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Audio Amplifiers

Modest power audio amplifiers for driving small speakers or other light loads can be
constructed in a number of ways. The first choice is usually an integrated circuit
designed for the purpose. A typical assortment can be seen on this National
Semiconductor page. Discrete designs can also be built with readily available
transistors or op-amps and many designs are featured in manufacturers' application
notes. Older designs employed audio interstage and output transformers but the
cost and size of these parts has made them all but disappear. (Actually, when the
power source is a 9 volt battery, a push-pull output stage using a 500 ohm to 8 ohm
transformer is more efficient than non-transformer designs when providing 100
milliwatts of audio.) As a general rule, transformerless low power speaker projects
will work better with 4.5 or 6 volt battery packs of AA, C, or even D cells than 9 volt
rectangulars.
Here are a few easy-to-build audio amplifier circuits for a variety of hobby
applications:

Simple LM386 Audio Amplifier

High Gain and Fidelity Audio Amplifier

Curiously Low Noise Amplifier

Computer Audio Booster

4-Transistor Amplifier for Small Speaker Applications

Op-Amp Audio Amplifier

Crystal Radio (and other purpose) Audio Amplifier

Class-A Audio Amplifiers

Simple LM386 Audio Amplifier


This simple amplifier shows the LM386 in a high-gain configuration (A = 200). For a
maximum gain of only 20, leave out the 10 uF connected from pin 1 to pin 8.
Maximum gains between 20 and 200 may be realized by adding a selected resistor
in series with the same 10 uF capacitor. The 10k potentiometer will give the
amplifier a variable gain from zero up to that maximum.

High Gain and Fidelity Audio Amplifier

Here's a general-purpose 2 watt audio amplifier with excellent overall performance.


It is easily configured to serve as an audio output stage for lower power applications
or as a more powerful amplifier for room-filling volume. I've even tried it as an
electric guitar "practice" amplifier and with a good speaker it's just about the right
power.

The Curiously Low Noise Amplifier takes advantage of the wonderful noise
characteristics of the 2SK117 JFET that boasts a noise voltage below 1 nV/root-Hz
and virtually no noise current. The noise voltage of the amplifier is only 1.4 nV/rootHz at 1 kHz, increasing to only 2.7 nV/root-Hz at 10 Hz. The noise current is difficult
to measure, so this simple utility amplifier can see the noise from a 50 ohm resistor
and a 100k resistor, too. (The 1.4 nV input-referred noise will increase to about 1.7
nV with a 50 ohm resistor, instead of a short, and a 100k resistor will give an inputreferred noise near 40 nV, with very little contribution from the amplifier.)
This amplifier is a "utility" amplifier with a gain of 100, that would typically be used
in a lab setting to boost tiny signals for measurement or further processing. It isn't
intended to drive a speaker or headphones directly. (It could drive the LM386 quite
nicely.) The circuit is a simple discrete transistor feedback circuit with two gain
stages and a unique class-A output buffer:

The 2sk117 is from the "BL" Idss current range and is selected for an Idss
near 7 mA. The drain resistor is adjusted to achieve about 4 volts on the drain
and the value depends on the Idss of the JFET.

Most of the resistors aren't critical, but precision values are shown because
the resistors should be metal film types for best noise performance.
Approximate DC voltages are shown for helping with resistor selection.
Deviating from the shown voltages will reduce the available output voltage
swing, but the amplifier might work fine for smaller signals. Unloaded swing
should be about 6 volts, p-p with about 60 mV p-p input, before distortion is
observed.

The MPSA18 acts as a noise filter. High gain is desirable here to keep the
value of the base filter capacitor reasonable, but a 2N4401 could be
substituted by reducing the 10k and 120k by a factor of 5. The filter will still
be rolling off the noise voltage from the 15 volts supply above about 0.2 Hz.
But some power supplies can be really noisy!

The 0.1 uF capacitors serve as bypass capacitors but mainly as terminals for
holding the components. These are the white rectangles seen in the photo.

The feedback resistor is selected for a gain of exactly 100 and the value is
well above the expected 1k, due to the limited open-loop gain of the simple
circuit.

A small resistor is included in series with the output for stability and that
resistor can reduce the gain a bit when driving a lower resistance load. The
designer may choose to set the gain for that particular load, say 75 ohms, or
for a high impedance load. The circuit can drive a lower resistance than 100
ohms, but the swing will be somewhat limited. It may be possible to leave
out the 33 ohm resistor without stability issues. (Usually, such a utility
amplifier is driving a much higher resistance load, typically 600 ohms or
above.) Note: To give you an idea of how you can play with the output
resistance, I just changed my unit's series output resistor to 55 ohms and
adjusted the gain for 35 dB when driving 75 ohm loads. Unloaded the gain is
exactly 5 dB higher at 40 dB. This way I have even number gains whether
driving a 75 ohm instrument or a high-Z device. The output buffer has no
trouble driving the total 125 ohm load, with a swing limit of about 3.5 volts,
p-p.

The output stage is an unusual self-biasing arrangement where the PNP holds
the gate-source voltage near 0.6 volts, running the JFET somewhat below its
Idss. The 2N5486 was chosen to not waste too much current, but a higher
Idss JFET will give more drive capability, if desired.

Input Impedance: 47 megohm (set by bias resistor), shunted by 20 pF

Output Impedance: 36 ohms, set by series resistor plus about 3 ohms from
the circuit. My 55 ohm resistor mentioned above gives an output Z of about
58 ohms and exactly 5 dB of gain loss from no load to 75 ohms.

Output voltage swing: 6 volts p-p into a high impedance load.

Gain: 100 (40 dB) set by feedback resistor. Lower gain could be selected for
wider bandwidth.

Frequency Response: flat from below 1 Hz to above 2 MHz.

Input Noise: 1.4 nV, rising to 2.7 nV at 10 Hz. Noise current has eluded
measurement so far, but it's really low. With a 97.3 k resistor (100k in parallel
with 3.6 meg) connected across the input, the noise voltage measures within
a tiny fraction of a dB of 40 nV, so little to no noise current is seen. In fact,
this amp and a selected resistor make an inherently accurate noise source.
Connect a 152k across the input (in a shielded box), and you have a precise 5
uV/root-Hz noise source throughout the audio spectrum (50 nV times 100). A
quick measurement at 40 Hz gives 770 nV/root-Hz with nothing connected;
the 47 megohm is expected to contribute 867 nV. That's pretty close and still
little noise current from the FET.

For even better performance, the bipolar stages could be replaced with a low noise
op-amp. The input noise would drop a little, perhaps to 1 nV, as would the input
capacitance, perhaps below 10 pf. Compensating the op-amp might be a bit of a
challenge.

Computer Audio Booster


Here is a simple amplifier for boosting the audio level from low-power sound cards
or other audio sources driving small speakers like toys or small transistor radios.
The circuit will deliver about 2 watts as shown. The parts are not critical and
substitutions will usually work. The two 2.2 ohm resistors may be
replaced with one 3.9 ohm resistor in either emitter.

4-Transistor Amplifier for Small Speaker Applications

The circuit above shows a 4-transistor utility amplifier suitable for a variety of
projects including receivers, intercoms, microphones, telephone pick-up coils, and

general audio monitoring. The amplifier has a power isolation circuit and bandwidth
limiting to reduce oscillations and "motorboating". The values are not particularly
critical and modest deviations from the indicated values will not significantly
degrade the performance.
Three cell battery packs giving about 4.5 volts are recommended for most
transformerless audio amplifiers driving small 8 ohm speakers. The battery life will
be considerably longer than a 9 volt rectangular battery and the cell resistance will
remain lower over the life of the battery resulting in less distortion and stability
problems.
The amplifier may be modified to work with a 9 volt battery if desired by moving the
output transistors' bias point. Lowering the 33k resistor connected from the second
transistor's base to ground to about 10k will move the voltage on the output
electrolytic capacitor to about 1/2 the supply voltage. This bias change gives more
signal swing before clipping occurs and this change is not necessary if the volume is
adequate.
As before, the two 4.7 ohm resistors may be replaced with a single 10 ohm resistor
in series with either emitter.

Op-Amp Audio Amplifier

The above circuit is a versatile audio amplifier employing a low cost LM358 op-amp.
The differential inputs give the amplifier excellent immunity to common-mode
signals which are a common cause of amplifier instability. The dotted ground

connection represents the wiring in a typical project illustrating how the ground
sensing input can be connected to the ground at the source of the audio instead of
at the amplifier where high currents are present. If the source is a power supply
referenced signal then one of the amplifier inputs is connected to the positive
supply. For example, an NPN common-emitter preamplifier may be added for very
high gain and by connecting the differential inputs across the collector resistor
instead of from collector to ground, destabilizing feedback via the power supply is
greatly reduced. By the way, the LM358 is a fairly poor audio amplifier and you may
wish to switch to a better part for reduced distortion. Frankly, for a little bench
amplifier, you'll never notice the distortion.

Crystal Radio (and other purpose) Audio Amplifier


Here is a simple audio amplifier using a TL431 shunt regulator. The amplifier will
provide room-filling volume from an ordinary crystal radio outfitted with a long-wire
antenna and good ground. The circuitry of such a radio is similar in complexity to a
simple one-transistor radio but the performance is superior (with the exception of
the amazingone-transistor reflex ). The TL431 is available in a TO-92 package and it
looks like an ordinary transistor so your hobbyist friends will be impressed by the
volume you are getting with only one transistor and the amplifier may be used for
other projects, too. Higher impedance headphones and speakers may also be used.
An earphone from an old telephone will give ear-splitting volume and great
sensitivity! The 68 ohm resistor may be increased to several hundred ohms when
using high impedance earphones to save battery power.

Here is the amplifier used to boost the output from a simple crystal radio. The volume control is at

Class-A Audio Amplifiers


A class-A audio amplifier is pretty wasteful of power but when plenty of power is
available the simplicity is attractive. Here is a simple darlington transistor example
intended for use with a 5 volt power supply:

This circuit and the following aren't for beginners; they are of limited usefulness and
require an understanding of the underlying principles and potential applications.
They all pass DC through the speaker which is wasteful and can cause problems for
the inexperienced builder. If built without variation, they should perform as
described but make sure to read the text.

The 5 volts should be provided by a regulated power supply. The efficiency is below
25% and significant DC current flows in the speaker and that additional power
should be figured in to the power rating of the speaker. But look how simple it is!
The voltage gain is only about 20 and the input impedance is about 12k. The
schematic shows two values of bias resistor to be used with the corresponding
speaker impedance. With the 150k bias resistor and 8 ohm speaker, the circuit
draws about 210mA (1 watt) and can deliver about 250 mW to the speaker which is
plenty of volume for most small projects. The speaker should be rated at 500 mW
or more and should exhibit a DC resistance near 8 ohms (perhaps 7 ohms). Check
the candidate speaker with an ohmmeter; much below 7 ohms will cause excessive
current draw. With the 220k resistor and 16 ohm speaker, the circuit draws about
100 mA (500 mW) and delivers about 125 mW to the speaker. The 16 ohms speaker
should be rated at 200 mW or more and exhibit nearly 16 ohms of DC resistance.
(Most small speakers have a DC resistance near the rated impedance and that
resistance is used to set the quiescent current level in this circuit.) Other NPN
darlington transistors will work but choose one that can dissipate 1 watt minimum.
Most power types don't need a heatsink but tiny TO92's might overheat.
If the inefficiency of the class-A hasn't dissuaded you yet, here is a 4-transistor
amplifier suitable for small signals:

The input impedance is about 5000 ohms and the frequency response is flat from 30
Hz to over 20,000 Hz. With the 8 ohm speaker the current drain is about 215 mA
and the gain is about 1700 (64 dB). With the 16 ohm speaker the current gain is
about 110 mA and the gain is about 2500 (68 dB). A volume control may be added

by connecting one end of a 5k potentiometer to ground, the wiper to the amplifier


input. The other end of the pot becomes the input.
Lets face it; just about any of the various IC audio amplifiers make more sense than
this inefficient design. But, this circuit uses parts with only 3 legs. Umm, it doesn't
use large capacitors except for the power supply bypassing. Lets see, its more funariffic. Well, lets see if we can come up with a project that takes advantage of the
inefficiency:

So, what is it?


It is a modulated light sender! Connect the input to an audio source or microphone
(a speaker will work) and the audio will amplitude modulate the light intensity. The
inefficiency of the class-A works in our favor now, lighting the lamp to midbrightness with no audio present. Actually, with a 4.7 volt bulb, the lamp will be
near full brightness and will be "overdriven" on sound peaks. A higher voltage bulb
will last longer but will be dimmer. Try a 6.8 volt bulb as a compromise. With a
sensitive detector like a phototransistor, this communicator will work several
hundred feet (at night). Best range is realized if the bulb is mounted in a typical
flashlight reflector and the detector is similarly mounted. The input capacitor is
reduced to .01 uF to give the amplifier a high-pass character to compensate for the
slow response of the bulb. The audio will sound a bit muffled, anyway. The clever
designer could use this amplifier for the receiver, too, switching the speaker to the
input for transmitting and to the output for listening. If you choose a detector with
good infrared response, like a pin photo diode, you can add plastic IR filters to block
out ambient light and make the communicator harder to see at night.

Increasing the voltage to 12 VDC, replacing the bulb with a 3 watt, 16 ohm speaker
and replacing the .01uF with a 1uF gives an audio amp that will deliver nearly 1
watt of audio power. The speaker will get warm, however! (Due to the nearly 2 watts
of DC power in the speaker coil.)