2601 Alma Ave. (corner of Reno Ave.), So. Lake Tahoe, CA
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1. Speaker connections, if done wrongly, can
DAMAGE your amplifier. Some amplifiers have some sort of 'protection circuitry', to protect against common problems. Even the amplifiers with such circuitry are not foolproof, or, cannot protect against all faults.
As a general rule, vacuum tube amplifiers (or, amplifiers with vacuum tube output stages) are quite tolerant of abuse that might kill transistorized amplifiers.
Conversely: Transistorized output stages are quite tolerant of abuse that might kill vacuum tube output stages.
Vacuum tube amps can be damaged by OPEN speaker connections/wiring. But, they are immune to damage from shorts on the speaker connections/wiring. Transistor output stages can be damaged by shorts or near shorts, but are immune to opens...as a general rule.
Vacuum tube amplifiers usually have limited protections, typically those might be a speaker output jack (especially SOME types of 1/4" output jacks) that have a built-in switch, so if no plug/wire/speaker is connected, the jack ...hopefully ...does the necessary safety-shorting. Some tube amps do NOT have that sort of jack, and may be highly susceptible to damage from 'speaker circuit opens'. Other protections in vacuum tube amps include diodes at the output stage that can HELP prevent very high voltages from being produced in the output stage transformer. These are NOT typically 100% effective ...but do help.
Transistor output stages are damaged by SHORT circuits, or, from excessively low ohms loads, such as from too many speakers or wrong speakers. Short circuits in the speaker wiring, or a bad speaker, or bad speaker wiring of some sort, can cause transistor currents to rise spectacularly, and the output transistors will be destroyed, usually doing lots of other damage at the same time. Transistorized amplifiers usually have, and NEED, MUCH more sophisticated protection circuitry, compared to vacuum tube amps. A lot of such circuitry is not fully protecting.
If you wish to connect speakers in parallel, series, or have other requirements, please ASK, our advice is often free.
2. Speaker Phasing...what is it? Why is it important?
A loudspeaker (except for some solid-state tweeters) is, at its most simplified explanation, simply a coil
of wire immersed in a strong magnetic field. You probably learned in
school, that there is a North and a South pole in a magnet, and you probably
remember other details about moving coils, moving magnets, and so on.
For our purposes here, the important thing is that in most situations,
((excluding some more complicated Public Address systems with a number of
speakers, that could interfere with each other due to echo or signal canceling distances, etc.))....you
WANT your sound system's movable cone type speakers to ALL move in, or out, at the SAME time.
At any one moment of time, where speakers are mono used in particular, but also as stereo connected if there is a mono signal, the following is the situation:
SOUND is air movement, so if a sound wave from one speaker is a PUSH cone type, and it reaches you when sound from some other speaker is a PULL cone type, the sounds can cancel, considerably or partially. While the effective volume decreases, the worst part is that, typically, the result is lower mid-range to bottom bass. That the effect is very much less at higher frequencies, and almost non-existent at near the high frequency limits of human hearing, is an effect of how humans hear things. But, the lower mid-range to bottom bass effects can be PRONOUNCED. It is even possible, for "Effects" units that are popular with musicians, to sound exceptionally BAD, if the connections are wrong. When a speakers is backwards (reverse) connected with regards to another speaker, we say they are "out of phase".
The effect can also be heard as a type of noise cancelling!
The electronics industry, speaker manufacturers,
engineers, ETC., all 'agreed' many decades ago, that a STANDARD for speaker
polarity was needed. The main reason was so various manufacturer's speakers
could be interchangeable, for connections.
What was agreed upon was ...and I am making this simple for you ....if a low voltage battery was connected to a speaker, if the + terminal of the battery connects to the + terminal of the speaker (which is to be marked red if color marking is desired, otherwise it is to be marked with a + symbol, although many manufacturers do both) (for - terminal, it is black) then the speaker cone, at the instant of battery connection, will move OUTWARDS, that is, away from the magnet.
As you may now think, if the battery is connected backwards to marked speaker terminals, then the cone moves INwards (towards the magnet). Yes, that is true. If one speaker moves the same for the same signal, as another speaker, they are said to be IN PHASE. If not, they are said to be OUT OF PHASE. Speaker phasing of separate speaker boxes, for musicians and home stereos, is almost always designed to be IN PHASE. For Public Address systems, it is more complicated (with many speakers in use, over distances, echoes, etc.); and there are also some types of speaker boxes that have speakers in front and rear; and they may purposely be anti-phased, usually to give increased in-phase (effectively) volume.
The battery test is the easiest, and most accurate method of identifying speaker terminals. Note that some speaker makers have marked their speakers, or the speaker terminals for the speaker box, or both, BACKWARDS. JBL did this, a long time ago. Thus, it is a really good idea to CHECK speaker phasing, using a small battery, such as a common 9 volt type. A battery with a voltage under 3 volts is not likely going to move the speaker cone enough to easily see the direction it moves. A battery should not be connected for any length of time....ONE-HALF SECOND is plenty. You can do multiple connections, one after the other, if you need to. Have the speaker DISCONNECTED from the amplifier for these tests. Used properly, the method ALSO can "help" with phasing of wiring in businesses, churches, and some homes. For large areas, and P.A. use, we can advise the more sophisticated tests and connections that are usually needed.
The other method of checking speaker phasing is
often done with Stereo-HiFi equipment, where all the terminals and connections
for the speakers and/or amplifier; or, visual access to the cone might not be easily gotten to. This
method is also used with such as home theatres, with their multiple speaker
This method is done with any two speakers at the same time, and repeated in all
combinations of left-right-front-rear, for a home theatre. While professionals do this with special test equipment and tones, you do not have to. You simply tune your FM radio to a place BETWEEN stations, if necessary turning off
any muting (sometimes selecting MONO or stereo OFF is needed), you will want to
be listening to the HISS NOISE. This can also be done on common AM radio,
since the program material is MONO, NOT STEREO. It is FAR easier using hiss, than program material!
Example: you are sitting in the room, equal-distant from the speakers, typically centered and back a few feet. LISTEN, then have a friend reverse ONE ONLY speaker connection. That is, your friend will swap + and - connections, never allowing a short circuit (for amp protection reasons). The position of the leads will definitely cause one position of leads to be louder, have more bass, than the reverse position. If you have trouble hearing this, then, repeat, closing your eyes. The correct position of that one speaker's wires is when the sound appears in the middle of your head, the wrong position is when you hear things separately in your individual ears.
((For large public address systems, the testing is done for echo effects minimalization)).
In the same way that phasing of speakers is important, so are the connections to such as stereo phonograph/turntable cartridges, and for the SAME reasons. What is of much lesser importance is the LEFT-RIGHT connections for amplifiers and speakers....except for home theatre...and where absolute authenticity of listening position is desirable.
3. Amplifier biasing. Both far too much, and far too little, is discussed about amplifier biasing...and, for tube selection and biasing.
In 99% of instances the talk is about vacuum-tube biasing. For transistorized output stages, bias is set once, and and not again unless major repairs are needed. Transistor output stages have the bias set for a value that is high enough to eliminate distortion at very low volume levels, and low enough so that the output stage does not get excessively hot with no signal input. Transistor output stages may have other adjustments, for such as DC output minimalization, balance, etc.
For vacuum tube output stages, the situation can be simple ...or, complicated. There are designs of several types, including "cathode biasing" that have no adjustments for bias. That type of circuit is used almost exclusively for low wattage amplifiers, with some notable exceptions. For higher output vacuum tube output stage amplifiers, bias is called "fixed bias". That, simply-put, means that the bias on the tubes is adjusted or adjustable. Typically there is one or two adjustments, and adjustment places for a meter, which may be on the chassis available to the owner/user....or, hidden inside.
When talk is made about high bias, they really mean LOW bias VOLTAGE; the result is higher current through the tubes (with no signal). The manufacturer selects bias for a certain voltage, or, more often, sets the bias so that with whatever particular tubes are installed, the tubes are operated under conditions that reduce low signal level output distortion, yet provide a good compromise for maximum power output. USUALLY, the important biasing is for near maximum power output, so that at overload conditions, the sound is a type of clean tube amplifier overload, and not a raspy lousy sound. Tube amplifiers are OFTEN designed so that the amplifier has a clean channel, and distorted channels....OR, that there is both a master volume control and channel amplifier volume control, and proper use of both will produce clean sound well into the OUTPUT STAGE OVERLOAD POINT ....AND ....that the master volume can be turned down, and the channel amplifier gain control turned up, which will cause, on purpose, a hard overload sound (more or less). Some musicians amplifiers have all sorts of combinations of these sorts of things, even multiple IN SERIES pre-amplifiers. Later large Marshall amps are often like that. Some amplifiers have switches that change bias for different types of sound.
Vacuum tube bias ALSO affects maximum power output. GENERALLY, if the output level capability is increased (this is measured with a clear tone signal input, from an oscillator) beyond specifications, tube life will suffer. USUALLY the output wattage capability is not increased very much by this "over-biasing".
Another thing that happens, that is rather subjective, is that the TONAL QUALITY of the amplifier will change, with a change of vacuum tubes (particularly if not matched, or if of other 'selected' grades than the amplifier is designed-for). In a few instances, amplifiers can be designed to be used with more than one type of output tube, to get the 'British sound', and many others, as one example.
In some instances, a tone more to your liking is available on amplifiers with HI/LOW switches, and with MODELING amplifiers. In some instances, with 4 or 6 output tubes, we can advise SIMPLE, NO COST mehtods of getting 'your tone'.
I won't get into this in much more depth, just to say that we won't usually 'over bias' your amplifiers. It reduces tube life, and, in some instances, can lead to $$$ repairs.
4. WHY do I advise as 'important', the specific order of use for your musician's amplifier's power and standby switch?
It would be better for my business to NOT tell you this, as NOT telling you this might bring more vacuum tube sales ...and other repairs ...to my shop. But:
While this applies to all filament type vacuum tubes, it is much more important for the large audio power output tubes for technical reasons. At the very center of most power-type vacuum tubes is a central tube, usually round, but sometimes flattened in shape. The central tube contains a spiral or up and down tungsten thread/ribbon that is heated to glowing red-hot, which then heats the central tube to red or orange hot. The central tube is generally coated with a substance that likes to emit electrons when hot, if other voltages applied to other elements in the vacuum tube are correct. The electrons can be thought of as flowing towards the big grayish surrounding metal plate structure. If you turn ON the power and the standby switch at the same time, or the standby switch is turned on much too soon, then the high voltage that appears usually instantaneously on these tubes at main power turn-on, will 'suck' electrons from anyplace it can. While a large current flow can damage fine-wire structures inside the vacuum tube, the discussion here is for the electrons emitting central tube inside the vacuum tube.
During the time that the central tube is slowly heating-up, the 'sucking' (sorry!) will try to find microscopic faults in the central tube coating. It WILL, almost always. These microscopic faults are certainly not designed to handle the large electron flow that occurs from such a tiny area, so the outer material that gives off the electronics will have VERY high heating, at microscope points. The existing, almost always perfectly OK faults, will be made larger. Eventually, coating material will flake off. Damage can occur from short circuits by this flaking material, and it CAN happen on vacuum tubes that are either mounted with the top of the glass UPwards........or; DOWNwards. Damage can also come from warping of the central tube, and other structures in the vacuum tube.
The short circuits can ruin the tube, smoke a resistor or two (or more), damage power supply diodes, and do other damage. If you are using an oversize fuse, it can do a huge amount of damage. NOTE that the effect is reversed, when turning the amplifier OFF...see below:
The correct use of the two switches is:
A. To turn the amplifier ON, first be sure the
STANDBY switch is in the OFF (the position for NO SOUND). This may be confusing to you,
as some amplifiers have the standby switch position for OFF, called Standby-ON.
Re-stated: The true OFF position is the one such that the amplifier would not produce speaker output.
B. Turn the MAINS or A.C. Power Switch to the ON position.
C. Wait 1 minute before turning the standby switch to the ON, or play, or functional position.
D. It is perfectly OK, when on a gig, to turn the standby switch OFF, between sets, etc., leaving the mains power switch ON, if you wish.
When turning the amplifier completely OFF:
A. Turn the standby switch to the non-function, or OFF position.
B. After about 10 seconds or more, turn the mains power switch off.
5. Why is using an oversize fuse so bad for your equipment, and when is wrong, actually usably OK? :
Fuses are incorporated for more than one purpose.
PRIMARILY, fuses are incorporated to prevent fires; and, to protect the circuits
from serious, or excessively serious damage.
Fuses are rated for maximum safe voltage to be applied (otherwise, a very damaging ARC of current might occur, for instance if you use a CAR fuse, and not a proper voltage rated fuse). THAT is very rarely going to be seen or be a problem.
Using a SLOW-BLOW fuse is a bit more of a problem, if the equipment was not designed for a slow-blowing fuse. However, in many instances, one can substitute a slo-blow fuse of LOWER than specified current, but you need to consult with your electronics advisor (our advice is FREE).
The most common problem is using a fuse at a higher amperage rating than the equipment is designed-for.
I will try to give you a simplified explanation of why using an oversize ampere rating for the fuse can be so very damaging to your wallet, and thereby be good for my business:
There are laws of physics involved in electricity. You have heard of ohms, amperes (amps) and volts (voltage). There are very specific mathematical relationships between these things. A practical example:
A piece of equipment is rated for a 2 ampere fuse. You are on a gig, the fuse blows, and you install a 3 ampere fuse. The fault that occured, perhaps a tube shorts, whatever, would normally be inexpensive to repair. Replacing the original 2 ampere fuse with a similar fuse might have led to a quite modest to even no repair beyond the cost of the fuse and maybe a shorted tube. The 3 ampere fuse MIGHT lead to a rather more expensive repair. WHY???
A function of the power that can pass through a fused circuit before the fuse opens is a function of the SQUARE of the fuse rating. Thus, the 2 ampere fuse can pass 4 units of power, or heating power, or however you would like to think about it. BUT, the 3 ampere fuse will be able to pass 9 units of power. If you installed a fuse of twice the original specification, that is, a 4 amp rated fuse, now 16 units of power can be passed. I have seen 20 and 30 ampere car fuses (or, metal foil) installed in place of small value fuses in lots of equipment. The damage done causes the owner to bring the gear to my shop. It often is messy, burned-up, and sometimes quite expensive to repair.
If you have to substitute a
fuse, and cannot immediately get the correct one, no damage is likely to happen
if you use a LOWER value fuse....but never use a higher amperage one.
NOTE, that you may well be able to do the following without causing additional damage: going from a 2-1/2 ampere rating to a 3 ampere fuse. Be cautious! You can also substitute a regular-blow rated fuse for the slow-blow type of fuse, if in the same, or SLIGHTLY increased amperage rating.
Future articles being considered:
6. Effects of removing two output tubes from a 4 output tube amplifier.
7. Substituting amongst 12AX7, 12AU7, 12AT7, ETC. AND, what is this ECC81, ECC82, ECC83 stuff?
8. Setting basic bias yourself. how-to, pitfalls, etc.
9. How to wire speakers and match them to amplifiers. Series connections, parallel connections, combinations. Effective ohms loads. Effects of speaker impedances (ohms) on amplifier distortion.
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