A linear amplifier is an electronic circuit whose output is proportional to its input, but capable of delivering more power into a load. The term usually refers to a type of radio-frequency (RF) power amplifier, some of which have output power measured in kilowatts, and are used in amateur radio. Other types of linear amplifier are used in audio and laboratory equipment. An RF linear amplifier can be based on either solid state or vacuum tube technology.
Most commercially manufactured one to two kilowatt linear amplifiers used in amateur radio still use vacuum tubes (valves) and can provide between 10 to 20 times RF power amplification. For example, a transmitter driving the input with 100 watts will be amplified to 2000 watts (2 kW) output to the antenna. Solid state linear amplifiers are more commonly in the 500 watt range and can be driven by as little as 25 watts. However, AM radio broadcast transmitters of up to 50 kW are now solid state.
Large vacuum valves are still used for international long, medium, and shortwave broadcast transmitters between 500 kW up to 2 MW. The basic applications of the RF power amplifier include driving to another high power source, driving a transmitting antenna, microwave heating, and exciting resonant cavity structures. Among these applications, driving transmitter antennas is most well known. The transmitter–receivers are used not only for voice and data communication but also for weather sensing (in the form of a RADAR).
Microwave or RF heating is an industrial application which is also benefiting our homes in the form of microwave ovens. Class-A operation is characterized by a constant DC collector (or drain) voltage and current. This class of operation is required for linear amplifiers with severe linearity requirements including: Drivers in SSB transmitters where a 2-tone 3rd-order intermodulation of at least -40 dB is required. Drivers in TV transmitters where the contribution to the gain compression must be very low, i.e. not more than a few tenths of a dB.