An antenna tuner, a matchbox, transmatch, antenna tuning unit (ATU), or antenna coupler is a device connected between a radio transmitter or receiver and its antenna to improve power transfer between them by matching the impedance of the radio to the antenna's feedline. Similar matching networks are used in other equipment (such as linear amplifiers) to transform impedance.
An antenna's impedance is different at different frequencies. An antenna tuner matches a radio with a fixed impedance (typically 50 Ohms for modern transceivers) to the combination of the feedline and the antenna; useful when the impedance seen at the input end of the feedline is unknown, complex, or otherwise different from the transceiver. Coupling through an ATU allows the use of one antenna on a broad range of frequencies. However, despite its name, an antenna ‘tuner ’ actually matches the transmitter only to the complex impedance reflected back to the input end of the feedline. If both tuner and transmission line were lossless, tuning at the transmitter end would produce a match at every point in the transmitter-feedline-antenna system. With practical systems, feed line losses limit the ability of the antenna ‘tuner’ to match the antenna or change its resonant frequency.
If the loss of power is very low in the line carrying the transmitter's signal into the antenna, a tuner at the transmitter end can produce a worthwhile degree of matching and tuning for the antenna and feedline network as a whole. With lossy feedlines, maximum power transfer only occurs if matching is done at both ends of the line.
If there is still a high SWR (multiple reflections) in the feedline beyond the ATU, any loss in the feedline is multiplied several times by the transmitted waves reflecting back and forth between the tuner and the antenna, heating the wire instead of sending out a signal. Even with a matching unit at both ends of the feedline – the near ATU matching the transmitter to the feedline and the remote ATU matching the feedline to the antenna – losses in the circuitry of the two ATUs will reduce power delivered to the antenna. Therefore, operating an antenna far from its design frequency and compensating with a transmatch between the transmitter and the feedline is not as efficient as using a resonant antenna with a matched-impedance feedline, nor as efficient as a matched feedline from the transmitter to a remote antenna tuner attached directly to the antenna.