amplifier

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

amplifier

amplifier, device that accepts a varying input signal and produces an output signal that varies in the same way as the input but has a larger amplitude. The input signal may be a current, a voltage, a mechanical motion, or any other signal; the output signal is usually of the same nature. The most common types of amplifiers are electronic and have transistors or electron tubes as their principal components. Electronic amplifiers are used in radio and television transmitters and receivers, audio and stereo systems, intercoms, and other consumer electronics devices. Amplifiers in their simplest form are built around a single transistor. In one type of single-transistor amplifier, known as a common-emitter circuit, a varying input voltage is fed to the base of the transistor, and the output appears at the transistor's collector; the ratio of the output voltage to the input voltage is called the voltage gain. For many purposes a single transistor does not provide sufficient gain, or amplification. In a cascade, or multistage, amplifier, the output of the first amplifying device (transistor) is fed as input to the second amplifying device, whose output is fed as input to the third, and so on until an adequate signal amplification has been achieved. In a device such as a radio receiver, several amplifiers boost a weak input signal until it is powerful enough to drive a speaker. Usually, multistage amplifiers are not made of discrete components, but are built as integrated circuits. Another less common group of electronic amplifiers use magnetic devices as their principal components. There are also many kinds of mechanical amplifiers, e.g., the power steering system of an automobile. See operational amplifier.

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