A klystron is a linear-beam vacuum tube which is used as a powerful microwave amplifier which produces both low-power reference signals for superheterodyne radar receivers. It also generates high-power carrier waves for communications and the driving force for modern particle accelerators. Klystron amplifiers coherently amplify a reference signal so its output may be precisely controlled in amplitude, frequency and phase. Many klystrons have a waveguide for coupling microwave energy into and out of the device, although it is also quite common for lower power and lower frequency klystrons to use coaxial couplings instead. In some cases a coupling probe is used to couple the microwave energy from a klystron into a separate external waveguide. All modern klystrons are amplifiers, since reflex klystrons, which were used as oscillators in the past, have been surpassed by alternative technologies.
A klystron amplifies RF signals by converting the kinetic energy in a DC electron beam into radio frequency power. A beam of electrons is produced by a thermionic cathode (a heated pellet of low work function material), and accelerated by high-voltage electrodes (typically in the tens of kilovolts). This beam is then passed through an input cavity. RF energy is fed into the input cavity at, or near, its natural frequency to produce a voltage which acts on the electron beam. The electric field causes the electrons to bunch: electrons that pass through during an opposing electric field are accelerated and later electrons are slowed, causing the previously continuous electron beam to form bunches at the input frequency. To reinforce the bunching, a klystron may contain additional "buncher" cavities. The RF current carried by the beam will produce an RF magnetic field, and this will in turn excite a voltage across the gap of subsequent resonant cavities. In the output cavity, the developed RF energy is coupled out. The spent electron beam, with reduced energy, is captured in a collector.