Crossover Distortion in Amplifiers

Crossover Distortion in Amplifiers

Crossover Distortion is a common feature of Class-B amplifiers where the non-linearities of the two switching transistors do not vary linearly with the input signal.

We have seen that one of the main disadvantages of the Class-A Amplifier configuration is its low full power efficiency rating due to being biased around its central Q-point.

But we also know that we can improve the amplifier and almost double its efficiency simply by changing the output stage of the amplifier to a Class B push-pull type configuration. However, this is great from an efficiency point of view, but most modern Class B amplifiers are transformerless or complementary types with two transistors in their output stage.

This results in one main fundamental problem with push-pull amplifiers in that the two transistors do not combine together fully at the output both halves of the waveform due to their unique zero cut-off biasing arrangement. As this problem occurs when the signal changes or “crosses-over” from one transistor to the other at the zero voltage point it produces an amount of “distortion” to the output wave shape. This results in a condition that is commonly called Crossover Distortion.

Crossover Distortion produces a zero voltage “flat spot” or “deadband” on the output wave shape as it crosses over from one half of the waveform to the other. The reason for this is that the transition period when the transistors are switching over from one to the other, does not stop or start exactly at the zero crossover point thus causing a small delay between the first transistor turning “OFF” and the second transistor turning “ON”. This delay results in both transistors being switched “OFF” at the same instant in time producing an output wave shape as shown below.

Crossover Distortion Waveform

crossover distortion waveform

In order that there should be no distortion of the output waveform we must assume that each transistor starts conducting when its base to emitter voltage rises just above zero, but we know that this is not true because for silicon bipolar transistors, the base-emitter voltage must reach at least 0.7v before the transistor starts to conduct due to the forward diode voltage drop of the base-emitter pn-junction, thereby producing this flat spot. This crossover distortion effect also reduces the overall peak to peak value of the output waveform causing the maximum power output to be reduced as shown below.

Non-Linear Transfer Characteristics

class-B amplifier

This effect is less pronounced for large input signals as the input voltage is usually quite large but for smaller input signals it can be more severe causing audio distortion to the amplifier.

Pre-biasing the Output

The problem of Crossover Distortion can be reduced considerably by applying a slight forward base bias voltage (same idea as seen in the Transistor tutorial) to the bases of the two transistors via the center-tap of the input transformer, thus the transistors are no longer biased at the zero cut-off point but instead are “Pre-biased” at a level determined by this new biasing voltage.

Push-pull Amplifier with Pre-biasing

base biasing amplifiers

This type of resistor pre-biasing causes one transistor to turn “ON” exactly at the same time as the other transistor turns “OFF” as both transistors are now biased slightly above their original cut-off point. However, to achieve this the bias voltage must be at least twice that of the normal base to emitter voltage to turn “ON” the transistors. This pre-biasing can also be implemented in transformerless amplifiers that use complementary transistors by simply replacing the two potential divider resistors with Biasing Diodes as shown below.

Pre-biasing with Diodes

pre-biasing diodes

This pre-biasing voltage either for a transformer or transformerless amplifier circuit, has the effect of moving the amplifiers Q-point past the original cut-off point thus allowing each transistor to operate within its active region for slightly more than half or 180o of each half cycle. In other words, 180o + Bias. The amount of diode biasing voltage present at the base terminal of the transistor can be increased in multiples by adding additional diodes in series. This then produces an amplifier circuit commonly called a Class AB Amplifier and its biasing arrangement is given below.

Class AB Output Characteristics

class-AB amplifier

Crossover Distortion Summary

Then to summarise, Crossover Distortion occurs in Class B amplifiers because the amplifier is biased at its cut-off point. This then results in BOTH transistors being switched “OFF” at the same instant in time as the waveform crosses the zero axis. By applying a small base bias voltage either by using a resistive potential divider circuit or diode biasing this crossover distortion can be greatly reduced or even eliminated completely by bringing the transistors to the point of being just switched “ON”.

The application of a biasing voltage produces another type or class of amplifier circuit commonly called a Class AB Amplifier. Then the difference between a pure Class B amplifier and an improved Class AB amplifier is in the biasing level applied to the output transistors. One major advantage of using diodes over resistors is that their PN-junctions compensate for variations in the temperature of the transistors.

Therefore, we can correctly say that the Class AB amplifier is effectively a Class B amplifier with added “Bias” and we can summarise this as follows:

  • Class A Amplifiers – No Crossover Distortion as they are biased in the center of the load line.
  • Class B Amplifiers – Large amounts of Crossover Distortion due to biasing at the cut-off point.
  • Class AB Amplifiers – Some Crossover Distortion if the biasing level is set too low.

As well as the three amplifier classes above, there are a number of high efficiency Amplifier Classes relating to switching amplifier designs that use different switching techniques to reduce power loss and increase efficiency. Some of these amplifier designs use RLC resonators or multiple power-supply voltages to help reduce power loss and distortion.

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