More module talk

Schematic of module interface

A few years ago, I developed an audio gain cell that was exceptionally fast for a fully discrete circuit and quite clean. That design ended up being adopted commercially, including by Audio by Van Alstine, who are using it in their DAC MK 5 and Vision preamplifier. I like to think that this gain cell is a key factor behind why the owner of a well-regarded manufacturer of luxury loudspeakers called the AVA DAC MK 5 one of the best sounding DACs he’d ever heard and a model for other manufacturer’s to live up to.

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AVA preamp chassis

AVA “SLR” remote controlled preamplifier chassis

A recent chassis redesign project I undertook for Audio by Van Alstine is now in production.

This project pushed “constraints as creative resource” to the limit. The client specified that the design language and elements from the product’s predecessor be maintained—down to the knobs, faceplate treatments, and typography.

The project brief revolved around electronic and industrial design work to bring the client’s preamplifer platform up to functional parity with current market offerings within a framework that fits with the client’s existing manufacturing capabilities. The result is a platform that is significantly more capable than what it replaces yet easier for the client to manufacture. It is also amenable to comprehensive appearance changes if and when the client deems the timing is right.

So while it might not seem there’s much innovation on the outside, there is a lot of innovation for the client on the inside.

AVA DAC MK 5 released

Berkeley investigates the DAC MK5

The new DAC MK 5 that I’ve been working on for Audio by Van Alstine has finally been released.

I am grateful to Frank Van Alstine for giving me the room to develop the best reasonably priced DAC I know how to design. The results have so far exceeded all expectations, including my own. We all learned a lot through the process of designing this unit, which is as it should be. Rapid prototyping turned out to be instrumental in exploring a number of early electronic design alternatives. Looking forward to the reviews!

AVA adopts my audio module in new DAC and preamp designs


Audio by Van Alstine has adopted my discrete Class A audio module into two of their products. The Vision DAC uses the module in its differential anti-imaging filter and output stage and the Vision SL Preamp uses it for line stage amplification. The pair will be premiered at the Axpona Audio Expo in Chicago this weekend. Looking forward to feedback from the show.

It develops …


Picking up from earlier, what we’re looking at here is an audio DAC reconstruction filter built around a prototype discrete opamp-like differential gain cell I’ve had in the works for quite a while. I finally chased out the last engineering details and have been listening to the final setup for about a month. I am still astonished at how good it sounds.

I designed the gain cell from the ground-up as a dedicated high-performance audio device. It uses some novel topological and other features that I’ll probably go into in a future post. For now all I want to say that the thing is wicked fast for a discrete device and has been rock-solid stable.

But why bother? Aren’t there already tons of reasonably decent, some even cheap, audio IC opamps out there? Yes, there are. But I’ve never been totally happy with any of them. Some have too much LF bloat, some are too strident—none to my ears do everything right (which is to say, do as little as possible apart from making the signal bigger and stronger).

Designing a discrete device let me optimize the gain structure specifically for audio, minimize and more effectively manage the number of parasitic interactions throughout, thermally couple and, more importantly, decouple elements as necessary, and a few other things. It started as a “Gee, let’s see…” exercise, and I have been rather shocked by the results.

Now I’m contemplating where to take things next. I’ve designed a couple small-footprint packages for the gain cell. I’m implementing a few other ideas with it too. I suspect this surprising little circuit will see some commercial application soon.

Right then. Back to listening. 😀