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Electronic switching

Connectors, switches and other mechanical contacts in

controls can introduce anything from a faint crackling to
an open circuit, consequently causing problems when
worn or dirty, a good contact only being possible when
one contact breaks the surface of, and penetrates, the
other. At low signal levels, the consequences are

Most mechanical switches consist of two frictional

contacts connected by a shorting element. The
commercial standard usually consists of silver-plated
brass which tarnishes and wears easily. Each such
contact in the signal or feedback paths is in series with
every other contact in the signal chain. Thus, the more
contacts, the more noise. A DC presence will exacerbate
the problem, particularly with volume controls.

In the example above, the mag circuit has 6 friction

contacts, the tape has 10, per channel. The DIN
connector convention, in essence current-driven into a
high impedance source, was particularly troublesome

giving rise to external pick-up because of the low signal

levels used. Some amplifiers rely on large numbers of
switches to give flexibility. Tape and cassette recorders
were also vulnerable in this context when, to avoid the
cost of separate circuits, extensive changeover
record/playback switches would 're-wire' the circuitry for
these functions, apart from those used for bias and
equalisation (even a low-end version having 10 or more
per channel). Crucially, there may be two switches in
series between the preamp input and the signal (head
or source input) and/or a changeover switch between
ground and the head. Similar problems were met with
multi-waveband tuners where sensitive RF/IF stages
were constructed around invariably noisy switch banks
(some with as many as 72 solder tags). Test equipment
can include a large number of contacts, one DFM used a
14-pole 6-way switch (84 tags). Higher quality designs
might have employed silver-plated contacts which
tarnish easily. Even gold-clad contacts, when new, can
generate thermal EMFs of 1-40V.
Some preamp muting arrangements will instead of
breaking the output paths with relay contacts, say, will
short them to ground.
Diode-switching using a single junction, considered
innovative at the time, was useful in 4 channel preamps
and organs where multiple channels were controlled and
resolved issues with corrosion and mechanical problems
with input selector switches. With damped switching,
like that shown below, sources would cross fade as the
diode voltages changed providing a more pleasant and
less abrupt change, particularly if the newly selected
input was comparatively loud.

Transistors or FETs were often used in semi/professional

equipment to fulfill switching functions around a PCB
(like the Technics RS-1500US open-reel tape deck which
used 9 transistors per channel to select the capacitive
elements in the record and eq amp filters), a technique
then adopted in later commercial hi-fis when microcontrollers appeared or in cassette decks with multiple
noise reduction, bias, eq and servo systems. The
Technics RS-M235X (Dolby B/C and dbx) is a good

In these situations FETs were often used to block a

circuit path whilst transistors were used to short them
to ground, a technique first seen by the author in the
Lecson AC1 preamp.

A later Technics approach, used to switch signal paths,

is shown below.

Although dedicated switching ICs like the Mullard

TDA1028/9 appeared, FETs or analogue switches such
as the 4016, 4053, 4066, LM1037N, DG211CJ,
SSM2412P, etc, could be used instead, eg;


but in any case, the complexity, and cost, of the

controlling hardware should not be underestimated. For
example, the Lecson AC1 used some 11 'signal' devices
and 16 switching devices per channel, apart from the
controls for these. Common and low cost ICs can be
used. The switching systems of two designs are
compared below, the first from the Quad 34.

Another, a Giesberts input selector design employs

bistable gold-on-gold contact relays.

Some commercial ICs can be used to good effect in less

critical compact preamp applications, especially those
intended to run from low-voltage single supplies. The
Hitachi HA12219NT audio signal processor for cassette
decks can offer electronic switching and amplification,

for example, as can the Panasonic AN7345K which

includes an automatic level control that can be
employed to reduce the incidence of clipping. Another,
the SIL packaged Rohm BA3126N 2-channel head
switch for radio cassette recorders has been used to
switch inputs.
Switching elements can not only block signals but, if
cross-talk is a major consideration (always separate
channels on a PCB with a ground plane, at least), can
short sections of the signal path to ground (mute, eq,
etc, see TOA application below). For example, each bus
to a summing point can have a resistor in series with a
FET switch, between these can be another FET switch to
ground, the gate of one switch fed by an inverter
connected to the gate of the other switch thus switching
on when the other is off and vice-versa. At the same
time, a design can consider separate record source
selection so that recordings can be made of one source
whilst monitoring another, eg; tape-to-tape.
If 4000 logic series cmos devices are used to switch
analogue signals it can be useful if the supply voltages
are asymmetrical, say +7V6 and -8V2 to balance the on
resistances of the p and n-channel mosfets. Naturally,
no input signal must exceed those of the supply so
clamping the input line is wise. Internal capacitive
coupling between the control signal and switch
terminals can, as with fets, producing switching spikes.
The 4051 (8 switches with 3-bit 1 of 8 decoder) is one
example. A 1M resistor in series with a 'gate' and a
1n8F cap between the 'gate' and ground can provide a
soft switching characteristic. Although the 4016 and
4066 (pin-compatible but lower on-resistance) quad
switches are often seen, more critical designs have used
the 4007 (dual complementary pair plus inverter). With
an on resistance of about 300R and maximum variation
of 200R, this equates with the tolerance of a 1% 22k

Volume controls
Volume controls are most usefully applied at the
listening position. A DC presence and the ingress of dust
or moisture, particularly with earlier sliders, can present
problems. Electronic versions can interest in that the
switching must present a continuously variable aspect,
subjectively speaking. Analogue approaches used in the
swell pedals of upright organs often used a photo-cell
(LDR) in series with the signal that was then illuminated
by a light bulb. This was then obscured by a vane
attached to the pedal to effect volume change.
Adequate perhaps, but with it's limitations. For example,
to overcome non-linearities evident with some LDR
designs, a DC component was sometimes added to the
signal. Noise could also be problematic with high
attenuations. However, if the current to the bulb could
be varied, remote control was possible.
B&O tried this in their (1976) Beomaster 1900 (type
2903) and Beocomparators using a bulb to illuminate
four LDRs that then grounded the signal. By it's nature
digital switching is stepped. For a smooth transition a
relatively large enough number of steps must be
employed. So, apart from switched resistive elements, a
clock, counter and some means of retaining a default
setting (say, for power up) are required. Unfortunately,
this early B&O attempt used a 4-bit code resulting in 16

steps (including mute). Complaints from customers in

the respect of the perceived coarseness of adjustment
resulted in the modification to a 7-bit or 128 step
control (Beomaster 1900-2, 2400-2, types 2903/1).
Although this proved satisfactory, the bulb's reliability
continued to be an issue as did the use of an ultrasonic
transmission medium.
A later B&O design, with full remote control, employed
TDA1074 ICs in it's preamp. These device's gains were
voltage-controlled and although remote operation of the
tone and balance controls was feasible with a more
complex microprocessor system, only the volume was
adjustable electronically, the others being set manually.

Contemporary to these, infra-red TV remote systems

(eg; Plessey ML920, ML922, etc) used 5-bit D/A or 32
step arrangements that then drove integrated IF amp /
FM demodulator and luminance / chrominance control
ICs (TBA120, TBA560, TDA2560, etc). These could offer
a 32 command set covering programme selection (up to
20 channels), standby, mute, recall, normalise and
stepped programme, colour, volume and brightness
selection. There is no recollection of these being applied
to an audio system, the reason for this being that
without additional coding (pre-RC5) the remotes of both
the TV and the hi-fi would have interacted, and in
commercial terms TVs had priority.
Some non-conventional configurations can possess
disadvantages, such as a reliance on the virtual earth of
a shunt-feedback amplifier for absolute attenuation to
zero, not possible with conventional carbon-track pots.

With this approach if the pot wiper open circuits, the

gain peaks, sometimes disconcertingly.
The next approach achieves that, for a 20dB gain, whilst
using a more easily matched linear device to achieve a
near audio taper.

With this approach if the pot wiper open circuits, the

gain dips.
Operational transconductance amplifiers (OTAs), like the
dual 13600 (available as the EXAR XR13600, the
National LM13600 and the Philips NE5517), enabled a
concise component count to the voltage control of one
or more channel's volume. These were useful in
synthesisers, organs and disco mixers and could be
used in filters, automatic gain amplifiers (AGCs),
dynamic noise reduction circuits, amplitude modulators
and even timers and tachometers. These could be
driven digitally by employing digital to analogue
converters (DACs). Although these could be bought
fairly cheaply as ICs they could also be built quite easily.
Sometimes the range of resistor values and tolerances
required could be problematic. For example, a 10-bit
circuit would require a resistor range of 1024 to 1 with a
tolerance of 0.05%. R-2R ladders overcame this

An 8-bit word gives a resolution of 1 part in 256, ie; a

signal-to-noise ratio of approximately 50dB. A 10 bit ato-d converter will give a s-to-n ratio of about 60dB.

Switches, like the 4053, could feed the signal to the

network, but, in general, the range of attenuation would
be limited, to say 48dB or even less. Alternatively, the
network could be wired into the feedback network of a
non-inverting amplifier to vary an output (see below),
but again, the step size would be relatively large (33.5dB). Resistor tolerances, however, could be less
tight, say 1%, and a non-linear range of values chosen.
The amplitude response can be limited by the commonmode behaviour of the amplifier and frequency limited
by stray capacitance across the resistors. The variable
resistance can be provided by a variety of means - FETs,
light or temperature dependent resistors but signal
levels should be low enough not to be affected by device
non-linearities. Constant impedance stepped
attenuators with stages of -1, -2, -2, -5, -10 and 3 x
-20dB could be cumbersome and noisy, requiring two

switches in series with the signal per stage. Without the

control interface, four or more ICs per channel were

For those interested, a well-considered design for a

stereo programmable audio attenuator, by J. M. Didden,
appeared in the May/June 1980 Wireless World with
ample notes. Achieving a gain of +16.8dB to -46.2dB in
1dB steps, this used a two-wire control interface, 8
opamps, 24 logic ICs and 6 bit code. Balance was
executed by toggling each channel respectively and the
control word could be converted to a 2-digit bcd output
to drive a 7 segment display. Attenuation steps were 1,
2, 3, 4, 8, 16, 32 and 48dB, these being made by 4007

Standard or mask-programmed logic, although

occasionally cumbersome, can prove more reliable than
EPROMs or PICs which can 'fade'.
The AD7110 digital attenuator IC (LOGDAC) offered an
attenuation of 88.5dB in 1.5dB steps using a 6-bit code

with options for loudness correction and this was run

with an 8-bit modification of the later B&O circuit, both
of which are shown below.

This proved satisfactory, reduced the component count

and could be easily adapted to infra-red remote control
systems (note differences in logic levels between both
circuits). To provide a balance function, separate circuits
for each channel are required, or a normal pot in the
unit. An alternative circuit uses relays.

Motorised high-quality potentiometers are available

from Alps and Panasonic, but these still require a control
interface (and separate power supply arrangements to
avoid motor noise entering the signal path) to run them.
The combined cost of these can provide the incentive to
build a solid-state version.
From the above, it can be seen how attempting to
replace a simple human function of getting out of a
chair and turning a knob could become an interestingly
complex process.
Although proprietary control systems became available,
like the TDA7300, the later LMC1983 (IM bus, see ITT's
CCU2000 datasheet), the Sanyo CCB protocol
(LC75341, etc), or more complex PC systems that
integrate audio, video, phone, internet and other home
functions, often a simple, succinct and compact
hardware solution is required to a situation without
filling an enclosure with logic ICs or microcontroller
systems, their attendant ROMs, peripherals and teething
problems, bearing in mind that any failure in a system
which acts upon another, will produce a fault condition
which will, in all probability, result in failure of the
primary system which is working perfectly. Similarly, the
primary design aim of a project can easily become
distracted by the complexity of the means required to
control it.

The 100-step Xicor E2POT ICs can reduce component

count considerably but, as with most logic, care must be
taken not to over-drive them. Some 'audiophiles' have
baulked at the distortion specs, but have failed to detect
any relevance in subjective tests. Being linear rather
than log devices, an 'audio' trim can be obtained with
an additional external resistor (below). However, it is
recommended for audio that two be used in series for
each channel (control pins paralleled), in that the wiper
of the first is fed to the top of the second, the signal
then been taken from the last's wiper in order to obtain
a more natural 'logarithmic feel'.

Alternatively, a DC signal derived from same can control

multiple FETs around a PCB. Another type, the Dallas
Semiconductors DS1669, offers 64 steps.
A 'mini-clock' to incrementally drive similar ICs is shown
below. This produces 0.5 sec steps for short pulses and
a 0.5 sec pulse followed by a 30Hz train for longer ones.

For the last two circuits, manual operation of a stereo

control could use two adjacent rocker switches (centre
off) or even a small joy-stick.

The Dallas Semiconductor DS1802 'Dual Audio Taper

Potentiometer with Pushbutton Control' offers contact
closure (pushbutton) inputs and a 3wire serial
interface for wiper positioning. In stereo control mode a
balance function is available. Absolute maximum ratings
(voltage on any pin relative to digital or analogue
ground) 0.7V to +7.0V.
The Burr-Brown PGA2310/20 audio stereo volume
controls offer two independent audio channels, serial
control interface, zero crossing detection and an input
voltage swing of 15V. An Elektor (2004?) application
used PGA2311PAs driven by a PIC18F452I/L controller
which was remote controllable and giving input
switching via a relay board.
Ideas are invited for practical applications that use the
'Raspberry Pi' from the University of Cambridge.
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