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Pi Network Impedance Matching: Design and Solutions

Key Takeaways

  • Pi networks use two outer parallel components and a middle series component.

  • For comparison purposes, a pi filter is effectively two L filters back-to-back but simplifies the two series components in the middle to a single entity.

  • After finding the constraints of the pi network, designers need to calculate the equivalent impedance to match the source.

Side view of an inductor and capacitor array.

Pi network impedance matching uses series and parallel inductors and capacitors to load match the source impedance.

Building filter networks is necessary for signal conditioning that separates desired signal bandwidths from noise that can harm signal quality or damage components at high enough frequencies. Filter networks also have a secondary but equally valuable role in aiding power delivery: impedance matching the source to maximize power transferability. In purely resistive networks, circuit designers can accomplish this with only resistors, but more sophisticated applications require reactive elements (i.e., capacitors and inductors) to achieve this setting. Pi network impedance matching is one implementation designers can use that affords considerable flexibility over the more rudimentary L networks.

Comparing 3-Component Impedance Matching Networks



  • Two parallel components surround a series component.

  • Better for high-value impedances (>50Ω).

  • Two series components surround a parallel component.

  • Better for low-value impedances (<50Ω).

Pi Networks Trivialize Size and Quality Factor Constraints

The pi network is a more advanced architecture, combining two L networks with a configuration that uses two parallel components (tied to ground on one side) and one series component. Adding network components incurs greater losses at high speeds, so this selection is not trivial. Yet a three-component network (like a pi) can become necessary for antenna-side matching when dealing with large quality factor values (also known as Q-factors). A high Q-factor is desirable for power efficiency and miniaturization, with a corresponding loss in general applicability as the bandwidth shrinks.

(The Q-factor bandwidth definition, where fc is the center frequency and BW is the bandwidth.)

Unlike two-component networks, three-component networks can achieve higher Q-values; as a rule of thumb, the maximum Q-value obtained by a two-component network is the minimum value a three-component network can attain. The three-component network is simply an iterated form of the two-component network; the pi network features two L networks back-to-back, with the parallel components on the outside of the filter and the series component in the middle. Connecting these two L networks creates a parallel “virtual” (no corresponding component) resistance between the two L networks. For calculations, the pi network may denote the parallel components as positive and the series components as negative – this is not the reactance of the components. Rather, it indicates the reactance relationship for the parallel/series components: parallel inductors and series capacitors or parallel capacitors and series inductors are valid assignments, provided the relationship stays constant throughout the network.

From a desired Q-factor, it’s a straightforward proposition to determine the rest of the pi network’s values.  Unlike the constituent L networks, the pi network provides designers with enough components to cover the necessary degrees of freedom (greater of the source or load resistance, natural angular frequency, and transformation ratio) – selecting three components ensures all the variables are solvable. Designers then only have to find the greater of the two resistances between the load and the source to finish calculating the parallel resistance of the network.

(Where R> is the greater source and load resistance value.)

From here, designers can solve for the component values of the individual L networks separately before combining the “series” components of each by adding the reactance. Depending on the sign of the reactance and the relationship between the parallel and series components in the pi network, engineers then have the component type (either a capacitive or inductive element). 

Pi Network Impedance Matching How-To

With the filter values sorted, designers must impedance match the filter to the source. The impedance is a value comprised of a real component (the resistance) and an imaginary component (the reactance). Matching the source impedance requires the complex conjugate at the load (in this example, our pi network), which is an impedance of the same resistance and opposite impedance. Symbolically, if the source were to have an impedance of R + jX (where j is the imaginary number), then the matched impedance at the load would be R - jX.

Figuring the impedance at the load can be challenging if the pi network has many components. Fortunately, equivalent circuit techniques are just as viable on reactive and resistive elements. Given a circuit consisting only of resistors, inductors, and capacitors (or the equivalent resistance/reactance values for other component types), designers can follow a simple (if tedious) calculation process for idealized components at a single frequency:

  1. Determine the reactance of all inductors and capacitors according to the formulas XL = 2𝜋fL and XC = (2𝜋fC)-1, where f is the operating frequency.

  2. Represent the impedance of all components using the complex number form Z = R + jX (identically, R∠θ). Resistors only have a resistive component, while inductors and capacitors only have a reactive component. The phase angle is +90° for inductors and -90° for capacitors.

  3. The total impedance magnitude is the vector sum (i.e., Pythagorean theorem) of all the individual resistive and reactive components. Using the complex plane (the imaginary axis is perpendicular to the real axis), designers can calculate the phase angle of the total impedance using a trigonometric relationship between the sum of the resistive and reactive elements. 

Alternatively, equivalent circuit methods are possible as impedances add and simplify like a resistor network. The complex nature of the impedance values can make parallel elements messy to solve algebraically.

Cadence Solutions for Filter Design - It’s a Match!

Pi network impedance matching uses a three-component network to match source impedances while allowing designers greater control over the filter characteristics, namely the quality factor.  Because the pi network is suitable for high Q-factor values, it can help miniaturize designs by shrinking antenna legs, making it a critical tool for any RF designer. Arriving at an impedance value requires some basic vector math, which can be challenging when dealing with many networks or more accurate measurements that complicate calculations compared to idealized values. Fortunately, Cadence’s PCB Design and Analysis Software suite gives designers all the tools necessary to rapidly build, calculate, and simulate designs that are accurate for DFM purposes. Paired with the powerful and fast OrCAD PCB Designer, circuit layout has never been easier.

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