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April 29, 2015

Chipamp Dual Mono LM3886 Gainclone Speaker Amp

I'll be dipping my feet in the chip amp waters again. I enjoyed the results of my previous Chipamp.com LM3886 build, so I decided to build another, more serious version. You can visit that post to read a little bit about the history of the chipamp, also known as the Gainclone, based on 47Labs Gaincard topology.

As you are likely aware, DIYers have created chip-based builds using a variety of power opamp or audio opamp chips including National Semiconductor LM1875, LM3875, LM3886, and LM4780. The most popular chips being the LM3886 and LM3875. You'll find a number of these designs at Chipamp Electronics.

This more serious build features a pair of Antek 300VA torroids, each with their own shield, integrated amp functionality with an Alps Blue Velvet and multiple selectable inputs, film capacitors on the driver board, and higher end parts like Nichicon Gold Tune power caps, Cardas binding posts, and Cardas RCA connectors.

Cardas wire, RCA connectors and binding posts

Other nice additions to the build include a 6 position Grayhill selector switch and the Alps Blue Velvet RK27 (100K) volume potentiometer, both with the corresponding ChipAmp BrianGT PCBs. The RK27 board is handy as you don't have to discern which pin is which (the white screen tells you which wire goes where). It's also a little easier that soldering to the little pins. The Grayhill switch's pins are so minuscule that you really have to use the board, it's not like an Elma or Goldpoint with larger gold solder lugs. The nice thing is the combo is a fraction of the price of the fancier selector switches.

Chipamp's PCBs for pre-amps / integrated amps

This project would require a larger box than the Bud 7" x 12" x 3" aluminum box I used previously. Rather than build my own gravity mount chassis, I wanted something a little different this time. I turned to Horace Atkinson of www.iagaudio.com for a robust 17.5" W x 10"D x 3.75"H chassis. I stumbled upon his chassis work on eBay: it's a nice combination of aluminum and wood panels for sides, as well as attractive wood accents on the bottom. The metal used in these chassis is a thicker gauge, one piece .125" aluminum tubing, so it can support heavy transformers without any bend or flex. (FYI IAG offers thicknesses up to .188"). The bottom features perforated sheet metal for adequate air ventilation reaching the heatsinks cooling the LM3886. A unique feature is the wood side panels actually act as feet, holding the aluminum portion up higher to allow for ventilation, very cool!

IAG Audio aluminum and wood chassis 

A view of the bottom with the perforated sheet metal removed. Note the bottom of the chassis is not completely open due to the rigid, tubular design, however underneath the wood side panels, there are removable metal panels that can be removed by unscrewing two flush mounted screws to give you adequate access for drilling, etc.

Chassis interior

As noted, the wood panels are all easily removable if you decide you want to access the sides of the chassis interior or change the wood stain, etc. Horace found some beautiful figured maple for me, as you can see below:

Figured maple side panels and accents
After much internal debate, I decided the chassis would be colored to match some of my other equipment with a red and cream color combo, so the wood was stripped down and stained a deep red hue, then given a number of generous coats of MinWax Satin Clear Urethane.  

Red stain and urethane on Maple

Now that the wood is my a nice shiny red, it's time to drill the chassis. After planning out the layout in Photoshop, the chassis is prepped with a ruler and sharpie and taken to the drill press. Many of the holes will be countersunk for this project. The others will be deburred using a Skaviv deburring tool with Cobalt bits. The IEC hole is trimmed using the typical combo of drilling four holes in the corners and using a Dremel cutting wheel to remove the rest. 

Chassis prep

For the heatsinks, I found some reasonably priced ones on eBay that had mounting holes for screws. The instruction manual from Chipamp says you can also use a 3"x3"x1/2" piece of aluminum in free air in certain applications. I installed 1" aluminum standoffs on the heatsinks so I could mount them to the chassis. Small drilled venting holes will be above them so when heat rises it can escape the chassis. 

Below is the chassis after a nice cream colored powdercoat. 

Since the amp is dual mono, it gets not one, but two chunky toroids. The transformers are always what weigh down an amp (big magnets with large quantities of copper wire spun around them aren't the lightest of materials). The pair, with steel cases, weigh in at a healthy 22 pounds. These are 300VA rated units from Antek.

Below is one of the toroids in a steel case. I had these powdercoated brick red as it makes a nice accent color for the cream. Typically the steel cases are used as a shield within a chassis, however I'm using them as both a shield and external transformer covers. I don't think I've ever seen a solid state amp with external transformers (usually they're just hulking boxes) so this will be a unique design choice.  

I'm adding the Power Supply Soft Start Board (or SSB for short) from DIYAudio for this build, this allows a gentle inflow of power on startup, which protects the power caps and should offer a more reliable service life for the amp. 

With everything ready, the chassis can start to get filled in. Shiny Cardas RCAs adorn the back of the unit, the binding posts would have been a bit tight on the back, so they were mounted to the top of the chassis right behind the transformers. Four large film caps will be residing in this chassis as well, so you'll notice some zip ties within the chassis as well.

Getting everything in place was a tricky predicament, as the sides of the chassis which held the heatsinks were screwed in place, then the wood panels were screwed to them, but the capacitors would have to be slid in to be held and secured, so order of operations took precedent. 

The power capacitors were a bit tall, so I had to use some minuscule PCB standoffs so they wouldn't come in contact with the chassis. The film caps, as you can see, were a perfect fit. I made a few small turret boards to keep the wiring neat. Cardas wiring handles all the signal work and thicker power wires as well. If you look carefully you'll notice one of the blue wires exists after the potentiometer to the RCAs to handle subwoofer duty. 

And the final product, see what you think:

Final weight was about 40 lbs. thanks to the hefty transformers and very solid tubular chassis. It's a unique take on a solid state amp, not the typical big black box with heatsinks on the side, but a more vintage tube-amp looking chassis. The sound is excellent, will be looking forward to putting it through the burn-in process and most more impressions.

The Fine Print:
Please remember that building/modifying circuits can be dangerous to you and/or your surroundings and should only be performed by a certified technician. The owner of this blog and all associated parties can not / will not be held responsible if you attempt a build or modification posted above and cause physical harm to yourself or your surroundings. Many electronics contain high voltages that can kill, and mods, if performed improperly, can be a fire hazard. Please keep this in mind. 

April 1, 2015

Cable Eye Candy - Part II

I wanted to share a few more exciting cables for your viewing enjoyment :)

Below is a 4 pin XLR to RCA cable using a Switchcraft Triple A series XLR, Vampire RCA connectors, and Zynsonix Trebuchet Cable.

4 Pin XLR to RCA

This is a mini to RCA cable built for someone with exquisite tastes. It's a round braid of eight strands of Zynsonix Trebuchet wire with all ViaBlue accessories and connectors, including their smaller T6S mini connector (model 30539), their T6S RCAs (30506), and their Y-Splitter. Above the split features soft black nylon.

Eight Strand Mini to RCA

Here we have a four foot portable Trebuchet headphone cable for IEMs, these can be made for Noble, JH, 1964Ears, and previous model Westone IEMs. There is also a different plug for Shure, UE900, and the new Westone IEMs, Ultrasone Edition 5, Romeo, and Juliet, etc.

Westone 2 pin IEM cable

...and below is a very special speaker cable. This features a braid of Neotech UP-OCC 6Ns copper in Teflon which is then wrapped with multiple layers of teflon, then set in a PV tube sleeved with copper colored nylon multifilament. Above each split is a heavy machined brass Y-splitter, and each gold plated banana is terminated with Cardas silver and gold content solder. These speaker cables made the trek over to a client in South Africa. 

See something you'd like for yourself? Contact Zynsonix for a quick quote.