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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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Sanwu FLAC and Bluetooth player has a significant flaw

Posted 16th March 2016 at 12:59 AM by abraxalito
Updated 17th March 2016 at 03:18 PM by abraxalito

I was going to write a post praising this player for the superb value for money (its the only cheap single-chip FLAC player I've found) but this morning it produced an alarming series of whistles and pops from what I presume is a corrupt file on my TFcard. So now its only recommended if you're sure you have perfect data on your card - it doesn't seem to mute the audio when an error is found.

Apart from this major howler at just 30rmb its great, providing as it does FLAC, WAV and mp3 support along with Bluetooth running from a USB power source at 5V. The audio performance is decent when run through my modified XuanZu headamp as preamp - the level is rather low otherwise and I suspect it needs a high-impedance buffer for best dynamics.

I put the TFcard which gave the player hiccups into my PC reader and uploaded the 'problem' file to Audacity. No glitches noticed there so looks like I might have to dig a bit deeper to find out what went wrong. I shall try playing...
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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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An LC filter for supplying a line stage

Posted 19th February 2016 at 01:33 AM by abraxalito
Updated 22nd February 2016 at 01:51 AM by abraxalito

I've designed LC filters for classAB amp power supplies before - for those applications iron powder toroids work fine for the Ls. However for the power supply in my latest DAC design I wanted more supply rejection and this calls for higher value inductors - in the tens of mH. Creating a 10mH inductor on a toroid takes way too long and is hugely fiddly as the wire length needed is substantial and I don't have any specialized winding machine. So toroids are really out of the question at such values.

I have some largeish inductors in the right range wound on bobbin cores but when I checked the DCR it was a little high, 20ohms or so. As I might need up to 100mA, a 2V drop is too great. In any case, in LTspice this resulted in rather an overdamped response - what I really needed is something in the range 1 to 2 ohms. The solution seemed to be use ferrite cores of the kind normally used to make transformers. Which means breaking a kind of informal rule I made for myself about not...
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Old

Highly affordable digital audio CPU board

Posted 8th January 2016 at 04:02 AM by abraxalito

STM's lowest cost ARM Cortex M4 CPU is now available on a very low cost evaluation board here - https://item.taobao.com/item.htm?spm...cket=13#detail

Its quite a good fit for audio purposes because there are a couple of I2S interfaces with a dedicated audio PLL. There's plenty of RAM (64k) and according to the benchmarks, it'll do the equivalent of around 100MIPs. Its also respectably low power when running out of RAM - use the flash memory accelerator though and its not quite so frugal.
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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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BBftB headphone amp PSU

Posted 14th October 2015 at 02:57 AM by abraxalito

Here's the power supply I've lashed up to feed the balanced SE classA amp.

Its fed from a 5VA EI transformer with a 65VAC secondary. One 390uF cap follows the rectifier, then there's a 30mH choke, two 390uF caps beyond that.

A series regulator is made from a string of 3 TL431s as reference (the max from a single one is 36V - I've gone for a total of 78V) and that's followed by a 2SK213 simply because I had no other high voltage transistor to hand. There's an RC filter feeding the gate of the MOSFET to reduce the output noise from the shunts (68k,200nF).

Output ripple isn't visible on my scope but I plan to feed the output into my AC millivoltmeter and see what its giving out in terms of noise.
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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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Rating: 2 votes, 4.50 average.

Discrete transistor based CFB I/V stage

Posted 25th September 2015 at 01:56 PM by abraxalito
Updated 26th September 2015 at 01:35 AM by abraxalito

Since I figured out the reason for needing all those caps in my earlier DAC designs was all brought on by using passive I/V, I'm now a total convert of active I/V in order to do away with the sheer bulk.

Having tried single transistor I/V and loved it, I found there was still some improvement to be gained by biassing the common-base transistor with additional current sources to reduce its input impedance. Since getting down to the region of 1ohm would require some 25mA of bias which isn't well suited to portable applications I decided to have a go at using feedback to obtain the impedance I'm seeking.

I'm not using an off-the-peg CFB amp because they still turn out to be fairly power supply quality susceptible (subjectively speaking) so here's a design I hope that greatly reduces the supply impedance requirements so that it can be used in a portable player.

The picture shows the second prototype I/V stage, coupled to a 6th order Chebyshev anti-imaging...
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Designing high order active filters

Posted 20th September 2015 at 11:54 PM by abraxalito
Updated 25th September 2015 at 01:20 AM by abraxalito

I've been getting a lot of use out of Simon Bramble's webpage for designing active filters recently - http://www.simonbramble.co.uk/techar...ter_design.htm. Its a great resource.

Right down at the bottom of the page the last filter he shows the schematic of is a 9th order Chebyshev, 1dB ripple, with a corner frequency of 1kHz. A textbook frequency response plot is obtained using LTC6241s. I latched on to this and tried changing the corner frequency to 18kHz, wondering if I could use such a design for an anti-imaging filter for my DACs. So I divided all the capacitor values by 18 and ran the sim. Disaster! The frequency response I obtained is below - a 7dB spike at 17kHz.

The problem seems to be inadequate Q - high order filters are composed of sections which increase in Q (more positive feedback) and the chosen opamps aren't fast enough (18MHz GBW). I went to a faster opamp for the highest Q stage which brought about some improvement...
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