Friday, June 8, 2012

An Audio Amplifier filled with Tube Things from Physics

Vacuum Tubes From Wikipedia

I am been wanting to pick up the electric guitar for a while now. Part of getting a good setup is getting a good amp. Since I like to take things over the top, I really want to build my own tube amp. If you would like some info on tubes, you can find it here in this Wikipedia article. Tubes are known to produce some awesome sound and they have a nice old school aesthetic that I like. I don't care about power consumption nor do I need to shatter the neighbors windows; I care about the sound quality and simplicity. From what I have learned in electronics class, I think I need a class A amplifier. Class A amps can only be 50% at best which is not bad considering the inefficiencies of other devices we use on a daily bases. Your regular internal combustion engine is around 15-25% efficient. Most heat engines never exceed 50% efficient. Lasers are around 5% efficient. 
From the Internet

This is going to be an exercise not only in electronics but also in making something look good. I want the amp to be a long flat base with the tubes clearly visibly protruding from the top of the amp. One of the things I want is to have the tubes in a cage. Imagine something like this but with a vacuum tube in it. It would not only help to protect the tubes, but it would also give the design a more industrial old school feel.

A Nixie Tube from Wikipedia
Another feature I want is to show the volume using a series of nixie tubes. Nixie tubes are basically incandescent light bulb filaments that have been set into the shapes of numbers within one tube. Wikipedia has a great article about it here. By connecting power to different inputs, the tube will display different numbers. I have two thoughts in mind for this. One thought is to have a discrete volume knob which controls the amplification in steps and connects the right number in the nixie tube. Also, I want this knob to have 12 positions: 11 of amplification, and one for off. Have you ever seen the movie Spinal Tap? The second option is to have 11 nixie tubes which span across the amplifier. Each tube would be set to only display one unique consecutive number across the span of tubes. As you turn the volume up, you could discretely turn on each nixie tube for each knob position. Another idea would be to turn the tubes on gradually. This would mean that the earlier nixie tubes would be on brightly, but the later tubes would be dim.

HeNe Laser
HeNe Laser From Wikipedia
But why stop there? Since everything good in life is a tube (think about it) why not add more ridiculousness with TUBE THINGS FROM PHYSICS? There is one thing I know is a tube that is ridiculous: a small helium neon laser. Wikipedia article here. They operate at a very narrow band at 632.8 manometers which is red. It would be really neato to have these glowing on either side of the main amp. The red would complement the orange glow of the nixie tubes well. I am not sure if I would have them laying on their sides or vertical if I were to have them. 

In any case, all of these things would make a pretty cool looking amp when it is done.

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