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Noise measurements

Frequency responses can be obtained relatively easily


on a bench. However, some means were required to
make comparative measurements of noise and the
outputs from microphones and preamps. A small area
had been prepared for this as far as possible from any
mains wiring. A substantial earthed steel cabinet had
been rafted and lined with thick foam. This was used to
contain the gear under test preventing any movement
of items or air-flow. A smaller, movable steel box within,
also bonded to earth, was used to provide additional
screening for small assemblies. A Wien-bridge oscillator
provided a small speaker with a low-level sine wave and
low-noise amplifiers, using HA12017, ZN459 and SL561
ICs, were built up using low-noise passive components
and an excess of screening and smoothing. To reduce
the incidence of external noise, batteries were used for
the ZN459 and SL561 amplifiers and hum filters fitted in
the supplies of other circuits. The bandwidth of these
covered the entire audio range and in use would reside
in the cabinet.
It had already been determined that measurements
should be made in the early hours of the morning, when
the rest of humanity was dormant and thus inactive. On
an intermittent basis, a whole system under test had
'flooded' with a low frequency sound. So low, in fact, it
was inaudible. Such was the intensity of this flood that
no meaningful measurements could be made, and work
had to stop. Prolonged tests found no fault with the
equipment and eventually the source was found to be
caused by buses standing for long periods with their
engines running at a stop three streets away, the test
area being in a large stone-built cellar. Similar problems
can be caused by trains, other road transport and
aircraft. Sources of RFI such as fluorescents, dimmers,
central heating, CB radio, etc, also have to be
considered and removed.

Naturally, when working with amplifiers it is useful to be


able to measure signals over a wide frequency range.
However, account must be taken of differing bandwidths
of systems when measuring noise since a quieter circuit
employing lower noise, but a larger bandwidth, might
well give a higher reading, since the noise being
measured may be inaudibly high in frequency content.
Thus ideally, one compares like bandwidth with like, and
filters were made to achieve this, and to eliminate any
guesswork. These were fed by the equipment under test
and/or the low-noise amplifiers via a stepped
attenuator, which also gave a monitor output. An Aweighted filter approximates human hearing, peaking at
about 3kHz (0dB, -30dB @ 50Hz and 80kHz).

Unfortunately, A-weighted filtering can mask, say, low


frequency noise, reducing objectionable 2nd and 3rd
line harmonics by 20dB and 12dB respectively (favoured
with manufacturer's since a S/N ratio can be reduced by
10dB, or more), eg;

A filter with a roll-off of 22kHz will reveal these. For a


wideband measurement, no filter may be used.

To interface the test system with meters the next


circuits followed the filter (detailed description is given
in the Texas Instruments '84/'85 Bifet Design Manual).

Switching the load (Rlk) in enabled more rapid


comparisons and was used to 'reset' the output between
readings. If desired, a log amp can sit between the two.

Using TL07x series opamps, the rectifier was useful to


100kHz, although operation to 500kHz with other
opamps and 1N914 diodes is possible. If residual DC is
troublesome this can be overcome by using single
opamps and nulling the offset. To achieve a low drift,
the storage capacitor (Cst) should have a low dielectric
loss, such as a polystyrene or preferably teflon type.
The peak detector was modified by mounting a
switchable load (Rlk) across Cst to give a decay. This
resistor was chosen to give an output at the rms value
of a 1kHz sine wave input. The output then fed a DVM
and a VU meter.

Other indicators can be used, eg;

Another useful level indicator using cascaded LM3914s


to drive 20 LEDs was given by Quentin Rice (Wireless
World, Aug', '80, P31/3). This included sensitivity and
decay controls with an infinite hold and bar/dot pins.
When dealing with PAs say it can be useful to subtract
the input from the output. Artefacts, like cross-over
distortion and oscillations, can then be easier to spot
with a variety of frequencies and waveforms.

For test systems supplied by batteries (8V max),


TLC2201 opamps can be more suitable.
Before measurements were taken, the equipment was
allowed to stabilise for half an hour. For best results,
prior to, say, a new design being tested, the noise from
the complete measurement system should be recorded
first. This can then be subtracted from the new data,
measurements then being made over ten second
periods. A number of readings can be taken over time to
identify and eliminate peaks arising from intermittent
external sources. It may then be decided to adopt a
mean or average value with which to work. With care,
very useful confidence, accuracy and repeatability can
result at surprisingly very low levels.
The lower the impedance of an input load, the lower the
output noise. For example, an input of 43R can yield,
with one design, a wideband output noise measurement
of 1.15mV, whereas 3k3 will give 5.3mV. Meaningful
comparative results are achieved with a realistic
resistive load, a standard being 150R. The residual
noise of 'heads' was tested with resistive input loads
comprised of non-inductive wirewound or paralleled
metal-film resistors, matching the intended microphone
impedances, or with shorted inputs. The latter can
interest but will yield the lowest figure which may not
have significance in practical use. Open-circuit inputs
will yield higher noise levels but can identify other areas
that might concern like RFI, supply noise or oscillation.
Consideration can also be given to noise from
connecting leads. With preamps fitted with input
sockets, screened plugs with the relevant resistor fitted

saved time. Load models can be used with RIAA


preamps. Power amps can be tested with shorted inputs
and then a more realistic 1k resistor at the end of 20'
(6m) of screened cable, both approaches yielding very
similar results. When testing the noise levels of power
amps, ensure the test rig's inputs are clamped to
prevent accidental/incidental damage (see Input
Protection). Any mechanical contacts (switches,
connectors, etc) in the signal path should be thoroughly
cleaned and lubricated before testing.
When comparing microphone outputs either to select or
match for an array, the distance from the signal source
and the mounting must be identical. A greater set
distance between a source and microphone yields a
smaller error. To avoid connector noise, use soldered
joints to twisted flying leads already fitted to the
microphone capsules.
It had been intended to create a very simple, but
effective, system that can, however, be easily expanded
and adapted to a variety of needs. Different filters can
be used to fulfill a number of functions. For example, a
steep notch filter in conjunction with a low-distortion
spot frequency generator can be added to arrive at a
THD + N figure. Any (sine) source should be followed by
filtering to remove the harmonics generated by the
source. A 'scope/spectrum analyser is best fed from
before the monitor and can be used in conjunction with
a sweep generator, etc, etc. The following variable filter
was used to subjectively determine bandwidths before a
fixed type was built. The permutations possible are left
to the reader.

Wilfried Adam's "Designing low-noise audio amplifiers",


in June '89's Electronics & Wireless World, is

recommended with some filter designs that might be


useful.
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