At the extreme budget end of tube audio lie single-tube amplifiers usually using very cheap small-signal pentodes. They’ve appeared here before in various guises, and a fitting addition to those previous projects comes from [Kris Slyka]. It’s a classic circuit with a transformer output, and it provides enough amplification to drive a pair of headphones or even a speaker at low levels.
Most tube enthusiasts will instantly recognize the anode follower circuit with a transformer in the anode feed through which the output is taken. The tube works in Class A, which means that it’s in its least efficient mode but the one with the least distortion. The transformer itself isn’t an audio part, but a small mains transformer taken from a scrap wall wart. It serves not only for isolation, but also to transform the high impedance output from the tube into a low impedance suitable for driving a headphone or speaker.
The HT voltage is a relatively low 24 V, but it still manages to drive headphones acceptably. Speaker levels require a pre-amp, but even then it’s likely that this circuit is pushing the tube beyond what it’s capable of with a speaker. The more it operates towards the edge of its performance envelope the more distortion it will generate and the worse a sound it will produce. This isn’t such a problem in a guitar application as here, but hi-fi enthusiasts may find it to be too much. It would be interesting to subject it as a headphone amplifier to a series of audio tests to evaluate the effect of a mains transformer over a dedicated audio one.
Earlier in the month, [Elliot Williams] quipped that it had been far too long since we saw a VFD-based amplifier build. Well, that dry spell is over. This week, [kodera2t] started showing off his design for a VFD headphone amp.
Here’s the thing, this isn’t using old surplus vacuum fluorescent displays. This is actually a new part. We first covered it about 18 months ago when Korg and Noritake announced the NuTube. It’s the VFD form factor you would find in old stereo and lab equipment, but housed in the familiar glass case is a triode specifically designed for that purpose.
Check out [kodera2t’s] video below where he walks through the schematic for his amplifier. Since making that video he has populated the boards and taken it for a spin — no video of that yet but we’re going to keep a watchful eye for a follow-up. Since these parts can be reliably sourced he’s even planning to sell it in his Tindie store. If you want to play around with this new tube that’s a pretty easy way to get the tube and support hardware all in one shot. This is not a hack, it’s being used for exactly what Korg and Noritake designed it to do, but we hope to see a few of these kits hacked for specific tastes in amp design. If you do that (or any other VFD hacking) we want to hear about it!
The biggest and best audiophile projects are usually huge tube amps, monstrous speaker cab builds, or something else equally impressive. It doesn’t always have to be that way, though, as [lowderd] demonstrates with a tiny DIY USB DAC build that turns a USB port into a headphone output.
In the Bad Old Days™ putting a DAC on a USB bus would require some rather fancy hardware and a good amount of skill. These days, you can just buy a single chip USB stereo DAC that still has very good specs. [lowderd] used the TI PCM2707 USB DAC, a chip that identifies as a USB Audio Class 1.0 device, so no drivers are needed for it to work in either Windows or OS X.
The circuit fits on a tiny PCB with a USB port on one side, a headphone jack on the other, and the chip and all related components in between. There are some pins on the chip that allow for volume, play/pause. and skip, but these pins were left unconnected for sake of simplicity.
The board was fabbed up at OSH Park, and the second revision of the case laser cut out of bamboo and acrylic by Ponoko. It’s a great looking little box, and something that fits right inside [lowderd]’s headphone case.
[Simon] wrote in to tell us about a headphone tube amp that he just built. It is based on schematics at diyaudioprojects.com that were actually featured on Hackaday in the past. [Simon’s] design adds an on board regulated power supply and a volume control for the input. Effort was made to keep the PCB single sided to facilitate making this at home.
The 12AU7 is popular due to its ruggedness and tolerance for low operational voltages. This amp design uses a plate voltage of 12, although the 12AU7 can handle up to about 330. Since the 12AU7 is of the Twin Triode variety, one tube can be used to amplify both a left and right audio channel.
The case for the amplifier is laser cut plywood. The top piece is kerfed so that it can bend around the radii of the front and rear panels. The top also has a hole cut in it to allow the tube to peek out through.The pieces look nice but, unfortunately, he doesn’t show the case and amp in an assembled state.
If you’re interested in building one of these, [Simon] made all of the Eagle and Case files available. The total cost of the project was £25, about $43 US. To learn more about how tube amplifiers work, check out this Retrotechtacular from earlier in the year.
Headphone amplifiers make for simple, practical electronics projects. The Bass Bump Headphone Amp is no exception, since it’s made out of easy to source parts, and can be built on a proto-board.
We’ve seen many variants of the classic cMoy amplifier, including this pretty one. The Bass Bump differs by providing control over bass frequencies. It does this by putting a filter in front of the amplifier, with a potentiometer to select the mix of frequencies. This goes into a LM386 audio amplifier. At the output is a Zobel network to keep the impedance low at high frequencies. The amplifier can be powered from either a 9V rechargeable battery, or a USB port.
It’s a simple build, but definitely a good one to try on a rainy day. The write up explains how the analog circuitry works, and gives you full instructions on how to build it. After the break, check out a video overview of the project.
[Jesse] sent in this headphone amp. It’s really just a board with a dedicated smd headphone amp chip(MAX9725) and a pair of smd caps recycled from an old hard drive, but it does job. I think the goal is to boost low signals rather than the usual audiophile quest for cleaner tunes.
Every so often, I like to check out the headphone amp scene at [headwize]. The headphone lovers there never seem to stop. This little amp is one of the latest creations. The latest is the mini v3 – it reflects a trend I’ve been seeing on homebrew hardware: SMD core chips and through hole components for support hardware. A 9 volt supplies power, and a pair of linear regulators. It’s a nice simple, solid design – and you’ve gotta love the thumb screws. (I’m not sure how a more efficient PWM regulated power source would affect the audio output)