Another practical concern for op-amp performance is voltage offset. That is, effect of having the output voltage something other than zero volts when the two input terminals are shorted together. Remember that operational amplifiers are differential amplifiers above all: they’re supposed to amplify the difference in voltage between the two input connections and nothing more. When hat input voltage difference is exactly zero volts, we would (ideally) expect to have exactly zero volts present on the output. However, in the real world this rarely happens. Even if the op-amp in question has zero common-mode gain (infinite CMRR), the output voltage may not be at zero when both inputs are shorted together. This deviation from zero is called offset.
A perfect op-amp would output exactly zero volts with both its inputs shorted together and grounded. However, most op-amps off the shelf will drive their outputs to a saturated level, either negative or positive. In the example shown above, the output voltage is saturated at a value of positive 14.7 volts, just a bit less than +V (+15 volts) due to the positive saturation limit of this particular op-amp. Because the offset in this op-amp is driving the output to a completely saturated point, there’s no way of telling how much voltage offset is present at the output. If the +V/-V split power supply was of a high enough voltage, who knows, maybe the output would be several hundred volts one way or the other due to the effects of offset!
For this reason, offset voltage is usually expressed in terms of the equivalent amount of input voltage differential producing this effect. In other words, we imagine that the op-amp is perfect (no offset whatsoever), and a small voltage is being applied in series with one of the inputs to force the output voltage one way or the other away from zero. Being that op-amp differential gains are so high, the figure for “input offset voltage” doesn’t have to be much to account for what we see with shorted inputs:
Offset voltage will tend to introduce slight errors in any op-amp circuit. So how do we compensate for it? Unlike common-mode gain, there are usually provisions made by the manufacturer to trim the offset of a packaged op-amp. Usually, two extra terminals on the op-amp package are reserved for connecting an external “trim” potentiometer. These connection points are labeled offset null and are used in this general way:
On single op-amps such as the 741 and 3130, the offset null connection points are pins 1 and 5 on the 8-pin DIP package. Other models of op-amp may have the offset null connections located on different pins, and/or require a slightly difference configuration of trim potentiometer connection. Some op-amps don’t provide offset null pins at all! Consult the manufacturer’s specifications for details.
Inputs on an op-amp have extremely high input impedances. That is, the input currents entering or exiting an op-amp’s two input signal connections are extremely small. For most purposes of op-amp circuit analysis, we treat them as though they don’t exist at all. We analyze the circuit as though there was absolutely zero current entering or exiting the input connections.
This idyllic picture, however, is not entirely true. Op-amps, especially those op-amps with bipolar transistor inputs, have to have some amount of current through their input connections in order for their internal circuits to be properly biased. These currents, logically, are called bias currents. Under certain conditions, op-amp bias currents may be problematic. The following circuit illustrates one of those problem conditions:
At first glance, we see no apparent problems with this circuit. A thermocouple, generating a small voltage proportional to temperature (actually, a voltage proportional to the difference in temperature between the measurement junction and the “reference” junction formed when the alloy thermocouple wires connect with the copper wires leading to the op-amp) drives the op-amp either positive or negative. In other words, this is a kind of comparator circuit, comparing the temperature between the end thermocouple juncti n and the reference junction (near the op-amp). The problem is this: the wire loop formed by the thermocouple does not provide a path for both input bias currents, because both bias currents are trying to go the same way (either into the op-amp or out of it).
In order for this circuit to work properly, we must ground one of the input wires, thus providing a path to (or from) ground for both currents:
Not necessarily an obvious problem, but a very real one!
Another way input bias currents may cause trouble is by dropping unwanted voltages across circuit resistances. Take this circuit for example:
We expect a voltage follower circuit such as the one above to reproduce the input voltage precisely at the output. But what about the resistance in series with the input voltage source? If there is any bias current through the noninverting (+) input at all, it will drop some voltage across Rin, thus making the voltage at the noninverting input unequal to the actual Vin value. Bias currents are usually in the microamp range, so the voltage drop across Rin won’t be very much, unless Rin is very large. One example of an application where the input resistance (Rin) would be very large is that of pH probe electrodes, where one electrode contains an ion-permeable glass barrier (a very poor conductor, with millions of Ω of resistance).
If we were actually building an op-amp circuit for pH electrode voltage measurement, we’d probably want to use a FET or MOSFET (IGFET) input op-amp instead of one built with bipolar transistors (for less input bias current). But even then, what slight bias currents may remain can cause measurement errors to occur, so we have to find some way to mitigate them through good design.
One way to do so is based on the assumption that the two input bias currents will be the same. In reality, they are often close to being the same, the difference between them referred to as the input offset current. If they are the same, then we should be able to cancel out the effects of input resistance voltage drop by inserting an equal amount of resistance in series with the other input, like this:
With the additional resistance added to the circuit, the output voltage will be closer to Vin than before, even if there is some offset between the two input currents.
For both inverting and noninverting amplifier circuits, the bias current compensating resistor is placed in series with the noninverting (+) input to compensate for bias current voltage drops in the divider network:
In either case, the compensating resistor value is determined by calculating the parallel resistance value of R1 and R2. Why is the value equal to the parallel equivalent of R1 and R2? When using the Superposition Theorem to figure how much voltage drop will be produced by the inverting (-) input’s bias current, we treat the bias current as though it were coming from a current source inside the op-amp and short-circuit all voltage sources (Vin and Vout). This gives two parallel paths for bias current (through R1 and through R2, both to ground). We want to duplicate the bias current’s effect on the noninverting (+) input, so the resistor value we choose to insert in series with that input needs to be equal to R1 in parallel with R2.
A related problem, occasionally experienced by students just learning to build operational amplifier circuits, is caused by a lack of a common ground connection to the power supply. It is imperative to proper op-amp function that some terminal of the DC power supply be common to the “ground” con ection of the input signal(s). This provides a complete path for the bias currents, feedback current(s), and for the load (output) current. Take this circuit illustration, for instance, showing a properly grounded power supply:
Here, arrows denote the path of electron flow through the power supply batteries, both for powering the op-amp’s internal circuitry (the “potentiometer” inside of it that controls output voltage), and for powering the feedback loop of resistors R1 and R2. Suppose, however, that the ground connection for this “split” DC power supply were to be removed. The effect of doing this is profound:
No electrons may flow in or out of the op-amp’s output terminal, because the pathway to the power supply is a “dead end.” Thus, no electrons flow through the ground connection to the left of R1, neither through the feedback loop. This effectively renders the op-amp useless: it can neither sustain current through the feedback loop, nor through a grounded load, since there is no connection from any point of the power supply to ground.
The bias currents are also stopped, because they rely on a path to the power supply and back to the input source through ground. The following diagram shows the bias currents (only), as they go through the input terminals of the op-amp, through the base terminals of the input transistors, and eventually through the power supply terminal(s) and back to ground.
Without a ground reference on the power supply, the bias currents will have no complete path for a circuit, and they will halt. Since bipolar junction transistors are current-controlled devices, this renders the input stage of the op-amp useless as well, as both input transistors will be forced into cutoff by the complete lack of base current.
Op-amp inputs usually conduct very small currents, called bias currents, needed to properly bias the first transistor amplifier stage internal to the op-amps’ circuitry. Bias currents are small (in the microamp range), but large enough to cause problems in some applications.
Bias currents in both inputs must have paths to flow to either one of the power supply “rails” or to ground. It is not enough to just have a conductive path from one input to the other.
To cancel any offset voltages caused by bias current flowing through resistances, just add an equivalent resistance in series with the other op-amp input (called a compensating resistor). This corrective measure is based on the assumption that the two input bias currents will be equal.
Any inequality between bias currents in an op-amp constitutes what is called an input offset current.
It is essential for proper op-amp operation that there be a ground reference on some terminal of the power supply, to form complete paths for bias currents, feedback current(s), and load current.
Being semiconductor devices, op-amps are subject to slight changes in behavior with changes in operating temperature. Any changes in op-amp performance with temperature fall under the category of op-amp drift. Drift parameters can be specified for bias currents, offset voltage, and the like. Consult the manufacturer’s data sheet for specifics on any particular op-amp.
To minimize op-amp drift, we can select an op-amp made to have minimum drift, and/or we can do our best to keep the operating temperature as stable as possible. The latter action may involve providing some form of temperature control for the inside of the equipment housing the op-amp(s). This is not as strange as it may first seem. Laboratory-standard precision voltage reference generators, for example, are sometimes known to employ “ovens” for keeping their sensitive components (such as zener diodes) at constant temperatures. If extremely high accuracy is desired over the usual factors of cos and flexibility, this may be an option worth looking at.
Op-amps, being semiconductor devices, are susceptible to variations in temperature. Any variations in amplifier performance resulting from changes in temperature is known as drift. Drift is best minimized with environmental temperature control.
With their incredibly high differential voltage gains, op-amps are prime candidates for a phenomenon known as feedback oscillation. You’ve probably heard the equivalent audio effect when the volume (gain) on a public-address or other microphone amplifier system is turned too high: that high pitched squeal resulting from the sound waveform “feeding back” through the microphone to be amplified again. An op-amp circuit can manifest this same effect, with the feedback happening electrically rather than audibly.
A case example of this is seen in the 3130 op-amp, if it is connected as a voltage follower with the bare minimum of wiring connections (the two inputs, output, and the power supply connections). The output of this op-amp will self-oscillate due to its high gain, no matter what the input voltage. To combat this, a small compensation capacitor must be connected to two specially-provided terminals on the op-amp. The capacitor provides a high-impedance path for negative feedback to occur within the op-amp’s circuitry, thus decreasing the AC gain and inhibiting unwanted oscillations. If the op-amp is being used to amplify high-frequency signals, this compensation capacitor may not be needed, but it is absolutely essential for DC or low-frequency AC signal operation.
Some op-amps, such as the model 741, have a compensation capacitor built in to minimize the need for external components. This improved simplicity is not without a cost: due to that capacitor’s presence inside the op-amp, the negative feedback tends to get stronger as the operating frequency increases (that capacitor’s reactance decreases with higher frequencies). As a result, the op-amp’s differential voltage gain decreases as frequency goes up: it becomes a less effective amplifier at higher frequencies.
Op-amp manufacturers will publish the frequency response curves for their products. Since a sufficiently high differential gain is absolutely essential to good feedback operation in op-amp circuits, the gain/frequency response of an op-amp effectively limits its “bandwidth” of operation. The circuit designer must take this into account if good performance is to be maintained over the required range of signal frequencies.
Due to capacitances within op-amps, their differential voltage gain tends to decrease as the input frequency increases. Frequency response curves for op-amps are available from the manufacturer.
Input to output phase shift
In order to illustrate the phase shift from input to output of an operational amplifier (op-amp), the OPA227 was tested in our lab. The OPA227 was constructed in a typical non-inverting configuration (Figure ).
OPA227 Non-inverting stage
The circuit configuration calls for a signal gain of ≅34 V/V or ≅50 dB. The input excitation at Vsrc was set to 10 mVp, and three frequencies of interest: 2.2 kHz, 22 kHz, and 220 MHz.
The OPA227’s open loop gain and phase curve vs. frequency is shown in Figure .
AV and Φ vs. Frequency plot
To help predict the closed loop phase shift from input to output, we can use the open loop gain and phase curve. Since the circuit configuration calls for a closed loop gain, or 1/β, of ≅50 dB, the closed loop gain curve intersects the open loop gain curve at approximately 22 kHz. After this intersection, the closed loop gain curve rolls off at the t pical 20 dB/decade for voltage feedback amplifiers, and follows the open loop gain curve.
What is actually at work here is the negative feedback from the closed loop modifies the open loop response. Closing the loop with negative feedback establishes a closed loop pole at 22 kHz. Much like the dominant pole in the open loop phase curve, we will expect phase shift in the closed loop response. How much phase shift will we see?
Since the new pole is now at 22 kHz, this is also the -3 dB point as the pole starts to roll off the closed loop again at 20 dB per decade as stated earlier. As with any pole in basic control theory, phase shift starts to occur one decade in frequency before the pole, and ends at 90o of phase shift one decade in frequency after the pole. So what does this predict for the closed loop response in our circuit?
This will predict phase shift starting at 2.2 kHz, with 45o of phase shift at the -3 dB point of 22 kHz, and finally ending with 90o of phase shift at 220 kHz. The three Figures shown below are oscilloscope captures at the frequencies of interest for our OPA227 circuit. Figure is set for 2.2 kHz, and no noticeable phase shift is present.
Figure is set for 220 kHz, and ≅45o of phase shift is recorded.
Finally, Figure is set for 220 MHz, and the expected ≅90o of phase shift is recorded. The scope plots were captured using a LeCroy 44x Wavesurfer. The final scope plot used a x1 probe with the trigger set to HF reject.
OPA227 Av=50dB @ 2.2 kHz
OPA227 Av=50dB @ 22 kHz
OPA227 Av=50dB @ 220 kHz