Please Note: PCBs are available for this project. Click the image for details.
The GainClone idea seem to have taken off in a fairly big way. There are some good reasons for this, and I found myself in the position where SWMBO (she who must be obeyed) was getting very twitchy as I added amps and speakers to ’her’ room (which is actually a sitting room with a TV, small speaker system, lounge and [another] computer). No matter, as I figured that if I made up a nice small amp that looked neat, she would be appeased.
The results are shown in the photos below, and while they are not intended to be a definitive design, it turned out looking very nice. Very compact, the overall dimensions are only 220mm wide (at the front panel – the chassis is 210mm), 50mm high (excluding feet) and 190mm deep (excluding output connectors). The mounting member for the LM3876 power opamps is 10mm thick and is thermally connected to the 10mm front panel and 3mm top and bottom plates, and these in turn are also connected to the sides and back. The heatsinking is much better than it may appear, and overall can be expected to be around 0.4°C / W.
Figure 1 – The Finished Amplifier
To improve cooling performance, there are slots on each side and at the top of the back panel, which ensures that heat cannot build up inside the case. Operating the amp at 1/3 full power (the worst case dissipation) into 8 ohms with both channels driven, the chassis will reach 55°C after about 20 minutes or so, and is unlikely to go much higher (depending on the ambient temperature of course). Considering that the amp is capable of 50W/ channel with normal program material, this isn’t a bad overall result.
The amp is based on the Project 19 PCB, so uses a pair of LM3876 (or LM3886) power opamps, run from a ±35V supply. I used a cut-down P88 preamp PCB because I only wanted one preamplifier stage, but the entire board can also be used. Alternatively, the P19 amp can be run at higher gain than normal, alleviating the need for a preamp at all. The down side of this is that the noise level will be higher, and background noise may be audible with efficient speakers and/ or very quiet surroundings.
The internal layout can be seen best in Figures 2 and 3. The main heatsink runs down the middle of the amp, and it separates the input and output stages. The material is 10mm thick aluminium, 45mm high and 180mm long. Because this is a prototype of the chassis assembly, there are several things that I would do differently if I build another. The chassis is more complex than it should be, and there are several opportunities for simplification. These became obvious after the basic chassis was well underway (naturally), and there were holes that I couldn’t ’undrill’ to simplify construction. Such is life.
Figure 2 – Front View of Insides
The front top view shows the general layout of the amp’s internals. On the left is the sheet aluminium clamp that holds the capacitors in place, and against the central heatsink section is the P19 amp board. On the other side of the heatsink is the input selector switch and then the ½ P88 board.
Along the rear (from left to right) is the DC connector, speaker outputs and inputs. As it turns out, 4 inputs is enough for my application, and had I restricted it to that the shield between the last set of inputs and the speaker connectors would not have been needed.
The DC connector, speaker connectors and input RCA sockets are all mounted on blank fibreglass PCB material to insulate them from the chassis. Where needed, the copper was removed to create a rudimentary PCB pattern – this is evident on the DC and speaker panels. The boards were ’etched’ using a rotary tool (Dremmel or similar). Although the resolution and accuracy are not good enough for an amplifier, this method works very well for such applications.
Figure 3 – Back View of Chassis
The back view shows the vent slots along the top, and you can see that the RCA connectors do not contact the chassis. Naturally, the speaker terminals are insulated. The DC connector is clearly visible on the right. It is a lot easier to simply make the back panel a little shorter than the other panels than it is to cut slots as shown. Even with a milling machine, these are somewhat tedious to do, and it is difficult to get perfect alignment without proper jigs. The hole for the DC plug and socket is relatively easily made using a drill and square file. The switch hole will require some fairly tedious filing if you use a rectangular switch as shown, however you can use any switch at all, because it only has to switch 9V AC.
Figure 4 – Side View of Chassis
Again, the slots look cool, but a series of holes will work just as well. There are a number of other refinements as well, and these are listed in the construction section below.
As noted above, the electronics are based on two existing projects – P19 stereo 50W amplifier, and P88 high quality preamp. The schematic is shown below (one channel only), and the P88 only uses the second half of the PCB. The P19 power amp is constructed normally, and there are no changes from the published project.
Figure 5 – Schematic of One Channel
The inputs can be designated with whatever you want, and you can add more if desired (within the limits of the rear panel real estate). It is important that the gain of the preamp section is kept low enough to ensure that none of your inputs will clip the opamp. Assuming that CD/ DVD players are capable of about 2V, this means that the gain must be kept below 6.5 (16dB). This is not a problem unless you change the values of R7A, B and C, since the maximum gain is limited to about 9.5dB with the values shown.
The caps before and after the volume control can be bypassed completely (using wire links), but I do not recommend that you do so. If there is DC across the pot,it will become noisy and scratchy after a while. Even small amounts of DC can cause problems.
Power Supply Module
The power supply I used is probably overkill, but I simply used parts I had on hand. The schematic is shown below. Although I used zeners for the opamp supply as shown, some constructors are bound to be uncomfortable with such a simple arrangement. The P05 board can be used to provide full regulation, but with only one dual opamp, I’m not sure it is warranted.
Figure 6 – Power Supply Schematic
A photo of the cpmplete module is shown below. The soft start isn’t really needed with a 160VA transformer, but it does no harm, and allows remote low voltage switching. Since this was a requirement (the connectors are illegal for use with hazardous voltages), it was a small price to pay. Although the transformer is happy without the soft start, there is a total of 20,000uF on each supply rail, and this would place great stress on the bridge rectifier.
The two 2.2k 1W resistors across the filter caps in the supply box ensure that the caps will discharge even if the amplifier is not connected. They are not strictly needed, but are recommended to prevent nasty sparks is the amp is connected while the caps are still charged. Large electros can easily maintain a respectable charge for many hours.
Figure 7 – Power Supply
The power supply is conventional in almost all respects. I used a 160VA transformer, a 400V 35A bridge rectifier, and a total of 20,000uF per supply rail – 4 x 10,000uF caps in all. When the connecting cable resistance is added in, there is almost no ripple at all at the amplifier, even with both channels at full power. The cable resistance aids filtering, but at the expense of slightly reduced maximum continuous power. I obtained over 40W per channel with both channels driven into an 8 ohm load, and peak short term power is over 60W / channel.
You can use less capacitance of course, but with some increase in ripple and (perhaps) noise. For an amp of this nature, I expect that few constructors will want to use less than about 4 x 4,700uFcaps. Additional capacitance can also be used in parallel with the zener diodes, but 100uF 16V caps fit the P88 board easiliy. There is nothing to suggest that more capacitance will serve any purpose.
Since the amplifier is absolutely dead quiet even at full volume with unterminated inputs, there is nothing one can do to make it any better. Placing one’s ear right next to the speaker (one of average sensitivity), circuit noise is just audible. There is no hum at all.
Each of the PCBs have extensive construction and test information in the ESP secure section (accessible only for people who have purchased PCBs). Please refer to the projects for full circuit details. Final testing simply consists of powering up the complete system, and ensuring that all inputs are wired to the right switch position, and that the finished amp works properly.
The way you build the chassis will depend on what tools you have available. Part II of this article has the constructional details of the chassis.