Single Ended Transformer Design Considerations

by Jack Elliano, Owner: Electra-Print Audio; Chief Designer: Electra-Fidelity Amplification.

There is much misinformation about Single Ended Transformers (SE) resulting mostly from the expressed views made by ‘experts’ which come from unfounded theories of this complex device. Due to silver tongued advertising it has become necessary for Electra-Print Audio to call attention to incorrect information in order to speed up the process of ordering a correct and practical transformer.


A single ended transformer cannot have a frequency response from 2 Hz to 80 kHz. A more realistic and practical average bandwidth is -1db 25 Hz to 25 kHz. This bandwidth is measured with the tube plate resistance included from the signal source. Measured this way, the transformer will now operate exactly as stated with the tube type indicated. 

How Not To Measure A Wider Bandwidth

If you remove the series plate resistance from the signal source and connect the signal generator (600 or 50 ohms) directly to primary the measured bandwidth of the same transformer will be very wide, about -1db10hz to 70 kHz. This is because the low source impedance shunts out most of the inductive reactance and the transformer becomes a capacitor. Now you are measuring the output of the generator through a capacitor. The reason low plate resistance triodes work well here is the same process. These incorrectly applied measurements have simply been published to embellish advertising and price.

Core Materials

Nickel laminations are used for low level audio, which have little or no winding current. But nickel saturates quickly and distortion will result at the bass end due to the primary inductance which decreases with higher signal level. Nickel cannot be of any practical use in SE type transformers because an extremely large amount of nickel laminations would need to be used with a large gap to slow its saturation. In the end, this would act just like standard lamination material. It’s important to note that large nickel laminations are not manufactured and that standard laminations are a fraction of the cost of nickel. Cobalt is similar to nickel plus it is much more expensive than nickel, forget it.

Amorphous cores have there use with higher frequency service. They were originally developed for aircraft equipment operating at 400Hz. These amorphous transformers then weighed less per Volt-Ampere (VA). For full bandwidth audio, amorphous transformers can be difficult to design. This material shows less permeability at low frequencies and peak at 1 kHz. Low frequency power response versus core mass could be compromised. A flat frequency response across the usable audio spectrum would then be a problem. These cores are also very expensive. These materials when used with a SE type transformer offer an output that varies with the change in permeability with signal level and frequency unlike the standard materials.

M19 & M16 Laminations

Core material made of M19 and M6 has been used for many years. The metal alloy is made of metals to offering uniform increase in inductance as flat as possible for power transfer over a given bandwidth. These materials were developed to sell product to audio transformer companies for the high fidelity amplifier industry back in the 1950’s. Designers had the other materials (except amorphous core) and did not use them for these products. Nickel had its place in low level audio for the recording industry.

These standard materials, when used for SE types, would offer the flattest, most efficient power transfer and overall acceptable measurement. M19 is used for SE types due to no zero crossing as in push-pull types M6 is more costly and its attributes not used in SE service. M6 can be used for push-pull as well as M19.

What Are The Attributes Of M19 & M16?

When someone states that the sound created with exotic core materials is far superior to standard lamination materials, you must ask yourself what happened to this reviewer’s amplifiers bandwidth and power? This sound is just the new setting of the bass and treble controls. Our reviewer will probably just say its “It sounds better” having no idea what happened. We know that if there was an improvement then it should be measurable.

To date there are many materials available but with only two overall differences in the peak permeability minimum (Gauss/Oersted) with an average of 2000 for M15 to M56 lamination materials and 6800 for M6 (75% Grain). This indicates that realistically only two types are any good for a full bandwidth flat response and these are M19 and M6 laminations.


Copper wire is used to wind transformers due to it being one of the lowest Direct Current Resistance (DCR) of all the metals used to create a magnetic field. Copper is also used to receive the flux variations in the secondary windings. If silver wire is used for the primary, it will create the same field due to the same amount of turns is needed as the copper. The only difference is a lower DCR than the equivalent copper primary, a costly decision for no performance increase.

Silver wire used for the secondary it will be about 200% more sensitive than copper. If the primary has very low level flux motion from higher harmonic content sounds, silver wire will reproduce it. This is the only increase in performance offered by silver wire when used as a secondary.

Wire Insulation

If the customer wishes a different insulation to be used with his transformer, he can build it himself. Electra-Print Audio will determine which wire insulation is appropriate for each transformer design.


The size of a SE type transformer will be much larger than the equivalent push-pull transformer. Size is mostly determined by the current through the primary winding. But lower frequency response and power level also have an effect. The transformer size will be determined by these parameters and not by the customer. If the customer needs an exact same size transformer to match the other, it is best to find another from the same manufacturer manufactured in the same year or buy two from us. Then they will match in size.

Primary Current

When a specific primary current is needed, this is what determines the primary winding wire size and core mass. If one wants a 100ma primary but with a 200ma maximum capability then we can only build a 200ma transformer with a core mass for 200ma. SE transformers are specifically built for the tube and its single operating point.


In an ideal world, the SE type transformer would be a device that makes 100 turns (the secondary) lay right next to every turn of 3000 turns (primary). In the real world, the most efficient arrangement of primary/secondary that can come close to the ideal is to use single secondary impedance interleaved with the primary. For example: a] 4 ohms or 6 ohms only rather than 4 plus 8 ohms or b] 12 ohms for 8 and 16. Also odd impedances like 5 ohms only or any other singular impedance, 5 or 8 or 10 ohms are equally efficient. The reason this is that multiple taps leave unused wire within the winding. These will cause dips or peaks across the bandwidth. Note that the early four secondary arrangements as the ST3KB style are this type with no unused windings.

Determining The Plate Load

The plate load for a 300B is 3000 ohms. Not necessarily. Our Western Electric reference book indicates the 300B will operate from 1500 to 6500 ohms load depending on the operation point and job needed. This goes for all tubes triode, tetrode or pentode. When the SE output primary impedance is lower than what the tube is setup for, it will distort. If the primary impedance is higher than what the tube is setup for, it will work well (at least 1% Total Harmonic Distortion (THD) with only a small drop in power. Best operation design for any power triode is to operate it very close to full plate dissipation for highest power output with 1% THD (mid-power) or less.

To find the plate load that a tube likes, use a SE transformer that you know the ratio of. For example, 3000 ohms to 8 ohms use the math 3000/8=375 square root yielding 19.36 or turns ratio. This is the test procedure: a] set up a breadboard with the tube selected, b] set up power supplies and such for full operation of this tube, d] connect a 1 kHz drive signal or viewing signal with a variable secondary load, e] then measure power output take AC Root Mean Squared (RMS) voltage, at the secondary with its load, and finally f] take voltage squared divided by load impedance used. This will give you output power of this tube at its operating point you selected. To see what plate load the tube likes at this operating point for example, highest power at good waveform is, lets say, 10 ohms. Knowing the transformer is 19.36 Turns Ratio (TR) and it is a higher primary load because its now 10 instead of 8 ohms, lets say 4000 ohms to 10 ohm, this gives 20.0 TR, not there yet. Take 3800 and 10 ohms, its 19.49 TR, close enough to 19.36. So plate load this tube likes is 3800 ohms to an 8 ohm speaker.