# 1: Amplifiers and Active Devices

• 1.1: From Electric to Electronic
This third volume of the book series Lessons In Electric Circuits makes a departure from the former two in that the transition between electric circuits and electronic circuits is formally crossed. Electric circuits are connections of conductive wires and other devices whereby the uniform flow of electrons occurs. Electronic circuits add a new dimension to electric circuits in that some means of control is exerted over the flow of electrons by another electrical signal, either a voltage or a cur
• 1.2: Active Versus Passive Devices
An active device is any type of circuit component with the ability to electrically control electron flow (electricity controlling electricity). In order for a circuit to be properly called electronic, it must contain at least one active device. Components incapable of controlling current by means of another electrical signal are called passive devices.
• 1.3: Amplifiers
The practical benefit of active devices is their amplifying ability. Whether the device in question be voltage-controlled or current-controlled, the amount of power required of the controlling signal is typically far less than the amount of power available in the controlled current. In other words, an active device doesn’t just allow electricity to control electricity; it allows a small amount of electricity to control a large amount of electricity.
• 1.4: Amplifier Gain
Because amplifiers have the ability to increase the magnitude of an input signal, it is useful to be able to rate an amplifier’s amplifying ability in terms of an output/input ratio. The technical term for an amplifier’s output/input magnitude ratio is gain. As a ratio of equal units (power out / power in, voltage out / voltage in, or current out / current in), gain is naturally a unitless measurement.
• 1.5: Decibels
In its simplest form, an amplifier’s gain is a ratio of output over input. Like all ratios, this form of gain is unitless. However, there is an actual unit intended to represent gain, and it is called the bel. As a unit, the bel was actually devised as a convenient way to represent power loss in telephone system wiring rather than gain in amplifiers. The unit’s name is derived from Alexander Graham Bell, the famous Scottish inventor whose work was instrumental in developing telephone systems.
• 1.6: Absolute dB scales
It is also possible to use the decibel as a unit of absolute power, in addition to using it as an expression of power gain or loss. A common example of this is the use of decibels as a measurement of sound pressure intensity. In cases like these, the measurement is made in reference to some standardized power level defined as 0 dB. For measurements of sound pressure, 0 dB is loosely defined as the lower threshold of human hearing, objectively quantified as 1 picowatt of sound power per square me
• 1.7: Attenuators
Attenuators are passive devices. It is convenient to discuss them along with decibels. Attenuators weaken or attenuate the high level output of a signal generator, for example, to provide a lower level signal for something like the antenna input of a sensitive radio receiver. The attenuator could be built into the signal generator, or be a stand-alone device. It could provide a fixed or adjustable amount of attenuation. An attenuator section can provide isolate a source from a troublesome load.