What’s a Chopper Amp?

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A chopper amplifier transforms DC signals into AC currents to increase signal gain without introducing noise or instability. Chopper circuits interrupt and manipulate signals, and are found in various devices. Chopper amplifiers are used in high-end electronic signal equipment and heavy machinery, and are commonly found in hall probes used to measure changes in magnetic fields and rotational speeds.

A chopper amplifier is a system that transforms signals from DC systems into AC currents to efficiently increase signal gain. While it is possible to increase gain on a DC system, these changes often increase signal noise and decrease signal stability. The most likely place to come across a chopper amplifier is in high-end electronic signal equipment and heavy machinery that rely on precise movement. Chopper circuits, the parts that turn a standard amplifier into a chopper amplifier, are also found in a number of other devices.

Chopper circuits are a method of interrupting a signal without destroying it; in essence, they cut the signal. In most cases, people manipulate the shredded signal into something it wasn’t before. Transformation is generally only possible on signals with a distinct start and end point, which is why the signal is cut off.

The term “chopper circuit” was a generic name for a wide variety of switches and circuits. The name was applied to any circuit that assisted in the transfer of one signal to another, regardless of reasoning or method. As a result, the term fell out of use for engineering purposes, as it was simply too vague. One of the few instances where the chopper is still used in its original form is the chopper amplifier.

In the case of a chopper amplifier, the DC input signal is transformed into an AC signal. The alternating signal is easier to manipulate and amplify without creating distortion. When a DC signal is amplified, the weaker the signal, the more noise is introduced during the amplification. If the signal is weak enough, the noise will completely destabilize it.

You can find these types of amplifiers in a variety of devices. Many sophisticated electronic measuring devices use a chopper amplifier. These devices read extremely weak signals from their surroundings, shred them and display the output on a user screen. The measured signals could be anything from sound and vibration to environmental factors.

One of the most common locations to find a chopper amp is inside a hall probe. These probes measure changes in magnetic fields and rotational speeds. Variations of hall probes can be found in many types of internal combustion engines, automotive gear systems, and industrial equipment. These devices measure signals from surrounding machinery and transform those signals into user data on speed, rotation and power.

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