Impedance Matters

In electronics, impedance matching is the practice of designing or adjusting the input impedance or output impedance of an electrical device for a desired value. Often, the desired value is selected to maximize power transfer or minimize signal reflection. For example, impedance matching typically is used to improve power transfer from a radio transmitter via the interconnecting transmission line to the antenna. Signals on a transmission line will be transmitted without reflections if the transmission line is terminated with a matching impedance.

Audio amplifiers typically do not match impedances, but provide an output impedance that is lower than the load impedance (such as < 0.1 ohm in typical semiconductor amplifiers), for improved speaker damping. For vacuum tube amplifiers, impedance-changing transformers are often used to get a low output impedance, and to better match the amplifier’s performance to the load impedance. Some tube amplifiers have output transformer taps to adapt the amplifier output to typical loudspeaker impedances.

The output transformer in vacuum-tube-based amplifiers has two basic functions:

Separation of the AC component (which contains the audio signals) from the DC component (supplied by the power supply) in the anode circuit of a vacuum-tube-based power stage. A loudspeaker should not be subjected to DC current. Reducing the output impedance of power pentodes (such as the EL34) in a common-cathode configuration.
The impedance of the loudspeaker on the secondary coil of the transformer will be transformed to a higher impedance on the primary coil in the circuit of the power pentodes by the square of the turns ratio, which forms the impedance scaling factor.

The output stage in common-drain or common-collector semiconductor-based end stages with MOSFETs or power transistors has a very low output impedance. If they are properly balanced, there is no need for a transformer or a large electrolytic capacitor to separate AC from DC current.

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