Best Books for Learning Radio Frequency (RF) Engineering

In the last decade we have seen exponential growth in radio communications. From voice communications in the nineties to data, more data and a crazy amount of data over the past two decades – now wireless is everywhere. The rapid evolution of wireless systems such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, LoRA, 5G and others is an indication that our appetite for wireless data and communications is not slowing down.

More and more people are also experimenting with RF and wireless. Not only are Ham radio licenses on the rise, but people are working with software-defined radios, IoT and low power wireless systems in unlicensed bands.

Today you can buy a couple of wireless modules for cheap and get them working in no time with an Arduino.

You can get an RTL-SDR which is pretty much the Arduino of the SDR world. With this you can receive everything from FM broadcast to ADS-B to Hydrogen Line signals.

Taking it one step further, you can develop an understanding of how these modules work and optimize them to increase the range. For instance, you can add an AIS Low Noise Amplifier and a bandpass filter to the front-end of an AIS receiver and increase the range significantly. So now with some knowledge and experimentation you have improved the performance of your RF product.

With similar optimizations, you can improve the operation of IoT systems to make them more energy efficient, reduce RF interference and thereby increase the battery life to make them operate for longer in the field.

With knowledge and understanding of Radio Frequency the possibilities are endless.

So how do you develop this knowledge? Let’s take a look at some of the best books out there that will help improve your understanding of Radio Frequency components and systems. These books provide solid theoretical foundations to build on.

The List of Best RF and Microwave Engineering Textbooks

The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications

The ARRL Handbook for Radio Communications is a practical guide to radio experimentation, discovery, and innovation. Most importantly, it is not written by academics. Instead it is authored by radio amateurs for everyone interested in learning about wireless technology.

Key Topics covered in this book include:

  • Radio electronics theory and principles
  • Circuit design and equipment
  • Radio signal transmission and propagation
  • Digital and analog modulation and protocols
  • Antennas and transmission lines 

Microwave Engineering by Pozar

This is truly the go-to book for RF engineers. Microwave Engineering starts out with an introduction to Electromagnetic Theory, delves into transmission lines, filters, amplifiers and more. In particular, Microwave Engineering deals with topics such as intermodulation distortion, dynamic range, mixers, amplifier stability, antennas and wireless receivers.

The material in Microwave Engineering is the foundation on which you can build your understanding of everyday wireless systems such as Wi-Fi access points, FM radio receivers and more. Even as you grow your skills in RF engineering, you will find yourself returning to this book often and using it as a reference. Quite simply this is one of the best books on microwave engineering to have on your shelf.

RF Microelectronics by Razavi

This book covers everything from Passive devices to Frequency Synthesizers and a tutorial of modern RF transceiver design. The chapters on receivers and transmitters will help you get a better understanding of software-defined radio platforms and the different receiver and transmitter architectures. As well, RF Microelectronics will give you a better appreciation of the various components such as low noise amplifiers and power amplifiers which are used to augment and extend the capabilities of many receivers and transmitters.

The only weak areas of this book are Power Amplifiers and Mixers where the content is not presented clearly or in enough detail. Another criticism is the lack of detail or adequate explanation of the fundamentals. For some topics the reader might have to supplement their understanding with specialized material that delves into a particular area. RF Power Amplifiers for Wireless Communications by Cripps is dedicated to power amplifiers.

The ARRL Antenna Book for Radio Communications

Antennas are critical to radio system. An antenna that’s been optimized for signal transmission and reception will result in the best possible RF signal either for the intended recipient. This ARRL book covers antenna theory, design and construction with practical projects.

It contains everything you need to understand RF signal propagation, how antennas work, and how to construct your own. The ARRL Antenna Book is the best practical bible for antenna design. It will get you noticing and thinking about antennas you see on people’s rooftops and in backyards. It will also put you in a better position as you venture into designing your own antennas.

Antenna Theory by Balanis

When it comes to antennas, this book by Balanis is an undisputed authority on the subject. This book covers everything from Antenna fundamentals to complex topics.

This book introduces the fundamental principles of antenna theory and explains their application to antenna analysis, design, and measurement. The applications covered in this book are made to some of the most basic and practical antenna configurations. This book covers linear dipoles, loops, arrays, broadband, aperture, horns, microstrip and reflector antennas. We encounter these different antenna types when using our cellphones, car FM radios and more.

This book does contain formulas, mathematics and a necessary level of detail to develop an understanding and appreciation of antennas. In fact, a prerequisite for this book is that the reader have a basic knowledge of undergraduate electromagnetic theory, introductory physics, and differential and integral calculus.

The fourth edition of Antenna Theory is a vast improvement over previous editions by way of multimedia support material such as MATLAB code and power point presentations. The only criticism of this book is that it lacks a level of explanation that enable an intuitive understanding of antennas. Having said that the book has proved useful to students, Rf enthusiasts and Amateur radio operators who want to build their own antennas alike.

Art of Electronics 3rd edition by Horowitz and Hill

A first step toward getting into RF electronics is to develop a reasonable or good understanding of basic analog electronics. If there’s one book that should be on your shelf it is the Art of Electronics.

This book starts out with the basics of voltage, current and resistance and takes the reader through various circuits – analog and digital. There’s also a chapter on RF circuit elements – transmission lines and impedance matching as well as Radio Frequency Interference.

The Art of Electronics is an excellent reference that you will find yourself returning to for the fundamentals and for a fun read.

Transistor Man from The Art of Electronics

Summary

People often refer to RF as Black Magic. But that’s largely because it’s not well understood. These books provide an excellent introduction to the world of Radio Frequency electronics. Fortunately there are so many more options today for experimenting with RF relative to even a decade ago. From Software-defined Radio to IoT aided by Arduinos and Raspberry Pis, you can chart your own path into the fascinating world of RF experimentation.

We have recommended a few books in this post that will aid your understanding of RF engineering. Here is a recap of the list:

Read our article on How to get Started with RF

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