Intermediate frequency

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The IF stage from a Motorola 19K1 television set circa 1949. 19K1 IF stages.jpg
The IF stage from a Motorola 19K1 television set circa 1949.

In communications and electronic engineering, an intermediate frequency (IF) is a frequency to which a carrier wave is shifted as an intermediate step in transmission or reception. [1] The intermediate frequency is created by mixing the carrier signal with a local oscillator signal in a process called heterodyning, resulting in a signal at the difference or beat frequency. Intermediate frequencies are used in superheterodyne radio receivers, in which an incoming signal is shifted to an IF for amplification before final detection is done.

Electronic engineering electrical engineering discipline which utilizes nonlinear and active electrical components to design electronic circuits, devices, and their systems

Electronic engineering is an electrical engineering discipline which utilizes nonlinear and active electrical components to design electronic circuits, devices, VLSI devices and their systems. The discipline typically also designs passive electrical components, usually based on printed circuit boards.

Frequency is the number of occurrences of a repeating event per unit of time. It is also referred to as temporal frequency, which emphasizes the contrast to spatial frequency and angular frequency. The period is the duration of time of one cycle in a repeating event, so the period is the reciprocal of the frequency. For example: if a newborn baby's heart beats at a frequency of 120 times a minute, its period—the time interval between beats—is half a second. Frequency is an important parameter used in science and engineering to specify the rate of oscillatory and vibratory phenomena, such as mechanical vibrations, audio signals (sound), radio waves, and light.

Carrier wave waveform (usually sinusoidal) that is modulated (modified) with an input signal for the purpose of conveying information

In telecommunications, a carrier wave, carrier signal, or just carrier, is a waveform that is modulated (modified) with an input signal for the purpose of conveying information. This carrier wave usually has a much higher frequency than the input signal does. The purpose of the carrier is usually either to transmit the information through space as an electromagnetic wave, or to allow several carriers at different frequencies to share a common physical transmission medium by frequency division multiplexing. The term is also used for an unmodulated emission in the absence of any modulating signal.


Conversion to an intermediate frequency is useful for several reasons. When several stages of filters are used, they can all be set to a fixed frequency, which makes them easier to build and to tune. Lower frequency transistors generally have higher gains so fewer stages are required. It's easier to make sharply selective filters at lower fixed frequencies.

There may be several such stages of intermediate frequency in a superheterodyne receiver; two or three stages are called double (alternatively, dual) or tripleconversion, respectively.

Reasons for using IF

Intermediate frequencies are used for three general reasons. [2] [3] At very high (gigahertz) frequencies, signal processing circuitry performs poorly. Active devices such as transistors cannot deliver much amplification (gain). [1] [4] Ordinary circuits using capacitors and inductors must be replaced with cumbersome high frequency techniques such as striplines and waveguides. So a high frequency signal is converted to a lower IF for more convenient processing. For example, in satellite dishes, the microwave downlink signal received by the dish is converted to a much lower IF at the dish, to allow a relatively inexpensive coaxial cable to carry the signal to the receiver inside the building. Bringing the signal in at the original microwave frequency would require an expensive waveguide.

Transistor semiconductor device used to amplify and switch electronic signals and electrical power

A transistor is a semiconductor device used to amplify or switch electronic signals and electrical power. It is composed of semiconductor material usually with at least three terminals for connection to an external circuit. A voltage or current applied to one pair of the transistor's terminals controls the current through another pair of terminals. Because the controlled (output) power can be higher than the controlling (input) power, a transistor can amplify a signal. Today, some transistors are packaged individually, but many more are found embedded in integrated circuits.

Gain (electronics) ability of a  circuit to increase the power or amplitude of a signal

In electronics, gain is a measure of the ability of a two-port circuit to increase the power or amplitude of a signal from the input to the output port by adding energy converted from some power supply to the signal. It is usually defined as the mean ratio of the signal amplitude or power at the output port to the amplitude or power at the input port. It is often expressed using the logarithmic decibel (dB) units. A gain greater than one, that is amplification, is the defining property of an active component or circuit, while a passive circuit will have a gain of less than one.

Capacitor electrical component used to store energy for a short period of time

A capacitor is a passive two-terminal electronic component that stores electrical energy in an electric field. The effect of a capacitor is known as capacitance. While some capacitance exists between any two electrical conductors in proximity in a circuit, a capacitor is a component designed to add capacitance to a circuit. The capacitor was originally known as a condenser or condensator. The original name is still widely used in many languages, but not commonly in English.

A second reason, in receivers that can be tuned to different frequencies, is to convert the various different frequencies of the stations to a common frequency for processing. It is difficult to build multistage amplifiers, filters, and detectors that can have all stages track in tuning different frequencies, but it is comparatively easy to build tunable oscillators. Superheterodyne receivers tune in different frequencies by adjusting the frequency of the local oscillator on the input stage, and all processing after that is done at the same fixed frequency, the IF. Without using an IF, all the complicated filters and detectors in a radio or television would have to be tuned in unison each time the frequency was changed, as was necessary in the early tuned radio frequency receivers. A more important advantage is that it gives the receiver a constant bandwidth over its tuning range. The bandwidth of a filter is proportional to its center frequency. In receivers like the TRF in which the filtering is done at the incoming RF frequency, as the receiver is tuned to higher frequencies its bandwidth increases.

Amplifier electronic device that can increase the power of a signal

An amplifier, electronic amplifier or (informally) amp is an electronic device that can increase the power of a signal. It is a two-port electronic circuit that uses electric power from a power supply to increase the amplitude of a signal applied to its input terminals, producing a proportionally greater amplitude signal at its output. The amount of amplification provided by an amplifier is measured by its gain: the ratio of output voltage, current, or power to input. An amplifier is a circuit that has a power gain greater than one.

Electronic filter electronic circuit that removes unwanted components from the signal, or enhances wanted ones, or both

Electronic filters are circuits which perform signal processing functions, specifically to remove unwanted frequency components from the signal, to enhance wanted ones, or both. Electronic filters can be:

Detector (radio)

In radio, a detector is a device or circuit that extracts information from a modulated radio frequency current or voltage. The term dates from the first three decades of radio (1888-1918). Unlike modern radio stations which transmit sound on an uninterrupted carrier wave, early radio stations transmitted information by radiotelegraphy. The transmitter was switched on and off to produce long or short periods of radio waves, spelling out text messages in Morse code. Therefore, early radio receivers had only to distinguish between the presence or absence of a radio signal. The device that performed this function in the receiver circuit was called a detector. A variety of different detector devices, such as the coherer, electrolytic detector, magnetic detector and the crystal detector, were used during the wireless telegraphy era until superseded by vacuum tube technology.

The main reason for using an intermediate frequency is to improve frequency selectivity. [1] In communication circuits, a very common task is to separate out or extract signals or components of a signal that are close together in frequency. This is called filtering. Some examples are, picking up a radio station among several that are close in frequency, or extracting the chrominance subcarrier from a TV signal. With all known filtering techniques the filter's bandwidth increases proportionately with the frequency. So a narrower bandwidth and more selectivity can be achieved by converting the signal to a lower IF and performing the filtering at that frequency. FM and television broadcasting with their narrow channel widths, as well as more modern telecommunications services such as cell phones and cable television, would be impossible without using frequency conversion. [5]

Selectivity is a measure of the performance of a radio receiver to respond only to the radio signal it is tuned to and reject other signals nearby in frequency, such as another broadcast on an adjacent channel.

In signal processing, a filter is a device or process that removes some unwanted components or features from a signal. Filtering is a class of signal processing, the defining feature of filters being the complete or partial suppression of some aspect of the signal. Most often, this means removing some frequencies or frequency bands. However, filters do not exclusively act in the frequency domain; especially in the field of image processing many other targets for filtering exist. Correlations can be removed for certain frequency components and not for others without having to act in the frequency domain. Filters are widely used in electronics and telecommunication, in radio, television, audio recording, radar, control systems, music synthesis, image processing, and computer graphics.

Chrominance the signal used in video systems

Chrominance is the signal used in video systems to convey the color information of the picture, separately from the accompanying luma signal. Chrominance is usually represented as two color-difference components: U = B′ − Y′ (blue − luma) and V = R′ − Y′ (red − luma). Each of these difference components may have scale factors and offsets applied to it, as specified by the applicable video standard.


Perhaps the most commonly used intermediate frequencies for broadcast receivers are around 455 kHz for AM receivers and 10.7 MHz for FM receivers. In special purpose receivers other frequencies can be used. A dual-conversion receiver may have two intermediate frequencies, a higher one to improve image rejection and a second, lower one, for desired selectivity. A first intermediate frequency may even be higher than the input signal, so that all undesired responses can be easily filtered out by a fixed-tuned RF stage. [6]

In a digital receiver, the analog to digital converter (ADC) operates at low sampling rates, so input RF must be mixed down to IF to be processed. Intermediate frequency tends to be lower frequency range compared to the transmitted RF frequency. However, the choices for the IF are most dependent on the available components such as mixer, filters, amplifiers and others that can operate at lower frequency. There are other factors involved in deciding the IF frequency, because lower IF is susceptible to noise and higher IF can cause clock jitters.

Modern satellite television receivers use several intermediate frequencies. [7] The 500 television channels of a typical system are transmitted from the satellite to subscribers in the Ku microwave band, in two subbands of 10.7 - 11.7 and 11.7 - 12.75 GHz. The downlink signal is received by a satellite dish. In the box at the focus of the dish, called a low-noise block downconverter (LNB), each block of frequencies is converted to the IF range of 950 - 2150 MHz by two fixed frequency local oscillators at 9.75 and 10.6 GHz. One of the two blocks is selected by a control signal from the set top box inside, which switches on one of the local oscillators. This IF is carried into the building to the television receiver on a coaxial cable. At the cable company's set top box, the signal is converted to a lower IF of 480 MHz for filtering, by a variable frequency oscillator. [7] This is sent through a 30 MHz bandpass filter, which selects the signal from one of the transponders on the satellite, which carries several channels. Further processing selects the channel desired, demodulates it and sends the signal to the television.


An intermediate frequency was first used in the superheterodyne radio receiver, invented by American scientist Major Edwin Armstrong in 1918, during World War I. [8] [9] A member of the Signal Corps, Armstrong was building radio direction finding equipment to track German military signals at the then-very high frequencies of 500 to 3500 kHz. The triode vacuum tube amplifiers of the day would not amplify stably above 500 kHz, however, it was easy to get them to oscillate above that frequency. Armstrong's solution was to set up an oscillator tube that would create a frequency near the incoming signal, and mix it with the incoming signal in a 'mixer' tube, creating a 'heterodyne' or signal at the lower difference frequency, where it could be amplified easily. For example, to pick up a signal at 1500 kHz the local oscillator would be tuned to 1450 kHz. Mixing the two created an intermediate frequency of 50 kHz, which was well within the capability of the tubes.

After the war, in 1920, Armstrong sold the patent for the superheterodyne to Westinghouse, who subsequently sold it to RCA. The increased complexity of the superheterodyne circuit compared to earlier regenerative or tuned radio frequency receiver designs slowed its use, but the advantages of the intermediate frequency for selectivity and static rejection eventually won out; by 1930, most radios sold were 'superhets'. During the development of radar in World War II, the superheterodyne principle was essential for downconversion of the very high radar frequencies to intermediate frequencies. Since then, the superheterodyne circuit, with its intermediate frequency, has been used in virtually all radio receivers.


See also

Related Research Articles

Superheterodyne receiver radio receiver; uses frequency mixing to convert a received signal to a fixed intermediate frequency which can be more conveniently processed than the original carrier frequency;virtually all modern radio receivers use the superheterodyne principle

A superheterodyne receiver, often shortened to superhet, is a type of radio receiver that uses frequency mixing to convert a received signal to a fixed intermediate frequency (IF) which can be more conveniently processed than the original carrier frequency. It was invented by US engineer Edwin Armstrong in 1918 during World War I. Virtually all modern radio receivers use the superheterodyne principle.

Heterodyne electronic oscillator

Heterodyning is a signal processing technique invented by Canadian inventor-engineer Reginald Fessenden that creates new frequencies by combining or mixing two frequencies. Heterodyning is used to shift one frequency range into another, new one, and is also involved in the processes of modulation and demodulation. The two frequencies are combined in a nonlinear signal-processing device such as a vacuum tube, transistor, or diode, usually called a mixer. In the most common application, two signals at frequencies f1 and f2 are mixed, creating two new signals, one at the sum f1 + f2 of the two frequencies, and the other at the difference f1 − f2. These are heterodyne frequencies. Typically only one of the new frequencies is desired, and the other signal is filtered out of the output of the mixer. Heterodyne frequencies are related to the phenomenon of "beats" in acoustics.

A signal generator is an electronic device that generates repeating or non-repeating electronic signals in either the analog or the digital domain. It is generally used in designing, testing, troubleshooting, and repairing electronic or electroacoustic devices, though it often has artistic uses as well.

Image response is a measure of performance of a radio receiver that operates on the super-heterodyne principle.

Crystal filter electronic filter

A crystal filter is an electronic filter that uses quartz crystals for resonators. Quartz crystals are piezoelectric, so their mechanical characteristics can affect electronic circuits. In particular, quartz crystals can exhibit mechanical resonances with a very high Q factor. The crystal's stability and its high Q factor allow crystal filters to have precise center frequencies and steep band-pass characteristics. Typical crystal filter attenuation in the band-pass is approximately 2-3dB. Crystal filters are commonly used in communication devices such as radio receivers.

A subcarrier is a sideband of a radio frequency carrier wave, which is modulated to send additional information. Examples include the provision of colour in a black and white television system or the provision of stereo in a monophonic radio broadcast. There is no physical difference between a carrier and a subcarrier; the "sub" implies that it has been derived from a carrier, which has been amplitude modulated by a steady signal and has a constant frequency relation to it.

Regenerative circuit

A regenerative circuit is an amplifier circuit that employs positive feedback. Some of the output of the amplifying device is applied back to its input so as to add to the input signal, increasing the amplification. One example is the Schmitt trigger, but the most common use of the term is in RF amplifiers, and especially regenerative receivers, to greatly increase the gain of a single amplifier stage.

A variable frequency oscillator (VFO) in electronics is an oscillator whose frequency can be tuned over some range. It is a necessary component in any tunable radio receiver or transmitter that works by the superheterodyne principle, and controls the frequency to which the apparatus is tuned.

Tuned radio frequency receiver

A tuned radio frequency receiver is a type of radio receiver that is composed of one or more tuned radio frequency (RF) amplifier stages followed by a detector (demodulator) circuit to extract the audio signal and usually an audio frequency amplifier. This type of receiver was popular in the 1920s. Early examples could be tedious to operate because when tuning in a station each stage had to be individually adjusted to the station's frequency, but later models had ganged tuning, the tuning mechanisms of all stages being linked together, and operated by just one control knob. By the mid 1930s, it was replaced by the superheterodyne receiver patented by Edwin Armstrong.

Radio receiver radio device for receiving radio waves and converting them to a useful signal

In radio communications, a radio receiver, also known as a receiver, wireless or simply radio is an electronic device that receives radio waves and converts the information carried by them to a usable form. It is used with an antenna. The antenna intercepts radio waves and converts them to tiny alternating currents which are applied to the receiver, and the receiver extracts the desired information. The receiver uses electronic filters to separate the desired radio frequency signal from all the other signals picked up by the antenna, an electronic amplifier to increase the power of the signal for further processing, and finally recovers the desired information through demodulation.

Beat frequency oscillator device to convert Morse code radio signals into audible tones

In a radio receiver, a beat frequency oscillator or BFO is a dedicated oscillator used to create an audio frequency signal from Morse code radiotelegraphy (CW) transmissions to make them audible. The signal from the BFO is mixed with the received signal to create a heterodyne or beat frequency which is heard as a tone in the speaker. BFOs are also used to demodulate single-sideband (SSB) signals, making them intelligible, by essentially restoring the carrier that was suppressed at the transmitter. BFOs are sometimes included in communications receivers designed for short wave listeners; they are almost always fitted to amateur radio station receivers, which often receive CW and SSB signals.

Tuner (radio) frequency selection subsystem for a radio receiver

A tuner is a subsystem that receives radio frequency (RF) transmissions like radio broadcasts and converts the selected carrier frequency and its associated bandwidth into a fixed frequency that is suitable for further processing, usually because a lower frequency is used on the output. Broadcast FM/AM transmissions usually feed this intermediate frequency (IF) directly into a demodulator that convert the radio signal into audio-frequency signals that can be fed into an amplifier to drive a loudspeaker.

In electronics, a local oscillator (LO) is an electronic oscillator used with a mixer to change the frequency of a signal. This frequency conversion process, also called heterodyning, produces the sum and difference frequencies from the frequency of the local oscillator and frequency of the input signal. Processing a signal at a fixed frequency gives a radio receiver improved performance. In many receivers, the function of local oscillator and mixer is combined in one stage called a "converter" - this reduces the space, cost, and power consumption by combining both functions into one active device.

In a radio receiver circuit, the RF front end is a generic term for all the circuitry between a receiver's antenna input up to and including the mixer stage. It consists of all the components in the receiver that process the signal at the original incoming radio frequency (RF), before it is converted to a lower intermediate frequency (IF). In microwave and satellite receivers it is often called the low-noise block (LNB) or low-noise downconverter (LND) and is often located at the antenna, so that the signal from the antenna can be transferred to the rest of the receiver at the more easily handled intermediate frequency.

A direct-conversion receiver (DCR), also known as homodyne, synchrodyne, or zero-IF receiver, is a radio receiver design that demodulates the incoming radio signal using synchronous detection driven by a local oscillator whose frequency is identical to, or very close to the carrier frequency of the intended signal. This is in contrast to the standard superheterodyne receiver where this is accomplished only after an initial conversion to an intermediate frequency.

Communications receiver

A communications receiver is a type of radio receiver used as a component of a radio communication link. This is in contrast to a broadcast receiver which is used to receive radio broadcasts. A communication receiver receives parts of the radio spectrum not used for broadcasting, that includes amateur, military, aircraft, marine, and other bands. They are often used with a radio transmitter as part of a two way radio link for shortwave radio or amateur radio communication, although they are also used for shortwave listening.

Radio receiver design includes the electronic design of different components of a radio receiver which processes the radio frequency signal from an antenna in order to produce usable information such as audio. The complexity of a modern receiver and the possible range of circuitry and methods employed are more generally covered in electronics and communications engineering. The term radio receiver is understood in this article to mean any device which is intended to receive a radio signal in order to generate useful information from the signal, most notably a recreation of the so-called baseband signal which modulated the radio signal at the time of transmission in a communications or broadcast system.

The Wadley loop circuit was designed by Dr. Trevor Wadley in the 1940s in South Africa and was first used for a stable Wavemeter.

A frequency synthesizer is an electronic circuit that generates a range of frequencies from a single reference frequency. Frequency synthesizers are used in many modern devices such as radio receivers, televisions, mobile telephones, radiotelephones, walkie-talkies, CB radios, cable television converter boxes satellite receivers, and GPS systems. A frequency synthesizer may use the techniques of frequency multiplication, frequency division, direct digital synthesis, frequency mixing, and phase-locked loops to generate its frequencies. The stability and accuracy of the frequency synthesizer's output are related to the stability and accuracy of its reference frequency input. Consequently, synthesizers use stable and accurate reference frequencies, such as those provided by crystal oscillators.


  1. 1 2 3 4 F. Langford Smith (ed) Radiotron Designer's Handbook , 3rd Edition (Wireless Press 1946) Page 99
  2. Army Technical Manual TM 11-665: C-W and A-M Radio Transmitters and Receivers. US Dept. of the Army. 1952. pp. 195–197.
  3. Rembovsky, Anatoly; Ashikhmin, Alexander; Kozmin, Vladimir; et al. (2009). Radio Monitoring: Problems, Methods and Equipment. Springer Science and Business Media. p. 26. ISBN   0387981004.
  4. The 1946 Radiotron Designer's Handbook observes on page 159 that some short-wave receivers operate with an IF of 1600 kHz and that "At such a high frequency one or two additional IF stages are required are necessary to provide sufficient gain."
  5. Dixon, Robert (1998). Radio Receiver Design. CRC Press. pp. 57–61. ISBN   0824701615.
  6. Wes Hayward, Doug De Maw (ed),Solid state design for the radio amateur, (American Radio Relay League, 1977) pp. 82-87
  7. 1 2 Lundstrom, Lars-Ingemar Lundstrom (2006). Understanding Digital Television: An Introduction to DVB Systems with Satellite, Cable, Broadband and Terrestrial. US: Taylor & Francis. pp. 81–83. ISBN   0240809068.
  8. Redford, John (February 1996). "Edwin Howard Armstrong". Doomed Engineers. John Redford's personal website. Archived from the original on 2008-05-09. Retrieved 2008-05-10.
  9. alisdair. "Superheterodyne". Retrieved 2008-05-10.
  10. Ravalico D. E., Radioelementi, Milan, Hoepli, 1992.