Transformers can blow in the blink of an eye

Recently my longtime trusted Eico 1030 regulated high voltage DC power supply succumbed to a catastrophic failure — a shorted transformer winding.  The power transformer has a separate winding that supplies screen voltage to the 6L6 pass tubes.  This is a half-wave circuit that was rectified by one original 1N4006 silicon diode.  Unfortunately, this old diode shorted and took the transformer winding with it, thereby ruining the transformer.

I use my HV power supplies on a daily basis for a number of tasks such as component testing (high voltage diodes), capacitor reforming, insulation testing, mocking up tube circuits, and many other purposes.  Fortunately, I kept a number of “backup” HV power supplies in case such a failure occurred.  (Sidenote: testing HV diodes on a DMM is a futile task.  The applied voltage is much too low to indicate whether the diode is shorted.  Many diodes will pass a DMM diode test but are, in fact, shorted when operated at the high voltages seen in the circuit.)

This transformer failure caused me to consider how unprotected most transformers are in vintage gear.  In many cases, a shorted cheap component (such as diode or filter capacitor) can ruin a very expensive or sentimental piece of equipment.  Typically, the only circuit protection that you see on most vintage gear is a line fuse, which does a poor job of protecting the transformer’s secondary windings, especially if the fuse is up-rated to accommodate inrush current at startup.

In rebuilding my backup Eico 1030, I took several steps that may help to protect it’s transformer.  I say “may” because fuses & circuit protection often do not blow on a consistent basis, so these steps should help but are not guaranteed.

I installed an ICL to limit inrush current at power-on.  I replaced the rectifier tubes with fresh silicon ultra-fast diodes because I wanted to reduce the heat inside the cabinet, promote stability, and reduce transformer load (2.26A saved by eliminating the rectifier tube heaters).

One of the cheapest circuit insurance you can buy is to place diodes in series.  If one diode shorts, you still have another one to continue proper operation of the circuit.  Likewise, series diodes sum their voltage ratings, so the circuit is more robust anyway.  For the price of a quality ultrafast diode from a reputable supplier — approx 20-cents each for a Fairchild UF4007 (1A, 1000v) — this protection is a bargain.  In each 5AR4 plate circuit, I used two UF4007 in series, or a total of four diodes in this circuit.  The bias supply (6X4) is a half-wave circuit, so I used two in series.  Likewise, I used two UF4007 in series in the screen supply, which was the winding that failed in my old power supply.

In addition to stacking the diodes, I installed fuses for each secondary winding. First, I fused the center-tap of the HV 440-0-440 winding with a 200ma fuse (200ma-250ma fuse should be reasonable in this circuit).  I fused the screen winding with a 62ma slo-blo fuse, which was the smallest that I had available.   I fused both 6.3vac front panel windings with 3A slo-blo fuses, which will accommodate the occasional overload and still remain within design parameters.

I have experimented with using PTC’s (resettable fuses) in each circuit, but PTC’s have three problems that make them less suitable for this type of circuit protection : (1) they do not trip with any operating current certainty (ex: a 150ma PTC may trip at 200ma or 600ma, you just have no way of knowing),  (2) they have a base resistance that may affect circuit operation, and the resistance increases as the PTC heats and approaches the upper range of its hold current design, (3) they trip slowly because the trip is based upon the PTC heating up.  Due to these characteristics, it would seem as though PTC’s would not have much practical use in protecting audio transformers.  In this power supply, though, I did leave a 40ma PTC in the screen supply, which helped to mitigate inrush current and possibly added some transformer protection.

Finally,  I decided to add protection for the current meter, which would always slam backwards if a connected load (such as a capacitor) discharged when the voltage switch was toggled off.  I replaced the SPST switch with a DPDT switch.  The first section of the DPDT switch replaced the original in the same manner.  I added a protection diode in series with the current meter to prevent current from reversing thru the current meter.  The second section of the DPDT switch is wired to dump the (+) terminal to ground through a 500 ohm high wattage wirewound resistor, which assures that any load attached to the power supply (such as a capacitor that was being reformed) is safely discharged as soon as the voltage switch is toggled off.

rare Rockola jukebox amp hum problem

Rockola 1426 jukebox "O" amp

I wanted to write about a unique problem in a Rockola model “O” jukebox amplifier (from a Rockola 1426 jukebox, vintage 1946).  The amp is a very primitive design: class A, 4 tube operation consisting of 5U4 rectifier, push-pull 6L6’s, and 6J5 preamp tube.  An interstage transformer drives the P-P 6L6’s instead of a more modern phase inverter tube circuit.

The amp was recapped but had a hum problem.  The hum was not a single frequency, such as the common 60-hz or 120-hz hum that you would expect in a typical amp.  The hum was a combination of 60hz with a strong 3rd harmonic of 180-hz.

The problem turned out to be that the interstage transformer was inductively coupling hum from the power transformer.  This problem would have existed in this amp from the day that it left the factory.  Often it is necessary to carefully position and orient interstage transformers so that they will not inductively couple hum into the amp.  In this case, remounting the interstage transformer at a 45-degree angle from original mount, as shown in photo, “magically” eliminated the hum.  Trial-and-error (rotating the interstage transformer) is the only way to find what mounting orientation will cancel the hum, and each case would be unique.  In this instance, the hum cancelled best at the orientation that you see in the photo.

I wonder whether other Rockola model “O” amps were shipped with this problem?

The amp also had somewhat slightly reduced power output, which was tracked down to a resistor/capacitor combo from grid to ground on each 6L6 tube.  Scope analysis showed that these components added no benefit but did reduce the power output a little more than preferred, therefore the parts were removed.  Finally, the amp had poor reproduction of treble notes, and this was tracked down to a plate-to-plate capacitor on the 6L6’s.  This cap was probably intended to prevent oscillation in some circumstances.  Removing this cap dramatically increased the frequency response of the amp and without any oscillation.

Pluggers comic conjures ‘National Radio News’

For tube fans, today’s Pluggers comic strip conjures memories of the NATIONAL RADIO NEWS magazine cover, Aug-Sept 1945 issue.

The Pluggers comic is in today’s newspaper July 23, 2011, or you can enjoy the comic online at Comic Strip Nation, comic link is HERE.

I mention this comic because many fans of old tube gear will find it interesting, but from my perspective, seeing this cartoon was a one-in-a-million coincidence.  Yesterday, I was rooting through my storage facility, and I found a quantity of these “National Radio News” magazines published by NRI (National Radio Institute).

This exact issue (Aug-Sept 1945) was on the top of the stack of magazines that I hauled home from my storage facility.  And the very next day, the Pluggers comic appeared.  What are the odds of that?


Limitations of cheap DPM’s and DMM’s

©2011, Bob Putnak.  This post examines the performance (directly related to the input impedance) of low-cost meters; specifically, I explore a common multipurpose Colluck PM-128E DPM (digital panel meter) and a bargain-priced Cen-Tech #98025 multimeter.

Limitations in the design of these low-cost meters can severely affect measurement accuracy.  First of all, I prove that the input impedance of the PM-128E is 1-megohm, not the 100-megohms or 10-megohms that is specified by the manufacturer and most vendors that sell this DPM.  Second, I demonstrate that the input impedance of the Cen-Tech #98025 multimeter is also 1-megohm.  The conclusion is that either meter will not accurately measure high-impedance circuits, and both perform poorly at measuring low AC voltages.  They can be suitable for other types of measurements, though.

Explanation from a very old Supreme radio course

First a little background –“Input Impedance” as it pertains to a meter — is the load that the meter places upon the circuit being measured.  Ideally, a perfect meter would have no loading effect, but all meters have some loading effect on the circuit they are measuring.  For example, early analog VOM’s had an input impedance of 1000 ohms per volt, which meant that when the meter was set on the 500v range, the input impedance was 500k ohms.  This input impedance (sometimes called ‘meter sensitivity’) is the exact same as placing a 500k resistor across the circuit. Newer analog VOM’s had an input impedance of 20,000 ohms per volt; therefore using our 500v range as the example, the 20,000 ohms/v meter would only load the circuit at 10-megohms.  VTVM’s (vacuum-tube voltmeters) and TVM’s (transistorized voltmeters) commonly had a fixed loading effect of 11-megohms or 22-megohms, regardless of measurement range.  Most quality modern DMM (digital multimeters) have a fixed input impedance between 10-megohms to 11-megohm.  The higher the input impedance resistance, the more accurate the measurement.  Input impedance is a serious issue when measuring high impedance circuits.

Read the rest of this entry »

TubeSound TTM-1 Tube Tester & Matcher

Meet the TubeSound TTM-1:

  • Testing of almost all amplifying tubes (triode, tetrode, pentode, beam power) from antique 4-pin (such as a #10, #45, or #50) through 9-pin novar (such as a 7868).   Socket configuration — 4-pin, 5-pin, 6-pin, 7-pin medium (aka 1625), 7-pin miniature, octal, loctal, 9-pin-miniature, and 9-pin novar.
  • All tests use exact tube operating parameters found in any “Receiving Tube Manual”
  • 5 digital meters (each better than 1% accuracy, as verified with two Fluke DMM’s) continuously monitor the tube operating parameters.  1 meter for each plate voltage, screen voltage, grid voltage.  1 meter for plate current, 1 meter for heater voltage.
  • VR (voltage regulator) tube testing throughout its entire operating range.  VR tube voltage drop continuously monitored, and starting voltage is easily observed
  • Mutual Conductance testing via grid-shift method
  • testing of tube Amplification Factor
  • Plate current matching at any single operating point, or you could plot a set of curves.

Design specifications:

  • regulated plate voltage, variable 0 to 500 VDC (0 to 410 continuous)
  • regulated screen voltage, variable 0 to 500 VDC (0 to 410 continuous)
  • regulated grid/bias voltage, variable 0 to -100 VDC
  • plate current up to 200 ma
  • heater voltage accurate within 0.1v.

My intention was not to replace any vintage tube tester, but instead, to supplement functionality that does not exist in traditional tube testers.  For example, transconductance testing is certainly much easier using the dynamic test of a B&K or Hickok.  Likewise, grid leakage sensitivity is best tested in a Mighty Mite or similar machine.  But none of those machines recreate the static operating parameters that a tube will see in an amplifier, therefore they do not meet the needs of some tube buyers who want their output tubes matched for idle plate current at the operating parameters of a real amp.  Moreover, no standard tube tester will properly test a VR tube and allow you to monitor its performance over its entire operating range.

Photos below show testing of a new Sovtek 5881/6L6WGC using two different receiving tube manual examples from 6L6GC “Typical Operating Conditions, Class A1 Amplifier – Pentode”.  The third photo demonstrates testing a new 0A2 regulator tube.

I have a few cosmetic issues to finish, but otherwise the first model is complete (for now). I have ideas for other features that I may add in the future. The TubeSound TTM-1, in combination with our classic tube testers, covers a wide range of tube analysis that will meet the needs of sophisticated customers.

Valid XHTML Valid CSS