Designing An Opamp Headphone Amplifier

Interfacing Tubes To Solid State Output Stages

When interfacing tubes with solid state output stages, the higher operating voltages of tubes pose two potential problems. First, the power supply may have to be "stepped down" and second, tube circuits can send out high voltage transients that could damage solid state components. The solutions: use high voltage opamps and buffers and/or limit the voltage going into solid state inputs. With a high-voltage MOSFET, the class A source follower described above would interface well with tube gain stages, as tubes and MOSFETs have similar sonic characteristics. The MOSFET amp has zener protection against overvoltage damage. There are also high-voltage bipolar devices, but they are less common. Apex Microtechnologies and Burr Brown are two manufacturers of high voltage opamps and buffers. Many of these are well-suited for audio applications, and a few chips are able thrive on power supplies of up to ±600V.

 Overvoltage protection schemes for interfacing tubes to solid state outputs.

Figure 13

High voltage output stages may also have input voltage limitations that tubes could breach. The following are two overvoltage protection schemes that can be used with any solid state output stage. Figure 13a is a suggestion by Eric Barbour. When fed high voltage transients, the zeners clamp the input to a maximum of ±15V. Figure 13b is the protection scheme that Greg Szekeres uses in his MOSFET headphone driver. Here, transients in excess of the power supply voltages will forward bias the silicon diodes and be conducted out of the system. The input resistor sets the minimum load impedance seen by the tube output.


Output Current Limiting

Output short circuit protection schemes.

Figure 14

When a headphone plug is inserted or removed from the jack, the possibility arises that the amplifier outputs will be shorted, if only briefly. Without current limiting, such a short could burn out opamps and/or output stage transistors. Rather than resort to complex current sensing schemes, figure 14 shows two common limiting mechanisms that protect against short-circuit damage: current limiting resistors and incandescent bulbs. Current limiting resistors set the minimum load that the amplifier can see typically 100 ohms, 1/2W. Output resistors will reduce the output power and increase the amplifier´s output resistance, but most headphones will be unaffected. Another option is to locate the current limiting resistors inside the feedback loop (figure 12) so that the effective output impedance of the amplifier is minimized from the feedback. See Headphone FAQs for more information about the impact of amplifier output impedance on headphone sound. In place of a current limiting resistor, an incandescent lamp has the advantage of very low resistance when the filament is cold. Lamp filaments have a positive temperature coefficient. As increasing current heats the filament, the resistance also goes up, thereby reducing the output current. Choose lamps with voltage and current characteristics similar to that of the output stage. Incandescent lamps were once popularly deployed to protect loudspeakers from overdrive. The idea resurfaced as output limiting for headphone amplifiers in Ben Duncan´s PHONES-01 headphone amplifier project.


Bass boost feedback network.

Figure 15

Designing an equalization stage is an entire subject by itself (see Designing a Pocket Equalizer for Headphones). Equalization can be implemented in separate circuit blocks either as active stages or passive networks to ensure that they can be switched out completely without compromising the quality of the main gain stage. But there are instances where equalization is so important and basic to the use of the amplifier that the EQ filter network is incorporated in the feedback loop of the main gain stage for convenience and economy. For example, headphone amplifiers for guitar practice almost always require a bass boost. Figure 15 shows a bass boost feedback network by T. Giesberts that gives a 10dB boost at 50 Hz when turned on. The network is a shelving EQ. With the boost deactivated, R1-C1 and R2-R3-C2 form a bandpass with threshold frequencies of about 20Hz and 30kHz. The gain of the amplifier is determined by (R2 || R3)/R1 and is approximately 4 with the values shown. With the boost switched in, R3-C3 create a bass shelf, with a threshold frequency of about 500Hz. The downturn in the low frequency response below 50Hz is caused by the attenuation from the input high pass filter.



Adding an acoustic simulation network.

Figure 16

Headphone sound suffers from a "super-stereo" effect caused by the isolation of each audio channel to one ear. Acoustic simulators electronically a l t e r the stereo signal to create a more natural soundfield in headphones. They may be implemented with digital or analog filters (also called crossfeed filters). While digital and active analog simulators have amplification for headphones built into the design, passive simulators are RC networks that shape and time delay the crossfeed. Passive networks are sensitive to the source and load impedances that can affect the frequency response of the networks. (For examples of passive acoustic simulators, see the HeadWize Projects Library.

Depending on the input and output impedances of a passive simulator, it can appear at the input or output of a headphone amplifier (figures 16a, 16b), but isolating the network between two amplifier stages will often result in the best performance (figure 16c). With two isolating stages, the network can be assured of seeing a low input source impedance and a high output load impedance, such that the frequency response of the network remains constant. Both stages can be voltage gain blocks and/or unity-gain buffers, as the application may require. However, with battery-powered amplifiers, which may operate the opamps at lower voltages, the preferred way to construct a headphone amplifier with an acoustic simulation is to make the second stage a voltage gain block to compensate for any insertion loss through the network as well as provide for overall voltage gain. If the voltage-gain block does not output sufficient current to drive headphones, add a high current, unity-gain buffer after the voltage-gain block. When using multiple opamp gain stages, be sure to check the idle voltage at the output of the last stage. If it is more than a few millivolts, the DC-offset voltages of the opamps must be adjusted either by trimming the DC offsets, by adding capacitors between stages and at the output to block offsets or by selecting feedback resistors to minimize offsets (see next section).

Keywords : Opamp, Operational Amplifier, Headphone, P-amp, Configuring, Opamps, For, Voltage, Gain
Writer : delon  |
27 Feb 2011 Mon   
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