Flipped Transformer Powers Budget-Friendly Vacuum Tube Amp

If you’ve ever wondered why something like a radio or a TV could command a hefty fraction of a family’s yearly income back in the day, a likely culprit is the collection of power transformers needed to run all those hungry, hungry tubes. Now fast-forward a half-century or more, and affordable, good-quality power transformers are still a problem, and often where modern retro projects go to die. Luckily, [Terry] at D-Lab Electronics has a few suggestions on budget-friendly transformers, and even shows off a nice three-tube audio amp using them.

The reason transformers were and still are expensive has a lot to do with materials. To build a transformer with enough oomph to run everything takes a lot of iron and copper, the latter of which is notoriously expensive these days. There’s also the problem of market demand; with most modern electronics favoring switched-mode power supplies, there’s just not a huge market for these big lunkers anymore, making for a supply and demand equation that’s not in the hobbyist’s favor.

Rather than shelling out $70 or more for something like a Hammond 269EX, [Terry]’s suggestion is to modify an isolation transformer, specifically the Triad N-68X. The transformer has a primary designed for either 120 or 230 volts, and a secondary that delivers 115 volts. Turn that around, though, and you can get 230 volts out from the typical North American mains supply — good enough for the plate supply on the little amp shown. That leaves the problem of powering the heaters for the tubes, which is usually the job of a second 6- or 12-volt winding on a power transformer. Luckily, the surplus market has a lot of little 6.3-volt transformers available on the cheap, so that shouldn’t be a problem.

We have to say that the amp [Terry] put these transformers to work in sounds pretty amazing — not a hint of hum. Good work, we say, but we hope he has a plan in case the vacuum tube shortage gets any worse.

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Low-Cost Electret Microphone Preamplifiers

Before the invention of microelectromechanical system (MEMS) microphones, almost all microphones in cell phones and other electronics were a type of condenser microphone called the electret microphone. The fact that this type of microphone is cheap and easy enough to place into consumer electronics doesn’t mean they’re all low quality, though. Electret microphones can have a number of qualities that make them desirable for use recording speech or music, so if you have a struggling artist friend like [fvfilippetti] has who needs an inexpensive way to bring one to life, take a look at this electret microphone pre-amp.

The main goal of the project is to enhance the performance of these microphones specifically in high sound pressure level (SPL) scenarios. In these situations issues of saturation and distortion often occur. The preampl design incorporates feedback loops and an AD797 opamp to reduce distortion, increase gain, and maintain low noise levels. It also includes an output voltage limiter using diodes to protect against input overload and can adjust gain. The circuit’s topology is designed to minimize distortion, particularly in these high SPL situations.

Real-world testing of the preamp confirms its ability to handle high SPL and deliver low distortion, making it a cost-effective solution for improving the performance of electret microphones like these. If you want to go even deeper into the weeds of designing and building electret microphones and their supporting circuitry, take a look at this build which discusses some other design considerations for these types of devices.

Tube Amplifier Uses Low Voltage, Sips Battery

Much like vinyl records, tube amplifiers are still prized for their perceived sound qualities, even though both technologies have been largely replaced otherwise. The major drawback to designing around vacuum tubes, if you can find them at all, is often driving them with the large voltages they often require to heat them to the proper temperatures. There are a small handful of old tubes that need an impressively low voltage to work, though, and [J.G.] has put a few of them to work in this battery-powered audio tube amplifier.

The key to the build is the Russian-made 2SH27L battery tubes which are originally designed in Germany for high-frequency applications but can be made to work for audio amplification in a pinch. The power amplifier section also makes use of 2P29L tubes, which have similar characteristics as far as power draw is concerned. Normally, vacuum tubes rely on a resistive heater to eject electrons from a conductive surface, which can involve large amounts of power, but both of these types of tubes are designed to achieve this effect with only 2.2 volts provided to the heaters.

[J.G.] is powering this amplifier with a battery outputting 5V via a USB connection, and driving a fairly standard set of speakers borrowed from a computer. While there aren’t any audio files for us to hear, it certainly looks impressive. And, as it is getting harder and harder to find vacuum tubes nowadays, if you’re determined to build your own amplifier anyway take a look at this one which uses vacuum tubes built from scratch.

Reshoring Vacuum Tube Manufacturing, One Tube At A Time

For most of us, vacuum tubes haven’t appeared in any of our schematics or BOMs in — well, ever. Once mass-manufacturing made reliable transistors cheap enough for hobbyists, vacuum tubes became pretty passe, and it wasn’t long before the once mighty US tube industry was decimated, leaving the few remaining tube enthusiasts to ferret out caches of old stock, or even seek new tubes from overseas manufacturers.

However, all that may change if [Charles Whitener] succeeds in reshoring at least part of the US vacuum tube manufacturing base. He seems to have made a good start, having purchased the Western Electric brand from AT&T and some of its remaining vacuum tube manufacturing equipment back in 1995. Since then, he has been on a talent hunt, locating as many people as possible who have experience in the tube business to help him gear back up. Continue reading “Reshoring Vacuum Tube Manufacturing, One Tube At A Time”

A Feature-Rich Amplifier Module For 3-Way Speaker Builds

There’s something rewarding about building your own DIY audio hardware. Knowing you put it together yourself gives you faith in the construction, and psychosomatically makes the music sound all that much sweeter. If you’re into that kind of thing, you might like to give [Eric Sorensen’s] Denmark amplifier module a look.

The amplifier is intended to be used in a 3-way system, running a subwoofer, woofer, and tweeter. It uses a 1000 W ICEpower module to run the subwoofer, with a pair of 500W ICEpower modules to run the woofer and tweeter respectively. Meanwhile, a MiniDSP 2x4HD is used to accept optical audio input. It also offers digital signal processing and serves as a crossover to split the signal across the three speakers. An STM32F401 is used to run the show, controlling all the various modules and the necessary status LEDs. It’s a feature-rich build, too, with overtemperature monitoring, fan control, and clipping warnings built in.

The whole setup is built on to a sturdy aluminium backplate. The CNC-machined panel has simple tactile buttons for control. There’s also a nifty use of clear PETG 3D printer filament as a light pipe for LEDs. It’s effective, and it looks great. The whole module is designed to slide into the bottom of a 3-way speaker housing like a drawer.

Overall, if you’re building a big set of 3-way speakers, you might find the Denmark amplifier module is perfect for your needs. Alternatively, you could experiment with a different kind of speaker entirely. Video after the break.

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A Homemade Tube Amplifier Featuring Homemade Tubes

With the wealth of cheap and highly integrated audio amplifier modules on the market today, it takes a special dedication to roll your own from parts. Especially when those parts include vacuum tubes, and doubly so when you make the vacuum tubes from scratch too.

Now, we get it — some readers are going to find it hard to invest an hour in watching [jdflyback] make a pair of triodes to build his amplifier. But really, you’ve got to check this out. Making vacuum tubes with all the proper equipment — glassblower’s lathe, various kinds of oxy-fuel torches, all the right hand tools — is hard enough. But when your lathe is a cordless drill, and you’re using a spot welder that looks like it’s cobbled together from junk, your tube-making game gets a lot harder. Given all that, you’d expect the tubes to look a lot rougher than they are, but even with plain tungsten wire heaters and grids made from thick copper wire, they actually work pretty well. Sure, the heaters glow as bright as light bulbs, but that’s all part of the charm.

Speaking of charm, we just love the amp these tubes went into. Built in 1920s breadboard-style, the features some beautiful vintage mica capacitors and wirewound resistors, plus a variable resistor the likes of which we’ve never seen. The one nod to modernity is the clever use of doorbell transformers, one for a choke and one for the speaker transformer. They don’t sound great, but there’s no doubt they work.

We may have seen other homemade vacuum tubes before — we even recently featured a DIY X-ray tube — but there’s something about [jdflyback]’s tubes that really gets us going.

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DIy Arduino FM radio enclosure with the lid off, showing the electronics inside

DIY Arduino Due TEA5767 FM Radio

Older hackers will remember that a crystal set radio receiver was often one of the first projects attempted.  Times have changed, but there’s still something magical about gathering invisible signals from the air and listening to the radio on a homemade receiver. [mircemk] has brought the idea right up to date by building an FM radio with an OLED display, controlled with a rotary encoder.

The design is fairly straightforward, based as it is on another project that [mircemk] found on another site, but the build looks very slick and would take pride of place on any hacker’s workbench. An Arduino Due forms the heart of the project, controlling a TEA5767 module, an SH1106 128×64 pixel OLED display and a rotary encoder. The sound signal is passed through an LM4811 headphone amplifier for private listening, and a PAM8403 Class D audio amplifier for the built-in loudspeaker. The enclosure is made from PVC panels, and accented with colored adhesive tape for style.

It’s easier than ever before to quickly put together projects like this by connecting pre-built modules and downloading code from the Internet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile way to improve your skills and make some useful devices like this one. There are so many resources available to us these days and standing on the shoulders of giants has always been a great way to see farther.

We’ve shown some other radio projects using Arduinos and the TEA5767 IC in the past, such as this one on a tidy custom PCB, and this one built into an old radio case.

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