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What is an attenuator?

An attenuator is a two-port electronic device that is used in circuits to lower the amplitude of a specific signal without creating significant distortion in the output. Whereas amplifiers are mostly used to increase gain, attenuators are employed when there is a need to reduce/attenuate the amplitude of a signal and typically have a gain <1 V/V. They filter noise in circuits by suppressing the unwanted waveforms and are usually inserted between the load and the source.

Types of Attenuators

Attenuators can be categorized using various parameters including operating frequency, input power, maximum conversion loss, operating temperature range and packaging. They are broadly categorized into the following classes: digitally programmable, fixed-value and continuously variable.

Attenuators are utilized in both RF and optical applications (RF attenuators are used in electric circuitry, while optical attenuators are used in fiber optics). They’re widely employed in communications, transmission lines, and radio applications to suppress a strong source signal into a more desirable level to connect to a load. Apart from lowering the power input to desired levels, they also improve impedance matching and reduce noise. To prevent undesirable frequency discrimination, they are designed using non-inductive resistances. Passive types contain voltage divider networks as the building blocks, while active types have integrated circuits and transistors.

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