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Doin' a "Gilmore" : a discrete transistor headphone amplifier

Posted 10th March 2015 at 01:17 AM by rjm
Updated 13th March 2015 at 11:42 PM by rjm

Recently I spent some time updating the diamond buffer of Sapphire headphone amp circuit. Later I stumbled on Kevin Gilmore's headphone amp circuit. Well, I'd read it before, but it had slipped my mind.

On seeing the Gilmore circuit again the thought process re. a Sapphire+Gilmore went something as follows,

"Toss out op amp, convert the Gilmore dual-LTP front end to bipolar, bolt the Sapphire3 buffer stage to the back, and substitute in the Sapphire3 current sources. Wrap in a mild feedback loop."

The result is shown attached. The Vbe multiplier is still a simple resistor (R33) ... that may need to be refined to add thermal throttling. The offset servo is not shown, but the action is shown as Vadj. Alternatively a trim pot would be placed between R30 and R32 to provide a small measure of offset adjustment. Most of the open loop gain is controlled by R14,R15 ... it seems to me that some work could still be done in that area. Despite going...
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Which is better, Sennheiser HD600 or AKG K702?

Posted 25th February 2015 at 01:24 PM by rjm
Updated 26th February 2015 at 12:41 AM by rjm

The HD600s.

Ok, so why donít you like the K702s?

I didnít say I didnít like them. Just that I think the HD600s are better.

Itís pretty simple really:

The K702s have a strident, hard upper-midrange "bump" that I find disagreeable. Yes, it makes tracks sound more ďliveĒ, but itís also fatiguing and a bit clinical, and - as many others before have noted - makes the sound overall somewhat thin. In direct comparison the HD600s seem full the point of boominess, but I'm willing to accept that midbass plumpness for the Sennheiser's warmer, luxurious midrange. In imaging, the K702s trend to a wide, distant, airy soundstage while the HD600s run towards a closed in, intimate presentation. In that sense the K702 are more like listening to speakers, and I can certainly see people being attracted to that.

These are both top-shelf headphones at the top of their game, I don't mean to imply that the AKGs are bad. The two...
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Z-reg II improved simple Zener voltage regulator

Posted 22nd February 2015 at 02:24 AM by rjm
Updated 28th February 2015 at 07:17 AM by rjm

I've added an additional RC filter stage (R3, C4 in the schematic below) before the Zener diode, substantially reducing the amount or ripple on the transistor base by cleaning up the voltage applied to the Zener reference. (The original Z-reg is described here.)

Circuit shows C2 with a value of 300 uF. Typically much larger values are used. I kept the filter capacitance to a minimum here to show circuit working with a reasonably high ripple (1 V p-p) on the input. The rectifier diodes used here are of no particular consequence, I just wanted the simulation to generate a realistic sawtooth for the input.


OK, this doesn't do as much as I originally thought. The improvement is mostly below 100 Hz, whereas the ripple is mostly in the 100Hz-1kHz band. There's perhaps 3 dB less output ripple, but that's about it. You can verify this yourself in LTSpice, just cut the wire between C4 and the junction or R1-R3 and rerun the sim.
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Gustard H10 Headphone Amplifier

Posted 14th February 2015 at 12:47 PM by rjm
Updated 12th April 2015 at 03:59 AM by rjm

Technical Specifications:

Signal Input : 2x XLR female , balance
2x RCA, unbalanced
Maximum input level : +21 dBu, impedance 10kΩ
Input impedance : XLR: 10kΩ, RCA: 68kΩ
Input Sensitivity : +6 dBu
Main amplifier gain : +8 dB
Main amplifier gain adjustment range : -4 / +2 / +8 / +14 / +20 dB
Frequency response : 0-55kHz (-0.5dB)
Damping Factor :> 400 @ 50Ω
Dynamic range :> 128dB (A -weighted )

THD + N (1kHz 1W @ 100Ω): <0.00035%
THD + N (1kHz 0.5W @ 32Ω): <0.0007%
Crosstalk :-110db (1kHz)

Each channel has a BB OPA134PA - socketed - for voltage amplification and an eight transistor discrete buffer with 2 ea. 2SA1837. 2SC4793, C546B, C556B. Dual mono layout - more or less ... the circuit board itself is shared and not completely symmetric. There's a pair of NE5532s at back for balanced-unbalanced...
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Headphone Sensitivity: AKG K702 vs. Sennheiser HD 600

Posted 7th February 2015 at 07:47 AM by rjm
Updated 14th February 2015 at 10:13 AM by rjm

I recently obtained a pair of AKG K702 headphones to complement my long-standing reference Sennheiser HD 600s. I figured since I'm building headphone amplifiers it would be a good idea to have a reference grade low impedance model as well as the high impedance HD 600s to use for evaluation.

First though, a note on sensitivity:

K702: 62 ohms, 105 SPL/V
HD600: 300 ohms, 97 dB/mW

Different units. Grrr!

At the same volume position I quickly discovered the HD 600s play slightly louder than the K702s. The datasheet values predict the K702s should be about 3 dB louder, so it seems the sensitivity is off by as much as 6 dB.

In numbers,

K702: 62 ohms, 105 SPL/V ... 93 dB/mW from datasheet, 87~89 dB/mW (99~101 SPL/V) in practice.
HD 600: 300 ohms, 97 dB/mW ... 102 SPL/V.

The K702 requires as much as ten times more power to drive than the HD 600s. The voltage sensitivity is about 3 dB lower than...
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Refining the Open Loop Diamond Buffer Headphone Driver (RJM Audio Sapphire 3.0)

Posted 31st January 2015 at 01:28 PM by rjm
Updated 18th March 2015 at 02:52 AM by rjm (add photo of finished amp)

A couple of years ago I built a standard op amp + diamond buffer headphone amplifier, called the Sapphire.

My original circuit (Sapphire 1.x) was the simple four transistor four resistor diamond buffer of the LH0002. Later small resistors (Sapphire 2.0) were added to the emitters of the driver transistors to boost the output bias current.

In this next go-round (Sapphire 3.0), I've replaced the emitter resistors with current sources. This provides a significant improvement in PSRR, over 20 dB in simulation. The output pair has been reinforced in a Sziklai configuration for lower distortion, and the primary output transistors five-way paralleled for improved thermal stability. The output impedance is 1~2 ohms, limited primarily by the output resistor.

It simulates to <-100 dB harmonics for 0 dB (1 V rms) output into 60 ohms. The total circuit standing current is less than 50 mA per channel.

LTSpice files below. R5,R6 on LTSpice...
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Portable headphone amplifiers

Posted 14th January 2015 at 07:07 AM by rjm
Updated 13th February 2015 at 05:11 AM by rjm

The shift of the center of gravity of the high end from component, rack systems to portable continues. Exhibit A

I've also noticed that over the last couple of years the basic blueprint for a portable headphone amplifier as defined by the Sony PHA-1 has now been taken up by all of the major Japanese audio companies.

Sony PHA-1, PHA-2, PHA-3
Denon DA-10
Onkyo DAC-HA200 and TEAC HA-P50 (variants of the same basic unit)
JVC SU-AX7 (report) (seems to be mostly Kenwood DNA)
Audio Technica AT-PHA100
and Fostex hp-p1

For all the above you are looking at a battery powered, slim-cased DAC + headphone amp typically with some sort of guard around the controls. They all feature a good variety of analog and digital inputs, offer switchable gains, and are priced over a range from $200 to nearly $1000.

You are looking at the convenience of having the DAC built in, the small size, and the rechargeable lithium...
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Windows volume control settings in dB.

Posted 23rd August 2014 at 12:33 PM by rjm
Updated 27th August 2014 at 07:39 AM by rjm

I suppose everyone has at one point or another adjusted the volume sliders in Windows. The ones that go from 0-100, and you are never quite sure what whether its a boost, or an attenuation, or what.

Some years ago I measured the outputs and inputs using a fixed amplitude .wav file created in audacity and played back through the Onkyo SE-200PCI. I've taken another look at the worksheet I made and I've noticed that the volume settings correspond to very logical, even steps, namely:

100 0 dB
90 -1 dB
80 -2 dB
70 -3 dB
60 -4.5 dB
50 -6 dB
40 -8 dB
30 -10 dB
20 -14 dB
10 -20 dB

or for the mathematically inclined: 20*log(volume/100)

This scale is the same for both the output master volume and the line input, so its probably maintained throughout the operating system.

So now you know.
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Onkyo SE-300PCIe sound card review part II.

Posted 20th August 2014 at 03:18 PM by rjm
Updated 23rd August 2014 at 07:21 AM by rjm

Part I is here.

Setup notes are in part I. Listening system downstream is the Sapphire headphone amplifier and Sennheiser HD-600 headphones. As the SE-300's line output routes though the Windows sound mixer, while the SE-200's bypasses it, it was not possible to keep the headphone amplifier volume at a constant setting between cards. Since I found the built-in headphone amplifier of the SE-300 to be good but not at the level of the Sapphire, only the stereo RCA output is being reviewed here.

Let me begin by saying that Windows is fundamentally an anti-audiophile proverbial dog's breakfast of setting and driver layers (quick, what's the difference between the DirectX and WaveOut sound modules?), and most soundcards are also anti-audiophile in that they cater to gamers and casual listening with a full barrel of virtualization, equalization, and reverb features enabled by default.* No surprise then that both cards require careful setup to sound their best, or,...
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Onkyo SE-300PCIe sound card review part I.

Posted 11th August 2014 at 01:39 AM by rjm
Updated 29th August 2014 at 12:41 AM by rjm

When I upgraded my computer recently I accidentally bought a motherboard with no PCI slots which meant I could no longer use my SE-200PCI card, my main reference source now for some years. Rather than switch motherboards again I figured I'd try Onkyo's latest version which has been out for a while now, the SE-300PCIe. I picked up a used "R2" model for $200.

I mention the price up front because the cost of this thing outside of Japan is astronomical. I've seen asking prices of $450 US! In Japan the retail price is about $300 in most stores. That's still very expensive. Despite the good things I have to say about it, the cost/performance must be taken into account based on the particular price you are looking at paying.

This is a Japan-only product, so the web site is Japanese:

main page (gallery)

The basic specs for the stereo line output is 120 dB S/N A weighted, 24/192 capable, 0.3-88kHz -3dB for the 2 channel stereo...
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