A new king?

Normally I spend a surprisingly low amount of time listening to the builds I finish, but this one is an exception. That’s because I finished casing my Hypex NC502MP class D module and as I have very little experience with the Hypex class D amps, I had to try it out.

The original plan for the module was to build a top-end “integrated” amplifier but I quickly abandoned that idea (however, I picked it up again later with this build). Instead I’ve simply cased the module in a basic Modushop case but added an 8mm thick piece of aluminium to the bottom. A small niggle is that I can’t seem to find the crimps for the signal connectors so I used the cables I had to get the amp working, but it would be nice to be able to put in a functioning mute switch and a power LED as well.

As you probably already know class D is very efficient and class D amps therefore run very cool – right? Not quite actually. The very high efficiency numbers are always measured at (nearly) full power and at low power the efficiency is typically quite unspectacular. The Hypex module here has idle losses of around 20W, which honestly isn’t far off what you might get from an 80-100W class AB amp with a traditional power supply.

The module does therefore run quite hot and don’t for a moment think that my “thermal design” here is suitable for anything except a limited home use application. Even so, it’s hotter than I expected and what surprises me most is actually that I measure very high temperatures on places like the output chokes – these parts are not heat sinked to the backplate and so presumably a better heat sink on the back would not make much difference?. In any case the few experiments I did were enough to break with my conventions and order a ventilated lid for the amplifier instead of the usual one I use, because running the amp “topless” did make a difference to the temperature of the board.

On to the listening then: The logical comparison is against my “new favourite” ICEpower amp, the 700AS2. However, initially I just hooked up the Hypex amp to my test speakers (a pair of 5” Tang Band full range drivers in small reflex boxes) and even then it was obvious that this is a high quality amp. I especially noticed that the small TBs actually managed to sound like they had some bass articulation, which definitely isn’t common. In fact, the very improvised “test setup” ended up staying on my temporary work-from-home desk for three days of near-field listening.

Moving the amp into the main system and the positive impressions continue – this really is a great-sounding amplifier. To make a long story short though, I still ended up returning to the ICEpower amp in my current system for two main reasons: One is that the ICEpower amp seems to give a slightly wider soundstage which I am honestly a bit of a sucker for, and the other is that the ICEpower seems a little leaner in the bass. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing in absolute terms I am not sure about, but my speakers are quite bass-heavy already and any more just makes them boomy which I don’t like.

Be in no doubt that to me this is a very capable amp though, and as I have a suitable enclosure with a bit more heat sinking that would suit a dual-mono setup I’ll definitely be keeping an eye out for a pair of the mono NC500MPs 🙂

More finished stuff!

Although there is a tiny bit of light at the end of the Covid-19 lockdown-tunnel (at least in my part of the world), the “new normal” (or at least “interim-normal”) of working from home and attending lots of online meetings still continues. This means I also continue to have more time than usual for building, so I’ve managed to complete a few more projects over the last week or so. I know it might not seem that much, but compared to my usual rate of progress it’s starting to feel like an assembly line! 🙂

First up is the AD1865-based DAC I showed here. It works as intended and sounds fine, but honestly I need to redo the wiring because it’s not really optimal. Not now though 🙂

Next is my 50ASXBTL-based amp. This is the original “prototype” I did of the SE-BTL conversion for the ICEpower 50ASX modules and while there have been some reports on diyaudio that the conversion isn’t as straightforward as I made it seem, I can confirm that at least based on sound the finished product still works well.
However, the last strech of this build wasn’t without issues, firstly because I had to redo the bottom plate as I realised that glass fuses on the primary side of an SMPS is not only a bit stupid, but also not necessary when each PSU is already fused on the board. Secondly, that turned out to be the easy part because I did most of the wiring by memory which in hindsight wasn’t the best choice. Anyway, after a few more attempts than I expected (and after swearing at everyone and everything including my own stupidity) it actually works well now – nice!

Last, but definitely not least, is the basic ICEpower700AS2-based power amp I showed here. This deserves a new 10mm custom front panel at some point, but it plays well and for now I think getting some more listening impressions is higher on the agenda. My initial impression is that this could well be my all-time favourite ICEpower-amp, but let’s see how it goes when I put a few more hours on it.

Hopefully this week will bring a new batch of front panels (or actually, rear panels) so I expect to be able to keep up the current level of progress a little while longer 🙂

A new flavour…

I finally managed to get an opportunity for a taste of a type of class D that I haven’t tried before – a Pascal Audio S-Pro2 module. I unfortunately missed buying a small lot of these a couple of months ago at a price which were at least the deal of the year if not the decade, but here was a single module at a reasonable price on a local classifieds side and so I could not resist buying that instead.

Pascal Audio is a(nother) Danish amplifier module company. It was actually founded by a group of ex-ICEpower people and although there are some clear similarities in product portfolio and product thinking, most of the Pascal products are focused on professional, PA- and musical instrument applications. This does show in things like power levels, channel configurations and module features. However, Pascal have also managed to creep into several hifi brands including Gato Audio, Jeff Rowland Design and many others – even edging out ICEpower from some of them. Irrespective of that, the quality reviews I’ve seen range from app. “massively better than ICEpower and Hypex” to “horrible sound and very poorly engineered”. As usual, the truth is probably somewhere in the middle but I guess we’ll see about that.

The S-Pro2 is a two-channel amp with onboard PSU that will do around 500W/channel in stereo and 1000W in BTL. This means it’s providing roughly twice the power of an ICEpower250ASX2 in almost the same form factor, making it (supposedly) the smallest 1000W amp on the market. As you can see from the pictures this version is an OEM-version without the usual aluminium base plate, which actually doesn’t bother me since it should make mounting the module to a “proper” heatsink much easier (and yes, even at 90% total efficiency a 1000W amplifier & PSU combo is still going to need pretty serious heat sinking if you want to get close to full power!).

While I do (sort of) have a specific project idea in mind for this module it’s going to take a while. First step is to (attempt to) develop a proper adapter PCB for the 26-pin signal connector to break the various module connections out to something that is easier to work with. Once that is done I’ll move on from there to some real testing, but that will definitely take some time 🙂

Project files: Hypex UcD400OEM adapters

Well, since I shared these on diyaudio already I supposed they should be here as well 🙂

Read more of this post

Wooden amps…

Well, not completely wooden of course! Some years ago I showed a plan to make a set of amps with wooden front panels, because I picked up some pre-cut wood in the right dimension on one of my trips to Japan. A while back the plan was resurrected, but then immediately brought to a halt because I had to enlarge some already-drilled holes and managed to destroy one of the panels in the process – bummer!

However, in the mean time I’ve found a local place that sells wood trim pieces for professional craftsmen and in their assortment I found a pre-made profile in the right dimension for a 1U panel and in several different kinds of wood. I chose oak as it is more my thing than the darker wood types and it goes well with both black and silver fittings. I’ve recently invested in a better drill press, so redoing the panels were without accidents this time and I also managed to overcome my fear (or is it loathing) of doing cabling to finally complete the set 🙂

The set consists of a DCB-1 preamp (on a clone board), meaning a DC-coupled version of the classic B1 buffer circuit, and a Hifimediy T4 Tripath-style class D power amp. The power supply is a surplus N2 XL375-type which I bought a small stash of some years ago.

No detailed listening impressions from my main system yet, but on test speakers it sounds excellent as I expected from what is basically an “evolution” of my old B1/125ASX bedroom system. Both components include relays to minimise turn-on and turn-off thumps and so as a set they are well-behaved enough for daily use (which is always one of my success criteria). As far as the looks are concerned, I could honestly see this being something I will want to try again in the future…

An early Christmas present…

I generally make a point of buying myself a Christmas present every year and this year it came a little early 🙂 While I was looking for the Hypex Ncore module I wrote about a couple of weeks ago, a stereo ICEpower700AS2 popped up as well – so I bought that 🙂 This is going to be a “little brother” to my 700ASC-monoblocks but whereas the monoblocks (which I also hope to finish over this Xmas break) have added buffers and dual-input switching, this is just going to be made into a simple and no-frills power amp.

In contrast to the Ncore module the ICEpower amp has onboard heatsinks so mounting in a small(ish) enclosure should be fine – at least for home duties. As I already had a basic layout for both a bottom plate and a back panel, drawing them up was quite easy and the back panel order is already placed. The support PCB I did for the monos also works here which should mean that once I receive the back panel there should hopefully be very few blockers to wiring up the amp and getting it tested within the next weeks.

I have seen one comparison of the Ncore and the ICEpower module (although I can’t find the link at the moment) with the Ncore coming away as the clear winner, but I am looking forward to seeing if my own conclusions match that 🙂

(apologies for the poorly lit pictures, but winter in Scandinavia means no daylight when I get home from work :D)

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…)

Slow-turning wheels….

I’ve been complaining about my pile of unfinished projects for the last few posts, but now I am at least at a stage where I can start to do something about it. The first step was of course to add cupboards where I can hide the mess ( 😃), but obviously the only really viable solution is start finishing up some of these projects, so I will try to get started on that during the Easter break – fingers crossed!.

Meanwhile, there are also other stuff to be worked on. One of the projects I did start warming up to has been my ICEpower700ASC-based amplifiers where I have managed to decide on an overall architecture. It’s going to be monoblock chassis with two switched inputs, provision for some form of buffering and an external trigger option. The ASC-board has a whole host of useful features and connections which it would be a shame not to exploit, but in order to avoid too many air wires I decided that a small breakout-board was in order. This will put the control signals and the aux power on more easily-accessible headers. Prototypes have been ordered! 🙂

Buffering isn’t 100% decided yet but since the 700ASC-module has a balanced input, the requirement was really for a fully-balanced buffer – ideally with Bal/SE conversion built-in. The obvious choice for that (and one which I haven’t really used before) is a fully-differential amplifier (FDA) such as the OPA1632. I’ve previously looked at this IC and done some sample board layouts, but nothing ever really came of it. This time, I’ve started from the schematic of AMBs excellent “Alpha24” design and started hacking it to suit my usage. The starting point for the board layout is one of my old ones, but significantly cleaned up compared to those previous experiments so hopefully everything works as it should (the OPA1632 is fairly high-speed and so board layout is a bit critical to get good performance and low noise).

I’ve also made rough mechanical sketches which are only really waiting for the boards etc. to become available so that the dimensions and placement of the various holes can be 100% finalised – paper mockups are a great way to do the initial prototyping though. The turnaround time for board deliveries from China seem to have slowed down a bit lately, but since all the Danish public holidays are basically in April and May there should be a chance to make some more progress when the boards do show 😀

New toys…

As per my last post I am in the process of moving (a lot of) DIY stuff out of my apartment, so what I should definitely not do is buy more things. However, sometimes an offer comes up that you just have to jump on 🙂

This time it was a set of unused ICEpower 700ASC-modules which is one of the ICEpower models I have not yet tried. They came up on a local classified page last week where I just spotted them by accident. The price was reasonable and since this is the ASC-version of the 700 with a few extra useful features then they should be quite versatile in use.

For now though, they are going on the shelf while I look for a suitable project for them (and move them to the new house 😀 ).

An ICEpower 50ASX amp – the easy way…

Some weeks ago a reader on the blog asked me some questions about various pre-made options for putting together a simple amplifier based on the ICEpower 50ASX2 module.

One of the options mentioned was to buy a case-kit for the module from Ghent Audio in China. I’ve seen pictures of these cases before and not only do they look quite good, they also come pre-drilled and silkscreened which for most DIY’ers is the hardest part of building stuff. I answered the questions as best I could without any hands-on experience to offer, but as I had an older black 50ASX-module left over I decided afterwards to get a case for myself and try them out.

After the usual waiting on shipping (which wasn’t actually that bad – app. 2.5 weeks), the case kit arrived. Everything is included, a power switch assembly, AC inlet, terminals etc and it seems to be decent quality all round. I didn’t buy the full cable kit, which would have made it even easier to assemble, but still it’s not too bad.

Putting together the basic kit with the module, feet, switch etc. ready for cabling only took around half an hour or so. If you look at the pictures I’ve made a few “adjustments” to the kit by using stainless screws and feet (the kit comes with black screws and matte silver feet), but otherwise it is as delivered and of course using the original parts would also have been just fine. The terminals are decent quality, but not the best I’ve seen. Also, the terminal holes are drilled too large (presumably to accommodate changing suppliers) which is slightly annoying but by no means a deal-breaker.

A bit more digging in the parts drawers revealed some suitable pre-made cables for signal and speakers – and a problem: my stock of JST connectors for the power connections has run out (or run away :-))

So yes, in conclusion this is definitely an easy way to build an amplifier (just as long as you ensure you get all the parts before you start 😉