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The Basics of Mixers

By Christina Nickolas About this publisher
Contributed By Electronic Products
2011-10-20 Electronic Products magazine and serves
Mixers are used in a variety of RF/microwave applications, including military radar, cellular base stations, and engineers and engineering managers
more. An RF mixer is a three-port passive or active device that can modulate or demodulate a signal. The responsible for designing electronic
purpose is to change the frequency of an electromagnetic signal while (hopefully) preserving every other equipment and systems.
characteristic (such as phase and amplitude) of the initial signal. A principal reason for frequency conversion is to
allow amplification of the received signal at a frequency other than that of the RF.
Mixers available at Digi-Key

RF Mixers
Additional RF Mixers found
in Digi-Key's product index.

Figure 1: A mixer presented symbolically.

Figure 1 shows the mixer’s three ports: fin1 and fin2 are the input ports while the output port is the both the sum
and the difference in frequency of the inputs:

fout = fin1 ± fin2

Figure 2: Representation of downconversion and upconversion.

The three ports (Figure 2) are referred to as the RF input port, LO (local oscillator) input port, and the IF
(intermediate frequency) output port. A mixer is also known as a downconverter if the mixer is part of a receiver
or as an upconverter if it is part of a transmitter.

Depending upon the application in which the mixer is being used, the LO is typically driven with either a
sinusoidal continuous wave signal or a square wave. In concept, the LO signal acts as a gate of the mixer in
which the mixer is considered ON when the LO is a large voltage and OFF when it is a small voltage. The LO
can only be an input port, while the RF and IF ports can be interchanged between the second input or output.

When the desired frequency is less than the second input frequency, the process is called downconversion. The
RF is then the input while the IF is the output. When the desired output frequency is greater than the second

on the requirements of an application. For a passive mixer. CL is the most important parameter next to the noise figure. 6. and mixer imbalance. An active mixer is made of active devices. so in this case an LNA is usually added prior to the mixer. In addition.5 to 9 dB. Other parameters to become familiar with include image rejection. The signal ports can be impedance-matched to a broad range of frequencies. while the integrated input amplifier provides excellent LO-to-IN isolation. when the LO frequency is less than the RF frequency. single-balanced. The balanced design results in low LO leakage to the output. Noise figure (NF): Defined as the added noise generated by the mixer and present at the IF output. Below are a few examples. a low-power high-performance broadband active mixer. Linear Technology offers the LT5560. a passive implementation that uses diodes as nonlinear elements or FETs as passive switches. the NF is almost equal to the loss. Dynamic range: This is the signal power range over which a mixer provides useful operation. This may impact the overall noise performance of the system. while conversion loss (known also as CL) measures the insertion loss in a passive mixer. Spurious: Spurious external signals generate undesired frequencies that may fall into the IF-band. Passive mixers are widely used due to their simplicity. diode series resistance. Figure 3: Linear Technology LT5560. They are configured to provide conversion gain. A wide selection of mixers can be found on the Digi-Key site. Other losses that may occur are from transmission line losses. Typical values of conversion loss range between 4. 5. Isolation: This is defined as the amount of power leakage from one port to another. and 1 dB compression point. When isolation is high. Some applications require a specific amount of harmonic distortion. As an example. Determine the LO. such as transistors. the wider the frequency ranges for the three ports. In a receiver. and require less power to drive the LO port. two-toned third-order intermodulation. This double- balanced mixer can be driven by a single-ended LO source and requires only –2 dBm of LO power. gain compression. . the lower the CL the better. Of course. When the LO frequency is above the RF. Here the IF is the input while the RF is the output. conversion gain measures the signal gain in an active mixer. it is called low-side injection and the mixer is a low-side downconverter. RF. They can be monolithically integrated with other signal processing circuitry and are less sensitive to load-matching. and good intermodulation distortion (IMD) performance. It is defined as the difference in power between the input RF power level and the desired output IF frequency power level. Some mixer parameters that engineers will find in a datasheet are as follows: 1. wide bandwidth. the worse the CL. intermodulation. There are three basic types of active and passive mixers: unbalanced. and the mixer is a high-side downconverter. Active or passive implementations are used depending on the application. 2. Finally. the leakage between the ports will be small. which allows the LT5560 to be used as an upconversion or downconversion mixer in a wide variety of applications. the noise figure is the second important parameter (CL is the first) for the passive filter. Input intercept point (IIP3): IIP3 is the RF input power at which the output power of the unwanted intermodulation products and the desired IF output would be equal. Active mixers are mostly used for RFIC implementation. Generally. Conversion gain is defined as the ratio of the IF output power to the RF input power. For passive mixers. most of all. dc-offset. and there are advantages and disadvantages. exhibits a conversion loss rather than gain. determine the type of packaging the mixer will have. Conversion loss or gain: Measured in dB. such as diodes. Selecting a mixer Mixer selection depends on many factors and. 3. and double-balanced. and IF frequency ranges involved as well as the LO drive required. good isolation between the signal ports. a passive mixer is made of passive devices. balun mismatch. it is called high-side injection. Spur tables provided by manufacturers show the relative amplitudes of each response under given LO drive conditions 4.input frequency the process is called upconversion.

fLO = 2080 MHz. NXP Semiconductor offers the BGA2022 MMIC mixer that features a wide frequency range: Cellular band (900 MHz). Specifications (with reference to VS = 2. beliefs.500 MHz. The designer should fully understand all mixer properties to efficiently translate this frequency properly and without any distortions. a noise figure (DSB) of 12 dB typical.” MT-080 Tutorial. These downconverter mixers operate with RF input frequencies between 400 MHz and 2. Figure 4: Maxim’s MAX2682 circuit.800 MHz. and viewpoints of Digi-Key Electronics or official policies of Digi-Key Electronics. References 1. PCS band (1. Analog Devices “Mixer and Modulators. low-cost. beliefs. Ph.900 MHz). By Ferenc Marki and Christopher Marki. fIF = 280MHz) include a high conversion gain of 6 dB typical. Digi-Key Electronics. and downconvert to IF output frequencies between 10 and 500 MHz. Mixer Basics Primer.D. Signals at the RF input port are mixed with signals at the LO port using a double-balanced mixer. Copyright © 1995-2018. The MAX2680/MAX2681/MAX2682 from Maxim Integrated Products are small. fRF = 1. low-noise downconverting mixers designed for low voltage operation and well-suited for use in portable communications equipment. PLO = 0 dBm. All Rights Reserved. A Tutorial for RF & Microwave Mixers. and an output third order intercept point of 7 dBm. 2. and WLAN band (2. IS = 6 mA. and viewpoints expressed by the various authors and/or forum participants on this website do not necessarily reflect the opinions. Thief River Falls. Summary The purpose of the mixer is to provide both the sum and difference frequency at the output port when two input frequencies are provided at the other two ports.8 V. 701 Brooks Avenue South. Disclaimer: The opinions.4 GHz). MN 56701 USA .