Tweed Fender Champ – Class A amplifier
The tweed Fender Champ is a 5 Watt Class A amplifier. What exactly does it mean when an amp is called Class A? Class A amplifiers operate over the entire input cycle. This means that the output signal is an exact scaled-up replica of the input with no clipping. From an exhaustive discussion of various amplifier classifications over on Wikipedia -
Class A amplifying devices operate over the whole of the input cycle such that the output signal is an exact scaled-up replica of the input with no clipping. Class A amplifiers are the usual means of implementing small-signal amplifiers. They are not very efficient; a theoretical maximum of 50% is obtainable with inductive output coupling and only 25% with capacitive coupling.
In a Class A circuit, the amplifying element is biased so the device is always conducting to some extent, and is operated over the most linear portion of its characteristic curve (known as its transfer characteristic or transconductance curve). Because the device is always conducting, even if there is no input at all, power is drawn from the power supply. This is the chief reason for its inefficiency.
If high output powers are needed from a Class A circuit, the power waste (and the accompanying heat) will become significant. For every wattdelivered to the load, the amplifier itself will, at best, dissipate another watt. For large powers this means very large and expensive power supplies and heat sinking. Class A designs have largely been superseded for audio amplifiers, though some audiophiles believe that Class A gives the best sound quality, due to it being operated in as linear a manner as possible which provides a small market for expensive high fidelity Class A amps. Many recording studios use equipment such as preamplifiers that are considered Class A designs. In addition, some aficionados prefer thermionic valve (or “tube”) designs instead of transistors, for several claimed reasons:
- Tubes are more commonly used in class A designs, which have an asymmetrical transfer function. This means that distortion of a sine wave creates both odd- and even-numbered harmonics. The claim is that this sounds more “musical” than the higher level of odd harmonics produced by a symmetrical push–pull amplifier.
- Though good amplifier design can reduce harmonic distortion patterns to almost nothing, distortion is essential to the sound of electric guitar amplifiers, for example, and is held by recording engineers to offer more flattering microphones and to enhance “clinical-sounding” digital technology.
- Valves use many more electrons at once than a transistor, and so statistical effects lead to a “smoother” approximation of the true waveform — see shot noise for more on this. Junction field-effect transistors (JFETs) have similar characteristics to valves, so these are found more often in high quality amplifiers than bipolar transistors. Historically, valve amplifiers often used a Class A power amplifier simply because valves are large and expensive; many Class A designs use only a single device.
Transistors are much cheaper, and so more elaborate designs that give greater efficiency but use more parts are still cost-effective. A classic application for a pair of class A devices is the long-tailed pair, which is exceptionally linear, and forms the basis of many more complex circuits, including many audio amplifiers and almost all op-amps. Class A amplifiers are often used in output stages of op-amps; they are sometimes used as medium-power, low-efficiency, and high-cost audio amplifiers. The power consumption is unrelated to the output power. At idle (no input), the power consumption is essentially the same as at high output volume. The result is low efficiency and high heat dissipation.