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Chapter: Communication Theory : Amplitude Modulation

Superheterodyne Receiver

Superheterodyne Receiver
A superheterodyne receiver(often shortened to superhet) uses frequency mixing to convert a received signal to a fixed intermediate frequency (IF) which can be more conveniently processed than the original radio carrier frequency.



A superheterodyne receiver(often shortened to superhet) uses frequency mixing to convert a received signal to a fixed intermediate frequency (IF) which can be more conveniently processed than the original radio carrier frequency.

ü   Basic Superheterodyne Block Diagram and Functionality:


The basic block diagram of a basic superhet receiver is shown below. This details the most basic form of the receiver and serves to illustrate the basic blocks and their function.

The way in which the receiver works can be seen by following the signal as is passes through the receiver.


·        Front end amplifier and tuning block: Signals enter the front end circuitry from the antenna. This circuit block performs two main functions:


o       Tuning: Broadband tuning is applied to the RF stage. The purpose of this is to reject the signals on the image frequency and accept those on the wanted frequency. It must also be able to track the local oscillator so that as the receiver is tuned, so the RF tuning remains on the required frequency. Typically the selectivity provided at this stage is not high. Its main purpose is to reject signals on the image frequency which is at a frequency equal to twice that of the IF away from the wanted frequency. As the tuning within this block provides all the rejection for the image response, it must be at a sufficiently sharp to reduce the image to an acceptable level. However the RF tuning may also help in preventing strong off-channel signals from entering the receiver and overloading elements of the receiver, in particular the mixer or possibly even the RF amplifier.


Amplification: In terms of amplification, the level is carefully chosen so that it does not overload the mixer when strong signals are present, but enables the signals to be amplified sufficiently to ensure a good signal to noise ratio is achieved. The amplifier must also be a low noise design. Any noise introduced in this block will be amplified later in the receiver.


·        Mixer / frequency translator block: The tuned and amplified signal then enters one port of the mixer. The local oscillator signal enters the other port. The performance of the mixer is crucial to many elements of the overall receiver performance. It should eb as linear as possible. If not, then spurious signals will be generated and these may appear as 'phantom' received signals.


·        Local oscillator: The local oscillator may consist of a variable frequency oscillator that can be tuned by altering the setting on a variable capacitor. Alternatively it may be a frequency synthesizer that will enable greater levels of stability and setting accuracy.


·        Intermediate frequency amplifier, IF block : Once the signals leave the mixer they enter the IF stages. These stages contain most of the amplification in the receiver as well as the filtering that enables signals on one frequency to be separated from those on the next. Filters may consist simply of LC tuned transformers providing inter-stage coupling, or they may be much higher performance ceramic or even crystal filters, dependent upon what is required.


·        Detector / demodulator stage: Once the signals have passed through the IF stages of the superheterodyne receiver, they need to be demodulated. Different demodulators are required for different types of transmission, and as a result some receivers may have a variety of demodulators that can be switched in to accommodate the different types of transmission that are to be encountered. Different demodulators used may include:


o       AM diode detector: This is the most basic form of detector and this circuit block would simple consist of a diode and possibly a small capacitor to remove any remaining RF. The detector is cheap and its performance is adequate, requiring a sufficient voltage to overcome the diode forward drop. It is also not particularly linear, and finally it is subject to the effects of selective fading that can be apparent, especially on the HF bands.


Synchronous AM detector: This form of AM detector block is used in where improved performance is needed. It mixes the incoming AM signal with another on the same frequency as the carrier. This second signal can be developed by passing the whole signal through a squaring amplifier. The advantages of the synchronous AM detector are that it provides a far more linear demodulation performance and it is far less subject to the problems of selective fading.


o   SSB product detector: The SSB product detector block consists of a mixer and a local oscillator, often termed a beat frequency oscillator, BFO or carrier insertion oscillator, CIO. This form of detector is used for Morse code transmissions where the BFO is used to create an audible tone in line with the on-off keying of the transmitted carrier. Without this the carrier without modulation is difficult to detect. For SSB, the CIO re-inserts the carrier to make the modulation comprehensible.


o       Basic FM detector: As an FM signal carries no amplitude variations a demodulator block that senses frequency variations is required. It should also be insensitive to amplitude variations as these could add extra noise. Simple FM detectors such as the Foster Seeley or ratio detectors can be made from discrete components although they do require the use of transformers.


o   PLL FM detector: A phase locked loop can be used to make a very good FM demodulator. The incoming FM signal can be fed into the reference input, and the VCO drive voltage used to provide the detected audio output.


o   Quadrature FM detector: This form of FM detector block is widely used within ICs. IT is simple to implement and provides a good linear output.


·        Audio amplifier: The output from the demodulator is the recovered audio. This is passed into the audio stages where they are amplified and presented to the headphones or loudspeaker.


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