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Technically Speaking

Getting back to basics: Filter terminology

By Harold Kinley

Filters are indispensable in ra- 1 illustrates how to calculate band- characteristics of ripple and return.
dio communications systems. Re- width. Simply subtract the lower Ripple occurs within the filter’s
ceivers and transmitters use them frequency (F1) where the response passband. Expressed in decibels, it
in RF stages, intermediate fre- drops by 3dB from the higher fre- quantifies the difference in the
quency stages and audio frequency quency (F2) where the response level of the maximum (crest) to
stages. Much of the basic filter ter- drops by 3dB. The difference in minimum (trough) response. Don’t
minology applies to all types of fil- these two frequencies equals the confuse “filter return” with trans-
ters used in receivers, transmitters, filter’s bandwidth. mission line “return loss.” Return
Another important filter charac-
teristic is “Q.” The filter’s center fre-
quency divided by its bandwidth
defines its Q. (See Figure 1.) The ⫺6dB

⫺3dB higher the Q, the more narrow the

bandwidth at a given center fre-
quency. In land mobile radio work,
cavity resonators achieve high Q.
Crystal filters offer high Q, but they
have higher insertion loss. And
crystal filters can’t be subjected to
high transmitter power. FREQUENCY
F1 Fc F2 FREQUENCY F1 F2 F c F3 F4
Selectivity makes a big differ-
Figure 1: The bandwidth of this pass- ence in selecting the proper filter Figure 2: The shape factor of this
band filter is equal to the difference be- for a particular application. Usu- bandpass filter can be determined by
tween F2 and F1, the frequencies where ally, the selectivity is described as determining the frequencies of the 6dB
the response is down by 3dB from the “so many decibels down” at some points and the 60dB points. The shape
maximum value. This is called the half- frequency removed from the filter’s factor is then equal to (F4 ⫺ F1)/(F3 ⫺ F2).
power point or the point where the volt- center or pass frequency. For ex-
age has dropped to 0.707 times the ample, the selectivity of a cavity
value at the peak of the response curve. is an unexpected and unwanted
resonator at 155MHz might be de- peak in the response curve in the
The Q of this filter can be determined
by dividing the center frequency (Fc) by scribed as “15dB down” at a fre- frequencies outside of the pass-
the bandwidth. If the center frequency quency 1MHz above or below the band, known as the stopband.
is 150MHz and the bandwidth is 1MHz, center frequency. Insertion loss is another impor-
then the filter Q is 150/1⫽150. A filter’s response isn’t always tant characteristic to consider in
symmetrical. In fact, it seldom is. selecting a filter. It is the loss pre-
multicouplers, combiners and an- Therefore, the actual response sented to the signal as it travels in
tenna systems. might be “12dB down at 1MHz the desired signal path. Generally,
above the center frequency” and it is desirable to keep insertion loss
Bandpass “15dB down at 1MHz below the to a minimum. In the real world,
Bandpass filters pass a given center frequency.” however, a certain amount of inser-
band of frequencies and reject fre- Shape factor expresses filter se- tion loss must be accepted to
quencies outside the passband. lectivity in another way, as a ratio achieve the desired or required de-
When selecting a bandpass filter, of the filter’s response at 60dB of gree of selectivity. Fortunately, in-
first determine how much rejection attenuation and 6dB of attenua- sertion loss doesn’t always harm
or attenuation must be provided by tion. Generally the shape factor is
the filter at frequencies outside of defined as shown in Figure 2. The
its bandwidth. The bandwidth ex- lower the shape factor, the steeper Contributing editor Kinley, MRT’s technical
consultant and a certified electronics techni-
tends to frequencies above and be- the skirts of the filter’s response cian, is regional communications manager,
low the filter’s center frequency. curve. For example, a shape factor South Carolina Forestry Commission,
Frequencies above and below the of unity would indicate that the Spartanburg, SC. He is the author of Stan-
center frequency, at which the fil- response curve of a filter has a rect- dard Radio Communications Manual, with In-
strumentation and Testing Techniques, which
ter response falls to a level 3dB angular or square shape—not is available for direct purchase. Write to 204
below the center frequency, define available in the real world. Tanglewylde Drive, Spartanburg, SC 29301.
the limits of the bandwidth. Figure Figure 3 shows additional filter His email address is halkinley@charter.net.


Technically Speaking

AMPLITUDE withstand the dissipation.

RIPPLE Inherent high insertion loss is
cited as a reason not to use crystal
filters. But where crystal filters are
needed, it is rare that the insertion
RETURN loss would cause serious degrada-
tion to the receiver system perfor-
mance. Crystal filters normally are
considered in the first place when
site noise is usually high—so high
that the insertion loss is of little
Figure 3: Ripple in the passband or return in the consequence.
stopband can be detrimental to circuit operation. CRT display of the response of a band-
reject filter built into a broadband
Band-reject filters reject a fre- preamplifier.
the system performance. In many quency or a band of frequencies
cases, several decibels of insertion while passing all others. The re-
loss might be tolerated before sys- sponse of a simple band-reject fil- tion between the two. Repeaters of-
tem performance begins to degrade. ter looks like an inverted passband ten have closely spaced transmit-
An example is a transmitter site filter response. Photo 1 shows a ter and receiver frequencies and a
with high ambient noise—more the CRT display of the response of a need for a pass-reject duplexer.
rule than the exception these days. band-reject filter built into a broad- In today’s crowded spectrum, few
One important thing to remem- band preamplifier. This band-reject of us can get by without having to
ber about insertion loss is that the filter attenuates signals from sta- purchase and install filters of one
filter’s power input rating must be tions in the FM broadcast band. type or another. On the bright side,
based on its insertion loss. Inser- most applications engineers at
tion loss causes the filter to dissi- Bandpass/band-reject companies that manufacture and
pate power. The higher the inser- Bandpass/band-reject filters are sell such filters are quite knowl-
tion loss, the more power dissipates sometimes simply called pass- edgeable and helpful. Discuss your
within the filter. reject filters. You may see the name needs with them, and they will usu-
For example, when 100W is ap- abbreviated as “BpBr” (or some- ally come up with a solution for
plied to a filter with 3dB insertion thing similar). The pass-reject fil- your interference problem. The
loss at the operating frequency, the ter is commonly used in duplexer more you know about filters, the
filter must be rated to dissipate configurations. It can be designed better you can communicate with
50W of power. Power dissipates as to reject one frequency and pass an- the applications engineer.
heat, and the filter must be able to other frequency with little separa- Until next time—stay tuned! ■