Impedance matching

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Impedance matching is the electronics design practice of setting the input impedance (ZS) of an electrical load equal to the fixed output impedance (ZL) of the signal source to which it is ultimately connected, usually in order to maximize the power transfer and minimize reflections from the load. This only applies when both are linear devices.

The concept of impedance matching was originally developed for electrical power, but can be applied to any other field where a form of energy (not just electrical) is transferred between a source and a load.

Matching is obtained when ZL = ZS*.


[edit] Terminology

Sometimes the term "impedance matching" is used loosely to mean "choosing impedances that work well together" instead of "making two impedances complex conjugate". The looser interpretation includes impedance bridging, where the load impedance is much larger than the source impedance. Bridging connections are used to maximize the voltage transfer, not the power transfer.

With modern audio electronics, impedance matching degrades audio performance;[1][2] impedance bridging is used instead.

[edit] Explanation

The term impedance is used for the resistance of a system to an energy source. For constant signals, this resistance can also be constant. For varying signals, it usually changes with frequency. The energy involved can be electrical, mechanical, magnetic or even thermal. The concept of electrical impedance is perhaps the most commonly known. Electrical impedance, like electrical resistance, is measured in ohms. In general, impedance has a complex value, which means that loads generally have a resistance to the source that is in phase with a sinusoidal source signal and reactance that is out of phase with a sinusoidal source signal. The total impedance (symbol: Z) is the vector sum of the resistance (symbol: R; a real number) and the reactance (symbol: X; an imaginary number).

In simple cases, such as low-frequency or direct-current power transmission, the reactance is negligible or zero and the impedance can be considered a pure resistance, expressed as a real number. In the following summary, we will consider the general case when the resistance and reactance are both significant, and also the special case in which the reactance is negligible.

Reflectionless or broadband matching

Impedance matching to minimize reflections and maximize power transfer over a (relatively) large bandwidth (also called reflectionless matching or broadband matching) is the most commonly used. To prevent all reflections of the signal back into the source, the load (which must be totally resistive) must be matched exactly to the source impedance (which again must be totally resistive). In this case, if a transmission line is used to connect the source and load together, it must also be the same impedance: Zload = Zline = Zsource, where Zline is the characteristic impedance of the transmission line. Although source and load should each be totally resistive for this form of matching to work, the more general term 'impedance' is still used to describe the source and load characteristics. Any and all reactance actually present in the source or the load will affect the 'match'.

Complex conjugate matching

This is used in cases in which the source and load are reactive. This form of impedance matching can only maximize the power transfer between a reactive source and a reactive load at a single frequency. In this case,

Zload = Zsource*

(where * indicates the complex conjugate).

If the signals are kept within the narrow frequency range for which the matching network was designed, reflections (in this narrow frequency band only) are also minimized. For the case of purely resistive source and load impedances, all reactance terms are zero and the formula above reduces to

Zload = Zsource

as would be expected.

[edit] Power transfer

Whenever a source of power with a fixed output impedance, such as an electric signal source, a radio transmitter, or even mechanical sound (e.g., a loudspeaker) operates into a load, the maximum possible power is delivered to the load when the impedance of the load (load impedance) is equal to the complex conjugate of the impedance of the source (that is, its internal impedance). For two impedances to be complex conjugates, their resistances must be equal, and their reactances must be equal in magnitude but of opposite sign.

In low-frequency or DC systems, or in systems with purely resistive sources and loads, the reactances are zero, or small enough to be ignored. In this case, maximum power transfer occurs when the resistance of the load is equal to the resistance of the source (see maximum power theorem for a proof).

Impedance matching is not always desirable. For example, if a source with a low impedance is connected to a load with a high impedance, then the power that can pass through the connection is limited by the higher impedance, but the electrical voltage transfer is higher and less prone to corruption than if the impedances had been matched. This maximum voltage connection is a common configuration called impedance bridging or voltage bridging and is widely used in signal processing. In such applications, delivering a high voltage (to minimize signal degradation during transmission and/or to consume less power by reducing currents) is often more important than maximum power transfer.

In older audio systems, reliant on transformers and passive filter networks, and based on the telephone system, the source and load resistances were matched at 600 ohms. One reason for this was to maximize power transfer, as there were no amplifiers available that could restore lost signal. Another reason was to ensure correct operation of the hybrid transformers used at central exchange equipment to separate outgoing from incoming speech so that these could be amplified or fed to a four-wire circuit. Most modern audio circuits, on the other hand, use active amplification and filtering, and they can use voltage bridging connections for best accuracy.

[edit] Impedance matching devices

Adjusting the source impedance or the load impedance, in general, is called "impedance matching".

There are a variety of devices that are used between some source of energy and some load that perform "impedance matching".

To match electrical impedances, engineers use combinations of transformers, resistors, inductors and capacitors.

These passive and active impedance matching devices are optimized for different applications, and are called baluns, antenna tuners (sometimes called ATUs or roller coasters because of their appearance), acoustic horns, matching networks, and terminators.

Transformers are sometimes used to match the impedances of circuits with different impedances. A transformer converts alternating current at one voltage to the same waveform at another voltage. The power input to the transformer and output from the transformer is the same (except for conversion losses). The side with the lower voltage is at low impedance, because this has the lower number of turns, and the side with the higher voltage is at a higher impedance as it has more turns in its coil.

Resistive impedance matches are easiest to design. They limit the power deliberately, and are used to transfer low-power signals, such as unamplified audio or radio frequency signals in a radio receiver. Almost all digital circuits use resistive impedance matching which is usually built into the structure of the switching element.

Some special situations, such as radio tuners and transmitters, use tuned filters, such as stubs, to match impedances at specific frequencies. These can distribute different frequencies to different places in the circuit.

Confusingly, there are 3 possible ways to improve an impedance mismatch, all of which are called "impedance matching":

  • devices intended to present an apparent load to the source of Rload = Rsource* (complex conjugate matching). Given a source with a fixed voltage and fixed source impedance, the maximum power theorem says this is the only way to extract the maximum power from the source.
  • devices intended to present an apparent load of Rload = Rline (complex impedance matching), to avoid echoes. Given a transmission line source with a fixed source impedance, this "reflectionless impedance matching" at the end of the transmission line is the only way to avoid reflecting echoes back to the transmission line.
  • devices intended to present an apparent source resistance as close to zero as possible, or presenting an apparent source voltage as high as possible. This is the only way to maximize energy efficiency, and so it is used at the beginning of electrical power lines. Such an impedance bridging connection also minimizes distortion and electromagnetic interference, and so it is also used in modern audio amplifiers and signal processing devices.

In addition, there is the closely related idea of

  • power factor correction devices intended to cancel out the reactive and nonlinear characteristics of a load at the end of a power line. This causes the load seen by the power line to be purely resistive. For a given true power required by a load, this minimizes the true current supplied through the power lines, and so minimizes the power wasted in the resistance of those power lines.

For example, a maximum power point tracker is used to extract the maximum power from a solar panel, and efficiently transfer it to batteries, the power grid, or other loads. The maximum power theorem applies to its "upstream" connection to the solar panel, so it emulates a load resistance equal to the solar panel source resistance. However, the maximum power theorem does not apply to its "downstream" connection, so that connection is a impedance bridging connection -- it emulates a high-voltage, low-resistance source, to maximize efficiency.

"L" section

One simple electrical impedance matching network requires one capacitor and one inductor. One reactance is in parallel with the source (or load) and the other is in series with the load (or source). If a reactance is in parallel with the source, the effective network matches from high impedance to low impedance. The "L" section is inherently a narrowband matching network.

The analysis is as follows. Consider a real source impedance of R1 and real load impedance of R2. If a reactance X1 is in parallel with the source impedance, the combined impedance can be written as:

\frac{j R_1 X_1}{R_1 + j X_1}

If the imaginary part of the above impedance is completely canceled by the series reactance, the real part is

R_2 = \frac{R_1 X_1^2}{R_1^2 + X_1^2}

Solving for X1

X_1 = \sqrt{\frac{R_2 R_1^2}{R_1 - R_2}}

If R_1 \gg R_2 the above equation can be approximated as

X_1 \approx \sqrt{R_1 R_2}

The inverse connection, impedance step up, is simply the reverse, e.g. reactance in series with the source. The magnitude of the impedance ratio is limited by reactance losses such as the Q of the inductor. Multiple "L" sections can be wired in cascade to achieve higher impedance ratios or greater bandwidth. Transmission line matching networks can be modeled as infinitely many "L" sections wired in cascade. Optimal matching circuits can be designed for a particular system with the use of the Smith chart.

[edit] Transmission lines

Impedance bridging is unsuitable for RF connections because it causes power to be reflected back to the source from the boundary between the high impedance and the low impedance. The reflection creates a standing wave, which leads to further power waste. In these systems, impedance matching is essential.

In electrical systems involving transmission lines, such as radio and fiber optics, where the length of the line is large compared to the wavelength of the signal (the signal changes rapidly compared to the time it takes to travel from source to load), the impedances at each end of the line must be matched to the transmission line's characteristic impedance, Z0 to prevent reflections of the signal at the ends of the line from causing echoes. In radio-frequency (RF) systems, a common value for source and load impedances is 50 ohms. A typical RF load is a quarter-wave ground plane antenna (37 ohms with an ideal ground plane but can be matched to 50 ohms by using a modified ground plane or a coaxial matching section, ie part or all the feeder being of higher impedance).

In a transmission line, a wave travels from the source along the line. Suppose the wave hits a boundary (an abrupt change in impedance). Some of the wave is reflected back, while some keeps moving onwards. (Assume there's only one boundary.)

At the boundary, the two waves on the source side of the boundary (with impedance Z1) will be equal to the waves on the load side (with impedance Z2). The derivatives will also be equal. Using that equality, we solve for all wave functions, getting a reflection coefficient:

\Gamma = {Z_2 - Z_1 \over Z_1 + Z_2}

The purpose of a transmission line is to get the maximum amount of energy to the other end of the line, or to transmit information with minimal error, so the reflection should be as small as possible. This is achieved by matching the impedances Z1 and Z2 so that they are equal (Γ = 0).

An electromagnetic wave consists of energy being transmitted down the transmission line. This energy is in two forms, an electric field and a magnetic field, which fluctuate constantly, with a continuing exchange between electrical and magnetic energy. The electric field is due to the voltage over the cross section of the line, perpendicular to the direction the wave is flowing. The magnetic field is due to the current flowing parallel to the direction of the wave.

Assume that voltage and current vary as sine waves. Inside the transmission line, the law of conservation of energy applies: the sum of magnetic and electric energy must always be the same (ignoring the effect of the small amount of energy converted to heat). This means that if the voltage is changing rapidly, the current must also change rapidly.

Now consider two moments: 1). when the current is zero and the voltage is maximum; 2). when the current is maximum and the voltage is zero. The amount of energy stored in the electric field at 1). must be exactly the same as the amount of energy stored in the magnetic field at 2). The ratio between voltage and current at 1). and 2). determines the impedance (Z) of the line:

Z_0 = \frac{V}{I}

At a boundary, for example, where the line is connected to the receiver, the law of conservation of charge applies. The current just before the boundary must be the same as just after. However, if the circuit at the receiver has a different impedance, ZL, than the line, the voltage will be VL = ZLI at the receiver, which is not the same as the original incident voltage V_0^+.

To achieve the voltage difference, an electric field is needed over the boundary. However, energy is needed to form this field, for which a part of the energy of the original wave is used. The remaining energy cannot just 'disappear'; it must go somewhere. Due to the impedance and voltage difference, it cannot go to the other side of the boundary. There remains only one way to go for this energy: back into the transmission line, as a reflection. The voltage of this reflected wave, V_0^-, is calculated from the incident voltage V_0^+ and the reflection coefficient, Γ (from the formula above):

V_0^- = \Gamma V_0^+

[edit] Electrical examples

Telephone systems

Telephone systems also use matched impedances to minimise echoes on long distance lines. This is related to transmission lines theory. Matching also enables the telephone hybrid coil (2 to 4 wire conversion) to operate correctly. As the signals are sent and received on the same two-wire circuit to the central office (or exchange), cancellation is necessary at the telephone earpiece so that excessive sidetone is not heard. All devices used in telephone signal paths are generally dependent on using matched cable, source and load impedances. In the local loop, the impedance chosen is 600 ohm (nominal). Terminating networks are installed at the exchange to try to offer the best match to their subscriber lines. Each country has its own standard for these networks but they are all designed to approximate to about 600 ohms over the voice frequency band.

Loudspeaker amplifiers

Modern solid state audio amplifiers do not use matched impedances, contrary to myth. The driver amplifier has a low output impedance, such as < 0.1 ohm, and the loudspeaker usually has an input impedance of 4, 8, or 16 ohms, which is many times larger than the former. This type of connection is impedance bridging, and it provides better damping of the loudspeaker cone to minimize distortion.

The myth comes from tube audio amplifiers, which required impedance matching[dubious ] for proper, reliable operation. Most of these had output transformer taps to approximately match the amplifier output to typical loudspeaker impedances.

[edit] Non-electrical examples


Similar to electrical transmission lines, the impedance matching problem exists when transferring sound energy from one medium to another. If the acoustic impedance of the two media are very different, then most of the sound energy will be reflected or absorbed, rather than transferred across the border.

The gel used in medical ultrasonography helps transfer acoustic energy from the transducer to the body and back again. Without the gel, the "impedance mismatch" in the transducer-to-air and the air-to-body discontinuity reflects almost all the energy, leaving very little to go into the body.

Horns are used like transformers, matching the impedance of the transducer to the impedance of the air. This principle is used in both horn speakers and musical instruments.

Most loudspeaker systems themselves contain impedance matching mechanisms, especially for low frequencies. Because most driver impedances are poorly matched to the impedance of free air at low frequencies, and because of out-of-phase cancellations between output from the front of a speaker cone and from the rear, loudspeaker enclosures serve both to match impedances and prevent the interference. Sound coupling into air from a loudspeaker is related to the ratio of the diameter of the speaker to the wavelength of the sound being reproduced. That is, larger speakers can produce lower frequencies at higher levels than smaller speakers for this reason. Elliptical speakers are a complex case, acting like large speakers lengthwise, and like small speakers crosswise.

Acoustic impedance matching (or the lack of it) affects the operation of a megaphone, an echo, and soundproofing.


A similar effect occurs when light (or any electromagnetic wave) transfers between two media with different refractive indices. An optical impedance of each medium can be calculated, and the closer the impedances of the materials match, the more light is refracted rather than reflected from the interface. The amount of reflection can be calculated from the Fresnel equations. Unwanted reflections can be reduced by the use of an anti-reflection optical coating.


If a body of mass m collides elastically with a second body, the maximum energy transferred to the second body will occur when the second body has the same mass m. For a head-on collision, with equal masses, the energy of the first body will be completely transferred to the second body. In this case, the masses act as "mechanical impedances" which must be matched. If m1 and m2 are the masses of the moving and the stationary body respectively, and P is the momentum of the system, which remains constant throughout the collision, then the energy of the second body after the collision will be E2:


which is analogous to the power transfer equation in the above "mathematical proof" section.

These principles are useful in the application of highly energetic materials (explosives). If an explosive charge is placed upon a target, the sudden release of energy causes compression waves to propagate through the target radially from the point charge contact. When the compression waves reach areas of high acoustic impedance mismatch (like the other side of the target), tension waves reflect back and create spalling. The greater the mismatch, the greater the effect of creasing and spalling will be. A charge initiated against a wall with air behind it will do more damage to the wall than a charge initiated against a wall with soil behind it.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  • Young, EC, The Penguin Dictionary of Electronics, Penguin, ISBN 0-14-051187-3 (see 'maximum power theorem', 'impedance matching')

[edit] External links

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