Classification of Amplifiers
Most electronic devices use at least one amplifier, but there are many types of amplifiers. This section will not try to describe all the different types of amplifiers. You will be shown the general principles of amplifiers and some typical amplifier circuits.
Most amplifiers can be classified in two ways. The first classification is by their function. This means they are basically voltage amplifiers or power amplifiers. The second classification is by their frequency response. In other words what frequencies are they designed to amplify?
If you describe an amplifier by these two classifications (function and frequency response) you will have a good working description of the amplifier. You may not know what the exact circuitry is, but you will know what the amplifier does and the frequencies that it is designed to handle.
Voltage amplifiers and power amplifiers
The connections of the amplifying device (electron tube, transistor, magnetic amplifier, etc.) and the circuitry of the amplifier determine the classification. Amplifiers are classified as voltage or power amplifiers.
A voltage amplifier is an amplifier in which the output signal voltage is larger than the input signal voltage. In other words, a voltage amplifier amplifies the voltage of the input signal.
A power amplifier is an amplifier in which the output signal power is greater than the input signal power. In other words, a power amplifier amplifies the power of the input signal. Most power amplifiers are used as the final amplifier (stage of amplification) and control (or drive) the output device. The output device could be a speaker, an indicating device, an antenna, or the heads on a tape recorder. Whatever the device, the power to make it work (or drive it) comes from the final stage of amplification which is a power amplifier.
Figure below shows a simple block diagram of a voltage amplifier with its input and output signals and a power amplifier with its input and output signals. Notice that in view (A) the output signal voltage is larger than the input signal voltage. Since the current values for the input and output signals are not shown, you cannot tell if there is a power gain in addition to the voltage gain.
In view (B) of the figure the output signal voltage is less than the input signal voltage. As a voltage amplifier, this circuit has a gain of less than 1. The output power, however, is greater than the input power. Therefore, this circuit is a power amplifier.
The classification of an amplifier as a voltage or power amplifier is made by comparing the characteristics of the input and output signals. If the output signal is larger in voltage amplitude than the input signal, the amplifier is a voltage amplifier. If there is no voltage gain, but the output power is greater than the input power, the amplifier is a power amplifier.
Frequency Response of Amplifiers
In addition to being classified by function, amplifiers are classified by frequency response. The frequency response of an amplifier refers to the band of frequencies or frequency range that the amplifier was designed to amplify.
You may wonder why the frequency response is important. Why doesn't an amplifier designed to amplify a signal of 1000 Hz work just as well at 1000 MHz? The answer is that the components of the amplifier respond differently at different frequencies. The amplifying device (electron tube, transistor, magnetic amplifier, etc.) itself will have frequency limitations and respond in different ways as the frequency changes. Capacitors and inductors in the circuit will change their reactance as the frequency changes. Even the slight amounts of capacitance and inductance between the circuit wiring and other components (interelectrode capacitance and self-inductance) can become significant at high frequencies. Since the response of components varies with the frequency, the components of an amplifier are selected to amplify a certain range or band of frequencies.
The three broad categories of frequency response for amplifiers are audio amplifier, RF amplifier, and video amplifier.
An audio amplifier is designed to amplify frequencies between 15 Hz and 20 kHz. Any amplifier that is designed for this entire band of frequencies or any band of frequencies contained in the audio range is considered to be an audio amplifier.
In the term RF amplifier, the "RF" stands for radio frequency. These amplifiers are designed to amplify frequencies between about 10 kHz and 100 MHz. A single amplifier will not amplify the entire RF range, but any amplifier whose frequency band is included in the RF range is considered an RF amplifier.
A video amplifier is an amplifier designed to amplify a band of frequencies from 10 Hz to 6 MHz. Because this is such a wide band of frequencies, these amplifiers are sometimes called wide-band amplifiers. While a video amplifier will amplify a very wide band of frequencies, it does not have the gain of narrower-band amplifiers. It also usually requires more components than a narrow-band amplifier to enable it to amplify a wide range of frequencies.