Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Switching negative voltages - Concluded?

Keep it simple

 Back in this post http://ss30m.blogspot.co.uk/2009/04/how-are-you-to-switch-negative-voltages.html I was talking about the issues with switching negative voltages with the simplest circuitry possible.

The guy at J-Omega recommended opto-isolators and I like the sound of that but in the interests of trying to limit the number of pins and foot-print (can't we just use three pins and keep things small?) and the price (transistors are cheap!) what, if any, are the alternatives? Also, I don't know about you, but despite studying these blighters at university I can never quite remember the exact rules governing their use. In particular there are precious few examples with negative voltages and certain factors, that don't come up when everything is above the ground rail, were obscure to me.

Transistor biasing basics.

It seems almost counter-intuitive but you can't switch a negative-ground current with a positive-ground current. The problem is that to turn a transistor switch 'off' the gate (or base) voltage must be lower than the lower end of what you are switching. This is as well as having the 'on' voltage higher.
Normally switching a positive current to a ground is a doddle because your 'off' voltage is ground. No current flows (in enhancement type FETs, anyway) because there is in-effect no bias. When you apply a positive voltage the transistor is biased and the switch is 'on'.
With a negative current to switch the 'off' voltage has to be lower that the lowest voltage. In this case it will have to be lower than -7V (or thereabouts). Because the MIDI interface drivers use Darlington pairs which themselves are driven on from TTL logic levels there is no way to generate an off voltage that is less than 0V.

Previously I mentioned analogue switches which can (in some examples) do this kind of magic. Normally analogue switches are subject to the same limitations as laid out above and the logic switching voltage must be between Vss and Vdd. I referred to the Modern CMOS Circuits Manual book which mentions that some devices - the 4051 and 4053 - have a logic level converter. In effect a 0-Vdd input logic level can be translated into a Vss-Vdd level internally. Those devices are multiplexers though and take a binary 3-line logic input to decode which of the 8 switches to enable. This is no good for this design as we have a line per switch and moreover need to be able to switch all the keys on or off independently.

In summary neither analogue switches or simple transistor circuitry can be used to switch a negative current. I'm glad I checked though as it would have bothered me. I actually spoke with a few colleagues who are full-time electronic engineers and they all initially thought it must be possible, only to conclude that it wouldn't be. It's such an unusual situation that it's easy to get caught out.

Reed relays?

Metal Vs Silicon

 So, opto-couplers it is! Or maybe not. One suggestion a  colleague gave me was reed relays. The main advantage of a reed relay would be that in electrical terms the mechanical switch contact in the keyboard would be replaced by another metal contact switch and not silicon. Introducing silicon might affect the circuit in some way. Perhaps. Or perhaps not much, but the simplicity of this solution is attractive and it might remove some possible risks.

Slim Jims

 One other nice thing about relays is that some come in narrow, SIP (single, in-line pin) packages. So you can see that they could be lined up neatly and compactly. This Coto part http://www.cotorelay.com/datasheets/Coto%20Technology%209007%20Spartan%20SIP%20Reed%20Relay.pdf is 5mm wide*.With a maximum of 13 switches per line (from the four K' boards) and assuming that I would stack the boards vertically, that would be a minimum* of 6.5cm per board, which is around the length I would want it to be.

* Actually they are 5.08mm wide which is 2 x 2.54mm, the standard pitch for through-hole PCB components and boards. At a minimum you could sit them side-by-side, on adjacent lines on a strip-board with no gaps.

Tracking out

 The only down-side of this package is that that the coil pins are on the inside (pins 2 and 3) so you can't as easily track to the outside edge of the board.

To be clear, I'm working on the assumption that the board will have wires from the MIDI interface going in one side and wires to the K boards on the other. Because both of the coil pins are on the inside of the device if you line then all side-by-side there is no easy way to get one of those pins out to the edge.

It would have been great to just use veroboard for this and avoided any kind of tracking out. It's frustrating but they all seem to be designed like this so it looks like I will still need a custom PCB.

Quick enough

 There is one potential downside - timing. This Hamlin part http://www.hamlin.com/specsheets/he3600%20revised.pdf , which is currently the cheapest at Farnell, has a maximum turn on of 1ms. The next is half that at 0.5ms. To be frank I don't think the SS30-M is going to be played at high tempos and the in-built attack and release are already quite slow. A millisecond is not going to be noticeable.


So, reed-relays it is.Is it? Am I decided?
I think so but I need to work out the PCB and think about the options a bit more before deciding once and for all.

No comments :