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Voltage Controlled Oscillator (VCO)

Author: Apogeeweb
Date: 22 Dec 2020
lc circuit



Ⅰ Oscillation Definition

Ⅱ Definition of Voltage Controlled Oscillator

Ⅲ Types of Voltage Controlled Oscillator

  3.1 Harmonic Oscillators

  3.2 Relaxation Oscillators

Ⅳ Working Principle of Voltage Controlled Oscillator

Ⅴ Voltage Controlled Oscillator Requirements

  5.1 VCO tuning range

  5.2 VCO tuning gain

  5.3 VCO V/f slope

Ⅵ Voltage Controlled Oscillator Feedback

Ⅶ Colpitts & Clapp Voltage Controlled Oscillator Circuits

Ⅷ Voltage Controlled Oscillator Varactor Issues

  8.1 Abrupt

  8.2 Hyper-abrupt


Ⅰ Oscillation Definition

An oscillator is a circuit that, without any input, generates a continuous, repeated, alternating waveform. Basically, oscillators transform unidirectional current flow from a DC source into an alternating waveform that, as determined by its circuit components, is of the desired frequency.


By observing the behavior of the LC tank circuit shown in Figure 1 below, which uses an inductor L and a completely pre-charged capacitor C as its components, the basic theory behind the operation of oscillators can be understood. In this case, the capacitor initially begins discharging through the inductor, which results in the conversion of its electrical energy into an electromagnetic field that can be stored in the inductor. There will be no current flow in the circuit until the capacitor discharges fully.

LC Tank Circuit

The stored electromagnetic field, however, would have created a back-emf by then, which results in the flow of current through the circuit in the same direction as before. This flow of current through the circuit continues until the electromagnetic field collapses, resulting in the electromagnetic energy back-conversion into electrical form, allowing the cycle to repeat. Now, however, the capacitor would have been charged with the opposite polarity, because of which an oscillating waveform is obtained as the output.


However, because of the resistance of the circuit, the oscillations that occur due to the inter-conversion between the two energy-forms will not continue indefinitely as they will be subject to the impact of energy loss. The amplitude of these oscillations gradually decreases to zero as a result, making them damp.


This means that the energy loss needs to be balanced to achieve continuous oscillations and constant amplitude. However, in order to achieve oscillations of constant amplitude, it should be noted that the energy supplied should be precisely regulated and must be equal to that of the energy lost.

Ⅱ Definition of Voltage Controlled Oscillator

A voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) is an output signal oscillator whose output can be varied over a particular frequency range that is controlled by the DC voltage input. It is an oscillator whose output frequency is directly connected by its input to the voltage applied (FM control).

A main parameter of the VCO is the sweeping time: this is the minimum time required to turn or sweep from minimum frequency to maximum frequency or reverse.


From an external analog signal, the VCO can be modulated by amplitude (AM). To produce the requested RF power level, an external power amplifier may be required.

VCO definition

Ⅲ Types of Voltage Controlled Oscillator

The VCOs can be categorized based on the output waveform:

• Harmonic Oscillators

• Relaxation Oscillators

3.1 Harmonic Oscillators

The output waveform that harmonic oscillators generate is sinusoidal. This can also apply to the oscillator that regulates the linear voltage. The LC and Crystal oscillators are examples. Here, the capacitance of the diode varies according to the voltage around the diode. This in turn alters the LC circuit's capacitance. Hence, the frequency of the output will change. The advantages are frequency stability in terms of power supply, noise and temperature, and frequency control precision. The only downside is that this form of the oscillator on monolithic ICs can not be implemented effortlessly.

3.2 Relaxation Oscillators

The waveform output produced by harmonic oscillators is a screwed tooth. Using the decreased amount of components, this type may provide a wide range of frequency. It can primarily be used in ICs that are monolithic. The oscillators for relaxation may have the following topologies:


• Delay-based ring VCOs


• Grounded capacitor VCOs


• Emitter-coupled VCOs


Here: In delay-based ring VCOs, in a ring shape, the gain stages are connected. As the name implies, in every single point, the frequency is connected to the delay. The VCOs of the second and third types act almost equally. The time taken in each stage is directly linked to the capacitor's charging and discharging time.

Ⅳ Working Principle of Voltage Controlled Oscillator 

Using several voltage regulation electronic components such as varactor diodes, transistors, Op-amps, etc., VCO circuits can be built Here, using Op-amps, we are going to address the function of a VCO. Below, the circuit diagram is shown.

working principle of VCO 1

A square wave is going to be the output waveform of this VCO. The output frequency is, as we know, connected to the control voltage. The first Op-amp will act as an integrator inside this circuit. The arrangement of the voltage divider is applied here. Because of this, half of the control voltage given as input is supplied to the Op-amp 1 positive terminal. At the negative terminal, the same voltage level is retained. This is to maintain the voltage drop, R1 as half of the control voltage, across the resistor.


The current flowing from the R1 resistor passes through the MOSFET when the MOSFET is in good condition. The R2 has half of the resistance, the same drop in voltage and twice the current as of the R1's. So, the attached capacitor is charged by the extra current. To supply this current, the Op-amp 1 should have a gradually increasing output voltage.


The current flowing from the R1 resistor passes through the capacitor and gets discharged when the MOSFET is out of order. The output voltage obtained at this time from the Op-amp 1 will decrease. A triangular waveform is therefore produced as the output of Op-amp 1.


The Op-amp 2 will act as a catalyst for Schmitt. A triangular wave that is the output of the Op-amp 1 is the input to this Op-amp. If the input voltage is greater than the threshold level, VCC will be the output from the Op-amp 2. If the input voltage is lower than the threshold level, the Op-amp 2 output is zero. The output of the Op-amp 2 is therefore going to be square waves.


LM566 IC or IC 566 is an instance of VCO. In fact, it is an integrated 8-pin circuit that can generate double-square wave and triangular wave outputs. Below, the internal circuit is depicted.

working principle of VCO 2

Ⅴ Voltage Controlled Oscillator Requirements

There are several parameters that must be considered before the design begins when designing a voltage-regulated oscillator, VCO. These describe the parameters of key performance required for the VCO.


5.1 VCO tuning range

It is clear that the oscillator that is powered by voltage must be able to tune over the range that the loop is supposed to work over. This requirement is not always simple to satisfy and, in certain extreme situations, can require the VCO or resonant circuit to be switched.


5.2 VCO tuning gain

The gain of the oscillator regulated by voltage is important. It is calculated per Hz (or V/MHz, etc) in terms of volts. It is the tuning shift for a given change in voltage, as indicated by the units. Any of the overall loop design factors and measurements are influenced by the voltage-controlled oscillator gain.

VCO tuning gain

At lower frequencies, the VCO response curves can be shown to be relatively straight. They typically flatten out at higher voltages, however, where the capacitance changes from the variable diodes decrease.


5.3 VCO V/f slope

For any voltage-driven oscillator used in a phase-locked loop, it is a crucial requirement that the voltage to frequency curve is monotonic, i.e. it always shifts in the same context, usually increasing voltage frequency. If ti alters, as can generally occur in some instances due to spurious resonances, etc., this can cause the loop to become unstable. This must therefore be avoided if the phase-locked loop is to work satisfactorily. This curve shows a slight dip which will result in an unstable phase-locked loop.

Voltage controlled oscillator V/f curve with discontinuity

Phase noise efficiency: In some PLL applications, the phase noise performance of the voltage regulated oscillator is of particular importance - particularly where it is used in frequency synthesizers. Outside of the PLL loop bandwidth, the phase noise output of the voltage-regulated oscillator is the dominant factor in phase noise. While the operation of the PLL reduces close-in noise, there is no reduction in VCO phase noise outside the loop bandwidth.


These are some of the main specifications that must be understood from the outset of the VCO design. Careful optimization of the tuned circuit Q, especially the use of variable diodes with as high a Q as possible, selection of the active system, optimization of the oscillator feedback.

Ⅵ Voltage Controlled Oscillator Feedback

A VCO can be considered, like any oscillator, as an amplifier and a feedback loop. It is possible to denote the amplifier's gain as A and the feedback as B. For the circuit to oscillate, 360 ° must be the complete phase shift around the loop and unity must be the gain. Signals are fed back around the loop in this manner so that they are addictive and, as a result, any slight disturbance in the loop is fed back and builds up. Because the feedback network is frequency-dependent, the signal is based on one frequency, the feedback network is resonant, and a single frequency signal is produced.


A typical emitter circuit is used by many oscillators and thus by VCOs. This in itself generates a 180° phase shift, leaving a further 180° to be given by the feedback network. A typical base circuit where there is no phase shift between the emitter and collector signals (assuming a bipolar transistor is used) can be used by other oscillator or VCO circuits and the phase shift network must provide either 0 ° or 360 °.


The device requires a resonant circuit for the oscillator to oscillate on a given frequency to ensure that the oscillation happens on a given frequency. The resonant circuit may be one of a variety of LC resonant circuit configurations, depending on the circuit, or a quartz crystal, etc., in either series or parallel resonance.

Ⅶ Colpitts & Clapp Voltage Controlled Oscillator Circuits

The Colpitts and Clapp oscillator circuits are two commonly used formats for the VCO. Of the two, the most commonly used is the Colpitts circuit, but both are somewhat similar in their configuration.


These circuits serve as oscillators because an active device such as a bipolar transistor with capacitors positioned between the base and the emitter (C1) and the emitter and the ground (C2) has been found to fulfill the requirements needed to provide adequate feedback for the output of the oscillator in the correct step. The C1:C2 ratio must be greater than one for the oscillation to take place.


The resonant circuit is rendered between the base and ground by adding an inductive function. This consists of only an inductor in the Colpitts circuit, while an inductor and capacitor in series are used in the Clapp circuit.

The resonance conditions are that:

conditions for resonance

The capacitance for the overall resonant circuit consists of a series of combinations of the two C1 and C2 series capacitors. The capacitor in the series with the inductor is also used in the series with C1 and C2 in the case of the Clapp oscillator.

The capacitance of the series is thus:

series capacitance

It is important to change the resonant point of the circuit to make the oscillator tune. This is better accomplished in the case of the Colpitts oscillator, by inserting a capacitor across the indicator. Alternatively, the capacitor may be in series with the inductor for the Clapp oscillator.


A circuit where the inductive reactance is located between the base and ground is often favored for high-frequency applications because it is less vulnerable to spurious oscillations and other anomalies.

Ⅷ Voltage Controlled Oscillator Varactor Issues

In order to ensure that the drive frequency in the tuned circuit is not too high, caution must be taken in the design of the circuit when varactor diodes are used inside a voltage-driven oscillator. If this is the case, then the varactor diodes, reducing the Q and increasing the number of spurious signals, can be forced into forwarding conduction.


Within a VCO, there are two main types of varactor diode that can be used-the name refers to the diode junction and this impacts their output.

8.1 Abrupt:

Abrupt diodes have a relatively sharp transition between the areas of the diode, as the name implies. They are able to give a higher Q than their hyper-abrupt relatives, while abrupt varactor diodes do not offer such a high tuning range or linear transfer characteristic. This results in a better oscillator phase noise output regulated by voltage. The other point to note is that in order to have the appropriate tuning range, abrupt varactor diodes may need a high tuning voltage, as certain diodes may need a tuning voltage for the VCO to differ up to 50 volts or slightly more. This can cause problems with supplying the drive circuits with a voltage supply with a sufficiently high voltage.

8.2 Hyper-abrupt:

There is a relatively linear voltage for hyper-abrupt diodes: the capacitance curve. As a consequence, in some applications, they give a very linear tuning characteristic that may be needed. They can also tune over a wide range, and can normally tune over an octave range with less than a 20-volt tuning voltage shift. They do not give an especially high Q standard, however. Since this will deduct from the tuned circuit's overall Q, this will mean that the output of the phase noise is as good as that which can be obtained using an abrupt varactor diode.


Despite the apparent simplicity of the circuit, the voltage-controlled oscillator design is far from trivial. A design would also involve careful optimization of the levels of input coupled with the system and layout. The VCO's design will need to carefully balance the requirements of sometimes conflicting requirements, such as a large tuning range and low noise phase.


The standards of efficiency that can be achieved are surprisingly good once the design has been completely configured and the design has been completed.


1. What is a Voltage Controlled Oscillator?

A voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) is an electronic oscillator whose oscillation frequency is controlled by a voltage input. The applied input voltage determines the instantaneous oscillation frequency.


2. What is the use of VCO in PLL?

VCO stands for Voltage Controlled Oscillator. PLL operation is simple. VCO creates a high-frequency clock that is divided by some factor. This divided frequency is compared against a stable, reference, frequency using a phase comparator and difference (in-phase or frequency) is converted into voltage and fed back into VCO.

Depending on voltage difference VCO frequency will be higher or lower.

For example, let’s suppose we have VCO generating 10000 at 5V and divide by 100 dividers. The reference frequency is 90. The phase comparator will subtract two frequencies, 100 - 90 = 10 and will produce some voltage proportional to the frequency difference. This voltage is fed back into VCO and will increase 5V to 6V. Voltage increase will result in frequency drop. The process will continue as long as VCO generated frequency is equal to reference, in our case 9000.

From above we see PLL output frequency is: Out = Ref * Divider

VCO in RF is produced using varicap diodes - diodes which capacity depends on reverse voltage. Varicap diodes are available with capacities ranging from 1pF up to 500pF and capacity change 2 - 20. How PLL is stable depends on the reference clock and a phase comparator. In the simplest case phase comparator are the XOR gate and RC filter.


3. Why is VCO better than DCO?

Of course, the real answer depends on the application. But one important application for a VCO is to implement a so-called phase-lock-loop. In that application, the smoothly continuous frequency vs voltage characteristic of a VCO would allow the VCO to track some variable reference frequency much more precisely. A 'typical' DCO in the same application could only achieve a step-wise approximation to tight tracking.

Another, historically more important, application of a VCO is as the primary component of an FM broadcast transmitter. Using a conventional DCO in this application would typically produce an unacceptable amount of weird, noisy distortion in the demodulated audio as the DCO control input attempted to track the audio signal.

But yes, it is possible to conceptualize, and even practical to design, a DCO whose frequency control steps are so fine and rapid that, used in an FM broadcast transmitter, the listener would not notice the step-wise tuning of the carrier.


4. What is the function of a VCO voltage-controlled oscillator?

A voltage-controlled oscillator (VCO) is an electronic oscillator whose oscillation frequency is controlled by a voltage input. The applied input voltage determines the instantaneous oscillation frequency.


5. How does voltage control oscillator work?

A voltage-controlled oscillator is an oscillator with an output signal whose output can be varied over a range, which is controlled by the input DC voltage. It is an oscillator whose output frequency is directly related to the voltage at its input. The oscillation frequency varies from few hertz to hundreds of GHz.


6. How do you make a voltage-controlled oscillator?

To make a VCO, the oscillator needs to be tuned by a voltage. This can be achieved by making the variable capacitor from varactor diodes. The tuning voltage for the VCO can then be applied to the varactors.


7. What is the output of VCO?

The VCO has an output power level of -3 dBm into 50 Ω with phase noise of -101 dBc/Hz typical at 100 kHz offset. The control voltage range is 0.4 to 2.4 volts, and load pulling is typically 0.75 MHz, pk-pk. Power supply pushing is 280 kHz/volt (typical).


8. What is the VCO tuning range?

The VCO is linearly tunable from 806 to 1,113 MHz with a 34% tuning range controlled linearly by the tuning voltage. The phase noise of the VCO is -100.4 dBc/Hz at 100-kHz offset frequency from a 903 MHz carrier.


9. What is VCO phase noise?

Characterizing Phase Noise. The term phase noise is widely used for describing short-term random frequency fluctuations of a. signal. Frequency stability is a measure of the degree to which an oscillator maintains the same value.


10. Which is the input terminal in a VCO?

It generates the square wave at the output whose frequency is determined by a control voltage. The first op-amp works as an integrator. The control voltage is applied at the input terminal and due to the voltage divider arrangement, half the control voltage is applied at the positive terminal of the first op-amp.


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