Vacuum Tube Electronics I: The Classic Texts
Scott Frankland

General Introduction to the Series

If the current tube renaissance continues, future designers will want to know about the following texts, as replacements are not forthcoming. In order to show historical precedence, books are listed chronologically by first edition. The most recent edition is nonetheless considered to be definitive.

This survey is by no means intended to be exhaustive—on the contrary, only the most widely quoted texts are considered for inclusion here (widely quoted texts are considered to be both authoritative and influential). Books marked with a star will be of greatest interest to the audio designer (although each book listed provides a different slant on the subject, and is thereby useful in its own right).

It is the author’s intention to expand this list as books are discovered that may equal in quality of content the high standards set by those listed below. The interested reader is hereby encouraged to contribute title suggestions for inclusion in future editions of this survey.

Part I of this series includes books of a general nature that are particularly clear about at least one aspect of tube amplifier design. Books of a more specialized nature, such as those on electromagnetics, transformer design, tube manufacturing, etc., will be included in Part II of this series. Books of a supplementary nature, such as acoustics, bibliographies, tube manuals, etc., will appear in Part III. Books of an incidental nature, such as biographies, histories, music appreciation, etc., will appear in Part IV.

The entire survey, subject to updates, is scheduled to appear as a permanent feature of the PEARL Vacuum-Tube Technology Archive. Compiled by Bill Perkins, the PEARL Archive consists of approximately 1000 technical articles related to tube amplifier design. To receive a copy of the latest Archive index contact Bill Perkins at 403-244-4434.


The Classic Texts

– 1920 —

Theory of the Thermionic Tube and Its Applications
by H.J. van der Bijl
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Hendrik Johannes van der Bijl is the father of tube theory.1—6 In 1913, van der Bijl deduced the fundamental functional relationships of triodes; and from these, derived the tube constants and gain equations.7 These feats won for him a post at the Western Electric Company; where he functioned as Senior Research Physicist until the publication of his seminal book in 1920. Many believe that Irving Langmuir, a research chemist for the General Electric Company, deserves the patriarch’s mantle; but Langmuir’s research focused on thermionic emission. Langmuir’s landmark theory, published in 1913,8 capped a materials research phase begun by Richardson9 and Child.10 Langmuir’s paper refuted the long held belief that electric current could flow through a vacuum only by means of ionization (the infamous "blue glow"). Harold Arnold, head of the Western Electric research

division for tube development, echoed Langmuir’s belief in pure thermionic emission.11 But until 1912—and the advent of the molecular vacuum pump—no one could prove otherwise. Van der Bijl’s book guided designers, teachers, and researchers throughout the 20’s. Today, it remains useful as a broad source of information with respect to the earliest contributors to the vacuum tube art.


Radio Engineering
by Frederick Emmons Terman
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Terman was for many years Dean of Engineering at Stanford. Terman published the 4th edition of his book in 1955; which he then renamed Electronic and Radio Engineering to emphasize "the general techniques of electronics, without regard to the extent of their use in radio systems." While useful mainly as a compendium of the radio arts, Terman’s book nonetheless contains a very clear description of push-pull operation and of distortion theory, among other topics relevant to the audio arts.


Theory of Thermionic Vacuum Tubes
by E. Leon Chaffee
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Chaffee was Professor of Applied Physics at Harvard; and, for many years, Director of the Cruft Laboratory there (Chaffee was, in many ways, Terman’s counterpart on the East Coast). This authoritative book was among the first to formalize—by the use of equivalent circuits—the functional relationships, tube constants, and gain equations as deduced by van der Bijl, Miller, Hazeltine, and others.4 In addition to triodes, Chaffee applies his modeling technique to the multi-grid tubes. Most interesting is the manner in which Chaffee exhaustively explores the various ways in which pentodes can be externally wired to behave as triodes. Meticulously illustrated.


Radiotron Designer’s Handbook
by F. Langford-Smith, ed.
(Amalgamated Wireless Valve Company Pty., Ltd., Australia)

This book was distributed by RCA in the U.S., and is clearly the most comprehensive collection of hands-on audio information ever compiled in a single volume. It is essentially a collection of technical essays by authorities in each branch of the audio field. This indispensable book combines technical expertise with an audiophile’s sensibility for good sound. Highly sought after, unquestionably authoritative, it reached its 4th edition in 1953.


Fundamentals of Engineering Electronics
by William G. Dow
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY)

Dow was Professor of Electrical Engineering at the University of Michigan. Dow’s approach was essentially that of a physicist; hence, the operative word in the title of his book is Fundamentals. Dow’s special contribution was a more exact method of relating tube geometry and potential distribution to cathode current. Dow’s method utilized conformal transformations of equivalent electrostatic circuits. A widely quoted reference; firmly grounded in physics. The 2nd edition appeared in 1952.


Fundamentals of Vacuum Tubes
by Austin V. Eastman
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Eastman was Head of the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Washington. Despite its title, Eastman’s book emphasizes applications. Contains a thorough discussion of distortion in amplifiers; with special emphasis on intermodulation distortion. Very strong in transmitting and modulation theory. In addition, Eastman was one of the few authors who could clearly explain the theory of push-pull operation. The definitive explanation would have to wait, however, for Melehay.12 The 3rd edition of Eastman’s book appeared in 1949.


Theory and Application of Electron Tubes
by Herbert J. Reich
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Reich was Professor of Electrical Engineering at Yale. This book contains a thorough study of the basic engineering problems encountered in the design of power amplifiers. Contains many useful references to early papers on push-pull amplifiers (although Barton is conspicuously absent13 ). The 2nd edition appeared in 1944.


Graphical Constructions for Vacuum Tube Circuits
by Albert Preisman
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Preisman was Director of Engineering Texts at the Capitol Radio Engineering Institute when he wrote this book. He was previously a teacher at the RCA Institute. While there he specialized in audio engineering and vacuum tube theory. The author argues, convincingly, that non-linear circuit analysis is best performed by graphical methods. Many important methods are shown and the solutions are verified by rigorous mathematical analysis. A very in-depth look at the complexities of amplifier design. Recommended for anyone interested in an advanced understanding of push-pull theory or distortion theory. Elegantly explains the most obscure points of amplifier design.


Applied Electronics
by the staff at MIT
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY)

This book comprehensively summarizes the subject of electronics in the first half of the twentieth century. It includes work done by physicists; chemists; and materials scientists; as well as electronics engineers. The 2nd edition, which appeared in 1954, was re-edited by Truman S. Gray. Gray was Associate Professor of Engineering Electronics at MIT. Push-pull power amplifier design is extensively covered in this book, as is distortion theory. Chapter XII, Article 7, gives a complete exposition of the power series representation of nonlinear functions, leading to the Taylor-series representation of triode characteristics in Article 9. In addition, the book contains copious footnote references to early source materials, such as to original papers and patents by Edison; Fleming; Child; Richardson; Langmuir; Schottky; etc. Rivals van der Bijl’s book in this regard.


Vacuum-Tube Circuits
by Lawrence Baker Arguimbeau
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY)

Arguimbeau was associate professor of electrical communications at MIT. In later years he worked at the McIntosh Laboratories. One of the few engineering books that manages to poke fun at itself. The fifth printing, entitled Vacuum-Tube Circuits and Transistors, appeared in 1963. A very modern treatment of tube circuits is given in this book (i.e., general analytic methods are emphasized).


Vacuum Tube Amplifiers
by George E. Valley and Henry Wallman, eds.
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

This fabled book is the centerpiece of a 28-volume set, edited by Louis N. Ridenour (MIT’s radar systems expert at the time). This series, compiled at the MIT Radiation Laboratory, was commissioned by the National Defense Research Committee; and includes work done at many laboratories—Army, Navy, university, and industrial—in America, England, Canada, and elsewhere. Vacuum Tube Amplifiers explains in detail a number of esoteric amplifier techniques—including direct-coupled amplifiers; differential amplifiers; cascodes; and active loads. These techniques are discussed in detail in Chapter 11. In addition, a rigorous theoretical treatment of noise in tubes and tube amplifiers is given in chapters 12 and 13. The entire first half of the book is given over to the subject of transients and pulse amplifiers. Chapter 11, in particular, makes Vacuum Tube Amplifiers an indispensable reference for the designer looking to go beyond the ordinary.


Principles of Electronics and Electronic Systems
by J.L. Daley, ed.
(United States Naval Institute, Annapolis, MD)

A very accessible introduction to electronics design principles. Although not widely quoted in the literature, this book nonetheless provides insight that the others do not; particularly in regards to the basics of load-line construction. For example, it shows the step-by-step procedure for setting up DC and AC load lines for bypassed and unbypassed voltage amplifiers. Clearly explains the classes of power amplifier operation from class-A through class-C.


Engineering Electronics
by John D. Ryder
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Ryder was Dean of Engineering at Michigan State University. This meticulous book contains a step-by-step procedure for the design of a class-B or AB amplifier output stage, as well as a thorough presentation of general distortion theory. There is a very clear discussion of feedback theory, as well. In addition, the action of a tube voltage regulator is thoroughly described and mathematically analyzed. The design procedure for a cathode follower is also uncommonly thorough. An unmatched how-to handbook, grounded on solid engineering principles. This book, together with the other starred titles, will provide unerring guidance for the aspiring designer.


Analysis and Design of Electronic Circuits
by Paul M. Chirlian
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

Chirlian was Associate Professor of Electrical Engineering at Stevens Institute of Technology. His book contains many practical design examples and discussions. Particularly strong in the transient behavior of small-signal circuits. Covers the design principals for push-pull amplifiers for both tubes and transistors. Excellent treatment of feedback stabilization techniques.


Principles of Vacuum Tubes
by J.W. Gewartowski and H.A. Watson
(D. Van Nostrand, Princeton, NJ)

One of the last of the large-scale textbooks to be published on the subject of vacuum tubes, this book was originally used as the basis for a training course at Bell Labs for newly recruited engineers and physicists. Emphasizes physics to explain the fundamentals of industrial-type amplifiers, such as microwave amplifiers and traveling-wave amplifiers. Although oriented toward industry, much of the material presented in this book was derived from Bell Labs’ research archives; and is thus valuable from that standpoint. Bell Labs did a monumental amount of research on vacuum tubes and tube amplifier design (beginning at Western Electric, a precursor of Bell Labs). Of particular interest is the excellent chapter on noise that includes a rare discussion of partition noise in pentodes.


Amplifier Handbook
by Richard F. Shea, Editor-in-Chief
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

A huge book written purely about amplifiers. Covers mainly industrial-type amplifiers, both tube-type and solid-state. As big as it is, this book lacks detail on key subjects such as the push-pull amplifier, the cathode follower, and the regulated power supply. There is nonetheless an excellent section on tubes that covers many of the last innovations in tube design, such as frame grids and specialized beam formers. Factors governing tube life are thoroughly discussed.14 There is also an excellent discussion of noise in tubes. Various kinds of unusual electrode currents are discussed in much more detail than is usually encountered; including contact potential bias and grid leakage currents. In addition, there are charts that show the variation in tube parameters for lots of 100 raw tubes (as the manufacturer might encounter them). A unique reference manual; although, generally speaking, more theoretical than practical.


Electronic Devices and Circuits
by Jacob Millman and Christos C. Halkias
(McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY)

By 1967 the McGraw-Hill Electrical and Electronic Engineering Series (edited by Terman) had swollen to 100 volumes. This book does an excellent job of discussing both tube and transistor circuits; and draws many useful parallels between the two. Gives a detailed analysis of the operation of voltage regulators. Shows a step-by-step procedure for the design of a solid-state voltage regulator; including four ways in which the basic regulator can be improved. Compares the completed solid-state voltage regulator to a similar tube-type regulator.


Amplifying Devices and Low-Pass Amplifier Design
by E.M. Cherry and D.E. Hooper
(John Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY)

This book caps a long and distinguished tradition of "hands-on" audio research in Australia (as inaugurated by the great F. Langford-Smith). Cherry and Hooper’s book is among the very few written specifically about audio amplifiers; and it is surely one of the largest. Weighing in at just over 1000 pages, this book is a paragon of formalized, yet accessible, design theory. It addresses solid-state as well as tube circuits. Unquestionably strong on feedback theory; practical compensation techniques; noise theory; and distortion theory. There is also an extensive treatment of differential amplifiers. The final section of the book shows construction techniques for hand-wired prototypes. Provides a thorough theoretical base while emphasizing "proven rules for circuit design...of immediate use to practicing engineers." Cherry was later to formalize the theory of TIM.15


1 M.D. Fagen, ed., A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System, the Early Years (1875—1925), Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., 1975, p. 262.

2 E.L. Chaffee, Theory of Thermionic Vacuum Tubes, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY, 1933, p. 144.

3 T.S. Gray, Applied Electronics, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY, 2nd ed., 1954, p. 181.

4 Stuart Ballantine, "The Operational Characteristics of Thermionic Amplifiers." Presented before the Institute of Radio Engineers, NY, Dec 11, 1918.

5 Leonard B. Loeb, Fundamentals of Electricity and Magnetism, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., NY, 1947, pp. 538—539.

6 Albert Preisman, Graphical Constructions for Vacuum Tube Circuits, McGraw-Hill Book Co., Inc., NY, p. 26.

7 H.J. van der Bijl, Verhandl. deut. physik. Gesell, 15, pp. 330338, 1913; Phys. Rev., 12, pp. 180183, 1918.

8 I. Langmuir, "The Effect of Space Charge and Residual Gases on Thermionic Currents in High Vacuum," Phys. Rev., 2, 1913, pp. 461—476.

9 O.W. Richardson, "On the Negative Radiation from Hot Platinum," Proc. Camb. Phil. Soc., 11, 1901, pp. 286—295.

10 C.D. Child, "Discharge from Hot CaO", Phys. Rev., Series I, 32 (1911), pp. 498—500.

11 Fagen, M.D., ed., A History of Engineering and Science in the Bell System, the Early Years (1875—1925), Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc., 1975, p. 260—261.

12 M.A. Melehay, "Push-Pull Audio Amplifier Theory," Trans. IRE on Audio, Jul/Aug 1957, pp. 86-89.

13 L.E. Barton, "High Audio Power from Relatively Small Tubes," Proc. IRE, 19:7, Jul 1931, pp. 1131-1149.

14 F. Robert Michael, "Tube Failures in Eniac", Electronics, Oct 1947, pp. 116—119.

15 E.M. Cherry, "Transient Intermodulation Distortion—Part 1: Hard Nonlinearity," IEEE Trans. on Acous., Speech, and Sig. Proc., 29:2, Apr 1981, pp. 137—146; Cherry, E.M. and Dabke, K.P., "Transient Intermodulation Distortion—Part 2: Soft Nonlinearity," J. Aud. Eng. Soc, 34:1/2, Jan/Feb 1986, pp. 19—35.