What Are AC and DC Coupling?

This is an important subject to understand when working in the signal processing field.

In terms of AC and DC Coupling, what is Coupling?

Quite simply, coupling is the transfer of energy from one medium to another, for example, from a metallic wire to an optical cable. This transfer of energy may be desirable or undesirable.

What is DC coupling?

DC coupling allows both AC (alternating current) and DC (direct current) signals to pass through a connection.

What is AC coupling?

AC coupling allows only AC signals to pass through a connection.

A DC source can be considered to be like a battery, in that there is a constant negative charge from the battery’s negative terminal to the positive terminal. An example of such a source is shown in Figure 1.

Constant 5V DC signal
Figure 1: Constant 5V DC signal

An AC source is one that is constantly changing from positive to negative. A sine wave is an example of an AC signal, such as the one shown in Figure 2.

Example AC signal
Figure 2: Example AC signal

DC coupling effectively does nothing. It does not affect the signal at all; everything that goes in comes out again.

AC coupling will remove the DC component from a signal.

For example, a sine wave with a mean of zero and an amplitude of +/-5 volts, as shown in Figure 2, would be unaffected by either a DC or an AC coupling. But a sine wave with a mean of 5 volts and an amplitude of +/-5 volts would be affected by an AC coupling but not a DC coupling. The example shown in Figure 3, when passed through a DC coupled connection would be unaffected. But if the signal shown in Figure 3 were to be passed through an AC coupled connection, the 5 volt mean content would be removed and the signal would match that shown in Figure 2.

+/- 5V sine wave with 5V mean
Figure 3: +/- 5V sine wave with 5V mean

So AC coupling rejects the DC component of the signal. Effectively, this normalizes the signal to a zero mean.

The DC component of a signal can be considered to be 0Hz and any AC component of a signal to be above 0Hz. For example, an AC coupling filter might have a cut off frequency of 1 Hz. Therefore, passing a signal through this AC coupling filter would result in the frequency content of the signal below 1Hz being removed.

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James Wren

Former Sales & Marketing Manager at Prosig
James Wren was Sales & Marketing Manager for Prosig Ltd until 2019. James graduated from Portsmouth University in 2001, with a Masters degree in Electronic Engineering. He is a Chartered Engineer and a registered Eur Ing. He has been involved with motorsport from a very early age with a special interest in data acquisition. James is a founder member of the Dalmeny Racing team.
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8 years ago

What a simple way to understand the terminologies! keep it up James!

8 years ago

the art of expalining seamingly difficult concepts in a clear and understandable way is a teaching skill that Prosig masters and exells in.

Kudo’s to the Prosig team.

Georges Otte

kartar singh
kartar singh
7 years ago

thanks to give such good information………………in very simple way.

7 years ago

The terms AC/DC to define the characteristics of signals seems antiquated terms from the days of Tesla snd Edison.

First the idea that, in the world of instrumentation, the measurement of current is common is rediculous.

Maybe we should change it to AV/DV to align with instrumentation requirements.

Second the term direct is not an intuitive definition of the concept while alternating is much more intuitive. Maybe call it non-alternating or static(ok that does not work for obvious reasons) or persistant or constant (etc).

So lets start a new trend of calling it AV/CV.

Someone will have to inform the band.

jeremy church
jeremy church
7 years ago
Reply to  James Wren

James, After I sent the note I realized that this was a general rant about the concepts of AC/DC (AV/CV) versus a comment about coupling. The discussion around coupling was useful but did not cover any thing about Prosig specific stuff like frequency cutoff and useful values of it.

Ken Davis
Ken Davis
7 years ago
Reply to  jeremy

Leave James alone. There are some old and antequated folks (ME) that are still learning and I really appreciate explanations that I can understand.
Thank you James and don’t forget the old folks.

7 years ago

excellent explaination..!

6 years ago

Very often things are simple, but often people just can’t explain/ teach those things in a simple way, so that they seems to be very difficult.
Thank you , James.

6 years ago

you are doing a great job of explaining technical terms in clear and simple terms. Thank you!

5 years ago

thanks a lot! what a helpful! i’m happy

George K Thomas
3 years ago

Hi James,

This posting is very informative for amatuers like me trying to understand AC and DC coupling, but the 3rd figure cannot be clicked for an enlarged image to see how a sine wave with a mean of 5 volts and an amplitude of +/-5 volts would look like and to understand how it would be affected by an AC coupling by comparing images 2 and 3 we could understand it better from illustration. Also it would be nice if a post on differential net is made in an understandable manner.

3 years ago

Dear George, thanks for spotting that. Figure 3 is now clickable. Apologies for the error.

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