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What is a Voltage Converter?

By Larry Ray Palmer
Updated May 16, 2024
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A voltage converter is an electronic device used to alter the voltage of an electric current. When combined with extra circuitry or electronic components, the converter is sometimes used as a power supply. By definition, the term voltage converter includes voltage regulators and voltage inverter devices.

When used as a mains voltage converter, these devices control the throughput of electric current and convert it to usable power ranges for various devices. This type of converter uses mains power, which is always alternating current (AC). Sometimes called house current, mains power is a global term for the electric current supplied by single phase AC circuit. Depending upon the geographic location, the local mains power supply may deliver 210-240 volts AC (VAC) or 100-120 VAC. With this variation in the supplied voltage, electrical safety concerns and the proper operation of equipment make voltage regulations necessary.

Common examples of this kind of voltage converter usage are found in laboratory power supplies and electric transformer systems. Such devices are capable of delivering both AC and DC electric currents. In the case of laboratory power supplies, the converter is an advanced voltage regulator. These devices are sometimes used to deliver several different voltage measurements and both electric current types from a single unit. Electric transformer systems are generally restricted to a more narrow output voltage with very little variance.

This type of converter device is also common among travelers. Since different areas of the world have varied electrical supplies, converter devices may be necessary to run electronic devices from a different area. A device called a travel converter uses an autotransformer to alter the voltage of the mains power supply either up or down to match the requirements of the travelers electronic equipment.

In some cases, a mobile converter is used to regulate the flow of DC electric current. This regulation requires special circuitry to raise or drop voltage in the DC current range. A voltage converter of this type may be used to power a range of DC electronic equipment from a 12 volt DC (VDC) electronic system. Common applications include mobile phone chargers and mp3 player power cords.

Voltage inverters are another application of the voltage converter in which DC electric current is transformed into AC electric current. The inverter is used in automobiles and other vehicles with a 12 VDC electrical system. The voltage inverter uses special circuitry to convert 12 VDC into a useable replication of a mains power supply. These mobile systems are not generally designed for steady use by high power devices. The voltage inverter can, however, produce a continuous voltage for low power AC devices, such as laptop computers or other electronic devices.

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Discussion Comments

By Crimea — On Mar 03, 2014

I have definitely learned my lesson after having a few electrical appliances absolutely fried by other voltage when traveling and invested in a high quality voltage converters for travel. The good news is that most expensive electronics nowadays have it build in, such as phone chargers and computer adapters - you just need to get a plug shape converter for those. Most people don't realize though that when you travel to other countries, a plug shape converter isn't enough. And if the voltage converter isn't a good one, it can still fry your device which is what happened to my hair straightener when I went to Ghana even though I used a voltage converter. For things you may bring with you when traveling, I've found it's better to pay the extra $10 or so and get it in a model that is clearly dual-voltage.

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