I’ve always thought certain sound pressure levels need to be achieved in order to be engulfed in music. This effect is most noticeable when music comes from loudspeakers and that is because when sound is played at low levels, the perception is affected by ambient noise. Even late at night when things are quiet and you don’t want to disturb people around you, there is still noise. A clock on the wall, a pet, you computer, a cooling fan, some kind of noise will disturb your listening experience. Things are not the same with headphones though. You put it on your ears and outside world is gone.
There are plenty of good headphones on the market, giving good level of detail, good frequency response, and good sound-stage. But there are some drawbacks to using headphones. You will not feel the same impact and if you don’t chose your headphone carefully you will feel fatigue after long listening time. Another thing to consider is that with speakers you can move them around the room to get the response that most suites your tastes, something that you can’t do with headphones. This is way the amplifier that drives them plays a huge role in a headphone setup.
Everyone who has a passion for audio knows about the qualities of tube amplifiers. The problems with these amps is that they are big and heavy, pretty hard to build and operating at dangerous high voltages. This usually discourages most Do-It-Yourselfers. However Mark Houston built a headphone amplifier that is battery powered and it’s small enough to fit in a pocket.
Mark used Raytheon JAN6418 Tubes in his project. These miniature tubes are pentodes made in USA and you can find them in a kit sold by Oatley Electronics. The amplifiers uses one tube per channel in common cathode configuration followed by a buffer to be able to drive lower impedance headphones. The buffer is a low distortion IC PT2308, a class AB CMOS headphone driver. This IC has an impressive SNR of 110dB so it’s well suited for this application. The output impedance of tubes in common cathode is high so higher value resistors in the driver’s feedback loop are needed. The 6418 tubes need 1.2V to heat their filament. A 5V regulator chip heats the two filaments connected in series through a 270 ohm resistor.
This amplifier can also be used as a preamp. Mark did some modifications to component quality, replacing the PT2308 with a OPA2134 IC for example. There are also some scope traces he shows in his article measured with a load of 47k. I would’ve been curious to see how it performs at much lower loads. All being said, Mark is pleased with the sound, and with tubes you can not possibly go wrong, can you?
Miniature tube headphone amplifier: [Link]
Thomas Bethe built an audio hi-fi amplifier using two TDA2050 integrated chips. I haven’t seen these chips used in projects in a while, because it’s pretty known that TDA2030, TDA2040, TDA2050 chip family is not the best so to say. I remember some years ago, a local factory was building hi-fi amps using these chips and how often i needed to replace the destroyed TDA’s. Their Pentawatt package is not very good. These ICs are more suitable for TV sound amplification, radios, applications in which they drive some small full range speaker.
The speakers Thomas wants to use with his amplifier are a pair of Klipsch RB-51, which are pretty small and well behaved. In the TDA2050 datasheet it is proudly stated that the small chip can deliver 32 Watts RMS into 8 ohms with 10% THD. At this level of distortion those Watts are actually WHATS?! From graphs we can see it can actually deliver about 18W into 8 ohms and stay in the hi-fi area of 0.1% THD.
The schematic used is the split power supply version from the datasheet with an additional feature, headphone output. Thomas used a MKP capacitor at the input of the amplifier circuit. Although it’s always best to use high quality components, i wonder if any differences can be noticed with the TDA. The construction is pretty simple, just a few external components are needed but as the author says the layout is very important in reducing noise. So follow the advices he points in his article.
The amplifier is connected to +/- 25V supply rails, therefore it is not recommended for this amp to be used with 4 ohms loads. If you have low impedance speakers use +/-18V supply. Thomas’ power supply seems to me an overkill but i guess it does the job. If you plan on building this amp yourself screen the power supply and avoid crossing the wires carrying audio signal above power supply.
As far as how it sounds Thomas seems to be happy, even calls it a “mini gainclone”. To me the TDA’s don’t stand at the same level with National Semiconductor LM chips but it’s purely subjective opinion. Anyways anything you build by yourself is ten times better than what you find in the market for the same price as your investment so happy soldering.
Audio Amplifier with TDA2050: [Via] –[Link]
Here is a project for music lovers. Although electronic tube or valve era is long passed, these devices are still used in high quality audio applications. It is true that you won’t wont find them in every home because their regarded as obsolete or too exotic. Guitar players are the ones who know and appreciate their sound as many famous guitarists use tube amps to drive their instruments. Stereo amplifiers built with tubes for hi-fi applications are still being made today and their cost can be pretty high as these amps are though to deliver high quality sound.
The reason tubes have a specific sound has to do in my opinion with the fact that tube distortion is mainly second order which is more music-friendly than the 3rd order distortion that solid state devices have. Some say this is because in tubes you control the flow of electrons and only electrons carry your information unlike transistors.
Depending on their output stage configuration tube amps can be single ended ( using only one tube working in class A) or push-pull ( like with transistor using two tubes working either class A or class AB). Because of the high output impedance of tubes they need an impedance transformer to drive the speakers. This is also the reason of their low damping factor which in combination with their usually low power output makes these amps suitable for certain types of speakers. From my experience you will need speakers with big woofers and very efficient (high SPL per watt). Also i have found that single ended amplifiers ( in class A of course) with high anode voltages applied are best when tube-like sound is desired.
Returning to the project at hand, it is a push-pull design using 6v6 pentodes connected as triodes. If you get an ultralinear output transformer you can use the 6v6 as pentodes. The input stage using a 5965 double triode is as simple as it gets. It amplifies the signal in order to attack the final stage and provides phase inversion necessary for push-pull. The power supply uses semiconductor rectification which i find a bad thing for a tube project. There are tube diodes available for this task.
As with most audio high fidelity projects the quality of the sound is in strong relation with the quality of the build. If you do this project just for fun then you will be happy with it just working, if you build it to experience tube sound you should take greater care at layout and components you use. Using multiple transformers is a bad thing as they introduce noise. Using one transformer with many output voltages is alot better. And screening of the transformers is a must. In the project link you will find many advices on how to build it even though the builder didn’t follow all of them.
Another thing, and a reason that keeps many diy-ers away from tubes, is that you will be dealing with high voltages. Be very careful with that. And to close this presentation with another advice don’t use it to amplify your iPod.
Hi-Fi Tube Amplifier: [Via] – [Link]
As we all know headphone amps are not cheap to buy. I think this is the main reason that drives the hobbyist to make their own amps. Most people are familiar with the popular C’Moy headphone amp which is cheap to make and it sounds nice.
But there also other designs available, for example this class A MOSFET headphone amp. The author designed and build it because he’s 32 ohm Grado SR80 headphones didnt’t sound good on it’s computer soundcard.
An IRF610 MOSFET was used by the author but there is a wide variety of FET devices that can be used instead. Unlike the C’moy amp this amp was primarily designed to sit on a desk, it’s bigger the MOSFET needs heatsink cooling so this wouldn’t fit the portable category of amps.
A LM317 regulator is used for the constant current source, and the current is limited to about 250mA. In the end the sound is better than on the sound card and it was a small investment as most parts were salvaged.
It’s not too difficult to build something similar but it will sure help to have some experience with similar circuits.
MOSFET Headphone Amplifier: [Link]
This is a simple do-it-yourself (DIY) headphone amplifier project that is fashioned primarily after the Class A MOSFET Headphone Driver project by Greg Szekeres and to some extent Mark’s DIY Class A 2SK1058 MOSFET Amplifier Project. The amplifier concept is simple and follows a typical single-ended class A circuit utilizing an active constant current source (CCS) in place of a passive resistor. A CCS doubles the efficiency of the circuit over that where a passive load resistor is used, bringing it to a maximum of 25%.
Class A Headphone Amplifier Boost Your Sound: [Link] – [via]