E Caveat Emptor, Part 3

Skin effect is one of the most-favorite ploys put forth by audiophile cable manufacturers to justify the high cost of their products. Skin effect is indeed a valid physical phenomenon, but it has no effect on sound reproduction. Cable manufacturers have blown it out of all proportion, making it look like a huge problem that is incurable except by throwing much money at it. Do not worry about skin effect in audio cables, because the practical effect of, and importance of, skin effect in audio-frequency cables is greatly exaggerated. Understandably so. Otherwise, how else can a wire company expect to easily differentiate their product?

In 2003, I performed a series of skin effect depth experiments based on the 2002 experiment by N. P. Singh, S. C. Gupta, and B. R. Sood; Physics Department, Punjabi University, India; to determine the skin depth and Fermi velocity in metals. Their simple experimental method measured the anomalous skin depth and Fermi velocity in metals by measuring the resistance at 77 Kc of a thick metal wire specimen at frequencies of 100 cps and 100 kc. They verified the Fermi velocity by using a theoretical expression that relates the anomalous skin depth to the Fermi velocity.

Skin effect is the property caused by the fact that high frequency alternating currents do not flow through the entire cross-sectional area of a wire. High frequencies tend to flow only along the outer sector of the radii of the wire. The higher the frequency, the thinner the layer of current flow, and therefore the higher the conduction losses. The practical result of skin effect is increased series resistance of the wire, and the use of a larger gauge wire is an easy solution to the problem.

The frequency dependency of the resistance of a cylindrical or rectangular cross-section wire can be calculated by the following formula for high frequencies and radii of approximately 50 micrometers.

R(f)
= R(DC)* (1 + 1/3 * x^4) with x
= Radius/2*sqrt(pi*frequency*permeability*conductivity)

An approximate equation for the resistance ratio of rectangular cross-section wires (from Terman) is:

rho = 1/(((8PI * f)/(Rdc * 10^9))^0.5)

Skin depth is not an absolute quantity, it is a measure of the depth where alternating current through the wire (wire) has been reduced to a specific proportion of the current at the surface. Alternating current decreases exponentially when moving inward from the surface of the wire. The depth of the "skin" is also affected by its proximity to adjacent wires (wire strands). Therefore, an alternating current’s intensity decreases exponentially with increasing depth. Note that an audio signal is an alternating current.

Depth of penetration (s=sigma) is the depth at which the current intensity has fallen to 1/e of its value at the surface, where e equals 2.718.

Where wire diameter is large compared to the depth of penetration, total current is the same as if the surface current intensity is maintained to a constant depth of penetration.

For copper wires, the depth of penetration is:

0.1 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.209 mm.
1 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.066 mm.
10 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.021 mm.
100 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.0066 mm.
1000 MHz, for a Depth of Penetration sigma of 0.0021 mm.

For materials other than copper, skin depth is:

s = 503.3sqrt(rho/(urf)) millimeters.
rho = resistivity in Ohms-per-meter = 1.72x10e-8 for copper or 2.83x10e-8 for aluminum.
ur = mu r = relative magnetic permeability = 1 for both copper and aluminum.
f = frequency in Megacycles per second.

CONCLUSION: Notice that at 0.1 Mc, or 100,000 cps; the depth of penetration is .209 mm. This is approximately the same as the diameter of a 33-gauge solid wire. Of course, 100,00 cps is well above the audio range, which is customarily defined as spanning from 20 cps to 20,000 cps. I discovered experimentally that at 30,000 cps, through solid copper wire, skin penetration was approximately 0.647 millimeters, which the about same as the diameter of a 22-gauge wire.

In other words, if skin effect worries you, make your cable from 22-gauge stranded wires -- which happens to be exactly how cheap lamp cord is made! If you're very worried about skin effect, make your cable from 33-gauge stranded wires. Easy!

By the way, along with claims about skin effect, some audiophile cable companies promote the fallacy that their cables have no electronic resonances at audio frequencies, stating that audio cables behave like transmission lines and thus must be design like, or terminated with special networks like transmission lies. Unless their cable is made with a filter network as part of its construction, it is impossible for the cable to resonate until the frequencies carried by the cable lie above the range of human audibility by a factor of 10, and any frequencies that may happen to resonant occur at radio frequencies, often several MegaHertz.

Look at it another way: electrical resonance in a cable or wire is a function of the length of the cable, and the cable cannot resonate, nor does it behave like a transmission line, until its length equals or exceeds the electrical wavelength of the frequencies within the audible frequency range. This holds true regardless of wire gauge. The electrical wavelength of a 20,000 cps tone is approximately 15 kilometers, or 9 miles. Imagine how long the electrical wavelength of a 20 cps tone is! Even if you try to resonate the cable at a quarter wavelength at 20,000 cps you will need a cable that is about 2.25 miles long. Does your stereo have a speaker cable that is several miles long? Unless it does, you do not have any cables that can resonate at audio frequencies. I hope you can now see that any audiophile cable manufacturer's claim of electrical or electronic resonance within cables is false.

E Caveat Emptor, Part 2

In the 1970s, a company called Monster Cable introduced the first "premium" wire for connecting loudspeakers, beginning today's audiophile cable (or "interconnect") market. Audiophile cable manufacturers today sell expensive (often thousands of dollars), elaborately-made, highly ornamented cables that they claim yields better sound quality when compared to normal wire. To bolster their claims of sonic purity, they often cite scientific principles like time domain alignment, quantum spin, skin effect and other things that sometimes don't even make good science fiction. 
  
Truthfully, the single most important property of any wire used to connect a loudspeaker to an amplifier is series resistance, which decreases as the cross section thickness increases; larger gauge wires have lower series resistance. A wire's series resistance must be low enough not to reduce the high-current signals from a power amplifier, or the line-level signals from an audio component, or the low-level signals from a microphone or phonograph cartridge. Electricians know this principle well, and they have tables of wire gauges that show how much current a particular wire gauge can carry without loss over a given distance. Audio engineers also take load impedance into account. The longer the distance, the larger the wire gauge is needed to carry the same amperage (amount of current). Up to 6-feet, a 16 gauge wire of any type is adequate. 
 
 Three other electrical properties affect wire: inductance, capacitance, and skin effect. Skin effect is irrelevant with usual cable lengths at audio frequencies, even when connecting speakers to a power amplifier. Skin effect occurs only at the enormous amperages of AC mains power lines (100 Amperes or greater), or high-powered radio transmitters. Low capacitance wire is important with  phonograph cartridge or microphone cables. High quality, low capacitance wire costs, such as those made by Belden, Mogami, Alpha or Canare cost only a few cents per foot. Because wire is a low-tech device that's simple to manufacture, profit margins can be extremely high -- which explains why there are more "audiophile cable designers" than any other type of component. Please don't fall for cable scams. Just because catalogs and retail stores sell them, and just because the cable is an 'established brand" doesn't mean they aren't a ripoff. You truly do not need to spends hundreds or thousands of dollars for audio cables by any stretch of the imagination. You should regard any audio (or video) cable costing more than a few dollars per foot is a rip-off.
 
 An even greater wire fraud exists in the form of "audiophile" AC power cords and "power conditioner" products (excluding surge protectors and lightning arrestors). These products make logical-sounding sales claims that noise and static from the power line can get into your equipment and degrade the sound by increasing noise and distortion. True, in those few severe instances that power-related clicks and buzzes occur, but those are easily noticed and remedied. The fraud comes with the manufacturer's suggestion that subtle improvements in "clarity and presence" can occur by using their products. Any competent electronic designer knows how to filter out power line noise, and power line protection is a routine feature added to the power supplies within virtually all commercial audio products. Wasting hundreds of your hard-earned dollars on a six-foot audiophile power cord ignores the miles of regular wire between the AC mains outlet and the generating plant.
  
Some truly amazing audio scams exist. My favorite is the replacement volume control knob, the "Reference Audio Mods Silver Rock Signature Knob" that sells for $485. Sold through a website called  "Poor Mojo Newswire," their advertisement proclaims, "Good vibrations, Bad vibrations it’s all about vibrations!! RAM would like to introduce a new signature level knob developed for the mighty Silver Rock potentiometer. The standard bakelite knob is certainly the best sounding compromise... but now Audio Consulting has taken this aspect of the Silver Rock much further. The new knobs are custom made with beech wood and bronze where the bronze is used as the insert to mount to the stem of the volume pot. The beech wood is coated several times with C37 lacquer for best sound as pointed out by Dieter Ennemoser. How can this make a difference??? Well, hearing is believing as we always say. The sound becomes much more open and free flowing with a nice improvement in resolution. Dynamics are better and overall naturalness is improved. Here is a test for all you Silver Rock owners. Try removing the bakelite knobs and listen. You will be shocked by this! The signature knobs will have an even greater effect…really amazing! The point here is the micro vibrations created by the volume pots and knobs find their way into the delicate signal path and cause degradation (Bad vibrations equal bad sound). With the signature knobs micro vibrations from the C37 concept of wood, bronze and the lacquer itself compensate for the volume pots and provide (Good Vibrations) our ear/brain combination like to hear…way better sound!!”
 
 Oh, you bet that's just what "they always say." Claims made about a specific wood or specific lacquer are common themes among audiophile scams, which falsely imply a relationship to a finely-made violin. True, in a violin or other music instrument the wood's vibration actually does affect its sound, but a volume control knob mounted onto an electrical control? Please, don't insult our intelligence!

E Caveat Emptor, Part 1

Audiophile retailers, magazines and blogs today state that cables, amplifiers, preamplifiers, and other electronic equipment must be "broken in" for some  time, usually 90 days, before the highest fidelity is achieved. Frankly, the proposition that wire or a non-mechanical component changes audibly over time is nonsense.
 
This urban legend of audio has become the single most widespread consumer scam related to audio equipment, other than "premium" or "audiophile" cables.
 
When you buy an expensive piece of audiophile equipment, especially cables, the seller usually persuades you that you must "break in" the product for 90 days before you can realize the full benefit, or be in a position to properly criticize the product or judge its ultimate suitability.
 
So, why 90 days? Is it because of some obscure principle of physics or audio effect known only to sophisticated audiophiles? No. The 90 Day Break-In Period exists because credit card purchases are protected for only 60 days. In other words, by the time the "Break-In" period is over, you have no recourse if you're still dissatisfied.
 
Don't buy from any audio retailer who tries to talk you into a "Break-In" Period, period; especially if the time exceeds 60 days. At that point you'll know that you've found an unethical retailer. 

I'm Now a Groupie?

Recently, I’ve been honored to become part of a group of organizers, investors, music educators, and musicians who are putting together a new performing arts center out here in the wilds of Kansas near where I reside. It's not going to be a typical performing arts center. Once built, it will give local musicians and music students a range of experience and artistic outlets that are otherwise unavailable. The center is expected to bring good tourism revenues to the region. It's my way of giving back to the music industry that has given so much to me since 1974. More news on this exciting venture later.

Social Networking Sites: The Online Satan Sandwich?

I haven't been online much the past two years or so, largely because of my eighty-hour-plus work weeks. Don’t cry for me, this is not a complaint, because my work has been exciting. But now the business has grown enough that I can cut my hours back and start enjoying other activities. I now have spare time for the first time in years, which is spent in the countryside taking photographs, or going on "sound safaris" with my Nakamichi 550, or to a custom car show, a NASCAR event, art show or Maker Faire. I'm thinking of redoing one of my Nakamichi 550 in steam punk style. I love steam punk! No, I actually won’t -- I like to preserve equipment as original as possible.

But, I have to admit, another reason I’m rarely seen online is the increasingly toxic environment of online discussion groups and social networking sites. You can count on at least one loud individual to smear you and your product, often with great success, even if they have no firsthand knowledge of you or your work. A complete lack of facts doesn’t stop them. But it’s precisely these individuals who often put themselves forth as the ultimate authority loaded with facts.

When that isn’t going on, most discussions in these groups rapidly devolve into “us-versus-them” squabbles: analog-vs-digital, tube-vs-transistor, Brand X-vs-Brand Y, and so on. Then there are the individuals who start arguments just because they like to argue, even though nothing will be accomplished by the round of arguments. It’s just fun for them to be the center of the attention their rancor creates.

Into the tintinnabulation that so unmusically wells. From the bells, bells, bells, bells, Bells, bells, bells - From the jingling and the tinkling of the bells of the ever-present braggarts, the guys who have to contradict everything anyone says just so they assert themselves, and the blowhards who have to pepper their writings with off-the-wall allusions or references to things and places utterly extraneous to the topic in an attempt to make themselves appear worldly, knowledgeable, or one of the elite cognoscenti. I’m not condemning those who genuinely are correcting an error someone else made, or who are adding to the base of knowledge or the substance of the topic, by the way; these are the few who contribute something affirmative to the discussions.

True, many online groups are treasure troves of excellent, often unique, knowledge shared by those with genuine expertise and unique experience. But the good signal is drowned out by the noise.

Let me cite a few examples from my own experience.

Recently, I found out that I, my business and one of my interns was being defamed by a person on a tape recorder collector discussion list. This person had been one of twelve candidates with whom I entered into negotiations with to either become a partner or to form a joint venture. He did, in fairness, present many excellent ideas, as did the others I interviewed, but I eventually chose not to enter into a business relationship with him. I've subsequently discovered that he truly resented my rejection, and still holds to an attitude that only his ideas will lead to success and that I have no chance of success because I rejected him and his ideas. Strange attitude, yes? By the way, it's precisely that condescending and insulting attitude which he displayed during our talks as the prime reason I made my decision not to go into business with him. Seriously, would you go into business and entrust you livelihood to someone who can’t even treat you with respect and has to spend all his time insulting and demeaning you, your ideas and your past work; then goes around defaming you in public, trying to persuade others that all he had was your best interest at heart and was only trying to ensure your success but you’re too arrogant to go along with him? (Phew! Run on sentence!) Not me!

For the record, all the other twelve candidates were found to be unsuitable partners too, so my rejection of this man as a business partner was in no way personal, yet apparently from what I have been hearing he is still bitter about it. Such a pity, but this person was able to persuade others to his way of thinking.

Similarly, a few months ago some individuals on another discussion group were condemning the cassette tapes marketed by my company, KVG Laboratories, as being over-priced, as looking fake, and as merely re-packaged tapes made by National Audio Company. All of these claims are untrue. Yet these individuals felt quite confident to make these accusations without ever having heard our tapes or contacted our company to confirm their beliefs.

Talk about fake! Try a list of persons condemning something they know nothing about, that they have had no direct experience with, nor had any contact with anyone involved in making the product. How’s that for fake? The bad news is that tape sales were needlessly damaged as a result of these persons’ false accusations.

I’m sorry, but I’m weary of this recently-arisen phenomenon and truly just do not want to spend my spare time enduring the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortunes of today’s amateur-oriented/enthusiast-oriented online discussion groups and social networking sites.

Fortunately, there are online discussion groups and social networking sites run by professional organizations to which I belong and in which this sort of misbehavior almost never occurs. That’s because these groups are closed to outsiders, peer-reviewed for the veracity of what is written in their discussions, and have rigid enforcement of cordial behavior and proper decorum.

Stop The Routine

I am not a "routine person," I hate doing the same thing every day. So my days are all different, but consist of performing my ongoing research, making studio equipment, music instrument amplifiers, guitars, basses, speakers and other related products. Then, on some days I do the sound system installs for a local hot rod shop one of my friends owns, using my amplifier and speaker designs whenever possible, of course. I had been doing turntable repairs, guitar repairs and all the studio recording services, but most of that work is now done by trusted technicians and engineers. I get involved only when needed.

The perfect analog sound is DSD?

My long-ongoing analog tape deck project was still alive, and way over budget until June, 2011. That’s when I heard Korg’s latest DSD recorders, the MR-1000 and MR-2000. They’re like listening to a truly perfect analog deck.

I’ve said since the 1970s that, one day, digital would catch up to analog for sound quality. It has. The latest DSD recorders are fabulous and everything we wanted analog to be sonically. I feel there is no point for me to work any more on a new analog recorder. By the way, the sales of KVG Laboratories’ Khrome & Khobalt tapes was supposed to fund the completion of the project but that was not to be. This is not a complaint. I'm the first to admit the tape deck project wasn’t a high priority. There's nowhere near enough market to justify the expense but I just enjoyed working on it, a truly fun spare time hobby project.

See also a related blog post on the topic of the cassette tape project.

Pro Audio or No Audio For Me

During the past decade, I've tried off-and-on to bring a line of audiophile equipment to market, including turntables, tape decks, amplifiers, speakers, and even a cartridge. Eventually, after long debate, I decided against it.

Firstly, in all truth, my experience has always been in pro audio and music instruments. That's my first love and my greatest passion.

Secondly, I really wasn't confident that the turntable could be successful, and I intensely disliked both the tonearm and cartridge that I had designed for it.

Thirdly, I've never failed at pro audio -- not even once -- but the previous two times I tried to market home stereo gear (in 1978 and 1989), I failed. Utterly. Okay, so why would I think this time would be different?

Fourthly, I asked several persons who have great experience and success in home stereo/audiophile circles their opinions, and their advice was simple: Don't Do it. Fair enough, that's what I needed to know. Back to pro audio. Period.

So, I sold all my audiophile prototypes to my interns and friends for the cost of the parts. One of my interns got the turntable, and seems to be enjoying it.

The impression that I get from everything I see is that it is no longer possible to succeed in the land of “audiophile” audio merely by making a great sounding product. No, you have to live online and promote the project, you have to create a fad around your project, and it has to look like a work of modern art. Honestly, I’m no good at that sort of approach to audio marketing.

See the related blog post, “To Be Or Not To Be.”

Going Ape Over Tape!

Greetings from an analog mind trying to survive in a digital world. 

In 2008, I was approached by  a group of  investors who had obtained cassette-making equipment once owned by Memorex to assist in the development and evaluation of their tapes. They had a few samples already made, and to be honest, the tapes were horrid sounding because they were using Memorex's MRX formula.  Remember Memorex? Anybody want some. No? Me either! I suggested that they develop a metal particle tape, as well as two chrome-bias tapes, one based on the original 1970s-era DuPont Crolyn CrO2 (similar sounding to BASF'/EMTEC Chromdioxid tapes) and the other based on Ampex's cobalt-doped formulations. Obtaining the formulae then "modernizing" the formulae took until 2010.  As you'd guess, quite a few production problems resulted in the first several runs being all near-100% rejected. You cannot imagine what goes into making a cassette tape! 

During this time, I worked with their engineers and programmers to create two key innovations. One was a device that uses a DC magnetic field to align most of the oxide particles in the same direction. Although this process improved the tapes signal-to-noise ratio by 3 dB it did not increase the maximum output level as I had hoped.  

The second device was a "dropout detector" that uses an 8-track cassette tape head (the same as used by forensic cassette players) to record a special steady signal a t a level only 1.5 dB above the tape's noise floor. A detector read the playback from a second 8-track cassette tape head to look for the presence or absence of the signal, which, if absent, was flagged by the device as a dropout. It then records a pulse (a.k.a. "slate tone") at the clipping level of the tape at that spot. Well, just next to that spot but close enough. The real challenge was to do all this without the heads actually touching the tape because the tape would be moving past the heads at about 200 ips (with quite a bit of flutter-and-wow). So I adapted Akai's Crossfield bias concept to get enough bias on the tape as it whizzed by. To save time, I took the record and play electronics from a derelict Nakamichi 700 to become the basis of the "read/write" circuitry. An audible monitor was fitted too, and it sounded sort of like a Geiger counter clicking away. At a later station in the production line, another device reads the pulses recorded onto the tape to know where to cut the tape stock to remove the areas with excessive dropouts. Near the end of the production line, a bulk eraser had to clean off the recorded signals and pulses. This final step caused almost four months of delays because it wasn't clearing the "slate tone" off entirely. 

Despite all the years of work, the rejection rate was 80%, yet everyone was confident this would be improved soon, so I took the chance and decided to go into production and do a test market of selling some of the cassettes. Unfortunately,  almost three months, later the rejection rate was still 80%, the metal particle tape still sounded horrid, and no one had a good idea how to solve the problems quickly. So, despite good sales, suffering an 80% failure rate is unsustainable for any length of time. So, I decided to end the project before the financial losses on my side became too severe. Frustrating!  

But I must tell you, I do not regret the experience one iota. I learned more about analog recording during the experience than in all the previous thirty-plus years that I've been using analog recorders!  

Thank you to those who bought some tapes and gave them a try! I'm glad to hear those who got them, liked them. 

~~~ UPDATE 21 AUGUST 2013: By the way, the investors eventually found some buyers for the venture, not to make audio tape but to make improved magnetic coating for various industrial processes. Perhaps I should have had more faith and stuck with it?

Borlaug's Hypothesis

I'd like to salute Norman Borlaug, 1970 Nobel Peace Prize winner, 1977 US Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, 2006 Congressional Gold Medal winner, who is best known as The Father of the Green Revolution; and Monsanto. The unanimous Act of Congress states, "Dr. Borlaug has saved more lives than any other person who has ever lived, and likely has saved more lives in the Islamic world than any other human being in history." 

The Nobel committee estimates that he was personally and directly responsible for saving over One Billion human beings in the Third World from starvation. How did Dr. Borlaug achieve this feat? Through pioneering the use of hybrid and Genetically Modified crops, which created new strains that could thrive in arid conditions where pesticides or herbicides are unavailable. 

He's also known for "Borlaug's Hypothesis": The best way to reduce deforestation is to reduce demand for new farmland by using our best existing farmland to its maximum potential. He understood that GM crops do this. Among the crops he designed, with help from Monsanto and other biotech firms, are several strains of GM rice, such as IR36, introduced in 1980, which resists pests and grows fast enough to allow two crops a year instead of just one, doubling crop yield in the same acreage. In 1990,  more-advanced genetic manipulation techniques led to IR72, which far outperforms IR36. Dr. Borlaug's Green Revolution, thanks to GM crops, saw worldwide crop yields explode from 1960 through 2000.

In 1980, I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Borlaug, albeit in passing. He and his altruism helped persuade me, gradually, to stop viewing GM crops as some sort of hideous plague and as a literal lifesaver. Thank you, Dr. Borlaug! 

Thirty years ago, I did oppose this technology. Back then, my only source of information on the topic was from anti-GMO crop activists, although I didn't recognize the uncompromising bias inherent in those groups. They do write such effective documents, usually wrapping their ideas with emotionally-charged rhetoric, with class-warfare-based appeals to take financial actions to hurt "greedy" big corporations. This is an old, time-proven tactic among activist groups: Push a negative hard enough, so it will push through and become a positive. Pick the target, (usually Monsanto), "freeze it," personalize it, then polarize it. Isolate the target from sympathy. Go after people, not institutions; people hurt faster than institutions. 

We see this sleazy tactic routinely used by anti-GM crop activists. They incessantly spew hate toward Monsanto, sow fear toward GM crops, and viciously demean persons who support GM crops as "greedy" or "ignorant of science." Eventually these negative positions become accepted as facts and it becomes seen as positive to hate Monsanto and to oppose GM crops. Eventually, those who join (or sympathize with) anti-GM crop activists see themselves as champions of the environment, morally superior, altruistic and more enlightened than those who do support GM crops. Hating Monsanto and pro-GM crop persons is made cool.

Dr. Borlaug has said, "Some of the environmental lobbyists of the Western nations are the salt of the earth, but many of them are elitists. They've never experienced the physical sensation of hunger. They do their lobbying from comfortable office suites in Washington or Brussels. If they lived just one month amid the misery of the developing world, as I have for fifty years, they'd be crying out for tractors and fertilizer and irrigation canals and be outraged that fashionable elitists back home were trying to deny them these things."

Unfortunately, the GM and Monsanto haters demean Dr. Borlaug's achievements, usually with a cheap shot along the line of "starving people with eat anything." while ignoring the unassailable truth that those One Billion persons have lived full lives because of cheap, readily-available safe food; these same persons would have died horrible deaths from starvation otherwise. 

Forward and backward ... Part 1.

As many of you know, I listen to a lot of audio equipment of all conceivable types -- and a few inconceivable types. What strikes me is just how far pro audio has progressed while high-end home audio has gone backward. (More on that dichotomy another time.)
 
Nevertheless, I still can't find a monitor system that beats my 1970s-era Crown D75 monitor amps and Bang & Olufsen S45 Uniphase speakers (the original 3-way design, not the cheaper 2-way). It's just so easy to mix with this setup, you can hear every flaw and follow the reverb tails all the way out past the horizon, up past the stratosphere, through the ionosphere and into deep space. Every little change in EQ is immediate, and you can really dial in those modulation FX.
 
I still say that when you hear a bad recording, what you're really hearing a bad monitor setup, and not necessarily a bad recording engineer. Think about it: if you can't hear a problem you can't fix it. Mixing with a bad monitor setup is like trying to mix while you're deaf. 
 
So scrimp on mikes and recorders if you must, but never scrimp on your monitors!