Thursday, 22 October 2015

Experimenting with a quieter power source for the MiniDSP

As exams are approaching I find myself spending more and more time by my desk with faint background music on as I study. As I lean forward over my books my head comes within 40-50cm from the speaker drivers so any noise will be very audible.

I have been running the MiniDSP hooked up to my system even though I am not using any subwoofers at the moment. This is because the mid bass becomes a bit overpowering in my room as soon as I turn up the volume a bit. I have been using a small wall wart as a power supply for my MiniDSP 2x4 for years now but the noise haven't bothered me at all since I haven't been listening near-field. If I sit a couple of meters away from the speakers I can't hear any noise at all.

I did some googling on the problem and found a thread where some guy suggested powering it with a 9v battery to see if it was the wall wart that was introducing the noise, because apparently batteries are supposed to be a quiet (but not very convenient) power source.

By chance, I happen to have some 9v batteries lying around from my previous O2+ODAC builds.

The sacrifical cable to the left, a 2.5mm male to 2x2.5mm female cable.
I also had a spare cable which I ordered just a couple of weeks ago. The plan was to use it as a replacement cable for my Koss Porta Pro headphones, but I realised I should get something sturdier (which I have, just waiting for my heat shrink to arrive from China).

I started by cutting off the useless 2.5mm female connectors. I mean, have you ever used one of those? Well, I haven't.
Shielding/ground and signal wire.
Apparently the cable had a shielding/ground wire and a signal wire, which makes sense after all. I decided to use the outer ground wire since it was thicker and I didn't have to peel an extra piece of insulation.

The next problem was how to connect the wire to the battery, without holding it in place with my hands. One of the connectors on the battery allows for winding the cable around it but the other one does not. But as it happens to be, batteries are not the only things I get left after building an O2+ODAC combo. I get spare battery connectors as well. Might as well sacrifice two of them for this experiment.
Wire soldered to a battery connector.
This way I can attatch the cables to the battery without holding them in place. However, another problem appeared. These connectors are meant to be soldered in place on a circuit board, fixing them in place so they can't rotate and touch eachother which creates a short circuit. My solution to this was electrical insulation tape.
Tape-wrapped and insulated battery connectors.
I used my trusty soldering iron to melt the tape in a few places to fuse it together so it wouldn't fall apart as easily.
Finished "product".
After finishing the battery connectors I simply connected the other ends of the cables to the MiniDSP. No fire, no smoke, no weird sounds. All good. Next step - connecting it to the amplifier. No fire, no smoke, no weird sounds. All good so far. Turn on the amplifier and wait for the "click" that turns on the sound. Dead silent, no background noise. Wow, did this really work? I turn on some music but the speakers are still dead silent. I unplug the battery and plug in the USB cable. Background noise appears again along with the music.

My first thought was regarding the age of the battery. I think the battery I tried was from my own O2+ODAC build several years ago. I take it these batteries are not high-end and maybe they lose charge by time? I fetched my DMM to check the voltage.
3.91 volts, the MiniDSP 2x4 requires at least 4.5 VDC.
Turns out I was right, the battery had lost too much charge. But as it happens to be, I had seen some other batteries in my box full of newer O2+ODAC supplies while I was getting all my tools which where in the same box. I fetch the newer batteries and measure them. The first one measured around 7.5 VDC and the other measured 8.83 VDC as you can see in the picture below.
8.83 VDC, the MiniDSP 2x4 can handle up to 24 VDC.
I connect the new battery to the MiniDSP, I connect the DSP to the amplifier again and as I turn on the amplifier and hear the "click" I can instantly hear the background noise again. I put on some music to see if it actually works with a battery and it did work, however not any better than the wall wart.

I am a bit disappointed with the results, I was really hoping to get rid of the noise with a quieter power supply. I guess it must be the MiniDSP itself making the noise and I will have to delve deeper to try to find a solution to this, because otherwise I wont be able to use the MiniDSP in my current setup.

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