Zero Audio?

Around a year ago I first tried making a music streamer from my original Raspberry Pi, a digital converter board from Audiophonics and Volumio. Apart from my unfamiliarity with Linux causing some confusion, it actually worked well and it caused me to have a bit of a mindset change. Originally I wanted to have my music stored locally on a harddrive on the playing device (a MacMini with Amarra), but since the NAS I use for redundant backup of files is just sitting there anyway, streaming was suddenly a viable option. Since then I have been happily using a RPi 3 and cheap digital converter board from ebay as a streamer to feed my Arcam DAC, switching between Volumio and Runeaudio for the software-part.

I am mostly happy with this setup, but since the RPi Zero came out a while ago I’d wanted to try using that for something similar and take advantage of the compact size. To match the Zero I bought a “TinyToslink” adapter to give the Zero an optical output to feed my DAC. It seems to work well, but it’s a bit surprising – in a good way – that something less than half the size of a credit card (excluding all the necessary adapters of course 😀 ) produces sound like this.

I have some ideas for how to case this to make it pretty, but it’s going to take a while as it’s not a priority right now. Also, the TinyTOSlink is not as sophisticated as e.g. the Hifiberry Digi+ Pro (which I have my eye on as well), and there are a few things that could be better. One of the problems is that it doesn’t do 192 kHz over optical (and my DAC will not accept that either), so I have been wondering about DIY’ing a version with transformer-isolated coax out instead – maybe later ;).

I’ll probably continue experimenting a little with the Zero and leave the RPi3 in my main system, but if you want to get a cheap streamer together the Pi – regardless of format – is a good option. And it can of course also do many other things as well (especially if you can be bothered to learn some basic Linux, which I can’t right now 😀 )

Project files: IRM Switching PSUs

What is it?
Since I first discovered the IRM-series of compact switching supplies from Mean Well I’ve grown quite fond of them. They are compact, cheap and very easy to implement so they are perfect for everywhere an “aux-voltage” is required to power non-critical circuitry. Through the different applications I’ve found for these I have managed to build up a full series of boards suitable for the IRMs.

While some of the boards can be (and are intended to be) used for “serious” stuff (to be shown later on), a very obvious application for most of these boards are as AUX-supplies for powering relays, displays, logic circuitry etc. where a bit more or a bit less ripple and noise are of no consequence, but where the compact size and low standby consumption is a real plus.

There are four board versions, suitable for the IRM modules in all versions from 3-30W output power (the 30W board is missing from the pictures as I couldn’t find the prototype when they were taken – sorry! 😀 ).

How big are the boards?

  • The 3W board measures 1.8” x 1.5” (app. 46 x 38 mm.)
  • The 5/10W board measures 1.2” x 2.65” (app. 31 x 67 mm.)
  • The 15/20W board measures 1.25” x 2.95” (app. 32 x 75 mm.)
  • The 30W board measures 1.6” x 3.6” (app. 41 x 92 mm.)

What is the status of the boards?
All of the board files are version 1.0 or higher. Some tweaks have been done after the initial protoypes for a few of them, mostly because of errors/issues with the IRM module footprints.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
No, none. Several places to get the IRM-modules them selves (Mouser, Reichelt, TME etc.) and everything else on the boards is more or less optional 😀

Anything else I need to know?

  • The modules have worse specs for ripple and noise than most linear regulators, but obviously the switching frequency is quite high (66-100 kHz depending on model), which means that passive filtering like an LC or a CRC (“pi”) filter would be an ideal way of reducing the output noise. I have a couple of examples for that which I might show later.
  • I haven’t been able to find a spec for how much capacitance the modules will tolerate on the output, but it probably should not be overdone.
  • Remember that obviously one side of the board carries mains voltage, so take the necessary precautions when working with them.

Downloads:
Download design files here

Related information:
Note: Always read the “intro post” for additional important information about my designs.

Class D experiments…

There are many class D technologies on the market at the moment, but one of the ones I haven’t tried (until now at least) is the International Rectifier “IRAUD7”-amps (IRF has been acquired by Infinion).

Consisting of the IRS2092 driver IC and various purpose-built FETs (many of them two FETs in a single package suitable for half-bridge designs), this is by most accounts a good-sounding and scalable class D technology. It’s also one of the few technologies where you can actually have a go at your own PCB layout if you want to. The schematics are available in IRFs published reference designs (here and here) and although making good PCB layouts for high-power switching electronics isn’t easy, it is actually possible to do.

Of course, when something is so easily available it tends to get exploited. It wasn’t long after IR introduced the designs before the market was flooded with several cheap clones, some using their own PCB layouts and some using IRs own Gerber files which are also published on the website. I had my eyes on some small (credit-card sized) boards to try for a while as they were really cheap (do an ebay-search for “IRS2092” and you’ll see 🙂 ), but eventually spotted this “luxury” version (at least based on appearance and observed parts quality) and fell in.

This build is the “low power” version with the IRFI4019 FET, but there’s also higher-power version with the IRFI4020 FET. Since the seller I bought from made a mix-up in ordering I actually ended up having a pair of each version, but I wanted to start with the low-power version. Then I might go dual-mono on the high-power boards later on if the sound quality proves it worthwhile 😀

The PSU consists of a 200VA transformer and a cheap supply PCB with 45mF capacitance per rail – mostly because that was what I had in my parts drawers. I’ve tried to keep the mechanics as simple as possible since I consider this build an experiment, but having the amp and PSU on a mounting plate simply makes everything much easier so I decided to “splurge” a little anyway :). The front panel is blank until I decide how the amp is going to be used.

Even though the pictures show the amplifiers uncabled (which they still are), I did manage some sneak listening on the modules and I am looking forward getting these into my main system for a proper test 🙂

 

Humble beginnings….

I thought the title was appropriate because while this build might not look like much, what comes after it is hopefully somewhat more impressive. It’s an external AC power supply (a.k. a. a transformer in a box 😀 ) for an upcoming version of Kevin Gilmore’s Dynahi SuSy (SuperSymmetry) balanced headphone amplifier (more info here).

The reason for making an external PSU isn’t grounded in any particular philosophical belief but simply in a lack of available space in an (already sizeable) amplifier chassis. The decision to make it an external AC PSU rather than an external DC PSU is a slightly philosophical one though – although heavily influenced by thoughts on practicality and versatility 🙂

This is 2x25VAC and it will eventually have a 2x30VAC identical twin for another project which also requires an external PSU – at least if it is to have any hope of fitting in a standard-sized stereo rack 😀

The chassis is as compact as I could reasonable make it and the output is fused via my fuseboard (link) and then fed to a 5-pin Neutrik XLR which has a few features I like for this application (solid, reliable, cheap, locking etc.)

Front panel, power switch and final wiring coming once the front panel layout for the amplifier itself is ready 🙂

Project files: VFET PSU

What is it?
In response to a reader request, the project files for my V-FET PSU board shown here. Of course, this will also work for any other class A design you might think of, as it is a fairly standard CC-R-C configuration with onboard rectifiers and space for three 35mm snap-in capacitors per rail. On typical class A voltages that means you’ll be able to use capacitors in the 22-33mF range and the the onboard rectifiers are 15-25A plastic SIP types, which should be just fine for most applications.

Input and output connections are via FAST-ON tabs and there are two sets of output connections. Since we’re paying for the copper on the boards anyway, I’ve tried to keep as much of it as possible  with a top-side ground plane and the supply rails on the bottom. 🙂

How big are the boards?
The board measures 3.1” x 6.675” (app. 78 x 170 mm).

What is the status of the boards?
Since the prototypes worked fine I haven’t made any changes and the board is therefore version 1.0.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Nothing worth worrying about really. The only possible exception is only really the rectifier which is in a small GBU-package. However, Mouser has them up to 25A (p/n 750-GBU2510-G) and they are available from many other sources in 10-15A variants as well.

Anything else I need to know?

  • If you want to use off-board bridges, bridge the AC and the DC-connections with as thick a wire as you can get through the holes. That should allow you to use offboard metal-cased rectifiers up to 50A. Since the average current draw of most class A amps is quite low and the surge ratings aren’t that different between package types I don’t see the need to use anything else than the plastic ones, but by all means complicate matters with offboard bridges if you must 😀
  • The four series resistors can be 3-5W types in parallel which should be plenty, even if you want to burn off a bit of voltage in them.
  • The (optional) 3W bleeder resistor discharges the two first capacitors while the LEDs will discharge the last ones. The series resistor for the LED can be a 1/2W or 1W type.
  • Last, but not least: Electrolytic capacitors in this sort of size aren’t to be trifled with, so make sure you mount them correctly and test the board properly before mounting it in your amplifier chassis.

Downloads:
Download design files here

Related information:
Note: Always read the “intro post” for additional important information about my designs.

vfetpsupcb-2

Happy New Year!

Yes, another year has gone and so up comes another opportunity to reflect on the status of the blog 🙂

Well, sort of anyway. I would like to have said that I am writing this on New Years Day from my desk in the middle of a build, but I’ve actually decided to write this in advance, let WordPress handle the logistics of posting and then bugger off to Italy for New Year’s instead 😀

This (well, last) year I feel I have been a little bit more limited in terms of time to post, but I still have plenty of projects in the pipeline, plenty of ideas I want to realise, plenty of experiments to be done etc. Heck, even the bank balance looks in reasonably good shape 😀

The only things generally lacking are time (not much I can do about that unfortunately) and then space for the projects that I finish (I might be able to do something about during the coming year, who knows?). Overall though, I think there’ll be plenty of stuff to write about during 2017 as well.

I’m still excited to see that both visitor numbers and views are steadily increasing and I think that I manage to keep the signal/noise ratio quite high here – I hope you agree!

All the best to everyone reading and best wishes for 2017 🙂

Gold glitter Happy New Year 2017 background. Happy new year glittering texture. Gold sparkles with frame. Chic glittering invitation template for new year eve.

Project files: The (modified) EL2k headamp

What is it?
The board files for the new “medium-sized” version of the EL2k buffer/pre as shown a few weeks ago. The smaller 37mm board version will follow in a while.

How big are the boards?
The board measures 3.95″ x 2.0″ (app. 100 x 51 mm.) and is obviously a mono amplifier channel.

What is the status of the boards?
I’ve called this board version 1.5. Apart from the redesign work described in the last post, the circuit is identical to the originally published v1.1 files.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Yes.

  • The EL2008/EL2009 buffers have been out of production for 10+ years. They can still be found and I don’t think you need to be especially concerned about fakes – there can’t be a lot of demand for these anymore – but of course no guarantees. The main risk is probably that instead of NOS parts that you get used parts that have been pulled from old equipment. This is annoying, but should be OK.
  • The heat sink profile is the same as the original, Fischer SK68, in 50mm length. Easy to get in Europe, but I’m not sure about elsewhere.

Anything else I need to know?

  • I’ve had to mount the buffers on the side of the heat sink that has an M2.5 slot and not an M3-slot. This isn’t a problem as such because there’s no need to isolate the tab, but some swearing will likely ensue when you sit there on Sunday afternoon and realise you don’t have any M2.5 screws to hand 😀
  • Otherwise this is a bog-standard buffered opamp circuit and there isn’t much that can go wrong 🙂

Downloads:
Download design files here

Related information:
Be sure to read the original posts for additional information and tips. You should be able to reuse the linked BoM as well.

Note: Always read the “intro post” for additional important information about my designs.

50ASX BTL conversion (part 2)…

So, I’ve done some more testing on my BTL-converted 50ASX-modules…

As you can see, I’ve used a slightly less improvised test setup compared to last time (it looks worse than it is…). While I wouldn’t call what I have done “extensive testing” by any means, my gut feeling is that this works 🙂 It also ties in well with how the other ASX-modules work and some “insider knowledge” from years ago that I can still recall 🙂

Note and disclaimer: I would very much appreciate if someone else tried this to verify and maybe do more testing, however I will accept no responsibility for damage to property, people or pets (or anything else for that matter) if you find a problem – this is DIY after all 😀

You can of course hack this conversion anyway you like, but I opted for removing the old jumper altogether and soldering in a new one. If you do that, be advised that the ASX-board is four layers and soldered with lead-free solder, so it will take a bit more heat to reflow the joints than I am at least used to. If you use a soldering iron that is too small, you’ll just heat up the board and possibly damage it.

My suggested approach would be to cut the jumper on the top side of the board. Heat the solder joint from the bottom and pull out the jumper wire with small pliers. Then clean the remaining solder off the board with desoldering braid or (better yet) a vacuum desoldering station if you have access to one. Then solder in the new jumper in the BTL position. There isn’t much space to work on and you should be careful not to damage any of the (sometimes annoyingly) small SMD-components on either side of the board. Once the new jumper is in place, follow the wiring diagram for the BTL-version in the 50ASX data sheet/designer’s manual and you should be good to go.

Bear in mind that what you end up with isn’t a “real” balanced (= differential) amplifier, but two SE amps referenced to ground and driven with opposite phase input signals to produced a bridged output. As such, the input ground is still required in order for the amp to produce a correct signal on the output. I’ve found a good sketch here for LM3886 modules that should show the correct input wiring. Output on the ASX is taken from the P104 connector, so ignore what the sketch shows here (and of course the DC wiring is irrelevant as well).

If you do try this, let me know how you get on 😀

PS: Yeah and the picture is still crap – but don’t worry, the light should be better from around April onwards 😉

50asxbtltest-1

ICEpower 50ASX – SE to BTL conversion

I’ve recieved a few questions (and participated in a diyaudio discussion thread) about converting ICEpower 50ASX2 SE modules (which are fairly easy to get), into 50ASX BTL modules (which aren’t). I was pretty sure this could be done without component substitutions by simply desoldering the W401 jumper and resoldering it into the W400 position (marked BTL on the bottom of the board) but as I had no modules left, I couldn’t try it. Now I’ve managed to get my hands on some more modules and I’ve actually tried converting one of them and the good news are – I think it works!

I haven’t actually measured anything (not sure what to measure to be honest) but I get clean audio out on the BTL speaker connector (P104) and a very loud buzzing noise on the other output, so at least it isn’t running stereo anymore. No guarantees on anything yet though, but it’s definitely promising.

Oh, and don’t laugh at my improvised test setup, it is necessary because I don’t have a proper balanced source in the house at the moment and I couldn’t be bothered to crimp new cables just for testing 🙂 Incidentally, don’t laugh at the poor picture either – winter in Scandinavia means the days are so short that I can only take pictures in daylight during the weekend…

Next up is to convert a second module, build some better cables and try it “for real” in a stereo setup – hopefully this weekend 🙂

50asxbtl-1

Evolution of a design…

Sometimes when looking at a design I was originally quite happy with new ideas come up and I start to rework the design, either as an optimisation of the original or simply as a “branch” that I hadn’t originally considered.

One such example is my “EL2k” buffer/preamp/headamp design. I was fairly happy with the original layout, but when I contemplated putting four boards in the same box for a balanced configuration the original board size started to look a bit big and so a redesign-attempt was in order.

Originally the ambition was a “space no object” design which had room for the best quality parts possible, but aside from that the original design goals were simple:

  • Through hole parts where possible
  • Short signal path and good decoupling as per the component datasheets
  • “Overkill” Fischer SK68 heat sink profile because I like the way it looks and because it provides solid mechanical mounting to the board.

Mostly because the heat sink profile comes in predefined sizes (which means that there are some natural steps in how the board should be shrunk), I thought this could be an interesting way to showcase the evolutionary process of what I ended up with 🙂

On the original version I was pretty happy with the basic layout and most of the traces are as short and as clean as the physical layout allows (at least I think so…). The only real exception is the unsightly top layer trace that links the negative supply to the buffer with the negative supply pin on the opamp. The first step was to try and tackle that….

el2k-evo-1

…and it’s not easy. There isn’t really a lot of space to begin with, and even with tricks such as physical jumpers and SMD decoupling caps I wound up more or less back where I started (see below).

Next came trying to actually reduce the board size. The next step down in heat sink size is 50mm, so that becomes the target. End result:

el2k-evo-2

The 50mm version actually looks good to me and there are very few actual compromises here.

  • The input cap has been moved and it has been changed to a 27.5mm lead spacing box cap (with a 15mm option). It’s a small step down in quality vs. the axial cap on the original board, but probably still fine for most people/applications.
  • The power LED arrangement has been changed. The original “1 LED per rail” replaced with a single LED connected between the supply rails. In return, the LED resistor was changed to a slightly bigger package that allows for resistors up to 1W.

Now, the next step down in heat sink size is 37.5mm.

el2k-evo-3

Now we’re seeing some actual compromises 🙂

  • The basic layout is still the same, but the input cap has been shrunk considerably to a 15mm type. However, that in itself is not enough and one of the mounting holes had to be removed to provide space for the input connector.
  • The output connector also had to be removed and replaced with solderpads.

Other than that, it’s pretty much identical to the 50mm version. This led to a bit of thinking – what if the input cap was removed altogether? – and either omitted or mounted off-board? That would allow the fourth mounting hole to be kept. However, since the cap can easily be bridged and the board still has two mounting holes on the “heavy” end, this was deemed unnecessary overall.

el2k-evo-4

Both of these versions have larger compromises as far as I am concerned, but still not unacceptable if I had an application that required the smaller PCB size. Suddenly it becomes possible to take the idea of a balanced-bridge amp and realise it in almost the same space as the original stereo amp. Also, it gives an excuse ahem, opportunity, to design a backplane for the amp boards to keep the wiring tidy and make it look better 😀

It also becomes clear that it isn’t really possible to shrink the design further without making substantial changes. A stereo board version would of course be possible, but looking at the configuration of parts around the EL200x IC and it became clear that I couldn’t have two amplifier blocks side-by-side and keep the original arrangement of power supply, decoupling, signal routing etc. Also, when deciding between a stereo 75mm version and a mono 37mm version, I would normally choose the latter as it is cheaper to manufacture and more versatile in use.

So, all things considered the original 75mm version is still good but the “modified” 50mm version should be almost as good. The 37mm version doesn’t give up the overall flavour of the original design and it’s definitely still viable, although the exact application would have to decide exactly which compromises to make. Not bad if I do say so myself 🙂

So with that done – expect to see revised prototypes in about a month or so 😀