Saturday, September 29, 2018

Project: Building a Pass Aleph J Amplifier

After the success of the ACA amplifiers, I decided to tackle something a little more difficult: the Aleph J, which is yet another Nelson Pass design that he released to the community at DIY Audio. Like the ACA, the Aleph J is single-ended design but instead uses two output devices in parallel, along with a current source. Power output is in the 25W range, which is good enough for my small listening area, even with 86dB efficient speakers. Except for the input capacitor on the negative leg of the input, the entire amplifier is also DC coupled which means the output offset must be nulled out.

Nelson Pass has a manual on the Aleph J here.

DIY Audio Build - with better pictures than mine - is here. Also includes a schematic.

I first stuffed the circuit boards, including the power supply PCB, with the passive parts:

And next was the installation of the Jfets and FETS, along with the placement of the circuit board on the heatsink. I ran into some problems that the DIY Audio community graciously helped me with. Turns out that I have too much of a soft touch with the soldering iron and had a few cold solder joints. It's that fear of burning up those rare 2SJ74 jfets that make me nervous. Also note the Keratherm output transistor insulators which are a lot easier to install than the old "white goop" thermal grease, and also make removing the board easier for troubleshooting. 


I'm obviously skipping a lot of the build steps - power transformer installation, power switch, and the wiring. So with the magic of my time machine, here is the end result of most of my labor: some magic glowing blue LEDs. I do have to say that the DIY Audio Store supplied chassis and circuit boards made this project a lot easier - everything, with the exception of the power transformer, just fits without having to drill holes or battle with placement.

Here is a picture of the completed amplifier :

Note on playing the Aleph for the first time in the main system: I'm quite impressed - lots of little detail on records that I hadn't heard before, super fast but delicate sounding - ie, not aggressive. Excellent bass control. Some actual depth and wide imaging. They would make excellent mastering/studio monitoring amps.

The sound is a tad "clean" - lacking some of that bloom that I hear with the best tube amps. So like digital television versus 70mm film. Perhaps not the best analogy but the only one I can think of. It does need some more break-in time so I'll be patient. But - at least in this system - it is the best solids state amplification I've heard. I think a really good SE tube amp would be preferable but at half the cost, the Aleph is certainly in the running.​

01/04/19 Update: The Aleph J is one of the more interesting amplifiers that I've ever experienced.  It has such a lack of apparent "character" that it just blends into the background.  I'm not trying to say it is boring, quite the contrary; you can hear the differences between recordings.  That is to say every record sounds different, as to be expected.  And, for a solid-state amplifier, it has some of the best body and definition I've heard.  I'm really beginning to hear the limitations of my front end now!  The bottom end is also tightly controlled too, giving quite a bit of boogie factor even with the small woofers of the Denton speakers.

Now the Aleph still doesn't sound like a tube amp - but it also doesn't have that upper-midrange glare or treble edginess I hear with lesser solid-state amps.  Highly recommended for its neutral character and dynamic ability.  This amp will be running in my system for a long time while I start to explore different turntable and speaker upgrades.  Stay tuned!