Monday, May 4, 2020

Me and Audio Amplifiers

May the 4th be with you….Now I got that out of my system, i’ll just swiftly start my entry, as a non Star Wars fan like me should do..Another thing I have a history with is amplifiers, if you’ve read my post about VU meters here, then you will know that I had some fun in my childhood and teen years trying to discover how to build an LED VU meter, bear in mind my age at the time and it being a non internet era, the only thing I had was my trusty bucket of random components.
One thing I always wanted to do was amplify sound, transistors remained a mystery to me and I didn’t quite grasp what it was they did at the time, even in my teens. When you’re first learning electronics, whether it be a long history of it throughout childhood or you’re taking classes, or from books, there’s going to be a while where you build circuits but don’t really know what each component does in them, it makes it very difficult to troubleshoot so guidance is needed for sure. But this kind of knowledge doesn’t magically appear, it needs to be practiced.
I’ve had a long academic life after high school, and that’s the other end of the scale, you get a lot of theory and a little practical assignment to tie it up, but as with everything, there needs to be practice alongside of that, a lot of practical for it to stick and expand with it, for it to turn into a life experience rather than just having text book knowledge (or sticking with the times ‘wikipedia knowledge’ ) which is akin to an empty abandoned shell at the beach, sure it may look pretty and impressive on the outside but inside it’s hollow, there is no life in it.

You can read my ‘Education and Society’ entry here


Anyway back to the amplifiers, I started learning a bit more about electronics after constantly pinching my brother’s text book. He doesn’t do electronics now, but it was a part of his school studies at the time. Now i’m the one building projects :o)

This textbook taught me the basics about electronics symbols and reading/drawing schematics. This book from 1988:

This takes me back, actually it’s the very book from my childhood, I guess my brother didn’t need to return it, or for whatever reason it was just laying abandoned around the house, so I kept taking it and looking through it, at first like any other kid I just looked through it to look at the pictures and illustrations, I don’t know there was something a little homely about this book. Eventually, I’m not sure what motivated me, but I started drawing the symbols of the components in some random notebook. Don’t forget i’m not book smart, as much as I love the idea of reading, I have dyslexia and it is more difficult, this is why I have an alternate way of learning. With any difficulty you find a way around it if you really want.

You can see in the photographs i took of the book, the components and symbols next to them.


Look at the pages below in the book, something about it just feels kinda homely and warm, at least to me. And now that it’s three decades ago, it’s that homely feeling mixed with the nostalgia now.




My other brother, the older one who i used to hang out with most of the time, was the one who was into electronics a bit more, he did study telecoms for a while so thankfully he had some electronics books. When I was around 13 or 14 years old, he saw that I loved audio electronics and gave me this book.

‘Electronic projects in Audio’ by R.A.Penfold


no, not him…

For sure this book being outdated, even back then, it was published in 1979. Despite that, I must admit i learned a lot from that book because of the way it’s structured.

You can see here how Penfold goes through each component on that circuit diagram and explains what it does and how it links to other components around it. The way everything is written for some reason is just comprehend-able to me.


Anyway, the first amplifier I ever attempted to build was out of this book. I actually had fun building it, I was at highschool still, but used the college facilities.

My brother and his friend went to college when they did the telecoms course and snuck me into the technology and electronics department. The technician in the room gave me the components from the list in the book, He did smirk because he knew I wasn’t a student and did mention it to my brother in jest that he has noticed.
This is a picture of the electronics lab we were working in, It was such a laugh there, I had a lot of fun, it was literally just the three of us in this electronics lab and I fell in love with the place! It has such character and great vibes. Little did I know that after school i’ll ended up going to college in that very department and spending most of the time in this very room which I loved, yes the technician smirked at me once I finally went there to study properly. That is a place I wish I ended up working at, unfortunately I was only there a short time, so life took me to other places.
Anyway, back to the day I was snuck in, I had finished building the circuit it just didn’t work whatsoever and I didn’t have a clue, I ended up abandoning it. Though recently, i’m talking 3 weeks ago, I found this book again and took one look at the very circuit I was building and knew instantly where I had gone wrong. One of the issues was that it required a dual rail power supply *face palm*. back then to me negative was negative and positive was positive, none of this 0v or GND nonsense, though I used to think GND was Earth, that hair comb you see in circuit diagrams.
Then in the early 2000s unfortunately came the long break from electronics, where what people said to me really got to me. “Women are not into things like this”, “I would suggest another career path”, “sell your computers they are useless”.. “i’m not convinced that you’re truly into all this”.. and they went on and on… I was young, naive and intimidated by it all, it got the better of me so I sold my Amigas, packed my electronics up into the attic, not to be touched again forever….


…….come 2012, almost an entire decade of not touching electronics at all, I met a friend online from Egypt, who was into electronics himself and hesitatingly told him that I used to be and we talked about our stories the entire night. Before I knew it, all my electronics, well what was left of it all, was out again, I had organized it all, and I started building circuits again… The weirdest thing had happened though, despite 10 whole years not touching a component nor thinking about electronics, I somehow understood and knew things at more depth, stuff that I struggled with before the decade, finally clicked and made sense. I have no idea what happened or how?…the VU Meters I had already built my Audio Visualization Unit prior to starting my youtube channel, back in 2012, that was a huge project I didn’t think I would finish, I remember the times when I took this photograph, It was Ramadan 2012 and I had stayed up all night until the morning feast doing this project, I was practically living and breathing electronics..Indeed this project was huge, well at least it felt huge at the time!


2015 I started my youtube channel and the first thing I do is fix my Marantz amplifier in my videos, then what I decide to do next? Build that freakin amplifier which I had always wanted to build! started off with just a headphone amplifier, finding a simple circuit, you know starting small, even though that audio visualization circuit was anything but small.There we have it, here was my first successful attempt at building an amplifier from scratch without using an IC, I was over the moon to be honest. What I decided to do straight after is then create another amplifier which started out as a headphone amp initially, but as the project went on, it just expanded to the point of being a power amplifier. Even though I got it working, it was extremely crude, very noisy and looks like something from the flintstones. I will let you find it amongst my early videos (Hint…playlists) but I am a little shy about it, even though my friend loves it. Heck this thing even had that automatic fan that would turn on if the amp got too hot, yikes. But you know, despite all it’s flaws, it worked and I learned a massive amount from it.


Now before I knew it, I was doing stuff like this, which would scare the freak outa me back in 2012

Now then, last summer (2019) I started the biggest project i’ve ever done, again it pushed boundaries to the point of me being in disbelief of the features I put on there, that’s right, the SIDBoomBox, and talk about impulsive, firstly Dolby C… I didnt even dream that i’ll have Dolby on this thing? I just thought, okay, lets order a dolby chip, that was when I had almost designed. Now this something about myself, I can never plan an entire project out and then go through with it exactly how I planned it from start to end, somewhere along the middle it freakin changes, sometimes a LOT, I can be quite impulsive like that, all of a sudden say “Lets add this?!? eeeeee” its because I get inspired by what i’m doing, for me, theory is just not real enough, sure it helps, there is no denying, but when i’m actually doing something practical and tangible like when I start building, that’s when my mind comes to life and ideas start flowing…However a part of me does wonder, if there wasn’t that unfortunate huge decade gap, where would my knowledge of electronics have been now? Almost feels like in terms of electronics ability, I awoke from a 10 year coma.. I do feel 10 years behind sadly.

I will finish off this entry with a link to the SIDBoomBox, the finale video, so that you can enjoy, not to mention the links to the SidBoomBox playlist are included in the video description on youtube.

  1. James O'Hara

    Saturday, May 9, 2020 - 01:18:41

    Hey Maddi - Only just discovered this amazing content, as I’ve been avoiding Twitter for a while.

    Staggeringly awesome !! I love your insights, history and knowledge.

    Keep up the brilliant content :o)


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