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Are "audio grade electrolytic capacitors" snake oil?

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#1
Datasheets of Nichicon and Elna audio grade capacitors only have "Tangent of loss angle (tan δ)" measurements. No ripple current or impedance measurements like "regular" caps. What makes "Tangent of loss angle" important with audio circuits?

Here are tan δ of some popular audio grade capacitors:

Nichicon KZ
kz.png


Nichicon FG
fg.png


Nichicon KA
ka.png


Elna Silmic II
rfs.png


Now lets compare some popular Low ESR caps that are recommended for use in switching power supplies.

Nichicon UPW
upw.png


Panasonic FR
fr.png


We see that at 25V both UPW and FR are better than "audio grade" KA and as good as FG. Also UPW and FR are rated 105°C and audio ones are 85°C.

So is there any point other than looks to use "audio grade" capacitors? FG and KZ sure are pretty (and big).
 

solderdude

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#2
https://www.diyaudio.com/forums/the-lounge/232600-audio-grade-capacitors.html
as with almost every component in audio... there are those that say snake-oil others say it makes (audible) differences.

There will be measurable differences between parts due to dielectrics, plate materials, sizes, voltage ratings, shapes etc.
There are certain applications that require certain properties and thus certain capacitors are more suited for certain tasks.
Capacitors in the LS path require different properties than coupling caps or filter caps or decoupling caps.
Whether or not they were labelelled 'audiograde' is more of a sales thingy than factual IMO.
 
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mansr

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#3
I have always assumed that anything sold as "audio grade" at a premium price is a scam to some degree. That does not mean everything labelled as intended for audio applications is suspect; it is the "grade" part that signals snake oil. Those using this designation would have you believe that products can be sorted into a hierarchy of grades: commercial, industrial, automotive, military, space, and — at the very top — AUDIO. That is not how it works. Audio applications, like any other, have specific requirements that must be met. What sets audio aside is the need for low noise and distortion over a limited bandwidth. For instance, an RF component suitable for microwave radios up to 10 GHz might have -50 dB distortion making it a poor choice for audio. Conversely, an excellent audio part will often see its performance deteriorate rapidly outside a narrow operating range.

Good part selection means identifying the parameters that matter in each instance and matching these against manufacturer datasheets. Whether or not the datasheet specifically mentions audio is of little importance. You mentioned ripple current rating for capacitors. For a power supply filter capacitor, this is one of the key parameters while for a line-level audio coupling capacitor it hardly matters at all. On the flip side, it is important that a capacitor in the signal path not have voltage-dependent capacitance (some ceramics are a bad choice for this reason) whereas in a power supply this aspect is unimportant provided the capacitance at the operating voltage is sufficiently large.

Nichicon is a reputable company, so their audio capacitors are probably no worse than any others in their intended applications. I would, however, be wary of the more exotic brands that make only audio parts and don't use the normal electronic component distributors (Farnell, Mouser, etc).
 

bravomail

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#4
Datasheets of Nichicon and Elna audio grade capacitors only have "Tangent
So is there any point other than looks to use "audio grade" capacitors? FG and KZ sure are pretty (and big).
They r snake oil. Do u wanna use them? Sure. As a single customer you would not incur that much loss. Open your average AVR and see how many "audio-grade" components you will find there. Then open one of them Audio-GD devices where every component is super-audio-grade. Which didn't help Audio-GD in slightest in objective measurements. Ye, let's take bunch of audio-grade components and sell it. Nope. Proper Design still matters.
 

rebbiputzmaker

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#6
Yes that is really stupid to put that BS on cap spec sheets.

On the other hand people should not be foolish enough to think all caps are the same. The use of proper quality and speced caps is important. Look at Samsung TVs power supplies. There even was a class action a number of years ago, and it still seems to be going on.
 

solderdude

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#7
The choice of caps in most equipment is based on financial decisions. When a manufacturer buys in large it matters whether a capacitor costs 9ct or 12 ct. There are also fakes around... because money can be made.
Info on caps here
 

rebbiputzmaker

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#8
The choice of caps in most equipment is based on financial decisions. When a manufacturer buys in large it matters whether a capacitor costs 9ct or 12 ct. There are also fakes around... because money can be made.
Info on caps here
Yes of course commercial considerations are always often about the money. But look what happened to Samsung because they wanted to save a few cents. I will still never purchase a Samsung TV and I know many people that would not either.
 

solderdude

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#9
Will other brands also not skimp on parts to be competitive ?
It can't be Samsung only.
 

mansr

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#10
Yes of course commercial considerations are always often about the money. But look what happened to Samsung because they wanted to save a few cents. I will still never purchase a Samsung TV and I know many people that would not either.
I wouldn't buy a Samsung today, but that's because of their atrociously bad software and their nasty habit of collecting (and presumably selling) user data. I can easily replace a few capacitors if need be, and I doubt Samsung is any worse than other brands in this regard.
 

JeffS7444

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#12
Anyone got a couple of identical headphone amps (or other small device) they could submit for testing? Go to town with capacitor tweaks on one, leave the other alone and see how it changes (or doesn't) the performance. I was going to offer my O2 headphone amp as the stock unit, but it's got no electrolytic coupling capacitors

FWIW, I've seen JVC desktop stereos which were chock full of Elna Silmic capacitors, but this is the same JVC which sells specially treated wood cone drivers and other boutique items.
 

solderdude

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#15
thats not what samsung did. they on purpose made caps fail (putting them right up against heatsinks etc) in order to sell new TV`s.
This is also done with regular SMPS. There is a technical reason for this. Only specific function caps are placed closed to heatsinks. This is to ensure at some point the SMPS does not switch on anymore. This is to prevent catastrophic failure of circuits it feeds (with fire risk).

Replacing the dried out caps with new better ones (say 105oC higher voltage rating) makes the device function again but the safeguard (failing cap and TV not switching on anymore) is removed which may result in a more catastrophic failure over time with burned components.

Yes, it does result in much too soon TV's becoming defective (aimed for after the warranty period expires) which is annoying and costly for the customer.
 

mansr

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#16
thats not what samsung did. they on purpose made caps fail (putting them right up against heatsinks etc) in order to sell new TV`s.
Do you have any evidence that they did it on purpose with that intention? The power supply board in my Samsung TV isn't even made by them.
 

solderdude

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#17
I know that this is done in SMPS in certain devices. Had a chat with a designer once after I mentioned to him I replaced those caps with 105oC caps and bent them away from the heatsinks. He advised me to replace it with the original type and also replace all capacitors on the secondary side for that reason.
No idea if Samsung designers did it for the same reason or just stupidity or to ensure boards are replaced frequently for cash flow.

I have an old tube radio bought by my father about 70 years ago. Still plays. Willing to be no consumable device built today will still function after 50 years. Nothing recapped and just switch it on for an hour at least once a year or so.
 

AnalogSteph

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#18
I have read that some people have found electrolytic capacitor caps from the '60s that still measured good. All a matter of parts quality / chemistry, I guess. Garden variety AA5s or guitar amps usually don't have ones that good.
I have an old tube radio bought by my father about 70 years ago. Still plays. Willing to be no consumable device built today will still function after 50 years. Nothing recapped and just switch it on for an hour at least once a year or so.
If this is in fact true, you would be very well advised to go over the set and replace any and all wax paper capacitors (the set would be too old to be stuffed with films, which appeared in the early '60s). As the paper in them invariably goes acidic, they go leaky and become a real threat to the health of your output tubes in particular, as leaky coupling caps result in those being overbiased and running out of spec, eventually dying an early death. Output tubes are, on average, way more expensive than suitable replacement film capacitors. (All positions with lots of voltage across them in operation are critical. You may find a few that aren't, which would be of lower priority.)

If you're skeptical, build yourself a leakage tester I guess. Doesn't have to be Mr Carlson's that he's got up on Patreon, though that one has the neat property of being very sensitive without having to apply high voltages. Otherwise it wouldn't take much more than a (severely current-limited) DC voltage of 200-600 V= or so, a 1 megohm resistor, and a multimeter, much like what's inside a vintage capacitor tester.
 
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solderdude

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#19
The radio will probably outlive me and it will probably end up in the landfill after that. Not trying to preserve it.
Have a very old B&W TV and old 'battery operated' tube radio in the attic (with HUGE) antennae.
Will probably only see the light of day when shoved in a huge container when moving house.
Along with many many components, PCB's, speaker drivers and other things I haven't touched in the last 20-30 years.
 

mansr

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#20
This is also done with regular SMPS. There is a technical reason for this. Only specific function caps are placed closed to heatsinks. This is to ensure at some point the SMPS does not switch on anymore. This is to prevent catastrophic failure of circuits it feeds (with fire risk).
Relying on capacitors failing in the right way at the right time as a safety device strikes me as a stupid idea.
 

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