I did it! I've always wanted to build my own amplifier, and now, finally, I made one. It's my first "serious audio" project ever.

Starting this project was daunting to me. There was a gap between buying the parts and actually making the amplifier... a two year gap, as a matter of fact. I know a thing or two about analog electronics and I can read and understand electronic diagrams, but I never made something from scratch that connects directly to a wall outlet. And I usually make stuff with electronics either for kids or as a "proof of concept", where accuracy and details matter only little. In other words, I was just insecure about me as a maker of Serious Amplifiers.

What helped me to get started is that I just needed an amplifier. I love to play music and the best sound system I had was my iMac. And that proved not good enough for me. So I had the choice between buying a cheap receiver while knowing I had all the parts for a much better amp or just get started building it. Oh boy, I am SO glad I did just that!

If you find yourself dreaming about building an amplifier now and then, but are not sure about how to get it done: Read on! I described the making of my Serious Amp as good as possible, including the mistakes and successes. The result is not a Perfect Amp, but it surely is a Serious One that is not that hard to build even if you never built one before.

If you like this project, please vote for it in the contests. Thanks!

This amplifier is the best one I've ever owned (that claim isn't worth very much) and I'm really, really happy with it. Even with my secondhand (€10,-) loudspeakers it sounds pretty nice. In the video, the sound is recorded with the on-camera mic. What you hear is far, far away from the real life experience.

The amp is a so called Gainclone, using one LM3886 op-amp per channel. The power supply is based on a (way too large) 230VA toroid transformer. It took me about 32 hours to build the amp and power supply.

In this Instructable, I'll describe how I made the power supply and amplifier. More important, I'll also describe what I would do different if I had to do the project again.

Step 1: Links: Get a grip on the Gainclone Universe

I'm not an audiophile and not an expert on amplifiers either. So when I started to look around on "how to build a Serious Amp", I entered the universe of Gainclone amplifiers. Looking at the sometimes gorgeous designs, I realised I wanted to build one of these babies myself. There are many different ways to build them, so browse around and get yourself familiar with the world of gainclones...

  • Mark Hennesy's website: Very, very nice amps and great info on gainclones and powersupplies. Great pics and comments on how he built it. The most inspiring resource I found.
  • Wikipedia article on Gainclone amps and where they come from.
  • The Chill Amp: Well documented site, including schematics and parts list.
  • Chipamp.com: I used their circuit diagram for the amplifier (the pdf is available on their site. Comes along with good tips on building amps). They also sell kits and parts.
  • DIY Chip Amps: Nice listing of several DIY gainclone amplifiers.
  • Audiosector.com: Stunningly beautiful gainclone amps.
  • Decibel Dungeon (that's an audio-nerdy name :-)): Schematics for a gainclone amp and a power supply.
  • Decibel Dungeon Gainclone Gallery: Nice collection of DIY gainclone amps.
On Instructables are just a few gainclone projects. ASCAS' DIY HiFi Gainclone Power Amp is an example.

You may have noticed that there are a lot of slightly different schematics and op-amp types that can be used. Not being an expert, I found it hard to make a choice. I turned to a friend who I consider to be an expert for advice. He convinced me just to choose something simple and trustworthy. The differences in the circuits are about details, which are hardly relevant when building your first amp. Novice mistakes will be made and those will have much more impact for the worse than the refined details have for the better.

What I really like about the Gainclone is the minimalistic approach. The general rule with Gainclones is the less components, the better the amp. This comes at a prize, of course: The quality of the components and their specs become more important, since there are so few components to create the sound.
<p>Thank you again for this great instructable. I've finished my first gainclone this weekend and can't count the hours I've stared on this page. Also, thank you again for your help. I forgot to ground the secondary coil during my first attempt which (according to a friend) causes a &quot;floating&quot; of the current. However, it finally works perfectly fine, without any noise. I've attached two pictures, the wiring is not as nice as yours, but works for me :)</p>
<p>Wow! Thanks so much for your pics and nice comment! Your amp looks GREAT, thumbs up! You added a second line-in, didn't you?</p><p>Cheers, Y.</p>
<p>Yes, it's a second input. I am using the amp for CDs and PC and since I already had the parts I thought it's more convenient.</p>
<p>Maybe it's not the best idea to put something you attach to the powergrid in a flammable wooden box?</p>
<p>That crossed my mind as well, but then I thought: 50 years ago most boxes containing electronics were made from wood. The casing can withstand some big sparks for sure. If you want a really fireproof box metal sheets seem the only way to go...</p>
<p>Hey man, very impressed with this amp. What would be your thoughts on scaling up the output wattage to around 200/500 watts?</p>
<p>Uhhhmmmm... You would need either an entirely different op-amp, or design a grid of at least four LM3886's to distribute the power. And then take care of the heat that comes with 200 to 500 Watts. The design of my amp is not suitable for that kind of power...</p>
<p>Hello,</p><p>I finished both amps and instructions are very nicely written, but I have trouble with potentiometer resistors. Could you maybe post a bit clearer image or schematic how to hook it up and what values to use?</p><p>I know that your aim is not to make AMPs for Dummies 101, but I would appreciate so much if you could post the remaining part of the build in similar manner. At the moment I have real trouble figuring out the output safety mechanism and potentiometer resistors.</p><p>Thank you much, if you will have time, if no, wish you best with what you're doing. :)</p><p>Regards</p>
<p>Could you give us some computer generated schematics? I find them easier to read. Eagle is a good program.</p>
<p>this is a great instructable, very easy to follow. i have always wanted to own an amp that worked well, but not having a lot of money or knowledge i figured building one would be the best but never found a good, easy to follow guide. i will definitely be using this to build one for my next serious project.</p>
<p>ok if of you have a problem with that my i suggest!!!!!!!!!!! lm386 half watt ic!!!! i try that one man makes satisfie you self if you the 386 one</p>
<p>and less cheaper than to make and too powerfull and smokey !!!! you will love it</p>
<p>i will research the usage of this, if i can figure it out i may use this idea, thanks!</p>
<p>ill give a schematic in the breadboard i wanna make this!!! and work !!! there was a secret about my schematic that make distortion clear !!! figure it out !!!! so it will help you for first speaker and!!!! by the way!!!!!! there have some missing connection for it and is the!!!!......... hahaha figure it out!!!!. so it will may get you been un the challege!!!</p>
<p>your welcome!!! :D</p>
<p>Your heatsink for the amp seems REALLY small [and thin]. I wonder if you checked how hot it gets?</p>
<p>You could test the source of the 'soft noise'by placing say a 1K ohm resistor across the amp input - after the potentiometer. If the noise stays then it could 1) outside radiation being picked up 2) small grounding issue 3) power supply hum</p>
<p>One reason metal is usually used is that metal offers shielding from outside interference [ as well as keeping any emf radiation contained]</p>
<p>I would urge anyone building such a project to test each major part first before connecting it all together. You fairly easily test the power supply - using a dummy load [ie. light bulb]. Test the amp using a known good power supply which has current limiting. Triple check all connections before powering up.</p>
<p>Perhaps try using veroboard, but soldering short wires from the chip leads to points on the veroboard. Usually though, using PCB is much preferred.</p>
<p>Enjoyed your project and its inspired me to try to build one. My knowledge of electronics is quite limited but I have been reading up a bit on some of the sites you suggested. One question, where do you connect in your switch, LED and resistor? I don't see them in any of your schematics.</p>
<p>Awesome work! I read the article about your amp on hackaday.com and I've never heard about gainclones before. I haven't such a deep knowledge about electronics, but thought I give it a try. So I ordered all parts the next day (but skipped the Anti-interference module and the rectifier). I ordered the same toroid transformer from Conrad (Germany) and followed your instructions about the second coil, connected the red and purple wire and soldered them on the ground connector of the 220V power cable. I'm pretty sure that I've soldered everything else correctly and triple checked each connection. But after I powered it, the clamp that connected the second coil to the ground started smoking and the speaker made strange sounds!! I've no idea what I've done wrong here, so I can only guess:<br>Was it wrong to connect the secondary coils to the ground?<br><br>I connected every ground of the sketch (amp+power supply) to the ground of the 220V input, is that correct?<br><br>I forgot to wire the parallel capacitors (100uF and 0,1uF) on the V+ cable, but I don't think that was the problem and now I'm scared to retry without any changes. <br><br>I used a cheap 4Ohm instead of a 8Ohm speaker, just in case I break it.</p>
<p>Hi mfaust,</p><p>Thanks for the post. You obviously created a short somewhere, but I can't tell why and where... My guess is that you connected the secondary coils the wrong way.</p><p>Try this:</p><ul><li>Take out the toroid transformer.<li>Compare your toroid's label with mine (enclosed image). With my model, the first sec. coil has colors Black - Red (SW-RT on the label). The other sec. coil has colors Purple and White (VIO-WS on the label). Is that the same as with your model?<li>If so: Disconnect the purple and red wires. <li>Connect just the transformer's primary coil to 230 Volts (nothing can go wrong now, as long as you make sure that the secondary coils' wires don't touch anything). With a Voltmeter, measure the Voltage between the secondary coils' wires: So measure between red and white, red and purple, red and black, etc.<li>Between two pairs of wires you should read 18 Volts AC. <li>Write down what the positive and minus leads are of each coil (you can use the Voltmeter for that. Hook up the black probe to the Voltmeter's COM. If you read +18 Volts, the black probe is connected to the coil's minus lead.</ul><p>If you did this, please leave a comment with the results. We'll go from there :-)</p><p>Good luck!</p><p>Y.</p>
<p>Hello ynze,</p><p>I checked the toroid's model number, it's exactly the same you used. I measured the output AC current I on the black and white wires I connected the power supply with and got the 18 Volts. I also have the 25V output you mentioned in your instruction. So I thinks this works fine.</p><p>Anyway, thanks for your help! I just have to confess that my knowledge is not sufficent for bugfixing this circuit, so I will ask some friends for help. I let you know if I get this thing running some day ;)</p>
<p>Thank you very much for the reply! It's the first thing I'm gonna try tomorrow!</p>
<p>Very cool project ! Congratulations !</p><p>You say it is a serious amplifier and it cost you about 100$.</p><p>Do you think you can build other serious amplifier but cheaper ?</p><p>Best regards</p>
<p>Nice! i didnt know about these! a gainclone would solve much of what ive been looking for. </p><p>questions: do you think i could use a computer PSU as the power source?</p><p>also i dont really need a volume control (i could do that on the computer) ... you think replacing the pot with a fixed resistor would solve the problem with noise?</p>
<p>I'm not sure about the power supply from a PC. It might work. According to the LM3886 datasheet (<a rel="nofollow">http://www.ti.com/lit/ds/symlink/lm3886.pdf) </a> you need at least 20 Volt voltage supply (|-V| + |+V|). If you can find -12V and +12V connections in a PC's power supply the opamp will work, but the power output will be far less than 60 Watts.</p><p>Yes, you can replace the pot with a fixed resistor. I haven't tried this, but I so no reason why it shouldn't work.</p>
There is a third connection technique, called wire wrapping. You use a board that looks somewhat like a PCB but has no conductive material on it. It has rows of holes. You push the pins through and use a special tool to wrap wire tightly around the pin. You would need to be creative when it comes to the high current portions because the wire is only signal strength capable, but that is most of the wiring.
<p>Thanks for this! I looked it up and really like it, although I'm not sure if I can use it for a project like this. To be continued...</p>
Overall how much do you think you spent?
<p>In the text I mention around &euro;100,-, but I did this on a small budget. You can easily spend twice the money just on connectors and the potentiometer...</p>
<p>Wow that looks great i may give this a go.... </p><p>i will follow your pictures reading schematics is not my forte. but i will try it...</p><p>well done mate.</p>
<p>Thanks! Happy making :-)</p>
<p>Hello, all.<br><br>This is pretty cool; haven't seen anything like it since I was young.<br>[Nearly 60 now.]<br>I've got some nice speakers from a home theater system that died,<br> &amp; I like to build something to drive them with,<br> but its been decades since I played w/ 'hobby' electronics.<br>Have a GREAT day, neighbors!</p>
nice work dude
For what it's worth, I would take a point-to-point hand-wired amp over a PCB any day. It just has that vintage coolness factor. If you can get really good at point-to-point, I would recommend you keep trying it, unless you are really dead-set on using a PCB.
Thanks for mentioning this! I didn't mention it in the steps, but I also really like the point-to-point look. I've read about it, and another reason to do it seems that it keeps the paths as short as possible. So no, I'm not set on using pcb's next time if I find a good way to keep the wiring proper.
This looks like a Very nice project! It's Clean, Useful and Practical. I LOVE how you're using the pudy to hold parts to be soldered! I'd never thought of that before. VERY well done ;)
Thanks :-)
Looks really cool. I made a single channel amp with speakers just for fun some time ago with recycled parts from and old radio and the box was made out of ... box, shoe box and sounded good enough for a laptop or cellphone. I remember using an old gameboy advance 12V-500mA power supply. <br> <br>You should definitely rewire everything again on PCB. You can use PCB plates with holes already made and coper lines arranged like a prototype board so you don't have to make the whole thing. Just place components and solder them. <br> <br>I think your case is super great, I like a lot how it looks and I'm felling in the mood of making some speakers for my brother's tablet :P <br> <br>PD: The noise you hear could be because you are soldering everything p2p, using PCB should get rid of the noise.
I'd avoid using XLR plugs for connecting the power supply to the amplifier. It's generally used for audio signals, not power, in the professional audio world.
Not really relevant what other common use it has so long as it is labeled appropriately if the amp is ever sold or given away. XLR is a nice, robust power supply connector for those who insist on having a separate tethered power supply... which doesn't really make any sense at all if the two will forever be used together but some people do it that way regardless. <br> <br>It would make more sense if it were a E-core transformer since those have higher magnetic field strength escaping to pollute the low level audio signals but even then one can just add a Mu-metal shield if they deem it worthwhile. Most consumer amp manufacturers don't feel that it is worthwhile.
The reason for me to make a separate PS was my hunch that my maiden amp wouldn't be perfect, so I might want to make another one someday. <br> <br>Thnx for the useful comments!
A friend of mine told me something similar. XLR plugs are used for connecting mic's, right? I got the idea from Mark Hennesy's website: http://www.mhennessy.f9.co.uk/microamp/construction.htm.
XLR is the old school mic and connector plug because it is very sturdy, which is useful in professional environments where it may be subject to rough treatment or frequent connections and disconnections. That sturdiness also means it is capable of far more current than you'd ever need for a microphone. Connectors used to be designed RIGHT, now a days newer connectors are just designed to be tiny and cheap, on disposable electronics.
Yes, mics among other things. Worst-case is you (or someone else) would accidentally plug your power supply into an XLR socket on something that was expecting mic-level inputs, and you'd destroy that piece of equipment. Much better to use a less common connector.
I was thinking the same thing but the variety of XLR he is using is rated for 5 Amps.(according to the link in the 'ible) http://www.conrad.nl/ce/nl/product/715710/Rean-AV-RT3MPR-XLR-connector-Stekker-inbouw-verticaal-Aantal-polen-3Zilver-1-stuks?ref=list
Nice project! FWIW, you can prevent drill-through breakouts by placing a sacrificial piece on the face of the piece you want drilled. Clamp a piece of scrap material on the face that you want facing out. The compression will keep the force of the drill bit from pushing the newly cut fibers out at the edges, giving you a nice clean hole.

About This Instructable


1,282 favorites


Bio: Also have a look at member Monster-Marit. She Rocks (I'm a bit prejudiced, though :-))
More by ynze: Make your first Serious Amplifier RC circuit for a Bibberbeest / vibrobot 3D printed Push Puppet named Eeps
Add instructable to: