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Compact power amplifier designs

A selection of power amplifiers (classes A, AB and B) in


approximate chronological order that, in their day,
received favourable comment.
Very early transistor amplifier applications showed a
reliance on previous valve design configurations utilising
transformers for stage coupling, from the single-ended
approach used in Koch's Regency TR-1

to a push-pull design utilising transformers for stage


coupling, phase-splitting and no feedback. Most notable,
for it's time, are the low voltage supplies used.

The next design used capacitor coupling to avoid the


use of transformers. Output was some 50mW.

Confusion could arise with the new technology. The


original of the above diagram has the supply
connections reversed.
H.C. Lin's quasi-complementary design (Electronics,
Sept 1956, pp. 173-75) as mentioned in JLH's
Evolutionary Audio' (E&WW, Nov 1989) "...which was
designed around germanium transistors, gave
misleading encouragement to other engineers, on a
world-wide basis, who translated the design into silicontransistor-based versions when, during the early 1960s,
n-p-n silicon planar power transistors became available.
The inherent snag in this approach is that the base
voltage/collector current characteristics of germanium
and silicon transistors are different, with that of the
silicon device being much more abrupt...".

Tobey and Dinsdale produced a transformerless design


in 1961 that was improved in the Dinsdale Mk II.
Linsley Hood broke ground with his simple class A
designs (1969, 1996).

A simple design, variations of which could appear in all


sorts of portable and mains-driven applications, typical
of commercial post-valve amplifiers.

Basic and 'inadequate' by today's standards, these were


capable of satisfying the majority of needs when feeding
speakers of a quality build.
A low-cost arrangement that negates the use of a mains
transformer. Reminiscent of single-ended valve designs,
this type of circuit could still be found in television
receivers well into the 1990s. Insulation precautions
necessary since circuit is at mains potential.

A push-pull variant for a colour TV.

Wherever possible, it makes sense for a manufacturer


to settle on a 'standard' design known to function
satisfactorily, thus saving costs. Modules, such as the
Mullard LP1162, appeared in many commercial designs
whether audio or TV. A faulty amplifier could then be
easily replaced with little or no diagnosis. Capable of
about 4W, pin-outs allowed tailoring of gain and
frequency response.

A more sophisticated commercial class A design from


the same manufacturer with a consumption of 42.24W
when quiescent. This used resistive loading to cope with
short-circuited loads. With low efficiencies transformers
increase in size and cost. Heatsinks needed for drivers
and output transistors with a minimum 3.3C/W for the
latter.

Of similar vintage for comparison, an Elektor design,


Edwin, with no quiescent current in the output devices,
the 0R12 resistors can be made from 8 x 1ohm resistors
in parallel, mounted on end. The RC network on the
class A driver's emitter helped to de-couple the supply
ripple. Active current limiting protected the output. An
additional feedback path helped reduce limitations
presented by the output electrolytic and was used by a
variety of manufacturers like Armstrong, Leak, Trio,
Kenwood, etc.

This design was useful in multi-channel systems.


Reliable and low-cost, it's survivability in respect of
testing 'innovative' output wiring arrangements
unscathed proving useful on more than one occasion.
Very few, if any, could differentiate between the two
amplifiers. Versions using a higher supply voltage (58V),
complementary output pair (MJ2955/3055), 3m5F
output cap and no output current-limiting have been
seen. These use BD139/140s as drivers, the base drive
for the MJ2955 being taken from the emitter of the PNP
driver (BY127 omitted).
The 600 series was Armstrong's first amplifier to use
silicon transistors throughout giving an improvement in
both power and reliability. 'This had an unusual doublefeedback arrangement which was employed to correct
some of the effects of the (larger than usual) output
capacitor (single-rail supply so requiring an output
capacitor). However it meant that over some of the
output frequency range the amplifier's output
impedance went slightly negative. This meant that the
system maintained a high damping factor in use even

when the cable resistance was taken into account. As a


result the 600 amplifiers were held to give unusually
tight control of the loudspeaker movement'.

Typical specs gave a rated power of 40W per channel


into 8 Ohms, crosstalk <-45dB, frequency response
20Hz - 25kHz 1dB, s/n -65dB and THD of <008% at
25W <008% at 1W. The RCA 40636 output devices can
be seen as 95V 2N3055s.
A concise arrangement (1973), using Darlingtons to
reduce component count, that saw modification is given
below. Virtually identical forms used in other models of
that year, eg; Beocenter 1400, Beomaster 800/901, and
later models. Note the resemblance to the Mullard
module shown above.

Intended as a matching amplifier for a tuner, with a little


tweaking, uprating was possible for a remote-controlled
quadrophonic tuner amp (1975) that would have been
matched with the ground-breaking Beogram 6000
tangential record player (exploded views of which can
be found here).

This could have been said to be a very stylish system


with a distinct lack of affordability. Most users seemed
to be notably enthusiasts and the 'discerning' who did
not disapprove of the sonic performance.
A very similar circuit appeared in the 1979 Beomaster
1700 (type 1701), utilising a soft-start to prevent
switch-on thumps caused by the output electrolytic
charging through the load with an additional transistor,
despite the appearance of a more sophisticated design
with differential inputs and current-limited DC coupled
Darlington outputs, that saw service with only a little
modification in a number of models (see the Beomaster
4400). In this type the output electrolytic is included in
an additional feedback path.

To protect the output stage from the back EMF inherent


in reactive loads, diodes clamping the output to the
supply rails and the supply rails to ground, are usually
included in considerate designs. Most Darlington
transistors, as with most FETs, include an integral diode.

Similar topologies and component counts dominated


audio design, output stages not being short-circuit
proof, nor free from distortion. Lowest quality builds

were reserved for cheap stereos and guitarists (as


witnessed by the tone controls found in some
instruments).

AC output decoupling became unfashionable (although


occasionally reappearing) notably through the possibility
of speakers being blown as the output cap charged
through the load on switch-on, the poor service life
offered by electrolytic capacitors and the reduced bass
response when driving low impedance loads. Some
designs, like that used as monitors in the Revox A77
tape deck, could surprise in that, in this one, output
devices with an fT of 40MHz were used.

To balance a DC system, differential input pairs came


into use. These helped to reduce noise and feedback,
also the input impedance could then be set with a single
resistor.
A good collection of slightly earlier robust bipolar
designs appears in the RCA Solid State '74 Databook
Series; Power Transistors and Power Hybrid Circuits
(SSD-204B), whose designs have inspired others,
adaptations being found in many brands of combos, hifis, etc. A sturdy, and inexpensive, 70W version (to suit
a 'youth' environment) appears on page 600 and a more
sophisticated 120W version on page 618. These designs
feature excellent protection and quite conservative
distortion specs, however, as with all data, read the
circuit diagram carefully first. The main negative
smoothing capacitor for one design (on page 611) is
shown reversed. Wiring as per diagram would probably
result in a loud bang and not much else. The two 40W
(TO220) designs are shown below, the faster fully
complementary version giving considerably better high
frequency performance.

An attractively simple solution, the non-inverting input


transistor of a differential pair directly drives the fast
class A amplifier that drives the bias chain. The
attention given to protection is noteworthy. At the same
time, for high-power use or ruggedness, it was
acknowledged that output pairs should be paralleled, a
point reiterated later by one of the co-authors when
joining another company.
Manufacturers of upright organs, like the Italian Boosey
and Hawke's Cavendish series, could include two or
more power amplifiers in a design, driving a variety of
speakers, many of which behaved faultlessly for years.

This amplifier (30W/8R) is a close match to the '74 RCA


70W version mentioned above. Typical of commercial
adaptations of this design, the overcurrent protection
circuit was omitted. Note the high gain, 181 in this case,
which necessitates the use of extra compensation
capacitors (input filter -3dB @ <0.6MHz). In a hi-fi
situation, a gain of 20 might be sufficient, vastly
improving high frequency performance and reducing the
noise floor considerably. Swapping the 100R resistor in
the feedback for a 1k gives an entirely different beast,
and bass, versions of which were used to test
perception.
In order to resolve offset issues opamps were seen as a
solution.
A neat little design for very compact builds from the
same databook.

The 'low' output voltages then available led to the


common use of 'compound' output arrangements, first
used by the author in the excellent (but AC coupled)
Practical Electronics Gemini ('70/1) to reduce bias
currents under heavy drive conditions compared to
conventional Darlington pairs.
R. Mann's famous and 'skimpily screened' Practical
Wireless Texan (based on Derek Skinner's B80 class B
design) was copied extensively and is an easy layout to
tinker with. Gibb's and Shaw's later Orion is worth a
look also for the discrete low-level approach it offered
with a similar layout.
Later expressions of the same theme, intended as bass
drivers.

An earlier slightly more sophisticated approach.

Offset-nulling can be added and flat-style LEDs can be


bonded to the current source transistors to optimise
thermal tracking. Bolt bias transistor to heat-sink,
between the drivers and note earlier comments
concerning the RC network between the opamp's -ve
input and output.

There is a lot of interest in single-ended FET amplifiers


using a single output device and these have been
demonstrated by Aren van Waarde and Mark Houston
("Class-A 2SK1058 MOSFET Amplifier") and can be
useful as HF drivers. Layout can be important to prevent
oscillation and care must be taken given the high
frequency responses these amplifiers are capable of.
Output power is invariably limited and quiescent
dissipations (class A) can be high. Nevertheless, a great
deal of satisfaction can be derived from a low
component count.
Some Maplin, symmetrical and Class D designs.
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