The Sallen–Key topology is an electronic filter topology used to implement second-order active filters that is particularly valued for its simplicity. It is a degenerate form of a voltage-controlled voltage-source (VCVS) filter topology. A VCVS filter uses a super-unity-gain voltage amplifier with practically infinite input impedance and zero output impedance to implement a 2-pole (12 dB/octave) low-pass, high-pass, or bandpass response. The super-unity-gain amplifier allows for very high Q factor and passband gain without the use of inductors. A Sallen–Key filter is a variation on a VCVS filter that uses a unity-gain amplifier (i.e., a pure buffer amplifier with 0 dB gain). It was introduced by R. P. Sallen and E. L. Key of MIT Lincoln Laboratory in 1955.
Because of its high input impedance and easily selectable gain, an operational amplifier in a conventional non-inverting configuration is often used in VCVS implementations. Implementations of Sallen–Key filters often use an operational amplifier configured as a voltage follower; however, emitter or source followers are other common choices for the buffer amplifier.
VCVS filters are relatively resilient to component tolerance, but obtaining high Q factor may require extreme component value spread or high amplifier gain. Higher-order filters can be obtained by cascading two or more stages.
Generic Sallen–Key topology
The generic unity-gain Sallen–Key filter topology implemented with a unity-gain operational amplifier is shown in Figure 1. The following analysis is based on the assumption that the operational amplifier is ideal.
Because the operational amplifier (OA) is in a negative-feedback configuration, its v+ and v- inputs must match (i.e., v+ = v-). However, the inverting input v- is connected directly to the output vout, and so
By Kirchhoff's current law (KCL) applied at the vx node,
By combining Equations (1) and (2),
Applying Equation (1) and KCL at the OA's non-inverting input v+ gives
which means that
Combining Equations (2) and (3) gives
Rearranging Equation (4) gives the transfer function
which typically describes a second-order LTI system.
If the component were connected to ground, the filter would be a voltage divider composed of the and components cascaded with another voltage divider composed of the and components. The buffer bootstraps the "bottom" of the component to the output of the filter, which will improve upon the simple two divider case. This interpretation is the reason why Sallen–Key filters are often drawn with the operational amplifier's non-inverting input below the inverting input, thus emphasizing the similarity between the output and ground.
By choosing different passive components (e.g., resistors and capacitors) for , , , and , the filter can be made with low-pass, bandpass, and high-pass characteristics. In the examples below, recall that a resistor with resistance has impedance of
and a capacitor with capacitance has impedance of
Application: Low-pass filter
An example of a unity-gain low-pass configuration is shown in Figure 2.
The transfer function for this second-order unity-gain low-pass filter is
The factor determines the height and width of the peak of the frequency response of the filter. As this parameter increases, the filter will tend to "ring" at a single resonant frequency near (see "LC filter" for a related discussion).
Poles and zeros
A designer must choose the and appropriate for their application. The value is critical in determining the eventual shape. For example, a second-order Butterworth filter, which has maximally flat passband frequency response, has a of . By comparison, a value of corresponds to the series of two identical simple low-pass filters.
Because there are two parameters and four unknowns, the design procedure typically fixes one resistor as a ratio of the other resistor and one capacitor as a ratio of the other capacitor. One possibility is to set the ratio between and as and the ratio between and as . So,
Therefore, the and expressions are
In practice, certain choices of component values will perform better than others due to the non-idealities of real operational amplifiers.
For example, the circuit in Figure 3 has an of and a of . The transfer function is given by
and, after substitution, this expression is equal to
which shows how every combination comes with some combination to provide the same and for the low-pass filter. A similar design approach is used for the other filters below.
The input impedance of the second-order unity-gain Sallen-Key low-pass filter is also of interest to designers. It is given by Eq. (3) in Cartwright and Kaminsky  as
- where and .
Furthermore, for , there is a minimum value of the magnitude of the impedance, given by Eq. (16) of Cartwright and Kaminsky, which states that
Fortunately, this equation is well-approximated by
- , for . For values outside of this range, the 0.34 constant has to be modified for minimum error.
Also, the frequency at which the minimum impedance magnitude occurs is given by Eq. (15) of Cartwright and Kaminsky, i.e.,
This equation can also be well approximated using Eq. (20) of Cartwright and Kaminsky, which states that
Application: High-pass filter
A second-order unity-gain high-pass filter with of and of is shown in Figure 4.
A second-order unity-gain high-pass filter has the transfer function
where undamped natural frequency and factor are discussed above in the low-pass filter discussion. The circuit above implements this transfer function by the equations
(as before), and
Follow an approach similar to the one used to design the low-pass filter above.
Application: Bandpass filter
An example of a non-unity-gain bandpass filter implemented with a VCVS filter is shown in Figure 5. Although it uses a different topology and an operational amplifier configured to provide non-unity-gain, it can be analyzed using similar methods as with the generic Sallen–Key topology. Its transfer function is given by:
The center frequency (i.e., the frequency where the magnitude response has its peak) is given by:
The Q factor is given by
The voltage divider in the negative feedback loop controls the "inner gain" of the operational amplifier:
If the inner gain is too high the filter will oscillate.
- "EE315A Course Notes - Chapter 2"-B. Murmann
- Sallen, R. P.; E. L. Key (March 1955). "A Practical Method of Designing RC Active Filters". IRE Transactions on Circuit Theory 2 (1): 74–85. doi:10.1109/tct.1955.6500159.
- Stop-band limitations of the Sallen-Key low-pass filter
- Cartwright, K. V.; E. J. Kaminsky (2013). "Finding the minimum input impedance of a second-order unity-gain Sallen-Key low-pass filter without calculus". Lat. Am. J. Phys. Educ. 7 (4): 525–535.
- Texas Instruments Application Report: Analysis of the Sallen–Key Architecture
- Analog Devices filter design applet – A simple online tool for designing active filters using voltage-feedback op-amps.
- TI active filter design source FAQ
- Op Amps for Everyone – Chapter 16
- High frequency modification of Sallen-Key filter - improving the stopband attenuation floor
- Online Calculation Tool for Sallen–Key Low-pass/High-pass Filters
- Online Calculation Tool for Filter Design and Analysis
- ECE 327: Procedures for Output Filtering Lab – Section 3 ("Smoothing Low-Pass Filter") discusses active filtering with Sallen–Key Butterworth low-pass filter.
- Filtering 101: Multi Pole Filters with Sallen-Key, Matt Duff of Analog Devices explains how Sallen Key circuit works