Project files: The last of its kind…

…for a while at least 😀

What is it?
The last (and smallest) version of my EL2k buffered headphone amp using NOS Elantec 2008/2009 buffer ICs. This is the smallest version designed for 1.5″ heat sink profiles as described here. The two other versions are of course also still available (here and here):

How big are the boards?
The board measures 3.95″ x 1.5″ (app. 100 x 38 mm.) and is obviously a mono amplifier channel.

What is the status of the boards?
I’ve called this board version 1.5 as it is a redesign. Apart from the redesign work described in a previous post, the circuit is identical to the other published 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 37mm 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, you’ll have to remember to buy M2.5 screws for mounting 😀
  • 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.

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

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.

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 😀

Project files: The EL2k headamp

What is it?
The PCB files for the EL2k headamp in the previous post (here)

How big are the boards?
The board measures 3.95″ x 3.0″ (app. 100 x 76 mm.) and contains one channel.

What is the status of the boards?
The files are v1.1 of the board. I corrected a few minor issues in the prototype such as the footprint of the input capacitor and the package dimension for the CRD.

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

  • The Elantec buffers (EL2008/EL2009) that for the basis of the EL2k have been out of production for a long time. You can find them in various places online, both as pulls from scrapped equipment and as unused new-old-stock (NOS) ones. I bought a single pair of EL2008s from a long time diyaudio-user and member of the headphone community who was cleaning out parts so I have no doubts that mine are genuine, but if you do try to source from elsewhere always beware of fakes or substandard parts.
    That said, demand for 15-year old analog video buffers in TO-220 packages probably isn’t at an all-time high now, so I would judge the chance of getting genuine ones as quite good. Unlike various power transistors and small signal JFETs that are regularly counterfeited – even in channels where you would never suspect it – there probably isn’t a lot of money to be made from faking these in the first place.
  • The heat sink is not hard to find as such, but it must be a specific one (the SK68/75 from Fischer). It’s quite common in Europe with Reichelt and TME both stocking it, but I am not really aware of any other sources.

Anything else I need to know?

  • When you mount the buffer as shown, the heat sink will be grounded (because the tab-pin is grounded on the PCB). Not a problem in itself, but it does mean you should be careful of flying PSU leads 🙂
  • Mounting the buffer is a bit of a hassle, firstly because the electrolytics can get in the way unless you wait with mounting those (I didn’t…) and secondly because it doesn’t line up 100% true with the grooves in the heat sink. You can either have the buffer sit flush with the board as I did and use the M2.5 slot, or you can use the M3 slot and have it raised quite a bit above the board. In the first case, there is barely enough room for the screw and in the second it might be necessary to bend the buffer leads a bit to make them reach the holes. It works, but it isn’t as elegant as I would have liked 🙂
  • The PSU for this board should be +/-12 to +/-15V. 15V is recommended unless you are using an opamp that doesn’t tolerate 15V. In theory, the PSU should be capable of at least 2A output currents, but in any normal audio application 1A should be more than enough.
  • If used, the recommended value for the CRD is app. 2mA. I used a J508 because I had a pair left over, but there are other options out there. You can also use a resistor instead or skip this entirely. See this page about class A bias of opamps.

Downloads:
Download design files here

Edit May 5th 2016: Download a BoM from here.

Related information:
See the two original posts for some more information and links.
Note: Always read the “intro post” for additional important information about my designs.

More old silicon – the EL2k headamp…

After my adventures with the obsolete BUF03 buffer comes a design with another discontinued buffer-chip – the Elantec EL2008 😀

The EL2008 is definitely an overkill-device for audio duty. It’s got high bandwidth, high slew-rate and a 1A current capability with a built-in limiter. Like the BUF03 it was originally intended for video applications and like the BUF03, it has also been discontinued for a decade or so. There is also an EL2009 with even more impressive specs for bandwidth and slew-rate if you want and since both ICs should work in this design coming up with the name was pretty simple – the EL2k.

The design itself is a fairly straightforward “buffered op-amp” circuit, the only “tricks” being a resistor between the opamp and the buffer (because the buffer needs a controlled source impedance) and a current-regulation diode (CRD) to bias the opamp into class A (something else that was very popular in diy headphone amplifiers 10 years ago – my age is starting to show here I guess…).

I’ve possibly gone a bit overboard with the heatsinking, but this was the type of layout I had in mind and it seems to work well (electrically at least, there are some mechanical niggles). The input caps are ClarityCaps ESA which probably also qualifies as overkill, but I am sure they do no harm 😀

The opamps used are LME49710s because I had a pair to hand when I did the test. However, in my opinion the obvious choice for this build would be another one of “yesterday’s heroes” – the OPA627. Back in the day when the EL2k buffers were around, the OPA627 was pretty much the king of the audio-grade opamps so I think that match is sort of meant to be. The OPA627 also has a warmer, less clinical sound signature that might offset a bit of brightness here.

I have only listened briefly to this design so far, but the immediate impression is “detail, loads of detail” Whether this turns into listening fatigue in longer sessions I don’t know yet but we’ll see when I get some more time. In any case: the guy that sold me the Elantec buffers told me “to build something awesome with them” – not sure I succeeded, but I definitely tried 😀