Single Chip 50 Watt / 8 Ohm Power Amplifier

  Please Note:  PCBs are available for this project. Click the image for details.

Circuit Description

There are many instances where a simple and reliable power amplifier is needed – rear and centre channel speakers for surround-sound, beefing up the PC speakers, etc.

This project (unlike most of the others) is based almost directly on the “typical application” circuit in the National Semiconductor specification sheet. As it turns out, the typical application circuit is not bad – would I go so far as to say hi-fi in the audiophile sense? Perhaps – with caveats. It has good noise and distortion figures, and is remarkably simple to build if you have the PCB.

26 Sept 2000

From testing the prototype boards, I was a little more critical of everything. The sound quality is excellent! As long as the protection circuitry is never allowed to operate, the performance is exemplary in all respects.

The latest version of the ESP P19 board (Rev-B) has deleted the connections for a SIM (Sound Impairment Monitor). Much as I like the idea, no-one else seemed to be interested, so the small amount of PCB real estate thus liberated was used to refine the layout and provide space for input (and power) connectors.

Figure 1 shows the original schematic as shown when this project was originally published. It is almost the same as in the application note (redrawn), polyester bypass capacitors have been added, and the mute circuit has been disabled (this function would more commonly be applied in the preamp, and is not particularly useful anyway IMHO).

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Figure 1 – LM3876T Power Amplifier Circuit Diagram (Original Version)

Voltage gain is 27dB as shown, but this can be changed by using a different value resistor for the feedback path (R3, currently 22k, between pins 3 and 9). The inductor consists of 10 turns of 0.4mm enamelled copper wire, wound around the body of the 10 Ohm resistor. The insulation must be scraped off each end and the wire is soldered to the ends of the resistor.

The 10 Ohm and 2.7 Ohm resistors must be 1 Watt types, and all others should be 1% metal film (as I always recommend).
All electrolytic capacitors should be rated at 50V if at all possible, and the 100nF (0.1uF) caps for the supplies should be as close as possible to the IC to prevent oscillation.

The supply voltage should be about +/- 35 Volts at full load, which will let this little guy provide a maximum of 56 Watts (rated minimum output at 25 degrees C). To enable maximum power, it is important to get the lowest possible case to heatsink thermal resistance. This will be achieved by mounting with no insulating mica washer, but be warned that the heatsink will be at the -ve supply voltage and will have to be insulated from the chassis. For more info on reducing thermal resistance, read the article on the design of heatsinks – the same principles can be applied to ICs – even running in parallel. I haven’t tried it with this unit, but it is possible by using a low resistance in series with the outputs to balance the load.

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Figure 2 – Revision-B Power Amplifier Circuit Diagram

The schematic for Revision-B boards is shown above. It is almost identical, except the SIM connections have been deleted and a few component designations have been moved around. Like the original, there is excellent on-board decoupling, using a 220uF electrolytic and a 100nF polyester or monolithic ceramic capacitor on each rail. While I have shown C1 as a 3.3uF bipolar electro, you can use a polyester cap if you desire. If the amp is to be used for midrange or tweeter in a biamped or triamped system, C1 may be reduced in value to 100nF (-3dB at 72Hz). For general use, you can use a 1uF polyester, giving a -3dB frequency of 7.2Hz, however bass extension will be better with a higher value as shown.

The new PCB allows you to operate the amp as dual mono – the PCB track can be split, and each amp is powered from its own supply. While IMO there isn’t much point, this also allows the PCB to be cut in half, and each half has its own supply connector. Output connection can be made to PCB pins, or you can use a PCB mount ’spade’ (aka quick-connect) lug – the board has provision for this.

Full construction details are available when you purchase the PCBs, and all options are explained in detail.

As you can see, there is provision to use the LM3886 as well. This IC is almost identical, but has a higher specification. There are links on the PCB to connect pins 1 and 5 (these should not be connected for the LM3876). Using the LM3886, the board can be operated in bridge (BTL or bridge tied load) to obtain around 120W into 8 ohms. I suggest that the P87B be used to provide the out-of-phase signals needed for BTL operation. While it is common to run one amp as inverting, this presents a very low impedance to the preamp, and may cause unacceptable loading and possibly distortion. The P87B will drive each amplifier separately, and is the better way to drive the amplifiers.

While parallel operation is often recommended, I absolutely do not recommend that you run the amps in parallel. There are very strict requirements for gain tolerance for parallel operation – typically the amplifiers should be matched to within 0.1% or better over the entire audio bandwidth and beyond. Because of the very low output impedance of the ICs, even a mismatch of 100mV (instantaneous, at any voltage or frequency) will cause large circulating currents through the ICs. While 0.1Ω resistors are usually suggested, a 100mV voltage mismatch (0.15% at a peak voltage of 60V) will cause a circulating current of 0.5A. This causes overheating and will invoke the wrath of the protection circuits.

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Figure 2 – IC Pinouts

Figure 2 shows the pinouts for the LM3876, and it should be noted that the pins on this device are staggered to allow adequate sized PCB tracks to be run to the IC pins. The 3886 has (almost) identical pinouts, and can be used instead if a little more power is required. The only difference in pinouts is that pin 5 must be connected to the +ve supply for the LM3886. Provision for this link is on the PCB.

The PCB for this amp is for a stereo amplifier, is single sided, and supply fuses are located on the PCB. The entire stereo board including four fuses is 115mm x 40mm (i.e. really small). The Revision-B board is exactly the same size, and uses the same spacing between ICs to allow retro-fitting if necessary.

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Photo of Completed Amplifier (With Heatsink)

To reiterate a point I have made elsewhere, never operate this amp without a heatsink – even for testing (this applies to nearly all amplifiers). It will overheat very quickly, and although the internal protection will shut the amp down to protect it from damage, this is not something you want to test for no good reason.

How Does It Sound?

The sound quality is very good – as I said at the beginning, I would call it audiophile hi-fi – with caveats. Provided the amp is never allowed to go anywhere near the protection limits it sounds very good indeed. This is the rub – because of the comprehensive overload protection (which I have never liked in any form) this amp provides more and nastier artefacts as it clips than a “normal” amplifier. With the recommended ±35V supplies and a nominal 8 ohm load, you will need a good heatsink to ensure that device temperature is kept below 70°C. This will usually ensure that the protection circuits don’t operate even if the amp clips on transients. For 4 ohm loads, I suggest that the supply voltage be reduced to a maximum of about ±30V.

The protection circuitry is called SPiKe™ by National – this stands for Self Peak instantaneous Temperature (°Ke) (sic) and will protect the amp from almost anything. Although in theory this is a good thing, it’s not so good when the protection circuits operate, so make absolutely sure that the amp is only used in applications where clipping will never occur, or is relatively lightly loaded.

This might sound like a tall order, but for rear speakers in a surround system, or to put some serious grunt into those 400W PMPO PC speakers (with the 5W RMS amplifiers – I’m not kidding), this amp is a gem.

It could also be used as a midrange and/or tweeter amp in a tri-amped system – there are a lot of possibilities, so I will leave it to you to come up with more.

Single Chip 50 Watt / 8 Ohm Power Amplifier
    Download the data sheet
(Copyright National Semiconductor) – This is a direct link to the National Semiconductor page for the LM3876.

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