Avalanche Noise Amp: Spectra

Given this schematic:

Noise Source - Schematic
Noise Source – Schematic

The noise spectrum at the collector of the NPN transistor looks dead flat:

Noise spectrum - 2N3904 collector
Noise spectrum – 2N3904 collector

In fact, it’s down 3 dB at 4 MHz, 10 dB at 10 MHz, and has some pizzazz out through 50 MHz.

The cursor marks the second harmonic of the 125 kHz SPI clock that’s shoving bits into the shift registers that drive the LED display. In principle, you can’t get 250 kHz from a 125 kHz square wave, so we’re looking at various & sundry logic glitches that do have some energy there.

The big peak at 0 Hz comes from the LO punching through the IF filters; I should have set the start frequency to 9 kHz (the HP 8591 spectrum analyzer’s lower cutoff frequency) to let the filter get some traction.

With that setup, the first LM324 with a gain of 10 produces this dismal result:

Op Amp 1 10x gain spectrum - 9-209 kHz
Op Amp 1 10x gain spectrum – 9-209 kHz

Past an op amp’s -3 dB cutoff, the response drops at 10 dB/decade for a while. Squinting at that curve, it’s down 10 dB at 40 kHz and the cutoff looks to be around 4 kHz… not the 100 kHz you’d expect from the GBW/gain number.

[Edit: You’d expect a 6 dB/octave = 20 dB/decade drop from a single-pole rolloff. That’s obviously not what’s happening here.]

The LM324 has a large-signal slew rate of about 0.5 V/µs that pretty well hobbles its ability to follow full-scale random noise components.

Both traces come from a kludged 10 dB AC coupled “attenuator” probe: a 430 Ω resistor in series with a 1 µF Mylar cap, jammed into a clip-lead splitter on the BNC cable to the analyzer. Probably not very flat, but certainly good enough for this purpose.

The SA is averaging 100 (which was excessive) and 10 (more practical) successive traces in those pix, which gives the average of the maximum value for each frequency bin. That reduces the usual hash you get from a full-frontal noise source to something more meaningful.

3 thoughts on “Avalanche Noise Amp: Spectra

  1. It’s nice to actually see the effects of limited slew rate, and how they can look like GBW falloff. This is, of course, exactly the sort of thing I was hoping to see when you meantioned “pedagogic reasons”. Components aren’t ideal, and their properties have definite effects, which can and will pop up and bite you. Learning to recognize when and why this happens is a long journey, that we’re all still on, and sharing information like this helps us all.

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