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Scope Series 4 RTÉ Two, Thursday, 7.00pm

Celebrity: Dave from Daves Radio

Daves Radio

This week Dave from the band Daves Radio has nominated the valve amp as his favourite invention of all time.

Amps take an electrical signal and make it bigger - hence the word amplifier. The invention of the amp was essentially the birth of electronics. Used in everything from radios to transmitters to the very early RADAR sets, they look a bit like lightbulbs, eat about as much power, and have an unfair reputation for breaking easily.

Some types of valve don't just amplify but they can switch on or off and were used in the original digital computers.

After the War, valves were replaced (as both amplifiers and switches) by the transistor, which is much smaller and doesn't get as hot.

The transistor was, in turn, replaced with the 'integrated circuit,' or silicon chip. These are smaller still, to the point where you can pack hundreds of millions into one processor.
That is about as big as a valve, and consumes about as much power as...a lightbulb. Progress by a factor of hundreds of millions in 100 years is pretty impressive.

But Valves haven't quite gone away. They are still used in high-end audio equipment (notably Marshall guitar amps, but also audiophile gear) because many people prefer the sound.

When a transistor or silicon chip amp is cranked too loud, the sound clips and distorts really badly. When a Valve Amp is overdriven it smoothes off the sound a bit, which often sounds more pleasant. No wonder it is Dave’s favourite invention


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