Designs for audio amplifiers with DC coupling to the load are not often encountered these days, even though they offer definite advantages. One advantage is that there is no need for the complication of a second (symmetric) power supply; another is good frequency and phase response. Also, no special electrolytic capacitors are needed for voltage stabilisation, and switch-on ‘thump’ is much reduced. To try to rescue this class of circuit from obscurity the author has designed a headphone amplifier working along the lines illustrated in Figure 1.
It consists of a voltage divider, a voltage follower and the loudspeaker in the headphones, whose other side is connected to the junction of two electrolytic capacitors, providing the virtual earth. The potential at this point is, of course, half the supply voltage. All we need to do now is suitably couple in the audio signal to be amplified. Figure 2 shows a practical realisation of this idea in the form of a stereo headphone amplifier. The amplifier itself consists of IC1 and P1, R3 and R4 (giving a gain of 11).
This part of the circuit demands no further explanation, and the same goes for the voltage divider mentioned above, formed by R1a and R1b. The signal is coupled in via the potentiometers. C2 and R2 have a special purpose: C2 connects the bottom end of the potentiometers (ground for the input signal) to the virtual earth. However, this capacitor creates a feedback path which can lead to oscillation of the amplifier under some circumstances. R2 damps this tendency to oscillate.
It is possible to calculate suitable values for these components, but it is better to determine them by experiment. C2 must be sufficiently large that stray electric fields do not cause unacceptable hum at the output. R2 must be sufficiently large that the voltage at the amplifier’s virtual earth stabilises quickly enough after switch-on. The polarity of the electrolytic is unimportant as no significant voltage appears across the network. It is possible to try the circuit out with the C2/R2 network shorted and observe the behaviour of the circuit at switch-on using an oscilloscope. Depending on the degree of asymmetry in the circuit, the voltage at the virtual earth point can take a considerable time to stabilise.