In this section we are going to learn a basic op-amp application as a comparator. Comparator is a circuit used for comparing two voltages (either DC or both AC or one DC & one AC) and indicating the relationship between those voltages.
Generally comparators are used to compare either:
a) Two changing voltages to each other, example: two different sinusoidal waveforms.
b) A changing voltage to a set DC reference voltage.
The circuit diagram of op-amp comparator is sown below. There is no feedback path present in the circuit. To understand the working of op-amp comparator let us consider a sinusoidal input voltage is applied to the non-inverting terminal where as a fixed DC voltage (V reference) is applied to the inverting terminal.
In this example we are going to compare sinusoidal voltage with fixed dc voltage using op-amp comparator. The working of this comparator is explained as follows.
As long as the input voltage is below the reference voltage (which is connected to the non-inverting terminal) , the comparator output is approximately “-Vmax” volts. When input voltage equals to reference voltage or exceeds, the output voltage of the comparator becomes “+Vmax” volts. Thus op-amp comparator shows the relationship between the magnitudes of two voltages applied to its input. Following figure shows the polarity (or magnitude) relationship between two voltages.
Now let us discuss one special case of op-amp comparator. If we apply reference voltage (Vref) to the inverting terminal and made it ground so that V ref =0V. Now in this case the output of the comparator will be “- V max” volts as long as the input voltage is below 0V. When input voltage exceeds 0V the output of the comparator switches to “+V max” volts.
Such special case op-amp comparator is called as zero-level detector. This zero-level detector circuit can be used to obtain square waveform from a sinusoidal waveform.
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