Monthly Archives: January 2017

Skytec PRO 600 PA Amplifier repaired but bad design can’t be fixed

tl;dr – to fix the problem throw the Skytec Pro 600 away and buy something better before the Skytec blows your speakers again. Don’t buy Skytec, and if you have it throw it away before it fails on you.

Skytec is cheap rubbish made in China for kids who are wannabe DJs but have little money. This is not quality – I had to repair this amplifier because of a fundamental defect in the engineering design. These are fine for background music, say in a pub. They’ll go reasonably loud in a modest party setting ,say 30 people, but it’s rough, and it’s nasty. You’ll save on the amp and pay in bass drive units if you DJ with this at any scale 😉 And get a limiter if you can, but if you can afford that you won’t be down at the Skytec end of the market.

I made the dumb mistake of buying one of these used from Cash Converters for £30 a while back. I bought it purely on price, I wanted something basic for parties of about 30-50 people. I knew nothing about PA, but I figured a hifi amp wouldn’t cut it for that sort of usage. What I hadn’t anticipated was people shift junk onto the PA market with design defects that were solved in the 1970s. They don’t even need any new parts, just put the Vbe multiplier on the heatsink rather than on the circuit board.

Skytec 600s are sold as 600W and the manual claims 600W output. They are absolutely away with the fairies on that, to the extent they should be done under the Trade Descriptions Act. I guess they hide behind the fact they don’t say RMS power, so they probably mean peak power, though that’s still only 280W. I measured 80V p-p, which is about 28Vrms. Run that into 4Ω and you’ll get V²/R≈200W. Do that for any length of time and it will blow because of the inadequate heatsinking and bad thermal design.

about 80Vp-p (I am using 10x probes) into 6ohms, 130W per channel. Don’t do it for too long, though

HiFi tower talk glowingly about the MOSFETs

Skytec’s PA-600 gives you the extra power you need with exceptional bass. All sound components are co-ordinated carefully and captivate their longevity. The modern MOSFET transistors and extra large power transformers give great sound and dynamics. The high build quality makes it the ideal amplifier for tours and gigging. For use on stages, for DJs, monitoring, parties and conferences.

but there ain’t no MOSFETs in this, simply a pair of paralleled bipolar junction transistors in the complementary pair output stage, 2SA1941 and 2SC5198. Toshiba described the transistors as suitable for 75W amps, you have two in parallel so 150W tops, okay times two for stereo = 300W. The toroidal transformer isn’t over 600W, I’d guess 200W from the size.

It worked OK for me for a couple of years, but then I let someone use it unsupervised for live music. Which brings me to the first warning

Do NOT use the Skytec 600 for live music unless you are aware of the risks you are taking!

I wasn’t, there, and the result was a blown output stage and blown woofer. It only cost me £11 to service the amp and £50 to change out the woofer, so I am now down £91, and I still have a junk amplifier, though it works now. Now that I know the ghastly horror of the circuit design I am not sure I have the balls to use it again, but at least it works as it was meant to originally 😉

Why not for live music then?

After all, the promotional blurb says this:

The high build quality makes it the ideal amplifier for tours and gigging. For use on stages, for DJs, monitoring, parties and conferences.

so what’s the problems then? Dynamic range – live music has a higher peak to mean ratio than recorded music. You end up pushing the bugger harder, so unless you limit the live source in the mix you’ll clip the output. At least that’s what I assume happened, I wasn’t there when It failed 😉 The Skytec is fine for prerecorded music, but the basic problem is that this amp has zero protection for the speakers or the output stage. Worse still, the VBE multiplier that biases the output stage isn’t thermally coupled to the heatsink on the output stage. Let’s hear it from Rod Elliott why this sucks

Thermal Stability

It can be seen that in the Darlington configuration, there are two emitter-base junctions for each output device. Since each has its own thermal characteristic (a fall of about 2mV per degree C), the combination can be difficult to make thermally stable. In addition, the gain of transistors often increases as they get hotter, thus compounding the problem. The bias ‘servo’, typically a transistor Vbe multiplier, must be mounted on the heatsink to ensure good thermal equilibrium with the output devices, and in some cases can still barely manage to maintain thermal stability.

If stability is not maintained, the amplifier may be subject to thermal runaway, where after a certain output device temperature is reached, the continued fall of Vbe causes even more quiescent current to flow, causing the temperature to rise further, and so on. A point is reached where the power dissipated is so high that the output transistors fail – often with catastrophic results to the remainder of the circuit and/or the attached loudspeakers.

I got to find that out the hard way. I’ve actually managed to do a fair number of parties with this fine, but I was always careful to keep the bouncing LEDs of the output display under control by controlling the master gain.

How does the Skytec PRO600 do thermal stability?

On a wing and a prayer.

PC case fan blowing on the internal heatsink

They run a PC case fan 100% of the time  onto the main heatsink, sucking air out of the case, inflow is through the front. There’s no margin for error – although I didn’t trace the circuit it’s a complementary pair of paralleled output transistors driven by a driver (effectively making a Darlington output)  so you got four VBE drops reducing with temperature at 2mV/deg C, asking for thermal runaway. There’s no fight against that with the VBE multiplier because it’s not thermally coupled. Get the die temp of those output devices hot enough, say 40C above ambient and you have 40*2*2 = 160mV less bias than you started with (the drivers are conveniently mounted on the heatsink to make sure their VBE drops too).  This is designed for thermal runaway and the only thing standing between you and a blown output stage is the hope the heatsink and the fan keep the temperature rise down. You can get a little bit of an idea of the architecture from this thread and this PDF of a similar noname PA amp which gives a rough idea of the architecture on the output

Schematic someone has traced out of a similar piece of junk. In my case the four o/p transistors are 2x 2SA1941 (BG7,8) and 2x 2SC5198 (BG 9,10). BG4 is the offending Vbe multiplier that isn’t on the heatsink.

How to fix a Skytec 600 blown output stage

Change the 2SA1941 and 2SC5198 transistors 😉 I buzzed these through with a DVM on diode setting and found them all short, traced back to the drivers expecting them to have gone but they were OK, traced back a further stage of BJTs but they were OK too. The 5A fuse saved the other passive components.

It’s quite repair-friendly – unscrew the three screws on the base holding the heatsink, unplug all the connectors after taking a photo to remember where they go back. Lift the PA module out, snip the duff transistor legs to save the PCB while desoldering the pins one at a time.

snipping the duff transistor legs lets you unsolder the legs one at a time, saving the PCB from overheating.

I powered up the repaired stage on a 30-0-30V bench power supply set to limit at 100mA, I know it’s meant to work off 60-0-60V but I got a signal through and confirmed it wasn’t still duff, before getting it onto the main supply. I also compared the quiescent current (10mA at 30-0-30V)  with the good side, which was the same, so I figured the VBE multiplier was still set about right. Easy win for about £11 in parts. In fact one of the old output transistors was still okay, presumably saved by it’s parallel buddy shorting across it, but I’m not chancing it.

I also went round and tightened the output transistors a tad. It’s easy to overdo this, but the still- working side was about finger-tight like the failed side. I wonder if this also led to the early demise. You just can’t risk the transistor die heating up to any great amount with this design.

Having fixed it I started to test it looking for why it blew. I got a couple of 50W 6Ω wirewound resistors. These are sold on Ebay to people doing LED upgrades to their lights, to put in parallel with the LEDs and draw 24W so the automotive CAN bus filament blown detector doesn’t keep going off. I figured 6Ω is a nice compromise between typical 8Ω and 4Ω speaker loads; real speakers present complex loads anyway. It was the cheapest way of getting a power resistor up to the job. I then dunk the resistors in a pan of water.

Low cost high power load

since I don’t have a heatsink/fan combo up to dissipating 300W. I know electricity and water don’t really mix, but I figure the water isn’t going to shunt my 6 ohms too much. Worth heatshrinking the ends of the resistors though 😉 The reason I used a pan is because the failure mode of these type of power resistors is to violently eject the ceramic slug out the end. So a Pyrex dish or a jam jar isn’t really desirable.

Running both channels full tilt at 130Wpc for two minutes the transistors get up to about 50C at the hottest part of the plastic case. If fairness to the amp I’ve been able to fill a rented Scout hall with music without ever taking it up that high even on peaks, so I ran it for five minutes at 33 watts per channel (~40V p-p). And got the transistor cases up to 110C. The manufacturer’s spec for the junction temperature is 150C peak. If you thrash this like that for a long time I guess  the heatsink/case fan combo is hopelessly inadequate, and it blows.

Sadly I battle tested the inadequacy of the design a second time. Five minutes after running the second test, after I had brought the signal down to 0, I was greeted with this, telling me the right hand channel has gone DC, presumably thermal runaway again.

failed again

While I know how to repair this, I don’t know how to fix it to make it fit for purpose because of the fact the Vbe multiplier isn’t on the heatsink. It’s probably true that my needs don’t push it that hard, but an amplifier that blows after running a steady 33W for five minutes isn’t something I’m going to risk ever using, so it’s time to scrap it.

Skytec Pro600 – Avoid. Just say no.