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From my understanding, the role of the output stage is to decrease the output impedance to almost 0. For that, MOSFETs seem better suited since they've got way lower \$R_{ds}\$.

Yet I see quite often BJTs as buffer in discrete design, often in a Darlington configuration to increase input impedance, while only one MOSFETs would have a high enough input impedance.

My thoughts were that it was either cheaper or simpler. Power BJTs are indeed a bit cheaper than power MOSFETs, and it seems to me that it is simpler to make a relatively linear buffer with a BJT emitter follower, while a MOSFET source follower may require some feedback.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the knee voltage is sharper and lower for BJT than mosfet, and that is the main reason why. \$\endgroup\$ – Harry Svensson May 13 at 14:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem is linear DC biasing complementary MOSFETs in the linear zone with cross-conduction and the R*Ciss effects. BJT's are much more predictable for Vbe than MOSFETs for Vgs ( 1A) \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 May 13 at 14:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ However we're not stopping you from trying to make it linear with dual negative feedback loops to reduce shoothru losses and eliminate quadratic VI effects \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 May 13 at 15:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ BJT designs are definitely cheaper overall. I wouldn't say they are so common because they sound superior to other designs. \$\endgroup\$ – Todd Wilcox May 14 at 6:18
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To make an Audio Voltage source, you want the crossover voltage distortion to be null which requires some quiescent DC current > 1% of the max current. This modest distortion and output impedance is reduced further by negative feedback or excess open loop gain. The active diode bias DC voltage can be predicted in mV for the differential Darlington output stage.

However for MOSFETs the conduction threshold can vary 50% e.g. 1 to 2V or 2 to 4V, so the biasing for cross conduction to eliminate crossover distortion is not easily done with low voltage gain linear power amps.

Edit May 22:
Also, Thermal Runway exists as stated by @Thor from the micro-array FET structures sharing-current with Vgs NTC effects in linear mode yet PTC effects for RdsOn in full conduction mode. Without proper transistor component selection, this can result in catastrophic failure.

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MOSFETS used to be more common in power amplifiers, but they were often the lateral type power MOSFETS.

Most modern MOSFETs (Vertical MOSFETs / HEXFETs) are highly optimized for switching and require very careful design in a linear amp design. For example these modern switching types have a large nonlinear gate capacitance that is difficult to drive.

In addition the likes of HEXFETs can suffer from localized heating effects that can cause thermal runaway in a linear application.

A good description of these issues can be found here

Lateral MOSFETs are still available but are more quite expensive. See here

So really it's not a case that MOSFETs cannot be used, but it's often more difficult and less cost effective to achieve the same performance and reliability for a given price point.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Old school MOSFET designs definitely sound different from BJT designs. Some say they sound better, and I wouldn't argue with them, but it's all a matter of taste. \$\endgroup\$ – Todd Wilcox May 14 at 6:16
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Second Breakdown

(Many) Audio amplifiers operate the output stage in their linear region.

Modern power MOSFETs are not designed to operate in the linear region. Many of them (HEXFETS) are composed of a grid of hundreds of thousands of smaller FET elements to increase power density and switching speed. Other switching-optimized MOSFET families have similar constructions, with large die areas and/or arrays of smaller elements.

For MOSFETs, the threshold voltage has a negative temperature coefficient. As a particular area of the die / FET element gets hotter, it's threshold voltage decreases and since the MOSFET is operating in it's linear region, that area conducts a larger portion of the current, so it gets even hotter. Before long, the localized heating on a tiny fraction of the die has resulted in a short circuit, often called "Second Breakdown".

But...

A relatively new type of amplifier, the "Class D" amplifier, works by switching the output stage transistors on and off rapidly, at a frequency much higher than the speaker is expected to reproduce. A low-pass filter filters out the high-frequency noise, and amplification is achieved through varying the duty cycle.

MOSFETs are extremely common in such designs, as class D amplifiers either have the output stage elements fully on or fully off. As power MOSFETs are optimized for that, that's what they are used for.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ -1 because it sounds like you are talking about MOSFET thermal runaway (when it's not an actual issue with MOSFETs, but is an issue with BJTs). You word it in a strange way though which makes it sound like you are talking about something else, therefore clarification would be required to delineate between these two effects. \$\endgroup\$ – DKNguyen May 13 at 17:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @toor the tempco of FET threshold voltage is negative just like a BJT. Thermal runaway is still a concern with FETs in linear mode. \$\endgroup\$ – sstobbe May 13 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Toor I dunno, his story seems to check out... \$\endgroup\$ – marcelm May 13 at 20:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Toor Thermal Runway exists as stated from the micro-array FET structures sharing-current with Vgs NTC effects in linear mode yet PTC effects for RdsOn in full conduction mode. \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 May 23 at 19:37

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