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That nasty 4558 beater the Texas Instruments INA217

That awful JRC4558 audio IC



The JRC4558 – tried and trusted workhorse

So there you have it, out of the horses mouth, the op amp we covered in the Dixon PM121USB is awful.  Reading about this chip on nearly all the forums I am surprised that we still use it. It’s cheap, nasty, has piss-poor bandwidth and lacks “quality” sound.

 

That nasty 4558 beater the Texas Instruments INA217
That nasty 4558 beater the Texas Instruments INA217 instrumentation amp.

 

The first time I came across this chip was when the Titanic was still afloat, perhaps in a preamplifier but more like a graphics equaliser.  The equaliser is about late 70s vintage early 80s. It was a repair job and once completed sounded damned good. Ahem, does that mean that the modern equalisers sound better? Does this chip do any circuit justice?

Let’s backtrack a bit and look at some of the older, so called mediocre ICs of our time. The 741 series was a masterpiece. We built all sorts of circuits with these chips and even for “mediocre” use, the disco mixers used them in droves in preamplification. Now in the 70s maybe this was like magic, this little chip which sounded pretty good. I recall the JRC (Japanese Radio Company) getting into the act – bringing out a dual op-amp, the JRC4558.  Now I did a lot of work on JRC equipment in the 70s and 80s, all marine receivers and transmitters and let me tell you, they were anything but junk. In fact when I hear anyone on the forums talking about junk gear, I, like many, would want to get into the persons head and discover for ourselves where they get their information from.

No, the 4558 is not junk, at the time it was a very able little dual op-amp and was well justified to be used in almost all audio (and other) gear. The TDA741 still enjoys use today and no, it is neither junk nor ill suited for any application.  The bigger issue is when it starts being put into high quality audio gear – the 4558 has a bandwidth of about 3MHz under optimum configuration, the 5534 10MHz, slew rate 1V/uS compared to 13V/uS and near immeasurable noise figures on the 5534. (real engineers don’t worry about all this especially when our hearing maybe caps at 16kHz and not 16MHz). So it’s no wonder that people complain about these units been used in a preamplifier. But when mass feeding the peoples we suddenly have a problem – the 5543 costs R15.00 each and the 4558 R1.00 to R5.00.

There is an advantage however, DIY.  Sticking expensive chips into breadboard is never a solution. The 4558 lends itself perfectly to the cause. Once all is good we can hopefully transpose with a better chip, like the 5532 or 5534.

The 4558 is still useful as a comparator, DC work or anything which doesn’t require very fast switching.  Sonically the more expensive chips do sound cleaner but then we need low noise resistors and high tolerance circuits.

For general purpose work I find nothing wrong with this old workhorse. If you really want good quality sound then I do suggest looking at the INA217 or the THAT1510P. Definitely NOT for HOT exchanges but then if you want to rip off the JRC4558 then you need to start afresh.

So no, sorry to retract – the 4558 is not crap. Different strokes for different folks. This article may be slightly tongue in cheek but be wary of why we don’t like something, it could be because we were told so.

 

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3 Replies to “That awful JRC4558 audio IC”

  1. I didn’t know what to make of this article until I detected some sarcasm by the author. I read both the article on the PM121USB as well as the 4558 and need to clarify some myths here. The JRC4558 was not and will never be some sort of mediocre chip that a joker built over a week-end. It was highly regarded at the time and possibly still is. In any electronic circuit, matching, cabling and supply often is critical, especially in RF use. An engineer designing and manufacturing the IF amplification circuits used in UHF radar will no doubt have the comprehension of building a first rate audio pre-amplifier possibly better than the chip manufacturer. Most extreme op-amps which carry snob value are often used in scientific instruments where input voltages are near unmeasurable. They can be incredibly expensive but this does not mean superior audio quality. The thought provoking little chip INA217 from T.I. is such a case. Put it into a badly designed PCB we may have all sorts of disturbances creating havoc. I am not putting down any of the so called better quality chips, just be cautious about tearing holes in one of the cheapest and versatile chips on the market next to the 741 and 555. Much of the older vintage equipment we believe carries a very different sonic signature to the modern sterile reproduction. My dime’s worth.

  2. Low noise microphone preamplifiers you need modern tech, that’s it. I have RIAA curve turntable preamplifier which used 4558, design is about 1990. Works well until I played around with the new kids on the block. One will need to be careful of oscillation. My prototype using 5532 sounded pretty bad until I scoped it. All sorts of spurious noise. Build the Rod Elliott preamp http://sound.whsites.net/project06.htm – you won’t be disappointed. I used swapped over the 5532s. Didn’t really hear much difference with OPA2134.

  3. The 4558 chip was a great sounding chip at the time. As a consumer what do we really listen for? At the time would audiophiles have written this chip off? I think we are too quick to find fault nowadays. Do you really think the 12AX7 is the world’s best tube out there? Times change, people change, what we listen for changes and we need to accept that engineers at the time didn’t deliberately design a chip that would sound inferior ten years down the line (in fact it didn’t). A DAC today is better than a DAC yesterday. Childish comparisons, time marches, technology marches. One day everyone will go back to CD I suppose.

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