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The Search for the Perfect Switch // SMT Components

Posted by Jon Ashley on


Bypass switching has been a topic of controversy among guitar players for many years, in particular the debate of true-bypass vs buffered-bypass switching since the advent of the boutique pedal industry. While there are many examples of very good buffered-bypass pedals within this premium industry segment by high end producers like Klon or Pete Cornish, if a buffer does not match impedances correctly or is poorly designed, it can end up loading down your signal in a way colloquially known as a "bad buffer". True-bypass came out more or less as the de-facto winner of this debate due to poorly designed buffers in certain mass produced pedals, and the comparative ease of installing a true bypass switching system with a single mechanical 3PDT foot switch.  In addition, the functional promise of true-bypass – where the pedal is virtually invisible when off – is sort of a romantic ideal that a lot of players, myself included, are attracted to. 

For the reasons above, we originally released our products with a true-bypass relay based system. This system did have a lot going for it: the SPST foot switches and the telecom relays were way more durable than the mechanical 3PDT footswitch method, and the LED indicator was controlled via a digital micro-controller to isolate it from the switching lines and reduce noise. The downside is that when the relays switch it can generate a slight "ping" noise due to their function and design. Though generally small, this sound can be made worse by other environmental factors such as pedal power supplies and the performance of the guitar amplifier.

We then set out  to develop a better switching system. We looked into different brands of relays, FET switching and mechanical switches. We didn't really want to go back to mechanical true bypass. There were quieter relays out there, but ultimately you still end up with some "ping" no matter what you do. As a result, we've decided to implement a buffered bypass system that we found to have the quietest switching around, and one that preserves your tone quality while "off" with an extremely high quality audio circuit with plenty of headroom and proper input and output impedances. We've compared this to all previous generations of the Sick As and are very happy with the result. 

In the past, just as with buffered-bypass, boutique enthusiasts have poo-pooed the transition to surface mount technology (SMT) while nearly every other electronics based industry and niche, both inside and outside of professional audio, has made that jump. As many of our pin-through-hole (PTH) components are being phased out (such as JFETs) by manufacturers, those component prices are also rising, not because they are better quality but because the supply is dwindling, and there is no broad base of demand across industries that requires future production of those parts. 

In addition to providing you with the best sounding, most reliable, and highest performing products for your playing, we intend to be a brand not just for now but for the years to come. As a result, we have decided to make the move to SMT (surface-mount-technology) for most of our components. We did not make this move purely as a cost saver, as some in the old guard might accuse. Our materials cost is roughly the same, but we feel the quality of our products will be more consistent and our designs are much more elegant. Upon careful scrutiny of our entire circuit, its real world performance and the current state of the art, there were some parts we felt should stay PTH to maintain our sound quality and standard, such as the film capacitors in the signal path, and those have remained the same. The charge pumps we are using to boost the voltage can potentially blow and need to be replaced if the wrong power is used, and so those have remained PTH socketed.

These changes will be rolled out with the Sick As effective immediately and the Del Mar shortly after.

Thanks for supporting us in this transition forward! 

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