Amplifier Distortion, DC-Offset, and You!

Time for one of those long, boring semi-technical posts that no one here reads... As a few of you know, I bought a rare Kenwood 700M amplifier a few weeks ago on eBay. It arrived with a weak channel which was taken care of by replacing a bypass cap. Since then, I have gone through the entire amp and replaced all the electrolytic capacitors with the exception of the big power supply caps (not that expensive...maybe $20 in caps).

The previous owner described the amp as 'perfect' sounding, and compared with the big Mac's and Krell's and such. Before buying it, he described his current system which was quite high-end. I assumed that since he owned expensive equipment that he knew what he was listening to.

Got the amp back together today (parts finally in), and fired it up with my small Dynaudio's (can't use the Heil/Dynaudio's for this, as they are bi-amped). sounded like ass. OK, it didn't always sound like ass, but at low volume levels it was obvious that something was wrong. I had a pretty good idea what was going on, so I grabbed my meter. Sure enough, there was 100mV of DC offset in the left channel, and almost 250mV (!!!) in the right! 250mV is almost enough for the protection circuitry to kick in!! Not good. I pulled the driver boards out and replaced the amp input differential pairs for both channels with new Zetex HG PNP's ($5 in transistors, no biggie). DC offset is now about 12mV in both channels. An input pair being as unbalanced as the Kenwood was when it arrived probably generates 10x the distortion as a properly balanced pair, especially at low volume. If you would like to read more about the benefits of a balanced differential pair, read here.

OK, sit down for another listen. NOW we're cookin'!! Amazing night and day difference. I can honestly say that it is without a doubt the nicest amp I have ever listened to, and there have been more than a few that impressed me. The bottom end on this thing is as clear as spring water, and it has an openess that is difficult to describe. As for power, my dummy loads cannot take the power output of this thing, but I can crank it for 10-15 seconds without destroying them. Left channel - 218W before clip, right channel - 220W, this into 8-ohms. Totally cool!! I just have never heard bass like

Bottom line...if you expect to hear great sound, you just might...regardless of the reality. The guy I bought this from was well-meaning, but did not know how to listen subjectively. His new spendy amps could be performing horribly, and his expectations of what he felt he was supposed to hear would rule out anything to the contrary.

Your own subjectivity could be suffering too, so give yourself a reality-check.

As a semi-poll, I'd like to see those on this board whip out their multimeters and take a look at the DC that is being presented to the speakers. This means..

1. Speakers disconnected (or connect the meter to the 'B' speakers and set the front panel speaker control accordingly)
2. Input set to an unusued position (not Phono)
3. Volume control at minimum.
4. Balance in center
5. Tone controls either defeated or set to mid position
6. Set your meter to read DC, and set to a low scale (300mV scale is common) Connect directly to the Pos and Neg of the speaker terminals
7. Give the amp 10 minutes to settle. Report back...I'd like to see how healthy all these old amps are.

If you read:

0 - 15mV: Damn good!! If you read '0V', you may have a capacitor output, or your meter is set wrong

16mV - 50mV: An acceptable value, especially at the lower end of this range. 2nd harmonic distortion is probably twice to four times what manufacturer's spec calls for at higher frequencies. Probably not audible, as the distortion is mostly in the upper octaves. At the upper end of this range I begin to raise an eyebrow.

50 - 85mV: Something is certainly amiss, and while this is not enough to put your speakers or equipment in jeopardy, the amp is running nowhere near where it should. I'd venture to guess that most of the DC-coupled amps that are in use by forum members here fall into this range.

100mV to ?: A high enough voltage will cause the DC protection to kick in. This happens at a level determined by the designer, but is usually equivalent to about a diode drop (600mV)or so. Needless to say, if you are listening to an amp with 100mV or more of DC offset, you have no idea what the amp really is supposed to sound like. Indeed, some amps without a differential input are actually designed to have a bit of DC at the outputs, but this is triple-rare, and I don't think anyone here owns one. (in my book it's piss-poor design, but if you can sell it WTH..)

Soooooo...go grab a meter and tell me what you find...

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