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Magnetic Amplifiers
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The magnetic amplifier (colloquially known as the "mag amp") is an electromagnetic device for amplifying electrical signals. The magnetic amplifier was invented early in the 20th century, and was used as an alternative to vacuum tube amplifiers where robustness and high current capacity were required. World War II Germany perfected this type of amplifier, and it was used for instance in the V-2 rocket. The magnetic amplifier has now been largely superseded by the transistor-based amplifier, except in a few safety critical, high reliability or extremely demanding applications.

Principle of operation

The mag amp is a "magnetic field" kind of amplifier and is of Class H type.

Visually a mag amp device may resemble a transformer but the operating principle is quite different from a transformer - essentially the mag amp is a saturable reactor. It makes use of magnetic saturation of the core, a non-linear property of a certain class of transformer cores. For controlled saturation characteristics the magnetic amplifier employs core materials that have been designed to have a specific B-H curve shape that is highly rectangular, in contrast to the slowly tapering B-H curve of softly saturating core materials that are often used in normal transformers.

The typical magnetic amplifier consists of two physically separate but similar transformer magnetic cores, each of which has two windings - a control winding and an AC winding. A small DC current from a low impedance source is fed into the series-connected control windings. An AC voltage is fed into one AC winding, with the other AC winding connected to the load. The AC windings may be connected either in series or in parallel, the configurations resulting in different types of mag amps. The amount of control current fed into the control winding sets the point in the AC winding waveform at which either core will saturate. In saturation, the AC winding on the saturated core will go from a high impedance state ("off") into a very low impedance state ("on") - that is, the control current controls at which voltage the mag amp switches "on".

A relatively small DC current on the control winding is able to control or switch large AC currents on the AC windings. This results in current amplification.


Magnetic amplifiers were used extensively as the switching element in early switched-mode (SMPS) power supplies[1], as well as in lighting control. They have been largely superseded by semiconductor based solid-state switches, though recently there has been some regained interest in using mag amps in compact and reliable switching power supplies. PC ATX power supplies often use mag amps for secondary side voltage regulation.

Magnetic amplifiers are still used in some arc welders.

Magnetic amplifier transformer cores designed specifically for switch mode power supplies are currently manufactured by several large electromagnetics companies, including Metglas and Mag-Inc.

Magnetic amplifiers can be used for measuring high DC-voltages without direct connection to the high voltage and are therefore still used in the HVDC-technique.

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