If choosing a front panel design for a headphone amplifier would you go with a creative, unique look or something more traditional and functional?
Sometimes with all of the discussion about circuit details behind a given design, it's easy to forget about the interface the finished product will present to the end user. This can be important, even for basic audio equipment - like an amplifier - that doesn't typically present a complex user interface.
A case in point: I mentioned in an earlier post about a headphone amplifier that I'll be building for myself and a few friends. As part of this project I'm hoping to join a group buy for the front panel. A front panel should be simple to design, right? Well, apparently not as simple as you might think.
Because of design and space considerations, the front panel in this case will need to accommodate all of the amp's input/output and control functions. These include 1/8" mini stereo input and output jacks, a high/low gain switch, and power, volume and on/off functions.
So it is somewhat more complex than your average amplifier faceplate. But nothing that a few well-chosen labels/identifiers couldn't handle. However, the group buy appears to be divided into basically two camps over the front panel design approach - one prefers something more creative and stylistic while the other prefers something more "neutral" and traditional.
I can understand why someone might prefer a creative and unique look for their personal, custom-built DIY headphone amplifier. But while I'm all for creativity, I wouldn't choose it at the expense of usability - especially when designing or building something intended to be used by others besides myself. (I really don't wish to have to spend any time explaining what the various front panel symbols mean when I hand off the finished amps.)
So in this case I strongly favor the more traditional (some would say "boring") user interface design with clear labeling of all I/Os and functions. Leave the creativity for the circuit design and for the artists and performers whose musical material the headphone amp will ultimately be delivering.
Comments, questions or suggestions? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Audio listening enjoyment: Do technical specs matter?
Audio subjectivist vs. objectivist debate