So, what is the meme trend of capacitors, and why did It blow up in the wiring community?
It first started from a group of people theorizing that “vintage paper in oil capacitors had this Godly sound,” or using a popular meme term “woman tone.” This slowly morphed (as memes do) into “all vintage capacitors are better than modern ones!” It seemed like overnight, people were buying vintage capacitors in bulk and inflating the prices. After that, those vintage Russian caps that couldn't sell were flying off the shelves, as they were being resold by Modder’s as a “military-grade paper in oil cap.” It was nuts.
As the meme started to hit its peak, boutique brands popped up as they either found the vintage manufacturing tools or hired a modern capacitor manufacturer to produce “vintage-inspired ones.” Another highlight of the craze! Not reading the room, Gibson started including/selling a modern high-end poly cap enclosed in a casing, designed to look like a vintage Bumble Bee cap they used in the ‘50s. Even though they were still nice caps, when discovered it caused an outrage and led to forum after forum filled with hate, leading Gibson to have to back-step and produce a more "vintage-correct” version. But why were people so diehard about vintage capacitors? First, anyone who is aggressive or passionate can win an argument on forums. Plus, let's be honest: Swapping out a modern cap for a true vintage one can change your tone, but not how you think.
Let’s take a second to explain how this magic trick works.
First, the economic value you put into objects really does change your perception of them. So, if you want to believe you hear a difference, you will hear one. This is very true for modern reproductions with the same tolerances as any capacitor produced today. Where it really gets tricky—and, in fact, can change your sound—is when you have a true vintage capacitor with its vintage tolerance. What do I mean? Realistically, how a capacitor sounds is determined by the exact value the capacitor reads. Simple enough. But capacitors have a variance between what they are supposed to read and what they actually read, and because we are spoiled living in our modern tech world, we can make insanely good electronics at very affordable prices. For example, a modern "orange drop" reads within ±5% of the rated value, which means a 0.022uf orange drop is going to read anywhere between 0.021uf–0.023uf. That’s a relatively small range of passive variance—small enough that you’d never notice a difference.
So, how does a vintage cap actually change your sound? Some vintage manufactured components couldn’t come close to our modern standards. Add the fact that a lot of vintage caps suffer from “drift,” which is when a capacitor degrades and moves away from its original value. A capacitor can read -10% to +80%, so that same 0.022uf cap reads anywhere from 0.020–0.040uf—a huge, noticeable difference in sound. Anything over 0.030uf, and you are talking about a completely different tone control sound. So, sound doesn’t come from how it’s made but from the exact value it reads. If you were to take that vintage capacitor that "changed your sound" and find a modern one that has the exact same value, in a blind study you would not hear a difference.