Variable-gain amplifier, with good frequency response including 4MHz.

In an earlier posting, I had described a variable-gain amplifier that could be etched into a monolithic IC. But, that circuit had as its main drawback, that it would only seem to work well at a centre-frequency of ~500kHz, while most circuit designs expect Megahertz frequencies, when working in the analog domain.

The diagrams in this posting have been tested using the open-source simulation software named ‘NG-Spice’.

In order to achieve Megahertz frequency response, I needed to discover a little trick, which professional circuit designers – aka Electrical Engineers – probably already know. What the previous circuit had done, was to set (R4) to 32kΩ, while setting (R1) to 40kΩ. The reason I had done this was, the old-fashioned idea that the pull-up resistor of the amp should bisect the supply voltage, with the main transistor in series, in order to achieve maximum gain. Yet, the bias voltages were more likely to be in the vicinity of 1.8V. Thus, (R4) would bias (M2) to conduct a certain amount of current, and because both (M1) and (M4) are in saturation mode, they will both conduct the same amount of bias current between their Source and Drain, due to the resulting bias voltage at both Gates. Yet, that amount of current would cause a 1.5V voltage-drop through (R1), while causing a 1.2V voltage-drop through (R4).

Hence, with 2 voltage-levels, it was necessary to put a coupling capacitor, which in turn is a hassle on an IC.

The trick seems to be, that (R1) and (R4) can be set to the same value, so that the DC component of the Drain voltage, will equal the bias voltage. That way, as many circuits as needed can just be chained, with equal bias voltages, and No Coupling Capacitors. The bias voltage I now obtain, is (1.857V).

Additionally, I retuned the circuit, by reducing the width of (M1) and (M2) from 100μM to 25μM, which in turn reduces Drain-to-Gate capacitance, which in turn would hinder good, high-frequency response. (M4) now also has a width of 25μM, so that it can be biased in a matching way.

Yet, with the transistors so small, the output would need to be protected by that additional transistor (M4), so that to connect minor loads to it will not collapse the functioning of the main stage.

The result was, that with a control voltage of (2.0V) and a frequency of 4MHz, a gain of almost +40dB was obtained, while with a control voltage of (0.0V), a signal drop, and indeed inversion of the phase was obtained, because (M3) just bypassed (M1).

The following is the Netlist of the (2.0V) simulation:

http://dirkmittler.homeip.net/text/Default_NM_Gain_IF_13.net.txt

And these are the Modelcards of the transistors used:

http://dirkmittler.homeip.net/text/NMOS2.mod.txt

http://dirkmittler.homeip.net/text/PMOS2.mod.txt

This is an image of the schematic:

(Updated 5/29/2021, 12h15… )

A Basic Limitation in Stereo FM Reproduction

One of the concepts which exist in modern, high-definition sound, is that Human Sound perception can take place between 20 Hz and 20kHz, even though those endpoints are somewhat arbitrary. Some people cannot hear frequencies as high as 20kHz, especially older people, or anybody who just does not have good hearing. Healthy, young children and teenagers can typically hear that entire frequency range.

But, way back when FM radio was invented, sound engineers had flawed data about what frequencies Humans can hear. It was given to them as data to work with that Humans can only hear frequencies from 30Hz to 15kHz. And so, even though Their communications authorities had the ability to assign frequencies somewhat arbitrarily, they did so in a way that was based on such data. (:1)

For that reason, the playback of FM Stereo today, using household receivers, is still limited to an audio frequency range from 30Hz to 15kHz. Even very expensive receivers will not be able to reproduce sound, that was once part of the modulated input, outside this frequency range, although other reference points can be applied, to try to gauge how good the sound quality is.

There is one artifact of this initial standard which was sometimes apparent in early receivers. Stereo FM has a pilot frequency at 19kHz, which a receiver needs to lock an internal oscillator to, but in such a way that the internal oscillator runs at 38kHz, but such that this internal oscillator can be used to demodulate the stereo part of the sound. Because the pilot signal which is actually part of the broadcast signal is ‘only’ at 19kHz, this gives an additional reason to cut off the audible signal at ‘only’ 15Khz; the pilot is not meant to be heard. But, way back in the 1970s and earlier, Electrical Engineers did not have the type of low-pass filters available to them which they do now, that are also known as ‘brick-wall filters’, or filters that attenuate frequencies above the cutoff frequency very suddenly. Instead, equipment designed to be manufactured in the 1970s and earlier, would only use low-pass filters with gradual ‘roll-off’ curves, to attenuate the higher frequencies progressively more, above the cutoff frequency by an increasing distance, but in a way that was gentle. And in fact, even today the result seems to be, that gentler roll-off of the higher frequencies, results in better sound, when the quality is measured in other ways than just the frequency range, such as, when sound quality is measured for how good the temporal resolution, of very short pulses, of high-frequency sound is.

Generally, very sharp spectral resolution results in worse temporal resolution, and this is a negative side effect of some examples of modern sound technology.

But then sometimes, when listeners with high-end receivers in the 1970s and before, who had very good hearing, were tuned in to an FM Stereo Signal, they could actually hear some residual amount of the 19kHz pilot signal, which was never a part of the original broadcast audio. That was sometimes still audible, just because the low-pass filter that defined 15kHz as the upper cut-off frequency, was admitting the 19kHz component to a partial degree.

One technical accomplishment that has been possible since the 1970s however, in consumer electronics, was an analog ‘notch filter’, which seemed to suppress one exact frequency – or almost so – and such a notch filter could be calibrated to suppress 19kHz specifically.

Modern electronics makes possible such things as analog low-pass filters with a more-sudden frequency-cut-off, digital filters, etc. So it’s improbable today, that even listeners whose hearing would be good enough, would still be receiving this 19kHz sound-component to their headphones. In fact, the sound today is likely to seem ‘washed out’, simply because of too many transistors being fit on one chip. And when I just bought an AM/FM Radio in recent days, I did not even try the included ear-buds at first, because I have better headphones. When I did try the included ear-buds, their sound-quality was worse than that, when using my own, valued headphones. I’d say the included ear-buds did not seem to reproduce frequencies above 10kHz at all. My noise-cancelling headphones clearly continue to do so.

One claim which should be approached with extreme skepticism would be, that the sound which a listener seemed to be getting from an FM Tuner, was as good as sound that he was also obtaining from his Vinyl Turntable. AFAIK, the only way in which this would be possible would be, if he was using an extremely poor turntable to begin with.

What has happened however, is that audibility curves have been accepted – since the 1980s – that state the upper limit of Human hearing as 20kHz, and that all manner of audio equipment designed since then takes this into consideration. This would include Audio CD Players, some forms of compressed sound, etc. What some people will claim in a way that strikes me as credible however, is that the frequency-response of the HQ turntables was as good, as that of Audio CDs was. And the main reason I’ll believe that is the fact that Quadraphonic LPs were sold at some point, which had a sub-carrier for each stereo channel, that differentiated that stereo channel front-to-back. This sub-carrier was actually phase-modulated. But in order for Quadraphonic LPs to have worked at all, their actual frequency response need to go as high as  40kHz. And phase-modulation was chosen because this form of modulation is particularly immune to the various types of distortion which an LP would insert, when playing back frequencies as high as 40kHz.

(Updated 7/3/2019, 22h15 … )

LG Tone Infinim HBS-910 Bluetooth Headphones

In This earlier posting, I had written that my LG Tonepro HBS-750 Bluetooth Headphones had permanently failed. Today, I received the HBS-910 headphones that are meant to replace those. And as I’ve written before, it is important to me, to benefit from the high-quality sound, that both sets of headphones offer.

I’m breaking in the new ones, as I’m writing this.

There exists a design-philosophy today, according to which music-playback is supposed to boost the bass and attenuate the highest frequencies – the ones higher than 10kHz – so that the listener will get the subjective impression that the sound is ‘louder’, and so that the listener will reduce the actual signal-level, to preserve their hearing better than it was done a few decades ago.

1. The lowest-frequency (default) setting on the equalizer of the headphones does both of those things.
2. The next setting stops boosting the bass.
3. The third setting, stops attenuating the treble.

Overall, I get the impression that the highest frequencies which the HBS-910 can reproduce, extend higher, than what the HBS-750 was able to reproduce.