My current electronics hobby project is to build some ADAT “Lightpipe” repeaters and patch panels for my home studio (yes, there are commercial products out there, but they are very pricey for what they do).
ADAT uses the same plastic fiberoptic “TOSLINK” technology found on many domestic CD/DVD players, games consoles, AV processors etc, but carries up to 8x 48KHz (or 4x 96KHz) 24bit PCM signals (i.e. a higher bandwidth requirement than traditional S/PDIF or Dolby5.1 applications).
Generally, I use RS-Components for such projects, but I’ve had real problems sourcing the TOSLINK tranmitter and receiver parts in the UK. They are only made by Toshiba and Sharp, and despite being ubiquitous in domestic audio appliances are very hard/expensive for hobbyists to find at a reasonable price.
Googling around revealed one enthusiast who used to sell them for £6 a piece, and another UK online supplier currently quoting over £17 per device. At those prices, one might as well buy the commercial product!
RS will source non-catalogue items for account holders, but they require a £200 minimum order (plus they quote 10+ days for delivery). The big distributor EBV don’t sell to the little guy at all (they require a trade account, and a minimum order of £1000).
Enter Digi-Key. They’re based in the USA, but have localised online ordering for the UK and many other countries. About 36 hours ago I placed an order for 20x TOTX147L and 20x TORX147L parts (3v, shuttered, 15Mbps transmitter and receiver). The price was about £1 each, plus £10 handling because my order was under £75, and plus £12 shipping because by order was under £100.
The UPS man knocked on the door a couple of hourse ago, taking COD for the £12 VAT duty due. Amazing! 40 parts for just £74. But what really blew my socks off was that it arrived about half an hour before the RS order I placed the same evening (for all the other bits I need for my project).