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Low Pass Filter

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Consider the circuit shown in Figure 2.32. Note similarities to the RC circuit that

we

used to first understand the effects of a capacitor. The difference is that now we

are

going to apply an AC signal to the input rather than the step input we applied

before.

25 I may just be a slow learner, but it took me a while to understand this leading

vs. lagging terminology

and what it really means. There isnt a magical time machine in a cap that makes

the current change

before the voltage; it is merely delaying the current change. Of course, if there

were a time machine in

there, wed have to call it a flux capacitor!

26 Like resistance, but not exactly; keep in mind that it is an analogy, a very

close one, but an analogy

nonetheless. This behavior is the result of the phase delay we discussed earlier.

Think way back to Chapter 1:

The mass doesnt have friction, but it feels the same as friction when you start to

move it. If you were

to move it back and forth at the right rate, you could get it to feel exactly like

friction. The shifting phases

in voltage and current create the same resistance effect when dealing with caps and

inductors.

120 V

AC

Vi

R

Vo

C

FIGURE 2.32

Cap-based low-pass filter.

Its About Time 49This circuit is known as a low-pass filter, and all you really

need to know to understand it is the voltage-divider rule and how a capacitor

reacts to frequency. If this

were a simple voltage divider, you could figure out, based on the ratio of the

resistors, how much voltage would appear at the output. Remember that the

cap is like a resistor that depends on frequency and try to extrapolate what will

happen as frequency sweeps from zero to infinity.

At low frequencies the cap doesnt pass much current, so the signal isnt affected

much. As frequency increases, the cap will pass more and more current, shorting

the output of the resistor to ground and dividing the output voltage to smaller

and smaller levels. There is a magic point at which the output is half the input.27

It is when the frequency equals 1/(2p RC). You might have noticed that this is the

same time constant that we used earlier when we first looked at caps. Kind of cool

when it all comes together, isnt it?

This is known as a low-pass filter because it passes low frequencies while reducing

or attenuating high frequencies. You can make a low-pass filter with an

inductor and resistor, too. Given that the inductor behaves in a way that is

opposite of a capacitor, can you imagine what that might look like? Have a

look at Figure 2.33.

Thats right; you swap the position of the components. Thats because the

inductor (being the opposite of a cap) passes the lower frequencies and blocks

the higher frequencies. It performs the same function as the low-pass RC circuit

but in a slightly different manner. You still have a voltage-divider circuit, but

instead of the resistor-to-ground changing, the input resistor is changing. At

low frequencies the inductor is a short, making the ground resistor of little

Vi

L

R

Vo

FIGURE 2.33

Inductor-based low-pass filter.

27 This is also known as the 3 db down point. I am avoiding decibels for now to

limit the amount of

knowledge that you need to assimilate.

50 CHAPTER 2 Basic Theoryeffect. As frequencies increase, the inductor chokes28 off

the current, reacting in

a way that makes the input element of the voltage divider seem like an increasingly

large resistance. This in turn makes the resistor to ground have a much

bigger say in the ratio of the voltage-divider circuit.

To summarize, in the low-pass filter circuits, as the frequencies sweep from low

to high, the cap starts out as an open and moves to a short while the inductor

starts out as a short and becomes an open. By positioning these components in

opposite locations in the voltage-divider circuit, you create the same filtering

effect. The ratio of the voltage divider in both types of filters decreases the

output voltage as frequencies increase. All this lets the low frequencies pass and

blocks the high frequencies. Now, what do you suspect might happen if we

swap the position of the components in these circuits?

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