CQ Amateur Radio

ANALOG ADVENTURES

In our introduction to operational amplifiers, in the May issue, we explained that op-amps are seldom operated “open loop,” nearly always incorporating some degree of negative feedback. Without negative feedback, the op-amp has extremely high gain and is inherently unstable. In its “normal” application, the op-amp relies on negative feedback in order to act like a normal amplifier.

However, there is one application in which the op-amp is operated “wide open” with no negative feedback. This wide-open op-amp is known as the comparator.

With no negative feedback, a very small signal applied to either the inverting or non-inverting input causes the output voltage to swing to the extreme voltage possible, i.e., the power supply “rail” voltages. You may rightly compare this to a limiter, in this elementary mode; it basically converts any input signal to a square wave.

But remember that op-amps have differential inputs available. When operating voltages applied to the inputs. If the voltage applied to the inverting input is greater than that applied to the non-inverting input, the output voltage will go “hard negative.” If the voltage applied to the inverting input is than that applied to the non-inverting input, the output voltage swings “hard positive.” This is a very useful property. Perhaps the most common application of this property is as a

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