Due to it’s inherently low power output design, does addition of a transformer-coupled booster amplifier to an AN214-based amplifier aid or hinder it’s sound quality?
By: Vanessa Uy
Given it’s inherently low power output – between 4 to 5 watts into an 8-ohm load. It was therefore inevitable to find a way of increasing the “meager” output of the AN214 IC-based audio amplifier without sacrificing it’s inherently good sound quality (on the cheap?). I wonder how many ways were “engineered” during the past 30 + years or so history of this device. Surprisingly, a consensus was reached of choosing a “primitive” transformer-coupled PNP transistor-based design that probably dates from the 1950s.
The design configuration of the transformer-coupled booster amplifier used to increase the 5-watt power output of the AN214 IC-based power amplifier for all intents and purposes resembles that of a transformer-coupled 300B-based push-pull tube power amplifier circuit. Except that the 300B tubes (or valves as they say in Merry Old England) were replaced by MJ2955 PNP power transistors in a TO-3 package. From my point of view, this transistor-based transformer-coupled booster amplifier circuit was probably based on the first transistor-based audio power amplifier designs first published in the US-based audio electronics magazine called AUDIO. Probably those issues dated between January 1960 to December 1961 - i.e. the Golden Age of Stereo.
During my experimentation of the MJ2955-based transformer-coupled booster amplifier – which to all intents and purposes is a continuation of the experiment done by my older audio-buddies during the last 25 years or so – I did optimize the input transformer winding design. By eliminating stray capacitance of the input transformer / driver transformer winding and optimizing it for a near-perfect square wave performance and transfer function characteristics. I did manage to reduce the booster amplifier’s recommended negative feedback level, which only improved the sound quality to no end.
Compared to its 300B tube-based sibling sound quality wise, it was a close match. Although the 300B-based push-pull amplifier did manage to display irreproachable beauty where it excels. Like in the Middle-C region of the musical performance – i.e. upper bass and lower midrange region of the audio spectrum. And even though it was criticized during the 1980s that transistor-based transformer-coupled booster amplifiers are notorious for having high total harmonic distortion (THD) in comparison to a full complementary direct-coupled solid-state power amplifier. But if you wind the transformers properly by eliminating stray capacitance – especially the input / driver transformers, the inherently high THD (total harmonic distortion) of transformer-coupled solid-sate booster amplifiers can be dramatically reduced. Although high-quality audio frequency transformers – driver transformers and output transformers - that are wound at artisan levels to optimize their square-wave performance and optimize their transfer-function characteristics across the audio spectrum are magnitudes more expensive in comparison to matched pairs of high-power output transistors.
The bad news is – from a perfectionist audiophile’s perspective – a lot can go wrong, sound quality wise, in the actual construction of full complementary direct-coupled solid-state power amplifiers. Especially if the “engineer” doesn’t trust their own ears and chose to trust on measuring instruments instead could result in a sluggish sounding power amplifier with unlimited reserves of power - but one that is sorely lacking in the pace, rhythm, and timing department. That's why I really hate musically illiterate audio engineers. Looks like the old-school wisdom gained by audio engineers during the Golden Age of Stereo still applies well into the 21st Century. And it also provides a low-cost route to audio nirvana via the AN214 IC-based audio power amplifier route. Ain’t it fun to be an audio cheapskate?