Design Guide
August 2003

Choosing a Filter Solution

Electronic Filter Design Guide

Choosing a filter technology is less straightforward than selecting a transfer function from among Butterworth, Bessel, and Cauer-elliptic. The best solution depends heavily on the application. To reduce alias errors to acceptable levels, designers base their filter implementation selections on the desired bandwidth and accuracy of the target system. These parameters, along with hardware costs, determine the system’s speed (sampling rate), resolution (number of bits), type of A/D converter (sigma-delta, successive-approximation, flash, etc.), and anti-alias/reconstruction filter technology.

Linear-Active Filters serve applications that require system bandwidths as close as possible to the sampling frequency, with a sharp cutoff. Simple two or three-pole versions also serve as anti-alias filters and clock feed-through or reconstruction filters for systems employing switched-capacitor or DSP solutions. With active filter technology, very accurate, low frequency filters in the 2.0 MHz to sub hertz range can be built that are almost impossible to achieve with other technologies.

Switched-Capacitor designs work best where cost and space are at a premium. Other criteria to consider include: when required system accuracy is around 10 to 13 bits, the bandwidth is more than 10 kHz, and where the DC accuracy and stability specifications of switch capacitor filters are acceptable.

Applications in the multi-megahertz range or requiring power line conditioning (filtering) typically utilize Passive Filters. This includes snubbers for high-energy inductive or transient suppression. Also, passive filters must be used when power is not available, though the user must be willing to tolerate insertion loss (signal attenuation).

Digital Filters are used primarily when transfer-function requirements have no counterpart in the analog world, or when a DSP already resides on the circuit board to perform other functions.

An example of a digital filter selection limitation is shown in Figure 24. The pass-band for a high-pass digital filter is limited to the maximum bandwidth, sampling rate, and word length that the filter order allows. After that, there is no pass-band! For this example, broadband high frequency active or passive filters are an obvious alternative.

Figure 24

Digital filter selection is the choice or trade-off between Floating Point DSP - IIR filters and Fixed Point DSP - FIR filters which are illustrated in the Digital Filter Decision Tree, Figure 25.

Figure 25


Whether you decide on a fixed point FIR or floating point IIR solution, the world is still analog. In many applications the conversion from analog to digital and back to analog is a requirement, often with limitations in bandwidth and design flexibility. One example is range limitation which is the maximum bandwidth imposed by the sampling when altering the digital filter frequency. A solution is to adjust the clock, which forces adjustments in the anti-alias and reconstruction filter, therefore requiring multiple fixed frequency or programmable filters (typically not cost effective). Another approach is to adjust the clock within the DSP by decimation or interpolation; hence the filter shape can be modified within the filter algorithm. This is called Multi-Rate filtering and several decimations can be implemented in series to reach very low frequencies. This Intellectual Property has been well refined by Frequency Devices engineers.


Electronic designers often try to ensure a product’s signal integrity by constructing their own signal processing circuitry. Unfortunately, the time and money associated with engineering design and assembly efforts can make the actual cost of such a solution very high. The design may require a complex arrangement of sensitive components that consume precious board real estate and compromise system reliability. In addition, some of these components can generate their own alias signals.

Design engineers generally understand their own applications very well. Typically, however, they are not signal-conditioning or signal-processing experts. Limited experience with integrated analog and DSP technology often make creating an effective and accurate filter solution difficult and time-consuming.

On the other hand, system manufacturers are generally very sensitive to the cost of purchased solutions. The experts at Frequency Devices have seen many instances where companies have regarded self-contained signal conditioning modules and subassemblies as too expensive. Therefore, engineers design or buy simple, inexpensive alternatives for their products, hoping that lower cost and typically lower performing products will be good enough. Such approaches may work, but in many cases the reduced signal integrity degrades system performance to the point of unacceptability.

Unfortunately, once in-house designs do not meet desired performance specifications, altering the design to incorporate the proper alternative solution or accepting the degraded signals, usually under extreme time pressures, generally costs far more than relying on better solutions in the first place would have. Reinventing the wheel rarely produces the most effective results.


Based on many years of experience with special-purpose signal-conditioning devices and systems, Frequency Devices offers some of the most advanced signal-processing products in the industry. We will work with you to develop specifications that are appropriate to your unique needs, avoiding either under-specifying or over-specifying in the interest of controlling cost while maximizing performance.

Whether prototyping to prove a design, looking for laboratory test equipment or working with high-volume applications for electronic original equipment manufacturers and process control, you can rely on Frequency Devices’ data-acquisition, processing, and manipulation solutions for the test and measurement, aerospace, undersea, navigation, automatic test equipment, R & D, telecommunications, acoustic, and vibration markets.

Frequency Devices offers a combination of turnkey, standard and custom module and subassembly solutions utilizing both analog and digital signal processing; providing engineers with choices and solutions consistent with their system or project requirements.

Frequency Devices, Inc.
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