Magnetic Ballast vs Electronic Ballast: Differences & Comparison


Written by

Thomas Carter



Marcos E. Williamson

magnetic ballast vs electronic ballast

When it comes to lighting systems, ballasts play a crucial role in regulating the electrical current that flows to the bulbs. There are two main types of ballasts: magnetic and electronic.

While magnetic ballasts have been around for decades and were once the standard for lighting systems, electronic ballasts have gained popularity in recent years due to their increased efficiency and energy savings.

In this magnetic ballast vs. electronic ballast blog post, we will take a closer look at the key differences between the two types of ballasts and their respective advantages and disadvantages to help you make an informed decision when choosing the right ballast for your lighting system.

Magnetic vs. Electronic Ballast


You can use both magnetic and electronic ballasts for fluorescent lamps and HID lamps. But they are different in many ways.

Understanding Magnetic Ballasts

1. What is a magnetic ballast?


A magnetic ballast is an older type of ballast that uses an inductor to regulate the current in a lamp.

It consists of a magnetic core wrapped with two coils of copper wire and a starter. This type of ballast is heavier and bulkier than an electronic ballast, and it operates at a lower frequency.

2. Circuit diagram & wiring diagram


3. What is the working principle of a magnetic ballast?

When current flows through the copper wire wrapped around the magnetic core, it creates a magnetic field. This magnetic field stores energy and releases it when the lamp is turned on. The starter provides a high voltage pulse that ionizes the gas in the light tube, allowing the current to flow through and produce light.

4. What are the pros & cons of magnetic ballasts?

Magnetic ballasts are cheaper than electronic ballasts and can be effective in smaller lighting systems.

However, they are less energy-efficient, generate more heat, and make flickering and humming noises. They also have a shorter lifespan and require more maintenance.

Understanding Electronic Ballasts

1. What is an electronic ballast?


An electronic ballast is a more modern type of ballast that uses electronic components to regulate the current in a fluorescent lamp. It converts the AC voltage from the power supply into a DC voltage that is used to power a lamp.

2. Circuit diagram & wiring diagram


3. What is the working principle of an electronic ballast?

Electronic ballasts control the current in a lamp by using semiconductor devices to switch the lamp on and off at high frequencies. This allows for more precise and efficient regulation of the current and produces a more stable light output.

Compared to magnetic ballasts, electronic ballasts are lighter and smaller. They also run at a higher frequency.

4.  What are the pros & cons of electronic ballasts?

Electronic ballasts are more energy-efficient, produce less heat, and have a longer lifespan than magnetic ballasts.

They do not flicker as much and make less humming noises. So, they are more comfortable for the eyes and ears.

However, electronic ballasts are more expensive to purchase and require specialized knowledge to assemble and maintain.

Magnetic vs. Electronic Ballasts: Key Differences Between the Two


1. Construction & design differences

Magnetic ballasts are bulkier and heavier, whereas electronic ballasts are smaller and more lightweight. Magnetic ballasts also operate at a lower frequency, while electronic ballasts operate at a higher frequency.

2. Efficiency & energy usage differences

Electronic ballasts are more energy-efficient and create less heat than magnetic ballasts. In addition, they have a longer service life and produce less flickering as well as humming noises.

3. Cost & maintenance differences

Magnetic ballasts are cheaper to purchase than electronic ballasts but require more maintenance and have a shorter lifespan.

Electronic ballasts are more expensive but do not need as frequent maintenance and can serve you for a longer time. It is worth considering the initial upfront cost versus the long-term energy savings.

Electronic vs. Magnetic Ballast: Which is Better?

To make this decision for yourself, consider the advantages and disadvantages of both.

1. Magnetic ballasts

  • Affordability: Magnetic ballasts are cheaper to manufacture and purchase than electronic ballasts.
  • Durable: They have a longer lifespan than electronic ballasts and can handle power surges and fluctuations better.
  • Compatible with Older Lamps: Magnetic ballasts are compatible with older T12 lamps, which are being phased out but may still be in use in some locations.
  • Inefficient: They are not as energy efficient as electronic ballasts, leading to higher electricity bills.
  • Flickering: Magnetic ballasts may cause fluorescent lamps to flicker or buzz, which is annoying for the eyes and ears.
  • Bulky: They are larger and heavier than electronic ballasts, thus less suited for tight or cramped spaces.

2. Electronic ballasts

  • Energy Efficient: Electronic ballasts are more energy efficient than magnetic ballasts, thus more cost-effective option in the long run.
  • Noise-Free: Electronic ballasts produce no flickering or noise, creating a more comfortable and productive environment.
  • Compact: They are smaller and lighter, making them ideal for use in tight or cramped spaces.
  • Higher Cost: Electronic ballasts are more expensive to purchase than magnetic ballasts.
  • Durability Issues: Electronic ballasts are susceptible to power surges and fluctuations, which can reduce their lifespan.

Electronic Ballast vs. Magnetic Ballast: Which is Right for You?


When selecting a ballast, it is important to consider the following factors:

  • Energy Efficiency: If reducing energy consumption is a priority, electronic ballasts are the better choice.
  • Lighting System: Electronic ballasts are designed to work with T8 and T5 lamps, meanwhile magnetic devices are compatible with T12 lamps.
  • Space: Electronic ballasts are smaller and lighter than magnetic ballasts, making them ideal for tight spaces.
  • Budget: Magnetic ballasts are cheaper to purchase, but electronic ballasts are the more cost-effective option in the long run due to their energy efficiency.

Which Types of Lighting Systems Work Best With Magnetic or Electronic Ballasts?

Magnetic ballasts are best suited for T12 lamps in areas where energy consumption is not a priority and space is not an issue.

On the other hand, it is best to replace magnetic ballast with electronic ballast for T8 and T5 lamps in areas where energy consumption is a priority and space is limited.

Frequently Asked Questions


What is a ballast?

If you have ever replaced a light bulb, chances are you’ve encountered a ballast. A ballast is an electrical device that regulates the current in a lamp, preventing it from burning out too quickly.

Its primary function is to limit the flow of electrical current to the lamp to maintain a steady and optimal level of light output.

Without ballasts, lights would be unstable and flicker, making them not only unpleasant to look at but also potentially damaging to the human eye. Ballasts also protect the bulb from overheating, which can cause a fire hazard.

Ballast Compatibility Chart: What lamps need a ballast?

HID and fluorescent ballast types need a ballast. You also use a ballast for compatible LED tubes, though there are LEDs that do not require a ballast.

Can you check if a ballast is magnetic or electronic? How to check what kind of ballast you have?

Yes, you can check the type of ballast you have. How to test? Consider:

Seeing if it has a starter. If it does, it is a magnetic ballast.

Reading the label. It should say if it is a magnetic or electronic one.

Looking at your lights through a smartphone camera. If there are dark lines that appear, the ballast is magnetic.

Can a magnetic ballast be replaced with an electronic ballast?

Definitely. Switching from a magnetic ballast to an electronic one can be a smart move because they are more energy efficient and can lead to big savings on your electricity bill over time. They also offer better light output without irritating humming noises.

Why are magnetic ballasts replaced?

Magnetic ballasts are less energy efficient, tend to flicker, and make humming noises. They are also bulkier and heavier than electronic ballasts.

When did electronic ballasts come out?

Electronic ballasts were introduced in the late 1980s. They became more common in 1990 and continue to remain a popular choice for lighting systems today.

Will led tubes work with magnetic ballast?

Most ballast-compatible LED lights cannot work with magnetic ballasts. Hence, you will not hear a lot of magnetic ballast LEDs.


Now that you have gone through this magnetic ballast vs. electronic ballast guide, you should know all the essentials to these two types of ballast, including the ballast definition electrical and magnetic, the working principles, the pros and cons, etc.

Hopefully, this can help you make an informed decision on the type of ballast that best suits your lightning needs.

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