A push-pull output is a type of electronic circuit that can drive either a positive or a negative current into a load. Pushâ€“pull outputs are present in TTL and CMOS digital logic circuits and in some types of amplifiers, and are usually realized as a complementary pair of transistors, one dissipating or sinking current from the load to ground or a negative power supply, and the other supplying or sourcing current to the load from a positive power supply.
A special configuration of push-pull, though in fact an exception, are the outputs of TTL and related families. The upper transistor is functioning as an active pull-up, in linear mode, while the lower transistor works digitally. For this reason they aren't capable of supplying as much current as they can sink (typically 20 times less). Because of the way these circuits are drawn schematically, with two transistors stacked vertically, normally with a protection diode in between, they are called "totem pole" outputs.
Class B and AB
Class B amplifiers only amplify half of the input wave cycle, thus creating a large amount of distortion, but their efficiency is greatly improved and is much better than Class A. Class B has a maximum theoretical efficiency of 78.5% (i.e., π/4). This is because the amplifying element is switched off altogether half of the time, and so cannot dissipate power. A single Class B element is rarely found in practice, though it has been used for driving the loudspeaker in the early IBM Personal Computers with beeps, and it can be used in RF power amplifier where the distortion levels are less important. However Class C is more commonly used for this.
A practical circuit using Class B elements is the push-pull stage, such as the very simplified complementary pair arrangement shown below. Here, complementary or quasi-complementary devices are each used for amplifying the opposite halves of the input signal, which is then recombined at the output. This arrangement gives excellent efficiency, but can suffer from the drawback that there is a small mismatch in the cross-over region - at the "joins" between the two halves of the signal, as one output device has to take over supplying power exactly as the other finishes. This is called crossover distortion. An improvement is to bias the devices so they are not completely off when they're not in use. This approach is called Class AB operation.
In Class AB operation, each device operates the same way as in Class B over half the waveform, but also conducts a small amount on the other half. As a result, the region where both devices simultaneously are nearly off (the "dead zone") is reduced. The result is that when the waveforms from the two devices are combined, the crossover is greatly minimised or eliminated altogether. The exact choice of quiescent current, the standing current through both devices when there is no signal, makes a large difference to the level of distortion (and to the risk of thermal runaway, that may damage the devices); often the bias voltage applied to set this quiescent current has to be adjusted with the temperature of the output transistors (for example in the circuit at the beginning of the article the diodes would be mounted physically close to the output transistors, and chosen to have a matched temperature coefficient). Another approach (often used as well as thermally-tracking bias voltages) is to include small value resistors in series with the emitters.
Class AB sacrifices some efficiency over class B in favor of linearity, thus is less efficient (below 78.5% for full-amplitude sinewaves in transistor amplifiers, typically; much less is common in Class AB vacuum tube amplifiers). It is typically much more efficient than class A.
Class B or AB push-pull circuits are the most common design type found in audio power amplifiers. Class AB is widely considered a good compromise for audio amplifiers, since much of the time the music is quiet enough that the signal stays in the "class A" region, where it is amplified with good fidelity, and by definition if passing out of this region, is large enough that the distortion products typical of class B are relatively small. The crossover distortion can be reduced further by using negative feedback. Class B and AB amplifiers are sometimes used for RF linear amplifiers as well. Class B amplifiers are also favored in battery-operated devices, su