What's your favorite electronics shop?
I have been interested in electronics since I was “knee-high to a grasshopper” as the saying goes, and thus (like many readers of these columns) electronics shops hold a special fascination for me. (My wife, on the other hand, prefers jewellery shops, and when we were in London once, although she wouldn’t let me go into an electronics shop, when we were passing Garrards Jewellers in Regent Street and I (foolishly) remarked that the Queen got her jewellery from there, she insisted on going in. I will say that the salesman treated us like a cashed-up middle-eastern oil potentate and his wife, not like a pair of almost-penniless Zimbabweans. But I digress…)
I have many fond memories of various electronics shops. The few in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) in my youth, were not that well stocked and we got used to the response “No, don’t have anything like that!” I’d hitch-hike 10 km out of town to get 2N3055 power transistors for $3 instead of $5.
Venturing further afield, I found the memorable Hamrad in Johannesburg and A1 Radio in Durban in South Africa, and also various shops in Edgware Road in London (where, coming from Zimbabwe, I felt like a kid in a candy store and exited sated with the goodies therein). Dick Smith and Tandy were the only two in Bathurst in Australia where I now live, when I moved here 14 years ago. Dick Smith was started (in the proverbial garage, in 1968) by a gentleman of the same name, who used to work for Telstra, the then Australian government telecoms monopoly. He made millions from it, but sold it in 1982. It was sold again in 2012. Along the way it has changed from an electronics shop to a computer-printer-phone-camera shop, and as I write has just announced that it will be closing due (we hear) to bad management. Quite sad, though in their various clearances of electronics-related stuff I have done very well. The Tandy shop in Bathurst was taken over privately and still exists under another name, and is my first port of call if I need something in a hurry.
But, like everywhere else, the main street electronics shop has generally gone the way of the dodo. Max wrote not too long ago about Mock Electronics in his town, and that’s now closed as well. Everything is online now and internet stores can stock a far larger inventory, much cheaper, than an expensive city-based store. I have my favorites in Australia saved in my browser, and there are a few of them….. We have the big ones - Element 14 (Farnell/Newark), RS and recently Digikey, plus a host of smaller ones. The big guys have anything you could ever want, but tend to have high and inflexible prices, though Element 14 maintain a clearance page and I’ve got some good deals there. The smaller guys have some excellent prices, and I thought I had most of the worthwhile ones in my favorites list, but I hung my head in shame when Max sent me a message the other day saying “Hi David…check this out…have you heard of him?” and I hadn’t. The link Max sent me was http://www.bradsprojects.com/brads-electronics-shop/
So I bounced over there and had a look. And was pleasantly surprised. The guy is very small, probably a one-man operation, but he has a professional looking site with some projects and other info, and a shop bolted on. He says: “I wanted to provide easy access to those in Australia to some popular hobby electronics components found around the world, at a reasonable cost.” He’s certainly done that. It turns out that Brad is the guy who invented the Digirule, the subject of one of Max’s blogs, but Max had not realized this when he sent me the link. Brad does not have a vast amount of stock, but he does have some tasty stuff. One I was immediately attracted to was this USB Charger Doctor.
It’s a small in-line USB device that monitors the voltage and current delivered by a USB port. Useful to check if the USB port is putting out current or if it’s your phone or other device that is dead. Australian $ 5.95, and being as the AU$ is currently around 71 US cents, that’s only US$4.20. The page has a video with an overview of the unit (a lot of his pages have one) which is handy to learn more. This is something I have not seen before and I’ll certainly be ordering one. (I can see Max rolling his eyes and saying “Ah, the parochial Australians…”) Another thing I really like is this DC-DC converter board – converts any input 2-24V to a 2-28V output. I have a defective drill charger that I would like to convert to a 12V car charger for the drill battery – but this would need about 18V for the charging voltage – for AU$ 2.95 (US$2.10) it’s not worth building one!
MT3608 DC-DC 2V - 28V Converter Module
Brad charges a low AU$ 4.95 for shipping on any order, Australia wide. International shipping is more difficult - there is an Australia Post form that has to be manually filled out for every parcel sent outside Australia, and as I’ve had some experience doing them when I’ve sent stuff back to relatives in Zimbabwe, I agree they are a pain. There is a note on the Digirule page that says he’ll ship internationally, but that’s now crossed out. However following my exhortations, he has said that he will give international shipping a go, at AU$12.95 for up to 500g (for most of his stuff, that’s a lot of goodies!). I reckon his goodies and prices are worthy of international attention, so I hope this works out. For once, I am lucky living Down Under.
There are a bunch of other goodies on Brad’s site that I’ve never seen before…for example this set of 65 breadboard jumpers for just under 5 bucks (Aussie) – that’s US$3.50. I made up about 10 of these the other day with some header pins and thin wire and heatshrink, but it was very fiddly, and for 5 bucks you can bet I’m going to buy a set rather than making some more. And this 64x32 RGB LED matrix display for AU$64.95 (about US$46.30) – a good price by any standards. He also has some small breadboards on special for AU$2.95 (US$2.10) – I am always wanting to start something else on a new breadboard before I’ve finished with the last project, so a few of these would be handy.
EETimes has a few readers in Australia (I know of at least two that read my drivel :-) so if you also live Down Under, bounce over to his site and see if you see anything you like. If you’re outside Australia, have a look, and see if you could give him a reasonable order that would make it worth the shipping charges. (There is a Contact Us link at the bottom if you have any questions.)
Do you have a favorite small electronics shop – either online or an actual bricks-and-mortar shop? Tell us about it below.