+ Submit your article here

Types and Uses of Attenuators

6/26/2012 10:32:35 AM | by Anonymous


Attenuators are electric devices that are used to reduce the amplitude or power of a signal without disrupting or distorting its waveform. Amplifiers and attenuators work differently. In fact, attenuators can be classified as effectively the opposite of amplifiers as they serve the purpose of reducing power signals by providing loss or gain less than 1 whereas amplifier aims to provide gain. Attenuators are usually made up of simple voltage divider networks and they are used in circuits to lower the voltage so that they do not damage the electrical device and also to improve impedance matching. When taking reading of electric circuits, attenuators can also be used to prevent the measuring device from signals that can damage it and also so that reading can be taken of the measuring device.

Power Attenuator

Serving the role of attenuators which is reducing the amplitude or power of a signal without disrupting or distorting its waveform, power attenuators are electronic devices that are designed to disperse or dissipate any unwanted and excess power in an electric guitar’s amplifier that could cause extremely unwanted loud sounds. By dispersing the unwanted power, the sound becomes much softer, suited to the user’s preference and also preventing distortion in the sound or damage to the speakers. Distortion occurs when the output power of the speaker is reached due to overload of power. The two basic components in a power attenuator are the dummy load and the variable wattage-splitter control. Also, most attenuators normally come with components such as fans and heat sinks that can dissipate heat.

Attenuation refers to the process of resisting and reducing power and the most common methods for this are the ‘power soaker’ approach, Variac-based method and the power dampening method. As the name would suggest, in the power soaker approach, the attenuator ‘absorbs’ part of the power whilst the other part travels to the speaker to power it. The Variac-based method which can also be referred to as power scaling circuit-based method reduces the B+ supply voltage that can be found present in power tubes. Distortion in the power tubes is produced because of this approach which causes the right amount of power to reach the speakers. A potentiometer and a phase inverter are used in the power dampening method to control the level of the output power.

Optical Attenuator

Aside from being used for electrical components, attenuators can also be used in optical applications to decrease the strength of the optical signal passing through them into a fiber optic cable or open air. Just like power attenuators and electrical attenuators, they do not affect the overall waveform or frequency of the signal but only the amplitude, therefore the signal remains undistorted for it to be used in the desired applications. The basic behind these attenuators is similar to the other types of attenuators despite the difference in application. These attenuators are used in optical communication systems where attenuation helps in the long-distance transmission of signals. There are fixed and continuously variable attenuators. Optical attenuators are often installed where the optical signal would be transmitted from, therefore they can apply the principal of gap loss and thus the signal intensity is lowered to the minimum level over the given distance. The shape of these attenuators is typically cylindrical or box-like which determines its application in the types of equipment it can be for.


Attenuators can have many other applications as well to provide different results. This article only covered the basics of attenuators and their application in power, electricity as well as optical signals. The use of attenuators is very beneficial and has great importance in the use of technology.

Are you sourcing for a product or service?

Do you need a quotation?