HF Ragbag

It's easier to present short topics on catch-all web pages — HF Ragbag shows some 2012 non-VHF experiments in no particular order. I also share thoughts on circuit building and writing: we can think and work better.

1.  Comments from the Workbench - The Need for Clarity

On Building

In 2012, I boosted my circuit and writing quality to improve your experence: a genuine, return-to-basics approach in amateur, component-level electronic design. As possible, RF circuits will feature 50 Ω input and output ports — totally adopting a 50 Ω environment — for I'm convinced this is the best way to go. The 50 Ω building and measuring standard offers much: an easy-to-interface modular approach; 10 dB improved sensitivity over a 10X 'scope probe and if wanted, measurement with commercial or homebrew test equipment such as a spectrum analyzer, network analyzer or RF power meter.

Like many, I started out by collecting and copying circuits with little emphasis on true understanding. I wanted a completed circuit —  quickly as possible — failing to develop my design skills. Without design skills honed by studying and properly measuring our circuits, we bide in hit-and-miss electronics — a frustrating repetition of trial and error, over and over again. We ought to adopt the attitude and thinking of engineers while keeping our design work —including the math — fun. However, embracing scratch-homebrew electronics with the overall goal of trying to understand each stage takes effort. "There is no substitute for hard work" wrote Thomas A. Edison. Scratch homebrew involves reading, simulating, collecting parts, mastering new techniques and building or buying test equipment.

This is more than knack, an abused noun that often means "hack". Our key tasks: to measure, analyze and understand the circuits we copy or create takes patience and practice. Dissecting circuits to understand their function means to hypothesize and reflect — to apply science on paper, with software, and finally, through careful bench experiments. Often we lack the math skills or test equipment to fully investigate some aspects of our circuits, but try our best: measure what we can measure, seek help and grow. I hope this site shows our hobby can be less about making stuff and more about the rewards of actual design: an authentic, personal journey to get better at something you love.

I've never been much of a kit builder; it's too much like Max Klein's Paint by Number for my tastes. But kits dominate HF QRP homebrew and may offer a cost effective way to make gear; especially test gear. Stuffing parts in a printed circuit board won't teach you much about design, but might get your feet wet. Some people remain perfectly happy building kits or madly copying circuits — all the power to you!  Do whatever you want. One day you might awaken, but don't worry; I won't try to goad, or convince you.

My favorite builders include people over 50 who suffer the often crippling symptoms of 'appliance apathy' — an epiphany reminds them why they first got into radio: homebrew experiences. Maybe a crystal radio set, or a simple superhet receiver they breadboarded long ago. Then they come back full circle; like a loop antenna. Oh-boy — "Bob" rediscovered his radio roots and needs to unleash his creativity and passion to learn and improve. I write for people like Bob. Heck; I am Bob.

On Writing

You'll notice improved narrative writing too: I prefer to read and write crisp statements in short sentences and paragraphs. Brief, yet descriptive text accompanied by ample white space, clear headings and bulleted lists invites you to read on. Plain language writing — simple, clear, writing that is easy to read and understand — signals a refreshing move away from the turgid, word-filled claptrap I learned in grade school. Making your prose easier to read requires greater effort writing and re-writing. My first..to...fourth drafts always suck.

Passive verbs, or nouns and adjectives that function as verbs with no clear subject confuses readers and boosts wordiness: I employ active verbs to invigorate my writing — active verbs connote me or some else performing an activity you can visualize or feel. Actions that may inspire, persuade, or even vex you!  Ours' is an emotional hobby.

RF electronics contains rich amounts of jargon. Of course, we must learn some jargon to communicate our ideas as hobbyists, but writing jargon to impress, or to place yourself above others lacks humility and alienates people. Do you know anyone who likes being talked down to? The first step towards becoming humble is to admit you're not humble and then work on it —  and I'm working on it.

Although I enjoy writing about electronic experiments, I'm not sure it's worthwhile — Does anyone actually design circuits anymore?  Well, back to my 1970's-style analog experiments...

2.  Magnitude Only Scattering-Parameters

Above — A simple model describing the S-parameters displayed on QRP / SWL HomeBuilder in a Class A amplifer with 50 Ω ports.


Any device with 2 connectors may be modelled at AC for a specified frequency with just 4 scattering parameters: forward gain, reverse gain + input and output impedance (match or VSWR).

  1. S-parameters address voltage ratios: comparing the amplitude of different signals at the 2 ports. For example, S21 is the magnitude of forward gain and equals the ratio of output voltage to input voltage.
  2. S-parameters are vectors; a mathematical quantity that may be visualized as an arrow anchored at 1 end that pivots around its base. The length of the arrow represents magnitude while the angle it makes with another vector or its base line decribes its phase in degrees. In addition to phase and magnitude, S-parameters allow analysis of gain, stability, complex impedance (resistance + reactance), admittance and other vector quantities.
  3. Measure S-parameters with all ports terminated in a 50 Ω impedance. 

Some of us worry only about the gain, losses or "match" in our 50 Ω circuits and could care less how the signal phase changes as it passes through our amplifiers or attenuators.  I express only S-parameter magnitude in logarithmic form (dB) and take this ber simplified approach because builders can easily measure S11, S12, S21 and S22 on a 50 Ω test bench with a small staple of bench accessories + a 50 Ω 'scope or detector.

Topics like matrix theory, vector math, the "jay" operator, converting S-parameters into other matrices, Smith charts etc. may turn off the average amateur designer. You advanced readers, may raise your 2 port network skills by visiting better web sites + reading books, simulating with SPICE, or better yet, measuring your port parameters with a vector network analyzer.

3.  More on Feedback Amplifiers (FBA)

Many builders (myself included) copy feedback amps rather than design their own. By tweaking the emitter current, shunt and series feedback while measuring S11 and S22, plus simulating with a program called FBA08.exe, I've learned it's possible to design good feedback amps  FBA08 is 1 of the Ladpac programs that ships with EMRFD.

I wanted a FBA with ~35 mA emitter current for improved IMD and low distortion on strong signals. Such an amp might follow a diode ring mixer in a receiver I.F. chain.

Above — My 7 MHz FBA set up. Wes, W7ZOI suggested using 5 nH as the default emitter inductance and 10 nH for the default collector to base inductance in FBA08. These represent stray inductances in your circuit breadboard. Emitter inductance affects the input impedance more.

Zin = input impedance. Zout = output impedance.

Explore this program to learn how changing the emitter resistor, feedback resistor and emitter current affect the input and output return loss.

Adjusting the transformer N and load values only affect the calculations for Zin because this app wasn't really designed to crunch output transformer Z ratios for Zout manipulation. The default output Z = 200 Ω and thus for the N parameter with a 50 Ω RL, RL is multiplied by N^2 to set the amplifer load impedance.

From FBA08 simulations: with an emitter current of 35 mA, my series feedback = 6.2 Ω and shunt feedback = 1500 Ω.

I chose a simple voltage divider bias network to set up the ~35 ma and ensure reasonable temperature stability.

Above — Choosing the emitter and nearest standard value bias network resistors to set up ~ 35 mA emitter current with a program. Actual biasing requires you to set up the correct emitter current + establish reasonable temperature stability.

Click and scroll to #5 for some basic transistor biasing notes. While this supplement shows a simple method for stable bias networks, it probably understates that Beta bias stabiility is a function of the ratio of RB to RE, where RB = the 2 base resistors in parallel. The lower the ratio the better, but then more input power is lost in those resistors. A higher ratio reduces stability but wastes less input power — another trade off we must negotiate!  See Ken Kuhn's web site for thorough, expert-level information on voltage divider biasing your BJT amplifiers.

I use NPN DC BIAS, a program I wrote, however, Wes included 1 in the Ladpac software called Biasnpn08.exe that's also good. Determine the VC for the program by first multiplying the value of your decoupling resistor by the emitter current in Amperes to learn the voltage drop across the R. Then, subtract that voltage drop from your power supply voltage: 12.22V - (.0371 A X 22 ohms) = 11.4 VDC. 

Our software allows you to pick approximate base and emitter resistor values to set up a desired current in your amplifier breadboard, but you must still choose reasonable values for temperature stability. Tweak them as needed, or choose some other bias method such as a current source. Let's move to the bench...

Above — My 7 MHz FBA with some measured S-parameters. On the bench, I lowered the 6.2 Ω series resistor to 4.7 Ω  because the voltage divider bias network also affected Z in. I tried 3.3, 4.7 and 5.7 Ω resistors for series feedback and settled on 4.7 Ω since an S11 of -35.6 dB wins the prize!

The S22 of -19.2 dB bettered the value predicted by FBA and seems quite acceptable considering we normally follow a FBA with a 6 dB pad that raises the output return loss another 12 dB. FBA08 gets you close, however, only bench experiments will realize the amplifer you want, and sometimes, a decent S11 and/or S22 may elude you.

Above — A photo of the 35 mA feedback amp built on scrap of copper clad board.

Parallel Transistor Feedback Amp

Above — A feedback amp with two 2N5109 transistors wired in parallel. Click for a photograph of this prototype. I lacked 6.8 Ω resistors and placed 1 Ω + 5.6 Ω to make the needed R for a strong S11.

Originally, I built FBA #2 with a 4:1 Z transmission line transformer, but measurements of S22 disppointed me. Later, a L wound with 8 turns around an FT37-43 ferrite toroid drove an S22 of 24 dB, but S11 was only 18.5 dB.

With the amp set up to measure return loss on the input port, I placed a 500 Ω potentiometer in series with a 100 Ω resistor between the collector and base terminals and tweaked the pot to obtain the lowest peak-peak voltage in my 'scope (lowest return loss). After, I removed the pot and measured its resistance at 572 Ω. Finally, I soldered in a 560 Ω resistor and re-checked S11. Perfect. With my goal of at least 20 dB for S11 and S22 obtained, I powered down my bench and took some photos.

Wes, W7ZOI displayed parallel transistor FBAs in EMRFD and other works and recently I noticed Lyle, KK7P employed a parallel NE46134 FBA as a post-mixer amplifer in the Elecraft K3.

Wes wired 2 parallel 2N3904s to avoid using an expensive medium power BJT like the 2N5109. Doing so splits the heat between 2 devices, but does not deliver better IMD performance beyond what is offered by increasing the emitter current. In a typical FBA bias setup, you may measure as much as 10 volts between the collector and emitter terminals and with a supply of 12 VDC + a standing current of  20 mA, the collector dissipation = ~200 mW. This is about maximum for a TO-92 device likes a 2N3904, but only half of maximal dissipation for 2 in parallel.

Then, too, the K3 applies 2 parallel medium power BJTs get power dissipation with an SMT transistor. For strong IMD performance, Lyle and crew are throwing 80 mA or so into the pair — hard to do with SMT parts, so they overcome heat and power dissipation issues with 2 devices. Cool (literally).

Heat sink BJTs when you crank up the emitter current.

Above — An attempted 2N3904-based parallel feedback amp. Each BJT draws ~21 mA emitter current. Without the 6 dB output pad, the output return loss = 14 dB — I failed to realize both a strong (raw) S11 and S22.

The power gain including the 6 dB pad = 10.5 dB. I'll discard this design since it's substandard — without failures, victory may taste bland.

For bench designers, making a parallel FBA where both the raw S11 and S21 are > 20 dB is difficult and bench failures may either frusturate you, or enhance your resolve to succeed. With success, great satisfaction arises and I'm addicted to that feeling.

An FBA bench triumph means you managed to establish the perfect combination of series + shunt feedback, emitter current and the correct output transformer ratio for that transistor plus its biasing circuitry — no small task.

A well matched amplifier = a thing of beauty! The fetching trio of high S11, S22 and S21 rewards your efforts and boosts your confidence to experiment further. And so it goes...

Sadly, only a fraction of hobbyists create and evaluate their own circuits.

4.  Microphonics in Direct Conversion Receivers

LO  = local oscillator or VFO.  DC Receiver = direct conversion receiver.

Microphonics are induced electrical responses that arise from a mechanical vibration on the DC receiver chassis or circuitry. The audio amp, acting like a transducer, makes a clicking, or popping noise when you do things like tap the chassis, or unplug components — the disturbance throws out a burst of DC voltage that's amplifed by the AF chain and pops the speaker.

We may read or hear inexperienced builders tell us to expect microphonics in our DC receivers — de trop folklore strikes again!  As a student of EMRFD and those wise designers who live in and around Beaverton, Oregon, I share some of their best tips to decrease microphonics in your DC receiver projects. " Keep Your LO From Radiating to the Outside World and Keep Unwanted RF from the Outside World Getting Into Your Receiver” seems the appropos title for the bulleted notes that follow:

  Read EMRFD pages 8.7 to 8.11 and then build or apply the presented examples. Wisdom is experiential; it comes by doing, not just reading. It's no accident that Chapter 8 author Rick, KK7B mentions microphonics and hum in the same section. I've never read more thorough notes regarding DC receiver nuances anywhere; for example, did you consider that an ungrounded air variable capacitor shaft poking outside the LO box will radiate LO signal per Figure 8.18 ? I didn't in my early days.

  Stick your LO in a RF-tight enclosure with RF-grade connectors and coax to patch the AC signal to the product detector. Bypass RF with feedthrough capacitors on any DC voltage lines that pass through the LO chassis wall. Many enthusiasts have only operated kitted or homebrew DC receivers where the LO and receiver guts lie on the same circuit board — this ensures microphonics. Wes and Roger built the historic Ugly Weekender VFO, transmitter and receiver in seperate boxes — resulting in low microphonics and no pulling of the VFO when keying the transmitter. Nothing in that 2 part QST series was done by accident. Read these articles to "go to school".

Reciprocally important; keep unwanted outside world RF from getting inside your DC receiver!  Apply resistors plus capacitors, or inductors plus capacitors to decouple and bypass RF from moving along on your DC voltage lines, key line, microphone cables etc.

Keep product detector port-to-port isolation high. Typically, we employ double balanced mixers to obtain high port-to-port isolation. I cover mixer balance on this page . For diode ring mixers, measure the return loss of the circuits that you connect to the product detector LO, RF and AF ports — I aim for 20 dB or greater return loss on my LO output, RF output and AF amp input circuits to help preserve the product detector balance and keep port isolation as high as possible. Along with 50 Ω amplifers, attach attenuator pads, AF diplexers, or whatever to help increase port return loss as required.

  LO-RF port isolation: Consider a common gate amp with an output matching network to get a high output return loss (S22). The common gate amp provides strong reverse isolation without adding much noise.

  Avoid end-fed wire antennas where there is a strong antenna field right next to your radio.

I favor sturdy chassis/cabinets with rubber feet. Homebrew copper clad board or die-cast aluminum cabinets may work best as joints and screwed connections won’t corrode. This is a weak recommendation.

Double the LO frequency or apply a heterodyne VFO. Often microphonics arise in the VFO tank. EMRFD cover this well. If the VFO operates at a significantly different frequency than any of the signals reaching the balanced mixer, leaked LO won't cause as much havoc as when a LO tank is tuned to the mixer RF port frequency.

 Despite proper techniques, RF can exit via the antenna port and make its back into our rig through power supply cables (often modulated by our house AC electricity). In some cases, we require special power supply decoupling to decrease hum and microphonics. We might need to add a common mode choke (+/- capacitors) for common mode noise suppression in addition to the usual differential mode choke(s) and capacitors. In my main shack power supply, I run a common-mode choke plus I soldered a 0.01 uF capacitor across each bridge rectifier diode to bypass RF.

Some radio operators just run battery power supplies.

Above — Feedthrough capacitors. I prefer hole mount over solder mount parts, however, quality feedthrough capacitors of any kind tend to be expensive. As a hobbyist, I'm constantly searching for bargains and when I find 1, I'll purchase a bunch to meet my current and future needs.

Above — Some double balanced mixers from my collection: ADE-1, NE602, TUF-1, TUF-2, SBL-1 and a SRA-173H; a MiniCircuit Lab's Level 17 diode ring mixer.

You owe it to yourself to listen to a DC receiver designed and built to reduce microphonics — music to our ears.

5.  Some Experiments with RF Bypass Capacitors


Bypass implies a low impedance path to ground for RF at 1 or more frequencies. After reading EMRFD pages 2.28 - 2.31, I decided to explore this subject for the first time. My bench measurements from Spring 2012 punctuated how little I knew about RF bypass and I share these notes as something for me and others to build on.

In these experiments, I

1.  observed the self resonant frequency of MuRata RPE Series, 50v, 5% capacitors with X7R temp compensation
     at 0.1, 0.01 and 0.001 F.

2.  examined a wire short, plus 1 and then 2 Johanson Dielectric 0.01F, 50v, X7R, size 1206 chip capacitors.

3.  tested a 0.1 F RF cap plus a parallel 2.2 F electrolytic capacitor to look at parallel resonance side effects.

4. attempted to reduce the Q of some parallel capacitors to reduce unwanted high impedance peaks.

Above — The frequency dependent components of a capacitor are shown in this capacitor equivalent circuit schematic; essentially an RLC network. Engineers use mathematical formulae to describe the components of a capacitor along with reactance and with this math, you might derive an unknown variable from available data so it's worth diving into on your own.

ESR or equivalent series resistance = the sum of all of a capacitors’ resistive components. Expressed in ohms, ESR acts like a resistor in series with the capacitor. Normally we desire capacitors with an ESR as low as possible. Consider reading the capacitor datasheets for those your stock and/or searching for information regarding low ESR capacitors on the Internet.

ESL refers to the equivalent series inductance; the sum of all the capacitor's inductive components. This includes lead length in hole-through parts.

In a given capacitor, the series resonant frequency is the frequency where the inductive reactance from the ESL = the capacitive reactance, but since the 2 reactances are 180 degrees opposite in phase, they cancel to drop the impedance to 0 and the capacitor acts like a resistor at its ESR.

The series inductance of a capacitor may be determined using a network analyzer and unfortunately this in unattainable by most average builders.  When designing RF bypass with network analysis, we strive for a low impedance over a wide frequency range, although small ripples typically occur.

Above —  A plot of equivalent series inductance. ESR tends to increase with frequency.


Above — My test set up. I performed all analysis with a tracking generator plus spectrum analyzer. The 50 Ω system used short coax patch cables fitted with BNC connectors with 20 dB attenuator pads before and after the capacitors under test. The capacitors shown as C0 and C1 were soldered on a copper board with short leads and BNC connectors. C1 is omitted when evaluating only 1 capacitor.

You may also perform capacitor self resonant frequency testing with a vector network analyzer, a signal generator plus a 50 Ω terminated scope, or with a sweep generator ramp-driving the oscilloscope X input while simultaneously driving a VCO with logarithmic output to the Y oscilloscope input. SPICE simulations may also yield insight.

Above — The -27 dBm reference with a through-connector between my 2 coax patch cables (C0 + C1 board removed).
To save time I shot these SA photos handheld and prefer a slower shutter to capture a nice CRT tracing, so some of the photos show a little hand jitter.

Single Shunt Capacitors

Above — C0 = 0.1 F. I view the capacitor like a trap. At almost 5.8 MHz lies the peak attenuation, or lowest impedance — this is C0's self resonant frequency. The peak bypass frequency lies ~ 60 dB down. At 20 MHz, the attenuation is only ~ 30 dB.

Above — Another shot of the 0.1 F bypass cap with a 200 MHz span. At 50 MHz, the reference signal lies only ~ 17 dB down. At 100 MHz, the attenuation is only ~ 11 dB — this hardly qualifies as “bypass” much above the self resonant frequency. Above the self resonant frequency, a capacitor's XL affects impedance more than the ESR and XC of the capacitor.

Above — C0 = 0.01 F. The peak bypass frequency (capacitor self resonant frequency) is centered at 17.5 MHz and is ~ 50 dB down; not as deep as with the 0.1 f cap. At 50 MHz, the attenuation is ~ 21 dB.

Above — C0 = 0.001. The response is peaked at 62 MHz with an attenuation of ~42 dB. At 100 MHz, the signal is 17 dB down. Again, the peak attenuation looks diminished compared to that of the 0.1 F and the 0.01F caps.

Capacitors in Parallel

Now I placed 2 caps in parallel (C0 + C1) as some builders do to try and garner a wider attenuation bandwidth.

Above — C0 = 0.1 F + C1 = 0.1 F. The peak attenuation = 60 dB at 8 MHz; up 2 MHz from that of the single 0.1 f capacitor. At 100 MHz, attenuation = ~ 19 dB — better than a single 0.1 F but still low.

Above — C0 = 0.1 F + C1 = 0.01 F. Yikes!  With the 2 different cap values, we get an unfortunate high impedance blip peaking at 13 MHz. Each capacitor exerts its self resonant frequency, but in between these self resonant frequencies, lies a disaster.
When placed in parallel, the inductance of 1 capacitor resonates with the capacitance of the other to form a parallel resonance — leading to a high impedance — that blocks RF bypass and peaks at a specific frequency.

But wait. Things can get worse:

Above — C0 = 0.1 F + C1 = 0.001 F. The wide value variance between these 2 capacitors creates a huge, high impedance spike where the attenuation is only about 6 dB at 40 MHz. Catastrophic bypass indeed. катастрофа.

A 7 mm Length of Copper Wire

Above — A 7 mm piece of 26 gauge copper wire was shorted to ground instead of C0. This wire measured at ~7 nH of inductance and I saw that attenuation decreases with frequency from 62 dB at 8 MHz to ~33 dB at 20 MHz. Even a short piece of wire doesn't exhibit a flat, wideband bypass.

Above — This spectrum analysis shows three 7 mm wires shunted to ground – not much different than 1 wire. 

0.01 F Chip Capacitor(s)

Above — The magnified copper board that I tested one or two 0.01 F chip capacitors. You can see 1 capacitor soldered in.

Above — C0 = 0.01 F SMT cap. The SMT parts exhibited a peak attenuation of 45 dB at ~37 MHz. The attenuation dip lacks the sharp peak of the hole-through 0.01 F cap shown eariler and exhibits a somewhat wider bandwidth. The self resonant frequency of the chip capacitor is 5 MHz higher than the particular hole-through capacitor I measured. Click for a side by side photo.

Above — C0 = 0.01 F + C1 = 0.01  F. The SMT parts exhibited a peak attenuation of 45 dB at ~37 MHz;
similar to the single 0.01 F chip cap, but with a few more dB attenuation between 10 and 20 MHz.

0.1 F Ceramic + a 2.2 F Electrolytic Capacitor

Above — C0 = 0.1 F and C1 = 2.2 F. The low Q  2.2 F C1 electrolytic cap did not create the a parallel resonance with C0.  Shaky photo — sorry.  I also tested a 10 and 22 F cap in parallel with C0 and saw no disturbance caused by a parallel resonance between a big AF capacitor and C0 (an RF value cap) with my RF spectrum analyzer.

Some additional experiments applying a low Q AF capacitor plus a ceramic RF capacitor for wideband bypass yielded some interesting results and I'll present these in a future project.

Capacitors in Parallel with a Series Resistor to Lower Q

In previous experiments, placing 2 RF capacitors in parallel led to the formation of a peaked high impedance blip between the low impedance peaks set by the self-resonant frequency of the 2 capacitors. If multiple capacitors are soldered in parallel, the series inductance of each capacitor will resonate with the capacitance of the next smaller C value.

One solution is to put a resistance in series with all but 1 of the parallel capacitors so that the Q of resonance formed by this capacitor's series inductance and the capacitance of the next smaller capacitor is low. If capacitors exhibited 0 inductance then putting capacitors in parallel would be fine, however, since capacitors exhibit inductance, a parallel resonant frequency may occur with capacitors in parallel.

I found applying a series resistance to lower Q may flatten the impedance versus frequency response of the bypass network, but didn't decrease the impedance at any 1 frequency. Optimal bypassing or achieving the lowest impedance over a wide frequency range presents a complex topic that might even challenge some engineers.

Above —   A method to exact wideband bypass.

Above — My first try with C0 = 0.1 F, R0 = 39 Ω and C1 = 0.01 F. I arbitrarily placed the 39 Ω resistor in the R0 slot and saw that the high impedance peak seen earlier disappeared. This gave me the confidence to try 3 capacitors. I had no idea what R value to use and really just wanted to see what happens.

Above — The spectrograph with C0 = 0.1 F, R0 = 10K, C1 = 0.01 F, R1 = 47K and C3 = 0.001 F.

Above — C0 = 0.1 F, R0 = 10K, C1 = 0.01 F, R1 = 47K and C3 = 0.001 F. Again, no high impedance peak response; the self resonant frequency is close to that measured with a single 0.001 uF earlier, however, the peak bypass frequency moved from to 57 MHz from 62 MHz.  Changing the resistor values moved the self-resonant frequency and the peak attenuation value a little, but I fell kilometers short of setting a wide band bypass. My approach lacks any real science and I need to step it up.

I hope to learn what capacitor values and types, plus R values to apply. This sounds like a job for simulation as well as further on-bench experiments? After writing this material, I learned that Ken Kuhn wrote an Excel spreadsheet to examine the net impedance of up to 3 capacitors in parallel  Click to download.

Above — Just as a gag, I removed R0 from capacitor C0 in 1 circuit and then hooked up the board. The high impedance peak re-emerged.

A Commerical Example

I found a wideband MMIC employing ( R1 + C1  and C2 ) as part of a bypass strategy. Cick for the datasheet excerpt. Note the size of the SMD capacitors; 0603 — tiny caps!  My experiments showed some high gain MMICs require careful low inductance grounding and correct part choices or crippling oscillations and other bypass issues might arise.

My Learnings

When we think bypass, we really should think frequency dependent attenuation. The bypass cap is actually a network where impedance versus frequency varies significantly. At its self resonant frequency, a capacitor will exhibit the lowest possible impedance making a single capacitor a relatively narrow-band bypass device. Intuitively, we might want to choose a capacitor with a series resonant frequency at the frequency we wish to bypass, however, if we require a wideband bypass, the need to evaluate our bypass capacitor(s) increases.

In short, above the series resonant frequency of a capacitor, its bypass is basically useless and we should likely ensure that the self-resonant frequency of the particular capacitor we're using is above the highest frequency to be bypassed.

Bypassing with 2 or more unmatched RF caps will lead to an attenuation gap with peak(s) determined by the parallel resonance of these capacitors. Going above a 10:1 capacitor ratio, for example, greater than a 0.1 and a 0.01 f, may cause a severe gap in attenuation at the parallel resonant frequency generated by the 2 capacitors.

Mine and work from more reputable authors clearly shows we should avoid applying parallel RF bypass capacitors of different values unless we apply a Q-reducing resistor to the capacitor(s) in parallel with a given RF bypass capacitor. Please read EMRFD page 2.3 for more information and watch out for abundant folklore concerning RF bypass.

The need for measurement and analysis challenges us; in some cases, you may realize good attenuation in the radio band of interest, while poorly bypassing the frequencies above it and compromise an otherwise good design.

Capacitor lead length may affect self-resonance at RF.

Future Work

It would be awesome to learn more about getting a wide-band bypass. I want to order some low or ultra-low ESR caps and measure them. My MuRata RPE Series caps specify low inductance; low is relative — how low is low? Should we apply chip capacitors for bypass in our critical circuits such as low noise VHF amps or MMICs?. Am I fussing about nothing?  Lots of questions that folklore just won't answer.

Per EMRFD page 2.3, bypass is only half the equation — we need to decouple + bypass to filter RF from moving along our DC lines and so forth.

6.  Some Experiments with Chokes plus Decouple and Bypass Filters


SRF = self resonant frequency; XL = inductive reactance; XC = capacitive reactance. L = inductor; C = capacitor; R = resistor.

Like the capacitor, inductors are networks with R, L and C and possess a SRF. R, L and C may vary with factors including the number of windings, frequency, or whether the L is wound on a ferromagnetic material, or air wound.

Considering R, L and C:

at frequencies below the SRF, XL dominates;
at frequencies above the SRF XC dominates;
at the SRF, the magnitude of XL and XC are equal but 180 degrees out of phase leaving resistance to dominate.

 I encourage you to learn more by visiting the fabulous web site of David, G3YNH.

Above — Reference signal at -27 dBm.  I used the exact test method shown in Section 5.

For those unaware, the spectrum analyzer screen is divided into 10 by 10 graticules. Each vertical division represent a 10 dB change; read down from the reference -27 dBm to measure the attenuation of the reference signal in dB.  Horizontal divisions represent frequency; start at 0 on the left hand side and increment as specified on each figure.

A Few Inductors

Above — A 19.9 uH epoxy coated choke that exhibits a primary SRF at 18 MHz and a second, smaller SRF at ~128 MHz. This wretched L gave me grief at 63 MHz. After measurement, I tossed it in the garbage can.

Above — A large, junk box choke with an SRF at about 10 MHz.

Above — I rarely use these big chokes: 870 μH with a SRF at about 2 MHz.

Above — A common L on our benches — 10 turns of #26 AWG on a FT37-43 ferrite toroid.

I couldn't measure the SRF with any span on my spectrum analyzer. I expect that a parasitic capacitance lies in parallel with the inductance, but the #43 material, with its low Q and high losses blankets the usual deep notch we see when the L exhibits a higher Qu.

10 Turns on a FT37- 43 with a Bypass Capacitor Shunting Each End

Above — Look at the big difference after adding shunt capacitors to a 10 turn FT37-43! Even at 100 MHz the attenuation lies nearly 50 dB down. Now I understand why Wes says decouple plus bypass when filtering our DC lines and so forth.

Above — The 10 turn FT37-43 coil with 0.1 μF shunt caps measured out to 500 MHz. Pardon the camera shake; I took all the photos hand held to save time.

A Resistor with a Bypass Capacitor Shunting Each End

Above — A 51 Ω resistor bypassed with 0.1 μF capacitors at each end spanned out to 100 MHz. Even at 30 MHz, the attenuation looks stellar.

Above — The 0.1 μF bypassed 51 Ω resistor out to 200 MHz. I often use a 51 Ω decoupling resistor with appropriate capacitor values in active circuits that draw from 10 - 18 mA.

Above — The "bench standard"; a 100 Ω R with a shunt 0.1 μF at each end. We use this all the time. Even at 25 MHz, the attenuation looks around 55 dB down.

Above — The 100 Ω R with the shunt capacitors decreased to 0.01μF. At 6 MHz, we're about 50 dB down. From 10 to 20 MHz, the attenuation is about as high as I can measure.

Above — 100 Ω R plus 0.01 μF caps out to 50 MHz. I've used this combination of R and C for filtering at 50 MHz a lot.

Above — 100 Ω R plus 0.001 μF capacitors out to 100 MHz. In my particular circuit, the attenuation at 50 MHz equals that of the 100 R + 0.01 μF C low-pass filter shown directly above.

Above — A 100 Ω R plus a single 0.001 μF capacitor. If you leave off 1 capacitor, a serious notch appears at ~ 68 MHz. If you flip the filter around so the bypass cap is on the right hand side, the tracing appears the same. This problem occurred with all the filters tested in all experiments. As possible, solder a suitable bypass capacitor on both sides of the R or L.

I encourage you to experiment with the SRF of coils and wideband decouple + bypass filters on your own.

QRP Posdata for Oct 2013 — SRF of some common bypass capacitors

Above — A reference table showing the self resonant frequency of several comon value bypass capacitors in my parts collection. For example, if I'm making a 21 MHz circuit, the best bypass capacitor choice from the table above = 0.01 μF. If possible, sweep the capacitors in your own collection to determine their SRF; or whether they're even suitable.

Above — The close-in sweep of the 0.001 μF capacitor tabled above.

Above — As possible, stick 2 of your bypass cap values in a pi filter network with a series decoupling L or R to derive wideband filtration. For example, to filter your DC power lines.

Above — A 300 MHz sweep of a pi filter [ 220 pF + 1.2 μH + 220 pF] for the DC supply line of a 150 MHz oscillator. The SRF peak lies at 76.69 MHz, but this filter works okay out to about 200 MHz. I placed a marker at 144 MHz and could use this filter for the 2M band as well.

Above — The network described above, except I replaced the 1.2 μH L with a size 0805 10 Ω resistor [220 pF + 10R + 220 pF] and swept to 500 MHz. I set Marker 1 on 150 MHz; the frequency of the oscillator I wanted to DC powerline filter. The resistor gives a bit more filter bandwidth around 150 MHz. A 51 or 100 Ω resistor will further increase the bandwidth while decreasing the attenuation depth somewhat. Although resistors incur a DC voltage drop, they avoid the potential of an unwanted SRF in your filter arising from a renegade inductor— and so, a resistor may pose a better choice for pi filtering DC lines and so forth. It's your call.

At HF and lower VHF, I've found q hole-through capacitor may sometimes filter better than their SMT counterpart. Click for a graphic that shows this. Presumably, the SMT cap exhibited a lower Q than the equivalent hole-though part. At some frequency above 200 MHz, the lead inductance of the hole-through capactor may cause the opposite effect.

Further, on the VHF — Vronique web page, Section 6: I swept  3 capacitors including an ultra-high Q SMT part.