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I returned to DIY electronics in 2009 after a 20 year pause by building a few kits to get in shape. This blog is for me to keep track of my progress.
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From Tube CAD Journal by JRB

Posted 25th June 2015 at 08:05 PM by alexcp (My DIY projects)

For every hobbyist-built amplifier in existence there are probably one thousand amplifiers which are planned on being built and maybe one hundred amplifiers that have all their parts collected in a box waiting to be built and ten amplifiers that are partially built and collecting dust in a closet.

(see full post here)
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Soundcard measurements with ASIO

Posted 7th September 2013 at 09:51 AM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 17th February 2014 at 05:08 AM by alexcp

I talked earlier about soundcard measurements, and here is some news: Pioneer Hill Software updated SpectraPLUS 5 so that it can now use ASIO.

ASIO (Audio Stream Input-Output) replaces Windows' own MME (MultiMedia Extensions) or DirectSound. As far as I understand, the beauty of ASIO is that it bypasses Windows Mixer and thus doesn't bring any issues associated with sample rate conversion or level adjustment.

The ASIO drivers that came with my E-MU 0204 crash every time (on Windows 7 and WIndows 8). Thankfully, there is ASIO4ALL, which works well for me.

First picture shows two spectra taken with SpectraPLUS: red is the E-MU 0204 output fed directly into E-MU's input; and blue is the output of the E-MU fed into Pete Millett's interface, output of the interface fed to the input of the interface, and then back to the sound card. THD+N is 0.000781% is the first case and 0.001272% in the second.

Next two screenshots are THD+N vs frequency...
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Better than a box of chocolates

Posted 25th June 2013 at 06:17 PM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 25th June 2013 at 08:27 PM by alexcp

Got this today on the cheap - a box of 6N1P-VI, made in 1988, all new in authentic factory packaging. It is likely to keep me entertained for quite some time

Note: the PDF attachment is a scan of the factory three page insert from the box. It is in Russian and contains the pinout and electrical and limiting parameters of the tube but NO CURVES.
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Measurements with a sound card

Posted 13th May 2013 at 09:08 PM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 7th September 2013 at 09:36 AM by alexcp (Updated for ASIO4ALL)

I am using a USB sound card for measurements. It's a pain, but I have nothing better yet.

The sound card is the E-MU 0204. I've chosen it for the specs:
  • Dynamic Range (A-weighted, 1kHz, min gain): 113dB
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio (A-weighted, min gain): 113dB
  • THD+N (1kHz at - 1dBFS, min gain): -101.9dB (.0008%)

The sound card is intefaced to the real world by Pete Millett's sound card interface.

The software is SpectraPLUS 5.0 by Pioneer Hill Software (PHS). (No link because my antivirus says their web site is infected.) The software runs on an old MacBook running Windows 7 in Boot Camp.

The results do not seem to be affected by nearby computers, flurescent lights, switching power supplies, etc.

The results are affected by:
  • Windows Mixer settings (levels and sampling rates)
  • Software settings (levels and sample rate)
  • Grounding of the sound card, the interface, and the device under test

The greatest source of pain is...
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NE5532 power amplifier

Posted 12th May 2013 at 07:51 PM by alexcp (My DIY projects)

This is a project developed by Douglas Self and published in the Elektor in October and November 2010.

The idea is rather unusual: "An interesting power amplifier can be made by connecting enough 5532s in parallel, how about 32 for a start? This may sound like a radical course of action, but it actually works very well, making it possible to build a very simple amplifier that retains not only the excellent linearity but also the power-supply rejection and the inbuilt overload protection of the 5532, which reduces the external circuitry required to a minimum."

Elektor used to sell PCBs for this project, which I used. I modified the circuit slightly to incorporate an active volume control along the lines of Douglas Self's preamplifiers.

Here is the result:
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Eternally Penultimate Zen - mod #4

Posted 11th May 2013 at 08:32 PM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 27th April 2015 at 12:29 PM by alexcp (Added pictures, links)

My first solid state amplifier build, in 2009, was The Penultimate Zen, aka Zen Variations Part 4, aka ZV4. It was built with the parts I could find back then, without knowing where to look. It ended up big, heavy with two 400VA toroidal transformers, ugly inside with some electrical tape here and there, without proper grounding, etc., etc. I was as disappointed with the sound as my wife was disappointed with that heavy black metal brick gathering dust.

My first mod on ZV4 came after I turned my disappointment into finding better part suppliers. I returned to my ZV4 and replaced the output caps with something marginally more decent from eBay. The sound improved a notch. Aha!

My second mod was to rebuild the power supply. I threw away one of the toroids, added a softstart circuit from Hypex, and put in a CRC filter with some Mundorf HC caps. One power supply for two single ended channels forced me to learn about grounding and add input transformers and balanced...
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Ultra Low Distortion Class B Amplifier

Posted 9th April 2013 at 06:40 PM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 12th May 2013 at 03:49 PM by alexcp (Added better photos)

I built this one a while ago but could not find time to post.

This is a Class B power amplifier that follows the Ultra-LD Mk.3 amplifier design published by the Australian Silicon Chip magazine in 2011, which in turn draws heavily from the concept of a Blameless amplifier devised by Douglas Self. I used a different power supply and speaker protection, and changed the grounding scheme vs what was published.

The distortion at 1 kHz is below my measurement capabilities, and the amplifier does sound very nice, although it seems to give more sibilance than my Class A amplifiers.

The acid test I use is the dual CD "The Very Best of Placido Domingo" album published by EMI Classics. Many amplifiers I have heard cannot deal well with Domingo's tenor, esp. on louder and higher tones. Class A amps, particularly those using simple internal structure like the Zen series, perform well in this test. This amplifier seems to do better than any other...
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Burning Amp BA-3b (Balanced)

Posted 9th April 2013 at 06:10 PM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 2nd November 2013 at 11:17 AM by alexcp (Added better photos)

Big, hot, and heavy! Just completed it and adjusted for distortion, have not had yet a real chance to listen to it. (Update: I have listened to this amp for some time, and it seems to be a keeper, at least for now.)

The build is in a 4U/400 case from modushop; each side has two 200mm heatsinks, each holding six MOSFETs (three complementary pairs) and a biasing circuit.

The construction is dual mono (separate transformers for each channel) with CRC filtered +/- 18V rails, quiescent current is 3A per channel. Eight Mundorf MLytic® HC High Current Power Caps and two 300VA toroids occupy the most of the chassis, while the actual electronics is mounted on the sides.

Now I need a balanced preamp. I contemplate building some variant of BoSoZ, but am also thinking about a SuperSymmetric balanced preamp using JFETs or tubes...

UPDATE: No- and low-feedback amplifiers have no (or little) control over output errors and thus poor PSRR. On this premise,...
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My aha! moment - loadline optimization

Posted 9th April 2013 at 11:07 AM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 9th April 2013 at 11:32 AM by alexcp

I build myself a Millett's Hybrid Headphone amp, originally published in AudioXpress issue 11, 2001.

The amp uses low-voltage 12AE6A tubes for voltage amplification and BUF634 solid state buffers to drive the load. Each tube houses two diodes (unused) and a triode, here loaded with a CCS. The whole thing runs off a 24VDC power brick and consumes maybe 150mA after the tubes heat up.

The DC operating point of the triode can be adjusted with a multiturn trimpot. The original AudioXpress article talks about the influence of the operating point on the sound and suggests to trim for symmetrical clipping, then adjust for the subjectively best sound.

The aha! moment came when I connected the amp to my sound card and looked at the distortion spectrum. On small signals (~300mV output into 300 ohm) the distortion is 2nd harmonic only. The operation point can be trimmed to the point where the the 2nd harmonic goes into the noise floor! I've read about this but...
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Adding TentLabs XO2.2 low jitter clock to exposure 2010S CD player

Posted 9th April 2013 at 10:03 AM by alexcp (My DIY projects)
Updated 12th May 2013 at 03:58 PM by alexcp (Added photos, links)

I added a TentLabs XO2.2 low jitter clock and a separate power supply for it to my exposure 2010S CD player. The process was very straightforward - see the pictures.

The exposure 2010S CD player has an easy internal layout, where most of the components sit on a large PCB.

The original clock is based on the 74HC04N chip located in the middle of the PCB, to the left from the three white power connectors connecting the toroidal transformer. A close-up picture shows the crystal resonator wrapped in a black heat-shrink tube, two 33pF capacitors on each side of the resonator (those with black dots on top), and a resistor R75, which also serves in the circuit. The oscillator is built on the single invertor (pins 13 and 12 of the IC).

The original clock is generating 16.9344 MHz at 5V CMOS levels.

To install XO2.2, I removed the resonator and the capacitors, leaving the resistor in place. I connected the signal cable from XO2.2 to the...
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