In spite of it’s age – and apparent manufacturing extinction – are AN214 IC-based audio power amplifiers still “noteworthy” in our 21st Century hi-fi world?
By: Vanessa Uy
If you asked me – or any of my older audio-buddies – about AN214 IC-based audio amplifiers, they do admit – albeit reluctantly – to have “once upon a time” taken this integrated circuit route to audio nirvana. Given that this low powered audio-amplifier-on-a-chip is about as technologically advanced as a cassette tape when viewed from our 21st Century perspective, does it still deserve serious discussion? Though the short answer by audiophile die-hards lucky enough to stock significant quantities of the AN214 IC is: “you betcha!”
Part of the allure and mystique of the AN214 integrated circuit-based audio power amplifier is that manufacturer authorized and approved – i.e. reliable – spec sheets and application notes are few and far between. In my opinion, it is safe to say that anyone who has seen first hand “proper” AN214 IC spec sheets – especially the device’s slew rate and power output rating – are either: a) had forgotten about it due to illicit drug use during the past 25 years. b) Have gallantly gave their lives during Operation Desert Storm, or more likely c) had joined a technology-rejecting / technology-abhorring religious cult.
But what everyone lucky enough to remember the virtues of the AN214 power amplifier during it’s heyday is that it has always been inexplicably linked with the ubiquitous back in the 1970s and 1980s Pioneer in-car stereo cassette tape deck and FM tuner combo. Which from an electronic engineer’s standpoint is inevitable given that both live in the 12-volt world of car audio. Although I’m lucky enough to have heard first hand Pioneer’s 8-track version of this in-car tape and FM tuner combo that sounds as if it was designed by famed recording engineer Bill Laswell due to it’s legendary ability to reproduce recorded music with tons of electric bass. I f you’re an unabashed reggae music and dub fan lucky enough to demo this legendary Pioneer in-car 8-track tape and FM stereo combo. Buying it would be the next best thing to hanging out with Bill Laswell in the recording studio capturing your favorite bass-based musician on analogue tape.
Although the AN214 IC audio amplifier was famed in its heyday for “heroically” bringing out the musicality of the cassette tape medium despite of it’s “engineering” limitations. This 5 watt (according to bench test measurements, although it sounds apparently more powerful in real life use) integrated circuit-based power amplifier has still so much to give in our wide bandwidth wide dynamic ranged hi-fi world. Even in the era of DVD Audio and SACD whose bandwidth could easily stretch to 100,000 Hz. Compared to CD’s 22,050 Hz Nyquist Frequency criterion limitation – never mind cassette tapes, which have a hard time reaching past 15,000 Hz.
Given that the first decade of the 21st Century is almost over, I find it real surprising than an integrated circuit-based low-power amplifier whose heyday pre-dates the discovery of the AIDS virus can still hold its own in 2009. If any of you out there has something extra to add to my woefully inadequate knowledge to the electronic engineering aspects of the AN214 IC-based power amplifier, please drop me a line. Your help is greatly appreciated. Especially the slew rate part of this venerable device.