Saturday, May 14, 2011

Compact High-Performance 12V 20W Stereo Amplifier

Amplifiers which run from 12V DC generally don’t put out much power and they are usually not hifi as well. But this little stereo amplifier ticks the power and low distortion boxes. With a 14.4V supply, it will deliver 20 watts per channel into 4-ohm loads at clipping while harmonic distortion at lower power levels is typically less than 0.03%.

This is an ideal project for anyone wanting a compact stereo amplifier that can run from a 12V battery. It could be just the ticket for buskers who want a small but gutsy amplifier which will run from an SLA battery or it could used anywhere that 12V DC is available – in cars, recreational vehicles, remote houses with 12V DC power or where ever.

12 Volt 20W Stereo Amplifier circuit schematic
20W Stereo Audio Amplifier

Because it runs from DC, it will be an ideal beginner’s or schoolie’s project, with no 240VAC power supply to worry about. You can run it from a 12V battery or a DC plugpack. But while it may be compact and simple to build, there is no need to apologise for “just average” performance. In listening tests from a range of compact discs, we were very impressed with the sound quality.

Long-time readers might recall that we presented a similar 12V power amplifier design back in May 2001. It was a similar configuration to this one but it is now completely over-shadowed by the much lower distortion and greatly improved signal-to-noise ratio of this new design. In fact, let’s be honest: the previous unit is not a patch on this new design. It used two TDA1519A ICs which resulted in distortion figures above 1% virtually across the board and a signal-to-noise ratio of only -69dB unweighted.

20W Stereo Amplifier circuit schematic
20W Stereo Amplifier Circuit

However, by using the TDA­7377 power amplifier IC and making some other improvements, the THD (total harmonic distortion) of the new design is about 50 times better than the older unit (see performance graphs for details). The bottom line is that the THD under typical conditions is around just 0.03% or less. It is also able to deliver more output power due to the improved output transistors in the new power amplifier IC.

In addition, its idle power consumption is low – not much more than 1W. As a result, if you don’t push it too hard it will run cool and won’t drain the battery too quickly. And because the IC has self-protection circuitry, it’s just about indestructible. It will self-limit or shut down if it overheats and the outputs are deactivated if they are shorted.

Circuit diagram:

12V 20W Stereo Amplifier circuit schematic
20W Stereo Amplifier Circuit Diagram

With a 12V supply, the largest voltage swing a conventional solid-state power amplifier can generate is ±6V. This results in a meagre 4.5W RMS into 4O and 2.25W RMS into 8O, without considering losses in the output transistors. Even if the DC supply is around 14.4V (the maximum that can normally be expected from a 12V car battery), that only brings the power figures up to 6.48W and 3.24W for 4O and 8O loads respectively – still not really enough.

There are three common solutions to this problem. The first is to boost the supply voltage using a switchmode DC converter. This greatly increases the cost and complexity of the amplifier but it is one way of getting a lot of power from a 12V supply. However, we wanted to keep this project simple and that rules out this technique.

Parts layout:

PCB layout of compact 12V 20W Stereo Amplifier circuit schematic

There are variations on the boosting method, such as the class H architecture used in the TDA1562Q IC featured in the Portapal PA Amplifier (SILICON CHIP, February 2003). It is able to achieve 40W/channel but with >0.1% THD. In that case, the amplifier output itself provides the switching for a charge pump. The second method is to lower the speaker impedance. Some car speakers have an impedance as low as 2O, which allows twice as much power to be delivered at the same supply voltage. However, we don’t want to restrict this amplifier to 2O loudspeakers.

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