Tube amplifiers, or tube amps as they’re commonly called, are tiny electronic or electromagnetic components that are used to boost electric current in devices to improve their performance. It’s what makes your hearing aid pick up sounds through a microphone from all around you. What you get then is a signal with enhanced strength that the amplifier feeds into your ear.
Unlike transformers, these are used for low-voltage devices. So if you’re a music lover who just can’t resist playing around with your electrical guitar or other similar devices, or you just need to know the answer to the question “How does a tube amp work”, it’s useful for you to understand the various shades of how such amps work.
To understand how tube amps work, you’d first need to understand how electricity works. It contains electrons, which are negatively charged small particles that can actually fly around space while in vacuum under certain conditions. The main trigger for such a situation is the meeting of this negative energy with any form of positive energy, which naturally leads to the flow of electric current, resulting occasionally in severe damage.
Unfortunately for you, some amount of positive energy is essential to make a circuit or grid work; otherwise all those electric gadgets that you simply can’t live without would be rendered useless. Together, the negative and positive particles form a cathode, which makes an amplifier work. In the case of tube amps, the cathode gets replaced by a triode.
The basic principle
Coming now to the basic principle that makes a tube amp work, the main component that enables its effective operation is a transformer. The job of the transformer is to convert the AC input voltage into a usable format to complete the circuit and ensure supply of electricity to it. In simple words, this means that the tube amplifier, which is actually a kind of electronic amplifier, uses vacuum tubes to enhance the power (or amplitude as its technically known) of any signal.
Why you need a tube amp
Evidently then, a tube amp is what makes a whole lot of things – from guitars to satellite transponders, GPS, military radars, high-powered radios, stereo amplifiers -deliver the resonating sounds that can’t but leave you charmed with their special sound effects. Without amp tubes, music won’t sound as beautiful while military radars and GPS will never work as effectively as they do now.
From amplifying the sound in hearing aids (after all that’s what they’re used for) to giving a boost to radio signals coming from a distance, there’s virtually no sound (except perhaps the natural sounds of nature) that doesn’t need to be amplified for best effect. In fact, tube amps are not merely about enhancing the effect of music and loudspeakers, but a necessity in today’s world.
An invention par excellence
It wouldn’t be wrong to say then that the tube amp is an invention that has changed our world in many small and big ways. Just imagine listening to your favorite song on a low pitch at a volume that you can barely connect with. The magic of the song would disappear immediately. So the tube amp helps you get signals that are boosted manifold before reaching your ears in the form of output. The sounds get much magnified, ensuring that you receive excellent signals that make every experience for your ears a memorable one.
Measuring the amp effect
The quantum of the increase in the intensity of the input signal is measured in terms of the gain factor or amplification factor of the amplifier – popularly known simply as `gain.’ If the amp is doubling the original or input signal size, it has a gain factor of 2, and so on. Since amplification can relate to both video and audio signals, the gain in the case of the audio is usually described in decibels.
The pit holes
Ok, so we all know by now what excellent devices tube amps are, and how it’s virtually impossible to imagine life without them. Nevertheless, amps do have certain issues of concern that we need to remain cognizant of, and keep in mind before going for any device with an amp.
The most important thing is to be sure that the quality of the input signal doesn’t get distorted in the process of amplification. This can become particularly complex if the input signal is not stable and fluctuates with respect to frequency as well as amplitude/volume. You may, thus, find a particular amplifier working effectively for some frequencies and not as well for others. This range of frequencies over which the amplifier works well is its bandwidth, through which it should ideally produce a linear or flat response. Failure to do so amounts to suffering from frequency response.
Similarly, volumes can also be a problem in some cases, as an increase in input volume (amplitude) may not necessarily be matched by an increase in output volume – again leading to distortion in the original signal. You may also come across another frequent problem, known as feedback. It’s caused by the amp picking up not only the sound from the required source, but also a bit of the subsequent sound, which then also gets amplified, leading to a whistle effect.
Hence, while one can’t really do without tube amps, it’s important to take into consideration the various facts that may impact their functional quality. After all, you’re using this little gadget to enhance your experience, not to ruin it. Going for good quality branded devices usually helps in ensuring that you don’t get a raw deal. But the true test, of course, comes when you actually start using the device.
Want more? Check out:
- Beginner’s Guide to Vacuum Tube Amplifiers
- Top 5 Most Affordable Tube Amp Models
- So You’re An Entry Level Audiophile
- Best Tube Amp For Turntable