Once a discarded relic, over the years the humble vacuum tube has been rehabilitated in the arena of specialist audio. There are plenty of tube amplifiers now being manufactured, with a popular choice being headphone amplifiers that use a tube as a gain stage followed by an op-amp as a buffer with a low impedance output. This forms the basis of [Ratti3]’s amplifier, but with the added interest of a battery supply and a Bluetooth connection.
The tube circuit is a very conventional anode follower using an EF95 pentode. This provides plenty of gain and of course that “valve sound” beloved of audio enthusiasts, but suffers from an output impedance too high to drive a set of headphones. An NE5532 steps in for the op-amp buffer role, making for a very simple circuit. Power comes from a set of four 18650 Lithium-Ion cells with associated charger and balance boards, while a little switching boost converter provides the 100 volt HT for the tubes.
Our friend [Pete] was reminiscing over the golden days with his old and broken antique Grundig Majestic console when he realized it deserved proper refurbishing. Now, any generic stereo record player might not be worth the time and effort to fix, but this was not any generic stereo record player. [Pete’s] inherited Grundig Majestic was his childhood favorite due to the distinct sound it had from the tubes that were used as the active elements. So he set out to fix both tube amps inside of the system.
[Pete] has had some experience working with audio equipment in the past. He did what we all aspire to, and got paid for doing what he loves by creating tube amps as a side gig. When he had finally had enough of the sub-par quality of bluetooth speakers that we all put up with for convenience sake, he decided to finally fix his favorite radio that had been lying around for far too long. He got to work immediately in his notebook finding what parts would be necessary for the reboot. The build ended up consisting of a HT supply regulated at 350V, an LT supply half DC-regulated at 6.3V, a 12AX7 input/bass/treble section, 6922 concertina tubes, and an EL34 ultra-linear output section. The end results yielded one amp that sounded just like it did in his youth, and one that isn’t quite there yet.
The Grundig Majestic is not done with just yet though. [Pete] plans to add a couple of additional modifications to his beauty when he’s not too busy with the kids. Firstly, perfecting the second amp is a top priority. After that, installing red LEDs that illuminate underneath the tubes would indicate low voltage presence, whereas blue illumination would indicate HT was locked and loaded. Bias monitoring to keep him informed on the status of the circuit conditions would insure smooth sailing down the road. Adding a relay connection of the speakers to the output transformer would minimize a popping sound that is currently being made in the speakers when the HT is initially turned on. These small improvements are just that — small — but that is part of what makes home projects so rewarding. The more you use something at home, the more you realize what needs to be refined further, so you are constantly learning more. It is a gratifying experience that I hope all of our readers have the chance to come across.
There are few greater follies in the world of electronics than that of an electronic engineering student who has just discovered the world of hi-fi audio. I was once that electronic engineering student and here follows a tale of one of my follies. One that incidentally taught me a lot about my craft, and I am thankful to say at least did not cost me much money.
It must have been some time in the winter of 1991/92, and being immersed in student radio and sound-and-light I was party to an intense hi-fi arms race among the similarly afflicted. Some of my friends had rich parents or jobs on the side and could thus afford shiny amplifiers and the like, but I had neither of those and an elderly Mini to support. My only option therefore was to get creative and build my own. And since the ultimate object of audio desire a quarter century ago was a valve (tube) amp, that was what I decided to tackle.
Nowadays, building a valve amp is a surprisingly straightforward process, as there are many online suppliers who will sell you a kit of parts from the other side of the world. Transformer manufacturers produce readily available products for your HT supply and your audio output matching, so to a certain extent your choice of amp is simply a case of picking your preferred circuit and assembling it. Back then however the world of electronics had extricated itself from the world of valves a couple of decades earlier, so getting your hands on the components was something of a challenge. I cut out the power supply by using a scrap Dymar Electronics instrument enclosure which had built-in HT and heater rails ready to go, but the choice of transformers and high-voltage capacitors was something of a challenge.
Pulling the amplifier out of storage in 2017, I’m going in blind. I remember roughly what I did, but the details have been obscured by decades of other concerns. So in an odd meeting with my barely-adult self, it’s time to take a look at what I made. Where did I get it right, and just how badly did I get it wrong?
This circuit is a modified version of the Bastard, an amp published in the Danish magazine Ny Elektronik nearly 20 years ago. The original amp was a true bastard, with a transistor phono stage, a valve line stage, and an input selector that used relays. [skrodahl]’s version only uses the line stage, but part of the name remains as a nod to the original design.
[skrodahl]’s BSTRD is built, and it works, but the question remains: how does it sound? Unlike so, so many tube amp projects on the Interwebs, [skrodahl] actually has test and measurement gear to figure out what the frequency response and THD measurements actually are. For the frequency response, this amp is dead flat from 10 Hz to 30 kHz. THD is somewhere between 0.35-0.4%, or more than acceptable.
This is a great little project, and an awesome extension to an already popular Open Source project. It’s also a great entry for the Hackaday Prize, and we’re pleased to see it entered in this year’s contest.
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!
[Justin] had been trying to find a good tube amp for years, but all the best examples were either expensive or a complete basket case. Instead of buying a vintage stereo tube amp, he decided to build his own using the guts of a Heathkit AA-100, a popular tube amp from the 60s and 70s that doesn’t have a great reputation for sound quality.
This project was based on an earlier project from a decade ago that replicated the very popular Dynaco ST-70 tube amp from parts taken from the Heathkit AA-100. The schematic for this conversion was readily available on the usual tube head message boards, and a few PCBs were available for the input stage.
With the schematic in hand, the next thing for [Justin] to do was get a nice enclosure. High quality tube amps are valued as much for their appearance as they are for their sound quality, and after giving his father-in-law a few sketches, a cherry hardwood chassis stained in a beautiful golden brown appeared on [Justin]’s workbench.
The big iron for this new tube amp was taken directly from the old Heathkit, and a few hours in front of a mill netted [Justin] a chassis panel drilled out for the transformers and tube sockets. The rest of the project was a bit of assembly, point-to-point wiring, and wire management giving [Justin] a fantastic amplifier that will last for another fifty years until someone decides to reuse the transformers.
If you have ever had a go at building a tube-based project you will probably be familiar with the amount of metalwork required to provide support structures for the tubes themselves and the various heavy transformers and large electrolytic capacitors. Electronic construction sixty years ago was as much about building the chassis of a project as it was about building the project itself, and it was thus not uncommon to see creative re-use of a chassis salvaged from another piece of equipment.
It’s true that [Bruce] has not entirely escaped metalwork, he’s still had to create the holes for his tubes and various mountings for other components. But a lot of the hard work in making a tube chassis is taken care of with the cake tin design, and the result looks rather professional.
We have something of a personal interest in single-ended tube amplifiers here at Hackaday, as more than one of us have one in our constructional past, present, or immediate futures. They are a great way to dip your toe in the water of tube amplifier design, being fairly simple and easy to make without breaking the bank. We’ve certainly featured our share of tube projects here over the years, for example our “Groove tube” round-up, or our look at some alternative audio amplifiers.