Sunday 24 June 2012

An All-Tube Stereo Level indicator

Add some tube nostalgia to your modern stereo

Every tube loving electronics enthusiast has some tubes in his/her collection that are designed for such specific tasks, that they are very difficult to use for anything else. One of these difficult tubes is the EABC80 (6AK8). They are found in many older tube radios, and contain a triode and three diodes, two of them connected internally to the cathode of the triode. This makes it very hard to use them for anything other than what they were originally designed for.
Another tube that almost everybody has in their collection is the EM84 (6FG6) tuning indicator. Many people agree that these tubes were the eye-catcher of many tube radios. However, today almost no one uses them anymore. Well, things are about to change! With a few hours of work you can bring those nice indicator tubes back into your living room, and as an added bonus the design uses two EABC80 tubes and a tube rectifier.

Schematic diagram

 As you can see in the schematic diagram, the triode section of the EACB80 is used to amplify the incoming audio signal. The internal diodes are then used to create a negative voltage, which is fed to the input of the EM84. The RC combination connected to the grid of the EM84 provides a peak-hold function, and can of course be altered to suit everyone's individual tastes.

Putting it together

Caution! Tube circuits use lethal voltages! Don't say I didn't warn you!

As can be seen in the pictures, i have made a printed circuit board for my level indicator, but the simple nature and low parts count of this design allows many other ways to build it.  Unfortunately I don't have the time to make and send you a copy of this PCB, but for those of you who want to etch the board themselves, here is the layout in PDF format.
The power transformer I used came from an old Philips radio, but almost any transformer can be used, provided it can supply 6.3V @ 2A and about 500VCT @ 10mA. The 10k resistors in the B+ line can be tweaked to get the correct voltage (should be between 250V and 275V DC). The rectifier tube can be an EZ81 (6CA4) but an EZ80 may be even better, because it has the same size as the rest of the tubes.


Although this stereo level indicator is a great step forward from the usual LED or LCD devices, both in speed and in looks, it is NOT a 100% accurate measuring device. It can be used to compare one recording to another, but lacks the speed and accuracy to provide a reliable clipping detection. But it sure looks cool!
The bandwidth of the device is 20Hz - 100kHz, which is more than enough to ensure an accurate reading for most purposes, and certainly better than most analog meters. However,  as Jukka Tolonen points out in his excellent article on this subject, a 'perfect' peak detector should have an even greater range for adequate peak detection, and should include a full wave rectifier to deal with both negative and positive peaks in the signal. Jukka 's full article can be found here: Peak Reading Level Meter Using Indicator Tubes.
Unfortunately this goal is difficult to achieve with an all-tube design, and would certainly not be a beginners project. Within its limitations however, this level meter gives a fairly accurate view of the incoming audio signal. Adding a full-wave rectifier is of course possible, and could lead to even better results. Solid state diodes are out of the question of course! Besides, that would make things way too easy :-)
A possible idea would be to use EAA91 (6AL5) diodes... if anyone cares to give this a try please let me know!

(Article originally published in VALVE magazine 2/2003)

Thursday 21 June 2012

Real bass from a pair of cans... at a price

Lots of bass.. no kiddin' !

As a developer, i tend to spend quite some time at my desk, trying to concentrate to come up with solutions to programming challenges. However, in our new office building we don't have the luxury of separate rooms. Instead, we are all in one big open space. While this has its advantages (more interaction, and a nice, roomy atmosphere to name a few), the drawback is also evident: no quiet places to just think and write code! So I went looking for a pair of headphones suitable for office use. Obviously my trusty Sennheiser HD590 would not fit the bill. I still think they are very nice sounding, but they are also too big, and too expensive to just leave at the office. And on top of that they are open, which means that a lot of sound will leak at higher volumes - a good way to annoy your co-workers!

What am I looking for?


My perfect pair of office cans have to be comfortable enough to wear for several hours a day. Because of the music I like to listen to at work, they have to be able to produce serious amounts of bass, without leaking too much sound to the outside world. And of course they need to be cheap enough to leave them at the office without requiring a personal safe!

So here it is: the Sony MDR-XB300


After spending way to much time looking around on the internet, I decided to buy the MDR-XB300, a pair of on-ear, closed  system headphones from Sony. These can be had for around $30.00, are very comfortable, and promised to have Extra Bass (hence the 'XB'). Webshop delivers them at your doorstep without shipping costs, and with a 30-day return policy. What's there to lose?

The test


Right out of the box this pair of  'phones delivers what's on the box: deep bass, and LOTS OF IT! In fact, too much bass for many kinds of music. In contrast, the mids and highs are almost nonexistent. After some 50 hours of break-in this improves somewhat, but it still sounds like having a subwoofer strapped to your head. But you know what? That's fine with me, because I wasn't looking for audiophile quality anyway!
Leakage is much less than the open HD590's, and very much acceptable for office use. The pads are soft enough to allow listening for hours on end, but not so soft that they will slide off of your head.
The built-in laptop audio amp seems to struggle sometimes because of the low impedance (24 Ohms), so the sound may benefit from a decent headphone amplifier.  This I will review in my next post!



They may not be for everyone, but for me, they get the job done. Lots of bass, and good damping of outside noise. They are now a permanent part of my office setup.

Sunday 8 January 2012

It's there at last... MPLAB X.

Good news from the people at Microchip: MPLAB X, the new IDE for programming PIC microcontrollers, has finally come out of beta and is now available for download. At the moment of writing this article, the Microchip website still lists MPLAB X as being in beta, but the link already points to the released 1.00a version. You can find the download here: Download MPLAB X IDE.
This link will likely change within a couple of weeks, as the new IDE will be officially released, so here is the link to the official MPLAB homepage:

After playing around with MPLAB 8.xx for some time, i have to say that MPLAB X is an enormous improvement. Gone is the cluttered multiwindow environment, with it's confusing layout and non-intuitive structure. MPLAB X looks a lot more like Microsoft's Visual Studio IDE, for me the benchmark of a good development suite. I haven't spent much time in the new IDE yet, but as far as i have seen it's a big step forward. Much less clutter, a more logical interface, and much improved project management. Watch this blog for a more in-depth article, coming soon!