banner
 Home  Audio Home Page 


Copyright 2010 by Wayne Stegall
Updated November 2, 2010.  See document history at end.




Musical Feedback Amplifiers

Introduction

I bought my first audio system at the end of the classic audio period.  That is, just before integrated circuit operational amplifiers and CD players completely changed the audio market.  I first heard of the deficiency when my audio retailer offered to buy back my Nakamichi 480 cassette deck.  His rationale was that Nakamichi abandoned discrete amplifiers in their decks in favor of the new op-amps.  Many audiophiles were looking to buy their older equipment because it sounded better.  Are operational amplifiers that bad?  Certainly, they have improved greatly since they first saw use in audio equipment.

The Problem

I believe that the common use of dominant-pole compensation  in operational amps is the major cause of complaints of sterile or harsh sound on the part of some audiophiles.  Many amplifiers have open loop phase shift exceeding 180 before gain drops below unity without some form of compensation.  This results in undesirable RF oscillations.  Dominant-pole compensation adds extra capacitance to one of the stages to create a lower dominant pole.  Then the gain will drop below unity before phase shift gets near enough to 180 to cause oscillations.  Consider the following open-loop characteristic of a 741 op-amp, that its response falls 6db/octave (20db/decade) above the dominant pole.  This response is typical of many op-amps.

Figure 1:  Open loop gain of 741 op-amp shows 10Hz dominant pole.



Distortion is typically reduced by the feedback factor (AOL/ACL).  Now consider the following distortion suppression plot at unity closed-loop gain (ACL = 0dB).  Above the dominant pole, the reduction in distortion suppression creates a distortion profile with greater distortion and more of it consisting of high numbered harmonics.  This is contrary to musical and euphonic distortion profiles that fall quickly with harmonic number.

Figure 2:  Distortion suppression diminishes 6db/octave above the dominant pole frequency.


The Solution

One could always revert to single stage amplifiers which never approach 180 phase shift.  A three stage amplifier like the 741 would always approach an uncompensated phase shift of at least 270.  Two stage amplifiers ideally would approach 180 phase shift, but reality dictates they may require compensation as well.  In any case, if the dominant pole could be made greater than 10kHz-11kHz, the distortion profile would be much flatter than in the above diagram.

In the case of the three stage amplifier, if one had access to the compensation terminals or the design was discrete, gain could be sacrified for a higher dominant pole frequency.  This would amount to 40db of gain out to 10kHz for a 741.  The amplifier would have more distortion but perhaps that more agreeable to some audiophiles (An open loop distortion of 10% would be reduced by feedback to 0.1%).  Op-amps with greater gain-bandwidth products would produce better overall results than this example.

Another tweek is a matter of preference.  Symmetrical circuit designs produce odd harmonics only.  Designing in asymmetry or adding it after the fact can bias the distortion profile back to having a balance of even and odd harmonics.  An appropriate-sized resistor or a current source from the output of an amplifier to one of the supply rails can accomplish this.  An added benefit is the elimination of crossover distortion by rebiasing the output stage to class A.

Two Stage Amplifier Examples

The following circuits were unstable without compensation according to SPICE1 modeling.  With dominant pole compensation of pole frequency >= 20kHz, they showed stable results.  I tried poles approaching 100kHz with good results also.  Their asymmetrical design should ensure even and odd harmonics for those with that preference.

The design for each proceeds as follows:
Notes:
Output impedance in calculations is open-loop.  Closed loop output impedance will be reduced by the feedback factor (AOL/ACL).  Adding a small resistance (100Ω-1kΩ) on the output can give short circuit protection where an external cable is driven.

As for the outcomes, all had a declining harmonic profile at 1kHz, the first two emphasizing the second harmonic.  That the last emphasized the 3rd, 6th, and 9th relative to the downward trend suggests an unexpected symmetry to the design perhaps due to more direct feedback to the source of the input transistor.


Figure 3:  Simplest voltage-feedback op-amp with non-inverting feedback network.

Design Procedure
Choose power supplies as +-15V.
ZOUT = RL || (R1 + R2) = 1kΩ.
Choose RL = 2kΩ, therefore R1 + R2 = 2kΩ.
For gain of 10, R1 = 200Ω, R2 = 1.8kΩ. (Ideal gain formula here is ACL = 1 + R2/R1)
iB-Q3 = -VSS/(hfe x ZOUT) = 15/(100 x 2kΩ) = 75A.
LSK170A has min IDSS of 2.6mA, choose iD = 2mA and calculate RBE.
RBE = vbe/(iD - iB-Q3) = 700mV/(2mA - 75A) = 363.6363636Ω.
Round up to nearest standard 5% value:  RBE = 360Ω.
rb-Q3 = VT/iB-Q3 = 25mV/75A = 333.3333333Ω. (VT is the temperature dependent characteristic voltage of a PN junction, usually 25-26mV)
RPOLE = RBE || rb-Q3 = 360Ω || 333.3333333Ω = 173.0769231Ω
CPOLE =
1
2πfPOLERPOLE
=
1
2π x 20kHz x 173.0769231Ω
 = 45.97809467nF
Cb = Cibo + Cobo(A+1) = 10pF + 4.5pF(1kΩ/333.3333333Ω + 1) = 28pF (These from 2N3906 datasheet, multiplying Cobo by A+1 is the Miller effect)
CC = CPOLE - Cb, because CPOLE >> Cb, CC (approx.)= CPOLE = 45.97809467nF.
Choose standard value CC = 47nF.
RS-MAX = (|VSS|+|Vp0-MAX|)/(iD x 2) = (15V+2V)/(2 x (700mV/360Ω + 75A)) = 4.209078404kΩ.
Choose RS = 5kΩ potentiometer.

SPICE results:  -3dB @ 721kHz, SNR = 109.9167199dB
Fourier analysis for v(vout) @1V peak:
  No. Harmonics: 10, THD: 0.0325317 %, Gridsize: 200, Interpolation Degree: 1

Harmonic Frequency Magnitude Phase Norm. Mag Norm. Phase






0 0 0 0 0 0
1 1000 0.998134 -90.083 1 0
2 2000 0.000322411 -166.06 0.000323014 -75.972
3 3000 1.9347e-005 -61.106 1.93832e-005 28.9777
4 4000 2.41122e-005 -161.97 2.41573e-005 -71.882
5 5000 9.61602e-006 -163.8 9.63399e-006 -73.716
6 6000 1.99794e-005 18.9461 2.00168e-005 109.029
7 7000 2.44962e-006 25.7044 2.4542e-006 115.788
8 8000 2.00716e-006 105.38 2.01091e-006 195.463
9 9000 5.51143e-006 -52.899 5.52173e-006 37.1841


SPICE Model for circuit of figure 32.




Figure 4:  Simplest current-feedback op-amp with non-inverting feedback network.

Design Procedure
The design is the same as the first circuit of figure 3 except you may have to tinker with more values:
ZOUT = RL || (R1 + R2)
Because R1 || R2 sets lower limit for RS trim it was necessary to lower R1 and R2.  You may have to rechoose them yourself before recalculating. This will be necessary if you notice that you cannot zero a persistent negative offset.  I had forgotten I had made these changes until I examined my SPICE model. ;-)
Choose RL = 2.2kΩ
To get RS to trim I chose, for gain of 10, R1 = 82Ω, R2 = 750Ω.  (Ideal gain formula here is ACL = 1 + R2/R1)
ZOUT = RL || (R1 + R2) = 2.2kΩ || (82Ω + 750Ω) = 603.6939314Ω. (Lower than target impedance ok.)
LSK170A has min IDSS of 2.6mA, choose iD = 2mA and calculate RBE.
iB-Q3 = ((|VSS|/ZOUT) - (R1/(R1 + R2))iD)/hfe = (15/2.2kΩ - (82Ω/(82Ω+750Ω))2mA)/100 = 66.21066434A. (Here R1/(R1 + R2) is the current divider ratio for current through R2)
RBE = vbe/(iD - iB-Q3) = 700mV/(2mA - 66.21066434A) = 361.9835869Ω.
Round to nearest standard 5% value:  RBE = 360Ω.
Rechose RBE = 430Ω to allow zeroing offset voltage in SPICE.
rb-Q3 = VT/iB-Q3 = 25mV/66.21066434A = 377.5826787Ω. (VT is the temperature dependent characteristic voltage of a PN junction, usually 25-26mV)
RPOLE = RBE || rb-Q3 = 430Ω || 377.5826787Ω = 201.0451142Ω
CPOLE =
1
2πfPOLERPOLE
=
1
2π x 20kHz x 201.0451142Ω
 = 39.58189776nF
Cb = Cibo + Cobo(A+1) = 10pF + 4.5pF(603.6939314Ω/377.5826787Ω + 1) = 21.69477573pF (These from 2N3906 datasheet, multiplying Cobo by A+1 is the Miller effect)
CC = CPOLE - Cb, because CPOLE >> Cb, CC (approx.)= CPOLE = 39.58189776nF.
Choose standard value CC = 43nF.
RS-MAX = (|Vp0-MAX|)/iD - (R1 || R2) = (2V)/(700mV/430Ω + 66.21066434A) - (82Ω || 750Ω) = 1.28065872kΩ - 73.91826923Ω = 1.20674045kΩ.
Choose RS = 1.5kΩ potentiometer.

SPICE results:  -3dB @ 344kHz, SNR = 111.5468636dB
Fourier analysis for v(vout) @1V peak:
  No. Harmonics: 10, THD: 0.141913 %, Gridsize: 200, Interpolation Degree: 1

Harmonic Frequency Magnitude Phase Norm. Mag Norm. Phase
-------- --------- --------- ----- --------- -----------
0 0 0 0 0 0
1 1000 0.976102 -90.179 1 0
2 2000 0.00137924 -166.68 0.001413 -76.502
3 3000 0.00012591 -70.874 0.000128993 19.3051
4 4000 1.30793e-005 -165.06 1.33996e-005 -74.884
5 5000 9.43717e-006 -169.82 9.66823e-006 -79.643
6 6000 1.94354e-005 18.669 1.99112e-005 108.848
7 7000 2.24247e-006 24.946 2.29737e-006 115.125
8 8000 1.97063e-006 102.57 2.01887e-006 192.749
9 9000 5.60066e-006 -50.817 5.73778e-006 39.3625

This circuit may require more adjustment than it is worth.  The other two are easier to setup and adjust, even in SPICE.

SPICE Model for circuit of figure 42.


Figure 5:  Simplest current-feedback op-amp buffer.

Design Procedure
The design is the same as the first circuit of figure 3 except for a few changes:
Choose power supplies as +-15V.
ZOUT =  RL = 1kΩ.
LSK170A has min IDSS of 2.6mA, choose iD = 2mA and calculate RBE.
iB-Q3 = ((|VSS|/ZOUT) - iD)/hfe = (15/1kΩ - 2mA)/100 = 130A.
RBE = vbe/(iD - iB-Q3) = 700mV/(2mA - 130A) = 374.3315508Ω.
Round up to nearest standard 5% value:  RBE = 390Ω.
rb-Q3 = VT/iB-Q3 = 25mV/130A = 192.3076923Ω. (VT is the temperature dependent characteristic voltage of a PN junction, usually 25-26mV)
RPOLE = RBE || rb-Q3 = 390Ω || 192.3076923Ω = 128.7978864Ω
CPOLE =
1
2πfPOLERPOLE
=
1
2π x 20kHz x 128.7978864Ω
 = 61.78476509nF
Cb = Cibo + Cobo(A+1) = 10pF + 4.5pF(1kΩ/192.3076923Ω + 1) = 37.9pF (These from 2N3906 datasheet, multiplying Cobo by A+1 is the Miller effect)
CC = CPOLE - Cb, because CPOLE >> Cb, CC (approx.)= CPOLE = 61.78476509nF.
Choose standard value CC = 68nF.
RS-MAX = (|Vp0-MAX|)/iD = (2V)/(700mV/390Ω + 130A) = 1.039030238kΩ.
Choose RS = 1.5kΩ potentiometer (Perhaps it is close enough to try 1kΩ).

SPICE results:  -1dB @ 1MHz, -3dB @ 68.6MHz, SNR = 131.9213464dB
Fourier analysis for v(vout) @1V peak:
  No. Harmonics: 10, THD: 0.00345022 %, Gridsize: 200, Interpolation Degree: 1

Harmonic Frequency Magnitude Phase Norm. Mag Norm. Phase
-------- --------- --------- ----- --------- -----------
0 0 0 0 0 0
1 1000 0.997805 -90.009 1 0
2 2000 3.83964e-006 -117.93 3.84809e-006 -27.921
3 3000 4.24798e-006 10.7399 4.25733e-006 100.749
4 4000 2.49325e-005 -162.05 2.49874e-005 -72.043
5 5000 9.3969e-006 -163.01 9.41758e-006 -72.998
6 6000 1.99808e-005 18.7056 2.00247e-005 108.715
7 7000 2.29573e-006 29.9847 2.30078e-006 119.994
8 8000 2.14031e-006 103.064 2.14502e-006 193.073
9 9000 5.77758e-006 -50.415 5.79029e-006 39.5944

SPICE Model for circuit of figure 52.

Possibly Musical IC Operational Amplifiers3

Amplifiers with dominant pole >= 10kHz created by wide bandwidth and somewhat lowish open loop gain.  Others have claimed excellent sound from them.  Their wide bandwidth will require physically short feedback paths.
These also have a dominant pole >= 10kHz but I am unaware of any established reputation.
This decompensated amplifier holds promise of a desireable dominant pole.

Others

Some Class AB power amplifiers designed and published by G. Randy Slone have a dominant pole >= 10kHz and were popular while he was selling kits.  This objectivist's use of emitter resistors for local feedback in the differential front end is another subjectivist friendly audiophile feature.  See his texts to determine which ones.4



1The Spice Home Page, visit this link learn about using the SPICE simulator
2Links to supporting SPICE models on this website: LSK170.txt, models1.txt
3This listing is not intended to be an endorsement of the products nor is likely complete.  Other ICs may have similar qualities.
4G. Randy Slone, The Audiophile's Project Sourcebook (New York, 2002), I made this discovery while looking at his book shortly before this addition.

Document history
April 29, 2010  Created and immediately updated with lower drain bias for examples.
April 30, 2010  Corrected design procedure of circuit of figure 4.
April 30, 2010  Added minor updates.
May 1, 2010  Corrected all design procedures of circuits of figures 3-5 for faulty bias presumptions and updated SPICE models to match.  Original circuits did simulate in SPICE well.
July 19, 2010  Added SPICE distortion profiles for examples at 1kHz and a leading comment about them, and a list of Possibly Musical IC Operational Amplifiers.
September 2, 2010  Added to
list of Possibly Musical IC Operational Amplifiers and added mention of class AB power amplifiers meeting this article's criteria.
September 18, 2010  Added link to LM6171 datasheet.
September 21, 2010 
Deleted AD823 from list of op-amps because it did not match the scope of this article.
November 2, 2010  Added AD847 to list of
Possibly Musical IC Operational Amplifiers and a link to its datasheet.