As well as resistors and capacitors, Operational Amplifiers, or Op-amps as they are more commonly called, are one of the basic building blocks of Analogue Electronic Circuits. It is a linear device that has all the properties required for nearly ideal DC amplification and is used extensively in signal conditioning, filtering or to perform mathematical operations such as add, subtract, integration and differentiation. An ideal Operational Amplifier is basically a 3-terminal device that consists of two high impedance inputs, one an Inverting input marked with a negative sign, ("-") and the other a Non-inverting input marked with a positive plus sign ("+").
The amplified output signal of an Operational Amplifier is the difference between the two signals being applied to the two inputs. In other words the output signal is a differential signal between the two inputs and the input stage of an Operational Amplifier is in fact a differential amplifier as shown below.
Like the input signal, the output signal is also balanced and since the collector voltages either swing in opposite directions (anti-phase) or in the same direction (in-phase) the output voltage signal, taken from between the two collectors is, assuming a perfectly balanced circuit the zero difference between the two collector voltages. This is known as the Common Mode of Operation with the common mode gain of the amplifier being the output gain when the input is zero.
Ideal Operational Amplifiers also have one output (although there are ones with an additional differential output) of low impedance that is referenced to a common ground terminal and it should ignore any common mode signals that is, if an identical signal is applied to both the inverting and non-inverting inputs there should no change to the output. However, in real amplifiers there is always some variation and the ratio of the change to the output voltage with regards to the change in the common mode input voltage is called the Common Mode Rejection Ratio or CMRR.
Operational Amplifiers on their own have a very high open loop DC gain and by applying some form of Negative Feedback we can produce an operational amplifier circuit that has a very precise gain characteristic that is dependant only on the feedback used. An operational amplifier only responds to the difference between the voltages on its two input terminals, known commonly as the "Differential Input Voltage" and not to their common potential. Then if the same voltage potential is applied to both terminals the resultant output will be zero. An Operational Amplifiers gain is commonly known as the Open Loop Differential Gain, and is given the symbol (Ao).
Equivalent Circuit for Ideal Operational Amplifiers
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