Deep Dive into the Theremin v.2 Audio Amplifier

See YouTube video for further details.


The Theremin v2 audio amplifier and preview audio amplifier share the same schematic.

The input of the amplifier is on pins P1 and P2, where P2 is the ground connection. The input is supposed to be DC decoupled with a small electrolytic capacitor, as suggested by the data sheet of the integrated circuit TDA2003, which is the main component of this amplifier. However, the capacitor was not put in this schematic because it will find its place directly on the output of the audio generator stage. No reason to have two capacitors in series: one at the output of the audio generator and one at the input of the audio amplifier.

The signal coming from P1 goes to a voltage divider consisting of the resistor R1 and the potentiometer R2. When the potentiometer cursor is all the way toward ground, there will be no signal going to pin 1 of the IC and, therefore, the amplifier will be silent. When the potentiometer cursor is all the way toward resistor R1, the signal coming from P1 is divided exactly in half, since the value of the potentiometer R2 and of resistor R1 are exactly the same. This is the position where the volume will be the maximum possible.

I chose the value of 100K for both R1 and R2 so to have a relatively high impedance toward the audio generator, so its output won’t be affected by the movement of the potentiometer. At the same time, I wanted a value of R2 low enough to keep the input of the amplifier solidly on the ground when there is no input signal.

R2 is a logarithmic potentiometer, which means that its value changes according to a logarithmic scale. This is done to compensate for how we perceive the sound volume: the potentiometer increases the power of the sound wave in the opposite way as our ear perceives it. This way, we feel that the volume increases and decreases linearly when we turn the potentiometer.

The output from pin 4 of the IC goes to the loudspeaker through capacitor C3, which is used to prevent that a DC current goes all the way through. In addition, capacitor C5 and R6 provide a high pass filter that shorts to ground all the high frequencies that are not supposed to go to the loudspeaker. Values of capacitors C3 and C5 and the resistor R6 reflect the suggestion on the data sheet.


The power supply comes in through pins P5 and P6 and is filtered by capacitors C1 and C2.

C2 takes care of shunting toward ground any unwanted high frequency signal coming from/to the power supply. Capacitor C1, which is a high value electrolytic capacitor, is mostly used to boost the input current when the amplifier requires sudden increases due to peaks of the volume. These capacitors have also the values suggested by the data sheet.

The last part of the amplifier is the negative feedback loop, connected between pins 4 and 2 of the TDA2003. The loop is composed of capacitors C4 and C6, and the resistors R3, R4, and R5.

The negative feedback is used to limit the output power of the amplifier outside the region of frequencies where it is requested, thus preventing auto oscillations of the amplifier, which would otherwise behave like an oscillator.

The values of these components are again those suggested by the data sheet. However, C4 and R5, which correspond to Cx and Rx in the data sheet, are calculated based on the data sheet formulas visible in the above picture, where B is the maximum frequency of the signal that we want to amplify, which I set to 10kHz. I don’t believe we want to hear from the Theremin sounds that are above that frequency.

For further information on this amplifier and for a demonstration on how it works, please refer to my corresponding YouTube video.

Theremin v.2 Power Supply Design


For the new version of the Theremin, I have chosen to use a dual 12V power supply. This will have more flexibility because it will allow me to use more sophisticated units, possibly using op-amps.

The circuit is very basic: it uses a dual 14V transformer (not shown in the schematic) capable of providing 1.5A at its output.

A dual transformer is made up as in the following picture.


Is has a primary winding that is connected to the AC power supply outlet, and a secondary winding with a center tapped wire that is usually put to ground on the low voltage circuit side.

Voltage between either end wire of the secondary and the center tapped wire is usually the same (with the exception of specifically made transformers), which we call V.

The voltage measured between the two end wires of the winding is instead two times V or 2V.

Sometimes, instead of having a single secondary winding, we have two, carrying the exact same voltage. In this case, we can connect together the two closest wires and consider that as the center tapped wire. Then everything works as the first kind of transformer.


The AC current of the transformer is converted in to a DC current through the usage of a bridge rectifier and the capacitors C1 and C2.

The bridge rectifier converts the sine wave coming from the transformer into a fully rectified wave.


Then, the capacitor that follows (in this case C1 and C2) starts charging over the ascending sides of the wave and discharging, partially, over the descending sides of the wave, basically filling the wave in between crests and making it look like more a straight horizontal line with some disturbance in it that we call ripple (the red line in the following picture).


In general, depending on the use of the power supply, we define a maximum value of the ripple that the circuit can handle.

In our case, we need to make sure that the voltage at the input of the regulators never goes below 14.5V, according to the data sheet, otherwise the regulator will not function properly.

The peak voltage provided by the transformer is its RMS value multiplied by the square root of 2, or:


The minimum voltage we can have at the input of the regulator is:


This is the max value of ripple that we can sustain.

To calculate the capacitor necessary to obtain this ripple, we use the following formula:

capacitance calculation

where f is the frequency of the alternate current which, in the USA, is 60Hz, and Ix is the maximum current that the power supply needs to provide.

So, we would need a capacitance value, for C1 and C2, of 2358uF.

However, the Theremin circuit will really not draw 1.5A from the power supply, so we can stay a little conservative, and use the closest value below the calculated one, which is 2200uF.

At this point we can safely say that the voltage on the output of the regulators will be exactly 12V (positive or negative, depending on the output side).

To further help the regulator, and preventing the current through it to go too close to the 1.5A threshold, where the regulator would not work anymore because the ripple becomes too high, we add to the output of each regulator another electrolytic capacitor, this one with a value at least equal to the capacitance value that we did not put at the input side. Since at the input side we put a capacitance of 2200uF instead of 2358uF, we will need a capacitor of at least 158uF.

However, to stay totally safe, I decided to use a capacitor at least 5 times higher, so I used the value of 1000uF for C3 and C4.

And finally, I added an extra capacitor (C5 and C6) to shunt toward ground any RF frequency that would travel back from the Theremin oscillators toward the power supply. A 0.1uF value is what is suggested by the data sheet of the regulator, so I used just that.

Why did I use this capacitor if there was already a 1000uF in there?

The reason hides in the way the electrolytic capacitors behave. In short, the electrolytic capacitors do not work well at high frequencies, so we need to add the extra 0.1uF capacitor, which is not an electrolytic one, to work in that range of frequencies. And since the range of frequencies is much higher than the one of the 110Vac outlet, a very small capacitance is enough to do the job.


More on the Theremin: The Heterodyne Mixer

The heterodyne mixer is the stage of the Theremin where the high frequency signals coming from the pitch reference oscillator and the pitch variable oscillator are combined together to obtain the audio signal.


Here we are again with another post about the Theremin, which can be considered the first electronic musical instrument ever invented, almost 100 years ago, in 1919, by the Russian physicist Leon Theremin.

At that time the Theremin was made out of thermionic valves and used a lot of space and electric power.


Today, thanks to the evolution of electronics in the last century, we can make one that can occupy much less space while also consuming much less power. In fact, this is one of several articles that I have already published on the design and construction of such musical instruments, using solid state components.

Please consult this site archives for the previous articles on the subject and THIS link for schematics and diagrams, which I keep updating as I go in designing and building the pieces of the instrument

A corresponding series on the Theremin is also available on YouTube at THIS link. There, I describe every detail of my project, explaining how the various parts of the device work and how I built everything so far in a very inexpensive way.

In this article I will explore the Mixer stage of the Theremin, describing how it works and how it is used within the Theremin itself.

The mixer is the Theremin stage that combines together the signals from the pitch variable oscillator and the pitch reference oscillator, to create an audio signal that is essentially the sound that the Theremin produces.

The combination of the two input signals is done with a process called heterodyne. It basically consists in multiplying the two input signals by exploiting the non-linear characteristic of transistor Q1, which is carefully polarized outside its linear zone. The result of the multiplication is a new complex signal containing frequencies that are the sum and the difference of the frequencies of the original input signals. Since the frequencies of those input signals are close to each other, their difference falls in the audible range, which is what produces the peculiar sound of the instrument.

Looking at the schematic, you can see that the two input signals are mixed together at the base of transistor Q1, which they reach passing through capacitors C4 and C8, used to decouple the mixer from the direct current superimposed to the input signals.

Transistor Q1 is polarized in the non-linear zone of its characteristics. Because of the non-linearity of the transistor, the two signals end up being multiplied with each other, producing a new, more complex, signal that contains both the sum and the difference of the frequencies of the input signals. This heterodyne process, therefore, applies the following equation to the two input signals:

sin(2πf1t) * sin(2πf2t) = 1/2 cos(2πf1t – 2πf2t) – 1/2 cos(2πf1t + 2πf2t)

where the factors on the left side represent the two sinusoidal input signals, and the resulting complex signal is on the right side of the equation. The above formula is actually a simplification, because it does not take into account the phase shift between the two input signals, which should appear as a phase factor in the parameters of each of the sine waves on the left side of the equation. However, if we did the full calculations, we would see that we would still obtain the same output waves, but each would have an extra amplitude factor that depends on the initial amplitude of the input signals and on their phase shifts.

Anyway, the complex signal obtained at the collector of transistor Q1 is supplied to a Low Pass filter, made up of the components R4, R7, R8, R9, C2, C3, C5, C6 and C7. The filter produces an attenuation of the high frequency element of the complex signal, effectively leaving only the one at low frequency  cos(2πf1t – 2πf2t), which is the audio signal.

That output signal is then passed to the next stage of the Theremin, the VCA, where it acquires the dynamics of the music sound. We will talk about the VCA in a future post.

If you are interested in more information on the Theremin Mixer and how I built it, please watch this companion VIDEO on YouTube.

And, as always,

Happy experiments !!!