eTracer Build and Review

Tracing valves: an obsession

Since my early days of valves and DIY audio, I developed an obsession around testing and tracing valves. This led me to design and build my analogue curve tracer which I used for many years successfully until I build my uTracer, which was a great innovation in curve tracing. I do have many valve testers (some which I made myself) so why building another one?

Well, Chris Chang from Essues Technologies developed a fantastic new digital curve tracer for valves, the eTracer.  There are a few things which will grab anyone’s attention on this curve tracer. Firstly, the power supplies can accommodate a large range of valves which the uTracer can’t. HT can go as high as 750V @ 300mA and the grid supply down to -170V! This is exactly what you need to test your transmitting valves or even a 300B.  Secondly, the tracing speed is surprisingly fast. This is a nice feature, specially when you want to trace pentodes at various screen voltages to develop a Spice model  for example. 

Build process

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4P1L / 4П1Л Siberian Gen4 in Screen mode (part 2)

Last time I wrote about the 4P1L in screen mode. It was great to see some DIYAudio member (Blitz) to post about his work on the 4P1L with screen as anode. I call it screen mode but probably is incorrect. 

His post about G3 structure remind me to post this, I have tested it but never blogged about it. Yes having G3 as part of the anode structure will increase conductance and will form a nice “mesh” anode. Here it is how I implemented:

The pin 4 (G3) is now connected to 3 (G2) to form the anode. I reduced the anode voltage down to 110V to get 10mA. It could be increased, sure within the Pd limits. 

The response is very good:

Here you have the distortion at 1kHz:

 

 

 

 

How does it sound?

Well, I wrote about it before. The 4P1L is one of my favourite valves. In this mode it sounds great, with a particular clear detail in the treble. I like this valve and will play it for some time to get further impressions. 

 

4P1L / 4П1Л Siberian Gen4 in Screen mode

Some time ago, I did some initial experiments with the 4P1L (4П1Л) with the screen performing as anode instead. Some DIYers claim the improved sound of the mesh type anodes. Kees Brakenhoff kindly sent me some PL519 to test in screen mode. He has done multiple builds with this mode of operation with great results. Unfortunately I’ve not had the chance yet to build such an amp.

What I could do instead though, was to mod very quickly my 4П1Л preamp to screen mode. It was a very easy and fast modification. I kept the same heating wiring and just adjusted the screen (anode) current down to 10mA: Continue reading “4P1L / 4П1Л Siberian Gen4 in Screen mode”

Gyrator PCB Update – Rev07

The gyrator PCB has been updated to fit now a wider variety of lower enhancement MOSFETs with low capacitance and high transconductance. The best examples are the BSH111BK and BSN20BK which are great options for currents above 25mA:

 

The board offers now all the flexibility needed in terms of different TO-92 and SOT-23 package pin-outs to use whatever FET you want.

 

4P1L (4П1Л) Siberian Gen4 – DHT Preamplifier

The return of the Siberian

After trying out so many DHTs and pre-amplifiers, I decided to wire up my 4P1L preamplifier Gen3 and fit the gyrator board to drive my 4P1L PSE Amplifier.  

I have a pair of 4P1L/4П1Л dated 1968 which are properly burnt in. I’ve used them lately in my previous preamp incarnation with great results. 

The circuit doesn’t need explanation, I think I’ve covered this repeatedly for a long time.  I will only point out the differences:

The main change was fitting a pair of Russian wirewound 27Ω resistors in parallel to get closer to the 15Ω used in this position. I found these Russian wirewound resistors to sound extremely well as filament bias resistors. I tend to be skeptical about the “sound” of some components in circuits, however, they do make a big impact in the cathode of a filament bias arrangement. 

The gyrator has my preferred combination: IXTP08N100D and BSH111BK. I have now an upgraded PCB Rev07 which fits the BSH111BK and similar FET and I will offer them shortly. 

The latter benefits from the 30mA idle current. The result is lower output impedance whilst providing a great frequency response overall.

M3 needs a proper heatsink, it does get hot with about 2W of dissipation. 

How does it perform?

Well, this valve has the reputation of amazing performance and low distortion. The gyrator setup provides the best out of this valve in my view. You can get a flat response as well as great bandwidht from 10Hz up to 3MHz loaded with 100kΩ:

The distortion is very low and is lower than 0.05% below 10Vrms. Dominant H2 with a lovely harmonic profile characteristic of this valve. 

How does it sounds?

i’ve been listening and using this valve extensively since 2011. I have to say that it sounds amazing. I never get tired of its sounds. Before I listened to a 4P1L-4P1L system and found a slight edge on the sound (probably due to its H3 component) which I don’t hear on my system. The drive, clarity and tone is amazing. It can drive the 4P1L PSE perfectly well and you get a strong and clear bass. Very powerful. My +600 hours 4P1L are very quiet in this setup, no microphonic noise. I don’t have even dampers in the 4P1L sockets!

Anyway, if you need 19dB (x9) gain in your system or you need a driver for your  SE amp, then this is the valve to go. I Still can be found cheaply and is a great contender to the thoriated tungsten filament DHTs like 01a and VT-25. 

Build this one and enjoy!

2P29L DHT Preamp

The Mule saga continues and it was time to modify the 3B7 preamp and to test the 2P29L valve. This was quite easy as they both have loctal sockets. I had to modify the Rod Coleman filament regulator to set the filament current down to 120mA. Then a bit of wiring work, and in less than an hour a new preamp was ready. Job done, this is why I built the Mule:

The circuit is quite close to my original design time ago. I modified the filament resistor to use an existing Russian NOS wirewound part I had in stock and suit this preamp quite well. Added grid and screen stoppers as well:

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Gyrator PCB Hack: final Enhancement Mosfet design

I evolved my previous design here, thanks to the help of Rod Coleman and fruitful discussions with him.

There is an option to improve the design by bootstrapping the top MOSFET to avoid using a bias Zener and allow the bottom device to have a constant VDS. This can be achieved by double bootstrapping the FETs. Here it goes:

Similar design as before. Only difference is that R7 is used to create the bias of T3, and thanks to the bootstrap of C2, the bottom FET (T4) now operates freely regardless the swing. D1 is needed to protect T4. R7need to be adjusted considering the output voltage expected as well as the maximum VDS before D1 starts to conduct.

There is an stability challenge and it can be addressed as Rod Coleman clearly points it out, a “guard ring” :

The other pro trick is the guard ring: this will dramatically reduce problems of dc-drift, if the PCB surface gets contaminated, e.g. when soldered with some old or poor-quality solder. Or damp air, fumes etc. It’s a conductor (pcb trace) around the high-impedance network formed by the 10M resistors. A staggered-pinout version of the TO220 is needed to implement it, as the TO220 is the hotspot for leakage (B+ of drain to the 10MΩ-driven gate!).

If there is a leakage path, it leads only to the guard ring, which is only a few volts away from the intended bias – rather than if the leakage can reach ground or B+, which would drive the circuit crazy. Connect the guard to a low-Z source – the Output in this case.
 
Anyway – I hope it is useful in some way!
(Rod Coleman)
 
How well it performs? Here you can see – no guard ring here, just adapted standard PCB for testing purposes:
Not bad at all with 3MHz bandwidth. However, considering the circuit complexity, I much rather stick to the depletion version which performs much better in my view:
 
Nearly 5.7MHz under same conditions!
 
Cheers, Ale
 

Gyrator hack: Enhancement MOSFET option

Happy Easter to all! (whatever you celebrate, doesn’t matter, it’s always good to have some days off)


I have my preferred gyrator setup which includes a top (depletion) MOSFET IXTP08N100D, which has a unique high VGS(th) which helps improving the performance of the bottom FET, in my case the BSH111BK. The combination of both is superb and they do measure (and sound) superb. The frequency response is flat until 3.4Mhz (-3dB). Yes, a high bandwidth amplifier, so you need to be mindful of this when using high gm/gain valves. I read somewhere people complaining that gyrator “oscillate”. Well they don’t, however they create a high bandwidth amplifier which is therefore prone to oscillate if you don’t take the right measures. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it will oscillate for sure, you have been warned.

Ok, if you can’t get hold of (any) depletion MOSFET as the top device, there is an option, a la Gary Pimms.

The circuit can be tweaked slightly, as can be hacked the PCB (I can show you how if you’re intending to use this circuit)

Here is the design:

 

The main difference is that D4 provides a stable reference voltage (18V) which ones you subtract the VGS(th) of the top MOSFET (typically 2-5V) then will give you enough headroom to allow the bottom FET to operate under low output capacitance due to higher VDS. This is the common limitation of the cascoded pair of depletion devices. You can’t get more than 2-3V.  As the top device forms a “cascode” with the bottom, it also limits the maximum voltage possible to the drain of the bottom device. The protection zener of the bottom device can be removed to ensure maximum swing. This stage can do 20Vpp easily. C5 provides some filtering to the zener noise, which is very low. I can’t see an issue at the driving levels in place. 

The protection zener (D2) for the top device is needed unless the MOSFET comes with a pair of back to back as some do.

There are multiple options for the top MOSFET. I like the (nearly EOL) STP3NK60ZFP which is a FP TO-220 device, very handy for heatsinks and high voltage and comes with the bonus of the protection zeners. The best option is the AOT1N60 and also the easier to get hold off FQPF2N60C

So, the performance is great. You can get flat response up to 2.1 Mhz. Here is a snapshot with my buffer which limits to 1.5Mhz:

 

 

However, my prefered stage can do 3.4Mhz under same conditions!

 

Gyrator FET options (More!)

Someone had to invest and sacrifice some gyrator boards to test various lower FETs (either depletion or enhancement devices as well as TO-92 or SMD options). That was me. 

Why? Because I want to push this circuit further and find the best options as well as provide to the builders out there some other device alternatives when they can’t solder SMD components. 

So let me present you the abused test mule and the various boards under the mercy of my tests:

Boards with different FETs under test

Continue reading “Gyrator FET options (More!)”