Hi-Fi reactionism and RoHS


One of the things that studying the hi-fi world from a design perspective (for the last three years) rather than from an engineering perspective (for fifteen years before that) has shown me is that hi-fi is an incredibly conservative field.

In all likelihood this has its roots in the solid-state disasters of the 1970’s, and it certainly wasn’t helped by the CD disasters of the 1980’s. Today, we are in a position where there is a loud and influential group of audiophiles who seem to feel that anything “old” (directly heated triodes, point-to-point wiring, horn-loaded fullrange loudspeakers, etc.) is good, and anything “new” (digital crossovers, solid-state anything) is “bad”. Well, the bad news for them is that there is another “new” being introduced into the industry, but this “new” doesn’t have its roots in technological advancement. Rather it has its roots in ecological concerns and public health.

I am talking about the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) directive that the EU adopted in 2003. In short, it “restricts the use of six hazardous materials in the manufacture of various types of electronic and electrical equipment”[1]. The result of this directive is that it is becoming increasingly impossible to build equipment anywhere that uses parts and/or solder containing lead. Because the EU is such a big market, and because manufacturers usually don’t want to set up different manufacturing processes for different markets, the use of lead is being phased out everywhere. Parts manufacturers are phasing out the use of lead tinning in their parts, and this means that assemblers need to use lead-free processes as well.

So, what I see happening soon is talk in the hi-fi industry of “leaded” vs. “unleaded” products–with the idea that the “leaded” form of a product being more desirable. Of course, this idea will receive resistance from the silver-solder crowd, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out as well. Maybe this particular form of insanity has already started. If you know of any examples, I would love it if you’d let me know.

[1] Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Accessed 13 May 2007.