HackerNAP/HackerCAP

One of my (numerous) neglected projects is a version of the “HackerNAP” Naim clone amplifier. Naim is one of those brands that have a very loyal following, and many of their original designs have been analysed extensively by DIY’ers looking for improvements. The HackerNAP is one of those derivatives and the NCC200 from Avondale Audio is another – ebay is awash with other (more or less accurate) versions as well by the way.

Part of the reason why this project hasn’t been top of the list is that did not like the original HackerCAP PSU boards, so with a small delay (of around three years…) I decided to do my own version instead 😀

To be honest this isn’t how I would normally have done a PSU board – if had designed from scratch I would have made a larger board, used two full bridges and a full ground plane – but as the chassis are already drilled for the original boards I kept the physical size as close to the original as I could.

While the board size isn’t 100% the same as the original HackerCAP, I’ve retained the option to configure the design for both “normal” PSU usage and also for CRCRC or CLCLC configurations.

As the PSU boards are now done and tested, I can hopefully manage to do the rest of the assembly in less than three years 😀

Sunday morning chipamps…

It’s been some time since I did an ebay kit, but that doesn’t mean I have given up on them (in fact I bought plenty…) and a cheap kit is still a great thing to play with on a Sunday morning**

It’s a pair of power amps based on paralleled TDA7293 amplifier ICs in the correct “master/slave” configuration as per the data sheet (and this discussion on diyaudio). The TDA7293 and TDA7294 chips are among the few survivors of the “purge” of audiophile components and they should still be available. Unlike the LM38xx-series and its siblings, the TDAs have MOS-FET output stages which means they can run in parallel without resistors to limit current sharing between outputs. The parallel arrangement allows for more current into low-impedance loads, but as the TDA7293 will work on up to +/-50V rails having two ICs also makes for a fairly serious effective power output.

These kits are seriously cheap and although I’ve tried to use most of the components that came with the kit, some parts have been replaced for cosmetic reasons (because that matters to me, sorry!). Even with component replacements though, these kits are so cheap that there is no real excuse for not trying them – even if you don’t need new amplifiers at all 😉

No real sound impressions yet, but I know these chips can sound really good so I am looking forward to seeing how much of their potential can be unlocked for the same price as a takeaway meal 😉

**Yes I know it’s not Sunday today, but as Whit Monday is a holiday in Denmark it felt like Sunday morning 😀

Class D experiments…

There are many class D technologies on the market at the moment, but one of the ones I haven’t tried (until now at least) is the International Rectifier “IRAUD7”-amps (IRF has been acquired by Infinion).

Consisting of the IRS2092 driver IC and various purpose-built FETs (many of them two FETs in a single package suitable for half-bridge designs), this is by most accounts a good-sounding and scalable class D technology. It’s also one of the few technologies where you can actually have a go at your own PCB layout if you want to. The schematics are available in IRFs published reference designs (here and here) and although making good PCB layouts for high-power switching electronics isn’t easy, it is actually possible to do.

Of course, when something is so easily available it tends to get exploited. It wasn’t long after IR introduced the designs before the market was flooded with several cheap clones, some using their own PCB layouts and some using IRs own Gerber files which are also published on the website. I had my eyes on some small (credit-card sized) boards to try for a while as they were really cheap (do an ebay-search for “IRS2092” and you’ll see 🙂 ), but eventually spotted this “luxury” version (at least based on appearance and observed parts quality) and fell in.

This build is the “low power” version with the IRFI4019 FET, but there’s also higher-power version with the IRFI4020 FET. Since the seller I bought from made a mix-up in ordering I actually ended up having a pair of each version, but I wanted to start with the low-power version. Then I might go dual-mono on the high-power boards later on if the sound quality proves it worthwhile 😀

The PSU consists of a 200VA transformer and a cheap supply PCB with 45mF capacitance per rail – mostly because that was what I had in my parts drawers. I’ve tried to keep the mechanics as simple as possible since I consider this build an experiment, but having the amp and PSU on a mounting plate simply makes everything much easier so I decided to “splurge” a little anyway :). The front panel is blank until I decide how the amp is going to be used.

Even though the pictures show the amplifiers uncabled (which they still are), I did manage some sneak listening on the modules and I am looking forward getting these into my main system for a proper test 🙂

 

Project files: VFET PSU

What is it?
In response to a reader request, the project files for my V-FET PSU board shown here. Of course, this will also work for any other class A design you might think of, as it is a fairly standard CC-R-C configuration with onboard rectifiers and space for three 35mm snap-in capacitors per rail. On typical class A voltages that means you’ll be able to use capacitors in the 22-33mF range and the the onboard rectifiers are 15-25A plastic SIP types, which should be just fine for most applications.

Input and output connections are via FAST-ON tabs and there are two sets of output connections. Since we’re paying for the copper on the boards anyway, I’ve tried to keep as much of it as possible  with a top-side ground plane and the supply rails on the bottom. 🙂

How big are the boards?
The board measures 3.1” x 6.675” (app. 78 x 170 mm).

What is the status of the boards?
Since the prototypes worked fine I haven’t made any changes and the board is therefore version 1.0.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Nothing worth worrying about really. The only possible exception is only really the rectifier which is in a small GBU-package. However, Mouser has them up to 25A (p/n 750-GBU2510-G) and they are available from many other sources in 10-15A variants as well.

Anything else I need to know?

  • If you want to use off-board bridges, bridge the AC and the DC-connections with as thick a wire as you can get through the holes. That should allow you to use offboard metal-cased rectifiers up to 50A. Since the average current draw of most class A amps is quite low and the surge ratings aren’t that different between package types I don’t see the need to use anything else than the plastic ones, but by all means complicate matters with offboard bridges if you must 😀
  • The four series resistors can be 3-5W types in parallel which should be plenty, even if you want to burn off a bit of voltage in them.
  • The (optional) 3W bleeder resistor discharges the two first capacitors while the LEDs will discharge the last ones. The series resistor for the LED can be a 1/2W or 1W type.
  • Last, but not least: Electrolytic capacitors in this sort of size aren’t to be trifled with, so make sure you mount them correctly and test the board properly before mounting it in your amplifier chassis.

Downloads:
Download design files here

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

vfetpsupcb-2

Pass V-FET kits are here!

Forgot to post this a week ago when they arrived, but I managed to secure a couple of the Nelson Pass V-FET kits which I am quite excited about.

In short, this is a low-power class A amplifier based on some complementary Sony V-FET (SIT) transistors that have been out of production more or less since before I was born. The actual devices were bought as NOS (new old stock) by Nelson Pass himself and offered to the diyaudio community through the diyaudio store as a (more or less) one-off opportunity. I was lucky enough to register my interest early on and so managed to secure a couple of kits to keep me busy on those long Scandinavian winter nights when they come around 😀

There’s a big discussion thread on diyaudio and also an article on the FirstWatt website about the design, in addition to the information in Nelsons previous articles on SITs (also on the FW website). As usual, I don’t really need these and the class A heat is a bit impractical in a small apartment, but a limited-edition amplifier kit with unobtanium transistors that was developed by Nelson Pass himself was an opportunity I simply could not pass up (pardon the stupid pun 🙂 ).

The Firstwatt F5 is still one of the best amplifiers I’ve heard in my system so I have very high expectations for this new design. The lower power of the VFET could be an issue, but I’ll have to build it and try I guess – with my current speakers it should be OK and if not, I can always get a pair of very inefficient planar magnetic headphones instead :D.

vfetpcb-1

Tripath TK2050 monos…

Well, it’s been a while since I posted a project that was actually finished…. and this one isn’t either 😀

It’s a pair of monoblock amplifiers based on Arjen Helder’s Tripath TK2050-boards. Arjen Helder is/was a Dutch guy living in China who around 5 years ago sold some great DIY boards based on the Tripath class D ICs. He’s probably mostly known in the DIY-community for the low-power TA2020-based amps, but he did make a few designs based on the more powerful TK2050 chipset as well. I bought a couple of the TA2020 boards when they were available because they were cheap and sounded great, but I managed to stay away from the TK2050 boards back then because I did not have anything to use them for (come to think of it, I don’t now either… 🙂 ).

Unfortunately I am nearly powerless to resist the temptation of an ebay-bargain so I snapped up this pair that I stumbled upon a couple of months ago without much hesitation. Originally, the plan was to mod the boards a bit replacing the stock capacitors, in/out connections etc. However, some of the traces seem to be very thin and as it isn’t possible to get a replacement board if I damage something I limited myself to just replacing the input caps.

The power supplies are a couple of Mean Well EPP-150s which were “left over” from my JLH-Evo build. They should be more or less spot-on for this when used in dual-mono mode and the small 4” x 2” size is an advantage as well.

The mechanics consist of pair of Chinese-made enclosures (selected because they were the right size for the job…) with custom rear-panels. I was going to use the stock rear panels, but a couple of stupid measurement-errors that I did not notice until after drilling made that a lost cause 😉

What’s missing is only really a few cables, but that isn’t my favourite part of a build and so I might save it for a long dark winter’s night instead 😉

Surrounded – again!

This is an old project that I have resurrected now as I would like to get my surround-sound setup back into working order (not that I expect I’ll be using it that much, but still…)

It’s a 2+3 channel ICEpower ASX-based setup with 125ASXs in BTL-mode at the front and 50ASXBTLs for center and rear. The 2-channel amplifier very nearly identical to my previous 125ASX-based amplifier but it does have three USPs compared to that build:

  • Transformer-coupled (balanced) inputs using Lundahl LL1527 transformers.
  • Two switchable inputs so it can be connected to both a stereo source and a surround-processor simultaneously.
  • ”Audiophile” form factor (i.e. around 44 cm. wide and much larger than is really necessary 😀 )

The 3-channel amplifier also has Lundahls at the input but no input switching (for obvious reasons).

Many upmarket manufacturers use transformers on the inputs of ICEpower-based amps and Lundahl in Sweden make some of the best ones around. The LL1527 isn’t usually employed as an input transformer, but if I’m reading the specs correctly it’s actually fairly well-suited to the lowish input impedance of the ICEpower modules so it should work well. The alternative (which would also fit on my boards) is the LL1540 which is a purpose-built high impedance input transformer. And well, if all else fails the way that these are mounted would mean that I could probably develop an active circuit instead 🙂 (differential opamp-board anyone?)

Just like my as-yet-not-completed “Ring” amp project the front channel amp has switchable inputs so that it can be used in a combined stereo/surround setup. Switching after the respective volume controls make more sense to me, but of course I haven’t actually lived with it yet so let’s see if theory meets practice in this case 😀 This switching is relay-based and uses the balanced selector modules I posted about earlier – yes, sometimes those piles of leftover prototype PCBs come in very handy :D.

There isn’t actually a lot missing – mostly cabling – before this is done, but I hate cabling so it might take a while to do it anyway 😉

JLH Evo Update

All right, no more moaning about lack of build time (at least not for now 😉 )

Managed to do a little work on the mechanics of my “JLH evo” concept allowing you to get an idea of what the end result will look like (when it’s eventually finished…).

I’m still figuring out a final chassis design so I may well leave it in this state for quite a while, but at least the mechanics seem to fit together as planned and there’s enough room to run the wires. The baseplate size is app. 170 x 230 mm per mono block.

The extra PCB is a CRC-regulator stage that I will add to reduce the noise and ripple from the switching PSU (a Mean Well EPP-150-27). The advantage here is that the ripple frequency from a switching power supply is very high (typically 65-100 kHz) so the attenuation is much, much greater than at the normal 100/120 Hz ripple from a linear supply – meaning in other words that it’s possible to get away with much smaller filtering caps than a usual class A amp.

This should therefore reduce the highish app. 240mV ripple that’s specified in the data sheet for the supply that I am using down to something much, much less. Any HF-noise on the output should be well attenuated as well. Not sure what effect it really has but that’s part of the experiment 😀

Evolution of a concept…

I’ve been playing with the (somewhat) unusual combination of a class A amp and a switching PSU before (here). The previous version worked quite well, but even as I was building it I though that there might be scope for optimisation and for making it smaller – which to be honest was my goal all along.

The amplifier section is now my own version of the JLH 1969 with MJL21196 output transistors (because I had them available). The heat sinks are the same surplus items I’ve used before – because they are cheap and exactly the right size for what I wanted to do 🙂

As I observed in the previous post, the chosen PSU was more than a little overspec’ed for the job, but as luck would have it a much better choice came up recently – the Mean Well EPP-150-27. These are “next generation” supplies (i.e. more compact at 2” x 4”), there’s a convenient 12V aux supply for a fan etc. and the 27V output voltage is spot on for the JLH. There’s a smaller 100W version that could be used as well, but since I could get these as surplus items off ebay there was no incentive to do that 😀

I’ve also been looking at getting some more quiet fans, but I’ve now realised that the most annoying noise from fan-cooling doesn’t really come from the fan itself but from the sound of air rushing through the various holes in the enclosure. Once I’ve done the final design I’ll have to test what can be done to keep the amps as quiet as possible. The noise level on the first iteration was OK, but definitely with room for improvement.

To marry the parts together I came up with a “central core” design where the amp and the PSU are bolted to the heat sink tunnel and that’s about what I have done so far. The rest of the mechanics are in the works and there are a few (as yet undisclosed) additions that I will add as well in due time 😀

Project files: Amplifier PSUs

Digging in the back catalogue a bit again here.…and found some of my power supply boards that I haven’t published yet 🙂

What is it?
Power supplies for amplifiers, d’oh! 😀 Two basic variants, namely a “class AB” type and a “class A” type. The “class A” type is intended to be used in a CxC configuration with resistors onboard for CRC and pads for a choke to make it CLC. The “class AB” one is a standard unregulated design for class AB or D amplifiers that allows using both small 16/18mm radial capacitors and large snap-in types (up to 35mm). Here there are two versions, one for 2 off 35mm caps (or 8 smaller caps) per rail and one for 3/12.

The picture below is of the large class AB board. It’s actually the board from the previous post that has had some caps mounted in the mean time 🙂

How big are the boards?
The AB board measures 3.55” x 3.9” (app. 90 x 99 mm.) for the standard version and 3.05” x 6.1” (app. 77 x 155 mm.) for the XL version. The CRC board measures 3.15” x 3.95” (app. 80 x 100 mm).

What is the status of the boards?
Both of the “class AB” boards are in v1.0. The “class A” board is in v1.1 as I made a couple of tweaks (including the pads for off board R/L) to my original version. The original v1.0 is the board that I use in my “Green Monstre” amps.

Does it use any special/expensive/hard-to-find parts?
Nothing, really. You can go overboard with expensive capacitors if you want, but even if you have the money to put NOS Black Gates in your power supplies I’d still suggest you spend them elsewhere in the circuit 😀

Anything else I need to know?

  • Unless you are building very small amplifiers I’d recommend that the CRC and the small AB boards are used in dual-mono configurations with one PSU per amplifier channel. The large AB board can be shared across channels for a medium power class AB or D amplifier (meaning anything with a rail voltage up to around 55V and 63V caps).
  • The boards all include LEDs that indicate power and bleed the capacitors when no load is connected (albeit very slowly). The corresponding resistor footprints should be large enough to allow fairly high LED currents but remember to calculate the power dissipation.
  • The CRC board has space for two resistors in parallel per rail, either axial types (up to around 3-5W will fit) or MPC7x radial types up to 5W.
  • The rectifiers are GBU-types which are available from Mouser up to a 25A rating.
  • Input connections for the Class AB “XL” board are via FAST-ON tabs. All other input/output connections are via 5mm spacing screw terminals.
  • The capacitors on the class A-board can be up to 30mm in diameter. Since class A amps tend to get hot, I’d recommend 105 degree types here. As mentioned above, the class AB boards use either snap-in caps up to 35mm diameter or 16/18mm  radial caps with 7.5mm pin spacing.
  • Needless to say, all capacitors should be rated appropriately for your amplifier’s rail voltage.

     

Downloads:
Download design files here

Related information:
These are very simple circuits, but there’s some god background on PSU design for amplifiers over on Rod Elliot’s pages (under “power”)

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