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Superlux HD668B SE classA amp

Posted 23rd May 2017 at 09:58 AM by abraxalito
Updated 6th July 2017 at 03:28 AM by abraxalito

My Superlux HD668Bs are the best value purchase I've ever made in headphone kit, far and away the best bang for the buck at their very modest price-point. If any pair of cans is worth designing a specific amp for, they are most certainly on the short-list. The amp I designed specifically for my AT MSR-7s doesn't have enough ooomph for these as the impedance is appreciably higher and the efficiency lower.

So here is my attempt at a dedicated HD668B amp with no corners cut in SQ while still being cheaper to buy the parts for than the cans themselves. I've designed it to run from a single lithium ion cell - a Panasonic 18650 would work fine and give around 60hrs of listening time. Its a single-ended classA topology driven by a single current-source loaded MOSFET. And naturally enough it sounds like no amplifier at all - a straight wire without gain, seeing as its just a buffer.

In actual fact it certainly does have gain, but only current gain. And no shortage of...
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Goosebumping headphone DAC-amp

Posted 31st October 2016 at 08:42 AM by abraxalito
Updated 1st December 2016 at 04:23 AM by abraxalito

The Intersil D2 chipset based amp arrived and while it sucked pretty badly on speakers I had a hunch that like the STA333BW boards I've been playing with recently, it would acquit itself admirably on headphones, given the much lower demands on the supply.

The mods I've done to this are fairly straightforward - changing the output filter to work more optimally with headphones (via a 7:1 step-down transformer) and tweaking up the power supply a bit.

To run with cans I went for an output load impedance of 1100ohms. This was determined primarily by the choice of inductor (MSS1210 8.2mH from Coilcraft) which in turn was chosen so that the carrier frequency would be below the SRF of the coil. This choice is fairly arbitrary in that the inductor would still work fine above its SRF just it's starting to look like a capacitor. However it turned out that with 8.2mH the cap value required was fairly simple, 5nF so I stuck two 10nF NP0s in series.

Mods in the...
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Transformers and crossfeed

Posted 15th April 2016 at 04:09 AM by abraxalito
Updated 25th April 2016 at 03:15 AM by abraxalito

Listening to headphones creates, on many recordings, an unnaturally wide soundstage. I decided to play with the idea of 'crossfeed' whereby some deliberate crosstalk is introduced between the two channels. With transformers its jolly easy to do - just create an extra winding with the right number of turns then put this winding in series with the main output of the opposite channel.

In the picture I've done this with some EP17 ferrite cores and added a DPDT changeover switch to A/B between the original and crossfed version. The crossfeed factor I've gone for is 25%. It works in practice in that there's a more natural presentation without any 'extreme' stereo effects (almost a kind of phasiness on some recordings). But sometimes I enjoy the 'all around' effect so switchable is the name of the game

Trafo winding details as follows - primary 500T of 0.1mm, two secondaries first 120T 0.21mm, second 40T 0.21mm.

Made a second one as a colleague liked...
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Old

Mighty mite balanced SE classA headphone amp

Posted 5th April 2016 at 09:39 AM by abraxalito
Updated 25th April 2016 at 11:06 AM by abraxalito

I was going to call this amp 'fleapowered' but after doing some searching online I found fleapowered amps in general were much higher output power than this - single digit Watts typically. Whereas this one is more than a couple of orders of magnitude lower than that (under 10mW) so deserved a different moniker. Seeing as a mite is smaller than a flea, 'mighty mite' seemed to me as good as any descriptor for it.

The mighty mite started life in my imagination after I walked into a local headphones shop and tried out some cans that the shop assistant recommended to me - AT MSR7s. I'd brought my 'Buffalito' headphone buffer with me and some step down transformers for its output - fed from my mobile phone its way too loud for my AKGs and Superluxes. However the MSR7s were too loud even with the 2:1 step down trafo so I told the assistant I'd come back and listen again once I had a more suitable trafo. I figured it needed to be 4:1 step down, so I built a pair of those (PQ32/20)...
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Pocketable headphone transformers

Posted 24th March 2016 at 02:44 AM by abraxalito
Updated 25th March 2016 at 11:54 PM by abraxalito

Seems I got a bit carried away with listening to my heavily modded XuanZu amp in the last-to-one blog post. I even considered it was superior to my current headphones - that would mean shelling out on some new ones. Before I went shopping though I did try it into my DT880s, which are 600ohms (hence I usually only use them for special occasions) - they sounded cleaner, although considerably quieter. This amp doesn't have enough voltage swing available to deliver the SPLs into such a high impedance. So was the cleanliness of these phones due to their being higher quality (they're at least 4* the cost of the others)? Or just because of listening at a lower level?

When my over-enthuasiasm for the amp had subsided a bit I decided to consider a way to answer these questions. If the amp was indeed not producing the artifacts which I was hearing on piano into the low-Z cans, then putting a 2:1 step-down transformer on its output would make no difference at all. The amp has plenty...
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Upgrading the XuanZu portable headamp

Posted 27th February 2016 at 12:22 AM by abraxalito
Updated 14th March 2016 at 06:23 AM by abraxalito

This device is a steal on Taobao, but having had a quick listen last night it could sound clearer. When connected to my smartphone (Meizu MX4 pro) and compared side by side with my 'Buffalito' (not a blind comparison mind) into my SuperLuxes, there were a few notable deficiencies.

First the soundstage air was less apparent. Second there's some sibilance noticeable on voices. And third the background hiss is slightly more apparent and a slight whine comes from the power supply. So I figured - open her up.....

Inside its fairly simple, the more or less standard configuration of a pot, then opamp gain stage then discrete diamond buffer. Which is great because I already have experience with this topology. The power supply is a built in LiIon cell with a boost converter supplying 12V in a single rail and there's a passive rail splitter. The dual opamp is an EL2244, one I've not seen before in such a setup.

First up - the input pot is too low a value at...
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Old

Discrete headphone buffer - 'Buffalito'

Posted 20th October 2015 at 07:49 AM by abraxalito
Updated 26th October 2015 at 01:42 PM by abraxalito

Nowadays with discrete transistors as affordable as they are, the most cost-effective solution for a particular audio application may well be a discrete one when SQ (rather than numbers) is uppermost. Audiophile faddishness about discretes aside.

Here's a case in point - my pic shows a headphone buffer where the design aims were lowest cost, smallest size and lowest battery drain, while maintaining acceptable SQ. There are 28 transistors which go for 0.04rmb each on Taobao. That's 1.12rmb. OK so you can also buy 2 NJM4556s for that, but how do they sound? In my experience of building an O2-alike, not so great. They're also going to take 15mA at 7V whereas this design takes 6.5mA at 3.6V input. So an integrated design will be more than 4X as power hungry. With a 2600mAh single cell LiIon this could run for 400hrs - over two weeks continuous if played at low level.

The power supply is created by an LM2662 which inverts the 3.6V positive input for a -3.6V rail. It...
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Old

Designing the best bang-for-the-buck headphone amp

Posted 10th October 2015 at 01:55 AM by abraxalito
Updated 16th October 2015 at 05:36 AM by abraxalito

Headphone amps aren't any different from speaker amps in principle - what you hear (apart from a bigger version of the input signal) is the power supply's noise coupled through the inadequate PSRR of the electronics.

SE classA operation is a way to minimize the generation of power supply noise by arranging the current flow to be constant to a first order so that any remaining ripple on the supply is the result of the finite output impedance of the follower's loading current source and those of the driving stages. But how significant are these 2nd order effects? This design is an attempt to find out - by reducing them as far as practicable.

The idea is to run SE classA at a much higher voltage than is needed to drive the 'phones (balanced, with 80V supplies giving 144V peak-peak) then step down the output voltage with a custom-wound output transformer. This has the effect of increasing the PSRR of the amp's output stage. I'm not worried overmuch about the PSRR...
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