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Supply Chain Insights

What’s the difference between a rheostat and a potentiometer?

Unsure how to decide on a potentiometer or a rheostat? Dive into the differences and why one might work better than the other in certain situations.

If you're looking to purchase a potentiometer or rheostat for an electronics product, it's important to know what is the difference between a potentiometer and a rheostat. In this article we'll compare potentiometers vs rheostats and explain why one might work better than the other in certain situations. We'll also show you how to source both types of components online when you're ready to buy.

Comparing Potentiometer vs. Rheostat

The simplest way to explain the difference between a potentiometer and rheostat is that potentiometers have three terminals while rheostats have two. With 1 input and 2 outputs, a potentiometer can be used as a rheostat by leaving one terminal floating. However, a rheostat cannot be used as a potentiometer unless you add at least one other resistor and ground the rheostat’s output.

Should you use a rheostat or a potentiometer?

When selecting these components, it’s important to note that they have slightly different specifications. So what are potentiometers used for and what are rheostats used for?

Let's take a look at some common applications where they are used:

  • Rheostats are commonly used as volume controls in audio equipment; this allows users greater accuracy over changing volume levels than would be possible using potentiometers alone. A rheostat switch or knob can also provide smoother transitions between settings because they don't require mechanical movement like potentiometers do—instead, their resistance varies electronically based on varying voltage signals from other components within the circuit (such as amplifiers).
  • A potentiometer can also be used for volume or brightness controls on many devices such as computers, TVs and stereos because they can change their resistance over time depending on how much current flows through them (as long as they're connected between two fixed points). The effect of this is that they provide an adjustable voltage output rather than just being capable of producing an output voltage based on how much current flows through them at any given moment in time - so they're good at providing smooth changes rather than sudden ones! This makes them ideal for use in audio applications where sound quality matters because changing volumes gradually helps avoid distortion during playback; however, if you want something instantaneous then these would not be suitable for controlling volume levels on your mobile phone for example because it takes too long before making adjustments noticeable enough for consumers' liking.

Important specifications when comparing rheostats vs potentiometers

When you’re comparing rheostats vs potentiometers, it’s important to consider the maximum resistance and wiper resistance, as well as the taper style. The power rating is also worth looking at because this determines how much current can flow through a device before overloading it. Some devices have a tolerance and hysteresis rating that helps determine how much variation there will be in readings as you adjust them.

The potentiometer symbol 

There are two types of potentiometer symbols: American Standard and International Standard. A good way to remember the symbols is that they both lightly resemble the potentiometer wiring.

How to source potentiometers or rheostats

When sourcing electronics components, Amplio is the best solution available. By enabling users to predict, identify, and mitigate intermediate inventory shortages, Amplio removes the friction involved in evaluating risks to your bill of materials. 

After predicting which parts are at the highest risk of shortages or delays, the platform then identifies alternative parts supply options- including those in a secondary marketplace used to offload excess inventory- allowing companies to double and triple source their most important components.

From the largest manufacturers of electrical systems to high-growth stage hardware manufacturers, Amplio serves companies from all walks of business.

Written by
Terry Jeffords

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