BTL stands for "Bridge-Tied Load." BTL amplification is a configuration in which two amplifier channels are used to drive a single speaker load. Instead of connecting the speaker between an amplifier's output and ground (as is done in traditional single-ended configurations), in a BTL configuration, the speaker is connected between the outputs of two amplifiers – effectively "bridging" them. BTL connection can theoretically achieve four times the output power.
Due to the increased power and efficiency benefits, BTL amplifiers are often found in car audio, high power PA equipment and battery-powered devices where power efficiency is crucial. It is also often used in home audio for converting stereo amplification to mono amplification.
The increased output power of BTL
Here is a simple BTL breakdown.
Voltage doubling: In BTL setup, one amplifier is used to amplify the positive phase signal, and the other amplifies the negative phase signal. The differential drive effectively doubles the voltage across the speaker compared to using just one amplifier.
Here we use the basic formula for calculating the amplifier's output.
Output Voltage Squared ÷ Speaker Impedance = Output Power.
Assuming the original stereo amplifier has a voltage output of 20V.
When driving an 8 ohms speaker a in single-ended connection, the square of 20V is 400, and 400 ÷ 8 = 50 watts.
After bridging, the output voltage becomes 40V (+20V and -20V voltage swing equals 40V).
When driving an 8 ohms speaker in a BTL connection, the square of 40V is 1,600, and 1600 ÷ 8 = 200 watts.
So, if you double the voltage, you get four times the power theoretically. In reality, due to limitations in current supply and variations in load impedance, it's not possible to achieve exactly four times the output power.
How to bridge stereo power amplifiers?
In the audiophile world, using separate amplifiers for the left and right channels is known as monoblock amplifiers. By dedicating a separate amplifier to each channel, there's potential for reduced crosstalk and interference between channels. And when these monoblocks employ a BTL configuration, it helps maximize power output.
Many stereo amplifiers offer a bridging function. If it does and you have two identical amplifiers in hand, you can use them as BTL monoblock amps.
To start, toggle the bridging switch (usually on the back of the amplifier) to set the amplifiers to mono mode.
Then, you will need to change the speaker wire connection. Normally, the negative speaker terminals on the amplifier will be left unconnected.
The positive speaker terminals of the original left and right channels on one amplifier shall connect to the positive and negative wires of one speaker. Then, do the same on the other amp and speaker.
Send the left channel signal to the left amp and left speaker, the right channel signal to the right amp and right speaker, and then you are all set.
Amplifiers that are natively BTL
There are also standalone amplifiers designed with BTL circuits internally to achieve high output. K221 from DA&T Audio is one good example. The BTL design requires more amplification circuits and the amplifier's power supply and output stages must be robust enough to handle the increased current demands, which can increase the cost. However, the potential benefits outweigh the added expense.
Running in a BTL configuration has the benefits:
No Need for Output Capacitors: In some amplifier configurations, output capacitors are used to block DC voltage from reaching the speaker. In a BTL configuration, the differential outputs mean that any DC offsets from the two amplifiers tend to cancel each other out, which often eliminates the need for output capacitors.
Improved Rejection of Power Supply Noises: Common-mode noise (like that which might be introduced from the power supply) tends to be rejected, or at least reduced.
Easier Powering Difficult Loads: Some high-end speakers have complex impedance curves or present a particularly low impedance at certain frequencies. A BTL amplifier configuration can be beneficial for powering these kinds of speakers.
In conclusion, BTL configurations certainly have a presence in the high-end audio world but aren't without their challenges or considerations, like any other audiophile-related topics, the appeal will depend on the specifics of the system and the listener's preferences.