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CLass B Amplifier

CLass B Amplifier

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Published by Shailesh Patel
CLass B Amplifier
CLass B Amplifier

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Shailesh Patel on May 05, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Recently there has been a resurgence of two "ancient" technologies - vacuum tube(valve) amplifiers and Class-A systems. The big question is .... is there a difference?This discussion centres on the Class-A amplifier, and explains (or attempts to) how itis different from a conventional power amplifier.Why would someone want to build or buy an amplifier which is sooo inefficient? AClass-A power amp will typically draw anything from 1/2 to about 1½ times the peakspeaker current in its quiescent state (i.e. while it is just sitting there doing nothing).To put this into perspective, for a measly 8 Watts into 8 Ohms, the RMS current is 1Amp. The peak current is just over 1.4 Amps, so a typical 8 Watt Class-A amp willdraw anything from 700mA to 2 Amps continuous. This equates to a quiescent (nosignal) power dissipation of between 17 Watts and 48 Watts, based on a 24 Voltsupply (+/- 12 Volts ). At very best, such an amplifier will have an efficiency of lessthan 35% at full power - at worst, this will be perhaps 15% or less.The basic premise of a Class-A amp is that the output device(s) shall conduct all thetime (through 360 degrees of the signal waveform). This means that in the simplestform, the power devices must conduct a continuous current which exceeds themaximum peak load (loudspeaker) current. If we use a power level of 20 Watts(hardly a powerhouse) for all further calculations, we can see the whole picture.In contrast, a typical Class-AB power amplifier's output devices only conduct forabout 182 degrees (at full power), which means that for much of the signal'sduration, only one or the other device is conducting. The other is turned off. The"crossover distortion" so often referred to is nothing to do with the frequency dividerin the speaker system, but is created as the signal "crosses over" the 0 Volt point(see Figure 3).
Figure 1 - The Sinewave Cycle
 Let's have a quick look at some of the power amp "classes", so we have all the info:
Output device(s) conduct through 360 degrees of input cycle (neverswitch off) - A single output device is possible. The device conducts for theentire waveform in Figure 1
Output devices conduct for 180 degrees (1/2 of input cycle) - foraudio, two output devices in "push-pull" must be used (see Class-AB)
Halfway (or partway) between the above two examples (181 to 200degrees typical) - also requires push-pull operation for audio. The conductionfor each output device is shown in Figure 1.
Output device(s) conduct for less than 180 degrees (100 to 150degrees typical) - Radio Frequencies only - cannot be used for audio! This isthe sound heard when one of the output devices goes open circuit in an audioamp! See Figure 1, showing the time the output device conducts (single-ended operation is assumed, and yes this does work for RF).
When I first wrote this article, I had completely forgotten about the Quad "Current-Dumping"
amp, which uses a low power "good" amplifier, with a push-pull Class-C type amp to supplythe high currents needed for high power. Although these enjoyed a brief popularity, they seem
to have faded away. I was reminded of their existence by an article by Douglas Self ("ClassDistinction", in the March 1999 issue of Electronics World ), in which he quite rightly points outthat the current-dumper is (at least in part) Class-C.
Quasi-digital amplification. Uses pulse-width-modulation of a highfrequency (square wave) carrier to reproduce the audio signal - although myoriginal comments were valid when this was written, there have been somevery significant advances since then. There are some very good soundingClass-D amplifiers being made now, and they are worthy of an article of theirown.There are many amplifier topologies which I have not mentioned above, mainlybecause most of them are either too bizarre, not worth commenting on, or are toocomplex to explain simply. Of these, Class-G and Class-H use power supplyswitching and modulation (respectively). This provides greater than normal efficiencyand lower dissipation, but both are essentially Class-AB designs.Although many audio amps may be called Class-B, generally they are not. Virtuallywithout exception they are Class-AB, although most will be at the bottom end(conduction for 181 degrees for each device). Most power amps operate in Class-Aup to about 5 to 10mW, after which they become Class-B.In the device department - For the remainder of this paper, I shall use bipolartransistors for the power devices, since they exhibit highly desirable characteristicsfor this application. They are also far more linear than MOSFETs, and some of thenewer bipolar devices are outstanding in this regard. Note that there are two types ofMOSFET in common use - Lateral devices are designed for audio, and although lesslinear than bipolar transistors can make a very good amp indeed (see Project 101).
Power switching MOSFETs are (IMHO) not suitable for use in audio except wherevery high power is needed and extreme linearity is not required.
Power 20W (continuous)Load Voltage (at Speaker) 12.65 Volts RMS (17.9 Volts Peak)Load Current (through Speaker) 1.58 Amps RMS (2.23 Amps Peak)Supply Voltage +/- 20 Volts (constant)Supply Current +/- 2.25 Amps (peak)
Table 1 - Class-A Amplifier Requirements (Approx.) -
8Ω Load
In amplifier design, we are interested in the peak voltage and current, since if theseare not met, then the required RMS values cannot be achieved. The ratio of RMS topeak (for a sine wave) is the square root of 2 (1.414), so RMS values must bemultiplied by this constant to derive the peak values of voltage and current. (Refer toFigure 1 to see the relationship between peak and RMS voltages.)This is how the values in the table were determined. The supply voltage needs to beslightly higher than the actual speaker peak voltage because the output devices(transistors) are not perfect, and some voltage will be lost even when they are turnedon fully. (If MOSFETs were to be used, the losses may be much greater, unless anadditional power supply is employed.)Ok. We have determined that the peak speaker current is 2.25 Amps, so in thesimplest of Class-A designs this will require a quiescent current of 2.25 Amps. Giventhat the voltage is +/- 20 Volts, this means that the power output stage will have todissipate 40 x 2.25 = 90 Watts (45 Watts per output device).
Figure 2 - Basic Class-A Amplifier
 Figure 2 shows what a simple Class-A amp looks like. The current source is a simplecircuit, which will provide a current which remains constant regardless of the loadplaced at its output. The output transistor "dumps" any current which is not neededby the load (speaker), so when it is completely turned off, all the current sourceoutput flows through the speaker. Conversely, when it is turned on, the speakercurrent flows through the output transistor (as well as the current from the currentsource!), so its current will vary from almost 0 Amps, to a maximum of 4.5 Amps forour example. When there is no input signal, the output transistor's current mustexactly equal the output of the current source. If it does not, then the difference willflow through the speaker. It is allowable (generally speaking) for an absolutemaximum of 100 mV DC to be present across the speaker terminals - this equates to1.67 mW of DC for an 8 Ohm system, assuming a 6 Ohm DC resistance for thevoice coil. (Power = (V x V) / Impedance)This simple model is not really appropriate for general use, since it wastes far toomuch power, although many Class-A amps still use this principle. The next step is tooperate the current source at about 1/2 the speaker's peak current, and modulate itscurrent output to ensure that both current source and power amplifier output deviceconduct during the entire signal cycle, but are able to vary their current in an

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