Filters are electrical circuits that pass or block specific frequencies in an input signal. A filter's goal is to change a signal's frequency response, allowing only certain frequencies to pass whilst attenuating or rejecting others. Filters are frequently utilised in a variety of applications such as audio, communications, power supplies, and medical equipment.

This guide covers topics as below:

  • Types of filters
    • Passive Filter
      • Low pass filter
      • High pass filter
      • Band pass filter
      • Band reject filter
    • Active Filter
      • First order filters
      • Second order filters
      • Higher order filters
  • Applications of filter

Types of filters

Filters are divided into two types: passive filters and active filters. Passive filters are made up entirely of passive components such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors. Active filters, on the other hand, use active components such as op-amps in addition to resistors and capacitors but not inductors.

Passive filter

Passive filters are classed further based on the frequency response they provide. The following are the most prevalent types of passive filters:

Low pass filter (LPF)

A low pass filter (LPF) is a type of electrical circuit that enables low-frequency signals to pass whilst suppressing high-frequency ones. A low pass filter's function is to remove undesired high-frequency noise or to block high-frequency components in an input signal. LPFs are commonly employed in audio, power supply, communication systems, and other applications that need the separation of low-frequency signals from high-frequency noise or interference.

Passive low pass filter
Figure 1: Passive low pass filter

A low pass filter works on the basis of a series connection between a resistor and a capacitor in parallel with the output. The capacitor functions as a frequency-dependent voltage divider, allowing low-frequency signals to flow whilst suppressing high-frequency signals. The resistor serves as a channel for the output signal and defines the filter's cutoff frequency.

A low pass filter's cutoff frequency is defined as the frequency at which the output signal is reduced to 70.7% (or -3dB) of the input signal. The -3dB point, or corner frequency, is another name for this frequency. A low pass filter's cutoff frequency can be determined using the following formula:

Fc = 1 / (2 * π * RC)
where Fc is the cutoff frequency, R is the resistance, and C is the capacitance.

Low-pass filters are classified into first-order and higher-order filters. First-order filters have a slope of -20dB/decade after the cutoff frequency and comprise a single resistor and capacitor. Higher-order filters combine many stages of first-order filters to provide a steeper roll-off rate and improved high-frequency signal attenuation.

The phase shift of a low-pass filter is an important property. A filter's phase shift is the delay between the input and output signals. The phase shift in a low-pass filter increases as the frequency falls, which can pose issues in some applications, such as audio. To minimise phase shift, a Bessel or Butterworth filter can be used, which have a more linear phase response than other filter types.

High pass filter (HPF)

A high pass filter (HPF) is a type of electrical circuit that permits high-frequency signals to pass whilst suppressing low-frequency signals. A high pass filter's function is to remove undesired low-frequency noise or to block low-frequency components in an input signal. HPFs are commonly employed in audio, power supply, communication systems, and other applications that need the separation of high-frequency signals from low-frequency noise or interference.

Passive high pass filter
Figure 2: Passive high pass filter

A high pass filter works on the basis of a series connection between a capacitor and a resistor in parallel with the output. The capacitor functions as a frequency-dependent voltage divider, enabling high-frequency signals to pass while dampening low-frequency signals. The resistor serves as a channel for the output signal and defines the filter's cutoff frequency.

A high pass filter's cutoff frequency is defined as the frequency at which the output signal is reduced to 70.7% (or -3dB) of the input signal. The -3dB point, or corner frequency, is another name for this frequency. The following formula can be used to compute the cutoff frequency of a high pass filter:

Fc = 1 / (2 * π * RC)
where Fc is the cutoff frequency, R is the resistance, and C is the capacitance.

High pass filters are classified into two types: first-order and higher-order filters. First-order filters have a slope of +20dB/decade after the cutoff frequency and are made up of a single capacitor and resistor. Higher-order filters combine many stages of first-order filters to provide a steeper roll-off rate and improved low-frequency signal attenuation.

Band pass filter (BPF)

A band pass filter (BPF) is an electrical circuit that enables a certain range of frequencies to pass through whilst attenuating frequencies outside of this range. A band pass filter isolates and amplifies a specified frequency range of a signal whilst blocking undesirable frequencies. BPFs are widely employed in audio, radio, and communication systems to extract specific frequency bands or to remove interference from other frequency ranges.

Band pass filter
Figure 3: Band pass filter

A band pass filter works on the basic premise of combining a high pass filter and a low pass filter. A low-pass filter attenuates frequencies beyond the upper cutoff frequency, whereas a high-pass filter attenuates frequencies below the lower cutoff frequency. The filter's passband is the frequency region across these two cutoff frequencies where the filter offers the most gain.

Band reject filter (BRF) or notch filter

A band reject filter (BRF), also known as a notch filter or a band-stop filter, is an electrical circuit that rejects a specified frequency range known as the notch or stopband whilst allowing all other frequencies to pass through. A BRF's function is to remove or minimise interference or noise from a certain frequency range in a signal.

Band reject filter
Figure 4: Band reject filter

The basic idea behind a BRF is that it is made up of a high pass filter and a low pass filter that are connected in parallel. High-frequency signals can flow through the high pass filter, whereas low-frequency signals can pass through the low pass filter. The two filters combined generate a stopband at the notch frequency where the signal is attenuated.

Active filters

Active filters, as opposed to passive filters, can be constructed to allow far more control over the filter response. Active filters are often employed to improve selectivity and flexibility in audio, medical, and communication systems. The order of the filter response, which is controlled by the number of reactive components in the filter circuit, further classifies active filters.

First order filter

A first-order active filter is an electrical circuit that filters a signal using an active component, such as an operational amplifier (op-amp), as well as a reactive component and a resistor. Active filters, as opposed to passive filters, which solely use passive components such as resistors, capacitors, and inductors, use an op-amp to supply gain and shape the filter response.

The main idea behind a first-order active filter is that it controls the signal response with an op-amp in a feedback setup. The op-amp amplifies the input signal, which is then filtered in the feedback loop by the reactive component and the resistor. The feedback loop of the op-amp allows for the adjustment of the cutoff frequency and the gain of the filter.

First-order active filters are classified into two types: low-pass filters and high-pass filters. In a low-pass filter, signals with frequencies over the cutoff frequency are attenuated, whilst signals with frequencies below the cutoff frequency are allowed to flow through. In a high pass filter, signals with frequencies below the cutoff frequency are attenuated, while signals with frequencies above the cutoff frequency are allowed to flow through.

Active low pass filter
Figure 5: Active low pass filter
Active high pass filter
Figure 6: Active high pass filter

The reactive component and resistor values in the feedback loop, as well as the gain of the op-amp, define the cutoff frequency of a first-order active filter. The cutoff frequency can be changed by altering the reactive component and resistor values, or by increasing the gain of the op-amp.

The feedback resistance and the input resistance of the op-amp determine the filter's gain. The gain of the filter can be changed by varying the values of the feedback and input resistances.

Second order filter

A second-order active filter is a type of electronic filter that filters a signal by combining two reactive components, such as capacitors or inductors, with a resistor and an active component, such as an operational amplifier (op-amp). Second-order filters have a steeper roll-off rate than first-order filters, allowing them to attenuate undesirable frequencies more efficiently.

Second-order active filters are classified into three types: low-pass filters, high-pass filters, and band-pass filters. In a low-pass filter, signals with frequencies over the cutoff frequency are attenuated, while signals with frequencies below the cutoff frequency are allowed to flow through. In a high-pass filter, signals with frequencies below the cutoff frequency are attenuated, while signals with frequencies above the cutoff frequency are allowed to flow through. Band-pass filters pass only signals within a specific frequency range while attenuating all other frequencies.

Second order filters
Figure 7: Second order filters

The reactive component, resistor values, and the op-amp gain determine the cutoff frequency of a second-order active filter. The op-amp's gain determines the filter's gain, and the feedback loop allows the filter's cutoff frequency and Q factor to be adjusted.

The resonance or sharpness of a second-order filter is measured by its Q factor. The Q factor controls how steeply the filter's response drops off at the cutoff frequency and how narrow or wide the filter's passband is. Higher Q values suggest a tighter passband and a sharper resonance, whereas lower Q factors indicate a lower resonance and a wider passband.

Higher order filter

Higher order active filters are electronic circuits that filter a signal using several reactive components, resistors, and active components such as op-amps. These filters have a larger Q factor and a quicker roll-off rate than second-order filters, making them ideal for applications requiring precise frequency filtering.

Butterworth filters and Chebyshev filters are the two forms of higher order active filters. Butterworth filters have a passband frequency response that is maximally flat, which means that the response is as flat as possible whilst still meeting the intended cutoff frequency. Chebyshev filters have a steeper roll-off rate than Butterworth filters but, depending on the filter type, have ripple in the passband or stopband.

Second order filters
Figure 8: 4th order Butterworth filter

Butterworth filters are usually built using a normalised frequency, with the cutoff frequency defined as the frequency at which the filter's response drops to 70.7% of its maximum value. The number of reactive components in the circuit is represented by the filter's order. A third-order Butterworth filter, for example, has three reactive components, such as capacitors or inductors.

Type I and Type II are the two subtypes of Chebyshev filters. Passband ripple and monotonic roll-off are characteristics of Type I filters. Type II filters have monotonic roll-off in the passband and ripple in the stopband. The filter's ripple factor, which is based on the filter's order and the desired level of ripple, regulates the amount of ripple in the passband or stopband.

Applications of filters

Filters are used in a wide range of electronic applications to selectively pass or attenuate certain frequency components of a signal. They can be found in a variety of devices, including audio systems, communication systems, power supplies, and instrumentation systems. Here is a brief overview of some common applications of filters.

  • Audio systems: Filters are used in audio systems to eliminate unwanted noise, interference, and distortion. Low-pass filters are used to remove high-frequency noise and distortion from audio signals, whilst high-pass filters are used to remove low-frequency noise and rumble. Band-pass filters and notch filters are also used in audio systems to selectively attenuate or pass certain frequency ranges.
  • Communication systems: Filters are used in communication systems to isolate specific frequency ranges and reject interference from other sources. For example, in a radio receiver, a band-pass filter is used to pass only the desired frequency range of the radio signal whilst rejecting other frequencies that may be present.
  • Power supplies: Filters are used in power supplies to reduce ripple and noise on the output voltage. Capacitive and inductive filters are commonly used in power supplies to smooth the output voltage and reduce ripple.
  • Instrumentation systems: Filters are used in instrumentation systems to eliminate noise and interference from the measurement signal. For example, in an electronic thermometer, a low-pass filter may be used to remove high-frequency noise from the temperature sensor output.
  • Medical equipment: Filters are used in medical equipment to eliminate noise and interference from biological signals, such as electrocardiograms (ECGs) and electroencephalograms (EEGs). Band-pass filters are commonly used to isolate specific frequency ranges in these signals.
  • Industrial applications: Filters are used in industrial applications to eliminate noise and interference from signals in control systems, sensors, and measurement instruments. For example, in a control system for a motor, a low-pass filter may be used to remove high-frequency noise from the motor feedback signal.

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