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amplification factor (gain)

The amplification factor, also called gain , is the extent to which an analog amplifier boosts the strength of a signal . Amplification factors are usually expressed in terms of power .

The decibel (dB), a logarithmic unit, is the most common way of quantifying the gain of an amplifier. For power, doubling the signal strength (an output-to-input power ratio of 2:1) translates into a gain of 3 dB; a tenfold increase in power (output-to-input ratio of 10:1) equals a gain of 10 dB; a hundredfold increase in power (output-to-input ratio of 100:1) represents 20 dB gain. If the output power is less than the input power, the amplification factor in decibels is negative. If the output-to-input signal power ratio is 1:1, then the amplification factor is 0 dB.

Power amplifiers typically have gain figures from a few decibels up to about 20 dB. Sensitive amplifiers used in wireless communications equipment can show gain of up to about 30 dB. If higher gain is needed, amplifiers can be cascaded, that is, hooked up one after another. But there is a limit to the amplification that can be attained this way. When amplifiers are cascaded, the later circuits receive noise at their inputs along with the signals. This noise can cause distortion. Also, if the amplification factor is too high, the slightest feedback can trigger oscillation, rendering an amplifier system inoperative.

This was last updated in January 2011

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