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Simulating op amp noise

Steve Hageman - April 09, 2013

Previously I discussed how to use a spreadsheet to visualize an op amp's Noise to help pick the
lowest noise for any source resistance [1].
In this article we will use Texas Instruments capable SPICE like simulator called Tina-TI [2] and the
Visualization techniques described earlier to help design a fairly optimum circuit like one I had to
recently work with.
Why use TI's simulator when there are so many others to choose from? One Word: Models. No,
this doesn't mean op amp models, but rather a very cleverly done set of Voltage and Current Noise
Models that are easy to use and simulate both the flat broadband portion of the noise and also the
1/f region very well. Tina also has an essentially One Button simulation for noise that produces
noise spectral density plots and total integrated output noise which really speeds up the circuit
design process.
I will Let TI's Art Kay describe how to setup these noise sources and run the simulations as Art has
done a masterful job of this and his presentations are easily found on the web [3].
These Voltage and Current noise models are added to an ideal op amp's input, then three
parameters are added to each model and we have a very accurate simulation of any op amp's
Voltage and Current noise and as an added bonus we get a complete integrated noise plot as well!
A Sample Design Problem
This design required that a gain-of-three, non-inverting amplifier be placed between an existing
resistive source that has a resistance of 3500 Ohms. The sensor output is 0 to 5 volts so the amplifier
output will be 0 to 15 volts. The amplifier load is high impedance. The overall circuit's small-signal
bandwidth is to be around 500 Hz. The basic problem is to design this interface amplifier for very
low additive noise. Figure 1 shows the basic circuit.

Figure 1: The basic circuit as drawn in Tina. R1 simulates the resistance of the
low noise sensor OP2 is a generic op amp model that does not include a noise
model, the noise sources used to model the real op amp's Voltage and Current
noise are provided by TI's macromodels Vn1 and In1. Reference 3 describes
exactly how to set the simulations up in Tina to measure op amp noise.
The first part of the design is easy, that is setting the feedback resistor's value. Since the amplifier
output is such a high voltage we will pick the feedback resistor to limit the current required to drive
the feedback to around 2.5 mA. This then sets the feedback resistor value of Figure 1 to 4000 Ohms
and the input resistor is then found to be 2000 Ohms to get the required gain.
Note that the feedback resistors also add noise, but in this example, the parallel resistance they
present to the negative input is less than half the value of the source resistance, so they will be
ignored for now. In the simulation that follows they will not be ignored, so we will get a final
accurate result.
How To Start?
Nearly every engineer who has set about designing their first low-noise amplifier has searched data
sheets for low Voltage Noise devices. Then the realization hits that as the source resistance
increases the Current noise starts to become a factor and may even dominate the total amplifier's
noise.
In a previous article [1] I described how to visualize an op amp's total noise versus source resistance

and introduced a concept of Ropt or the optimum source resistance for any given amplifier.
This is preferable to making tables of device Vn and In values and trying to decide which will
produce the lowest noise.
Op amp Noise Comparison @ 10 Hz
LT1028 Vn = 1 nV/rt-Hz
AD8675 Vn = 3.5 nV/rt-Hz

In = 4.7 pA/rt-Hz
In = 0.3 pA/rt-Hz

Table 1: Which amplifier will produce lower noise total in our proposed circuit the Linear Technology LT1028 or the Analog Devices AD8675? It's very difficult
to tell from data sheet parameters alone.
Using the Visualizer however and the likely candidate is easy to spot (Figure 2).

Figure 2: Plotting the LT1028 and the AD8675 noise at 10 Hz together on the
Visualizer Spreadsheet [1] provides immediate results. The sensor's source
resistance was also drawn on this graph as a red vertical line at 3.5 k Ohms. At
this source resistance value the AD8675 can be seen to be clearly the lower total
noise amplifier, even though its data sheet Voltage Noise value is 3.5 times that
of the LT1028.
An interesting item to note in Figure 2 is the Ropt values that are plotted for each op amp. At 10 Hz
the Ropt of the LT1028 is 210 Ohms and the Ropt of the AD8675 is about 12k Ohms.
As was discussed previously, in most circuit configurations, operating at or below Ropt will give the
lowest total noise in an actual circuit like this. From the Ropt values we can narrow the choice also
as the Ropt of the LT1028 is way too low for the circuit we are working on even though it is

commonly thought of as the lowest voltage noise op amp on Earth, at least that's the way I always
think of it.
Is Ropt the bottom line?
Is Ropt the bottom line?
Ropt changes with frequency generally it is lower in the 1/f region and higher in the flat noise
regions. I have found that if your circuit needs to work to DC you need to pick the amplifier based on
the lowest frequency Ropt value. This is especially true if the 1/f corner frequency is high, since in
this case the noise can add up pretty quickly at lower frequencies.
If the amplifier is AC coupled above the 1/f region of the noise then the higher frequency Ropt value
can be looked at as the 1/f noise can be filtered off by proper selection of the AC coupling capacitor,
which acts like a high-pass filter.
Total Integrated Noise
The bottom line in any circuit is total integrated noise however. As mentioned, Tina takes only one
button push for a complete noise analysis and one of the resulting graphs is total integrated RMS
noise.
Figure 3 is a plot of the total integrated noise of a LT1028 connected up like the circuit shown in
Figure 1. As can be seen, as the bandwidth keeps increasing the noise keeps increasing, eventually
going off screen.

Figure 3: Total integrated noise for a LT1028 in the circuit of figure 1. As the
bandwidth keeps increasing the total integrated noise keeps increasing.
The design goals said that the small-signal bandwidth of the design could be limited to around
500Hz. Adding noise filtering capacitors at every opportunity in the circuit produces the circuit of
figure 4. This will control the ever increasing total Integrated Noise of the amplifier circuit by
limiting the bandwidth to only what's necessary for the final design.

Figure 4: To limit the noise bandwidth and hence the total integrated noise of
the circuit simple filtering has been added to the original schematic at every
conceivable point. This filtering limits the bandwidth of the circuit to around
500 Hz.
With filtering applied as in figure 4 the total integrated noise is then plotted and shown in figure 5.

Figure 5: When the filtering of figure 4 is simulated again the total integrated

output noise is now seen to be limited to about 900 nV RMS.


Let's take a look at how the LT1028 and AD8675 compare for total integrated output noise when
they are both applied to the schematic of figure 4.

Figure 6: The total integrated noise of both the LT1028 and the AD8675 for the
circuit of figure 4 are presented side by side. The AD8675 is the lowest noise
amplifier in this example because of it's lower current noise in spite of the fact
that it's Voltage Noise at 10 Hz is 3.5 times the Voltage Noise of the LT1028.
As can be seen in Figure 6 the AD8675's total integrated noise is 700 nV RMS while the LT1028's
total integrated noise is 900 nV RMS. The Visualization Spreadsheet let us see that this would
probably be the case and it took only seconds to make an informed choice between the op amps
simulation of each op amp's total integrated noise also proved the point and takes very little time
with the proper tools.
With Visualization tools and a simple way of simulating op amp noise with TI's Tina SPICE simulator,
designing for low noise is much faster and sure than with previous cut and try methods.
References
[1] EDN, Visualize op amp Noise
[2] Tina-TI is available free from Texas Instruments, http://www.ti.com/tool/tina-ti
[3] Kay, Art. Introduction to SPICE Noise Analysis