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Definition

vacuum tube (VT, electron tube or valve)

Also see cathode ray tube ( CRT ), the specialized kind of vacuum tube that is in most desktop display monitors.

A vacuum tube (also called a VT,  electron tube or, in the UK, a valve ) is a device sometimes used to amplify electronic signals. In most applications, the vacuum tube is obsolete, having been replaced decades ago by the bipolar transistor and, more recently, by the field-effect transistor . However, tubes are still used in some high-power amplifiers, especially at microwave radio frequencies and in some hi-fi audio systems.

Tubes operate at higher voltages than transistors. A typical transistorized amplifier needs 6 to 12 volts to function; an equivalent tube type amplifier needs 200 to 400 volts. At the highest power levels, some tube circuits have power supplies delivering several kilovolts.

Vacuum tubes are making a comeback among audiophiles who insist that tubes deliver better audio quality than transistors. These old-fashioned components are more electrically rugged than their solid-state counterparts; a tube can often withstand temporary overload conditions and power-line transients that would instantly destroy a transistor.

The major disadvantages of tubes include the fact that they require bulky power supplies, and the high voltages can present an electric shock hazard.

This was last updated in March 2011
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