Lighting Transformers: Magnetic vs. Electronic

What is a transformer?

Transformers are devices used in lighting systems to help reduce or “step-down” high voltages to lower voltages. Commonly used in homes with track/monorail or landscape lighting systems, transformers convert  the standard residential electric current (120 volts) to a lower voltage (12 volts or 24 volts) required by the lamp or lighting system. A variety of other everyday appliances use transformers as well, including low voltage external path lights, under cabinet lighting, door bells and thermostats.

There are two types of transformers: magnetic and electronic. Each have their own benefits and disadvantages. It is important to not mix magnetic and electronic transformers in the same dimming circuit. Learn the differences between each transformer below.

Magnetic Transformer

Magnetic low-voltage transformers are most often used in commercial applications. They utilize coils to transform higher voltages into lower volts. There are two coils within a magnetic transformer: the primary and secondary. The primary coil is more tightly wound and carries the input (higher voltage). The secondary coil carries the lower voltage, which is induced by the high voltage in the primary coil. The exact voltage, or output, of the transformer depends on the number of winds in the two coils.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Long life span of over 15 years
  • Provides higher capacity to support circuits
  • Rated at higher operating temperature than electronic transformers
  • Heavy, big, and difficult to hide
  • Must be close to lighting system to provide a sufficient amount of energy to all lamps

Electronic Transformer

Electronic low-voltage transformers are most often used in residential settings. Within the electronic transformer is an invertor that changes the frequency of the voltage. Typically, the frequency of a 120 volt home power outlet is changed from 50 hertz or 60 hertz to 20,000 hertz.  The higher the frequency of the voltage, the smaller the transformer needed to provide the required output.

Advantages Disadvantages
  • Smaller and lighter, easier to hide
  • Less expensive
  • More versatile–fits in smaller areas and can be placed 6-8ft. away from light source
  • Shorter life span of 5-6 years
  • Heat sensitive–warm environments will reduce their life span
  • Can be noisy
  • Only supports runs up to 6-8 feet; needs additional support for longer runs

Have more questions regarding transformers?

Contact us and we’ll assist in finding you the right transformer for your lighting system.

T. 626-279-2658




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