Loop Gain in Analog Design—A New and Complete Approach

Loop Gain in Analog Design—A New and Complete
Agustin Ochoa
Ramtron International Corporation
1850 Ramtron Drive
Colorado Springs, CO 80921, USA
Abstract- Loopgain has long been a defining function in
determining stability properties of analog designs. It has
surprisingly been ill defined leaving questions on loading and
feedforward effects unanswered. In this article I generate a
direct method for producing a unique and complete loop gain
function using driving point impedance and signal flow graph
techniques. In this approach loading and signal paths, feedback
and feed forward paths in the amplifier as well as in the
feedback net are included. Full feedback is described using two
loops, the normal loop-forward amplifier-reverse feedback net
loop and a reverse loop in the opposite direction, a symmetrical
A feedback system is one in which a sample of its
response is returned to the input and re-cycled through the
system. This process reduces sensitivity of the design to
process and temperature variations trading off amplifier gain.
It also introduces potential instability if the feedback signal is
not properly conditioned. Feedback is normally characterized
by the system loop gain—a function that has generally not
been well defined in the literature, usually given as a variation
of opening the loop. For ideal systems and those
approximating ideal, the simple theory of opening the loop to
find the loop gain works well. Real systems however are not
composed of unilateral blocks having low output and high
input impedances and loading and feedforward effects need to
be included in the analysis. Bode[1] suggested a return-ratio
(RR) definition for loopgain where an active element’s
controlled source is replaced by an ideal one in the circuit, the
controlled source maintaining its coupling to the controlling
node and the RR being the response in the controlled source
due to excitation by its replacement source. While seemingly a
clean definition RR is not measureable on the bench and
simulations become complex as we must account for the nonideal behavior of the transconductor.
In this paper I develop a loop gain procedure fully
accounting for loading and feedforward effects due to
application of the feedback network and loads as well as
feedback signals through the amplifier itself. Net feedback is
shown to be composed of two loops: The forward loop with
the signal flowing through the high gain amplifier then
through the feedback net in the reverse direction and a reverse
loop with the signal travelling in the opposite direction around
the primary loop due to a reverse transmission through the
amplifier and forward through the feedback net. Part II
presents the argument for the process, Part III sets up
simulation templates for obtaining loop results and in Part IV
two examples are demonstrated. Part V summarizes the
contributions made in this work.
While Bode used a transfer element in an active device as
his focus, a two port approach reveals transfer elements
available for generalizing the process. For a feedback system
as shown in Figure 1 we write the system transfer function,
Hos, as the product of the output short circuit current Isc and the
output Driving Point Impedance DPIout[2] as given in (1). The
output short circuit current is given as the effective
transconductance at the output due to excitation at the source
Gmos multiplied by the input voltage signal vs. The Driving
Point Impedance DPIout is the more interesting factor and will
be shown to contain the system loopgain directly.
H os = I sc DPI out
I sc = Gmos v s
To obtain the output DPI we set the system input to AC
ground using a large capacitor, here 10F as shown in Figure 2.
We split the output node into the three branches for load, amp,
and feedback net, apply a voltage source to each, and find the
total current into the three branches, iin as given in (2), with
these sources set equal to vout.
Figure 1: Feedback System with Elements Source, Amplifier, Feedback
Network and Load
Fbk Net
Figure 2: Setup for Finding Output DPI for Feedback System in Fig. 1
Figure 3: Flow Graph for Output DPI Showing Role of Self and Cross
iin = il + ia + i f
= ill + (iaa + iaf ) + (i ff + i fa )
= ( yll + yaa + g maf + y ff + g mfa )vout
In the expansion of (2) into component currents we see
that there are two types—currents into a node due to a voltage
excitation at that node or ‘self’ currents represented as
admittances and currents into a node due to a voltage at
transconductances. Currents ixx are into node x due to
excitation at source x while ixy represents currents into node x
due to excitation source y. With this distinction the last line in
(2) is seen to separate the cross currents from the self direct to
ground currents, re-arranged in (3). This last result is used to
define the flow graph in Figure 3.
(iin − ( g maf + g mfa )vout )
= vout
yll + y aa + y ff
From the flow graph we identify the cross-currents as the
‘feedback’ signals. We write directly for the effective output
impedance zout (4) in terms of the ‘open loop’ output
impedance z’out and loop gain function LG:
z out =
z out
z out
1 − LG
yll + yaa + y ff
− ( g maf + g mfa )
yll + yaa + y ff
LG =
− ( g maf + g mfa )
yll + yaa + y ff
; z ' out =
yll + yaa + y ff
A useful variant of the loop gain function in (4) is found
by multiplying top and bottom by an arbitrary voltage
converting terms to currents:
LG =
− ( g maf + g mfa )v
( yl + y aa + y ff )v
− (iaf + i fa )
(admittances) to ground that are in parallel in the full circuit at
the point where we ‘cut’ the loop to find the output DPI. The
resulting branches are seen to be in parallel accounting fully
for circuit impedances looking into the cut with the feedback
zeroed--the cross currents are suppressed. These self currents
define the system z’out in (4). The cross currents
(transconductances) indicate traversal of the loop in each
direction, the normal forward high gain path and a reverse
path, backward through the amplifier usually having lower
gain. These cross currents are loop feedback parameters—a
response at one end of the loop due to an excitation at the
other end, account for the signals that flow in the loop, Figure
3. Note the symmetry exposed in this representation showing
signal propagation in both directions around the loop.
In this form we fully account for the source and the target
of the currents: A feedback current is identified specifically
as a cross current and a non-feedback current, one that
does not loop, is identified as a self current. Loop gain is
seen to be given by the symmetrical relation ‘minus the sum
of the cross currents divided by the sum of the self
To simplify the simulation setup we combine the load
current with the amplifier current in (5) and in Figure 2,
rename the sources v1x and v2y removing the ‘amplifier’,
‘feedback’, and ‘load’ identification as shown in Figure 4. LG
is now given in (6).
LG =
− (i12 + i21 )
i11 + i22
To find two of the four LG terms in (6) we use the
schematic in Figure 4. Source v22, an AC frequency swept
unity magnitude source drives the feedback net while source
v12 is set to zero magnitude. The cross current i12 is found as
the current through source v12, the self current i22 is the current
through source v22.
To find the remaining loop gain terms we use a modified
copy of the schematic in Figure 4 replacing the AC swept
source v22 with a zeroed v21 source and the zeroed v12 with a
driven v11 source generating the corresponding terms i21 and
i11. We then form the algebra in (6) to obtain the system loop
Since this approach ‘cuts’ a wire in the main feedback path
it is not necessary to be concerned where in the loop this
This relation has intuitive appeal in that the loop gain
components consist of self currents, ill, iaa and iff, and cross
currents iaf and ifa. The self currents represent port currents
ill + iaa + i ff
Fbk Net
Figure 4: System Setup for Obtaining Currents i22 and i12
analysis is made. We insert the isolating induuctor, AC shorting
capacitors and voltage sources anywhere inn this loop, before
or after the feedback net.
We apply this method to two circuits—aa voltage regulator
and a crystal oscillator. The first exam
mple, the voltage
regulator, is a two stage modified Milller compensated
amplifier having ~3.6nF, 0.5uA load (here to be included in
the definition of Zload placed in Figure 55). The feedback
network is a resistor divider of approximattely 7.5Meg Ohm
top, 20Meg Ohm lower resistors with a 6pF
F bypass capacitor
across the upper resistor. The copies of tthe inductor loop
interrupted, large capacitor AC grounded noddes schematics are
shown in Figure 5.
The regulator copy on the left in Figuree 5 generates self
current i22 and cross current i12, is driven wiith AC magnitude
one frequency swept v22 while source v12 is zeroed. The copy
C swept generates
on the right having v21 zeroed with v11 AC
terms i11 and i21. The amplifier uses the ttopology recently
reported in [3] featuring a compensation caapacitor from the
output to a low impedance point at the caascode node of a
stacked differential input pair, Figure 6.
This internal feedback loop does not addd complications to
the method described in this paper—the external loop is
analysed for effective feedback behaviour as internal loops are
automatically included in the results.
Formulating the algebraic definition of looop gain we obtain
the plots shown in Figure 7 for loop gain and phase. Phase
Margin is obtained as 88 degrees for this deesign, a unity gain
bandwidth of a bit over 100 kHz and low
w frequency gain
exceeding 60dB.
z load
Fbk net
z load
Fbk net
Figure 7: Loop Gain Magnitude (top) and Phase
(bottom) for the Voltage
Regulator Systeem
While not plotted here it is clear that the output impedance
he results of this paired
factors can be generated from th
simulation set using (4), dividing z’out
o by (1-LG). To generate
the closed loop transfer function we need the Gmos factor in
(1). This is found as the current into
o an AC short (very large
capacitor) at vout due to excitation at vref. Examination of these
analysis significantly
various factors with simulation or hand
aids in the understanding of the beh
haviour of a design and in
creating the design in the first place. Hand analysis is tractable
as feedback is disabled in these partiaal circuits.
For the second example we loo
ok at a low power crystal
oscillator. A 32 KHz crystal with 12
2 pF effective load is used
as the feedback network across a single
transistor amplifier
with current source load nominally of
o about 200nA shown in
Figure 8, is analyzed using the output impedance method
the transistor in
defined above. This design puts
subthreshold—the MOS is in bipolarr operation.
Figure 5: Simulation Setup Showing Two Instances oof a Regulator with
Appropriate Drives to Obtain the Four Loop G
Gain Factors
I bias
Figure 8: 32 kHz Crystal Oscillator Core Cell
Figure 6: Amplifier Used in Regulator Design Featturing Capacitive
Feedback at Low Impedance Nodee
With a driving point analysis approach, the effects of
feedback were found by looking into a point in the outer
feedback path and accounting for the response of the current
in each direction due to a voltage excitation—the normal
Driving Point Impedance setup.
Figure 9: The Loop Gain Schematic Template for the Crystal Oscillator
Figure 10: Loop Gain Magnitude (top) and Phase (bottom) for the Crystal
The loop gain AC grounds, isolation inductor and AC
sources are inserted into the oscillator circuit as shown in
Figure 9. Two instances of this template are used with the
complementary source definitions to generate the output DPI
currents which are then combined algebraically to define the
loop gain function magnitude and phase plotted in Figure 10.
The small signal loop gain is seen greater than one as required
for start of oscillation at the frequency where the phase goes
through 0 degrees for positive feedback.
The usual discussion of feedback begins with ideal
elements followed by a discussion of loading and feedforward
effects that may impact the design behavior. In this paper this
approach was avoided altogether with the analysis not
resorting to ideal elements and including from the start source,
load, and feedback network effects without distinction. Indeed
non-ideal amplifier behavior was tacitly included as well.
The basis of this analysis is the classic feedback modified
output impedance in (4) as the often stated zout=z’out/(1-LG).
The process described is seen to produce two types of
responses, a self response as a current into a port due to a
voltage excitation at that port and a cross response, a current
into a port due to excitation at different port. This
identification allows for the separation of terms into their
appropriate role in the impedance relation of feedback
systems. The impedance factor z’out (with the feedback
appropriately zeroed) and the loop signals that combine with
z’out to produce the system loop gain as defined in the DPIout
relation in (4), are separated naturally. The flow graph for the
output impedance gives visual recognition and differentiation
of these roles. A necessary symmetry of two loops is revealed
adding the reverse transmission directly into the feedback
This Driving Point Impedance approach has been
demonstrated using two circuits, a modified Miller
compensated voltage regulator (having an internal loop) and a
low power crystal oscillator. The circuits are modified using
template inserts into the outer feedback path and two instances
of the modified feedback system are simulated simultaneously
to obtain loop gain and transfer function terms which are then
algebraically combined. This approach lends itself to hand
analysis for gaining further insight as the process
automatically removes feedback in the setup making the subcircuits analyzed considerably simpler than the full feedback
This work has been evolving over a long time and it has
been my good fortune to have attracted the interests of Don
Patterson, Roger Gill, and of Jorge Vega who have provided
comments and discussion over the course of this work and
manuscript, much to its improvement.
[1] H. W. Bode, Network Analysis and Feedback Amplifier Design, New
York, NY, Van Nostrand, 1945.
[2] Ochoa, A., Jr.,‘A Systematic Approach to the Analysis of General and
Feedback Circuits and Systems Using Signal Flow Graphs and DrivingPoint Impedance’, Circuits and Systems II: Analog and Digital Signal
Processing, IEEE Transactions onFeb 1998 Volume: 45 Issue: 2,187 –
[3] Hu Zhiming, Zhou Ze-Kun, Chen Yue, Zhang Bo, ‘A Ultra-Fast Load
Regulation Capacitor-free LDO with Advanced Capacitive-coupling
Feedforward Compensation’, 10th IEEE International Conference on
Solid-State and Integrated Circuit Technology (ICSICT), 1-4 Nov.
2010, 482 – 484