Crystal Parameter Checker


This web page is a supplement to JavaScript Applet G on this web page. This software does the math using a simpified version of the method to determine motional inductance and capacitance developed by David, G3UUR. This is a very basic tutorial meant as an introductory guide for novice builders.

Shown in the photo above is 1 of my crystal parameter checkers. The schematic may be found in many places including EMRFD Figure 3.35 (See Errata) and on this pdf by Nick, WA5BDU. A power indicator LED has been added, but the circuit is the standard design. In this breadboard, the crystal being measured is tack soldered in.

Many builders just copy other builder's I.F. filter schematics, however, your crystal filters will perform better if your design is based upon the exact parameters of the crystals you have. For the simple design or optimization of a crystal filter, it is necessary to measure crystal parallel capacitance plus take other measurements to calculate motional inductance and capacitance. Determining your crystal parameters is not difficult if you have a capacitance meter, a frequency counter and some math skills. It is easiest to use a program to crunch the math; hence I wrote a stupid-simple JavaScript applet.

Designing filters is another story; it takes knowledge, practice and good software for this. Filter design theory has been extensively covered by Anatoly Zverev, Wes Hayward and others. The work of Nick, WA5BDU is also greatly appreciated. His presentations and references are excellent for those keen on learning more about filter design.

A four crystal 5.00 MHz SSB I.F. filter was desired. 20 crystals were on hand — they were from the same batch. The crystals were all placed in the above oscillator and their frequency was measured. The 4 crystals closest matching in frequency were set aside. The crystal parameters of these 4 were then determined. Typically these values are averaged and this average is used to design or tweak the filter using software.

1.  Measure Capacitance

The procedure for determining the parameters of 1 crystal is described.

The first step is to measure the crystal capacitance (called parallel capacitance) using a capacitance meter.

Measuring the crystal parallel capacitance

 Parallel capacitance of the above 5.0 MHz crystal in an AADE LC meter

Next, measure the capacitance of the open switch plus the 33 pF fixed value cap wired in-situ. This will give you the total circuit capacitance of the open switch, the 33 pF fixed value capacitor, and any stray capacitance from your crystal holder, wires, etc. The switch itself plus stray wiring will be a few pF so the total should be around 36 to 40 pF or so. In my test oscillator, the result = 41.19 pF as shown. On my other crystal checker with a better switch, it's 36.9 pF.

In the calculation of crystal Lm and Cm, the parallel capacitance and the switch circuit capacitance will be summed.

2.  Measure Frequencies

A crystal is put in the oscillator with the switch open. Record the frequency. Your counter must have resolution down to 1 Hertz. After recording this value, throw the switch and measure and record this frequency. You now have all the measured values required to calculate motional parameters and adjust or design a filter. Motional parameters are calculated in Applet G.

Frequency measured with the switch open = 4.999274 MHz

Frequency measured with the switch thrown = 4.998317 MHz

3.  Do Math by Hand or with Software

The applet G calculation of the crystal parameters using the above measured values

4.  Example Filter Adjustment

It is assumed that most builders will use software to design or tweak their crystal filters. The only 2 programs tried (to date) include AADE Filter Design and the Ladpac software collection that supplements EMRFD. I am more familiar with the Ladpac programs written by Wes, W7ZOI. Only these programs are demonstrated.  Please read the instructional file Ladpac2008 Manual.pdf to understand these programs. The Ladpac software bundle includes GPLA.

The purpose of this tutorial is not to teach crystal filter design, but to describe a relatively simple method to tweak an existing design using your measured crystal parallel capacitance and its calculated motional inductance.

The first step is to digitally format your filter into a file that can be analyzed in GPLA. In my opinion, the easiest way to do this is to use the ladder circuit editor ladbuild02.exe or better yet,  its update - ladbuild08.exe. The model filter follows:

The model 5 MHz SSB filter

Clear any existing components and enter the termination R, C-par and Lm values. Qx is set at 100000

Build your filter within the editor. Save your work.  Start up GPLA and load your newly saved filter.

Set a sweep and x axis increment (-7000, 1000 and 7000 in this example). Push the Plot button

Let's say you wanted to use this filter design and have determined the average parameters of the 5.00 MHz crystals in your parts collection. Let's assume that for your crystals, C-par = 3.1 pF, and Lm = 0.098H. Input these values in GPLA.

Look what happened to the crystal filter's bandwidth. Our - 3dB bandwidth is now somewhere around 1464 Hertz. This simple experiment illustrates how important it is to use the parameters of your crystals to obtain a desired filter response.

Experiment with the various functions in GPLA to learn how to use it. Set whatever reasonable sweep you want. This program is best learned by using it repeatedly.

In the above screen capture, the above filter was tweaked to "re-establish" a -3dB bandwidth of ~2.172 KHz. All adjustment was performed entirely in GPLA by swapping capacitor values and observing the resultant waveform. When you get an overall pleasing bandwidth plus shape, but there is too much ripple at the top, generally you must increase the terminating R values. This is the brute-force, manual way to tune filters. For this method, you need not understand terminology such as as series resistance, MESH, K or Q values, Butterworth response, or Chebyshev with 0.1 dB of ripple.

Admittedly, at first, this method can be quite time consuming and tedious, however, with practice, you may be able to tweak a filter in only a few minutes. Clearly, the more you dig into understanding crystal filter design, the better your filters can be, however, getting overly complex can scare off builders who are new to this hobby. Note these filters use standard value capacitors and resistors; perfect for popcorn I.F. filters.

The original 5 MHz Model filter with updated C and R values using Lm = 0.098 and C-par = 3.1

GPLA zoom of the Y axis showing the first 20 dB of attenuation.

5.  The Model 5 MHz SSB filter Design

Although this page is not about crystal filter design, an example follows for reference purposes.

For designing filters, the application xlad08.exe is a good choice. The following 3 screen captures show the raw design process and GPLA analysis of the model 5 MHz Lower Sideband filter shown earlier with C-par = 4.65 pF and Lm = .0578. There are some great articles in print and on the Web to study if you want to learn about filter design. The Ladpac software from EMRFD  is excellent. My special thanks to Wes, W7ZOI for answering my questions about his software. From this information, I was able to make this web page.

6.  Conclusion

This web page presents a brief method to calculate crystal motional parameters and as required, to adjust crystal filter circuits to function optimally. This approach like my Java-script applet are simplistic to avoid the fear factor associated with crystal ladder design.

Listening tests are also valuable for assessing crystal filter function. Is the bandwidth as you expected? Does the filter ring excessively? Does it sound tinny? In the recent past, the crystal filters in 2 kit receivers/transceivers were tweaked as a favor to friends. Please note, I have total respect for people who sell kits and appreciate the contribution they make to our hobby.

The crystals of these Cohn type filters were removed and analyzed and the bandwidth was not as specified. In 1 case, the filter shape looked terrible in GPLA. Clearly, the kit sellers provided crystals which had markedly different parameters from those used by the original circuit designer. The I.F. filter capacitors were replaced with appropriate values and the R values were adjusted via either resistors and/or transformer ratios and the improved filters sounded pleasant.

It is a real treat to listen to a receiver with a well designed crystal filter — sadly, I don't enjoy this experience that often.

In my opinion, the best sounding CW crystal filter design is the Gaussian to 6 dB. Some operators would never use such a filter in a contest-grade receiver as the filter skirts are not steep enough for them. There are tricks to make the stop band better (more like a Chebyshev response, but without the ringing), however, this topic is out of scope.

I sincerely ask for your feedback on the G. JavaScript Applet. Does it work correctly? How could it be improved? Can you contribute better code? Thanks and 73.

QRP — Posdata for January 2012 — More on Crystal Ladder Design

Important to both superheterodyne receivers and single sideband transmitters, crystal ladder filter design lies juxtaposed as both a favorite and feared RF design topic. Newer builders may lack math skills, and/or become paralyzed by the terminology — or lack the ambition to learn or apply good bench practices. Even a cursory Internet search returns many fabulous files to read — witnessing a crystal ladder filter design article explosion.

The difficulty characterizing and building filters has progressively declined since the advent of the first handheld computers — improvements in personal computers and filter design software allows astute builders to pursue even complex xtal filter response shapes in 2012.

In QST for July 1987. Wes, W7ZOI wrote Designing and Building Simple Crystal Filters. This article promoted Cohn or Min-loss filters and its intent was to transcend the math and measurement associated with xtal ladder filters of the day and allow builders to just frequency match some crystals, and then go experiment.

In my estimation, this article proved revolutionary — soon after, builders around the globe, Elecraft, and other kit companies embraced this technique/topology and the rest is history. (I call it the paper that launched a thousand kits). If you're a new builder and feel overwhelmed by the material on or referenced by this web page, please consider first obtaining this article.

Learning about crystal ladder filter design is time well spent.

In 2011/2012 I explored the works of 3 builders who share their work via the web and/or journals.

Horst Steder, DJ6EV and Jack Hardcastle, G3JIR

The Steder and Hardcastle works emphasize that we need to measure/calculate crystal L and C parameters, plus the coupling and tuning capacitances (not just frequency). Through emails with Horst, DJ6EV, I learned many things, but 3 stand out:

  1. 1. It's better to design a good filter than fix a bad one.
  2. 2. Careful measurement of your crystal parameters plus software design and simulation = the best chance for getting your desired performance.
  3. 3. Deriving motional parameters from a 3 dB bandwidth measurement remains a great way to characterize multiple xtals. In my opinion, the G3UUR method is the easiest way to characterize a small batch of xtals.

Some of the earliest references to modern crystal ladder design I've found were written by Jack Hardcastle and published in RadCom and QST — I later confirmed this by reading this article by Wes, W7ZOI. Hardcastle's and Haywards' work proved foundational for the experimenters that followed including David Gordon-Smith, Chris Trask, Jim Kortge and many others.

Steder and Hardcastle's combined experience assessing and/or documenting crystal ladder design spans decades.

Their QEX article Crystal Ladder Filters for All may be legally downloaded from the ARRL website here.

Program download URL: (select 2010, "")

The QEX article describes Steder's Microsoft Windows™ program, methods to derive motional parameters, plus cites many important references. The main program calculates practical lower-sideband crystal ladder filters based on the exact equations published by M. Dishal in 1965. Hardcastle transformed these equations into a computer useable form in 1983 and Steder incorporated these equations into a modern, easy-to-use and interactive application with nice graphing and table displays.

For simplicity, the program assumes lossless crystals, however, the calculated values can easily be transferred into another simulation program such as GPLA to add or refine parameters such as loss resistance.

The main "Dishal" application calculates filters with Butterworth, Chebychev and constant-k (Cohn) properties and the so-called "QER" filter type by G3UUR (a low ripple version of the Cohn filter). Further; sub-programs in the top-level menu calculate xtal parameters (by both the G3UUR and 3 dB method), plus L-C impedance matching and ladder termination networks. An extensive help file well explains the program.

Iacopo Giangrandi — Introduction to Crystal Ladder Filters


Iacopo (Jack) uses a transmission measurement to infer the motional parameters — inserting a series capacitance and measuring the series resonant frequency shift was also described in 1998 by Rolf-Dieter Mergner, DJ9FG.

His web article/applications provides what is likely needed by most builders — simple filter synthesis while avoiding expensive test gear. His filters plots/figures are spectrum analyzer measurements that I really like. Although his program can generate aymmetrical filters that some builders might not be used to, the frequency domain plots indicate proper function.
Giangrandi's filter design programs appear to be based on Jack Hardcastle's work and possibly content published in a paper by Patrick Magnin, F6HYE and Bernard Borcard, F3BB in Radio REF for April 1990.

I encourage you to try all the methods and applications mentioned to discover what works best for you. Don't lose heart, for characterizing crystals with a vector network analyzer is also a time-consuming endeavor and simple often = best on the QRP Workbench.

QRP — Posdata for August 2012 — Measuring Crystal Q

Prior to July 26, 2012, I could not measure Xtal Q. Why?  I tried to measure crystal Q with the shunt-series tuned method (essentially the crystal acts as a trap and a step attenuator is used to calculate the insertion loss the xtal exhibits when centered in the notch) but failed because I could not precisely set the frequency with my homebrew L-C oscillator.

You really need a DDS or a Si570 based signal generator and preferably a spectrum analyzer to exact the measurement with the "trap method". The DDS is critical, while the SA only preferable — a power meter, or a 50 ohm terminated 'scope can work as the detector if a low-pass filter is placed just after the xtal.

On July 26, 2012 Wes, W7ZOI developed a simplified method and wrote a pdf file called Simplified Measurement of Crystal Q after feedback from myself and John Larkin about Q measurement difficulties without a digital-based signal generator. Unfortunately, this pdf file is no longer offered for download by W7ZOI. His method works well and I'm glad that as of now, I can completely characterize any crystal I own.

I present an experiment showing how I measured the Q of a 10 MHz crystal applying the new method developed by Wes, W7ZOI.

The crystal is evaluated as a N=1 low-pass filter resonated by a shunt capacitor at each end. I stuck with Wes' suggestion to try 1000 pF at 9 to 10 MHz. For lower frequency xtals he recommended trying larger value shunt capacitors. Just experiment with the shunt capacitance — if you use too high a C for a given crystal, your xtal low-pass filter bandwidth might get too narrow to measure with an L-C based signal generator.

The following diagrams employ 2 programs from the Ladpac software that ship with EMRFD

Above — Measurement of crystal filter insertion loss. In Part A, I carefully tuned my signal generator to get the highest peak-peak voltage in my 50 Ω terminated oscilloscope. I recorded this AC voltage as V Fil. In Part B, I removed the crystal filter board and replaced it with a BNC clad RF through-connector. I recorded this AC voltage as V Cal.

I discuss this standard method to measure the insertion loss or gain of a device under test in RF Workbench 2.

Even with the simplified method, you'll need a signal generator with good tuning resolution. My generator is shown on VFO 2011 as the 2.8-10.5 MHz Signal Generator. This is my version of the EMRFD Figure 7.27 generator.

Above — The formula for insertion loss using peak-peak voltages. With my 10.0 MHz crystal, V Cal = 464 mV pk-pk and V Fil = 267 mV pk-pk. The insertion loss of my crystal = 4.8 dB.

Above — First I measured C0 (C-par) and then with the G3UUR method, calculated the motional inductance of my xtal. Finally, I entered all the needed variables into Ladbuild08 to make a filter to analyze in GPLA.

Above — With GPLA, I adjusted the value for Qx up or down until my centered S21 value indicated -4.8 dB (the insertion loss of my crystal determined earlier). My crystal Q = Qx = 108286.

Above — 10 MHz Crystal filter breadboard.

Above — A sweep of the 10 MHz Crystal filter used to determine the Crystal Q