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gainclone chip amp faq
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Home > Gainclone Chip Amp FAQ
DALAUDIO's Frequently Asked Questions - Updated 8/13/2014

What's a Gainclone, and why DALAUDIO?
LM3886 Chip Specs
LM3875 Chip Specs
Which Amp Should I Choose? Recently Expanded !!
Which Chip is Best For My Speakers?
Input Sensitivity
What Caps and Resistors Are Used, And Can I Upgrade?
What Pre-Amp Should I Use?
Compatibility With Apple's and other Music Players?
Bridged Mono?
Remote Control?
Euro or 220/230/240 VAC Options?
Do You Offer DIY kits?
How does a Gainclone compare to a Digital Amp?

If after reviewing these FAQs you are still uncertain about what’s best for your needs, or, if your source(s) or pre-amp have output voltage levels inconsistent with "standard" consumer audio equipment, please contact us with your project summary and a complete list of associated components, noting the manufacturer and model number for each unit, and roughly describe your listening habits (e.g. jazz/orchestral at moderate levels, alt rock really loud, etc) and listening space. When including DIY items, please reference the common design name and any specs available.

What's a Gainclone? And why DALAUDIO amplifiers?

DALAUDIO prototype analog IC chip amplifiers are a budget-friendly audiophile solution for exceptionally detailed sound, and musically uncolored/flat sound stage. Plus, our amps are dead quite with no input. Such value is made possible by our compact PCB design with minimum of exceptional high quality parts. . This minimal chip amp design makes it very fast, and requires less filters, buffers, etc. that can muffle or otherwise color the sound reproduction.

Gainclones have a special sound that has captured many builders and listeners around the world. These amplifiers were inspired by the GainCard (entry price starts at US$3,300 including power supply) and were updated by many curious and talented (Do it Yourself) DIY Audio folks along the way. The DIY audiophile community is always looking for ingenious ways to benefit from the advanced chip amps at more affordable price points. For more research and information, just search on Gainclone, Chip amplifier, or LM3886 Chip Amp.

LM3886 Chip Specs

Output and Operating Characteristics per National Semiconductor Datasheet: The LM3886 is a high-performance audio power amplifier capable of delivering 68W of continuous average power to a 4 load and 38W into 8 with 0.1% THD+N from 20Hz-20kHz.
  • 68W cont. avg. output power into 4 at VCC = ±28V
  • 38W cont. avg. output power into 8 at VCC = ±28V
  • 50W cont. avg. output power into 8 at VCC = ±35V
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio >= 92dB
  • Output protection from a short to ground or to the supplies via internal current limiting circuitry
  • Output over-voltage protection against transients from inductive loads
  • Supply under-voltage protection, not allowing internal biasing to occur when |VEE| + |VCC| <= 12V, thus eliminating turn-on and turn-off transients

LM3875 Chip Specs

Output and Operating Characteristics per National Semiconductor Datasheet: The LM3875 is a high-performance audio power amplifier capable of delivering 56W of continuous average power to an 8 load with 0.1% THD+N from 20Hz to 20kHz.
  • 56W continuous average output power into 8 ohms
  • 100W instantaneous peak output power capability
  • Signal-to-Noise Ratio >95dB (min)
  • Output protection from a short to ground or to the supplies via internal current limiting circuitry
  • Output over-voltage protection against transients from inductive loads
  • Supply under-voltage protection, not allowing internal biasing to occur when |V+| + |V-| <= 12V, thus eliminating turn-on and turn-off transients
  • Wide supply voltage range: |V+| + |V-| = 20V to 84V

Which Amplifier Should I Choose - Is there a sonic difference?

Which amp chip should I choose?
The short answer: In most general use cases, we lean toward recommending the LM3886 since folks may utilize several different speakers (4, 6 or 8 Ohms) during the useful life of this high quality audiophile amplifier.

AUDIO Retro Amplifiers - The Retro (tm) design is a throwback to the popular vintage equipment from the 60s and 70s. Great for rack or cabinet mounting, this ventilated chassis is the choice of professional nightclubs and other constant performance applications. Keep in mind that the AC power cord and switch is on one the side, and the signal inputs and outputs are on the opposite side. This flexibility of right or left configuration is also ideal for rack and cabinet applications.

DALAUDIO Studio Amplifiers - The Studio series form factor provides for a compact footprint which is ideal for professional desktop and studios cabinets. The studio is also popular with our home studio desktop users. This compact chassis design has the power switch and power indicator on the front with all other connections on the rear.
What are the differences in the power level of the LM3886 vs the LM3875?

The LM3875 will produce slightly more power @ 8 Ohms but is not a good choice for speakers with impedance below 6 Ohms (yes that includes 4 Ohm Speakers)

The LM3886 chip will do a better job with a 4 ohm speaker across the frequency range, and produce about a 10% higher sound pressure level across 20Hz-21.9Khz in a decent efficient 8 ohm speaker. In most general use cases, we lean toward recommending the LM3886.

What about the performance?
Short answer: as it pertains to our amps, most people won’t hear much difference, aside from the LM3875 being a little flatter than the increased low end of the LM3886 with a snubber inspired power supply . Some interpret the LM3875 as slightly warmer, with better midrange and highs. But the LM3886 has a beefed up output stage (bigger output transistor junctions), which translates to reduced total harmonic distortion, greater efficiency and more short term power dissipation capacity across a wider range from 4 to 8 ohms.

What is the difference between the LM3886 Studio R2 and R3 ?

The Studio LM3886 R2 utilizes an aluminum black painted face plate with a silkscreen blue and white DALAUDIO Logo. The R2 is built with a simple neon red rocker switch, and a R2 "green" silver plate PCB, The PCB is a very good sounding amplifier with a snubber inspired supply. It has received rave reviews if you check the net, We don’t do a lot of marketing, and it is a great audiophile amp deal at the price we charge.

The Studio R3 has an thicker aluminum face plate with exposed edges and engraved DALAUDIO logo. We utilize the R3 "Blue Board" which has two very minor improvements, one for noise floor, which was already unusually low in the R2, and the other is a build improvement consisting of gold PCB plate material. Sound wise its about as good as these amps get.

Which Chip Works Best With My Speakers?

Highly efficient speakers are best, and generally 88db or higher. The LM3886 chip performs well at 4-8 ohms, while the LM3875 is best when utilized with 8 ohm speakers. If you require a bit more support in this area please send us an email and provide us with your speaker and listening details: Please include: Speaker mfg, Speaker part#, specs if available, and types of music you listen to. We will review the information you send us and get back to you within 24 hours or so with our recommendations.

Typical Input Sensitivity for DALAUDIO Amps

A standard DALAUDIO amplifier will compliment commercial audio components. Suggested amp input range is .050V to 1.5V, with 22K input impedance and 33dB gain. However, our design is easily customized at time of build to suit the output characteristics of your pre-amp or source. Please contact us in advance of purchase for a recommendation based on your system and listening habits, providing manufacturer and model number for each component, so we may determine if impedance or gain adjustments will optimize the amp for your system.

A standard DALAUDIO passive pre-amplifier, utilizing a 100K Alps potentiometer, is similarly designed to work best with an input range of .050V to 1.5V, and can be customized at time of build to match whatever output impedance you may require.

What Caps and Resistors Are Used? Can I Upgrade?

Supply caps are all high quality Panasonic FC Radials, resistors are usually all Vishay. Zobel Caps are Vishay/BC. We believe these parts provide very high quality performance and value. In some cases we can offer “upgrade” alternatives—-generally Black Gate Rubycon or Elna caps, and Caddock High Performance resistors. If an upgrade option isn't shown on the amp item page, please request a quote.

What Pre-Amp Can I Use With DALAUDIO Amps?

First, make sure your source and/or pre-amp is high quality. A good chip amp will expose poor quality. We recommend passive pre-amp if possible, with input in the 22K to 33K range with high quality potentiometer, not a ladder attenuator.

If a powered pre-amp is needed (eg. using a DAC or other low level input device perhaps below 600mV) we can impedance-match the amp's input based on your preamp’s technical parameters and output characteristics.

We offer both single and multi-input passive pre-amps, utilizing a DALAUDIO-designed high quality PCB with authentic Japanese made 100K ALPS pot, that allows us to customize log and output impedance, to have the most desirable listening slope (curve) at 75% of the pots travel circumference, or at your desired setting per each input. See Passive Pre-Amps Section

Compatibility With Apple Devices or other Music Players

Airport Express, We do not recommend Airport Express between our amp and your source unless an appropriately tuned pre-amp is used. The airport express will abruptly begin and end digital streams (and the associated analog output if you are not using a digital preamp) relatively quickly. Since DALAUDIO amps are very detailed and fast, you will hear a small pop in the amplified speaker as streams begin or end. This is not only unpleasant to the ear, it has the potential to damage your speakers.

Apple Phones, Music Players, We do recommend caution but yes these can be directly connected via the proper cable (3.5mm to RCA) to our amps. We do recommend utilizing our passives if you have more than one source or desire to protect your self from accidental volume increases common with on screen volume control. DALAUDIO amps are very detailed and fast, so be cautious when increasing the volume with the onscreen sliders. This is not only unpleasant to the ear, it has the potential to damage your speakers.

Bridged Mono?

We have several bridged designs that we can utilize with our amp platforms. Very few bridged designs have the necessary combining networks, and therefore suffer in sound quality. If you are interested in more power we also have 4780 based amplifiers available on a custom basis.

Do you offer a remote control option?

No, but we can recommend the Creek OBH-22 Preamp for a remote option to pair with DALAUDIO amps. Let us know if you’d like to include one in your amp package.

Euro or 220/230/240 VAC versions?

Currently we only offer 110VAC chip amps. Our design is not convertible to 220-240VAC.

Do you offer DIY kits?

Currently we do not. The price wouldn’t be much less than our assembled amps. But serious inquiries will be considered.

How does a DALAUDIO Amp compare to a Digital Amp?

To compare a digital amp to a gainclone is somewhat unfair as one has the typical “digital” sound and the other a more expansive “analog” sound stage (presuming both are properly designed and built). The digital chip can be “package engineered” to be a very clear, analytical, digital amp. With a well adjusted output the digital is capable of reproducing most music fairly authentically. However some folks claim that digital amps do not have as much warmth as a valve (tube) amp, or an analog amplifier, and require a well designed power supply to render a decent overall frequency response.

By contrast, a DALAUDIO LM3886 gainclone chip amp is still solid state (analog) but sits somewhere in the middle between the Tripath "digital amp" and a very decent (and expensive) valve amp in producing a very clear, crisp tonal image, typically has more power, provides better overall response. A DALAUDIO LM3875 chip amp, also in the middle of this spectrum, will be slightly warmer than the LM3886.