An op amp ("operational amplifier") is ...
Great for amplifying weak signals from sensors to a more useful level. Also used in filters, integrators, etc.
- Many sensors need an amplifier to "buffer" their output signal. Often a single op amp is adequate. For very weak signals, you may want a "difference amplifier" or "instrumentation amplifier".
- All ADCs need an anti-aliasing filter on their input. Often a single op amp, 2 caps and 4 resistors is adequate.
- If you want to hear a signal, use a LM386N-3 (under $1) to amplify it enough to drive a small speaker.
- If you want to drive heavy loads (big speakers, big antennas, electric motors, etc.), too heavy for typical op amps to drive, use op amps to amplify the signal to the desired voltage, followed by power transistors to drive the load [Veselinovic].
Suppliers such as Jameco, Digikey, and Newark each have pages and pages of fine print listing hundreds of op-amps, from "low-cost" quad op amps for under $0.40 each to "hi speed precision" op amps for well over $10 each. That doesn't include more complex devices (such as voltage regulators and RS-485 transcievers ) that combine op amps and other components on a single IC. Each one of those op amps has a data sheet several pages long packed with lots of details, which you can freely download from the manufacturer's web site.
"But in reality, there are only two important specifications that you should initially consider when selecting an op amp for your active, low-pass filter. ... Gain Bandwidth Product and Slew Rate." [Baker 2003]
designing the circuit around the op amp
selecting the appropriate op amp out of the hundreds (thousands?) available
- "Select the Right Operational Amplifier for your Filtering Circuits" by Bonnie Baker 2003
- "Choosing an op amp: it's no longer a trying task" by Bill Schweber 1995
- Basic electronics components list lists 10 of the most common op-amps.
- "How to choose the right bipolar op amp" by J. Scott Elder 2005-12-23