‘Valve sound’ is not just an anachronism: there are those who remain ardent lovers of the quality of sound produced by a valve amplifier. However, not everyone is inclined to splash out on an expensive valve output stage or complete amplifier with a comparatively low power output. Also, for all their aesthetic qualities, modern valve amplifiers burn up (in the full sense of the word!) quite a few watts even at normal listening volume, and so are not exactly environmentally harmless. This valve sound converter offers a cunning way out of this dilemma. It is a low cost unit that can be easily slipped into the audio chain at a suitable point and it only consumes a modest amount of energy.
A valve sound converter can be constructed using a common-or-garden small-signal amplifier using a readily-available triode. Compared to using a pentode, this simplifies the circuit and, thanks to its less linear characteristic, offers even more valve sound. For stereo use a double triode is ideal. Because only a low gain is required, a type ECC82 (12AU7) is a better choice than alternatives such as the ECC81 (12AT7) or ECC83 (12AX7). This also makes things easier for home brewers only used to working with semiconductors, since we can avoid any difficulties with high voltages, obscure transformers and the like: the amplifier stage uses an anode voltage of only 60 V, which is generated using a small 24 V transformer and a voltage doubler (D3, D4, C4 and C5). Since the double triode only draws about 2mA at this voltage, a 1 VA or 2 VA transformer will do the job. To avoid ripple on the power supply and hence the generation of hum in the converter, the anode voltage is regulated using Zener diodes D1 and D2, and T1. The same goes for the heater supply: rather than using AC, here we use a DC supply, regulated by IC1. The 9 V transformer needs to be rated at at least 3 VA. As you will see, the actual amplifier circuit is shown only once. Components C1 to C3, R1 to R4, and P1 need to be duplicated for the second channel.
The inset valve symbol in the circuit diagram and the base pinout diagram show how the anode, cathode and grid of the other half of the double triode (V1.B) are connected. Construction should not present any great difficulties. Pay particular attention to screening and cable routing, and to the placing of the transformers to minimise the hum induced by their magnetic fields. Adjust P1 to set the overall gain to 1 (0 dB). The output impedance of 47 kΩ is relatively high, but should be compatible with the inputs of most power amplifiers and preamplifiers.
For a good valve sound, the operating point of the circuit should be set so that the audio output voltage is in the region of a few hundred millivolts up to around 1.5 V. If the valve sound converter is inserted between a preamplifier and the power amplifier, it should be before the volume control potentiometer as otherwise the sound will change significantly depending on the volume. As an example, no modifications are needed to an existing power amplifier if the converter is inserted between the output of a CD player and the input to the amplifier.