Passive Mixers Increase Gain and Decrease Noise When Compared to Active Mixers in Downconverter Applications

The LTC554x family of passive downconverting mixers covers frequencies from 600MHz to 4GHz and delivers high conversion gain and low noise figure (NF) with high linearity. These mixers are targeted at wireless infrastructure receivers that require a high gain mixer to overcome the high insertion loss of today’s high selectivity IF SAW filters. While legacy passive mixers typically have 7dB of conversion loss, the new LTC554x mixers have integrated IF amplifiers, as shown in Figure 1, which produce 8dB of overall conversion gain. This allows an additional 15dB of IF filter loss, while still enabling the receiver to meet sensitivity and spurious-free dynamic range requirements.

Figure 1. LTC554x passive mixer in a receiver application.

Active Versus Passive Mixers

Most integrated-circuit mixers are based on an active or current-commutating topology. Analog Devices has a wide portfolio of active mixers, such as the LT5527 and LT5557, which are widely accepted due to their ease of use and low power consumption. Nevertheless, their 2dB–3dB of conversion gain is not enough for some wireless infrastructure designs. Furthermore, active mixers typically exhibit higher NF than passive mixers at comparable linearity. LTC554x mixers employ a passive mixer core to achieve the lowest NF with high linearity. Table 1 compares the performance of the LTC5541 passive mixer to the LT5557 active mixer. As shown in the table, the passive mixer has approximately 5dB higher gain, 2dB lower NF and 1.7dB higher IIP3. The LT5557, though, has much lower DC power consumption.

Table 1. Active vs passive mixer comparison at 1.95GHz
Part Gain (dB) NF (dB) IIP3 (dBm) Input P1dB (dBm) DC Power (mW)
LTC5541 (passive) 7.8 9.6 26.4 11.3 630
LT5557 (active) 2.9 11.7 24.7 8.8 270

Large-Signal Noise Figure

Another important mixer performance parameter is large-signal noise figure. As in an amplifier, the NF of a mixer is the ratio of the input S/N to the output S/N. All mixers suffer from increased NF when driven with high level RF signals. This phenomenon is also referred to as “noise figure under blocking” in receiver applications, where the “blocking” signal is a high amplitude signal in an adjacent channel. Elevated noise figure occurs because the mixer’s output noise floor is proportional to the RF input amplitude multiplied by the LO path noise (ARF • NLO).

There are many times when a receiver needs to detect a weak signal in the presence of strong blocker. If the blocker causes the noise floor to rise sufficiently, then the desired weak signal could be lost in the noise. Figure 2 shows NF vs RF input power for the LTC5540. The NF approaches the small-signal value at low input levels, but as the RF signal power is increased, the ARF • NLO contribution becomes dominant, and the NF increases. With a high RF input level of +5dBm, and a nominal LO power of 0dBm, the NF increases only 6dB from the small-signal value, to 16.2dB. It is also apparent from the graph that the large-signal noise improves with higher LO power level, thus even better performance can be realized if necessary.

Figure 2. LTC5540 noise figure vs RF blocker level.

While elevation of the noise figure cannot be totally eliminated, performance can be improved through careful design. All of the parts in the LTC554x family exhibit excellent large-signal noise figure behavior, as shown in Table 2.

Table 2. LTC554x large-signal noise figure with +5dBm blocker
Part RF Frequency (MHz) LO Injection Small-Signal NF (dB) Large-Signal NF (dB)
LTC5540 900 High-Side 9.9 16.2
LTC5541 1950 Low-Side 9.6 16.0
LTC5542 2400 Low-Side 9.9 17.3
LTC5543 2500 High-Side 10.2 17.5

Calculated Performance Comparison in a Receiver Chain

The benefits of these new passive mixers are demonstrated in the following receiver chain analysis. A typical, single-conversion basestation receiver line-up is shown in Figure 3 and is used to compare the overall system performance when the LT5557 active mixer is used to the same receiver using the new LTC5541 passive mixer. The LTC6400-26 IF amplifier, with 26dB of gain, is used with the 5557-based line-up, and LTC6400-20, with 20dB of gain, is used with the 5541-based line-up. This keeps the overall receiver gain nearly the same for both cases. A high selectivity SAW filter is used at the mixer’s output in each case, as required by the high performance basestation. As shown in Figure 3, the receiver line-up using the LTC5541 passive mixer has 0.76dB lower NF and 1.6dB higher IIP3. This results in higher signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) and spurious-free dynamic range (SFDR) for the 5541-based receiver.

Figure 3. Typical wireless basestation receiver line-up comparison of a LT5557-based receiver and a LTC5541-based receiver.

Measured Performance Comparison in a Transmitter DPD Application

In its simplest form, a single-conversion digital receiver consists of a downconverting mixer, a lowpass or bandpass filter, and an analog-to-digital converter (ADC). This type of receiver can be used as a digital pre-distortion (DPD) receiver in high linearity basestation transmitters. In this application, the most important performance parameters are linearity, gain flatness, wide IF bandwidth and, of course, simplicity. Unlike the receiver application described earlier, NF is not critical in DPD applications due to the high amplitude signal coupled from the transmitter output. The LTC554x mixers are ideal candidates for use in DPD receiver applications due to their high linearity, high conversion gain and flat IF output response versus frequency.

A prototype DPD receiver using the LTC5541 is shown in Figure 4. This receiver was built and tested for a 1.95GHz application with a wideband IF of 185 ± 60MHz.

Figure 4. Prototype DPD receiver block diagram.

For comparison, another receiver was built using the LT5557 active mixer. The 5557-based DPD receiver required an external IF amplifier preceding the bandpass filter to make up for the 5dB lower gain of the active mixer. The primary advantage of the LTC5541 is that it eliminates the need for this IF amplifier. Furthermore, as summarized in Table 3, the 5541-based DPD receiver delivered a higher SNR, higher IIP3 and lower harmonic distortion.

Table 3. Prototype DPD receiver measured results (RF = 1950MHz, IF = 185MHz)
Mixer 0.5dB IF BW Input Level at −1dBFS SNR at −1dBFS HD2 at−7dBFS IM3 at−7dBFS
LTC5541 126MHz −0.6dBm 63.4dB (120MHz) −54.5dBc @ 123MHz
−78.2dBc @ 184MHz
−69.5dBc @ 243MHz
LT5557 130MHz −1.8dBm 62.8dB (120MHz) −52.4dBc @ 123MHz
−63.1dBc @ 184MHz
−67.4dBc @ 243MHz


The new LTC554x family of passive downconverting mixers delivers the high performance that is needed for today’s wireless infrastructure receivers. The mixers’ combination of high conversion gain, low NF, excellent NF under blocking and high linearity can improve overall system signal-to-noise ratio and SFDR. The excellent performance also contributes to improved DPD receiver performance while the 600MHz to 4GHz frequency coverage of the LTC554x family makes them useful in a wide variety of receiver applications.



Thomas Schiltz

Tom Schiltz is an RFIC design manager at Analog Devices in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Tom has a B.S.E.E. and an M.S.E.E. from University of Nebraska and Arizona State University, respectively. He has 32 years of RF/microwave design experience, ranging from deep space transponders to cellular transceivers. He also served on the IEEE’s ISSCC RF and Microwave Subcommittee for seven years.


Bill Beckwith

Bill Beckwith is a senior RFIC designer at Analog Devices in Colorado Springs, where his principle focus since 2017 has been the design of microwave and millimeter wave amplifiers and switches. He previously worked at Linear Technology Corporation where he designed high performance SiGe and CMOS mixers. Prior to that, he worked at Motorola where he designed GaAs RF switches, mixers, amplifiers, and broadband passive components. He received a B.E.E. degree from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1984 and an M.S.E.E. from Arizona State University in 1990.


Dong Wang

Dong Wang is an application manager for power products at Analog Devices who began his career at Linear Technology in 2013. He currently provides applications support for non-isolated monolithic step-down converters. Dong Wang has broad interests in power management solutions and analog circuits, including high-frequency power conversion, distributed power systems, power factor correction techniques, low-voltage high-current conversion techniques, high-frequency magnetic integration, and modeling and control of converters. Dong Wang graduated from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering.


Doug Stuetzle

Doug Stuetzle is a Senior Analog Applications Engineer at Linear Technology. He joined the company in 2003, providing applications support for active mixers, demodulators, and detectors in the RF product line. He also designed and supported the LTM9003, LTM9004, LTM9005, and LTM9013 RF – to – digital receiver modules. These modules were designed to meet the complex requirements of various digital communications standards, and encompass aspects of circuit design from GHz range RF through IF frequencies, down to a digitized output bit stream.

He is presently providing applications support for a variety of SAR and Delta Sigma A/D converters. His responsibilities include customer support, circuit design, PCB layout, and Verilog code generation for FPGA’s. He continues to expand his expertise in the areas of A/D converter drive circuits to maximize noise and linearity performance.

Prior to joining Linear Technology he spent 21 years designing RF, microwave, and optoelectronic circuits, modules, and systems for military and commercial customers. He holds an MSEE degree from Santa Clara University and a BSEE from San Jose State University.