Upcycled Practice Amp Build Goes To Eleven

What do you call someone who gives the toddler in your life a musical instrument as a gift? In most cases, “mortal enemy” is the correct answer, but not everyone feels quite so curmudgeonly, and might even attempt to turn up the volume a bit. Such is the case with this wonderfully detailed practice amp for the grandkids’ electric ukelele.

The aptly named [packrat] really made this build a tour de force of scrap bin sourcing. The amp is built around a module salvaged from an old TV, a stereo Class-D amp that was modified to provide 30 watts output and a volume control. The driver came from a flood-damaged speaker unit, and the power supply from a gutted wall wart. The case was built with scrap plywood and covered with pebble-grain fabric to give it that pro audio look, while the chassis for the electronics was bent from a piece of sheet steel.

But it’s the tiny details that really sell this project. Everything from the pilot light to the pointer knob screams 1970s, as do the painstaking front panel lettering and vinyl “Monkeydyne” logo. [packrat] even went the extra mile to create an etched-brass serial number plate, a mock specs and safety label, and even a QA inspection tag that was (sort of) stapled inside the cabinet.

We tip our hats to [packrat] for this four-month labor of love and obvious nostalgia trip, which the kids are sure to love. [packrat] does admit that some will argue with his decision to use a Class D amp and a switch-mode power supply, but let’s be real — for the application, it’s probably more than sufficient.

Class A Amplifiers, Virtually

If you didn’t know better, you might think the phrase “class A amplifier” was a marketing term to help sell amplifiers. But it is, of course, actually a technical description of an amplifier that doesn’t distort the input waveform because it doesn’t depend on multiple elements to handle different areas of the input waveform. Want to know more? [FesZ] has a new video covering the basics of class A amplifiers including some great simulations. You can see the video below.

A class A amplifier uses a transistor that is always biased on. It never saturates or switches off. This is good for linearity, but not always the best for efficiency so there are other classes of amplifiers, too. However, for many applications, class A is the most common configuration.

There are a number of trade-offs involved with each type of amplifier and [FesZ] covers them in detail. But the real interesting part is the simulations in Spice. Sure, you can build the circuits and look at everything with a meter or scope, but using Spice is much handier.

There is a second video upcoming. We hope he covers other amplifier types too, as you really do want to understand the differences when you need to design something. If you want more Spice stuff, check out some of our previous posts. If for some reason, you don’t like LTSpice, there’s always Micro-Cap 12.

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Getting Root On Linux Amplifier Adds New Inputs

We remember when getting Linux on your average desktop computer was a tricky enough endeavor that only those with the most luxurious of graybeards would even attempt it. A “Linux box” in those heady days was more than likely an outdated machine salvaged from the dumpster, side panel forever removed, cranking away in a basement or garage. Fast forward today, and Linux is literally everywhere: from smartphones and luxury cars, to TVs and refrigerators. Ironically it’s still not on most desktop computers, but that’s a discussion for another time.

So when [Michael Nothhard] sent in the fascinating account of how he hacked his Linux-powered Bluesound Powernode N150 amplifier to unlock more inputs, the least surprising element was that there was a “smart amplifier” out there running the free and open source operating system. What piqued our interest was that he was able to bust his way in with relative ease and enable some impressive new capabilities that the manufacturer would probably have rather been kept under wraps.

Configuring the CM6206’s audio settings.

[Michael] explains that the N150 has a USB port on the back side of it, and that officially, it only works with mass storage devices and a handful of approved peripherals such as a Bluetooth dongle. But as he was hoping to connect some more devices to the input-limited amplifier, he wondered if he could get a USB audio adapter recognized by the OS. After using a known exploit to get root access, he started poking around at the underlying Linux system to see what kind of trickery the developers had done.

Based on a fairly common C-Media CM6206 chipset, the StarTech 7.1 USB audio adapter was picked up by the kernel without an issue. But to actually get it working with the amplifier’s stock software, he then needed to add a new <capture> entry to the system’s sovi_info.xml configuration file and make some changes to its default ALSA settings. With the appropriate files modified, the new USB audio input device popped up under the official Bluesound smartphone application.

At the end of the write-up [Michael] notes that you’ll need to jump through a few additional hoops to make sure that an upstream firmware update doesn’t wipe all your hard work. Luckily it sounds like backing up the configuration and returning it to the newly flashed Powernode is easy enough. We’ve certainly seen more elaborate methods of gaining control of one’s sound system over the years.

Adding WiFi Remote Control To Home Electronics? Be Prepared To Troubleshoot

[Alex] recently gave a Marantz audio amplifier the ability to be remotely-controlled via WiFi by interfacing an ESP32 board to a handy port, but the process highlights how interfacing to existing hardware often runs into little, unforeseeable problems that can sink the project unless solved.

At its core, the project uses an ESP32 and the ESPAsyncWebServer project to create a handy web interface that is accessible over WiFi. Then, to actually control the amplifier, [Alex] decoded the IR-based remote signals by watching the unit’s REMOTE ports, which are intended as a pass-through and repeater for IR signals to other Marantz units. This functionality can be exploited; by sending the right signals to the REMOTE IN port, the unit can be controlled by the ESP32. With the ESP32 itself accessible by just about any WiFi device, [Alex] gains the freedom to control his amplifier with much greater flexibility than just the IR remote would offer.

Sounds fairly straightforward, but as usual when interfacing to an existing piece of electronics, there were a few glitches. The first was that high and inconsistent latency (from 10 ms to 100 ms) made controlling the amplifier a sometimes frustrating experience, but that was solved by disabling power saving on the WiFi interface. Another issue was that sending signals by connecting a GPIO pin to the REMOTE IN port of the amplifier worked, but had the side effect of causing the amplifier to no longer listen to the IR remote. Apparently, current flowing from the REMOTE port to the ESP32’s GPIO pin was to blame, because adding a diode in between fixed the problem.

The GitHub repository holds the design files and code. This kind of project can be pretty complex, because the existing hardware doesn’t always play nice, and useful boards like a modern ESP32 aren’t always available. Adding a wireless interface to vintage audio equipment has in the past involved etching circuit boards and considerably more parts.

Know Audio: Amplifier Nuts And Bolts

As we’ve followed a trail through Hi-Fi and audio systems from the listener’s ear towards the music source, we’ve reached the amplifier. In our previous article we gave a first introduction to distortion and how some amplifier characteristics can influence it, and here we’ll continue along that path and look at the amplifier itself. What types of audio amplifier circuits will you encounter, and what are their relative merits and disadvantages?

A Few Amplifier Basics

Horowitz and Hill's Transistor Man
Horowitz and Hill’s Transistor Man

If you know anything about a transistor, it’s probably that it’s a three terminal device whose output pin forms part of a potential divider whose state is dependent on what is presented to its input pin. The Art of Electronics had it as a cartoon of a man standing inside a bipolar transistor and adjusting a variable resistor between collector and emitter while watching an ammeter on the base.

Properly biased in its conducting range, a transistor can behave as a linear device, in which the potential divider voltage moves in response to the input in a linear relationship, and thus the voltage on the output is an amplified version of the voltage on the output. This is the simplest of transistor amplifiers, and because different types of amplifier are referred to by lettered classes, it’s known as a class A amplifier. Continue reading “Know Audio: Amplifier Nuts And Bolts”

Miller (Effect) Time

While the Miller effect might sound like fun, it is actually the effect of parasitic capacitance in amplifiers. What do you do about it? Watch the video below the break from [All Electronics] and find out. We like how the test circuit it uses has a switch to put the mitigation circuitry in and out of the test for comparison purposes.

Actually, the Miller effect can refer to any impedance but in practice that is most often parasitic capacitance because of the construction used for tubes and transistors. The sometimes tiny capacitance gets multiplied by the inverting gain of the stage and increases the amplifier’s input impedance. This, in turn, reduces the bandwidth of the stage.

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Hi-Fi Combines Best Of 60s And 90s Technology

The 90s were a dark time for audio equipment, literally and figuratively. Essentially the only redeeming quality from the decade of nondescript black plastic boxes was the low cost. Compared to the audio equipment of the 60s, largely produced in high-end enclosures with highly desirable tube amplifiers, the 90s did not offer much when it came to hi-fi stereo sound. However, those cheap black boxes from the 90s turn out to be surprisingly perfect for project enclosures for other amplifier builds, such as this 60s-era tube amp recreation.

This mesh of the best of two distinct decades comes from [Alvenh] and begins by preparing the old enclosure for its new purpose. This means a lot of work fabricating a custom metal face plate for the new amplifier and significantly modifying the remaining case. After the box is complete, the amplifier build began. It uses a tube-based preamp and a solid-state power amplifier since [Alvenh]’s experience suggested that the warm tube sound was generated mostly in the preamp. This means that his design is a hybrid but still preserves the essential qualities of a full tube build.

The build also includes a radio module that has the ability to cover the 2m and 70cm bands popular in ham radio. This module also has been found to have much better audio quality than the standard AM/FM receiver typically used in projects like this. With the radio module added to the custom enclosure, as well as a phono amp and a power supply, [Alvenh] has an excellent audio amplifier in an inexpensive case which preserves the tube sound from the true hi-fi eras of decades past.

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