Testing the F3 amplifier…

Earlier this year Nelson Pass graciously started distributing batches of the Lovoltech LU1014 Power-JFETs for free to diy’ers. You could get 4 pcs. and only pay for shipping and of course that offer was hard to turn down – all the more so since I had been looking at trying an F3 amplifier at some point. There are no “official” group buy boards for the F3 at the moment and the few redesign/group-buy initiatives I have seen have been false starts, so I picked up a set of amplifier boards from ebay instead.

The F3 amplifier is one of Nelson’s “unusual” First Watt amplifiers, in that it uses a Power JFET as the gain device. Power JFETs are rare, and as a result for those of us who were a bit slow on the uptake the LU1014 came and went without me buying any. Otherwise the F3 isn’t a very complicated design, but it’s got normal First Watt class A heat levels and even-lesss-than-First Watt levels of output and gain. As a result i am not sure whether I actually have any practical use for the finished amplifier, but as a listening experiment I am still going to give it a try 🙂

The F3 is also a single-rail amplifier, which quickly led me to the realisation that I didn’t really have a PSU board suitable for a single-rail power amp. When you have a good “back catalogue” of designs then that’s quite helpful and so taking one of my existing class A power supply boards and chopping it up to create a single-rail version wasn’t that hard. The end result should hopefully – at some point – end up as a (nearly) dual-mono F3 amplifier (meaning a single transformer is used).

Another complication is that for reasons I can’t really remember I decided to try using 3U heatsinks for this build which may end up being a mistake – they are going to get very hot I guess. Anyway, for now it is an experiment and hopefully I will have it (electrically) completed by the Christmas break so I can hear what it sounds like before I put time and money into finishing the mechanical design 🙂

Advertisements

Encore?

A quiet last few weeks here – at least on the surface. Two reasons for that really: 1) With an Xmas-break looming on the horizon the pace at work is picking up a bit and 2) for quite a lot of projects I am in the annoying phase where lots of important work is done, but it doesn’t really look like you are getting closer to a finished product and so it’s not really worth showing here. If nothing else though, it’s nice to have a good pipeline for next year 😉

However, one thing there is always time for is to buy new projects for the shelves 😀 As regular readers will know I have made lots of ICEpower-based projects, but practically nothing with the various Hypex-modules. However, recently one of the new Ncore NC502MP modules came up on ebay and so I pounced on that. The module looks very nice but I need to test it for a while to check the sound (waiting for proper cables at the moment) and then I’ll decide on a suitable enclosure for it. The original goal was to built a custom high-power integrated amp, but I may end up going in a different direction and do a pure power amp instead. One deciding factor will definitely be whether mounting the module on a simple aluminium bottom plate proves to be enough heat sinking, because if the module has to be on a “real” heat sink, then all my current enclosure ideas are definitely out the window!

Soundwise, I still expect that the benchmark for the Ncore to beat (at least in class D) is going to be my trusty 125ASX-based stereo amp and the 700ASC-monos (which incidentally are also among the designs that are I am currently inching closer to completion…)

Project files: The “MoFo” power follower

I did this version of the “MoFo”-design a while ago and also mentioned it briefly (here) but didn’t manage to complete it or even test the boards. In the mean time the “official” boards have become available from the diyaudio store, but since I now finally got round to testing my boards I still thought I’d share my version as well.

Read more of this post

Experimenting with the BBA3FE…

Not the most obvious acronym to decode, but it stands for “Balanced Burning Amp 3 Front-End” and it’s the first half of a power amp design that Nelson Pass launched for the ”Burning Amp” festival several years ago. It’s very closely related to the F5 circuit and without the accompanying power stages it’s also well-suited for pre-amp duty. The diyaudio store has been selling PCBs for years, but I’ve never been sufficiently interested to grab one (and the shipping cost and import duty for buying PCBs from the US makes it really expensive to get anyway).

Now, fast forward to a few months ago: For a while I’ve looked for a “real” balanced preamplifier circuit. I have several balanced designs already, but some of them are “cheating” by not being developed for balanced use and that obviously won’t do 😉 I’ve looked at the BA-3 before, but some months ago I did a double-take when I noticed a schematic for a balanced version in this thread (and yes, I know the thread is seven years old…). That circuit was more or less what I was looking for, namely a simple discrete circuit optimised for balanced use, and so I decided to try to make one.

My version is more or less the same as the original, but I decided to save some board space (and create some flexibility) by moving the output capacitors off-board and so they are not shown (but still very much required). The major downside of the circuit is that the input is based on 2SK170/2SJ74 JFETs that are obsolete and near-impossible to get. To add insult to injury, they should ideally be matched to around 8mA Idss which is more or less the most commonly required value – and therefore even harder to find!. However, the article also states that while matching is preferred, it is not essential, and so I managed to find some suitable pairs in my parts drawers.

I’ve only briefly tested the boards and they power up fine but the DC-offset is unstable so the output capacitors are definitely needed. Thermal stability and equilibrium with the bias-current is also something I need to work on (it’s going to require leaving the boards on for a while as far as I can see), but so far it is looking promising. As regular blog-followers will know I am a big fan of the B1 design and I don’t normally need gain, but as there are several reports of the BBA3FE sounding significantly better than the B1 I am obviously quite excited to make progress on this build.

PCB files will be coming eventually, but I made a couple of stupid mistakes in this layout that need to be corrected, and since I was so focused on this being a balanced pre I forgot to make it easy to do the SE-version as well. Translation: I really need to get a v1.1 ready and ordered first 🙂

Improving a Mean Well IRM PSU…

If you’ve been here before, you might have noticed that I have been using Mean Wells IRM-xx series PSU modules quite a bit. They are small, cheap, easy to use and available from many of the parts sources I normally buy from. Being cheap switching supplies they have quite a bit of ripple and noise which on the face of it is a problem. However, in practice many supporting applications aren’t too fussy about the quality of power and for those that are, alternative PSU arrangements can usually be found.

But what if the noise from the IRMs could be removed? One application where that would be useful (and where several people other than me have tried it already), is for Kevin Gilmores various discrete amplifiers (Dynalo, CFP etc.). They are normally powered by 16-24V DC and require a few hundred milliamps per board, so it’s pretty ideal for an 24V IRM with some additional filtering and regulation. Here I’ve made a single channel PSU intended for a 15/20W IRM-module, so output currents are in the region of 0.8-1.5A or so.

Most integrated voltage regulators have low rejection of HF-noise, but as the IRMs have a high switching frequency a passive filter seems an ideal way of damping the noise before it gets to the regulator. I can’t find any spec to state how much capacitance the IRMs will tolerate so I’ve stayed on the conservative side, but even so a small passive CRC/CLC filter is very effective at 100kHz so it should be fine.

Instead of the “usual” LT108x LDO voltage regulator I’ve gone for an LM2941 instead. This has an even lower drop-out voltage which will help if the starting point is a 15V module. The downside is a max. output voltage of 20V – 22V would have been better (and while we are at it, can we get 9V and 18 versions of the IRM20 please Mean Well :D). Actually, I’m going to try to do an LT10xx-based version as well, but for now the LM2941 works fine. For this test example I’ve set the output voltage to 19.5V and I get 19.4V even under load so that is perfect. Next step: Build two more boards for my first “real” use-case for these 🙂

Project files: The RJM Emerald RIAA

Last week I showed my version of the “Emerald” RIAA design by Richard J. Murdey. The Emerald is a neat little design: It has switchable gain and load for MM/MC, if you use good components it’s got a very accurate RIAA-curve, and of course with just two opamps per channel as the active devices, it’s very easy to build.

Richard has graciously shared the Eagle-files for his version and so it seems only right that I do the same here. Richard is also selling boards from his website, so if you want something that is proven to be working and comes with support then I suggest you buy your boards from him instead.

Read more of this post

Project files: The Kuartlotron Buffer

Sometimes projects that have been on hold for a long time can restart with just a tiny nudge. A while ago I built (and showed) a clone of the Kuartlotron buffers. My original prototypes had one obvious mistake (an incorrectly connected Q3) which I fixed, but I still couldn’t properly zero the offset as described. I left the project, did nothing about it and then a few days ago by accident went back into the discussion thread on diyaudio. Here there was a single post discussing exactly that issue and a very short response from Keantoken (the “inventor”) that offset had to be zeroed with the input open. This is not what you normally do so I didn’t think about it after building my boards, but that small clue was enough for me to go back to the prototype boards and confirm they were OK. With the problem fixed I can finally share the project files here 🙂

Read more of this post

A real gem…

I’ve already had my hands on a couple of designs by Richard J. Murdey, mainly here and here. However, Richard has quite a few other interesting designs on his site and one of them I’ve had my eyes on for a while, namely the “Sapphire” which is a line/headphone amplifier. Unfortunately my first order of Sapphire boards never showed up and while I was working on the Sapphire I also had a look at the Emerald MM/MC RIAA. Those boards did show up and so while I wait for the reordered Sapphire boards to (hopefully) show up soon, let’s look at the Emerald instead 🙂

The Emerald is very simple RIAA-design with two opamps per channel and selectable gain for both MM and MC cartridges. The RIAA correction is a bit special as described in Richards write-up and the design also includes an on-board discrete voltage regulator.

Richard has graciously shared the Eagle files for his designs so that was what I started from, but what was originally meant to be minor touch-ups ended up taking me a bit further away from the original than I expected. Although the schematic is still (more or less) the same, I’ve made quite a few changes to the board so that it now looks more like one of mine and uses the parts footprints that I normally use – the latter is absolutely intentional, the former a bit less so. I’ve also done quite a bit of rerouting – which I think of as optimizing the layout, but others might disagree – and managed to shrink the overall board dimensions a little in the process as well.

I haven’t really sacrificed anything from the original, except maybe by downsizing the footprint for the output cap a little bit, but that’s hopefully an acceptable compromise for most people. Project files (probably) coming shortly 😀

Building an(other) F5…

Although I recently built a new type of F5 amplifier, I haven’t completely abandoned the original F5 design 🙂 Hiding in one of my many boxes were a pair of half-finished F5 boards and some matching matching fan heatsinks that only needed the last bits of assembly and calibration. That honestly didn’t take long to do once the right parts showed up and I then managed to confirm the boards were indeed working.

The boards were originally bought from ebay and are more or less the same as my original F5 build – nothing special there. I have some matching PSU boards as well, only missing the last few parts which are now in the queue for my next order and that’s going to be a standard C-R-C type thing as well.

The mechanical design is from the same time as my JLH mono blocks, so the idea is also more or less the same. This heat sink profile is too large to fit in most enclosures though, so cracking what to do took some time but I think I have it figured out now. It’s also going to be monoblocks, but much larger ones than the JLHs. From my first tests during calibration of the boards I think a slow-speed fan should be enough to keep the heat under control, so hopefully they will be living-room friendly when they are done 🙂

Project files: PA100 parallel gainclone

What is it?
Board files for my “PA100” parallel chip amp with the LM3886 first presented here.

I’ve used the app. note version of the circuit which is non-inverting and uses low-tolerance components to minimise offset between the two ICs. There is also the Jeff Rowland-derived inverting circuit that is normally employed as a PA150/BPA300 configuration with three ICs per board.

I’ve mosty stuck to the datasheet circuit, but in some areas I have drawn inspiration from Tom Christensens article on the LM3886 IC. I’ve used SMT-components where I believe it makes sense to get a tight layout, but mostly its nice and diy-friendly leaded parts 🙂

How big are the boards?
The board measures 3.9” x 2.4” (app. 99 x 61 mm).

What is the status of the boards?
The files are for board version 1.1. I’ve made the following changes compared to the v1.0 prototype.

  • Mute capacitor footprint enlarged.
  • Mute resistor moved to the center of the board to make space for the larger capacitor.
  • Footprint for the LM3886 changed as the holes were very too small.
  • Made a small space between the large reservoir capacitors so they don’t touch each other.

Note that I haven’t tested the v1.1 (yet – will include them with my next PCB order) but I don’t expect any adverse effects of these changes.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Not really, but the recommended resistors are lower tolerance than what is common (the 0805 resistors are 0.1% and the 0R1/3W output resistors are 1%). Mouser has them all and there should be plenty of other sources. The amp will work with standard tolerances (1% for the SMTs, 5% for the outputs) but if you’re unlucky with the tolerances then performance will suffer a bit (higher DC-offset on the output and higher idle dissipation in the ICs). The recommended parts are not much more expensive so I definitely recommend you stick to them.

Anything else I need to know?

  • The gain setting resistors (the SMD-ones) should be 0.1% tolerance for best performance (see above).
  • Similarly, the load-sharing resistors on the output should be 1% tolerance for best performance (see above).
  • The power LED on the board is only between the negative supply and ground, so it is not a 100% indication that everything is OK.
  • The board obviously works with both versions of the LM3886, but I recommend the isolated (TF) version because it’s easier to mount.
  • Decoupling: My decoupling scheme is somewhere between the datasheet recommendation and TomChrs decoupling scheme. The topside parts are intended to be 100nF MKT or X7R MLCCs which is more or less what the data sheet specifies, but on the bottom there are pads for 1206/1210 SMD caps which you can fill with 4u7-10uF X7R MLCCs. You can also use the SMD pads for 100nF MLCCs and then mount electrolytic on top, but there isn’t much space so be a bit careful.
  • The board should be fed from a DC power supply, linear or switching. The large reservoir caps can be as big as you like, but as my prototype boards are intended to be powered by an SMPS (which is sensitive to capacitive loading) I’ve used fairly small capacitors. If you use a linear supply by all means use bigger capacitors.
  • Bridging: You can bridge two boards to create a BPA200 amplifier, but remember a) to lower the supply voltage to around +/-28VDC and b) that you need either a fully-balanced source/preamp or you need to invert the phase using a balanced line driver such as a DRV134/THAT1646 or or fully-differential amplifier of some sort.
  • Mechanics: The C-to-C spacing between the ICs is 1.5” (38 mm).

Downloads:
Download design files here

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

You can find additional information about the LM3886 amplifiers in the data sheet, the AN-1192 appnote linked above and several other resources – check them all out 🙂