First Watt F4 (part 1)

I don’t normally build class A amps in the summer because my apartment gets really warm, but this time is an exception. Partly because this summer in Copenhagen has been much more “class A amp friendly” (i.e. a lot colder!) than usual, and partly because this is a design I’ve been wanting to try for a very long time now.

The First Watt F4 is a classic Nelson Pass/First Watt design with JFET inputs and MOS-FET outputs. However, as with the other FW amps there is a twist here, namely that the F4 has no voltage gain. That means it’s essentially a buffer than can provide a full 25W class A output. What’s the point of that you might ask? Well, one point is that it can help get a better gain structure and that it’s possible to use some sources (such as DACs) which have a very high output. There are various other applications in the F4 manual as well.

Some will have spotted that the F4 boards are from the diyaudio store. They are good quality and a well-proven design, so I decided not to bother doing my own.

The chassis is sort of the usual from Modushop, but then not quite anyway. Partly because the heatsinks are predrilled 4U types from diyaudio (which did cost a bit more, but saved me drilling and tapping nearly 30 M3 holes) – because they match the boards 100%, and partly because I have decided to do a bit of “hacking” to make a non-standard size chassis (teaser! 🙂 )

So, in addition to the chassis hacking, I am also thinking about which preamp to choose to provide the voltage gain for this and obviously there are plenty to choose from, so it should be possible to come up with an intriguing combination for you guys 😀

Soundwise I also have quite high expectations because of my past experience with the First Watt F5 design – which I still consider one of the best sounding amplifiers I have tried in my home system – but let’s see if the F4 delivers on that front as well when it’s ready 🙂


Project files: A smaller mains controller…

What is it?
As mentioned a few weeks ago I’ve recently built another control board for switching a mains transformer with a low-voltage (latching) switch. This in a slightly different form factor so that if your application requires it, the board can be stacked with a matching standby-PSU and mains splitter and/or my passive softstart board. It is possible (just) to stack all three boards on top of each other in a 2U/80mm high enclosure or just two boards in a 50mm tall enclosure.

You can decide which standby voltage should be used by choosing the right relay in resistor values and in addition to using a latching switch for engaging the relay, you can also use a DC-voltage between app. 3-30V as the trigger. This input is isolated via an optocoupler and the trigger circuit only requires app. 15mA from the triggering device.

The matching standby PSU board uses the (by now) well-known IRM AC-DC power modules from Mean Well. There are two versions, one for the 3W module which is 100% outline-compatible with the control board and a version for the 5-10W modules where some of the connectors had to be shifted but the mounting holes still fit. The PSU board also provides a splitter-function to give two mains outputs.

How big are the boards?
All the boards are 2” x 2” (app. 51 x 51 mm) – the original theslowdiyer industry standard ™ 😀

What is the status of the boards?
These boards are v1.0 and they all work as expected.

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

Anything else I need to know?

  • The switch must be a latching type (meaning it stays in either on or off positions) and to turn the relay on you connect the switch so that the + voltage is connected to the switch pin. This turns on a transistor which switches the relay on.
  • The relay is rated for 5A inductive loads, so should be good for transformers up to around 1000VA at 230VAC (to give a bit of safety margin).
  • The optocoupler on the trigger input is fed from a constant-current source (CCS) made from an LM317L voltage regulator. If I was designing a commercial product this would probably be a sacking offence because it’s much more expensive than the alternatives, but for our purposes it works quite well 🙂
  • There are two LEDs on the control board, one to indicate the board is powered and one to indicate the relay is on.
  • The “ext” output is intended for us if you want to feed the unswitched standby voltage to some other circuit. There’s space for a bigger resistor here if you need to drop voltage for e.g. LEDs, but you can also jumper the resistor to just get the raw voltage (or leave the output if you don’t need it).
  • The mains connectors on the standby-PSU are marked as inputs and outputs, but in reality it doesn’t matter what you use as inputs and outputs.

Download design files here

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

Remember that these boards use mains voltage. Be careful when mounting and handling them!

PeeCeeBees in the wild…

First of all, let me apologise for showing yet another half-finished board, but there’s a reason for that which I will get to later. Secondly, apologies as well for the stupid headline, but unfortunately this is the name of the design so I did not choose it 😀

The PeeCeeBee amplifier is as far as I can recall a version of the VSSA (Very Simple Symmetrical Amplifier) developed by diyaudio-user LazyCat and a precursor to his “FirstOne” semi-commercial design. The VSSA is (as the name sorta implies) a simple amplifier based on Lateral MOS-FETs which are excellent for audio and the PeeCeeBee circuit has built on the concept.

The PeeCeeBee design has gone through several iterations, but this week I received my boards from the diyaudio groupbuy of the v4 design from Shaan in India. The group buy boards are black (which would not have been my first choice because you can’t see the traces very well), but they are 2.4 mm thick(!) and excellent quality so I couldn’t really wait to start putting them together.

Now the reason for posting this now is that there is a second run group buy which runs until the end of the coming week, so if you missed the first round there is still a little time to secure your own boards 😀

Still short a few passive parts for the boards, but I have the LAT-FETs on hand, I have a suitable chassis on hand and probably a transformer as well. I’ve never built a LAT-FET amp before, so really looking forward to hearing this one “in action” in (hopefully) a few weeks when the last parts get here.

More Naim clones…

Yep, I know I should be working on the HackerNAP instead, but I was just in the mood for building something else and as I had another Naim clone kit lying around, here we are 🙂

This is a NAP140 clone (or one of many actually) from ebay. I bought a cheap kit thinking I could get away with just replacing a few caps as usual, but I actually ended up replacing most of the resistors as well after a couple of them tested out of tolerance – hmm…

Also, while the listing said the 2SC2922 output transistors would be genuine after checking them I’m fairly certain they are not – at least the screen print looks wrong. The PCB is also much flimsier than usual, so actually this is one cheap kit I wouldn’t recommend that you buy 😦

Anyway, I know a couple of places that have genuine Sankens at a reasonable cost, so with a few of those and the last few caps (already on my next Mouser-order) then we’ll see if this one powers up 🙂


One of my (numerous) neglected projects is a version of the “HackerNAP” Naim clone amplifier. Naim is one of those brands that have a very loyal following, and many of their original designs have been analysed extensively by DIY’ers looking for improvements. The HackerNAP is one of those derivatives and the NCC200 from Avondale Audio is another – ebay is awash with other (more or less accurate) versions as well by the way.

Part of the reason why this project hasn’t been top of the list is that did not like the original HackerCAP PSU boards, so with a small delay (of around three years…) I decided to do my own version instead 😀

To be honest this isn’t how I would normally have done a PSU board – if had designed from scratch I would have made a larger board, used two full bridges and a full ground plane – but as the chassis are already drilled for the original boards I kept the physical size as close to the original as I could.

While the board size isn’t 100% the same as the original HackerCAP, I’ve retained the option to configure the design for both “normal” PSU usage and also for CRCRC or CLCLC configurations.

As the PSU boards are now done and tested, I can hopefully manage to do the rest of the assembly in less than three years 😀

Another mains controller…

I’ve designed and built a few control boards for switching on mains (e.g. this and this), because it tends to be a thing that many of my projects need. Good (and good looking!) mains switches are hard to come by, especially for higher currents, so it makes sense to use a lower-voltage switch combined with a relay or an SSR for this duty. An obvious downside to the relay-based approach is that a standby voltage is needed to control the relay, but as described in a previous post there are now several types of switching AC-DC converters able to do that job very cheaply and reliably.

However, more often than not I have found that I prefer to keep the standby PSU separate and so this addition to the control-board portfolio was delberately made smaller and to fit my usual 2”x2” format to make it stackable with my softstart-board. For anything with a large transformer in it, this is a combination that is very useful.

Another addition is an external trigger input (isolated with an optocoupler) which I don’t often use to be honest, but which I could see some potential in anyway. To make this feature a bit more versatile I have opted for the “deluxe-version”, by feeding the optocupler from a constant-current source made from an LM317L. This should mean that it’s not just the usual “12V-trigger” input, but actually it would work with any voltage between app. 3-30V and draw less than 20mA from the triggering device.

“In flight” (or at least on the way) are boards for a matching standby PSU based on the Mean Well IRM power modules – when everything is here and tested I’ll publish some files and more pictures 🙂

Sunday morning chipamps…

It’s been some time since I did an ebay kit, but that doesn’t mean I have given up on them (in fact I bought plenty…) and a cheap kit is still a great thing to play with on a Sunday morning**

It’s a pair of power amps based on paralleled TDA7293 amplifier ICs in the correct “master/slave” configuration as per the data sheet (and this discussion on diyaudio). The TDA7293 and TDA7294 chips are among the few survivors of the “purge” of audiophile components and they should still be available. Unlike the LM38xx-series and its siblings, the TDAs have MOS-FET output stages which means they can run in parallel without resistors to limit current sharing between outputs. The parallel arrangement allows for more current into low-impedance loads, but as the TDA7293 will work on up to +/-50V rails having two ICs also makes for a fairly serious effective power output.

These kits are seriously cheap and although I’ve tried to use most of the components that came with the kit, some parts have been replaced for cosmetic reasons (because that matters to me, sorry!). Even with component replacements though, these kits are so cheap that there is no real excuse for not trying them – even if you don’t need new amplifiers at all 😉

No real sound impressions yet, but I know these chips can sound really good so I am looking forward to seeing how much of their potential can be unlocked for the same price as a takeaway meal 😉

**Yes I know it’s not Sunday today, but as Whit Monday is a holiday in Denmark it felt like Sunday morning 😀

Project files: INA217 Microphone Preamp

What is it?
Board files for my INA217-based microphone preamp and the matching PSU as shown here. The design is meant to be “configurable” with three different gain options and phantom power selectable via jumpers. The amp also has a full complement of protection features. The matching PSU has three rails via two small onboard transformers for a compact “all-in-one” solution.

How big are the boards?
The amp board measures 3.1” x 1.9” (app. 79 x 48 mm.) and the PSU board measures 3.95” x 2.7” (app. 100 x 69 mm).

What is the status of the boards?
The amp board is version 2.1. Version 2.0 was my update of the original design as showcased in the previous blog post (link) and 2.1 adds a few minor tweaks including an LED to indicate directly on the amp board if phantom power is on or off.
The PSU board is version 2.1 as well for much the same reasons (although the v2.1 “tweaks” consisted mostly of fixing a couple of fairly serious mistakes in component labelling 😀 )

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Not really hard-to-find as such, but still worthy of some attention 🙂

  • The regulator for the phantom supply regulator must be a LM317HV type which allows for a greater in/out differential. You can use the standard version as well, but a short will then kill the regulator.
  • As for the INA217: I am not sure if there are fakes about, but buy from reputable sources just in case. Anything in an 8-pin DIP is an easy target for fakes really.

Anything else I need to know?

  • This board adds nearly all the bells and whistles described in this paper from THAT corp on instrumentation amp IC-based microphone preamps. These extra components for short-circuit and EMI-protection are optional, but definitely recommended.
  • The board has a Neutrik A-series Combo-jack onboard which is very practical and versatile. Unfortunately it means that if you use the TRS it shorts the phantom voltage to ground if it is plugged/unplugged while the amp is on. Protection features have been added, but this scenario is best avoided so only (dis)connect the TRS while the amp is off.
  • See the INA217 datasheet for gain calculations. While you can add a switch to select between the different gain settings, doing so may add quite a lot of noise so it’s not recommended.
  • Voltages for transformers: The two transformers will have to be 2×12-15V and 2x18V respectively. They are usually single-primary, so choose the ones that you need. Note that with transformers in this form factor you will not be able to deliver more power than is required for a single mic amp. If you need a triple PSU that can supply more than one amp board, this design should work just fine (with external transformers.
  • Replacements for the INA217 are mainly the THAT1510/1512, but there are some differences so I am honestly not sure if they are a drop-in replacement. Refer to the files under “related information” if you want to check for yourself.

Download design files here

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

Before you start I strongly suggest you read through the INA217 datasheet. Please also refer to the aforementioned paper from THAT on this type of microphone preamps, this THAT design note and the datasheet for the THAT1510/THAT1512 ICs.

(Yet another) anniversary!

Yes, it’s that time of the year again – and this year it’s the fourth anniversary of the blog 😀

Not a lot to say that I haven’t already said the last couple of years, but I still expect to continue writing as much as time allows. I am also still very excited and greatly appreciative of your questions and comments, so keep it up 🙂

Picture below is of what is (currently) sitting near the top of my project pipeline, namely four 4U diyaudio special-edition pre-drilled heatsinks. These are specifically intended to accelerate (as much as possible) the completion of my Pass VFET project as well as one other Pass project using boards from the diyaudio store that I have wanted to do for some time now 🙂

Project files: Little helpers – Alps PCBs III

What is it?
These are “little helper” boards for the Alps RK168xx series of motorised potentiometers. These pots are not quite as good quality as the standard Alps “Blue Velvet” RK27-series, but they are cheaper and smaller. They are also used in many commercial products, so they should work fine for many diy projects. The motor also means that the pots have a nice mechanical feel to them 🙂
There are two board versions, a 2-channel (for stereo with the RK16812) and a 4-channel (for balanced amps with the RK16814). Alps also makes a six-channel version of the pot and adjusting the footprint to fit these should be relatively easy, but I have no need for these now so I couldn’t be bothered 🙂

How big are the boards?
Both boards measure 1.85″ x 2.0″ (app. 47 x 51 mm) and the rear mounting holes are in the same place on both boards.

What is the status of the boards?
Both are version 1.0 since they are exactly as my prototypes.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Mostly there’s only one real part on the board and that is the pot itself, so not really 😀

Anything else I need to know?

  • These are “preamp” style boards have a ground plane and a ground pad that can be used if you grounding scheme requires the shaft of the pot to be grounded. Use a piece of wire connected from the ground pad to either one of the screws on the back of the pot or soldered to a ring terminal wedged between the pot and the chassis. You can also use the grounding pad on the bottom instead.
  • The boards can also be used to make separate, passive preamps. In this case, a 10k potentiometer should be used.
  • The screw clamps are standard 5mm pin spacing types, but of course it is possible to solder bare wires to the boards as well.
  • The basic Eagle footprint for the RK168 was one I found in a diyaudio-thread, so I can’t take credit for that. All I have done is modify it to match the Quad-version as well.

Download design files here

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

As usual, please remember to consult the manufacturer’s datasheet as well.