An LM386 Oscillator Thanks To Tungsten Under Glass

Once ubiquitous, the incandescent light bulb has become something of a lucerna non grata lately. Banned from home lighting, long gone from flashlights, and laughed out of existence by automotive engineers, you have to go a long way these days to find something that still uses a tungsten filament.

Strangely enough, this lamp-stabilized LM386 Wien bridge oscillator is one place where an incandescent bulb makes an appearance. The Wien bridge itself goes back to the 1890s when it was developed for impedance measurements, and its use in the feedback circuits of vacuum tube oscillators dates back to the 1930s. The incandescent bulb is used in the negative feedback path as an automatic gain control; the tungsten filament’s initial low resistance makes for high gain to kick off oscillation, after which it heats up and lowers the resistance to stabilize the oscillation.

For [Grug Huler], this was one of those “just for funsies” projects stemming from a data sheet example circuit showing a bulb-stabilized LM386 audio oscillator. He actually found it difficult to source the specified lamp — there’s that anti-tungsten bias again — but still managed to cobble together a working audio oscillator. The first pass actually came in pretty close to spec — 1.18 kHz compared to the predicted 1.07 kHz — and the scope showed a very nice-looking sine wave. We were honestly a bit surprised that the FFT analysis showed as many harmonics as it did, but all things considered, the oscillator performed pretty well, especially after a little more tweaking. And no, the light bulb never actually lights up.

Thanks to [Grug] for going down this particular rabbit hole and sharing what he learned. We love builds like this that unearth seemingly obsolete circuits and bring them back to life with modern components. OK, calling the LM386 a modern component might be stretching things a bit, but it is [Elliot]’s favorite chip for a reason.

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