Thanks for buying a board from me! Have fun, and go slow, it’s faster.
This document is called “Assembly Notes” and not “Assembly Instructions” because every amp is a little different, and every technician’s approach to this work is going to vary. This is an advanced-level electronics project. It is assumed that you are experienced and comfortable working with audio amplifiers.
Thus, I present to you, vaguely sequential bullet points to review, not step-by-step instructions.
Click here to download the BFA-555 MK1 schematic.
The circuit is true to the original schematic, with the addition of the local supply bypass capacitors. In the original schematic, the same part numbers were used for both left and right channels. This confuses my board design software, so part numbers have had a prefix of 1xx or 2xx appended to differentiate left and right channels. (Thus R1 becomes R101 for the left, and R201 for the right.)
- I recommend a regulated temperature soldering station or at least a powerful hand-held iron like the TS-80 or TS-100. This is a 2-layer board with plated through-holes, and large ground and power planes that wick away heat. No problem with a good iron, but a cheap pencil iron will be frustrating.
- Getting the solder to flow to both sides of the joint: I use a cotton swab to apply a little paste flux to each and every solder pad on the top of the board. It’s messy, but it helps the solder wick through to the top sides of the solder pads. I touch-up from above the ones that did not flow through. Having both sides of the pads soldered not only looks nice, but is more reliable and serves as a double-check on each solder connection.
- Solder: I do not recommend using a general-purpose “no-clean” solder, like Kester 44. It’s great stuff, but it’s very difficult to remove by design. Traditional rosin fluxes—like that contained in Kester 44—harden like amber, to keep out moisture and slow any chemical reactions. If you are going to be cleaning your board—and I strongly suggest you do—then this type of flux is very difficult to remove. Instead, I recommend solder wire with a water-soluble flux, like Chip Quik SMDSW.
Populating the board:
- Start with the resistors and diodes, because they lie flat.
- Resistor values are printed on the board and use the convention of replacing the decimal point with the SI prefix, “M” K” or “R”. (Megaohms, Kiloohms and Ohms) For example: 47.5 Kilo-ohm = 47K5 or 68.1 OHMS = 68R1
- Be careful with your decimal places. There are a lot of samey-samey values like 68R1 and 681R, or 47K5 and 475R.
- Dale resistors are marked using at least two different conventions, that may differ from how they are printed on the board.
- No shame; use your meter to check resistances if you are unsure.
- Install the Dale resistors so that their value can be read from the top.
- High-precision 0.1% tolerance resistors: There are (5) 22.1K resistors, and (4) 1K. Their locations on the board are marked with a “0.1%” next to the resistor value.
- Matched transistors:
- Transistor gain varies with heat, so the two transistors that make up the differential long-tail-pair on the input should be thermally bonded. Copper foil tape and heat shrink is provided for this. You’ll need some heat sink compound to stick between the faces, or thermal epoxy. JBWeld original formula also works well, as it is non-conductive and tolerates high heat. (Even though these transistors only get a little warm.)
Transistors with Heat Sinks:
Populate the rest of the board:
From this point forward, it doesn’t really matter what order you install components, but it’s easier to install the components from smallest to largest.
Don’t forget to attach the thermal breakers, and wires for the RCA inputs. (You can also re-use the original RCA jacks; they solder directly to the board.)
IMPORTANT: Testing your output modules
Please do not skip this step! You must be certain your output modules are good before applying power to the amp. This GFA-555 is direct-coupled from one stage to the next. If you try to power up the amp with blown transistors on the output modules, the “Domino Effect” may ripple backwards through your amp, blowing up everything all the way back to the input stage. It’s a big job to repair the damage.
All five of the transistors on the output modules should be tested with the diode check function on your multimeter. Check out this excellent video on the subject by Mr. Carlson, and this discussion thread at AudioKarma, which contains a excellent guide written by user ‘Echowars’.
The four output transistors are wired in parallel, so if you want to test each one individually, they will need to be taken out of circuit. You don’t need to desolder the transistors entirely. Just remove their bolts, which disconnects their collectors, and then lift one leg of each emitter resistor.
If you find a bad transistor or transistors.: When power output transistors fail, they tend to do so very obviously, and will usually either blow out completely shorted, or completely open. If yours test OK on the diode check function, and show the usual 0.5-0.6V voltage drops, and no shorts, they are probably good. That is no guarantee. The most important thing is that none are shorted, because that’s how input boards get smoked.
If you find that you just have one or two blown transistors, it is recommended that you replace the whole set of four, as they need to match. I recommend On Semi MJ21193/94, but there are many good substitutes. If you order from a reputable source like Mouser or Digikey, you will probably receive a whole set with the same batch code. Manufacturing tolerances are so good these days that a set from the same batch code will likely be decent matches.
Other Upgrades for the output modules:
Driver Transistors: GFA-555 MKI output driver transistors sometimes pop short and make the amp go DC to rail. These have just barely sufficient VCE ratings. The GFA-555 will swing nearly 170V rail-to-rail, and the 2SA1011 transistors are only rated at 160V. Some speculate they were testing and sorting transistors at the factory, binning by VCE, and putting the higher-voltage ones in the GFA-555’s, and the lower voltage ones in the GFA-545’s. This is not Adcom being cheap! Back in the day, there really was a narrow selection of transistors with good Ft, low capacitance and high-power dissipation all in the same device. They didn’t have the luxury of modern devices like the MJE15032/33, which is my recommendation for replacement, and every 555 MKI should really have this done.
Thermistor: The thermal compensation thermistor comes glued to the NPN driver transistor. If you wish to replace the driver transistors, you must remove the thermistor without damaging it. Use a razor blade to cut the glue out from under the thermistor. Re-attach to the new transistor with silicone caulk.
Power supply bypasses: Local power supply bypass capacitors can improve high-frequency performance.
A cut is made in this extra length of PCB trace, and the remaining bit of trace is used as a junction point for the capacitor grounds, and a 16ga wire that goes back to star ground. A 0.1uF polyester cap is soldered in parallel with the 100uF electrolytic. Notice how there is a piece of PVC insulation fitted over the lead of the capacitor.
Install into the amp
Connect all the wires.
- Output modules. Use the supplied, longer brown wires for V-.
- Thermal breakers
- Feedback wires. (Thin twisted pair that comes from the binding posts.)
- Input wires
- Ground wires, see below.
The order in which the terminals are stacked onto the star-ground bolt makes a difference in noise! The most important thing, is that the signal ground does not share any conductive paths with charging currents between the rectifiers and the power supply and bypass capacitors.
Stack the star-ground bolt like this: From top to bottom
- Signal Ground from input board
- Speaker Grounds
- Chassis ground wire
- Bypass Capacitor ground from the input board. (Does not exist on original board. Hoppe’s Brain Input board adds local supply bypass capacitors, or you can add them to your original board.)
- Bypass capacitor grounds from output modules. (MK2 has these capacitors installed, and they can be added to the MK1.)
- Transformer center-tap
Testing the amp:
Bring the amp up on a variac if you have one, or use a “Dim bulb tester“. Apply a 0.1VAC sine wave to the input. Monitor the output on a scope. If the amp is working, you should be looking at a nice clean sine wave of approximately 2.2VAC. If not, you have some troubleshooting to do.
Short the RCA inputs to the amp. You should read less than 25mV at the speaker terminals. If you have more than this, something is wrong.
Bias spec is 16mV across the emitter resistors.
I recommend checking all 8 resistors on each side. Take an average, it doesn’t need to be exact. Connect the negative probe of your meter to the speaker positive output and the probe each emitter resistor. Beware of probe slippage! I’ve blown way too many expensive output transistors that way. Now I use these Fluke extended fine point tips, and it hasn’t happened since.
The GFA-555 MK1’s bias has a rather pronounced positive thermal coefficient. That is, when it gets hot, the bias goes up. It can get as high as 80mV when the amp is hot, and this is perfectly normal. It makes bias adjustment kind of fussy though, as the bias will fluctuate with the temperature of the room, and air circulation.
What I do is let the amp sit on the bench, with no clutter around it, with the cover on. From stone cold, I power-on and adjust bias to about 12mV. This will climb as the amp warms up a bit. After 15 minutes or so, I’ll then re-adjust to 16mV. Then I put the cover back on and let it sit for about an hour. Check, adjust, check, adjust…. lather, rinse, and repeat as many times as needed.
What I’m looking for is that the bias hangs around the target, at room temperature with good ventilation.
Once adjusted properly, the heatsinks should feel just a little warm to the touch, about 100F. You can use an infrared thermometer to make sure both sides are approximately the same.