Vacuum tube: Wikis


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Structure of a vacuum tube diode
Structure of a vacuum tube triode
An RCA triode vacuum tube, type 808

In electronics, a vacuum tube, electron tube (in North America), thermionic valve (elsewhere, especially in Britain) is a device used to amplify, switch, otherwise modify, or create an electrical signal by controlling the movement of electrons in a low-pressure space. Some special function vacuum tubes are filled with low-pressure gas: these are so-called soft tubes as distinct from the hard vacuum type which have the internal gas pressure reduced as far as possible. Almost all tubes depend on the thermionic emission of electrons.



A vacuum tube consists of electrodes in a vacuum in an insulating heat-resistant envelope which is usually tubular. Many tubes have glass envelopes, though some types such as power tubes may have ceramic or metal envelopes. The electrodes are attached to leads which pass through the envelope via an airtight seal. On most tubes, the leads are designed to plug into a tube socket for easy replacement.

The simplest vacuum tubes resemble incandescent light bulbs in that they have a filament sealed in a glass envelope which has been evacuated of all air. When hot, the filament releases electrons into the vacuum: a process called thermionic emission. The resulting negatively charged cloud of electrons is called a space charge. These electrons will be drawn to a metal plate inside the envelope, if the plate (also called the anode) is positively charged relative to the filament (or cathode). The result is a flow of electrons from filament to plate. This cannot work in the reverse direction because the plate is not heated and does not emit electrons. This very simple example described can thus be seen to operate as a diode: a device that conducts current only in one direction. By convention, engineers talk of current flow as if it were caused by positive particles; this means that so-called conventional current flows in the opposite direction to the flow of electrons (called electron current), from plate (anode) to the filament (cathode).

Vacuum tubes require a large temperature difference between the hot cathode and the cold anode. Because of this, vacuum tubes are inherently power-inefficient; enclosing the tube within a heat-retaining envelope of insulation would allow the entire tube to reach the same temperature, resulting in electron emission from the anode that would counter the normal one-way current. Because the tube requires a vacuum to operate, convection cooling of the anode is not generally possible unless the anode forms a part of the vacuum envelope (in which case the cooling is by conduction through the anode material and then convection outside the vacuum envelope). Thus anode cooling occurs in most tubes through black-body radiation and conduction of heat to the outer glass envelope via the anode mounting frame. Cold cathode tubes do not rely on thermionic emission at the cathode and usually have some form of gas discharge as the operating principle; such tubes are used for lighting (neon lamps) or as voltage regulators.

Sometimes another electrode, called a control grid, is added between the cathode and the anode. The vacuum tube is then known as a "triode." A triode is a voltage-controlled device, in that a voltage that is applied as an input to the grid can be used to modulate the rate of electron flow between anode and cathode. The relationship between this input voltage and the output current is determined by a transconductance function. Control grid current is practically negligible in most circuits. The solid-state device most closely analogous to the vacuum tube is the JFET, although the vacuum tube typically operates at far higher voltage (and power) levels than the JFET.

History and development

Inside of a vacuum tube with plate cut open.

The 19th century saw increasing research with evacuated tubes, such as the Geissler and Crookes tubes. Scientists who experimented with such tubes included Eugen Goldstein, Nikola Tesla, Johann Wilhelm Hittorf, Thomas Edison, and many others. These tubes were mostly for specialized scientific applications, or were novelties, with the exception of the light bulb. The groundwork laid by these scientists and inventors, however, was critical to the development of vacuum tube technology.

Though the thermionic emission effect was originally reported in 1873 by Frederick Guthrie, it is Thomas Edison's 1884 investigation of the Edison Effect that is more often mentioned. Edison patented what he found,[1] but he did not understand the underlying physics, or the potential value of the discovery. It wasn't until the early 20th century that this effect was put to use, in applications such as John Ambrose Fleming's diode used as a radio detector, and Lee De Forest's 1906 "audion" (soon improved by others as the triode in 1908) used in the first telephone amplifiers. These developments led to great improvements in telecommunications technology, particularly the first coast-to-coast telephone line in the US, and the birth of broadcast radio.


Diodes and triodes

The English physicist John Ambrose Fleming worked as an engineering consultant for firms, including Edison Telephone and the Marconi Company. In 1904, as a result of experiments conducted on Edison effect bulbs imported from the USA, he developed a device he called an "oscillation valve" (because it passes current in only one direction).

Later known as the Fleming valve, it could be used as a rectifier of alternating current and as a radio wave detector.

In 1906 Robert von Lieben filed[2] for a three-electrode amplifying vacuum tube. His invention also included a beam-focusing electromagnet.

In 1907 Lee De Forest placed a bent wire serving as a screen, later known as the "grid" electrode, between the filament and plate electrode. As the voltage applied to the grid was varied from negative to positive, the number of electrons flowing from the filament to the plate would vary accordingly. Thus the grid was said to electrostatically "control" the plate current. The resulting three-electrode device was therefore an excellent and very sensitive amplifier of voltages. De Forest called his invention the "Audion". In 1907, De Forest filed[3] for a three-electrode version of the Audion for use in radio communications. The device is now known as the triode. De Forest's device was not strictly a vacuum tube, but clearly depended for its action on ionisation of the relatively high levels of gas remaining after evacuation. The De Forest company, in its Audion leaflets, warned against operation which might cause the vacuum to become too hard. The Finnish inventor Eric Tigerstedt significantly improved on the original triode design in 1914, while working on his sound-on-film process in Berlin, Germany. The first true vacuum triodes were the Pliotrons developed by Irving Langmuir at the General Electric research laboratory (Schenectady, New York) in 1915. Langmuir was one of the first scientists to realize that a harder vacuum would improve the amplifying behaviour of the triode. Pliotrons were closely followed by the French 'R' Type which was in widespread use by the allied military by 1916. These two types were the first true vacuum tubes. Historically, vacuum levels in production vacuum tubes typically ranged between 10 µPa to 10 nPa.

The non-linear operating characteristic of the triode caused early tube audio amplifiers to exhibit harmonic distortions at low volumes. This is not to be confused with the overdrive that tube amplifiers exhibit at high volume levels (known as the tube sound). To remedy the low-volume distortion problem, engineers plotted curves of the applied grid voltage and resulting plate currents, and discovered that there was a range of relatively linear operation. In order to use this range, a negative voltage had to be applied to the grid to place the tube in the "middle" of the linear area with no signal applied. This was called the idle condition, and the plate current at this point the "idle current". Today this current would be called the quiescent or standing current. The controlling voltage was superimposed onto this fixed voltage, resulting in linear swings of plate current for both positive and negative swings of the input voltage. This concept was called grid bias.

Tetrodes and pentodes

A two-tube homemade radio from 1958. The tubes are the two columns with the dark tops. The flying leads connect to the low-voltage filament and high-voltage anode supplies.

When triodes were first used in radio transmitters and receivers, it was found that they had a tendency to oscillate due to parasitic anode-to-grid capacitance. Many circuits were developed to reduce this problem (e.g. the Neutrodyne amplifier), but proved unsatisfactory over wide ranges of frequencies. It was discovered that the addition of a second grid, located between the control grid and the plate and called a screen grid could solve these problems. ("Screen" implies shielding, not physical construction.) A positive voltage slightly lower than the plate voltage was applied to it, and the screen grid was bypassed (for high frequencies) to ground with a capacitor. This arrangement decoupled the anode and the first grid, completely eliminating the oscillation problem. An additional side effect of this second grid is that the Miller capacitance is also reduced, which improves gain at high frequency. This two-grid tube is called a tetrode, meaning four active electrodes, and was common by 1926.

Radio transmitter high-power vacuum tube. The braided copper leads provide heater current for the cathode. The tube also has a heat sink. Dubendorf Museum of Military Aviation.

However, the tetrode has some new problems. In any tube, electrons strike the anode hard enough to knock out secondary electrons. In a triode these (less energetic) electrons cannot reach the grid or cathode, and are re-captured by the anode. But in a tetrode, they can be captured by the second grid, reducing the plate current and the amplification of the circuit. Since secondary electrons can outnumber the primary electrons, in the worst case, particularly when the plate voltage dips below the screen voltage, the plate current can actually go down with increasing plate voltage. This is negative-resistance behavior.[4] This is the "tetrode kink" (see the reference for a plot of this effect in the RCA-235 tetrode). Another consequence of this effect is that under severe overload, the current collected by the screen grid can cause it to overheat and melt, destroying the tube.

Again, the solution was to add another grid, called a suppressor grid. This third grid was biased at either ground or cathode voltage and its negative voltage (relative to the anode) electrostatically suppressed the secondary electrons by repelling them back toward the anode. This three-grid tube is called a pentode, meaning five electrodes. The pentode was invented in 1928 by Bernard D. H. Tellegen.

A related type is the beam tetrode, discussed later in this article.

Improvements in construction and performance

The very earliest vacuum tubes strongly resembled incandescent light bulbs and were made by lamp manufacturers, who had the equipment for manufacture of glass envelopes and the powerful vacuum pumps required to evacuate the enclosures. After World War I, specialized manufacturers using more economical construction methods were set up to fill the growing demand for broadcast receivers. Bare tungsten filaments operated at a temperature of around 2200 °C. The development of oxide-coated filaments in the mid 1920s reduced filament operating temperature to a dull red heat (around 700 °C), which in turn reduced thermal distortion of the tube structure and allowed closer spacing of tube elements. This in turn improved tube gain, since the gain of a triode is inversely proportional to the spacing between grid and cathode. Development of the indirectly-heated cathode, with the filament inside a cylinder of oxide-coated nickel, further reduced distortion of the tube elements and also allowed the cathode heaters to be run from an AC supply.[5]

Heat transfer and appearance of tubes

The anode of this tube has been designed to dissipate heat

Many types of vacuum tubes can be recognized from their appearance. A considerable amount of heat is produced when tubes operate. In most circuits the tube is about 30-60% efficient dependent on the class of operation (classes A, B, or C), which means that 40-70 % of input power to the stage is lost as heat. The requirements for heat removal significantly change the appearance of high-power vacuum tubes.

Most tubes contain two sources of heat when operating. The first one of these is the filament or heater. Some types contain a directly heated cathode. This is a filament similar to an incandescent electric lamp and some types glow brightly like a lamp, but most glow dimly. (The "bright emitter" type possess a tungsten filament alloyed with 1-3 % thorium which reduces the work function of the metal, giving it the ability to emit sufficient electrons at about 2000 degrees Celsius. The "dull emitter" types also possess a tungsten filament but it is coated in a mixture of calcium, strontium and barium oxides, which emit electrons easily at much lower temperatures due to a monolayer of mixed alkali earth metals coating the tungsten when the cathode is heated to about 800-1000 degrees Celsius.)

The second form of cathode is the indirectly heated form which usually consists of a nickel tube, coated on the outside with the same strontium, calcium, barium oxide mix used in the "dull emitter" directly heated types, and fitted with a tungsten filament inside the tube to heat it. This tungsten filament is usually uncoiled and coated in a layer of alumina, (aluminium oxide), to insulate it from the nickel tube of the actual cathode. This form of construction allows for a much greater electron emitting area and, because the heater is insulated from the cathode, the cathode can be positioned in a circuit at up to 150 volts more positive than the heater or 50 volts more negative than the heater for most common types. It also allows all the heaters to be simply wired in series or parallel rather than some requiring special isolated power supplies such as specially insulated windings on power transformers or separate batteries. For small-signal tubes such as used in radio receivers, heaters are rated from 50 mW to 5 watts, (directly heated), and about 500 mW to 8 watts for indirectly heated types. Once filament/heater power is included in total power consumption, small tubes have very poor efficiencies. A 6BM8/ECL82 audio stage consumes a total power of some 15 watts for 3.5 watts of useful audio power, giving an efficiency of around 23%. Some signal amplifiers, particularly high-frequency amplifiers such as the 6BA6, consume some 5.9 watts of power in normal operation and deliver only 1.1 watts of power at the plate.[6]

The second source of heat is generated at the anode, when electrons, accelerated by the voltage applied to the anode, strike the anode and impart a considerable fraction of their energy to it, raising its temperature. In tubes used in power amplifier or transmitting circuits, this source of heat will exceed the power dissipated in the cathode heater. (The plates or anodes of 6L6 devices used in guitar amplipfiers can sometimes be seen to reach red heat if the bias is set too high, they should not emit any visible radiation when driven at maximum ratings.) No tubes in domestic, music, or studio equipment should operate with glowing anodes.

This heat usually escapes the device by (black body) radiation from the anode/plate as infra red light. Some is conducted away through the connecting wires going to the base but none is convected in most types of tube because of the vacuum and the absence of any gas inside the bulb to convect.
It is the way tubes get rid of heat which most affects their overall appearance, next to the type of unit, (triode, pentode etc.), they contain, or whether they contain more than one of these basic units. For devices required to radiate more than 500 mW or so, usually indirectly heated cathode types, the anode or plate is often treated to make its surface less shiny, (see black body radiator), and to make it darker, either gray or black. This helps it radiate the generated heat and maintain the anode or plate at a temperature significantly lower than the cathode, a requirement for proper operation. Types 6BQ5/EL84 and 6BM8/ECL82 are examples of indirectly heated types with gray anodes.

Other internal elements of high-power tubes, such as control grids and screen grids, may also dissipate heat if carrying large currents. Limits to grid dissipation are listed for such devices, to prevent distortion and failure of the grids.

Tubes used as power amplifier stages for radio transmitters may have additional heat exchangers, cooling fans, radiator fins, or other measures to improve heat transfer at the anode. Broadcast transmitters may use water-cooling or evaporative cooling for tube anodes. The water cooling system must withstand the high voltages present on the anode.

Low power rated tubes, such as the 1.4 volt filament, directly heated tubes, designed for use in battery powered equipment, often retain shiny metal anodes as they produce so little heat. 1T4, 1R5 and 1A7 are examples of devices with shiny untreated anodes. Gas filled tubes, such as thyratrons, although they possess a greater plate dissipation than a "1 volt battery type", still often possess a shiny metal anode finish as the gas filling conducts and convects the heat to the bulb wall. Types 884 and 2D21 are typical examples.

The outer electrode in most tubes is usually the anode. Some small signal types, such as sharp and remote cut-off R.F. and A.F. pentodes and some pentagrid converters have a shield fitted around all the electrodes enclosing the anode. This shield is sometimes a solid metal sheet, treated to make it dull and gray like an anode or plate, and sometimes it is fabricated from expanded metal mesh, acting as a Faraday cage but allowing sufficient heat from the anode beneath to escape. Types 6BX6/EF80 and 6BK8/EF86 are typical examples of this shielded type commonly using expanded mesh. Types 6AU6/EF94 and 6BE6/EK90 are examples using a gray sheet metal cylindrical shield giving them a very similar overall appearance.

Indicators such as some "magic eye" tubes and the type 6977 fluorescent-anode type have glowing electrodes.

Other variations

12SA7 Pentagrid converter tube.

Frequency conversion can be accomplished by various methods in superheterodyne receivers. Tubes with 5 grids, called pentagrid converters, were generally used, although alternatives such as using a combination of a triode with a hexode were also used. Even octodes have been used for frequency conversion. The additional grids are either control grids, with different signals applied to each one, or screen grids. In many designs a special grid acted as a second 'leaky' plate to provide a built-in oscillator, which then coupled this signal with the incoming radio signal. These signals create a single, combined effect (equivalent to a crude analog multiplier) on the plate current (and thus the signal output) of the tube circuit. The useful component of the output was the difference frequency between that of the incoming signal and that of the oscillator.

The heptode, or pentagrid converter, was the most common of these. 6BE6 is an example of a heptode (note that the first number in the tube ID indicates the filament voltage). Octodes were rare in the US, the 7A8 was one example, but much more common in Europe particularly in battery operated radios where the lower power consumption was an advantage.

Toward the end of the tube era, precision control and screen grids, called frame grids, offered enhanced performance. Instead of the typically elliptical fine-gauge wire supported by two larger wires, a frame grid was a metal stamping with rectangular openings that surrounded the cathode. The grid wires were in a plane defined by the stamping, and the control grid was placed much closer to the cathode surface than traditional construction would permit.[7]

To reduce the cost and complexity of radio equipment, by 1940 it was common practice to combine more than one function, or more than one set of elements in the bulb of a single tube. The only constraint was where patents, and other licencing considerations required the use of multiple tubes. See British Valve Association.

For example, the RCA Type 55 was a double diode triode used as a detector, automatic gain control rectifier and audio preamp in early AC powered radios. The same set of tubes often included the 53 Dual Triode Audio Output.

Another early type of multi-section tube, the 6SN7, is a "dual triode" which, for most purposes, can perform the functions of two triode tubes, while taking up half as much space and costing less.

An RCA 12AX7 dual-triode tube (1947)

The 12AX7 is a dual high-gain triode widely used in guitar amplifiers, audio preamps, and instruments.

The invention of the 9-pin miniature tube base, besides allowing the 12AX7 family, also allowed many other multi section tubes, such as the 6GH8 triode pentode. Along with a host of similar tubes, the 6GH8 was quite popular in television receivers. Some color TV sets used exotic types like the 6JH8 which had two plates and beam deflection electrodes (it was known as the 'sheet beam' tube). Vacuum tubes used like this were designed for demodulation of synchronous signals, an example of which is color demodulation for television receivers.

Modern 12AX7 miniature vacuum tube (manufactured in Russia).

The desire to include many functions in one envelope resulted in the General Electric Compactron. A typical unit, the 6AG11 Compactron tube contained two triodes and two diodes, but many in the series had triple triodes.

An early example of multiple devices in one envelope was the Loewe 3NF. This 1920s device had 3 triodes in a single glass envelope together with all the fixed capacitors and resistors required to make a complete radio receiver. As the Loewe set had only one tube socket, it was able to substantially undercut the competition since, in Germany, state tax was levied by the number of sockets. However, reliability was compromised, and production costs for the tube were much greater. In a sense, these were akin to integrated circuits. In the US, Cleartron briefly produced the "Multivalve" triple triode for use in the Emerson Baby Grand receiver. This Emerson set also had a single tube socket, but because it used a four-pin base, the additional element connections were made on a "mezzanine" platform at the top of the tube base.

Loewe were to also offer the 2NF (two tetrodes plus passive components) and the WG38 (two pentodes, a triode and the passive components).

Vacuum tubes in an Australian radio of the late 1930s

The beam power tube is usually a tetrode with the addition of beam-forming electrodes, which take the place of the suppressor grid. These angled plates focus the electron stream onto certain spots on the anode which can withstand the heat generated by the impact of massive numbers of electrons, while also providing pentode behavior. The positioning of the elements in a beam power tube uses a design called "critical-distance geometry", which minimizes the "tetrode kink", plate-grid capacitance, screen-grid current, and secondary emission effects from the anode, thus increasing power conversion efficiency. The control grid and screen grid are also wound with the same pitch, or number of wires per inch.

Aligning the grid wires also helps to reduce screen current, which represents wasted energy. This design helps to overcome some of the practical barriers to designing high-power, high-efficiency power tubes. 6L6 was the first popular beam power tube, introduced by RCA in 1936. Corresponding tubes in Europe were the KT66, KT77 and KT88 by GEC (the KT standing for "Kinkless Tetrode").

Variations of the 6L6 design are still widely used in guitar amplifiers, making it one of the longest lived electronic device families in history. Similar design strategies are used in the construction of large ceramic power tetrodes used in radio transmitters.

Special-purpose tubes

Some special-purpose tubes are constructed with particular gases in the envelope. For instance, voltage regulator tubes contain various inert gases such as argon, helium or neon, and take advantage of the fact that these gases will ionize at predictable voltages. The thyratron is a special-purpose tube filled with low-pressure gas or mercury, some of which vaporizes. Like other tubes, it contains a hot cathode and an anode, but also a control electrode, which behaves somewhat like the grid of a triode. When the control electrode starts conduction, the gas ionizes, and the control electrode no longer can stop the current; the tube "latches" into conduction. Removing plate (anode) voltage lets the gas de-ionize, restoring its non-conductive state. Some thyratrons can carry large currents for their physical size. One example is the miniature type 2D21, often seen in 1950s jukeboxes as control switches for relays. A cold-cathode version of the thyratron, which uses a pool of mercury for its cathode, is called an Ignitron (tm). It can switch thousands of amperes in its largest versions. Thyratrons containing hydrogen have a very consistent time delay between their turn-on pulse and full conduction, and have long been used in radar transmitters. Thyratrons behave much like silicon-controlled rectifiers, or to be more chronologically precise, silicon controlled rectifiers mimic some of the behaviours of Thyratrons.

Tubes usually have glass envelopes, but metal, fused quartz (silica), and ceramic are possible choices. The first version of the 6L6 used a metal envelope sealed with glass beads, while a glass disk fused to the metal was used in later versions. Metal and ceramic are used almost exclusively for power tubes above 2 kW dissipation. The nuvistor is a tiny tube made only of metal and ceramic. In some power tubes, the metal envelope is also the anode. The 4CX1000A is an external anode tube of this sort. Air is blown through an array of fins attached to the anode, thus cooling it. Power tubes using this cooling scheme are available up to 150 kW dissipation. Above that level, water or water-vapor cooling are used. The highest-power tube currently available is the Eimac 4CM2500KG, a forced water-cooled power tetrode capable of dissipating 2.5 megawatts. (By comparison, the largest power transistor can only dissipate about 1 kilowatt.) Another very high power tube is the Eimac 8974, a 1.25 megawatt tetrode used in military and commercial radio-frequency installations.

An extremely specialized tube is the Krytron, which is used for extremely precise, rapid high-voltage switching. Due to their intended purpose, the initiation of the precise sequence of detonations used to set off a nuclear weapon, they are heavily controlled at an international level.

X-ray tube insert.

Medical Imaging Equipment, such as Radiographic and Nuclear Imaging, use special vacuum tubes. Radiographic, Fluoroscopic, and CT X-ray imaging equipment use a specially designed vacuum tube diode, which has a rotating anode to dissipate the large amounts of heat developed during operation, and a focused cathode. They are housed in an aluminum housing, and which is filled with a dielectric oil. Nuclear Imaging Equipment use Photomultiplier Tube arrays to detect radiation.

Miniature tubes

The miniature vacuum tube made tubes smaller by eliminating the Bakelite base. It was invented in 1938.[8] Instead of the separate base, the pins are fused in the glass base of the envelope. This forces the sealing tip to the top of the envelope. Making tubes smaller reduced the voltage that they could work at, and also the power of the filament, so the older style continued to be used for high power rectifiers, valve amplifier output stages and certain transmitting tubes. Miniature tubes with a size roughly that of half a cigarette were used in hearing-aid amplifiers.

Development continued, and led to the sub miniature tubes and the "acorn" valve (named due to its shape).

Powering the tube


Batteries provided the voltages required by tubes in early radio sets. As many as three different voltages were required, using three different batteries. The "A" batteries or LT (low-tension) battery provided the filament voltage. Tube heaters were designed for single, double or triple-cell lead-acid batteries, giving nominal heater voltages of 2 V, 4 V or 6 V. In portable radios, dry batteries were sometimes used with 1.5 or 1 V heaters. Reducing filament consumption improved the life span of batteries. By 1955, receiving tubes using 50 mA down to as little as 10 mA for the heaters had been developed, but they were swept aside by development of the transistor.[9]

The plate voltage was provided by "B" batteries or the HT (high-tension) supply or battery. These were generally of dry cell construction, containing many small 1.5 volt cells in series. They typically came in ratings of 22.5, 45, 67.5, 90 or 135 volts.

Some sets used a grid bias battery or "C" batteries, although many circuits used grid leak resistors, voltage dividers or cathode bias to provide proper tube bias. These batteries had very low drain.

AC power

Replacement of batteries was a major cost of operation for early radio receiver users. The development of the battery eliminator, and, in 1925, batteryless receivers operated by household power, reduced operating costs and contributed to the growing popularity of radio. A power supply using a transformer with several windings, one or more rectifiers (which may themselves be vacuum tubes), and large filter capacitors provided the required direct current voltages from the alternating current source.

As a cost reduction measure, especially in high-volume consumer receivers, all the tube heaters could be connected in series across the AC supply, and the plate voltage derived from a half-wave rectifier directly connected to the AC input, eliminating the need for a heavy power transformer. As an additional feature, these radios could be operated on AC or DC mains. While this arrangement limited the plate voltage (and so, indirectly, the output power) that could be obtained, the resulting supply was adequate for many purposes. A filament tap on the rectifier tube provided the 6 volt, low current supply needed for a dial light. The so-called series string approach did have one safety defect: the chassis of the receiver was connected to one side of the power supply, presenting a shock hazard. Engineers reduced this hazard by enclosing the chassis in a plastic case, making the back out of particle board, and riveting the power cord chassis plug to the back so that consumers would not be able to power the radio while the chassis was accessible. (Technicians and tinkerers routinely bypassed this by using a separate cord, known colloquially as a "cheater cord" or "widowmaker.") Many consumer AM radio manufacturers of the era used a virtually identical circuit with the tube complement of 12BA6, 12BE6, 12AV6, 35W4, and 50C5, giving these radios the nickname All American Five or simply "Five Tube Radio." Although millions of such receivers were produced, they have now become collector's items.

Direct and indirect heating

Directly heated RS242 triodes.

It became common to use the filament to heat a separate electrode called the cathode, and to use this cathode as the source of electron flow in the tube rather than the filament itself. This minimized the introduction of hum when the filament was energized with alternating current. In such tubes, the filament is called a heater to distinguish it as an inactive element. Development of vacuum tubes that could use alternating current for the heater supply allowed elimination of one rectifier element.


Tube tester manufactured in 1930

One reliability problem of tubes with oxide cathodes is the possibility that the cathode may slowly become "poisoned" by gas molecules from other elements in the tube, which reduce its ability to emit electrons. Trapped gases or slow gas leaks can also damage the cathode or cause plate-current run away due to ionization of free gas molecules. Vacuum hardness and proper selection of construction materials are the major influences on tube lifetime. Depending on the material, temperature and construction, the surface material of the cathode may also diffuse onto other elements. The resistive heaters that heat the cathodes may break in a manner similar to incandescent lamp filaments, but rarely do, since they operate at much lower temperatures than lamps.

The heater's failure mode is typically a stress-related fracture of the tungsten wire or at a weld point and generally occurs after accruing many thermal (power on-off) cycles. Tungsten wire has a very low resistance when at room temperature. A negative temperature coefficient device, such as a thermistor, may be incorporated in the equipment's heater supply or a ramp-up circuit may be employed to allow the heater or filaments to reach operating temperature more gradually than if powered-up in a step-function. Low-cost radios had tubes with heaters connected in series, with a total voltage equal to that of the line (mains). Following World War II, tubes intended to be used in series heater strings were redesigned to all have the same ("controlled") warm-up time. Earlier designs had quite-different thermal time constants. The audio output stage, for instance, had a larger cathode, and warmed up more slowly than lower-powered tubes. The result was that heaters that warmed up faster also temporarily had higher resistance, because of their positive temperature coefficient. This disproportionate resistance caused them to temporarily operate with heater voltages well above their ratings, and shortened their life.

Another important reliability problem is caused by air leakage into the tube. Usually oxygen in the air reacts chemically with the hot filament or cathode, quickly ruining it. Designers developed tube designs that sealed reliably. This was why most tubes were constructed of glass. Metal alloys (such as Cunife and Fernico) and glasses had been developed for light bulbs that expanded and contracted in similar amounts, as temperature changed. These made it easy to construct an insulating envelope of glass, while passing connection wires through the glass to the electrodes.

When a vacuum tube is overloaded or operated past its design dissipation, its anode (plate) may glow red. In consumer equipment, a glowing plate is universally a sign of an overloaded tube. However, some large transmitting tubes are designed to operate with their anodes at red, orange, or in rare cases, white heat.


A valve in a modern guitar amplifier, glowing blue. This can indicate a "gassy" tube; however, this effect is commonly the result of electron bombardment of impurities in the glass envelope.

The vacuum inside the envelope must be as perfect, or "hard", as possible. Any gas atoms remaining might be ionized at operating voltages, and will conduct electricity between the elements in an uncontrolled manner. This can lead to erratic operation or even catastrophic destruction of the tube and associated circuitry. Unabsorbed free air sometimes ionizes and becomes visible as a pink-purple glow discharge between the tube elements.

To prevent any remaining gases from remaining in a free state in the tube, modern tubes are constructed with "getters", which are usually small, circular troughs filled with metals that oxidize quickly, with barium being the most common. While the tube envelope is being evacuated, the internal parts except the getter are. heated by RF induction heating to extract any remaining gases from the metal. The tube is then sealed and the getter is heated to a high temperature, again by radio frequency induction heating. This causes the material to evaporate, absorbing/reacting with any residual gases and usually leaving a silver-colored metallic deposit on the inside of the envelope of the tube. The getter continues to absorb any gas molecules that leak into the tube during its working life. If a tube develops a crack in the envelope, this deposit turns a white color when it reacts with atmospheric oxygen. Large transmitting and specialized tubes often use more exotic getter materials, such as zirconium. Early gettered tubes used phosphorus based getters and these tubes are easily identifiable, as the phosphorus leaves a characteristic orange or rainbow deposit on the glass. The use of phosphorus was short-lived and was quickly replaced by the superior barium getters. Unlike the barium getters, the phosphorus did not absorb any further gases once it had fired.

Schematic diagram of a 1948 vacuum tube radio from Poland.

Transmitting tubes

Large transmitting tubes have carbonized tungsten filaments containing a small trace (1% to 2%) of thorium. An extremely thin (molecular) layer of thorium atoms forms on the outside of the wire's carbonized layer and, when heated, serve as an efficient source of electrons. The thorium slowly evaporates from the wire surface, while new thorium atoms diffuse to the surface to replace them. Such thoriated tungsten cathodes usually deliver lifetimes in the tens of thousands of hours. The end-of-life scenario for a thoriated-tungsten filament is when the carbonized layer has mostly been converted back into another form of tungsten carbide and emission begins to drop off rapidly; a complete loss of Thorium has never been found to be a factor in the end-of-life in a tube with this type of emitter. The highest reported tube life is held by an Eimac power tetrode used in a Los Angeles radio station's transmitter, which was removed from service after 80,000 hours (~9 years) of operation. It has been said that transmitters with vacuum tubes are better able to survive lightning strikes than transistor transmitters do. While it was commonly believed that at rf power levels above approx. 20 kilowatts, vacuum tubes were more efficient than solid state circuits, this is no longer the case especially in medium wave (AM broadcast) service where solid state transmitters at nearly all power levels have measurably higher efficiency. FM broadcast transmitters with solid state PA's up to approx. 15 kW also show better overall mains-power efficiency than tube-based PA's and with the advent of newer, more efficient transistors this power level will certainly increase.

Receiving tubes

Cathodes in small "receiving" tubes are coated with a mixture of barium oxide and strontium oxide, sometimes with addition of calcium oxide or aluminium oxide. An electric heater is inserted into the cathode sleeve, and insulated from it electrically by a coating of aluminium oxide. This complex construction causes barium and strontium atoms to diffuse to the surface of the cathode when heated to about 780 degrees Celsius, thus emitting electrons.

Failure modes

Catastrophic failures

A catastrophic failure is one which suddenly makes the vacuum tube unusable. A crack in the glass envelope will allow air into the tube and destroy it. Cracks may result from stress in the glass, bent pins or impacts; tube sockets must allow for thermal expansion, to prevent stress in the glass at the pins. Stress may accumulate if a metal shield or other object presses on the tube envelope and causes differential heating of the glass. Glass may also be damaged by high-voltage arcing.

Tube heaters may also fail without warning, especially if exposed to over voltage or as a result of manufacturing defects. Tube heaters don't normally fail by evaporation like lamp filaments, since they operate at much lower temperature. The surge of inrush current when the heater is first energized causes stress in the heater, and can be avoided by slowly warming the heaters, gradually increasing current. Some tubes intended for series string operation of the heaters across the supply will have a definite controlled warm-up time to avoid excess voltage on some heaters as others warm up. Directly-heated filament-type cathodes as used in battery-operated tubes or some rectifiers may fail if the filament sags, causing internal arcing. Excess heater-to-cathode voltage in indirectly heated cathodes can break down the insulation between elements and destroy the heater.

Arcing between tube elements can destroy the tube. An arc can be caused by applying plate potential before the cathode has come up to operating temperature, or by drawing excess current through a rectifier which damages the emission coating. Arcs can also be initiated by any loose material inside the tube, or by excess screen voltage. An arc inside the tube allows gas to evolve from the tube materials, and may deposit conductive material on internal insulating spacers.[10]

Degenerative failures

Degenerative failures cause the performance of the tube to slowly deteriorate with time.

Overheating of internal parts, such as control grids or mica spacer insulators, can result in trapped gas escaping into the tube; this can reduce performance. A getter is used to absorb gases evolved during tube operation, but has only a limited ability to combine with gas. Control of the envelope temperature prevents some types of gassing. A tube with very bad internal gas may have a visible blue glow when plate voltage is applied.

Gas and ions within the tube contribute to grid current which can disturb operation of a vacuum tube circuit. Another effect of overheating is the slow deposit of metallic vapors on internal spacers, resulting in inter-element leakage.

Tubes on standby for long periods, with heater voltage applied, may develop high cathode interface resistance and display poor emission characteristics. This effect occurred especially in pulse and digital circuits, where tubes had no plate current flowing for extended times.

Cathode depletion describes the loss of emission after thousands of hours of normal use. Sometimes emission can be restored for a time by raising heater voltage either for a short time or a permanent increase of a few percent. Cathode depletion was uncommon in signal tubes but was a frequent cause of failures of monochrome television cathode-ray tubes.[11]

Other failures

Vacuum tubes may have or develop defects in operation that makes an individual tube useless in one device, but which may not prevent its satisfactory operation in another system. Microphonics refers to internal vibration of tube elements, which modulates the signal from the tube in an undesirable way; sound or vibration pick-up may affect the signals, or even cause uncontrolled howling if a feedback path develops between a microphonic tube and, for example, a loudspeaker. Leakage current between AC heaters and the cathode may couple into the circuit, or electrons emitted directly from the ends of the heater may also inject hum into the signal. Leakage current due to internal contamination may also inject noise.[12]

Tubes from a 1950s computer.

Computer vacuum tubes


Colossus (and its successor Colossus Mk2) was built by the British during World War II to substantially speed up the task of breaking the German high level Lorenz encryption. Based on 1500 vacuum tubes, Colossus replaced an earlier machine based on relay and switch logic (the [Heath Robinson]). Colossus was able to break in a matter of hours messages that had previously taken several weeks. Colossus Mk2 used a total of around 2000 vacuum tubes. Colossus was the first ever use of vacuum tubes on such a large scale for a single machine. The largest project previously had used just 150 tubes and had proven to be extremely unreliable. The main design problem at Colossus's inception was how to make vacuum tube based equipment reliable when the tubes were used in large numbers.

The Colossus computer's designer, Dr. Tommy Flowers, had a theory that most of the unreliability was caused during power down and (mainly) power up. Once Colossus was built and installed, it was switched on and left switched on running from dual redundant diesel generators (the wartime mains supply being considered too unreliable). The only time it was switched off was for conversion to the Colossus Mk2 and the addition of another 500 or so tubes. Another 9 Colossus Mk2s were built, and all 10 machines ran with a surprising degree of reliability. The 10 Colossi consumed 15 kilowatts of power each, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—nearly all of it for the tube heaters.


To meet the reliability requirements of the early digital computer Whirlwind, it was necessary to build special "computer vacuum tubes" with extended cathode life. The problem of short lifetime was traced to evaporation of silicon, used in the tungsten alloy to make the heater wire easier to draw. Elimination of the silicon from the heater wire alloy (and paying extra for more frequent replacement of the wire drawing dies) allowed production of tubes that were reliable enough for the Whirlwind project. The tubes developed for Whirlwind later found their way into the giant SAGE air-defense computer system. High-purity nickel tubing and cathode coatings free of materials that can poison emission (such as silicates and aluminium) also contribute to long cathode life. The first such "computer tube" was Sylvania's 7AK7 of 1948. By the late 1950s it was routine for special-quality small-signal tubes to last for hundreds of thousands of hours, if operated conservatively. This reliability made mid-cable amplifiers in submarine cables possible.

World War II

A CV4501 subminiature tube for use in a military radio set. The tube is a special quality type based on the EF72, 35 mm long and 10 mm in diameter (excluding leads).

Near the end of World War II, to make radios more rugged, some aircraft and army radios began to integrate the tube envelopes into the radio's cast aluminium or zinc chassis. The radio became just a printed circuit with non-tube components, soldered to the chassis that contained all the tubes. During WWII in 1942, rugged metal vacuum tubes were mounted in anti-aircraft shells. These proximity fuzes made anti-aircraft shells 6 times more effective. In the fall of 1944, artillery shells with proximity fuses were used. The tiny tubes were later known as "subminiature" types. They were widely used in 1950s military and aviation electronics.


Vacuum tubes were critical to the development of electronic technology, which drove the expansion and commercialization of radio broadcasting, television, radar, sound reproduction, large telephone networks, analog and digital computers, and industrial process control. Some of these applications pre-dated electronics, but it was the vacuum tube that made them widespread and practical.

Tubes were heavily used in the early generations of electronic devices, such as radios, televisions, and early computers such as the Colossus which used 2000 tubes, the ENIAC which used nearly 18,000 tubes, and the IBM 700 series.

For most purposes, the vacuum tube has been replaced by solid-state devices such as transistors and solid-state diodes. Solid-state devices last much longer, are smaller, more efficient, more reliable, and cheaper than equivalent vacuum tube devices. However, tubes are still used in specialized applications: for engineering reasons, as in high-power radio frequency transmitters; or for their aesthetic appeal and distinct sound signature, as in audio amplification. Cathode ray tubes are still used as display devices in television sets, video monitors, and oscilloscopes, although they are being replaced by LCDs and other flat-panel displays. A specialized form of the electron tube, the magnetron, is the source of microwave energy in microwave ovens and some radar systems. The klystron, a powerful but narrow-band radio-frequency amplifier, is commonly deployed by broadcasters as a high-power UHF television transmitter.

Vacuum tubes are less susceptible than corresponding solid-state components to the electromagnetic pulse effect of nuclear explosions. This property kept them in use for certain military applications long after transistors had replaced them elsewhere. Vacuum tubes are still used for very high-powered applications such as industrial radio-frequency heating, generating large amounts of RF energy for particle accelerators, and power amplification for broadcasting. In microwave ovens, cost-engineered magnetrons efficiently generate microwave power on the order of hundreds of watts.

Russian 12AX7 tubes inside a modern guitar amplifier.

Many audiophiles, professional audio engineers, and musicians prefer the tube sound of audio equipment based on vacuum tubes over electronics based on transistors. There are companies which still make specialized audio hardware featuring tube technology. A common usage is in the high-end microphone preamplifiers preferred by professional music recording studios, and in electric guitar amplification. The sound produced by a tube based amplifier with the tubes overloaded (overdriven) has defined the texture of some genres of music such as classic rock and blues. Guitarists often prefer tube amplifiers for the warmth of their tone and the natural compression effect they can apply to an input signal.

Cathode-ray tubes (CRTs) are a highly-evolved type of vacuum tube, described elsewhere.

In 2002, computer motherboard maker AOpen brought back the vacuum tube for modern computer use by releasing the AX4GE Tube-G motherboard. This motherboard uses a Sovtek 6922 vacuum tube (a version of the 6DJ8) as part of AOpen’s TubeSound Technology. AOpen claims that the vacuum tube brings superior sound.


A 12AX7 preamp tube, EL84 power tube (with dampener rings) and a GZ34 rectifier tube in a Blackheart 5W single-ended class A guitar amplifier.

Like any electronic device, vacuum tubes produce heat while operating. This waste heat is one of the principal factors that affect tube life [13]. The majority of this waste heat originates in the anode though some grids may also require cooling to remove excess heat. For example, the cooling of the screen grid in an EL34 is facilitated by the addition of two small radiators or "wings," located near the top of the tube. The heater (filament) also contributes to the total waste heat. A tube's data sheet will normally identify the maximum amount of heat each element may dissipate.

The method of anode cooling is dependent on the construction of the tube itself. For tubes with internal anodes such as the 12AX7 or EL34, the cooling occurs by radiating the heat by black body radiation from the anode to the glass envelope [14]. Natural air circulation, convection, then removes the heat from the envelope. Tube shields that aided heat dispersal could be retrofitted on certain select types of tubes. These shields act by improving heat conduction from the surface of the tube to the shield itself by means of tens of copper tongues in contact with the glass tube, and have an opaque, black outside finish for improved heat radiation. The ability to remove heat may be further increased by implementing forced air cooling, adding fins to the anode, and operating the anode at red hot temperatures. All of these measures are implemented in the 4-1000A transmitting tube.

The amount of heat that may be removed from a tube with an internal anode is limited [14]. Tubes with external anodes may be cooled using forced air, water, vapor, and multiphase. The 3CX10,000A7 is an example of a tube with an external anode cooled by forced air. The water, vapor, and multiphase cooling techniques all depend on the high specific heat and latent heat of water. The 8974 is an example of a water cooled tube and is among the largest commercial tube available today.

In a water cooled tubes, the anode voltage appears directly on the cooling water surface, thus requiring the water to be an electrical insulator. Otherwise the high voltage can be conducted through the cooling water to the radiator system; hence the need for deionized water. Such systems usually have a built-in water-conductance monitor which will shut down the high-tension supply (often tens of kilovolts) if the conductance becomes too high.

Other vacuum tube devices

Many devices were built during the 1920–1960 period using vacuum-tube techniques. Most such tubes were rendered obsolete by semiconductors; some techniques for integrating multiple devices in a single module, sharing the same glass envelope have been discussed above, such as the Loewe 3NF. Vacuum-tube electronic devices still in common use include the magnetron, klystron, photomultiplier, x-ray tube, traveling-wave tube and cathode ray tube. The magnetron is the type of tube used in all microwave ovens. In spite of the advancing state of the art in power semiconductor technology, the vacuum tube still has reliability and cost advantages for high-frequency RF power generation. Photomultipliers are still the most sensitive detectors of light. Many televisions, oscilloscopes and computer monitors still use cathode ray tubes, though flat panel displays are becoming more popular as prices drop.

Many of the better tube radios had so-called "tuning eye" indicator tubes behind their front panels, with just the top of the tube showing. These tubes were used as a visual indication of received signal strength, and an aid to properly tuning in a station.

Secondary emission is the term for what happens when electrons in a vacuum strike certain materials, and the impacts cause electrons to be emitted. For some materials, more electrons are emitted than originally hit the surface. Such devices, called electron multipliers, amplify the current represented by the incoming electrons. Several stages (as many as 15 or so) can be cascaded for high gain, and are essential parts of very sensitive phototubes, usually called photomultipliers or multiplier photoubes. The image orthicon TV studio camera tubes also used multistage photomultipliers.

For decades, electron-tube designers tried to use secondary emission to obtain more amplification in vacuum tubes with hot cathodes, but they suffered from short life because the material used for the secondary-emission electrode (called a dynode) "poisoned" the tube's hot cathode. (For instance, the interesting RCA 1630 secondary-emission tube was marketed, but did not last.) However, eventually, Philips of The Netherlands developed the EFP60 tube that had a satisfactory lifetime, and was used in at least one product, a laboratory pulse generator. However, transistors were rapidly improving, and eclipsed tubes in general.

A variant, called a channel electron multiplier, is a curved tube, such as a helix, coated on the inside with material with good secondary emission. One type had a little funnel to capture incoming electrons. The tube was resistive, and its ends were connected to enough voltage to create repeated cascades of electrons.

Tektronix made a high-performance wideband oscilloscope CRT with a channel electron multiplier plate behind the phosphor layer. This plate was a bundled array of a huge number of short individual c.e.m. tubes that accepted a low-current beam and intensified it to provide a display of practical brightness. (The electron optics of the wideband electron gun could not provide enough current to directly excite the phosphor.)

The fluorescent displays commonly used on videocassette recorders, some microwave oven control panels, and automotive dashboards are vacuum tubes, using phosphor-coated anodes to form the display characters, and a heated filamentary cathode as an electron source. These are referred to as "VFDs", or vacuum fluorescent displays. Because the filaments are in view, they must be operated at temperatures where the filament does not glow visibly. Often found in automotive applications, their high brightness allows reading the display in daylight. VFD tubes are flat and rectangular, as well as relatively thin. Typical VFD phosphors emit a broad-spectrum greenish-white light, permitting use of color filters. This type of phosphor provides a bright glow with only modest operating voltage, low tens of volts.

Some tubes, such as magnetrons, traveling-wave tubes, carcinotrons, and klystrons, combine magnetic and electrostatic effects. These are efficient (usually narrow-band) RF producers and still find use in radar, microwave ovens and industrial heating. Traveling-wave tubes (TWTs) are very good amplifiers; they are used in some communications satellites. High-powered klystron amplifier tubes can provide hundreds of kilowatts in the UHF range.

Gyrotrons or vacuum masers, used to generate high-power millimetre band waves, are magnetic vacuum tubes in which a small relativistic effect, due to the high voltage, is used for bunching the electrons. Gyrotrons can generate very high powers (hundreds of kilowatts). Free electron lasers, used to generate high-power coherent light and perhaps even X rays, are highly relativistic vacuum tubes driven by high-energy particle accelerators.

Particle accelerators can be considered vacuum tubes that work backward, the electric fields driving the electrons, or other charged particles. In this respect, a cathode ray tube is a particle accelerator.

A tube in which electrons move through a vacuum (or gaseous medium) within a gas-tight envelope is generically called an electron tube.

Some condenser microphone designs use built-in vacuum tube preamplifiers.

Jolida JD502B, a modern tube integrated amplifier, with preamp tubes in front, power tubes in back.

As of 2008, scores of small companies are manufacturing audiophile amplifiers and preamps that use vacuum tubes.[15]

Vacuum tubes using field electron emitters

In the early years of the 21st century there has been renewed interest in vacuum tubes, this time with the electron emitter formed on a flat silicon substrate, as in integrated circuit technology. This subject is now called Vacuum Nanoelectronics. The most common design uses a cold cathode in the form of a large-area field electron source (for example a field emitter array). With these devices, electrons are field-emitted from a large number of closely spaced individual emission sites.

Their claimed advantages include greatly enhanced robustness combined with the ability to provide high power outputs at low power consumptions. Operating on the same principles as traditional tubes, prototype device cathodes have been fabricated in several different ways. Although a common approach is to use a field emitter array, one interesting idea is to etch electrodes to form hinged flaps – similar to the technology used to create the microscopic mirrors used in Digital Light Processing) that are stood upright by an electrostatic charge.

Such integrated microtubes may find application in microwave devices including mobile phones, for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi transmission, in radar and for satellite communication. Presently they are being studied for possible applications in field emission display technology, but significant production problems seem to exist.

Modern manufacturers

Vacuum tubes are still being manufactured in the following countries:


Manufacturer Area of expertise
Shuguang Electron Group Co. Primarily audio tubes, also some rare transmitting models (211, 805, 807, 813, 845 and 6146B). Tubes marketed by Shuguang, Valve Art, TAD, Sophia Electric, Ruby Tubes and Taylor Tubes brand names.
Tianjin Quanerzhen Electron Tube Technology Co. Very small manufacturer of high-end audio tubes.

Products marketed by Full Music brand.

Nanjing Sanle Electronics Co. Transmitting and industrial tubes.

Some models (3-500ZG & 4-400C) marketed by Taylor Tubes brand.

JiangXi Jingguang Electronics Co. Ceramic transmitting tubes, some of them marketed by Penta Laboratories.
Huaguang Electric Power & Electronics Co. Transmitting and industrial tubes, also Chinese made 833C.


Manufacturer Area of expertise
ZAO Ekspopul - New Sensor Inc. Audio tube factory of New Sensor Inc.; Tubes are marketed as Sovtek, Electro Harmonix, Tung-Sol, Mullard, Genalex Gold Lion and also Svetlana S-marked in USA.

Known formerly as tube factory of JSC Reflektor.

LLC "Ryazan" Vacuum Components Russian made SV811 and SV572 series tubes for audio applications and transmitting tubes like 811A, 572B and GU-81, marketed in western countries by Svetlana, Sovtek and Ryazan brands
"SED-SPb" Svetlana Electron Devices, St.Petersburg - JSC Svetlana Svetlana transmitting and "Winged-C" audio tubes
JSC "Voskhod" KRLZ Tubes for small signal RF and audio applications
HC JSC NEVZ-Soyuz Ceramic transmitting and microwave tubes, known as Novosibirsk Electro-Vacuum Plant - Soyuz

United States

Manufacturer Area of expertise
Western Electric Inc. 300B triodes
Communications & Power Industries Inc. Eimac and rebuilt Econco high power transmitting tubes
Burle Industries Inc. Industrial and transmitting tubes, formerly factory of RCA
MPD Components Inc. Planar triodes and magnetrons, formerly Ken-Rad and later GE tube factory
LND Inc. Geiger-Mueller tubes

United Kingdom

Manufacturer Area of expertise
e2v Technologies Ltd. Transmitting tubes, formerly known as English Electric Valve Co. Ltd.
Centronic Ltd. Geiger-Mueller tubes, formerly Philips GM-tubes
TMD Technologies Ltd. Magnetrons, Klystrons, Travelling Wave Tubes, Transmitters (formerly THORN Microwave Devices Ltd.)


Manufacturer Area of expertise
Vacutec GmbH. Geiger-Mueller tubes


Manufacturer Area of expertise
Covimag Transmitting tubes. Products marketed by Richardson Electronics with Amperex brand name.

Formerly Philips transmitting tube factory.

Thales Electron Devices High power transmitting tubes. Formerly known as Thomson-CSF.

Czech Republic

Manufacturer Area of expertise
Emission Labs High-end audio tubes
KR Audio Electronics s.r.o. High-end audio tubes
Tesla Electrontubes s.r.o. Transmitting tubes


Manufacturer Area of expertise
JJ-Electronic Primarily for audio applications, factory was formerly part of Tesla Electrontubes
Euro Audio Team Very small manufacturer of high-end audio tubes, products marketed by EAT brand


Manufacturer Area of expertise
Thales Lamina Przyrzady Elektronowe Sp.Z.o.o Microwave tubes for radiolocation equipment, microwave tubes for industrial applications

See also



  1. ^ U.S. Patent 307,031
  2. ^ "Robert von Lieben — Patent Nr 179807 Dated November 19, 1906" (PDF). Kaiserliches Patentamt. November 19, 1906. Retrieved March 30, 2008. 
  3. ^ U.S. Patent 879,532
  4. ^ Introduction to Thermionic Valves (Vacuum Tubes), Colin J. Seymour
  5. ^ L.W. Turner,(ed), Electronics Engineer's Reference Book, 4th ed. Newnes-Butterworth, London 1976 ISBN 0 408 00168 pages 7-2 through 7-6
  6. ^ Large transmitting tubes did better; a mid'70s English Electric triode could deliver 200 kilowatts of RF energy while using only 4. 8 kilowatts to heat the cathode.
  7. ^ Scrupski, Steve, Double-Frame-Grid Pentode Yields High Gain-Bandwidth. Retrieved on August 15, 2009.
  8. ^ particularly the section entitled "Glass Base Construction".
  9. ^ Sōgo Okamura , History of electron tubes ,IOS Press, 1994, ISBN 9051991452, page 133
  10. ^ Robert B. Tomer, Getting the most out of vacuum tubes, Howard W. Sams, Indianapolis, USA 1960, Library of Congress card no. 60-13843, available on the Internet Archive. Chapter 1
  11. ^ Tomer 60, chaper 2
  12. ^ Tomer 60, chapter 3
  13. ^ Eimac “Care and Feeding of Power Grid Tubes” 1967, p. 108
  14. ^ a b RCA "Transmitting Tubes Manual" TT-5 1962, p. 10
  15. ^ "World Tube Audio Portal". 


  • Spangenberg, Karl R. (1948). Vacuum Tubes. McGraw-Hill. LCC TK7872.V3 OCLC 567981. 
  • Millman, J. & Seely, S. Electronics, 2nd ed. McGraw-Hill, 1951.
  • Shiers, George, "The First Electron Tube", Scientific American, March 1969, p. 104.
  • Tyne, Gerald, Saga of The Vacuum Tube, Ziff Publishing, 1943, (reprint 1994 Prompt Publications), pp. 30–83.
  • Stokes, John, 70 Years of Radio Tubes and Valves, Vestal Press, NY, 1982, pp. 3–9.
  • Thrower, Keith, History of The British Radio Valve to 1940, MMA International, 1982, pp 9–13.
  • Eastman, Austin V., Fundamentals of Vacuum Tubes, McGraw-Hill, 1949
  • Philips Technical Library. Books published in the UK in the 1940s and 1950s by Cleaver Hume Press on design and application of vacuum tubes.
  • RCA "Radiotron Designer's Handbook" 1953(4th Edition) Contains chapters on the design and application of receiving tubes.
  • Wireless World. "Radio Designer's Handbook". UK reprint of the above.
  • RCA "Receiving Tube Manual" RC15, RC26 (1947, 1968) Issued every two years, contains details of the technical specs of the tubes that RCA sold.

External links

Simple English

File:Triode tube
Structure of a vacuum tube triode

[[File:|upright|thumb|A vacuum tube, type 6P1P]] A vacuum tube (also called a valve in British English) is an electronic device used in many older model radios, television sets, and amplifiers.



John Ambrose Fleming invented the first vacuum tube, the diode, in 1904. Lee De Forest created the "audion" in 1906 (which was improved by others as the triode in 1908) and used in the first telephone amplifiers.

Vacuum tubes produce a lot of heat as they have a filament like a light bulb, and being made of glass they are fragile and can break. Vacuum tubes were used in the first computers like the ENIAC, which demanded lots of maintenance because of the heat produced.

For this reason, when the transistor was invented in the 1960s, most manufacturers of radios, television sets, and amplifiers began using transistors instead of vacuum tubes. Transistors were also much smaller, worked on lower voltages, used much less power, were much less likely to be damaged by being dropped and had extremely long life. Eventually they were also much cheaper than glass valves.[1]

Current uses

In the 2000s, vacuum tube devices are rarely used in common electronic equipment. The most common use is likely to be the cathode ray tube used for the picture display in television receivers, though these are rapidly being replaced by non vacuum tube types such as liquid crystal and plasma displays.

There are still a few applications that use vacuum tubes:

  • Systems which need high frequency operation, high-power output or very high amplification, such as television transmission, X-ray machines and radar.
  • People who enjoy listening to music on high-quality home stereo systems sometimes buy amplifiers which use vacuum tubes to hear their music. (See tube sound).
  • Musicians who play electric musical instruments such as electric guitar sometimes use guitar amplifiers with vacuum tubes.


  1. St. Clair Kilby, Jack (17 September, 2001). "Turning Potential into Realities: The Invention of the Integrated Circuit" (pdf). ChemPhysChem. Wiley Online Library. p. 483.;2-Y/pdf. Retrieved 2010-10-05. 

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