Extra Class question of the day: frequency synthesizers

Most modern amateur radio transceivers use digital frequency synthesizers instead of analog oscillators to generate RF signals. On reason for this is that they are much more stable than analog oscillators. The two main types of digital frequency synthesizers are the direct digital synthesizer and the phase-locked loop synthesizer

A direct digital synthesizer is the type of frequency synthesizer circuit that uses a phase accumulator, lookup table, digital to analog converter and a low-pass anti-alias filter. (E7H09) The phase accumulator is a principal component of a direct digital synthesizer (DDS). (E7H12) The information is contained in the lookup table of a direct digital frequency synthesizer is the amplitude values that represent a sine-wave output. (E7H10)

Both the direct digital synthesizer and the phase-locked loop synthesizer have issues with spectral purity. The major spectral impurity components of direct digital synthesizers are spurious signals at discrete frequencies. (E7H11)

For a more detailed explanation of how direct digital synthesizers work, see the electric druid’s  Synth DIY page.

Another type of frequency synthesizer that’s popular are those that use a phase-locked loop. A phase-locked loop circuit is an electronic servo loop consisting of a phase detector, a low-pass filter, a voltage-controlled oscillator, and a stable reference oscillator. (E7H14) 

A phase-locked loop is often used as part of a variable frequency synthesizer for receivers and transmitters because it makes it possible for a VFO to have the same degree of frequency stability as a crystal oscillator. (E7H17) Frequency synthesis, FM demodulation are two functions that can be performed by a phase-locked loop. (E7H15)

An important specification for phase-locked loop circuits is the short-term stability of the reference oscillator. The short-term stability of the reference oscillator is important in the design of a phase locked loop (PLL) frequency synthesizer because any phase variations in the reference oscillator signal will produce phase noise in the synthesizer output. (E7H16) Phase noise is the major spectral impurity components of phase-locked loop synthesizers. (E7H18)

Another important specification is capture range. The capture range of a phase-locked loop circuit is the frequency range over which the circuit can lock. (E7H13)


  1. Elwood Downey, WB0OEW says:

    Thanks for the pointer! That is definitely the best and simplest explanation of DDS I have ever read.

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