It’s been a while since I’ve done a review so let’s jump right in. Today, we have the Laura nixie clock from NixieKits.eu. It has a fraternal twin brother named Lars, which is nearly identical in terms of features and electronics but uses a different enclosure and tube type. The Laura clock uses IN-2 tubes (small, round) while the Lars clock uses the rectangular IN-17 tubes. Both clocks feature a parsimonious enclosure design that focuses on the tubes and little else.
The review will focus on the Laura design but the basic features are common across both designs. Additionally, this review will include the Wireless GPS kit, which is available as an add-on for these clocks (and others).
The stand out feature of these clocks is the size. There are some comparably sized clocks on the market (Cogwheel’s IN-17x7, Nocrotec’s Little Blue Something) but there aren’t many. Most people want large IN-18, B7971, etc., tubes and that leaves room for smaller clocks in the market. Additionally, the fact that these can sit on your desk and not be the center of attention can be a large plus. Both clocks are USB powered and make a great companion to your workstation. (I keep the Laura immediately below my external monitor.)
While we’re on the topic of design and size – this clock is unquestionably Jürgen’s design work. The Laura clock uses a similar structure to his original IN-12 design with the clear top, extruded aluminum sides, and decorative gold colored faceplate. The Lars design uses a solid black aluminum enclosure a copper-finished faceplate. (In fact, the Lars design looks like it would be perfect as part of a computer mod or on the dashboard of a car.)
Moving on to the tubes. Both clocks use petite tubes which have some advantages. They are generally easier to get replacements for and they cost less. I generally suggest getting replacement tubes asap after buying a clock and getting a spare set of 6 for either of these designs will be relatively easy on eBay.
The tubes themselves are similar in digit size with the obvious difference being the shape of the glass envelope. On the round tubes (IN-2), the numeral 5 is an upside down 2 like on many Russian tubes. The mesh is a little bit thicker than on most tubes but this doesn’t make them difficult to read. On IN-17’s, the numeral 5 is a distinct character. In both cases, the tubes suffer somewhat from a viewing angel problem – there are posts at the top and bottom of the tubes that hold the digits in place and they somewhat obstruct the display when you’re not looking at the tubes head-on. I can’t fault the clock design for this; all devices that use these tubes suffer from this design. The easy solution is to angle the display up (if it is on your desk) or mount it close to eye-height.
As far as tube brightness goes, I haven’t had any problems reading the tubes in a brightly lit room. They may not be a large as bright as IN-18’s, but these tubes don’t have any readability problems. (I can’t say the same for my LED clock, actually…)
The clocks feature a backlighting option that looks like an evolved option of Jürgen’s previous designs. The backlighting has always been a separate menu for the Nixie Kit designs back to the IV-12 Jenny VFD clock. I don’t think there are technical reasons for this but it does make manipulating the backlight color and display effects easier because it reduces the probability that you will accidentally set the time, alarm, etc.
Color effects – this clock supports a few different color effects. The user can manually set the color via a special menu or it can rotate automatically. All of the options can be set via a dedicated menu accessible via the DST button. For example, you can have the clock display a constant cyan color or slowly rotate through all color options. Interestingly, the color can be set on an hourly basis. So, you can have orang at 12:00, blue at 13:00, green at 14:00 etc.
Tube display effects – of course a nixie clock wouldn’t be complete without some nifty display effects and these clocks are no different. This clock comes with a built in slot machine effect to prevent cathode poisoning. Additionally, users can enable/disable digit fading to smoothly transition between digits.
Tube saver mode – most new nixie clocks have the ability to turn off the display at a given time. The goal is to have the display off when you’re not in the room. But what about when you have the clock at your office? NixieKits.eu has a cool solution to this – you can specify a different off time for the weekend. In other words, you can have the clock on from 8AM-5PM M-F and off all weekend. This is a cool little feature that I don’t want to get lost in the review. Alternately, if you have the clock at home, you can have the clock on over the weekend as well (or even only during the weekend.)
The very first thing that you notice when you look at this clock is its build quality. There are not many wood clocks on the market and this one probably has the best build quality of them all. The enclosure reviewed is made of maple but walnut is also an option. The sides are made from fours distinct pieces (as opposed to a hollowed out block), the top is another distinct piece and the bottom is capped with a metal plate. The top of the enclosure is a surprisingly hefty acrylic enclosure that sits in the beveled edge around the top of the clock.
On the front and sides of the clock are a few vent holes. These actually serve a purpose beyond decoration. The front vents conceal an IR receiver and the left side conceals an ambient light sensor. The back has two major cutouts. The first if for the USB power and the second is to allow access to the buttons mounted on the PCB. These are used to set the time and display effects.
The second thing that you notice about this clock is its size. It is one of the most petite 6 tube clocks that I have reviewed. Watch the video review for a comparison – this device is smaller than the Little Blue Something and is quite a but less voluminous than even a can of soda.
Powering the device is easy – it works from a standard USB connector. I’m a little amazed that the 500 mA that a port provides is sufficient to power 6 tubes, 4 neon indicators and all of the supporting circuitry but it works great.
The tubes are Burroughs B5870ST. These have a fine mesh and produce very crisp numbers. There are also four miniature neon bulbs that act as colon indicators for the tubes. Interestingly, these are mounted on small PCBs that were clearly designed for this purpose. I particularly like this attention to detail because it makes the entire device look more polished.
There are a few built in display effects to both prolong the tube life and to add eye candy. You can program the digits to fade between values. There are a few speeds available and they produce a nice smooth fade between numbers. There is also a shuffle effect. The shuffle effect cycles through the digits based on their position in the tube from back to front; the numbers do NOT count sequentially 1.2.3…etc. If the numbers were illuminated sequentially there would not be a smooth front to back motion on the display. Interestingly, the display effects are set on a mm/ss basis. In other words, the minutes can be fading while the seconds can use the shuffle effect.
This device has a built in thermometer which can display both Celsius and Fahrenheit scales. The value can be displayed as frequently as once per minute to once per day.
There is a built in ambient light sensor. As the ambient light increases, so does the tube brightness. This allows you to preserver tube life by running the tubes at a lower current (brightness) during the evening automatically.
Lastly, this device can be controlled via remote control. I am unable to test this feature because the pre-production model I was shipped glitches when I tried to use it so I am unable to review this specific feature.
This is the Little Blue Something in the Black Brilliance case from Nocrotec and NixieKitWorld.com . This clock is sold as a kit and this particular one features Burroughs B-5853 tubes with blue LED under lighting but other tubes and under lighting options are available as well. (You can see other variations of the same design here.)
The Burroughs tubes used in this device are some of my favorite. They are not nearly as large as an IN-18 but they are very legible with crisp edges around the numbers and a proper numeral 5. The tubes feature a fine mesh which is almost invisible from a few feet away and the envelope is flat at the top except for where the gas was evacuated. I’m not sure what the point is of forming such a nice top (as opposed to a rounded version) but does add a nice visual effect to the device.
The enclosure is a shiny black acrylic with four flat metal bolts on each corner. It is assembled in the same way that other Nocrotec enclosures are with each side fitting in to grooves in the base to form the shape. With that said, there are no lose pieces and the enclosure feels sturdy. It is not a kid’s toy, but it still feels solid.
The LED under lighting is the same blue led setup that Dieter uses for many of his projects. This contrasts nicely with the orange glow of the neon digits but the color is user selectable (at the time of assembly) and the green led lighting options appears quite nice as well.
The LBS setup actually has a few different options for maintaining an accurate count of the time. It supports DCF inputs (for users within Europe) and GPS (via a DCF converter). Both of these options are extra and do not ship with the device. The board can also accept a 1PPS input if you want to sync it to another source. Lastly, the device measures the line frequency and automatically compensates the crystal to ensure long-term stability.
The board supports a few different methods for prolonging the tube life. The user can set display brightness via the switches on the back and he can set auto off times via a jumper when assembling the clock. The board also supports an LDR which allows the device to automatically dim in proportion to the ambient light in the room. This has the advantage of being automatic and significantly increases the life of the tubes
Recently, Pete launched his new Nixie QTC format for mid sized tubes. Let's take a look at what he's got:
To begin, QTC stands for "quick tube change." The QTC design is an interesting clock kit with the ability to easily replace tubes that previously were hard wired (such as an IN-8-2, Z5070M, or ZM1210). He does this by putting them on a mini PCB with a connector on the back so the tubes can easily be swapped out. Nixie tubes do eventually wear out and this is an elegant way to replace them. One of the advantages of having all of the tubes on mini PCBs is that the main board can support multiple types of tubes with no configuration.
The nixies are drive in a multiplexed display mode. The tubes are driven in a 3x2 multiplex and generate little noise and no perceivable flicker.
This device also supports GPS synchronization making it one of the most affordable clocks with this option.
The following features are standard for the kit version: