The time came for me to replace the ARCAM Delta 290P Power Amplifier in my main stereo setup. Rated at 70w into 8 ohms and 140w into 4 ohms, it took to driving my DIY 4 ohms speakers well, had Speaker A/B switches built-in and allowing me to toggle between my bookshelf monitors (DIY-BS.2W Mk2) and floorstanders (DIY-FS.3W Mk1). The 6.3mm headphones socket on the front was not the best but useful for quiet listening with my PHILIPS SHP-9500.
Although dated looking by today’s standards, if one was just starting out, the 290P would check pretty much all the boxes for a well specified power amplifier. Plus, the notion of being ‘Made in UK’ does mean a lot even till today with most factories shipping out of China. In my search for a replacement, I intended to get something that has relatively similar power output to drive my 4 ohms speakers. Bang for buck is always high up on my criteria as a starving audiophile. Others like speaker switching functions and headphone amp section are nice to have in a one box solution.
The caveats of the 290P included substantially colored sound signature. It clearly does not have the cleanest of resolution, has a thick and fuzzy transistor radio like signature especially in the mid-range and is not the most articulate in the lower frequencies. Speaker placements and room gain did present a bit of challenge during initial setup. I call that the ‘UK HiFi Sound’ aka ‘warm and fuzzy’. Quite a lot of folks do like that sound signature and there is nothing wrong there. I actually liked listening to the 290P hours on end due to the warm tones but I decided it was time to move on after 6 years, experience my music differently.
I had owned a few vintage and modern Class A and Class A/B Integrated/Power Amplifiers from LUXMAN, MARANTZ, NAD and TECHNICS with some most recently, some time spent with a CAYIN MT-12 (EL84). The CAYIN was a pretty looking piece of kit, heavy as hell for its 2/3 width form factor and frankly of very good build quality and well put together. It did struggle a little with my speakers hence did not last long in my setup. Each of manufacturer has a ‘house’ sound due to internal component choice and how they typical construct some of these products. NAD for one has a tradition of running discrete output stages where other may opt for transistor components or opamps instead.
There is no best or better but rather preference as you listen to how each approach may sound. Hence, pure Class A or A/B can sound very different from manufacturer to manufacturer. In terms of energy efficiency, the Class A tends to draw a lot more out of the wall. Class D on the other hand tends to be fairly ‘Neutral’ sounding and unlike most Class A or (very) slightly more efficient Class A/B amplifiers, Class D typically run at 70-90% power efficiency which is no doubt friendlier on your utilities bill.
Fast forward after a few months of online research, I decided I would build my own Class D power amplifier based on the ICEpower 200ASC and 200AC Class D amplifier modules. Although not the latest modules (ASX/AX are newer), these are rated at 200w at 4 ohms. Fairly affordable and easily sourced online, I had first seen these some 5 years back but held off adding these into my setup.
Documentation on how to build these were previously limited to ICEpower product manuals but there are now a number of ‘How-To’ videos on YouTube, sites you can pick up everything you need for your build including a prefabricated case to house the ICEpower modules in. I am confident they will sound ‘Neutral’ and get the job done. Coloration of the sound can be done with a separate Preamplifier later if desired. As far as amplification goes, this will rock.
Similar ICEpower modules are used by OEM manufacturers in their Class D amplifier product lines costing about $3,000-4,000 USD. Some examples include Wyred4Sound and Bel Canto. In this article, I will list where to ORDER the necessary components online. Similar to my bill of parts, these come up to about $300 USD excluding shipping. I will list the actual BUILD in the next article.
The 2 main sites I listed below include PartsExpress for the ICEpower modules and GhentAudio for the prefabricated case. Sure you might have other sources for the ICEpower modules but that are some knock-offs floating around on ebay so I will recommend PartsExpress for product authenticity. You could source your own case but if your intention is to not having to fuss with drilling holes and cutouts, the GhentAudio case has everything you need to get started.
Let’s start with items to pick-up from Parts Express. Because this is a dual mono build, you will need 2x Class D modules. The 200ASC includes a built-in power supply on the board that will run the entire setup. These will work on universal mains range of 100-240Vac so you need not worry about local voltages. The 200AC is similar and absent of the power supply portion hence will cost less and of smaller form factor. We need just 1 powered module. You will want to pickup the Auto On/Off Wiring Harness too.
- 1x ICEpower Amplifier 200ASC (Powered ‘S’ 200w Mono)
- 1x ICEpower Amplifier 200AC (Non ‘S’ unpowered 200w Mono)
- 1x ICEpower 6277849 Auto On/Off Wiring Harness for 200ASC
There are a couple of OPTIONAL Wiring Harness Kits you can pick-up from Parts Express. You can either get these or skip them if you intent to order the GhentAudio cables with the case. In case you are wondering what is the difference, GhentAudio cables are priced similar, have thinner insulation hence easier to manage as you put the kit together. The ICEpower wiring harness kit feature thicker insulation, might be harder to manager in the case but will offer better EMI/RFI insulation.
I did go with the GhentAudio cables but if I had to do it over again, I would go with the ICEpower cables. Better to have improved insulation especially in the 1/2 width case build. You will not be messing around with the wiring anytime soon once your get it all properly setup.
- OPTIONAL – ICEpower Amplifier Module 200ASC Wiring Harness Kit (skip this if getting GhentAudio Cable Set)
- OPTIONAL – ICEpower Amplifier Module 200AC Wiring Harness Kit (skip this too if getting GhentAudio Cable Set)
You will need to convert XLR Male to RCA (you will see why shortly) so I have the Neutrik adapters from Parts Express as ALTERNATIVE below. Those will allow you to use your existing RCA cables. If you do not have any spare RCA cables, then consider the RECOMMENDED instead and pick up correct length Monoprice cables off Amazon. I went with the Neutrik Adapters since I had spare Belden 1505F RCA cables lying around. The Monoprice cables from Amazon are ideal if you do not have spare cables like me and you will not have to deal with adapters.
- ALTERNATIVE– Neutrik NA2MPMF 3 Pin XLR Male to RCA Phono Jack Adapter
- RECOMMENDED – Monoprice XLR Male to RCA
Next, we head to GhentAudio and pickup the prefabricated case to house these modules below. There are a few cases on GhentAudio and the correct one is linked below. The same case can house either the 200ASC/AC or 300ASC/AC modules. 200w is plenty so the 200ASC/AC combination is what I would recommend. You could do 300ASC/AC if you have extra pocket change or if your drivers are made of granite or marble. Keep in mind, whether you are going with GhentAudio premade cables below or picking the wiring harness kit from Parts Express above.
- 1x 200ASC+200AC Dual Mono DIY Case-kit
- Choose either Black/Silver Faceplate
- Choose Kit(A) without cables (get the ICEpower kit from PE)
- Choose Kit(B) with cables for $20 more (same price as on PE)
You will notice that the GhentAudio case features XLR Inputs (Female) on the back panel. That explains why we need either the Neutrik XLR Male to RCA adaptors or the Monoprice XLR Male to RCA cables. If you did not miss anything, you would have ordered a number of items below. Excluding shipping, your parts list should cost about $300 USD. For the price, you are getting a highly power efficient 200w Dual Mono with a decent aluminium case including all the necessary parts for the build. It is pretty good value and very hard to beat if you ask me. Until a manufacturer is able to retail these at the same price point, I will be recommending this as the go-to power amplifier build for most folks. Add a SCHIIT SYS passive preamplifier for $49 USD and you have a superbly ‘Neutral’ sounding and energy efficient stereo setup for about $350 USD.
You will need some tools to put this together so get these organized as you wait for delivery from Parts Express and GhentAudio. List of tools below.
- Soldering Iron (30-40w will suffice)
- Soldering Wire (0.6-0.8mm 60/40)
- Wire Cutters/Strippers (between 26-22AWG)
- Precision Screwdriver Set (not necessary but suggested)
Now, you sit back and wait for delivery. Once everything is here, we can get down to the actual BUILD. In the meantime, stay calm and stay home.