A blast from the past…

Recently I was rummaging around one of my (many) boxes of half-finished designs looking for something else when I found this – a Sijosae Gilmore board which I never put to any use.

For those of you that haven’t been doing DIY for as long as I have: This is a version of the original Kevin Gilmore class A headphone amplifier modified by Korean diy’er Sijosae to fit a much smaller board. Sijosae was an absolute artist who made miniaturised versions of pretty much all the popular headphone-amp designs of the day while also experimenting with different topologies for buffers, rail splitters and similar circuit components. Even if he is no longer actively posting you can still see his characteristic schematics pop up in google searches and being referenced in new designs as well.

Sijosae’s version of the Gilmore amp could (theoretically at least) be squeezed into an Altoids tin like a CMoy-amp. In reality there would be no space for batteries and the battery life would be very short because this amp runs in class A, but at least mechanically it would fit. He also made a simplified “EZ-gilmore” version of the Gilmore circuit which I cloned as well (but also never used, now I come to think of it…)

The Gilmore design is back from the headwize-days and the final PCB layout was done by an american user called Subsonic who subsequently offered it as a “group buy” on Head-fi in 2003. As I recall, this was the first group buy I ever participated in and one of the first headphone amp PCBs I bought internationally – if not the first. To say this started a tradition for me is something of an understatement (“avalanche” is more like it 😉 )

The board has been in storage for so long I don’t remember exactly why it was put away in the first place, but now that I have dug it out I am actually going to test it. I seem to remember it had offset-issues that I found very puzzling at the time, but I am thinking that the 15+ years of diy-experience I have added since might help me solve them this time… 😀

Sentimental projects…

Over the years I’ve seen many DIY-designs that become “iconic” milestones of some sort but which I do not adopt immediately. Sometimes it’s because I don’t have a need and sometimes it’s because I don’t recognise the brilliance straight away 😊. However, some of the designs still manage to stick in my mind in a way that makes me want to go back and revisit them even years afterwards. Here is the latest example as I recently managed to get my hands on a pair of PCBs for Kevin Gilmore’s Solid-State electrostatic amp (the original KGSS).

The KGSS is the original solid-state electrostatic amplifier by Kevin Gilmore and it is intended to drive headphones from Stax (and similar). The KGSS design was originally published on headwize, meaning I read about this years before I owned a pair of electrostatic headphones (well, in fact years before I could even dare to dream about owning a pair). These specific board layouts were actually made by Headamp.com and they were released “to the public” as a PCB group buy around 2009 or so once the finished Headamp KGSS amp was discontinued (superseeded by the KGSSHV)

Another fun thing is that Kevin’s original article for the KGSS shows the “old” prices on the semiconductors which are now all but impossible to find. Fortunately I should have most of the parts in stock already and the HV parts are actually starting to show up again. Many of them were originally meant for CRT TVs and discontinued with the advent of flat screens, but as those original applications completely disappear what is left of spare components is actually starting to find its way to the market (unlike the old JFETs and audio grade low-noise BJTs unfortunately…).

Now sometimes these projects inevitably turn into a “don’t meet your heroes” moment when you realise the design wasn’t actually very good, but I’m still looking forward to trying to put it together 😊

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 🙂

Waiting for parts…

The summer weather still doesn’t show any signs of slowing down here – at least not significantly – and so building is a little on the backburner. However, I have been keeping up a steady flow of PCB-orders over the last weeks (partly my own designs, partly not) so that when I go on holiday in a couple of weeks the finished boards should be waiting for me. Assuming the weather is more suitable for indoor activities at that point, there should be a few interesting things coming up in the not-too-distant future then 😀

Already now though, I have started putting together a few things including another line-level buffer, an ebay tube-kit and a couple of headphone amplifiers but it’s stop-start traffic most of the way. A constant interruption to these builds are a lack of parts – not massively so, but a resistor here and a capacitor there is enough to slow everything down. Case in point is a buffer by Kevin Gilmore where I have the boards (and have had them for a while) and most of the assembly is done, except that I am missing four ceramic caps (odd value and specific form factor) and four RN60 resistors (a standard value that I simply ran out of).

For some odd reason this actually tends to delay overall progress by quite a lot because by the time I’ve accumulated enough volume for an order from a specific vendor and the missing parts show up, usually something else has caught my eye…  😀

Anyway, Mouser order just completed so the last parts for the buffer and a few other half-finished projects should be here by the end of the week. Maybe I should spend my holidays working out a queuing system for new builds of some sort instead? 😀

Humble beginnings….

I thought the title was appropriate because while this build might not look like much, what comes after it is hopefully somewhat more impressive. It’s an external AC power supply (a.k. a. a transformer in a box 😀 ) for an upcoming version of Kevin Gilmore’s Dynahi SuSy (SuperSymmetry) balanced headphone amplifier (more info here).

The reason for making an external PSU isn’t grounded in any particular philosophical belief but simply in a lack of available space in an (already sizeable) amplifier chassis. The decision to make it an external AC PSU rather than an external DC PSU is a slightly philosophical one though – although heavily influenced by thoughts on practicality and versatility 🙂

This is 2x25VAC and it will eventually have a 2x30VAC identical twin for another project which also requires an external PSU – at least if it is to have any hope of fitting in a standard-sized stereo rack 😀

The chassis is as compact as I could reasonable make it and the output is fused via my fuseboard (link) and then fed to a 5-pin Neutrik XLR which has a few features I like for this application (solid, reliable, cheap, locking etc.)

Front panel, power switch and final wiring coming once the front panel layout for the amplifier itself is ready 🙂

High voltage…

Yes I am still here, but it’s another busy period for me at work so updates to the blog are correspondingly few and far between. As usual when I don’t have a lot of time for diy I still somehow manage to start up new projects. Even with less than 48 hours at home in a weekend, there’s still time to do a little soldering to relax and unwind 😀

Among the overdue projects I’ve managed to start up lately are some amplifiers for my Stax electrostatic headphones. This is actually more than a little overdue, because I haven’t had a Stax amplifier for nearly a year now and so the headphones I have aren’t getting any use which is a shame really.

The pile of half-assembled boards in the picture actually consists of the following designs, all by Kevin Gilmore:

– A pair of KGST tube amp boards and matching 350V PSU

– A mini-version of the KGSSHV amp and matching 400V PSU

– A version of the KGSSIC/“Carbon” amp and matching 400/450V PSU

Most of the boards were all acquired through various group-buys on the head-case.org forums, but Kevin graciously keeps the Gerber files for all of his designs available for free download as well.

I’ve soldered more or less all the parts I have available, so still to do are:

1) Order remaining parts (working on that – since it’s also possible to do from hotels after work :D)

2) Figure out the mechanical stuff (mostly done, but still needs a bit of work – and some tools I don’t have regular access to)

3) Select and match a pile of semis (saving that one for a rainy day 🙂 )

4) Finish and test boards (as quickly as possible)

I’m not really used to high-voltage stuff so I am being extra careful with these boards. Just like when you move up in frequency, moving up in voltage means that things that were not previously issues suddenly become very important. Fortunately I have a working variac again (fixed after stupidly blowing a fuse in it a few weeks ago) which makes testing much easier – not to mention safer all round.

These aren’t the only Gilmore-designs I’m working at the moment by the way, but the rest involves much more pedestrian voltages 😀


A milestone is reached…

Here is one of the projects, if not the project, that gave this blog its name :). It’s the Gilmore Dynahi class A headphone amplifier. First published as a design by well-known headphone amplifier designer (and chemistry professor) Kevin Gilmore on head-fi in late 2003, the Dynahi was one of the most extreme headphone amplifier designs when it was published (Kevin has pushed the envelope a little bit since then, especially with some tube amps 😀 ). The amplifier runs in class A on +/- 30V regulated rails and dissipates around 20W/channel (plus around the same for the regulated PSU boards). If that isn’t enough, you can build it as a balanced configuration as well (often referred to back in the day as the “dynamite” :D). The design was quite common a few years ago but is now not seen very often, probably because most of the active components are very hard to find nowadays.

My boards are actually from one of the original group buys on head-fi, around 2004-2005. For the last year or so (ok, it may well be two or three…) I have had the amp boards populated with resistors and the PSU-board assembled without ICs mounted, but that is as far as it got. However, this weekend I finally managed to fabricate the required angle brackets, which meant I could start matching up and mounting the output transistors. This may not be the most entertaining part of a build (at least not for me), but there is a certain satisfaction to it anyway – especially after it is done 😉

The amp boards are now briefly tested and seem to be working fine, but the PSU is acting up a little and needs to be troubleshooted. Otherwise the next step is to design the casework – even with the substantial heat that this amp gives off I am still convinced that it is possible to fit it into a 1U case (just haven’t completely figured out how yet 🙂 )

Oh, and by the way: This also happens to be my 40th post here on the blog which also qualifies as some sort of milestone I guess 😉