EMC PCB Layout Notes

  • Implicit RLC (potentially filters) and antennas formed by traces
  • Large ground/voltage planes serves as EMI shield, low impedance path current sink
  • True differential signals can be generated by current sources
  • Decouple with ferrite beads if radiation inevitable by geometry/placement
  • Avoid / minimize large current swings on analog plane (e.g. buffer digital signals)
  • Star ground when splitting sections: don’t let heavy digital current sink through analog ground by cascading the grounds.
  • Don’t really need to split planes as long as large digital current’s preferred return paths are localized and far away from the analog section.
  • AGND/DGND refers to the grounds responsible for different sections of a mixed-signal IC. Has nothing to do with which actual ground to tie to. (e.g. DGND pin in ADC chips still goes to analog ground plane as it has low switching current)

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Lepy LP-2024A+ Class T Amplifier Mod

My traditional Hi-Fi amplifier drains a lot of power and heats up my room when I’m not using it. The summer heat prompted me to look into Class-D amplifiers as they’re highly energy efficient.

I bought a Lepy LP-2024A+, a Class-T amplifier (It’s Tripath’s improvement over Class-D amplfiers) for $22 shipped. It sounded good over a narrow range of volume, as I can hear the background sound details on my ADS 200 speakers.

Unfortunately, strong bass components in certain music gets distorted, a sign that the amplifier cannot deliver fast energy impulses. To put it simply, I enjoyed the treble but not the bass with this amplifier.

I saw some mods reports on the older TA-2020A+ based units (like LP-2020A+), but as of now, only one Japanese blog site talk about switching out input stage op-amps without other changes. So I decided to do my own mod and post the results here.


First, the unit came with a dinky 2200uF capacitor for power smoothing. I upgraded it to 6800uF. I happen to have a 12uH inductor with thick wires, so I replaced the toroid inductor (as in the LC power smoothing pair) with it while I’m at it. 

Then I replaced all the remaining white-label capacitors with decent brands (Wruth, Nichicon, Panasonic, CDE), all rated at 105 degC, sometimes with higher voltage ratings depends on which brand-name parts Newark has on sale when I order it.

Then I upgraded the 4 output stage inductors with Wruth 7447452100 rated 10uH 4.5A. Tripath’s datasheet says 2A, so I supposed the one populated on board would be less than that. 

I also replaced the SMD (1206) ceramic capacitors at the output stage (very close to the speaker wire terminals) with Polyester Film (for the taller 0.47uF ceramic chips) and NP0/C0G (the thinner 0.1uF ceramic) to improve linearity. I suspect this change helped to reduce the listening fatigue for treble components of the music I’m listening to. Now I don’t have to tone down the treble gain (knob) that aggressively.   

As prompted by the Japanese blog site, I ordered some LT1364, but the improvement isn’t that big since the NE5532 wasn’t bad in the first place:

The bass and drums are much more enjoyable after the mod, since the improved power handling reduced the bass distortion on bass impulses. The amplifier is still 15W (7.5W+7.5W) dictated by TA-2024A+, but I rarely want to crank the music up louder than that anyway.

As a bonus, I took a thermal image with my Seek Thermal Imager:

The input stage ICs LT1634 are 118 deg F:


Actually I wasn’t completely satisfied. After all the mods, if I cranked up the volume, I occasionally hear the output drooping (i.e. some light pops, farts, and volume modulation) at a few time spots of the songs.

I suspect the power smoothing capacitor and inductor combinations aren’t pimped up enough. I chose not to go all the way to get giant inductors and capacitors because there aren’t enough space at the original component location. Anything bigger has go to the right hand side of the box.

I saw the board has split ground planes, so I don’t want to defeat the noise reduction design by flying high current wires all the way from the left side (power), past the middle (digital switching) all the way to the right (analog input stage). And I thought of an idea: why not smooth the power outside?

I happened to have a bunch of conical DC power plug pigtails from Monoprice:

So I made a pass-through circuit with a 380uH inductor in series. I wrapped the wires around the coil so I can have the ferrite core double as the ferrite bead (plus saving space):

Followed by an external capacitor module (loaded in parallel):

So this circuit will sit between the power supply module and LP-2024A+:

I could have shorted the inductor on the PCB and just remove the 6800uF capacitor to move the components outside the enclosure. But why bother? Just leave it there as a two stage LC filter (power smoother)! In case if the external LC module was skipped, the LP-2024A+ will still sound reasonable (as long as I don’t drive it too hard).

With the external power handling mod, even loud music sounds smooth, expressing the 3D acoustic image crisply through my ADS 200 speakers: I felt like a person is talking/singing right in front of me than some loudspeaker generated sound. It’s so crisp that I can hear each individual string pluck. Bass is deep too after I added a ADS sub 6 subwoofer. I’ve been listening to “the Phantom Of the Opera” CDs ever since high school and I’m still rediscovering new musical details with this amplifier + ADS speakers! 

Before the mod, I would hesitate to make it my main amplifier and might want to go back to my Denon AVR-988 for serious listening. It took me quite a while to tune my Denon to sound good, but it works right out of the box on my modified Lepy LP-2024A+!


Update [08/21/2017]: Based on people’s comment (in audiokarma) on TA-2020A+ vs TPA3116, I decided to give it a shot and ordered Nobsound’s 50W model.

Actually before this LP-2024A+, I modded a Pyle TA-2020A and was disappointed at the clarity is totally lacking compared to the lower powered LP-2024A+. I thought it could be Pyle’s terrible implementation of TA-2020A+, but after hearing TPA3316, I observed these:

  • TPA3116 has less distortion than TA-2020A+ and it sounded slightly tighter at all frequencies, especially the low ones
  • Both TA-2020A+ and TPA3116 lack the clarity at vocal frequencies and above. TA-2024A+ beat them both hands down.
  • TA-2024A+ draws 0.15A when no music is played while TPA3116 draws 0.03A. The reading is from my HP 6032A (60V, 50A) power supply.

TPA3316 might have a tighter bass than TA-2024A+, but I wouldn’t trade the vocal and up for that. TA-2024A+ might be marginally OK for N.W.A., but certainly not for parties. It’s an amp for music, not for acting cool.

 

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