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What's involved in amplifier/DAC etc design?

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 

As someone who knows absolutely nothing about electronic designs other than how to solder a component where I'm told to, what all goes into designing the gear we use? With all the makers out there it seems that the designs are near endless, which is intriguing to me. That someone can create something (relatively) unique and completely their own and then share it with us all. I also notice how some people can create such great designs but have no desire to actually build and sell them.


So part one- Why don't more people design amplifiers and other gear? I see so many people with great knowledge on the inner workings of the amps, so it seems like there's something that separates the DIYer from the designer. Is it simply lack of will/time/desire? Or is it more like weekend warrior musicians vs world-class performers in that there's a level of skill/creativity that you just have or don't?


Part two- For those who can design a nice piece of gear but don't go into production as business, is it because they are in it purely for the fun and don't want to make it work, or because the chances of creating a successful business extremely unlikely?


Thanks to anyone who can shed some light on these questions!

post #2 of 3

Look at the headphone section at diyaudio.com. There are many designs.


Producing PCBs alone costs money and time. You probably need multiple iterations to arrive at a result you like.

Once you have a working product, I guess, to many DIYers it's just too much of a hassle to organize group buys, let alone putting together complete kits.



What goes into those designs? Hopefully many different specific requirements:

- should it be as small as possible, portable, battery powered, min. runtime on battery, ...

- or a bigger, AC powered desktop amp

- what sources and loads will be used, how much gain do you need, output power

- any extra features such as switchable gain, tone controls, crossfeed ...

- special requirements ("it needs to have valves in it", "it mustn't have op-amps in it") mostly for ideological reasons or to cater special target groups

- ...

(in no particular order)

post #3 of 3

There are a great number of "textbook" topologies for the general arrangement of key circuit components and well-documented parts out there (most explicit headphone chips will come with a kind of reference design implementation showing it off in the datasheet, never mind from other DIYers). Most designs aren't too far removed from something relatively basic or bits and pieces of different existing arrangements and designs.


It's a problem that has certain requirements such as handling audio input frequencies of a certain level and audio output frequencies of a certain level, different features, etc. There are a lot of ways to make it all happen, but every amp needs some part(s) to handle the incoming signal, so you have to plop down some design for that task, and so on.


As for iterating on a design, the intermediate stuff is evaluated through software simulation packages and/or building prototypes (which are then measured and/or listened to). Real-world analog stuff, even if it's designed well, is going to need some revisions and fine tuning for performance, which is something of a barrier to following through and finishing a design, much less productizing it. There's a limit to the things you can model in a simulation package when dealing with very precise analog electronics and caring about minute performance details.


There's not all that much room for profit unless one puts in the time for a storefront and/or avenues for sales and then actually has some decent product and/or marketing skills. I get the feeling like most DIY designers do it for fun as a challenging hobby.

Edited by mikeaj - 1/8/14 at 4:50pm
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