] Balanced Current Amplifier
Reinventing the Power Amplifier - BCA
careful selection of the class-B bias point, he was able
to produce essentially undistorted output without having a massive quiescent power loss. This greatly increased the power output that could be obtained from a
pair of tubes and reduced the wastage of electricity.
In 1931 Loy Barton, a research worker employed by
David Sarnoff , unearthed the paradigm that has dominated all electronic power amplifiers used for audio reproduction and industrial power to this present day. Many
incremental additions have embellished Loy’s original
invention since its inception. The embellishments have
many names, ultra-linear, Williamson, full complementary, quasi-complementary, quasi-linear, class-G, classH, grounded-bridge, class-D, etc.
While many variations on this basic theme have been
developed since 1931, Loy’s class-B paradigm has survived unchallenged. Operation of the push-pull power
devices in time alternation has been part of all high performance designs for the last 66 years. Even when the
devices became class-D PWM (Pulse Width Modulation)
switches, they were operated using the class-B paradigm, first one on and then the other, in strict time alternation.
One common thread in all of the above is the use of
push-pull circuitry. Loy did not invent push-pull circuitry.
Class-A push-pull amplifiers were around before 1931
and were used whenever larger output powers were
needed than could be derived from a single device
vacuum tube output stage. Loy was the first to describe
class-B push-pull amplifiers which he developed to
power both the large audio modulators of AM broadcast
stations and the output stages of home radios. Both
applications had a common need, the need to produce
more high-quality power output with less electricity and
natural resources.
While switching and PWM methods are the methods of
choice to all modern power electronics engineers, PWM
amplifiers have remained relatively useless for precision
power amplification. Ironically the class-B paradigm lies
at the heart of the problem.
To produce a class-D PWM amplifier with low amounts
of distortion near zero output current, it has been necessary to operate the time alternating power switches with
very precise sequencing of the two switches. If the
switches have any dead time (no switch on) between
their activation large amounts of distortion will form. If
they overlap, the circuitry would self-destruct with large
amounts of shoot-through current. The circuitry has been
designed around the paradigm and is therefore not tolerant of any violation of time alternation.
In 1931 Loy Barton published “High Audio Output from
Relatively Small Tubes” in the Institute of Radio Engineers proceedings. The very theme of the article is in
harmony with the goals of every designer who has ever
wrestled with the power amplifier problem of wanting
unlimited output power from a small box of affordable
cost. There are some things which do not change.
So pervasive has been the paradigm that it has gone
unchallenged until now. While Loy’s class-B paradigm
has served us all well for most of a century, its days are
One thing has changed since 1931 and that is the variety of electronic devices which are available to implement circuits. The original electronic power devices were
vacuum tubes which were characterized by large output impedance’s and high saturation resistance’s. They
made poor power switches and were most useful when
used with transformers to match their output impedance’s
to lower impedance loads such as loudspeakers. Today’s
solid-state devices such as power MOSFETs offer characteristics which are most appropriate to make highspeed switches, not linear output stages as practiced
by Loy.
With a marked bifurcation in design concept, the paradigm for the next century uses simultaneous activation
of its push-pull switches and has been appropriately
dubbed a “Balanced Current Amplifier”. This is the very
antithesis of the time alternation paradigm.
In the Crown BCA design, when there is no intended
output signal, the power switches are being turned on
and off simultaneously with a 50% duty cycle. The result
is the formation of two balanced and canceling highfrequency output currents with no output at the no-signal condition.
Loy’s genius was to operate the two tubes of his class-B
output stage in strict time alternation. To produce one
polarity of output current he would turn on one tube; to
produce the other polarity of output current he would
turn on the other tube. Previously with class-A designs,
both tubes were always turned on and even at no signal
were dissipating large amounts of quiescent power. By
To produce an output signal the output of one of the
switches is increased in duty while the remaining switch
] Balanced Current Amplifier
is decreased by the same amount. Both pulses remain
centered on each other or balanced in time. The result
is that the difference ripple current has a minimum frequency which is twice the operating frequency of the
individual switches.
and become sonically dysfunctional with either large
amounts of distortion or shutting off entirely. The result is
that a BCA output Watt is operationally larger than that
of previous amplifier designs.
Real-world high power operation of most large amplifiers reveals that rated bench Watts and distortion ratings
often bear little if any relationship to what can be sustained under normal field conditions by the typical user
using loudspeakers and music.
The frequency doubling character of the output is remarkable and further allows advancement towards Loy
Barton’s goal of more from less. The switching losses
are effectively halved by this property as it is only necessary to switch at 250KHz to make a 500KHz amplifier!
The result is that the operating frequency is taken to its
theoretical maximum of N (the number of switches) x fs
(the switching frequency). This is a full factor of two faster
than any known previous design.
In critical studio environments the K2 is sonically flawless and will outperform the best large studio amplifiers
in that it does not have the one sonic flaw that any unit
with a low-speed fan has fan noise. The K2’s over 100dB
of electrical signal to noise (A-weighted) is not rendered
superfluous by fan noise.
The modulation process makes two decisions per switching cycle for each switch, as both the turn-on time and
the turn-off time are independently controlled by the
modulator. A 250KHz Crown BCA design thus has one
million switch decisions made each second. This is what
is required for full bandwidth audio operation. Previous
to the BCA the conventional wisdom correctly held that
any full-bandwidth audio amplifier would need operate
at 500KHz. Low quality or limited bandwidth PWM designs have operated at lesser frequencies.
With a low-frequency damping factor of over 10,000 and
low distortion (<0.1%THD), the K2 is ready to give your
music the quality of presentation that it deserves.
One final footnote: One (the larger) of Loy Barton’s 1931
design examples was a 2.5KW amplifier. Ironically there
are some things that do not change, no matter which
century’s paradigms are in force.
The result of the new paradigm is a convection cooled
2.5KW amplifier which mounts in two rack spaces. This
is approximately an order of magnitude larger amplifier
than could have been built previously in the same space
without any cooling fan. With no fan there is no need for
filter maintenance, no fan noise and no contamination of
the unit resulting from normal use.
The basic concept of push-pull amplification is quite old
(1920’s) and can be described as an amplifier in which
there are two similar signal branch circuits operating in
phase opposition and whose outputs are combined in a
difference (summing) circuit to produce an increased
power output.
The Crown K2 amplifier has all of the nearly ideal power
converter attributes of class-D PWM amplifiers in that
reactive loads such as loudspeakers are easily
driven. The reactive energy returned from the
load to the amplifier is reabsorbed and
reoutput with little loss. Non-switching
amplifiers are forced to dissipate all
of the returned energy plus much
more (the latter ratio is a function of
the topology used) and is typically
three fold or more.
Difficult loads are driven with grace
and ease. Current overload is
smooth and sonically identical to
voltage overload. Thermal overload
is rendered a thing of the past as it
is difficult to produce large amounts
of heat. Conventional amplifiers
tackling the same difficult loads become overloaded within minutes
] Balanced Current Amplifier
The simplest combining method is to join the output signals at a single circuit node. This is the method used in
all power stages that are referred to in the jargon as a
totem-pole, half-bridge or single-ended push-pull design. While combining at a node is the simplest method,
it was not the method first used to produce push-pull
power amplifiers.
The second and original method of combining the pushpull output signals was to use a magnetic device, a transformer with a center-tapped primary, to perform the
differencing. Transformers had been in use previously
to adapt the high output impedance of vacuum tubes to
lower impedance loads. Power output was obtained at
such a high cost that it was rarely permissible to operate a power stage with impedance mismatching.
Push-pull operation is possible with the output of a power
stage being a signal statistic and not an expression of
the immediate state of the power devices used to create
the signal statistic. Such is the case within the Crown
BCA power stage.
The push-pull paradigm is part of the Crown BCA design while the class-B paradigm is not. The distinction is
that the class-B paradigm is taken to include both the
push-pull concept and the notion of strict time alternation of the active devices used to effect the push-pull
power stage.
Note that push-pull concepts in no way imply the operating efficiency of a power stage. The first push-pull amplifiers were very inefficient because they were class-A
linear designs which by nature have large quiescent
power losses. Loy Barton’s class-B designs were
still inefficient by switch-mode standards as the
vacuum tubes were conductivity modulated to
effect the power output of the stage. Large
voltages were evident on the tubes during
most of their conduction cycle and thus
they dissipated (wasted) much power.
Push-pull operation using a transformer with a center-
When the output signal becomes a
signal statistic as in a PWM power
stage, it is not necessary to retain the class-B paradigm to retain push-pull operation.
So then is there a class designator for the BCA paradigm?
This author suggests class-I as
a possible designator. Such a
choice has a mnemonic tag in
that the Crown BCA is implicitly
an interleaved power stage. The
chosen name for the overall
technology where interleaving is taken to its logical conclusions has been named OCIA (Opposed Current Interleaved Amplifier) technology.
tapped primary as the combiner was particularly attractive as it also solved a problem implicit to transformercoupled designs. It was now possible to minimize (cancel) the DC magnetizing force produced by the quiescent bias currents in the primary. The output transformer
became smaller and less expensive as a consequence.
Larger low-frequency outputs were possible before core
saturation would cause significant distortion.
The following figures show the fundamental operation of
the basic Crown BCA power amplifier. The switch commutation sequence is depicted by the Sp and Sn waveforms and the Vp and Vn waveforms are the switched
voltages which are input to the main output inductors Lp
and Ln. The currents Ip and In are the currents flowing
in Lp and Ln respectively.
The invention of the half-bridge power stage was not
documented until the 1940’s. Vacuum tubes were still
the only power devices available, but applications and
circuit design were continuously becoming more diverse.
Fundamental things were slowly but surely coming to
the fore.
The quiescent switching sequence is for both output
switches to enable and disable in unison (50% duty
] Balanced Current Amplifier
The converter is always biased
such that current continuously
flows in the output inductors which
means that either a FET (Sp or Sn)
or its companion free-wheeling diode (Dp or Dn) are conducting. The
converter is said (in power conversion jargon) to be operating in CCM
(continuous current mode). As
such the Vp and Vn nodes are either at the +Vcc or -Vcc potential.
There is an equivalent circuit that
can enlighten one’s understanding
of the circuit’s operation. There are
four state permutations of the
MOSFET switches that can exist.
Two are states with one FET on, one
with no FETs on and one with both FETs on. The equivalent circuit is composed of a three position switch which
can either output +Vcc, ground or -Vcc to an output inductor of value L/2 where L=Lp=Ln. This equivalent circuit will be switched to ground whenever both Sp and
Sn switches are in the same state (on or off). If only one
of the Sp and Sn switches is on, the equivalent circuit
switch will be set to the supply polarity of the Sp or Sn
switch which is on.
cycle). When the Sp and Sn switches are both closed
during interval Tp (or Tn) the main output inductor current magnitudes increase at a rate of Vcc/L where
L=Lp=Ln. When the switches are both off during the interval following Tp (equal to Tp=Ts-Tp), the inductor voltage is reversed and the output currents ramp down at
the same magnitude. Ip and In are of equal magnitude
but of opposite polarity, thus the output currents are said
to be balanced and therefore the name Balanced Current Amplifier or BCA.
] Balanced Current Amplifier
the effective input voltage to the output inductor (L/2) is
a unipolar pulse sequence at twice the basic switch operating frequency.
When a negative output is to be produced, there will not
be a time when the Sp switch is on and not the Sn, thus
the output will be a unipolar negative double frequency
pulse sequence.
The suggested equivalent circuit reveals the low output
ripple nature of the Crown BCA. A full null in the output
ripple current occurs at zero output, the very state which
is most commonly occupied by audio (and many other)
signals. The effective output frequency is doubled without operating any switch at double frequency. Bridged
output circuits are commonly understood to double the
ripple frequency but note that they use four switches to
obtain a doubling of frequency. When the BCA’s output
stages are used in a full-bridge, the output ripple frequency can be quadrupled. The trick is to operate the
second half of the full bridge with phase quadrature
modulation. The Crown BCA amplifier operates the two
channels in phase quadrature which allows the balanced
monaural output to have a 1MHz ripple frequency, yet
no switch is operating at other than 250KHz. Since any
given effective output pulse has two modulation decisions (one on each edge), the effective control sampling
rate is 1Ms/S (Mega-samples per Second) for each channel; but when operated in balanced monaural mode, that
effective rate rises to 2Ms/S.
When the amplifier is at quiescent state with no output
voltage, the equivalent switch will always be at the ground
position as the switches are operating in unison, either
being on or off with a 50% duty cycle. In other words
Tp=Tn=Ts/2 where Ts is the inverse of the switching frequency, the switching period. If Tp is the period that Sp
is on and Tn is the period that Sn is on, then Tp+Tn=Ts.
When the output is programmed to be positive, the Sp
switch will enable before the Sn and disable after the Sn
switch. The width of Sp (Tp) increases as the width of
Sn (Tn) decreases. The total duty cycle of both switches
is still set to 100% (Tp+Tn=Ts). When the Sp switch is
on and the Sn is not, the equivalent output switch is set
to +Vcc. Not until negative output is programmed will
there be a case of having the Sn switch on and not the
Sp switch. Therefore when producing a positive output,
The methods used to
design the modulation
of the Crown BCA are
those of interleaved
power converter design. Interleaved power
conversion is one of a
number of cutting-edge
technologies being explored in the larger
venue of power electronics. A classification
system exists in power
electronics capable of
describing most circuits. The Crown BCA’s
power stage is properly
classified as a fully interleaved buck-derived
power converter.
Crown has chosen to
give the generic names
of OCA and OCIA (Ohsee-yuh) to these new
Positive-Programmed Output
] Balanced Current Amplifier
quired to eliminate the
switching signal from
the output. Since ripple
currents simultaneously
increase in frequency
while decreasing in amplitude, the filtering requirements are multiply
Note that no matter how
many balanced current
power stages are interleaved, total ripple rejection will always occur
at zero signal. Additional total nulls of the
output ripple will occur
at evenly spaced levels
inter mediate to full
scale. If N is the number of total switches in
the design, there will be
N+1 output levels which
Positive-Programmed Output
designs of power converters. OCA is the acronym for
Opposed Current Amplifier while OCIA is
short for Opposed
Current Interleaved
Amplifier. The OCIA
designation is for designs which achieve
additional interleaving
by using paralleled
and seriesed OCA
power stages.
Interleaved power
converters have the
highly desirable property that converter
speed is enhanced
with increased converter size. As additional power stages
are paralleled, the
ripple frequencies are
increasing proportional to the number of
switches. This reduces the amount of
low-pass filtering re-
Negative-Programmed Output
] Balanced Current Amplifier
Negative-Programmed Output
exhibit total ripple cancellation. In standard PWM classD designs which use interleaving there are (N+2)/2 ripple
nulls. Thus N/2 more ripple nulls result from OCIA design.
Power converters that use OCIA design principles can
be used for both inverter and rectifier applications. This
is the natural consequence of being a full four-quadrant
power converter. Much more could be said, however it
is not the intent of this document to be a textbook on
state-of-the-art amplifier design.
GRS 12-20-96
Guaranteed Excellence
Crown International, Inc.
PO Box 1000 Elkhart, IN 46515-1000
Ph. 800-342-6939/219-294-8200
Fax. 219-294-8301
FAST FACTS. 800-294-4094
The modulator for the basic Crown BCA power stage is
simpler than one might at first imagine. Having twice the
standard amount of resultant information, it has two highspeed comparators driven from three signals, Verr, -Verr
and Vtr. The same triangle waveform source can be used
by both comparators.
©1998 Crown International, Inc.
BCA™ and Balanced Current Amplifier™ are trademarks and Crown® is
a registered trademark of Crown International, Inc.