Posted 14th January 2015 at 06:07 AM byrjm Updated 13th February 2015 at 04:11 AM byrjm
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.
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...
Posted 23rd August 2014 at 11:33 AM byrjm Updated 27th August 2014 at 06:39 AM byrjm
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.
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,...
Posted 11th August 2014 at 12:39 AM byrjm Updated 28th August 2014 at 11:41 PM byrjm
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:
The GeminiPS is another discrete series voltage regulator, with a Zener reference and bipolar pass transistor. It's an old circuit, published in Practical Electronics in 1970-71, and written by D.S. Gibbs and I.M. Shaw. I happen to have a reprint, but there's a nice overview here.
For reference it might be worth checking back to the two transistor regulator. The GeminiPS circuit is related in the sense that it is a more sophisticated take on the same basic principle. With just a handful of components we have a stabilized, 30 W output with soft turn on and short circuit protection. The circuit can be scaled up and down relatively easily, and the complimentary (negative output) version is an easy modification.
The pass transistor (TR2/3, Q2/3) is between the circuit common and the rectifier anodes. This may seem odd, but it was relatively common back in the day when high voltage transistors were both expensive and rare. The...
I've been meaning to take up shunt regulators for some time. I've never got around to building one myself to try, so I'll have to make do by playing in simulation.
Today's circuit is the shunt analog of the Z-reg series regulator: no feedback, Zener reference, single transistor regulation. The output impedance and ripple rejection-characteristics are similar too, with about 40 dB of RR and an output impedance of just a few ohms. It can be built equivalently from either an pnp or pnp transistor. (See attached LTSpice .asc files.)
The difference between shunt and series regulation can best be explained by considering the upstream power supply: In a series regulator an increase in current demand by the load causes the regulator to increase the current to compensate. In a shunt regulator an increase in current demand by the load causes the regulator to decrease the shunt current to balance, so there is no net change in current flowing...
So you have a small handful of parts and want to build a (simple) discrete voltage regulator instead of using an IC. What to do?
For line-level audio circuits, especially op amp based (IC or discrete) preamps with high PSRR, something like the Z-reg is generally sufficient. Robust, works well, has enough ripple rejection to cut power line noise from the preamp output.
If you add just a couple more parts, however, you can add feedback to the Z-reg circuit, a simple error amplifier in the form of an additional transistor Q2, with the output-sampling voltage divider R1,R2.
The ripple rejection is not vastly superior to the circuit without the feedback unless some additional bypass capacitors are added as shown in the first version of the circuit below. The output impedance, however, improves from a few ohms to a few tenths of an ohm as a result of the feedback. Which could, in principle, be of use.
I'm not going to spend too much time on this one. The idea is to increase the input impedance of the pass transistor by buffering it with a jFET so it will support a high-impedance passive CRCRC filter section that generates a low noise reference voltage. The reference is defined not by a Zener or diode stack, but by a simple voltage divider. There is a LM317 pre-regulator on the front, but it is traditionally configured and works independent of the following circuit so it is omited here together with the additional transistor that speeds up the charging of the reference voltage filter capacitors.
The basic problem is that lowering the noise of the reference cannot lower the output noise indefinitely. After a point the output noise is defined by the performance of the pass transistor instead.
Two versions are presented, one with all the protection diodes and a simplified version with extraneous components removed.
LTSpice simulation shows so-so performance into a light load, with about 70 dB of ripple rejection and a fairly high output impedance, but the drop out voltage is respectably low and we must factor in - coming directly from the Jung Super Regulator - that this is just a two transistor circuit, with no error amplifier to provide feedback.
As a frame of reference, it is quite similar in performance to the Z-reg we looked at back in part III.
The k-multipler is of a class of voltage regulators where the output is referred to the input voltage, rather than to ground. It provides "X volts less than the input", rather than the traditional regulator which provides "X volts above zero"....
Posted 13th February 2014 at 04:21 AM byrjm Updated 14th February 2014 at 10:52 AM byrjm(clean up)
In the next part of the series, I'll be presenting various published regulator circuits.
Today we have the "Jung Super Regulator" (2000 version) on deck, thanks to Tangentsoft's excellent write-up.
In translating the circuit to LTSpice, I've made some concessions. While I have kept the protection diodes so as to be consistent with the original - even if they do nothing in this simulation - the op amp, transistors, voltage regulator and reference have been substituted with working equivalents from the LTSpice libraries. I've been approximate in the resistance and capacitance values, and tuned the circuit to output 10 V at 10 mA to keep in line with the previous circuits I've uploaded.
It works though, and, under simulation at least, it works extremely well. Putting it together in LTSpice gave me a new appreciation for just how much work and refinement went into its design. Now, its an open question whether such over-the-top performance...