November 1960 Electronics World
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics. See articles
Electronics World, published May 1959
- December 1971. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
The fundamentals of
Class-B push-pull amplifiers have not changed since 1960 when
this article appeared in Electronics Word. The transistors for making them
have improved in most cases, but the design procedures are basically the same. Class-B
amplifiers, in case you are not familiar with the topology, are able to amplify
zero-referenced sinusoidal signals throughout the full 360 degrees of rotation signals
without an offset voltage bias; they are constructed from two Class-A amplifiers
in a cascode configuration. Issues like crossover distortion and thermal runaway
are discussed in the amplifier design procedure.
Push-Pull Class B Transistor Power-Output Circuits
By Walter H. Buchsbaum / Industrial Consultant, Electronics World
Simple design procedure that will help to understand this very useful and popular
Transistor audio amplifiers have many advantages
over their vacuum-tube counterparts, but one circuit that really highlights these
advantages is the Class B push-pull power amplifier. The great efficiency and simplicity
of transistors really shine in this application. With no filament power required
and a relatively low "B+" voltage, the power drain during quiet periods is negligible
and the overall circuit efficiency extremely high. These are certainly very desirable
Another attraction is the price of germanium power transistors
which compares favorably with vacuum tubes. In this article a typical 8-watt amplifier
design, which uses transistors costing about $3.00 each, will be illustrated. The
same design procedure can be used for amplifiers at other power levels and for different
transistor types. Those readers who are more concerned with troubleshooting transistor
audio amplifiers will find the material helpful in understanding the sources of
the most frequent defects they are apt to find in transistor circuits.
B operation means that each transistor will amplify only one-half of the signal
and will "rest" while its mate amplifies the opposite-polarity portion of the signal.
Because power dissipation is one of the most critical factors in transistors, Class
B operation is particularly suited to the task of insuring low dissipation for each
transistor. There are only two drawbacks to this type of transistor circuit: crossover
distortion and thermal runaway. These will be discussed below.
distortion occurs when one transistor stops conducting before the other has started
and is a typical problem with all Class B circuits. Thermal runaway can occur in
any transistor application but power transistors are especially susceptible. This
trouble is due to the fact that, as a transistor heats up, it will tend to draw
more current which, in turn, will cause the collector to heat up even more until
the unit burns out. There are well-established and relatively simple cures for both
crossover distortion and thermal runaway and they will be described here in some
detail. Let us first consider the characteristic curves.
Most of our readers
will be somewhat familiar with the characteristic curves used in vacuum-tube circuit
design. Similar curves are furnished by transistor manufacturers and are used in
the same manner. In last month's article on Class A transistor power-output circuits
we described some of the special aspects of transistor characteristic curves, a
discussion which will not be repeated here. Instead, we will concentrate on the
design of a typical amplifier and point out how crossover distortion, thermal runaway,
and some of the minor problems can be handled.
Amplifier Design Procedure
In any power amplifier design the governing
factors will be the desired power output, available voltage, and component efficiency.
Assuming that we wish to be able to deliver 8 watts to the loudspeaker, we must
first account for the losses in the output transformer, which may be about 80 percent
efficient. This immediately brings the actual maximum power that the two transistors
must deliver up to about 10 watts. If we want to allow for 25 percent overload capacity,
the power is increased to 12.5 watts or 6.25 watts per transistor. A typical supply
voltage would be 12 volts which would permit operating the equipment direct from
an automobile battery or two 6-volt lantern batteries. It would also be possible
to build a well regulated supply, using a standard 12.6-volt filament transformer
as power source.
Once the power and the voltage are determined, we can select
a transistor type. It must be able to handle at least 6.25 watts and must have a
collector-to-emitter voltage rating of at least twice the supply voltage, which
means 24 volts. For our example we have selected the 2N301 which is made by RCA,
Bendix, Sylvania, and CBS, and is readily available at parts distributors. This
transistor is rated at 40 volts collector potential and can dissipate 11 watts at
80°C which means about 25 watts at room temperature. These ratings are higher than
our minimum requirements but they afford us a much needed margin of safety.
To get an idea of what the peak-current swing per stage can be, we can calculate:
6.25 watts x (4 ¸ 12)
volts = 2.1 amps
The manufacturers' data shows that the 2N301 can handle up to 3 amps. peak current.
To get the load resistance per stage we divide the 12-volt supply voltage by the
2.1 amp. peak current and this is roughly 6 ohms. One of the characteristics of
Class B push-pull circuits is the fact that the total primary impedance of the output
transformer is four times the load resistance per stage or 24 ohms in our example.
At this point it is useful to study the characteristic curves of the transistor
in question. Fig. 1 shows the collector characteristics for the 2N301 for various
values of base current. The a.c. load line for the 6-ohm load resistance is drawn
by connecting the 12-volt, zero-current point to the 2.1-amp., zero-voltage point.
To calculate maximum power handling ability we have accounted for 25 percent overload
capacity, but for normal operation the current and voltage swing will be limited
by a factor:
k = sqrt (1/1.25) = 0.896
Fig. 1 - Collector characteristics of 2N301.
Therefore, the normal full-load current swing will be only 2.1 amp. x 0.896 =
1.88 amp., as shown by the dotted line in Fig. 1. Another curve, Fig. 2,
shows the average transfer characteristic which is simply a plot of collector current
vs base voltage. For 1.88 amps. of collector current, the base voltage will have
to be 0.78 volt and this, on the base characteristic curve of Fig. 3, will
cause a base current of 34 ma. The product of 34 ma. x 0.78 volt is the input power,
Fig. 2 - Transfer characteristics of 2N301.
The input impedance per transistor can be found by Ohm's Law from 0.78 volt divided
by 34 ma., or 23 ohms. We can now draw a basic diagram of the Class B amplifier
with its input and output requirements, as shown in Fig. 4. This simple circuit
will, however, suffer from the disadvantages inherent in Class B transistor amplifiers.
If we drive this amplifier with a sine-wave signal of maximum amplitude, 0.78 volt
peak at the base of each stage, then the output signal at the loudspeaker will have
the waveform of Fig. 5A, which shows the typical symptoms of crossover distortion.
Fig. 3 - Base characteristics of the 2N301.
Fig. 5 illustrates one of the most frequent
defects in Class B transistor amplifiers and the technician working with these circuits
will soon become quite familiar with the appearance of these distorted output signals,
To understand the cause for crossover distortion we need only look at the average
transfer characteristic curve of Fig. 2 and study the lower portion of the
curve below 0.2 volt of base bias. Here the curve flattens out and stops completely
at 0.13 volt. This means that from about zero to 0.13 volt of base signal, no current
flows in the collector circuit. When the base signal is very small the collector
signal will take the form of the curve of Fig. 5B, with current flowing only
during that portion of the sine wave which corresponds to more than 0.13 volt of
base voltage. Since the two push-pull transistors have the same characteristics,
the distortion will be balanced about the zero line of the sine-wave signal.
To overcome this trouble it will be necessary to pre-bias each transistor slightly.
In effect, for small signals, the transistors then operate as Class A amplifiers.
This method can completely eliminate crossover distortion but it means that each
transistor draws some current at all times and this reduces the efficiency of the
Class B stages. In a good design, the pre-bias voltage is set carefully to minimize
the quiescent collector current.
Fig. 4 - Basic design of the 8·watt amplifier.
Fig. 5 - The distortion due to the crossover.
Returning to the design of Fig. 4, we can see two places where a pre-bias
might be inserted. We could insert an additional battery between ground and the
two emitters or, and this is the simpler approach, we can utilize a portion of the
12-volt collector supply to bleed a small negative voltage to the two bases. This
will cause a loss in input signal due to the impedance or the biasing network. In
a circuit of this type the bias resistors cannot be bypassed because the capacitor
would charge up to the signal voltage level and this would increase the fixed bias
The 2N301 characteristic curves of Figs. 2 and 3 indicate that a pre-bias
of about - 0.13 volt is required. Previously we calculated the peak input impedance
to be about 23 ohms. The bias resistor should usually be about three times as large
so we select a value of 68 ohms, a readily available and standard unit. By using
Ohm's Law we find the current through the resistor to be 1.91 ma. At 0.13 volt the
base current itself is practically zero so that only about 2 ma. will flow in the
bias resistor. Because of the variations among individual transistors and other
circuit constants, it is advisable to include a potentiometer in the bias voltage
divider and set the actual voltage level for minimum collector current, commensurate
with minimum crossover distortion.
Looking at the revised circuit of Fig. 6, we can now see that the input
power of 26.5 mw. which we calculated previously will not be sufficient because
the actual input impedance, per stage, is not now 23 ohms but a total of 91 ohms.
The ratio between the I2R input power for equal current is simply the
ratio of 23 and 91 ohms, which is 3.95. This corresponds to approximately 6 db,
the increase in input needed to overcome the effect of the pre-biasing network.
The input power required to drive the circuit of Fig. 6 for peak output is,
therefore, 105 mw. Accounting for transformer losses of 20 percent, we find that
the actual peak driving power delivered by a driver amplifier to the primary of
the input transformer will have to be about 135 mw.
Fig. 6 - Pre-bias circuit for the amplifier.
Driving circuits for Class B power amplifiers deserve a lengthy article in themselves,
but in this limited space we can only point out that Class A single-stage amplifiers
or Class A push-pull circuits are usually used in this application. There are a
number of circuits which avoid the use of a driving transformer and provide phase
splitting and impedance matching directly. For the example cited here it would be
possible to use a single-stage Class A 2N301 as driver or else a Type 2N32, 2N44,
or 2N226, all suitable and readily available from jobber stocks. The prime requirement
of a driver stage is power handling ability. If the reader refers to last month's
article on Class A power amplifiers, all of the circuit designs can be followed
except that the Class B push-pull stage input impedance must be substituted for
the load on the output transformer secondary.
of the basic facts about semiconductor physics is the interdependence of current
flow and temperature. As the temperature goes up, more current flows. As current
flows, heat is generated in the transistor. These two facts impose a severe restriction
on the circuit designer, especially when germanium transistors are used where the
critical temperatures are relatively close to room temperature. Silicon devices
have a somewhat higher critical temperature. The transistor characteristic curves
of Figs. 1, 2, and 3 all bear the notation "mounting flange temperature 25°C" and
this means that at a higher or lower temperature the characteristics shown may be
If a transistor were 100 percent efficient it would have
no power loss in the transistor itself but such a device is, of course, unavailable.
The2N301, according to the published data, will dissipate 3 watts for an output
of 12 watts in a Class B push-pull circuit. The 3 watts of heat must be conducted
away from the transistor or else it will build up to a progressively higher temperature.
If the flange temperature increases, the current through the collector increases
and the amount of power which is dissipated in the transistor also increases. In
other words, if the mounting arrangement of the transistor cannot dissipate 3 watts
of power, the resulting temperature build-up will burn out the transistor. It is
possible, by careful design, to mount each transistor so that it can easily radiate
3 watts into the surrounding air, but on a hot day the efficiency of this heat transfer
will suffer because the surrounding air itself is warmer.
In last month's
article on Class A power amplifiers we illustrated several techniques for mounting
power transistors for maximum heat radiation. The same approach should be used for
Class B push-pull circuits except that we must be careful not to allow the heat
from one transistor to contribute to the other, unless the dissipation from both
can be radiated readily.
In addition to the mechanical mounting methods,
there are simple electronic means of preventing thermal runaway and maintaining
stability with varying temperatures. The most widely used method involves base bias
control by means of a temperature-sensitive resistor or "thermistor." A thermistor
can either increase or decrease in resistance with temperature, but the latter type
is more common. In using a thermistor to control the bias of a transistor the thermistor
is mounted close to the transistor heat sink so that any heat rise in the transistor
will affect the resistance of the thermistor.
Returning once again to our
example of a typical Class B push-pull circuit we can see how a thermistor is used
in the circuit of Fig. 7. Here the thermistor, RT, part of the bias
network and in parallel with the 210-ohm carbon resistor, provides the desired 68
ohms at 25°C. When the temperature increases to 50°C the thermistor will be only
40 ohms and this will reduce the pre-bias enough to cut the transistor collector
current down to a safe value.
Fig. 7 - The final, practical circuit employed.
The principle is simply to reduce bias as temperature goes up and to do this
in conformity with the transistor characteristics. If the right thermistor were
used, the fixed resistance R1 would not be required, but most commercially
available thermistors are more temperature sensitive than needed and therefore a
fixed shunting resistor is often used.
Before we can build the final circuit of Fig. 7, we must give some thought
to the two transformers. These items must be selected from available stock types
and, if a perfect match is not possible, the effects of mismatch will have to be
evaluated. Starting at the output stage, we immediately know that this transformer
will have to be the bigger one since it must handle at least 8 watts. Actually a
10-watt unit will be the standard size. In checking through the catalogue we find
that a number of manufacturers make suitable units of this type. To cite just one,
consider the Triad TY-29X. It has a center-tapped primary with an impedance of 24
ohms and a secondary with either 8- or 4-ohm impedances. It can handle 10 watts
of audio power. We can see that it meets our requirements exactly.
are a number of other transformers equally suitable, such as the Stancor T-14 or
Chicago TAMS-12. It may happen that in another design the calculated output impedance
turns out to be a value which cannot be matched by a commercial output transformer.
We can then use the nearest available transformer type or change the design of our
circuit. The first method is recommended when the nearest available transformer
impedance is not more than 25 percent higher than the transistor output impedance.
Otherwise it is possible to change the output impedance by redrawing the load line.
We can change either the supply voltage or the peak power and, if necessary, select
a different transistor type.
When we consider the input transformer we see
that, as far as the Class B amplifier is concerned, we can select only the secondary
and the power ratings. In our example the input transformer must be capable of handling
at least 135 mw. and must match the input impedance of 182 ohms. Actually, to minimize
distortion, the source impedance should be lower than the input impedance so we
should select a transformer which has less than 182 ohms secondary impedance. A
good choice would be the Thordarson TR64 which has a 100-ohm center-tapped secondary
and a primary impedance of 100 ohms. It can handle 0.5 watt which is ample for this
circuit. Because the secondary impedance is lower, some loss in power transfer will
occur here which means that the driver stage will have to deliver more than the
135 mw. previously calculated. In a conservative design the driver stage will be
capable of delivering at least twice the driving power calculated for the Class
B output stages.
Class B transistor amplifiers have the
great advantage of requiring almost no quiescent power and are, therefore, very
efficient. The design principles are the same as for vacuum-tube push-pull Class
B circuits, except that the transistor's temperature characteristics must be taken
into account. The detailed design procedure presented here requires only a knowledge
of Ohm's Law, arithmetic, and an understanding of characteristics curves.
Posted January 3, 2013