Modern commercially available, compact, low power audio power amplifiers are mostly designed around one of three main technologies. These are integrated circuit class AB, thick film hybrid class AB, and switch mode power amplifier modules. The decision to use a particular technology is not only based on idealised performance specifications, but also on the performance under realistic operating conditions, and cost-to-performance considerations. In this study, the performance of each amplifier technology is studied in ideal and realistic operating conditions with two amplifier designs for each technology category. Regulated and unregulated power supplies are used, in combination with ideal resistive and real-life complex impedance loudspeaker loads. For a fixed nominal supply voltage, the value of the different technologies with regard to noise, distortion and continuous output power is discussed. This results in an analysis of the cost effectiveness, or value, of currently competing technologies for high quality, low power, compact audio power amplifiers.
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