Improving small DC-DC converters…

I’ve written a few posts about DC-DC converters and I’ve found them very useful for many circuits where a “complex” (= multi-rail with fixed voltages) power supply needs to be replaced with something “simpler” and more flexible (= single-rail with large variations allowed). However, I have previously largely ignored small SIP-type converters because I didn’t believe they were powerful enough to be of much use. As I (recently) realised you can actually get 3W from several manufacturers and even 5-6W from certain others. That makes it’s possible to get 100mA or more at +/-12-15V which is more than plenty for most small opamp circuits such as buffers, preamps and RIAAs, and of course single-rail 5-12V currents more than suitable for small auxiliary circuits in power amps etc.

Now, there are a few drawbacks to these converters: Even the small converters normally still have quite large ripple voltages and I expect there is quite a bit of HF-noise as well, but I’ve tried to use a passive filter to compensate for that. The basic idea is that because the switching frequency of the converter is very high (typically 50-100 kHz) which is nearly 1000 times higher than a linear supply, a simple passive filter is also 1000 times better at removing ripple and noise and so even small capacitor/resistor values for the filter gets you very far. A second drawback is that the converters have limited tolerance for capacitive loading, so it’s normally a good idea to think the power source into the design/build of the consumer circuit. That’s normally also doable though.

The basic SIP-8 form factor is used by several manufacturers so there are quite a few different converters to choose from, both cheap and not-so-cheap. One thing that differs between manufacturers seems to be the allowed capacitance load that the converters will tolerate. Here, the more expensive Recoms and Tracos list considerably better specs than the cheaper converters, so that’s worth looking into before you choose. Given how the converter works, this restriction mainly applies to higher voltages of 12-15V or higher – at 5V the load margin is likely to be fine even for the cheaper converters.

The boards I’ve made are both a single and a dual version with the same form factor and they both work as expected. However, after I received the boards and assembled the prototypes I had a couple of ideas to improve the filtering a bit so I’m going to hold off making the board files public until I’ve tried those ideas 🙂

Advertisements

Project files: Line Attenuators

What is it?
If you are using a preamp with gain you may have problems with only using a fraction of the available range on your volume control which is very annoying. The problem is usually caused by too much gain and/or an incorrect gain structure. If it is not possible to reduce the gain of one or more of the amplifiers in the chain, a solution can be to use inline attenuators from e.g. Rothwell Audio instead. These are quite expensive though, and they only come in predefined attenuation levels so for testing purposes a DIY-option such as I am presenting here might be better.

The attenuator is built on a small board with RCA sockets for input and output, as well as an option for fitting two parallel resistors on the output side. The gives two (or even three) selectable attenuation values. The selection can be either by jumpers or even via a switch to make the boards suitable for testing etc.

How big are the boards?
The board measures 1.75″ by 0.9″ (app. 44 x 23 mm) – plus of course the off-board part of the connectors.

What is the status of the boards?
The board is in v1.0, meaning it has been tested and confirmed working.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
The RCA sockets are clones of Vampire RCAs. They are normally the best board-mounted RCAs I know of and available on ebay. If you don’t want to use connectors or can’t find them, just connect the signal via a 0.1” header (or a JST XH/Molex KK connector) instead.

Anything else I need to know?

  • Important: The reason that Rothwells are built into the RCA-plug is to keep the signal path short and especially the load capacitance on the output side as low as possible. Use the shortest possible cables on the output of these to avoid the cables inducing an RF-rolloff.
  • The resistor values are quite important and should ideally be matched to the source and load impedance. I’ve used this thread (post #6) as a starting point but it’s worth reading up on the theory behind the operation as there are a few trade-offs involved.
  • The center-to-center spacing of the RCAs is 1.1″ (28mm)

Downloads:
Download design files here

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

Project files: PassHP headphone amp

What is it?
It’s the project files for the PassHP headphone amplifier from last week’s post and judging by the number of views since then they are eagerly awaited 😀
As mentioned last time, this design is a clone of the one from here and my version consists of a mono amplifier board and a stereo PSU board instead of the original “all-in-one” design.

How big are the boards?
The amplifier boards measure 2.95” x 3.0” (app. 75 x 76 mm.) and the PSU board measures 2.0” x 5.05” (app. 51 x 128 mm.).

What is the status of the boards?
Both boards are in version 1.0 as the prototype seems to work well and I couldn’t be bothered to make any cosmetic changes 😉

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Well, the recommended 2SJ313/2SK2013 output transistors are a bit hard to find, but there are plenty of substitutes available. This is a fairly simple design, so otherwise no problems.

Anything else I need to know?

  • Resistors: I’ve used RN60-type resistors which are rated 0.5W, but that probably isn’t necessary – at least not for all the positions.
  • Heatsinks: The heat sink profile is the one Fischer calls SK104 but there are many substitutes. The power dissipation isn’t great so even the small 25mm high version should suffice, but if you want to use bigger ones for cosmetic reasons that should be just fine 🙂
  • Transistors: I’ve used 2SJ313/2SK2013 output devices because I had them, but if you don’t then I recommend using IRF610/9610 or one of the other substitutes mentioned in the diyaudio build thread. The 2SJ/2SK pairs are now either very expensive or very fake (and sometimes even both!), so using parts that are still in production should be safer.
  • Optocoupler: In theory this is also substitutable for something else, but in all honesty I don’t know exactly how the optical bias-system works so it’s probably best to stick with the standard 4N35.
  • Gain: The default gain is app. 6 but that can be lowered or raised by tweaking the value of R4. In theory you should recalculate the BW-limiting capacitor across the resistor if you change the value, but in practice you’ll probably be fine unless you make major changes. My prototype version has a gain of 3 (R4 = 2k) and I haven’t observed any problems.
  • Opamp: My version uses a single-channel opamp which gives a bit more choice. Start out with something like the OPA604, OPA134 or LME49710 and then experiment from there if you want to change the sound.
    Most opamps have a max. supply voltage of +/-15V so as a starting point I’d recommend this as the supply voltage. If you want more voltage swing use the OPA604 which is good up to +/-22V.
  • PSU voltage adjustment: Just as in the original you can use LEDs to raise the output voltage of the supply above the regulator voltage (although I’ve ditched the resistor option). Using 7×15-regulators and green/red LEDs should give you around 17V output whereas using 7×18-regulators and LEDs should bump that to app. 20V. If you just want the regulator voltage as the output, remember to jumper across the LED pins and omit the capacitor.

Downloads:
Download design files here

Related information:
You really should chew your way through the diyaudio-thread for information about the amplifier. As mentioned this version was mostly because I did not like the original form factor. If you just want a functioning amplifier then I strongly recommend that you buy one of the “real” boards from Wayne Colburn via DIYaudio (or wait a few weeks for when the boards show up in the diyaudio store).

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

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 🙂

Mains line filter

An offshoot of my work on the STEPS circuit was that I started researching mains filters a bit. I kept it simple on the STEPS circuit, but decided to do a proper separate line filter PCB as well.

I’ve included something that is missing on the STEPS board, namely a differential-mode filter with an earth connection to serve as the midpoint. I’ve also put a fuse on this board as I often struggle a bit to find suitable space for a mains fuse in my builds – and obviously the fuse isn’t something that should ever be left out of a mains-powered circuit!

However, the STEPS wasn’t actually the only inspiration here: While looking for suitable common-mode chokes I discovered the Murata PLY10-series which is a hybrid containing a common-mode and a differential-mode choke winding in one part. This makes a more compact filter possible which obviously is an advantage (even if it has low-ish current capability and separate chokes are obviously more effective/efficient). The current capability of the PLY10 makes this filter suitable for preamps, headamps and similar circuits only though.

Pictures of the prototype below. To be honest, I am not sure if this is significantly better (or worse) than a normal filtered IEC socket, but it is at least a bit more versatile – and it was fun to make 🙂

Project files: STEPS clone PSU

What is it?
The board for my “STEPS-clone” single-rail linear PSU as described here. This PSU is suitable for low-power streamers, DACs, headphone amps etc. that run on a single DC-voltage rail and require less than app. 15W maximum. This isn’t really a 100% clone of the original STEPS supply (see here), but I’ve drawn quite a bit of inspiration from the STEPS so I think the credit is well-deserved anyway 🙂

Note that the transformer primary connections are hardwired on the board, so there are separate 115V and a 230V versions of the board files.

How big are the boards?
The board measures 3.95” x 4.7” (app. 100 x 119 mm)

What is the status of the boards?
The published board files are for version 1.0 which is the version I have prototyped. There are a few minor changes I could do, but it’s mostly cosmetic and it might be a while before I get to it anyway so I have decided to publish this version.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
If you can order from Mouser, then nothing here is hard-to find. If you can’t, then the only thing that might be difficult to substitute is the Murata common-mode choke and that is optional anyway 🙂

Anything else I need to know?

  • The original idea was that the board should be able to slide into a eurocard-sized enclosure (that’s also the reason for the two extra mounting holes). However, in practice this isn’t possible as the primary pins of the transformer are way too close to the enclosure walls to make this safe. My recommended enclosure is the GX1xx-types from modushop, but there are many other options. If you have more devices, you can of course use larger enclosures to hold multiple PSUs.
  • The transformer secondaries are in parallel, so with the standard Talema range from 7VAC to 22VAC, it should be possible to make the STEPS with outputs from around 3-25VDC.
  • The 2-pin header near the output can be used to connect a volt meter to display the output voltage (or it can be used for something else – your choice! :D).
  • The solder pads on the board can be used either as test points or to tap the AC or unregulated DC-voltage from the board to another PSU board for an AUX-voltage of some sort (additional circuit, trigger voltage etc.). Remember to watch the total load on the transformer and the maximum heat dissipation in all regulators.
  • You can use my spreadsheet here to calculate the adjustment resistors for various output voltages. This will show you the upper/lower limit voltages if you use a trimpot for variable output, and also the power dissipation in the adjustment resistors which you need to be careful with at higher outputs.
  • The only really tricky bit of this circuit is (potentially) managing heat dissipation if your load draws a lot of power on a continuous basis. You’ll have to balance the heat dissipation in the regulator and the pi-filter resistors, while still keeping the voltage to the regulator high enough so that it doesn’t drop out – even if the mains voltage varies a bit. A little tip can be that if your load device isn’t sensitive to output voltage, then turning up the output by app. 0.5-1V will shift some heat away from the regulator. Be sure that you stay within the specs of whatever you are connecting to the PSU at all times of course!
  • As usual for these circuits, you can use both standard and LDO (low-drop regulators). The low-drop types are normally not “better”, but can be a bit less tolerant of circuitry and load conditions so it’s actually better to stick with standard LM317 unless you have a good reason to use an LDO.
  • The only time it really makes sense to use a 3A rated regulator (LM350 or Lx1085 types) would be if your PSU is 5-7V output with a 25VA transformer. If your output voltage is higher or the transformer is smaller, the 1.5A+ current limit of a standard LM317 (or Lx1086) should be just fine.

Downloads:
Download design files here

Related information:
1) Read the original STEPS page linked above. Even if the circuit isn’t completely the same, there is still lots of great info about the LM317 type regulators and how to get the most of them.
2) Read the manufacturers datasheet for the regulator that you are working with. Pay specific attention to recommendations around output capacitance and bypassing of the adjust pin as there are some differences between regulator models and manufacturers here.

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

 

Project files: LED tester

What is it?
The PCB files for my version of Håvard Skrodahls LED-tester as described here.

How big are the boards?
The board measures 2.0” x 1.6” (app. 51 x 41 mm.).

What is the status of the boards?
This is version 1.0 as everything (for once) worked the first time 🙂

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
None, really. The 16mm pots can be bought from ebay and everything else you should be able to get from multiple different sources. If possible, I would suggest using a stereo 5k-10k pot and the fully-isolated version of the LM317. The former gives the best adjustment range and the latter helps protect against mishaps with flying test leads 😀

Anything else I need to know?

  • For information about how the circuit works, read the hackaday-post linked above.
  • Output current can be calculated as 1.25V/Rtot. For max. current Rtot = R1 and for min. current the value is Rtot = R1 +  the pot value (with the decks in parallel if you are using a stereo pot obviously)
  • There is a difference between Lin/Log pot as described in the build article, so you’ll have to decide up front which adjustment profile fits you best (or keep the pot offboard so you can change – or just build two boards 🙂 ).
  • If you want to use the “high-current” mode, populate R2 as well and short the jumper. Remember that power dissipation in both the resistor and the LM317 regulator increases with higher current. The calculations for min and max current above have to be adjusted to reflect the fact that R1 and R2 are in parallel.
  • The connection for the ammeter is required as it is in series with the LED being tested. If you don’t want the ammeter, bridge If+ and If- connections as shown in the picture. The connection for the voltmeter is optional.  Note that I have tried using a cheap LED meter from ebay for the ammeter and I had some problems with it, whereas if i connect my normal multimeters everything works fine – YMMV.

Downloads:
Download design files here

Related information:
Be sure to read the original post for the exact circuit description, information and tips.

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

LED-tester deluxe…

A few months ago I stumbled upon a presentation thread for an “LED-tester” circuit by Muffsy-creator H. Skrodahl on a Norwegian audio forum. Two things immediately occured to me:

1) I want one!
2) I think I can improve this a bit 😀

So rather than simply downloading his posted Eagle files and ordering boards from there, I started doing my own board instead. With the final result arriving earlier this week it’s time to put it to the test.

The basic idea is to use an LM317 regulator as a variable Constant Current Source (CCS) to test unidentified LEDs and confirm what currents are required for acceptable brightness – something that isn’t always easy to guess based on the published specs. I’ve kept the basic circuit intact but my modifications basically consist of:

– “Real” connectors for all connections instead of just solderpads.
– Additional outputs for LED connections to allow direct plugging in, permanent wired connections and also temporary connections via test leads/crocodiles clips.
– Space for a stereo pot to give a bit more mechanical stability.
– Optional “high-current” mode for testing constant-current LED bulbs as a supplement to just normal LEDs.
– Four real mounting holes to allow the board to be fixed to a bit of scrap metal or similar for use in a lab environment.

I need to do a bit more validation on the prototype before I publish my board files, but at least I can confirm that it works and that it is a very useful way to identify the operating parameters of e.g. LEDs in pushbutton switches.

More ATtiny experiments…

Since I managed to breathe life into my ATtiny-based speaker delay project I’ve been working on more ATtiny-based boards. There are many potential applications I can see (if I look hard enough…) for a small SW-based controller and that is what I’ve tried to build. The hardware was done a while ago, but the software was lagging (and still is somewhat).

I also received my TinyLoadr programmer a few weeks ago and it was definitely worth the wait. I’ve mounted the board to a piece of aluminium to keep it stable and now its more or less a perfect tool – very highly recommended if you want to play with ATtinys!!

To speed up my development cycle I’ve build a prototyping setup with a ZIF-socket and a solderless breadboard. I’m not a fan of solderless breadboards in general, but they do have their occasional uses and this would be one of them. I bought a few small ZIF-sockets from ebay and together with the tinyloadr programmer they make up an excellent prototyping platform. Swapping ICs from one ZIF to the other is still a bit of an annoyance, but it’s far more flexible than the alternative 🙂

If you need more memory space (or more I/O-pins) than the ATTinys can provide then I am also working on an update of my AmpDuino-concept. This will be a fully-fledged controller based on a stand-alone ATmega-chip that can do the same as the old version AmpDuino, but in a more optimised way. Connections etc. will be laid out for what I consider to be typical audio applications. ETA is, as always when there is software involved, unknown 😀

Building an Electronic Load

One of the tools that I sometimes need but haven’t bought yet is an electronic load for testing circuits such as power supplies. Of course you can make do with fixed resistors (and I have so far), but you practically never have the right value/wattage to hand when you need to test something (in my case, usually on a Sunday afternoon…grr!).

The solution is a programmable electronic load, or basically an adjustable current sink (or a “reverse power supply” as some people call it) that can simulate the load from any fixed resistor within reason. I haven’t bought one of these yet, partly because I didn’t feel I needed it enough to justify the expense, and partly because I am rapidly running out of space to store instruments that are only used occasionally.

Some weeks ago I started toying with the idea of building one myself to at least get started. I’d seen some nice designs on Tindie, but wanted something that was capable of higher power and something which I could more easily tweak for myself. A bit of googling turned up a few promising pages, most notably this one on Kerry Wong’s (excellent) blog.

I liked Kerry’s design as a starting point, mostly because it is relatively well documented and the control code is Arduino (which I can work with). I therefore started revising the circuit to suit my needs and laying out a PCB for it as well.

Key changes from the original:

  • I’ve scaled it down from three pairs of MOS-FETs to two because that is what I could fit on the Eagle board (being constrained by the freeware version).
  • I’ve replaced the parallel LCD connections with I2C to simplify the PCB layout and free up Arduino pins.
  • I’ve mounted the controller (an Arduino Nano v3) onboard. That wasn’t the original plan, but the space was there so why not?
  • I’ve broken out a pair of analogue Arduino pins, a pair of digital Arduino pins plus a second I2C-connection that can be used for other purposes. Top of the list for me would be a real-time clock (RTC) module for data logging purposes and some sort of thermal sensing and fan control, but I am sure there are many other potential uses (web-interface anyone? 😀 ).
  • plus a bunch of other minor tweaks 🙂

This is still work in progress, but I have received the prototype boards in hand and I have started the assembly as you can see from the pictures. Still to do:

  • Do the mechanical work on the heat sink (in progress)
  • Rewrite the software to work with the I2C-display (also in progress, but might take me a while)
  • Test whether the damn thing works! 🙂

EDIT 13th March 2016: The schematic for my v1.0 PCB can be found here. There are at least two know issues that need to be corrected. 1) The “sense” pin (A3) is connected directly to the output but should actually have space for a voltage divider. 2) The spare opamp (IC1B) should have pin 6 and 7 connected together and pin 5 connected to AGND.