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 cap enclosed in a casing, designed to look like a vintage Bumble Bee cap they used in the ‘50s. Even though they were still really 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.
IF YOU ORIGINALLY READ THIS POST IN 2021 YOU WOULD HAVE SEEN A SURVEY BELOW WHERE WE ASKED YOU TO TAKE 2 TESTS TO SEE IF YOU COULD HEAR A DIFFERENCE. BUT AFTER 205 PEOPLE TRIED, WE DECIDED TO END THE SURVEY AS THERE WAS ENOUGH TRENDS TO ANSWER OUR HYPOTHESIS.
1. VINTAGE RUSSIAN PIO CAP -$6.45 - +/-10%
2. VINTAGE PIO CAP - $10.99 - +/-10%
3. MODERN VINTAGE INSPIRED PIO CAP -$19.95 - +/-10%
4. MODERN STANDARD POLYPROPYLENE FILM - $5.48 - +/-10%
5. MODERN CHEAP CERAMIC - $0.07 - +/-20%
HOW THIS SURVEY WORKED
BUT FIRST LET US EXPLAIN HOW THESE TESTS WORKED. WE STARTED WITH 5 CAPS. 4 OF THE 5 CAPS WERE HAND MATCHED AT 0.021UF, THE LAST ONE, NUMBER 5. AKA THE MODERN CHEAP CERAMIC WAS HAND MEASURED TO BE AS CLOSE TO ITS MAX TORLERANCE AS WE COULD FIND. IT MEASURED 0.017UF.
- TEST ONE ACTUAL AUDIO TEST: WE ASKED A FEW QUESTIONS
- COULD YOU HEAR A DIFFERENCE, AND IF SO, HOW BIG OF A DIFFERENCE WAS IT?
- WHICH ONE IS YOUR FAVOIRTE?
- HAVE YOU PURCHASED ONE OF THESE BEFORE?
- WHAT IS YOUR AGE?
- TEST TWO PLACEBO: BASICALLY, THE SAME TEST AS BEFORE BUT WE TOLD YOU WE REARRANGED THE POSITIONS AND INSTEAD USED ONE AUDIO FILE FOR ALL 5 SAMPLES.
HERE’S WHAT WE FOUND
40% OF PEOPLE COULDN’T HEAR A DIFFERENCE.
48% HEARD A DIFFERENCE BUT FAILED TO PASS THE PLACEBO TEST.
9% COULD “BARELY HEAR A DIFFERENCE” AND PASSED THE PLACEBO.
3% COULD “BARELY HEAR A DIFFERENCE,” PASSED THE PLACEBO TEST, AND ACCURATELY GUESSED CHEAP CAP
COOL OR FUNNY THINGS WE FOUND
UNSURPRISINGLY THERE WERE COMMONALITIES BASED OFF OF AGE OR BUYING HABITS.
People who have purchased Vintage PIO caps tend to be older
Everyone who said they could hear a “large difference” failed the placebo test, and tended to buy Vintage or Vintage inspired PIO caps
THE CHEAP CAP
A lot of those who passed the placebo test were very close to accurately guessing the cheap cap and choose either one before, or one after.
Those same people said that the one they chose was the best sounding of the five.