A Wien bridge oscillator is a type of electronic oscillator that generates sine waves. It can generate a large range of frequencies. The circuit is based on an electrical network originally developed by Max Wien in 1891. Wien did not have a means of developing electronic gain so a workable oscillator could not be realized. The modern circuit is derived from William Hewlett's 1939 Stanford University master's degree thesis. Hewlett, along with David Packard co-founded Hewlett-Packard. Their first product was the HP 200A, a precision sine wave oscillator based on the Wien bridge. The 200A was one of the first instruments to produce such low distortion.
The key to Hewlett's low distortion oscillator is effective amplitude stabilization.
The amplitude of electronic oscillators tends to increase until clipping or other gain limitation is reached. This leads to high harmonic distortion, which is often undesirable.
Hewlett used an incandescent bulb as a positive temperature coefficient (PTC) thermistor in the oscillator feedback path to limit the gain.
The resistance of light bulbs and similar heating elements increases as their temperature increases.
If the oscillation frequency is significantly higher than the thermal time constant of the heating element, the radiated power is proportional to the oscillator power.
Since heating elements are close to black body radiators, they follow the Stefan-Boltzmann law.
The radiated power is proportional to T4, so resistance increases at a greater rate than amplitude.
If the gain is inversely proportional to the oscillation amplitude, the oscillator gain stage reaches a steady state and operates as a near ideal class A amplifier, achieving very low distortion at the frequency of interest.
At lower frequencies the time period of the oscillator approaches the thermal time constant of the thermistor element and the output distortion starts to rise significantly. Light bulbs have their disadvantages when used as gain control elements in Wien bridge oscillators, most notably a very high sensitivity to vibration due to the bulb's micro phonic nature amplitude modulating the oscillator output, and a limitation in high frequency response due to the inductive nature of the coiled filament.
Modern Distortion as low as 0.0008% (-100 dB) can be achieved with only modest improvements to Hewlett's original circuit.
Wien bridge oscillators that use thermistors also exhibit "amplitude bounce" when the oscillator frequency is changed. This is due to the low damping factor and long time constant of the crude control loop, and disturbances cause the output amplitude to exhibit a decaying sinusoidal response.
This can be used as a rough figure of merit, as the greater the amplitude bounce after a disturbance, the lower the output distortion under steady state conditions.
If Av is greater than 1, the input admittance is a negative resistance in parallel with an inductance.
If a resistor is placed in parallel with the amplifier input, it will cancel some of the negative resistance. If the net resistance is negative, amplitude will grow until clipping occurs.
If a resistance is added in parallel with exactly the value of R, the net resistance will be infinite and the circuit can sustain stable oscillation at any amplitude allowed by the amplifier.
Supply voltage is purely sinusoidal