html