The reflex klystron is a microwave and radio frequency amplifier. It consists of a vacuum tube where the electron beam passes through a single resonant cavity. In the reflex klystron, the electrons are fired into one end of the tube by an electron gun. After passing through the resonant cavity they are reflected by a negatively charged reflector electrode for another pass through the cavity, where they are then collected. The electron beam is velocity modulated when it first passes through the cavity. The formation of electron bunches takes place in the drift space between the reflector and the cavity.
The voltage on the reflector must be adjusted so that the bunching is at a maximum as the electron beam re-enters the resonant cavity, thus ensuring a maximum of energy is transferred from the electron beam to the RF oscillations in the cavity. The voltage should always be switched on before providing the input to the reflex klystron as the whole function of the reflex klystron would be destroyed if the supply is provided after the input. The reflector voltage may be varied slightly from the optimum value, which results in some loss of output power, but also in a variation in frequency. This effect is used to good advantage for automatic frequency control in receivers, and in frequency modulation for transmitters. The level of modulation applied for transmission is small enough that the power output essentially remains constant. At regions far from the optimum voltage, no oscillations are obtained at all. This tube is called a reflex klystron because it repels the input supply or performs the opposite function of a klystron.
There are often several regions of reflector voltage where the reflex klystron will oscillate; these are referred to as modes. The electronic tuning range of the reflex klystron is usually referred to as the variation in frequency between half power points—the points in the oscillating mode where the power output is half the maximum output in the mode. The frequency of oscillation is dependent on the reflector voltage, and varying this provides a crude method of frequency modulating the oscillation frequency, albeit with accompanying amplitude modulation as well. Modern semiconductor technology has effectively replaced the reflex klystron in most applications.