Rebel designs

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Modern analog designs leverage common circuit ideas. Few are original. Complimentary outputs, vbe multipliers, diff pairs, current sources, current mirrors, etc., were all original designs that became commonplace.

One of the most talented, creative, and radical designers of all time is Bob Widlar. ¬†Widlar invented the basic building blocks of linear ICs. His design innovations are just as relevant today as they were in the early ’70s. I doubt there are many high-end audio products that don’t use at least one of his designs. (He invented the modern constant-current source for starters.) Most tube and transistor, discrete and IC designs, use a number of his innovations.

Our first phono stage used one of his best op amps, the original 709C that, even today, is still a reasonable product for some applications. The 702 and 709 were the first mass produced linear op amps to be made.

What I loved about Widlar was his character – and character hardly describes him properly. Hard drinking, fist fighting, loud mouthed to all who met him, his antics were legendary. One story retold by Charles Sprock, former CEO of National Semiconductor, involved drinking and lecturing. As Sprock told it:

“During a European roadshow Widlar got drunk and publicly refused to speak to the audience unless he got more gin. Sporck said that “We had no choice. We had to get his glass filled up. And then he went on with the lecture. And he, you know, he got plastered, but the interesting part of it is he was just so damn smart, you know. Even drunk he could just wow these people.”

I can relate to some of his craziness, known as Widlarizing. I too have taken a sledge hammer to PCBs and components when they pissed me off.

The one piece that lives on for Widlar, other than his amazing designs, which still populate just about every high-end audio circuit is this ad he convinced National Semiconductor to publish.

The ad says all you need to know about this rebel genius whom all high-end audio lovers owe a debt of gratitude to.

In 2002 Electronic Design inducted Widlar in its Hall of Fame along with Alan Turing and Nikola Tesla. In 2009 Widlar was inducted in the National Inventors Hall of Fame. A sculpture dedicated to Widlar and Jean Hoerni initially stood in front of the Maxim Integrated Products building in Sunnyvale, California; and was relocated in 2012 to Maxim’s new headquarters in San Jose, California.