Valve rectifier?…..solid state rectifier?????

Further to the amp design series. This is part three. If I can get to three without suffering brain fade there must be a slim chance I might know something useful. Eh?

a) So what’s the difference? b) Is there a difference? c) Will I notice a difference?

a) One uses a valve. Duh.

b) Not if you’re deaf.

c) See above…..and…..some people wouldn’t notice a difference if a herd of wildebeest stampeded through their kitchen.

A rectifier of any sort has one purpose, and that is to convert (rectify) an ac (alternating) current/voltage to a dc (direct) current/ voltage. But the valve rectifier has certain properties that the solid state rectifier doesn’t. From a point of view of how it affects the sound, the valve rectifier has the property of ‘sag’. I know how it feels. The valve itself has an internal impedance, and what that means is that the current path from anode to cathode (the conducting direction) isn’t a short circuit, it has a certain resistance. (Impedance, strictly speaking.)

This is a very complex characteristic and varies from valve to valve in imponderable ways. This will not endear the rectifier valve to the digital fraternity. They like to put these numbers into this black box and it does this. Every time. No valve will do that, because the valve is a physical device and as such every one is different (within certain tolerances). Not only does it vary from valve to valve, but also depending on the current it is drawing, how hot it is, what is the smoothing arrangement on the dc side. And what day of the week it is, for all I know?

The characteristic of ‘sag’ in the rectifier, means that as the valve takes more current, the output voltage tends to drop, which tends to limit the output of the amp it is supplying, so providing compression. This is not a simple compression. It is affected by frequency, amplitude, phase angle, power amp loading, even speaker impedances. So far as I know, there is no compression circuit that can simulate this form of compression, it is not very predictable and varies (as we’ve already noted) from valve to valve.

A solid state rectifier, on the other hand, has very little impedance in the forward direction. It will run itself without varying the output voltage, to destruction. So it does not compress, and has no sag factor. This is a big difference, as any guitarist will tell you who has wound up a valve amp with a valve rectifier.

But there is a downside to the valve rectifier. It’s expensive and complicated. It needs, for a start, an extra valve base. It also needs a transformer that will give a heater supply voltage for the valve, which is often a different voltage to rest of the amp heaters. In the case of a GZ32 or GZ34 or 5Y4….etc….5 volts. This means that the mains transformer has to have an extra winding to supply this voltage.

You don’t need any of those things for a solid state rectifier circuit. Just two (or four) diodes, or a bridge rectifier. Nevertheless, our amp (should it ever get to that state) will have a valve rectifier. If we keep it small, say 15 watts  rms, we can do the valve rectification with an EZ80 or EZ81. ….So what?…..ah well….these valves have 6.3 volt heaters, so the mains transformer is much simpler; we don’t need a separate 5 volt supply.

So we’ve actually made a decision. Which is quite something in a life of doing my best to avoid them. We use an EZ rectifier valve and design the output to be around 15 watts rms. And that solves another decision. If the amp is going to be some variation on class AB (we’ll look into this a bit further into the proceedings), it is likely to be using a pair of EL84′s. Not unlike the Vox AC 15, or the Watkins Dominator.

The thick plottens………..

Tea! Macaroon! Oh yessssss!

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