[Part 1 offers an introduction to selecting op amps for use with data converters. Part 2 looks at key ADC/DAC specifications. Part 3 examines the critical issues involved in selecting op amps for driving ADC inputs. Part 4 looks at driving ADC/DAC voltage reference inputs.]
Another important op amp application is buffering DAC outputs. Modern IC DACs provide either voltage or current outputs. Figure 3-51 shows three fundamental configurations, all with the objective of using an op amp for a buffered output voltage.
Figure 3-51: Buffering DAC outputs with op amps
Figure 3-51A shows a buffered voltage output DAC. In many cases, the DAC output can be used directly, without additional buffering. If an additional op amp buffer is needed, it is usually configured in a noninverting mode, with gain determined by R1 and R2.
There are two basic methods for dealing with a current output DAC. In Figure 3-51B, a voltage is simply developed across external load resistor, RL. An external op amp can be used to buffer and/or amplify this voltage if required. Many DACs supply full-scale currents of 20 mA or more, thereby allowing reasonable voltages to be developed across fairly low value load resistors. For instance, fast settling video DACs typically supply nearly 30 mA full-scale current, allowing 1 V to be developed across a source and load terminated 75 Ω coaxial cable (representing a dc load of 37.5 Ω to the DAC output).
A direct method to convert the output current into a voltage is shown in Figure 3-51C, This circuit is usually called a current-to-voltage converter, or I/V. In this circuit, the DAC output drives the inverting input of an op amp, with the output voltage developed across the R2 feedback resistor. In this approach the DAC output always operates at virtual ground (which may give a linearity improvement vis-'-vis Figure 3-51B).
The general selection process for an op amp used as a DAC buffer is similar to that of an ADC buffer. The same basic specifications such as dc accuracy, noise, settling time, bandwidth, distortion, and so forth, apply to DACs as well as ADCs, and the discussion will not be repeated here. Rather, some specifi c application examples will be shown.
Differential to Single-Ended Conversion Techniques
A general model of a modern current output DAC is shown in Figure 3-52. This model is typical of the AD976x and AD977x TxDAC series (see Reference 1). Current output is more popular than voltage output, especially at audio frequencies and above. If the DAC is fabricated on a bipolar or BiCMOS process, it is likely that the output will sink current, and that the output impedance will be less than 500 Ω (due to the internal R/2R resistive ladder network). On the other hand, a CMOS DAC is more likely to source output current and have a high output impedance, typically greater than 100 kΩ.
Figure 3-52: Model of high speed DAC output
Another consideration is the output compliance voltage—the maximum voltage swing allowed at the output in order for the DAC to maintain its linearity. This voltage is typically 1 V to 1.5 V, but can vary depending upon the DAC. Best DAC linearity is generally achieved when driving a virtual ground, such as an op amp I/V converter.
Modern current output DACs usually have differential outputs, to achieve high CM rejection and reduce the even-order distortion products. Full-scale output currents in the range of 2 mA to 20 mA are common.
In most applications, it is desirable to convert the differential output of the DAC into a single-ended signal, suitable for driving a coax line. This can be readily achieved with an RF transformer, provided low frequency response is not required. Figure 3-53 shows a typical example of this approach. The high impedance current output of the DAC is terminated differentially with 50 Ω, which defines the source impedance to the transformer as 50 Ω.
Figure 3-53: Differential transformer coupling
The resulting differential voltage drives the primary of a 1:1 RF transformer, to develop a single-ended voltage at the output of the secondary winding. The output of the 50 Ω LC filter is matched with the 50 Ω load resistor RL, and a final output voltage of 1 V p-p is developed.
The transformer not only serves to convert the differential output into a single-ended signal, but it also isolates the output of the DAC from the reactive load presented by the LC filter, thereby improving overall distortion performance.