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Chip Hall of Fame: Tripath Technology TA2020 Audio Amplifier

This solid-state, high-power amp brought big sound to inexpensive devices

1 min read
Tripath Technology TA2020 Audio Amplifier
Photo: Tripath Technology

There's a subset of audiophiles who insist that vacuum tube–based amplifiers produce the best sound and always will. So, when some in the audio community claimed that an amp based solely on semiconductors delivered sound as warm and vibrant as tube amps, it was a big deal.

TA2020 Audio Amplifier

Manufacturer: Tripath Technology

Category: Amplifiers and Audio

Year: 1998

The amp in question was a class-D amp concocted by a Silicon Valley company called Tripath Technology. Class-⁠D amps work by not trying to amplify the incoming analog audio signal directly, but instead they first convert it into a train of digital pulses that can be used to switch power transistors on and off. The resulting signal is converted back into an analog signal with a higher amplitude.

Tripath's trick was to use a 50-megahertz sampling system to drive the amplifier. The company boasted that its TA2020 performed better and cost much less than any comparable solid-state amp. To show off the chip at trade shows, “we'd play that song—that very romantic one from Titanic," says Adya Tripathi, Tripath's founder. Like most class-D amps, the 2020 was very power efficient; it didn't require a heat sink and could use a compact package. Tripath's low-end, 15-watt version of the TA2020 sold for US $3 and was used in boom boxes and ministereos. Other versions—the most powerful had a 1,000-W output—were used in home theaters, high-end audio systems, and TV sets by Sony, Sharp, Toshiba, and others.

Eventually, the big semiconductor companies caught up, creating similar chips and sending Tripath into oblivion. Its chips, however, developed a devoted cult following. Audio-amp kits and products based on the TA2020 and its sister chips are still available from such companies as Sure Electronics, and Audiophonics.

Photo: Sony/Tripath Technology

Sony’s CMT-LSI HiFi System relied on the TA2020 amplifier to create a big sound at a low price.

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The Godfather of South Korea’s Chip Industry

How Kim Choong-Ki helped the nation become a semiconductor superpower

15 min read
A man in a dark suit, bald with some grey hair, leans against a shiny blue wall, in which he is reflected.

Kim Choong-Ki, now an emeritus professor at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, was the first professor in South Korea to systematically teach semiconductor engineering.

Korea Academy of Science and Technology
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They were called “Kim’s Mafia.” Kim Choong-Ki himself wouldn’t have put it that way. But it was true what semiconductor engineers in South Korea whispered about his former students: They were everywhere.

Starting in the mid-1980s, as chip manufacturing in the country accelerated, engineers who had studied under Kim at Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology (KAIST) assumed top posts in the industry as well as coveted positions teaching or researching semiconductors at universities and government institutes. By the beginning of the 21st century, South Korea had become a dominant power in the global semiconductor market, meeting more than 60 percent of international demand for memory chips alone. Around the world, many of Kim’s protégés were lauded for their brilliant success in transforming the economy of a nation that had just started assembling radio sets in 1959 and was fabricating outdated memory chips in the early ’80s.

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