I’ve reviewed a few other thermometers and today, we have an interesting one from a company (humorously named) SALTechips. This is the ThermNeon; it uses an IN-13 bargraph tube to display both the temperature and the menu.
Typically, nixie/neon thermometers haven’t had much in the way of options. With a nixie clock, you typically have four or six digits to display menu numbers and values. While these can be a little cumbersome at times they get the job done. With a bargraph tube, displaying the menu items and values takes some ingenuity. SALTechips achieves this by changing the backlight color to green (to indicate menu item selection) or red (to indicate the value selection.) The actual menu items are defined as temperatures. So, flashing green at 15 Degrees Celsius means that the menu item selected is the temperature display frequency.
One of the interesting things about the backlight in this case is the way that it is used to convey information. For example, if it is cold, you can have the backlight be set to blue. If it is warm, you have it set to yellow. If the temperature is somewhere in between, the device will mix the two colors proportionately. The cutoff points for hot/cold and the colors can be set in the menu.
Below is a list of all of the menu items
There is one other feature that is not accessible via the menu. It is a live display mode where the temperature is constantly updated based on the input. It is interesting to play with this feature because it becomes clear that this isn’t an analog device. (Yes, you can also tell this by looking at the schematics.) The temperature does not smoothly transition but jumps in even increments. This isn’t necessarily bad because (1) it isn’t a precision device and (2) because the neon glow does not have a clearly defined top to begin with.
The display itself turns on and off at regular intervals to prolong the tube life. I know that nixies, for example, can get cathode poisoning. I’m not sure how IN-13 tubes age however. I have my device set to a 50% duty cycle (display for 30 seconds every minute) but I guess I won’t know for a few years what effect it has, if any. My tube in thermometer from NixieKits.eu seems to be holding up fine but it is filled with Argon so I’m not sure how that changes the lifespan.
The scale itself deserves some attention too. At 1 CM, it is considerable thicker than the neon tube. The tube sits in a channel that has been drilled out of the center so it provides stability across the entire length of the tube. The channel is just deep enough to protect the tube but not distort the display in any way. The tube is still exposed on the front and back but it is well protected.
The base of the device made out of what appears to be laser cut wood. The panels are 5MM thick and fit solidly together. The photos give a pretty good idea of how the case is actually built. On the front of the device the thermNeon logo is etched. On the back are cutouts for the power, the sensor, and the buttons. On the bottom is a sticker with an abridged version of the menu.
The device itself is sold as a kit for $140 or assembled for $200. With the kit version, the majority of the components are through-hole, which should make assembly easier. If you need help with the few SMD parts, SALTechips will affix them to the PCB before shipping. I will link to the assembly manual at the bottom of this article. If you’re thinking about buying the kit version, it is worth looking at. They went through great pains to photograph every step and make assembly as easy as possible.
As far as powering the device, you can use a wall power supply or a mini USB connector. Both are supplied with the kit and assembled versions. The power that ships with the device is matched with the correct plug based on the shipping destination.
This is a solid device. Literally. I don’t think it is going to break unless I really try to. I am a big fan of the features that this clock offers. They add functionality to the device that is actually useful to users. Overall, this is a solid little gadget.
Jürgen Grau sent me new photos of his latest creation - this is a hybrid tube phono preamplifier. It is sold as a kit and should take about an hour to assemble.
This is another of the products that nixiekits.eu used to offer, but no longer do.
Good news, the USB powered Magic Eye Winker from NixieKits.eu is finished! It is based on the same dimensions as the tube board from the Magic Eye VU-Meter (50 mm diameter) this gadget does only one thing: "Winking".
It is powered via USB * and all 6V heater tubes can be fitted. Solder bridges on the bottom side will connect the signals according to the socket needed for the tube.
These tubes can be fitted:
EM80 / EM81 / EM84 / PM84 / EM85 / EM87 / EM800 / EAM86 / 6BR5 / 6DA5 / 6E2 / 6E3P / 4FG6 / 6FG6 / 6DH7 / 6HU6
* it can also be powered from an external battery pack up to 18V, so it is possible to fit tubes with different heater voltages like the UM80 with 19V for example
Want to know more? Ask Jürgen in the forums.
This little device comes to us from NixieKits.eu. It is a dual triode headphone amplifier from based on surplus Russian military tubes. This is a largely subjective review but I’ll do my best to stay as factual as possible.
Each new gadget from NixieKits.eu has a more refined enclosure than the previous and this is no exception. The device is made out of (what appears to be) laser cut acrylic and has a very solid feel. The panels are slotted and fit together nicely and give the entire device a solid feel.
These images are from NixieKits.eu. The top graph shows the total harmonic distortion, the middle diagram shows the output voltage with different loads and the final diagram shows the output of a 100 kHz square wave @ 500mV.
Black (no load), 150 ohm (cyan), 23 ohm (green)
As far as testing the device, I performed 12 distinct tests. The sample songs were ripped from a CD and stored in a lossless format and then loaded on to the three test devices.
The source devices used were an iPod (2010 160GB), an iPhone 4s, and a MacBook Pro (early 2011) with a Behringer F Control FCA202 DAC. The headphones used for testing were the original iPhone earbuds and a Sennheiser 5xx series open headphone.
The scale below ranges from -5 to +5 and is in subjective units. Higher is better and lower is worse. The scale is centered on 0 given (iPod, no amp, ear buds). This combination I believe covers the larges portion of the population and so a number higher than this (0) sounds better. A number below this sounds worse.
The results are not too surprising. The best combination is the laptop with the headphone amp with the Sennheisers. However, in EVERY CASE, the headphone amp helped by at least one subjective unit. In my opinion, if you already have a nice set of headphones, you will probably benefit more from this device.
To begin, I left this device disconnected and plugged in my headphones. I let it warm up and turned it up all of the way. The result: silence. This is fantastic. Not even my home stereo amplifier has complete silence when I turn it up all of the way.
To test distortion, I played a techno song with a deep and loud baseline. I compared how it sounded coming directly from my computer versus from the amplifier and the difference was notable. The song was clearer at louder volumes using the amplifier than it was without. I played with a few other demo songs that Jürgen sent me and the results were similar.
On the quiet end, it doesn’t add any noise. On the loud end, it doesn’t distort or clip the waveform like a transistor-based amplifier does.
As far as the “warm” sound of a tube amplifier it is there. If, like me, you only grew up using more modern designs, it may sound foreign at first. It is not very pronounced but if you know that it is there, you can hear it. For things like an acoustic guitar, I really like the results. For piano solos, things sound a little muted but not in any bad. This is completely subjective and depends on your preferences. I can say, however, that since I received this device, I have not disconnected it from my system!
Jürgen shared this color coded photo of the original design on the bread board versus the final product. It's quite an evolution!