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I've been working on making a tube based headphone amplifier as a fun personal project. The amplifier is based around this 12AU7 vacuum tube. The project for the most part is following this existing design. It's currently being powered by a 12V lead acid battery. Here's the circuit diagram:

ckt diagram

After assembling everything on a piece of perfboard and testing, it sounds great! However, there seems to be an intermittent noise that I can't seem to identify. This noise is not always present; sometimes the amp will run fine for several minutes without problem, other times the noise will start and last only a few seconds, but sometimes it lasts for minutes at a time. It appears independent of input. I have heard it while listening to music as well as when no input is connected. Here's what it looks like. This was created by recording the output of the amplifier using the line-in of my pc and analyzing the data in Matlab.

noise

There are strong peaks at 60Hz (I'm in the US) in both channels which makes sense as the input comes from a 1m cable running across my desk. What I don't understand is the popping. It also appears to be worse in the left channel despite the two paths being identical. This is only one sample, but the popping seems to be consistent across occurrences based on what I've heard and other samples I've recorded.

Here's what I've tried so far:

  1. Removing the input. Even with no input cable connected to the amplifier, this popping is still present. This also means the noise is independent of the volume set by P1A.
  2. Changing the tube. The noise is present with the extra 12AU7 tube I have and even with no tube.
  3. Using different headphones. I typically use this amp with my Audiotechnica ATH-M40X with a 35 Ohm impedance but the noise exists with my cheap ear buds as well (8 Ohm I think).

This leads me to think that it likely has something to do with either the IRF510 MOSFET or LM317 linear regulator (which is acting as a current source). I don't know enough about the noise performance of these components to conclusively put the blame on either of them. If it matters, they both run very hot. I can record some exact temps later if necessary. I can't rule out the power source or passives as potential culprits, but again, this is beyond my knowledge.

Any suggestions? What is the likely cause of this noise? Are there things I can do to learn more about the noise and narrow down possibilities? How can I get rid of it?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm wondering if there's a bad connection somewhere. That can cause plenty of popping. Double check your solder joints? \$\endgroup\$ – Hearth Nov 9 '18 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to EE.SE. Are you running the tube filaments on AC or DC current? Also R1 and R2 could easily be 1M resistors. It this in a metal enclosure? \$\endgroup\$ – Sparky256 Nov 9 '18 at 22:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Having MOSFET's and LM317's running hot is NOT good at all. Popping noise can be a sign of a bad semiconductor. The popping will get worse with time. What voltage is Vcc and is it the same for the tube anodes? \$\endgroup\$ – Sparky256 Nov 9 '18 at 22:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sparky256 Running off of DC current from a lead-acid battery currently. It is not in a metal enclosure, right now it's not in any closure at all. Vcc is nominally 12V and is the only positive voltage rail in the system. \$\endgroup\$ – Nick Anderson Nov 9 '18 at 22:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ You are running filaments very hot - tube life will be shortened considerably. \$\endgroup\$ – glen_geek Nov 9 '18 at 22:44

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