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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


• 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 the maximum.
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.
My utility amplifier was built into an
aluminum Bud box and eventually
ended up bolted to the bottom of a
shelf as shown. The well-behaved
and ready-to-go amplifier is really
handy.

As is often the case, the circuit values are not critical. Other op-amps
will usually work but a bit of experience may be necessary if problems
develop. The two 4.7 ohm resistors in the emitters may be replaced
with a single 10 ohm resistor in either position - I just like the
symmetry!

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 is
similar in complexity to a simple one-transistor radio but the
performance is superior (with the exception of the amazing one-
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 the bottom left
and the other components are
on the terminal strip at the
bottom of the picture. This is a
really quick and easy audio
amplifier!

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 fun-ariffic. 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 mid-brightness 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.)