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Experiences Designing and Building A Subwoofer Amplifier

Matthew Rodriguez

Erika Ross-O’Brien

Kelli Martino

Vanessa Lannaman

Robert Nahas

Joseph Civitello

Christopher Roselle

Rodrigo Colon

ABSTRACT The purpose of this project is to fully understand how a subwoofer amplifier works. The motivation behind this experiment lies in solving the underlying problem which is that the low voltage input AC signal needs to be amplified to a magnitude usable by a subwoofer as well as in actually learning about electrical engineering and learning how to build a subwoofer amplifier. This project entailed the use of a circuit simulator, PSPICE, on which the final circuit is simulated. Research and calculation is needed to determine the values specific to the task along with a knowledge of circuit theory. Through lab work and teamwork, the circuit is physically built in the lab using a power supply, function generator, oscilloscope, and discrete parts. The subwoofer amplifier is also tested to ensure that it is fully functional. The circuit is connected to a CD player and fed into a subwoofer where the bass frequencies of the audio from the song are amplified.

INTRODUCTION The subwoofer amplifier was first developed in the 1970s by Ken Kreisel, president of the popular electronic company, Miller and Kreisel Sound Corporation. Kreisel was inspired to create subwoofers after the complaints of

customers about “reduction of bass” of the current electrostatic speakers. Therefore, Kreisel designed a device that would be able to amplify the low frequency sounds that the electrostatic speakers were unable to convey. Kreisel first tested out his device publicly in a recording studio while recording Steely Dan’s album “Pretzel Logic”. The first movie to feature ‘bass extension’ was “Star Wars,” in 1977. The popularity of the subwoofer soared as more and more people wanted to increase the quality of their sounds through the amplification of the bass frequencies in their songs and movies.

As the popularity of the subwoofer increased, newer technologies allowed the subwoofer to improve in both its sounds quality by increasing the signal to noise ratio and in the amount of amplification it can provide. In order to better understand how Kreisel invented the subwoofer amplifier, a background in circuits was required.

BACKGROUND INFORMATION/RELATED WORK Subwoofers are loudspeakers specifically designed to reproduce very low frequency audio signals. A subwoofer works by charging a paper cone sounding a magnet causing the paper to move in and out based on the difference in the magnetic charge between the paper and the magnet, thus reproducing the audio waves. This project’s specific subwoofer amplifier amplifies frequency signals less than 200Hz. An amplifier takes an electrical signal and increases its power in a linear fashion. The degree of the power increase is called gain. The output waveform matches the input waveform except in that it has an increased magnitude. The gain of any amplifier is the ratio of the output over the input which can either be a positive gain or a negative gain. In this project, positive gain is used to amplify the signal. The very first subwoofer was developed by Ken Kreisel, current president of M&K Sound/Miller & Kreisel Corporation, in the early 1970s. Kreisel’s business partner, Jonas Miller, complained about the reduction of bass response in the electrostatics of his highest quality electrostatic speakers. Kreisel designed the subwoofer to reproduce only those frequencies that were too low for the electrostatic speakers. When Walter Becker from “Steely Dan” asked Kreisel to design a speaker system to use for mixing their new album in 1973, everyone present at the recording was taken aback by the

crisp bass produced and all the workers from Steely Dan wanted their own sound system. The subwoofer became popular quick due to its easy compatibility with speakers. In 1974 Jonas Miller and Ken Kreisel formed a separate corporation exclusively for manufacturing subwoofers. Two years later they developed the first “Satellite-Subwoofer” combination called the “David and Goliath” system. The first self powered subwoofer was developed in 1977. Then, in 1989 the push pull drive concept was developed and revolutionized the sound quality of subwoofers. This is achieved by mounting and wiring the driver on the bottom cabinet backwards. This causes both speakers to move in the same direction with one of the drivers physically inverted. The result is cleaner and tighter bass reproduction with less harmonic distortion and improved quality. Through research, it is determined that a subwoofer amplifier is mainly used in cases where the base or lower frequencies of an audio signal needs to be amplified for use in a public place or to increase the playing quality of an audio signal playing through loudspeakers. The subwoofer amplifier in this project is made of discrete parts and one integrated circuit. One discrete part being used is the capacitor.


crisp bass produced and all the workers from Steely Dan wanted their own sound system. The

A capacitor is two metal plates in parallel with each other. One plate is positively charged by being connected to power and the other plate is oppositely charged being connected to ground. This causes electrons to jump from one plate to the other and a voltage to build across the plates. The capacitor charges in a nonlinear fashion. The maximum voltage charge is the voltage being fed into the capacitor. The value of the capacitor, measured in Farads, is used to determine the rate of charge of the capacitor. The capacitor is used both filter out noise and help filter out the lower frequency signals. Another discrete part used in the implementation of the circuit is the transistor.











containing semiconductor material and doped














an amplifier,

detector, or electronic switch. In the implementation of the subwoofer amplifier, the

transistor is used as an amplifier to amplify the signal to a usable level. Resistors are used to alter the behavior of a circuit.


crisp bass produced and all the workers from Steely Dan wanted their own sound system. The

The resistor applies impedance for the electrons moving the circuit. Resistors are devices used to control current in an electric circuit by providing said impedance. By using resistors, it is possible to achieve a certain current or voltage to be fed into a certain component of the circuit. The only integrated circuit (IC) used in the implementation of the subwoofer amplifier is the OPAMP or operational amplifier.



The OPAMP is a nonlinear device which can have a very large voltage gain, has very high input impedance and very low output impedance. In an active configuration, the OPAMP can act as a filter which is its main purpose in this project. By using the OPAMP as a filter, frequencies greater than 200Hz are attenuated or weakened. In the process of building the circuit, circuit theory is involved to determine how the circuit will behave. Circuit theory itself is the

description of how voltage and current behave in a circuit. One aspect of circuit theory is Ohm’s Law (V = I*R). Ohm’s law states that the voltage can be calculated by multiplying the resistance of a certain load or component by the current flowing through the load or component. Ohm’s law is used in determining the values of the resistors needed to achieve a certain current. Kirchhoff is a mathematician that specialized in physics who stated that the voltage in a series circuit is divided amongst the components while the current is the same throughout the circuit’s components. It is also stated that in a parallel circuit, the voltage remains constant while the current is divided amongst the components. His theories and formulas were necessary to determine the values of the resistors needed to

split voltages in certain areas by a certain

amount. Each discrete part by itself doesn’t do much for the circuit. By combining discrete parts to make certain components, the circuit behavior changes. By using discrete parts to create a common emitter amplifier, the signal being fed into the common emitter is amplified to a magnitude usable by the next stage.

The common emitter amplifier amplifies an analog signal by a gain calculated by R1/R2 (R4/R5 in

The common emitter amplifier amplifies an analog signal by a gain calculated by R1/R2 (R4/R5 in above circuit).

The common emitter amplifier amplifies an analog signal by a gain calculated by R1/R2 (R4/R5 in

The red signifies the original signal while the green shows the amplified signal. To filter out the high frequency signals so that only the low frequency signals are amplified, the Sallen-Key Low Pass Filter is used.

The common emitter amplifier amplifies an analog signal by a gain calculated by R1/R2 (R4/R5 in

The Sallen-Key low pass filter uses two resistors, two capacitors, and an OPAMP to filter out all frequencies above a certain threshold. The threshold is calculated through the formula F c = 1/(2π√(R 1 R 2 C 1 C 2 )). The values used in the subwoofer amplifier attenuate any frequencies above 200Hz. In the amplification of the signal, the average DC voltage of the signal also increases. If the signal is to be amplified again, the average DC level has to be lowered so that the signal isn’t cut off at the maximum voltage that the circuit can handle. The DC level shifter solves this problem.

The common emitter amplifier amplifies an analog signal by a gain calculated by R1/R2 (R4/R5 in

The DC level shifter downshifts the voltage of the AC signal so that there is no saturation when being fed into another portion of the circuit. This keeps the AC signal intact.

The common emitter amplifier amplifies an analog signal by a gain calculated by R1/R2 (R4/R5 in

Before the Push Pull amplifier can work, it needs to be fed to separate signals. The phase splitter provides another signal which is 180 degrees out of phase of the original signal.

The common emitter amplifier amplifies an analog signal by a gain calculated by R1/R2 (R4/R5 in

From there, the two separate signals are fed into the Class B Push Pull amplifier which amplifies the two signals separately and combines them to form the original signal amplified.

A Class B Push Pull amplifier uses two complementary AC signal pairs to amplify

separate halves of the signal, thus amplifying the signal to the fullest. PSPICE is a circuit simulating software package on which the subwoofer amplifier is simulated. There are three modes in which the circuit was simiulated; Bias Point, AC/DC Analysis, and Fourrier Analysis. Bias point analysis will generate the voltage and current values at each node (junction of wires) in the circuit. This is used to determine the values of the resistors needed to modify the behavior of the circuit. To determine the gain and effect of the circuit on the waveform, AC/DC analysis is used to determine the output waveform from each stage. This generates a graph showing the amplification of the signal when juxtaposed with the original signals. In order to determine whether the Sallen-key low pass filter was working effectively, Fourier analysis is used. Fourier analysis portrays the voltage levels of a certain number of frequency values which is used to determine the status of the filter which shows that the AC signal attenuates after the frequency rises above 200Hz. This displays a graph which shows the strength of the signal reducing at around the 200Hz point.

EXPERIMENTAL/ENGINEERING DESIGN Before the design of the circuit could be initiated, research had to be conducted on the function of a subwoofer and the electrical properties behind the circuitry. Background information on Ohm’s Law, Kirchoff’s Law of Node Voltage, and an electrical CAD program called PSPICE had to be acquired to provide a strong intellectual foundation for designing the circuit. PSPICE not only allows virtual visualization of the circuit, but also a simulation of what is likely to happen if there were to be a current traveling through the circuit, permitting the evaluation of the physical application. To find the best resistor for each place in the circuit, Kirchoff’s Law of Node Voltage was used to calculate the resistor value (in Ohms) that would use the voltage needed to produce the desired output voltage. After calculating the values needed to build the circuit, the construction of the circuit began in the Electrical Engineering laboratory on campus. Each stage of the circuit is tested as it is being built in order to pin point any problems. Practical adjustments are made to the design due to the limitations of PSPICE in order to make the calculations as accurate as possible. Even though PSPICE allows humans to predict whether the circuit is

likely to function in the way that is desired, the technological limitations of the program do not anticipate problems that arise such as over- heating of the circuit. This unplanned problem caused a reconfiguring of the planned circuit in order to limit the heat production of the amplifier. The original plan for the subwoofer amplifier had entailed eight sections, but the final amplifier resulted in four sections. These four sections are the common emitter amplifier, the Sallen Key Low-Pass Filter, a phase splitter, and a class B Push-Pull Amplifier. These four sections were chosen to allow the circuit to be as uncomplicated as possible to help reduce the amount of heat released by the amplifier. First, to make the signal easier to manipulate, the common emitter amplifier is used to increase the electrical signal entering the amplifier. In the next stage, the Sallen Key Filter, filters the higher frequencies (those above 200Hz) so that the amplifier only amplifies the target frequencies in the bass range of 20-200Hz. Once the desired frequencies are being filtered, a phase splitter creates another signal similar to the original signal, but shifted so that it is 180 degrees out of phase with the original signal. This is useful because of the property of the subwoofer of which the push-pull amplifier takes advantage. Subwoofers require negative and positive inputs; the two signals match up so that the peaks of the original signal are aligned with the troughs of the reproduced signal. When the push-pull amplifier receives the two signals it uses the greater differential to produce a louder sound than if a single signal were to be used, thus the greatest potential of intensity is used. This simple process allowed the least complicated bass frequency amplification to Once the circuit is completed, the subwoofer amplifier is connected to a DVD player. The subwoofer allows the effectiveness of the subwoofer to be tested. The only unwanted side effect of reducing the number of stages was that additional amplification was cut out of the circuit, effectively reducing the gain and effectiveness of the amplification. Despite this setback, the subwoofer successfully amplified the targeted frequencies. The circuit had to be reconfigured so that it performed its function, but due to the lack of extra amplification stages, its effectiveness is limited. In the physical building of the circuit, the redesign process required a pragmatic approach to fixing the problems with an ideal amplifier.

RESULTS The circuit doesn’t act in the way depicted by PSPICE so the circuit is a modified version of the PSPICE simulation. Based on this, it can be concluded that physically, a circuit may behave in a way different than what is theoretically predicted. The major problem is that the AC signal fed into the circuit is attenuating to a lower voltage. The circuit components weren’t interacting as depicted by PSPICE. To solve this, the circuit was trimmed down to four stages. This shows that sometimes one must sacrifice quality for functionality. Another problem is that the signal is distorted due to the saturation of the transistors. The transistors also can’t handle the power. Higher power rated transistors are used with heat sinks attached to dissipate the heat given off by the transistor to efficiently cool it. Circuit simulations show what is to be expected but not everything can be seen through a simulation. An engineer must have foresight and intuition to solve unforeseen problems. The finished circuit receives an input from a CD player and outputs the signal to an 8 ohm subwoofer. The gain predicted is 7. The actual gain is a lot smaller and so the subwoofer output is quieter than what is predicted. Also, the signal to noise ratio is low. This is due to the length of the wires which act as antennas and pick up energy from the air or surrounding wires.

FUTURE WORK When building a subwoofer amplifier, there is always room for advancement. For example, the amplifier being built in this project is designed to specifically enhance low frequency tones to achieve a gain in order to make the AC signal usable by the subwoofer. As of now, the subwoofer has a very low gain, but in the future the gain can be increased, creating a higher output with a louder and sharper sound. To do so, the ratio of the resistors would be changed to increase the gain. In addition, as technology advances, more unique materials will be available to enhance the sound. The subwoofer in this project was built using discreet parts, but there is another option, which is a much easier design. This option is a simple chip. The chip would be programmed to take care of all the calculations by itself. So instead of spending large amounts of time doing the calculations and trying to balance the voltage and resistance by trial and error, the chip will do this for us, making the building process much easier and

more time sufficient. New filters will, too, be available in order to make the sounds of the subwoofer sound sharp. Filters, such as the “Butterworth Low Pass Filter,” are prime examples of the capabilities of the future. These filters will be much easier to design, possibly opening doors towards new discoveries. Another project that can stem from the subwoofer amplifier project is a tweeter amplifier project. By reversing the filter to be a high pass filter and allow the high frequency signals to be amplified, a tweeter can be created.

CONCLUSIONS Through this project, many skills were learned which will prove to be useful later on in life, especially in engineering careers. This project entailed the use of the circuit-simulating program PSPICE and the development of the physical circuit in the Electrical Engineering laboratory on the Rutgers Busch campus. By using PSPICE, it became much simpler to plan out circuits, while minimizing margin for error. The construction of the subwoofer, which took place in the Electrical Engineering laboratory, helped to give group-members a good feel of college research and experimentation. In addition to the lifestyle of a college engineer, the innovation and creativity were also mimicked during our experiment. Many of the tools which engineers use were introduced, such as the basic wire cutters, needle nose pliers, and wire strippers to the more advanced tools such as the digital multimeter, the oscilloscope, the power supply, and the function generator. The most important benefit of the experiment was a chance to work in a team environment, accomplishing tasks in a group. This is an essential skill in college because group work is required to succeed. At certain times you must be a leader while at other times you must listen. By working a group, we developed communication skills and the skills essential to surviving in the real world. One problem that occurred derived from the transfer o the schematic from PSPICE to a bread board. The problem stemmed from the DC level shifter in the third stage of the drawing. In PSPICE, it was theoretically sound and did not imply any mistakes were made. However, when the actual circuit was constructed, the AC voltage was attenuated. This resulted in a decrease in gain, which opposed our goal of the experiment. After discovering the problem, one proposed solution was to manipulate resistors and other pieces around the DC shifter. By doing

this, several stages were eliminated, but the gain was salvaged. Even though the original eight stages are reduced to four, the gain still remains 7 which is a good value to have. Another problem is that the transistors used in the circuit aren’t able to handle the amount of power in the last stage. The problem was quite obvious when the last transistor overheated and a burning smell occurred. To solve the problem, new transistors were purchased that were rated to handle more power, and as a safety precaution heat sinks are attached to them. The purpose of the heat sinks is to increase the surface area in

order to decrease the buildup of heat in the transistors. Another problem is the final result of the subwoofer. The quality is slightly fuzzy, and the gain was lower than expected. The source of the sound distortion is a result of the wires being too long and not being taught and directly on the bead board. The loss of gain is affected by the circuit as a whole, and would have to be resolved by reconfiguring the design.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS Daniel Hvidding for providing skilled leadership in this project. Sean Borkowski for providing guidance in this project. Vivian Ho for helping with the completion of the subwoofer amplifier. Govenor’s School of Engineering and Technology for providing us with this opportunity. Anthony Welch for providing us with this opportunity. Computer Controlled Lighting Project Group for letting our group join with their project group when we were unable to meet with our project leader. Rutgers Staff for allowing us to use the Rutgers facilities. OCCAD, the developers of PSPICE for providing a software package allowing for the soft design of the subwoofer amplifier circuit.

CITATIONS Wikipedia. Audio Amplifier – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Kai Harada. Sound System Basics.

Jeroen Bijsmans. Network Music Displayer: Using a Graphical User Interface on a Personal Music Player