Brohaus Offsite at Kirby Cove

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Almost since the moment we all moved into Brohaus, there has been talk about taking a trip together. We dreamed of renting a castle, spending days on a houseboat, going to the beach, traveling together. After years of dreaming and vague plans, we never actually went on an offsite. In the spring of last year, I decided to do something about it.

Kirby Cove is one of the highest demand campgrounds in the country. It is situated in a small, private cove slightly northwest of the Golden Gate Bridge on the Marin County side. There, you’ll find an old fort called Battery Kirby and a beach offering sweeping views of the bridge and San Francisco. Within, there are 4 campsites and a day use site that are available by reservation only. Reservations open up 3 months in advance at 7am PST and are usually gone within a minute or two.

I woke up a few days at 6:45am, but the reservations were going extremely fast. I was almost going to automate the process, but fortunately I didn’t need to and landed a reservation for a Sunday night to Monday morning reservation.

Fast forward three months. When the day finally came around, we packed up a few cars with all our camping essentials and started the drive north.

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Le Garage
Sausalito, CA

Before setting up camp, we stopped for lunch at Le Garage, an affordable brunch spot offering quick and relatable French cuisine. It’s situated along the bay by the Liberty Ship Marina. The views are refreshing, the service is quick, there is plenty of (valet) parking and the food is top notch. If you are in the area, definitely stop by.

Given the large size of our group, we waited a while for our tables to get ready. As anyone would when they are about to go camping and get away from it all, we all pulled out our phones.

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Some of us perused the menu.

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A few of us worked on our dating profiles.

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When the food came out, we were happy. My omelette was cooked perfectly and topped with the largest caper I have ever seen. The frites were perfect, crispy on the outside and a little mushy on the inside.

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Clockwise from top left: Mark, Omelette, Jeff and Dustin in awe of an egg, Burger

After we finished up lunch and packed back into our cars, we were off again, this time to Kirby Cove!

The drive there was an amusing experience. We were all in a line about to take a left into Kirby Cove road. On the opposite side of the road was a long train of tourists waiting to park at the lot for Battery Spencer. I noticed that if a lady driving a minivan were to just back up a foot or so, we would be able to squeeze our cars past and down towards to Kirby Cove gate.

I made eye contact with her, rolled my window down and asked if she could reverse a little so that we could get through. She must have been frustrated with the slow moving line she was in, and I could see it. After I spoke a few words, her eyes immediately lit up and she shouted back something along the lines of, “You’re going to have to drive all the way to the back of the line, mister!” I then calmly responded that we weren’t trying to cut in line and that we were actually trying to access a road to her right that goes down into the cove.

She looked down at the road to confirm that there was in fact a road leading down. Bewildered, she turned back and started slowly inching her car backwards. We waved thanks and continued driving down towards Kirby Cove.

Kirby Cove is only accessible by car to people who have permits (because of the extremely limited parking space). Hence, all campers and day users must display a printed permit for that day on their windshield and must use a combination to unlock the gate on Kirby Road. Here I am unlocking the gate.

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After we got everyone through, we locked the gate back up and continued down the rest of the 1 mile dirt road towards the parking lot.

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In true Bay Area fashion, we brought an electric car with us.

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Even though we had made it all the way down the cove, there were still a few hundred yards between the parking lot and our camp spot. We had reserved space number one, arguably the best site, but also one of the furthest from the lot. As you can see below, there was plenty of dragging gear from our cars to the site.

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Fortunately, the NPS made some wheelbarrows available for use. They made the job of transporting our items ten times easier.

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Once we had everything at the site, we immediately started pitching our tents.

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We brought the tent that we purchased for Burning Man and a smaller tent that JJ has.

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The View

This is one of the reasons that space one is the best. Just look at the view. Can you imagining waking up to this?

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Below is an unedited panorama from the next morning. Scroll or swipe left and right to view it. Unfortunately, that morning was pretty foggy and SF was not visible.

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After the tents were up and the campsite was in order, we started on a well deserved snack: beer, bread, cheese and meat.
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Then came the exploring. In the picture below, the shaded area to the left is where our campsite is. The pathway in the center leads to Battery Kirby to the right. Battery Kirby, the namesake of the cove, was in use from the late 1800s to right around the time of World War II.

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I guess boys will be boys. We climbed and explored all over the battery.

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None of us knew that Eric was a parkour master. Look at those moves, and those shades.

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Some of us were a little less talented in the parkour department. ^^

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Drew, however, may actually be a monkey.

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One of my favorite parts is a tunnel that leads to…

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You guessed it, the ocean! We spent some time soaking in the views and the sound of the gentle waves on the beach.

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Then we discovered the swing. Any of you who have been to Kirby Cove know the swing. It’s a rope that is tied to an old tree on one end and a small plank on the other. You may take a few tries to get enough speed and quickly plant your bottom on the plank, but once you get a hang of it, it’s a blast.

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The feeling of nearly being launched into the ocean was both terrifying and liberating. Some of us counted the swing as our favorite part of the whole trip.

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As night started to fall, we turned to our favorite camping food for dinner, Frito pie.

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As the fire raged on, we sat around in a circle talking, took solitary walks to the beach, looked at the stars and even scared away a raccoon looking to get a free meal. I stopped taking photos at this point because I was so immersed in the experience. If you want to know more, you’ll have to ask one of us in person.

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Shenanigans

We are a bunch of goofballs and we did what goofballs do best. Mark got attacked by a rusted support.

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Drew demonstrated proper tsunami evacuation form.

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Mark got hungry and resorted to eating wooden signs.

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We got to use our pocket knives to empty some water before leaving.

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Fin

All trips need a jumping shot. I’m going to have to apologize at this point. It was my first time taking my (then new) camera with me and I didn’t properly set the shutter speed for this. The photos came out a little blurry, but nevertheless great.

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We had an amazing experience. We may just want to make it a yearly thing. Kirby cove is everything we could hope for in a camp ground and the location for an offsite. You should go there and blog about your experience. Send me a link!

How I Abandoned Vegetarianism

Food is an important part of our individual identities. The food that we like to eat and the food that we eat every day are determined by a wide range of factors like culture, economics and geography. Hence, food can reveal a lot about a person’s values and history. This post documents my relationship with food, specifically vegetarianism and how I eventually abandoned it.

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“popeye’s dream” at All Spice

Life as a Vegetarian

I was raised a Hindu; and, although my family wasn’t very conservative or strict, many associated practices like vegetarianism stuck. I ended up an ovo-lacto vegetarian in a household of ovo-lacto and lacto vegetarians. I always asked if soups had chicken stock, made sure asian food didn’t contain fish sauce or oyster sauce and informed friends of my dietary restrictions before attending a party or going out for dinner. Being a vegetarian added some overhead to my life.

Surprisingly, there were numerous advantages to being a vegetarian. Whenever we flew internationally, we would request vegetarian meals in advance. Special meals always came out first and seemed much more interesting than standard fare. I also never had to sit in the airplane and wait for the food trolley to finally make its way to my seat while the smell of food circulated through the cabin and made me hungry. I never worried that my meal selection could run out before I had a chance to order. Sometimes after eating out, while some friends would complain about upset stomachs because of undercooked meat, I was fine. During biology class, when we learned of parasites that can spread through meats, I never worried like some of my classmates did.

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Tofu-Ball Soup (豆麩団子のお椀) at Kajitsu

Of course along with those advantages came quite a few disadvantages. I avoided barbecue restaurants, steakhouses, most fast food restaurants and whole cuisines like Japanese and Brazilian because of the lack of vegetarian options. I rarely bought lunch at school. Salad and cheese pizza were my go-to meals at theme parks, conventions and other places where food options were limited. When I started watching my diet more, I found that it was extremely carb heavy because being a vegetarian often meant avoiding proteins altogether and substituting with carbs.

Friends would frequently ask questions like “don’t you ever feel like trying meat?” and “what happens when you accidentally eat meat?” The questions bothered me a little; but, I would point out that just as I don’t eat meat, most of them don’t eat certain things because of personal preference and allergies. I was still happy as a vegetarian.

A Gradual Shift

Two changes started occurring in me that would eventually lead me to where I am today.

First is the gradual erosion of my vegetarianism. When I was a child, if I accidentally ate meat, I would spit it out and find something else to eat. My reaction to meat was never as harsh as that of many people I know who immediately lose their appetite or even gag or vomit if they accidentally eat meat.

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brandade ravioli and skuna bay salmon at Longman and Eagle

As time went on, I slowly stopped caring if soups contained meat broths. I was fine with pulling the meat off pizza and eating it as long as there was no strong meat flavor. I even started to prefer refried beans cooked with lard. The knowledge of if something contained meat no longer mattered. I only started avoiding whole pieces of meat and food that overwhelmingly tasted like meat.

The second change is the result of the crystallization of one of my guiding philosophies. It happened in the fall of 2006 during my MIT alumni interview. Towards the beginning of the interview, the alumnus asked me a question that threw me off balance, “If you can boil your values and guiding principles into one statement, what would that be?”. I didn’t know how to answer. I was prepared for the usual shallow questions I received from other alumni, but I just didn’t know what to say to this one. I told I’m had to think about it and we continued on with the rest of the interview.

When I finally answered, this is what I said: “I want to be a swiss army knife. I want to be able to thrive in any place or any situation.” He loved the answer and it formed the cornerstone for the rest of the conversation. At the end of it, he told me that I had as good a chance as anyone of getting in and wished me the best of luck. As I left the room. I felt a mixture of excitement and confusion. I loved the words that came out of my mouth, but where did they come from? It was one of those moments when a solution seemingly appears out of ether, like when I’m staring at a difficult problem in an exam and all the puzzle pieces line up magically.

Around that time, I had started learning foreign languages, dabbling in self improvement, and getting good at things I used to hate. Clearly, this philosophy had been guiding me until that point without me ever realizing.

As I thought about it more, a glaring conflict emerged between that philosophy and vegetarianism. I hated when people were picky about their food or told me that they don’t eat certain foods for any non-medical reason. What a contradiction! I was the pickiest of them all. Here is this artificial restriction that is completely inconsistent with what should be my guiding principle, who am I to criticize others? At that moment of awareness, I decided that I would start walking down the road to complete abandonment of vegetarianism.

Final Steps

In high school, I started eating California rolls at sushi restaurants. I was for some reason under the impression that “imitation crab” was imitation meat and completely vegetarian. In fact, it’s made from fish and is very similar to fish balls or narutomaki that you may find in ramen. When I found out, I was pretty impressed with myself. I had been eating fish all along and I never realized! One day, while eating my California roll, a friend offered a few pieces of his salmon sushi, and I thought “why not?”. I was genuinely surprised. It didn’t taste especially fishy and had a palatable texture. From that day forth, I started trying many different types of raw fish. Whenever anyone asked me if I had dietary restrictions, I would tell them that I am mostly vegetarian, but eat raw fish. I wish you could have seen the looks on some peoples’ faces when they heard me say that.

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arctic char and maine scallops at dovetail

Fast forward 4 years and being a vegetarian that ate raw fish was pretty good. I could now eat at most sushi restaurants with friends and I grew to love Japanese cuisine; but, all this raw fish got me thinking “if I can eat raw fish, why not cooked fish?”. So, I began eating fish at the fanciest of restaurants (only Michelin star or recommended) because I knew that they would use only the freshest fish and cook it properly. By my senior year, I was regularly choosing the fish option at restaurants and proudly called myself a pescatarian. I could eat almost anywhere, but I didn’t want to stop at that.

When I moved to California, I started easing my way into the rest of seafood. I would order one appetizer like oysters or fried shrimp heads. Slowly, I would order more and more seafood. By end of my first 6 months in the Bay Area, I was eating all seafood including some weirder things like sea snails and sea cucumbers. This satiated my appetite for change and new foods for some time.

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Ramen at Hide-Chan

As my second year in the Bay Area came to a close, I had a thirst for change again. My conversion wasn’t moving fast enough and as I went from one summer barbecue to another, I was still effectively a vegetarian since I still didn’t eat hamburgers or hotdogs. One day at Ssisso we bought chicken wings and I tried a few. The Uber back to Ari’s place was difficult to say the least. Nausea rushed over me and I felt terrible. However, an hour went by and I was back to normal. I had started to eat chicken.

On the first day of Burning Man, a few people from my camp had made some pork stew and asparagus. I originally stuck only to the veggies, but after 10 minutes I thought “to hell with it” and poured a large ladle of stew into my bowl. It wasn’t too bad, though the few glasses of wine I had probably helped. I told myself that I’m going to eat everything from this point on. If anyone asks me what kind of diet I stick to, I’m not mentioning anything that ends in -tarian.

Next Steps

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Me at Kajitsu

It’s been a year and a half since my “full conversion” and I couldn’t be happier. I can more easily adhere to high protein diets, better appreciate foreign cuisines and I have started to cook many classic meat-heavy dishes. Gone are the days of being the pickiest person at the table and being asked about my dietary restrictions. And I can finally order food from the standard menu when flying internationally!

I don’t want to stop here though. I may now be in line with the average American, but there still are many foods around the world that I need to try and learn to appreciate like insects, rotten foods, living foods and others that look downright revolting. For me, 2015 is going to be the year of bizarre foods. If Andrew Zimmer can eat it, why can’t I? Friends, join me if you are interested. It’s guaranteed to be intriguing.

Summer Weekends in San Francisco

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Before moving to the Bay Area, I never experienced the concept of “The City” the way people here do.

Back in Plano, the closest urban center is in Dallas. It’s the typical Middle America downtown: a few landmarks and cultural venus scattered among glass skyscraper after glass skyscraper. It wouldn’t be the first place you think of when finding a bar or brunch spot (However, this has been changing recently, judging by the number of friends who have moved into Dallas).

In New York, some people refer to Manhattan as “The City”, but I don’t think that I would call it that. Manhattan might be the economic and political center, but the outer boroughs still have almost everything that makes Manhattan such a great place to live: high-density urban areas, great bars, restaurants, music venues, parks, etc. There just isn’t the distinct border between urban and suburban that you can see in cities like in Dallas or Detroit.

San Francisco, to many of my friends, is “The City” while everything south is the”Southbay”. I used to fight them, and explain how Palo Alto is actually part of the Peninsula, which is larger than San Francisco both in population and in land mass. However, as much as I hate it, I accept that this division is due to a very simple reason: transportation. People in SF without cars have a hard time getting anywhere because all public transportation options are terrible. Most don’t go very far, don’t run at night, run very infrequently, or run extremely slowly. The rest of us who live elsewhere have cars, and going to SF means that we have to park it somewhere, yet another annoyance.

That’s why trips to SF are an important affair to Brohaus. When we go, we make sure to make the best of it; and, as I’m doing now, we make sure to document it.

Friends’ Apartments

I love visiting peoples’ homes. Homes can communicate so much about their owners: their age, their hobbies, their tastes, their philosophy, even their mood. Regardless of what someone wears during the week or the mask they wear in public, you can know who she truly is if you visit her home.

That’s an intriguing thought, isn’t it? The home is where someone is most comfortable. That’s why I love visiting friends’ homes.

Below we see Bernard’s apartment. Bright and bare. It’s a minimalists dream. He has just the basics; He doesn’t even have an internet connection. It’s almost as if he is ever prepared to pick up everything and move. He may have taken minimalism to a level I wouldn’t be comfortable with, but he inspires me every day to simplify my life down to the essentials.

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John takes a very different approach to his place. His apartment is more lived in, but that’s not a bad thing. If you slowly scan around his apartment, you see a few bottles of fine liquor, plants, fascinating books, video games. John is very culturally well rounded. He has wide enough interests that I can’t think of anyone that wouldn’t find a lot of common ground with him.

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nopa
Alamo Square, San Francisco

Bernard, John and I had brunch at nopa, “a San Francisco gathering place north of the Panhandle, serving urban rustic food and specializing in organic wood-fired cuisine.” It’s all local seasonal food and a bright and modern a feeling interior. I liked it.

Here’s Bernard perusing the menu.

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Yuzuki Japanese Eatery (Formerly Izakaya Yuzuki)
Mission District, San Francisco

Our dinner at Yuzuki was amazing. First, a few photos are from when Susie, John and I got there a bit early and hung out outside.

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I love everything about Yuzuki. I love the name, Yuzuki (癒月) which means healing moon. I love their tagline “Yuzuki Japanese Eatery offers authentic Japanese cuisine in San Francisco, served with gracious hospitality”. The food is everything you can expect from a properly Japanese restaurant: quality and balance. They are also properly Californian in their care for the environment. They use soy wax candles to prevent inhalation of chemical fumes, they recycle their cooking oil and even turn used bonito flakes into dog treats. Pictured below are Susie and I with the bar in the background.

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My impression of them is based on right before the chef change and name change to Yuzuki Japanese Eatery. So, things may have changed since I last went there, but I doubt that they have regressed. The food is balanced. The dining room is simple yet comfortable. Ask for sake and you will be treated not just to beverages, but to history and culture (they also teach Sake classes). Yuzuki takes the dining experience to another level.

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I’m definitely going back in the near future, and I’ll report back to you all if things are still good. I’m confident.

Boba Guys
Mission District, San Francisco

There was so much hype surrounding Boba Guys, but it may have been too much hype. When I finally visited, I was disappointed. It can’t stack up to the solid boba places I regularly visit like Tea Era, Sharetea and Fantasia. The milk tea was a bit watery, cups weren’t heat sealed and the ink from the cups bled onto our hands. It’s not all negative though. They have the branding and location down. If they work their kinks out, they could do well.

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Finally, I’ll leave you all with miscellaneous photographs. I hope you are all enjoying your holidays and the new year.

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Building My Own Speakers

I love music.

I’ve been listening to music almost continuously since I was a child.

Until fall of last year, I was using the built in speakers in my iMac to listen to music and before that, I was using some Audio Technica headphones. They sufficed, but were nowhere close to ideal. I knew I needed a desktop speaker system.

As any geek would, I started doing research. As I searched deeper and deeper (out of all the rabbit holes that one can fall into, the world of audiophiles is probably the deepest), I started realizing that there wasn’t just one best way to solve my problem. There are millions. I could buy a computer speaker system that works right out of the box, or I could assemble my own system from amplifiers, speakers, DACs, etc.

The only thing that was hampering me is the ratio of signal to noise in guidance and advice on the internet. With a hobby like photography, people can argue about F-tops, MTF charts and dynamic range as much as they want, but at the end of the day, most of them shut up and go out to take pictures.

With audio though, it seems that people can find much, much more time to sit at their computer and write loads of crap. The audiophile world is laden with pseudoscience and mysticism that I thought could only be found in a cult. We all know that it’s difficult to make useful and objective observations when reviewing audio systems (you just have to listen to them in person to know for yourself), but people still find the need to write endlessly about their feelings towards equipment without a shred of evidence.

When I was getting ready to give up on my search for the ideal set of speakers, I came across a small community that for some reason never came up on my radar, a true signal in a sea of noise: the DIY audio community. In this world, all the fluff and fancy words of the greater audio world are replaced with concrete terms and great advice. People in the DIY community don’t argue endlessly, but instead help each other to create their own masterpieces.

I loved it. Not only are DIY speakers cheaper than their off the shelf counterparts, they tell a story that you, the creator, write. After a bit more research, I settled on the Overnight Sensations. Click here to learn about Paul Carmody, the enthusiast that designed them. They are the most popular passive (unpowered speakers requiring an external amplifier) speaker kit. I bought it from Parts Express. Though, there are a few other vendors you can buy from.

If you want to try building these, I would suggest googling for instructions or checking out the diyaudio subreddit. In this post, I’ll walk you through a few of the steps I took when assembling my speakers with photos I took on my iPhone.

The Build Process

Look at any photo of the kit and you will see that the enclosure comes as a pile of precut wood. As you can probably guess, the first step towards turning them into speakers is gluing and clamping the panels of wood.

clamping and gluing

The wood panels don’t perfectly fit as they come from Parts Express and need a lot of sanding. This can be a time consuming process, but I made sure to take it slowly as it is very hard to undo mistakes here. If you want to save time, you could purchase an inexpensive rotary or belt sander.

sanding

Next are the crossovers. Look at the enclosure in the picture above, and you will notice that there are holes for two drivers, one high frequency tweeter and one low frequency woofer. Yet, only two wires come into the speaker (one ground and one signal). How does each driver receive only the frequencies appropriate for it? That’s where the crossover comes in. If you took an intro EE class in college, you will recognize the resistors, capacitors and inductors in the photo below. The crossover contains two filters, one high pass filter that sends the high frequencies to the tweeters and a low pass filter that sends the low frequencies to the woofer. That’s all it is.

I used this thread and this post when deciding on the layout of my crossover. There are a few quirks that you have to design around, like the fact that the tweeter will be connected with terminals reversed and that the inductors must be placed perpendicular to each other in 3d space to prevent mutual inductance.

Once I built two crossovers and triple checked that all the wiring is correct, I tested each one.

two crossovers

Below you can see an amplifier connected to the crossover, which is connected to the two drivers. I’m not looking for great sound at this stage since the drivers aren’t installed in the enclosure yet. It’s just a sanity check to make sure that the crossovers are wired correctly and that sound comes out of the drivers.

There was some work to be done on the enclosure before I could start installing the electronics. I had to drill pilot holes for the drivers, the port tube and the binding posts. Afterwards, I applied a few coats of light stain and a few coats of satin polyurethane for protection.

In this picture, you can see that the drivers are both screwed in and wired up with the crossover. At this point, I just need to wire the crossovers with the binding posts, fill the cavities with acoustic polyfill and close up the enclosures.

Here is how they look by my computer. I originally had them propped up on the small boxes that the tweeters came in, but that looked ugly and didn’t isolate the speakers enough from the desk surface. I constructed some speaker stands with cardboard and glue to fix that.

I eyed most of the measurements and I’m happy with the result. They look a little cheap, but they fit well with the aesthetic of the speakers.

Closing Thoughts

It’s been more than a year since I completed these and I couldn’t be happier. They sound great and they look just the way I want them to. To me, they are a constant reminder of the substantial results that a little bit of research and elbow grease can produce.

If you are in the market for new speakers and like buildings things, I can’t recommend this kit enough.