28 Aug 2012

A plug for my son's MS concert in Oxford, Oct 7th

My son Tim Lapthorn, who is a professional jazz pianist, is holding a concert in Oxford on Sunday Oct 7th to promote his new album. All proceeds will be donated to the MS Society. You are most welcome to attend and enjoy.

Tickets may be obtained from http://www.oxfordplayhouse.com/ticketsoxford/?event=17386. The lunchtime concert is in the Jacqueline du Pre Music Building, Oxford starting at 1pm.

As the publicity says:
"Benefit concert for Multiple Sclerosis Society. Tim Lapthorn and his trio will play material from the forthcoming album, Transport (Pathway Records) which includes brand new original material. The group will also play reworkings of jazz/folk standards. Please come along to this very special event to help support a great cause!"
See also http://www.st-hildas.ox.ac.uk/jdpevent/tim-lapthorn-trio-ms-fundraising-concert

Progress on the WISPY transmitter

This afternoon I managed to do a little more work on the WSPR transceiver for 10m, building the oscillator/x2 multiplier stage and the balanced mixer for the TX part using a couple of 1N4148 diodes and a T50-6 tuned circuit. Carrier suppression is around 30dB without much effort. Next stages will be to add a linear amplifier to bring the DSB output to around 1W (500mW pep SSB carrier). Although I could combine the same mixer on RX and TX, I may stick with the Polyakov RX mixer as this is working so well. 

I should have added that with a linear PA, the WISPY transceiver should also be perfect for PSK31 as the 14.060MHz crystal (when doubled) will certainly pull to the PSK31 10m sub-band.

New ICOM all-band multimode

Icom have announced that they will be introducing a new multi-mode, multi-band radio called the IC7100 which includes 70MHz at 50W on some versions. This is, to my knowledge, the first time one of the big manufacturers has properly included 4m in the design. I know at least one Yaesu rig was capable of working on the band, albeit with some compromises. The new Icom rig has a separated control head with a sloping front, which is ideal for desktop operation and mobile.  It will be interesting to see the price and when it is likely to be launched. Also, whether or not they intend to do a 10W version (like the IC703) which was very popular with QRP enthusiasts.

27 Aug 2012

A bit further with the WISPY RX

Although not in the best of shape today, I spotted CX1BP (11131km) and EA8FF on 10m WSPR today.  Not bad for a handful of cheap parts.

I had a bit of trouble today with the SE602 I was using for the TX part of WISPY (it may have been faulty but I was unable to get a clean DSB signal out of mine), so when I get back on the project after a week of interruptions coming up I'm going to go for the simple 2 diode single balanced mixer instead on TX. I know this works well and is less expensive.  The TX part can be simpler than the RX I believe.

26 Aug 2012

Spots with WISPY RX

FR1GZ and others coming through just fine
This is the PC screen capture using WISPY as the 10m receiver for WSPR in the last hour or so. It is working just fine.

WISPY Schematic (more clearly)

For some reason when I put multiple images on a post it is not easily possible to see them clearly when clicked (at least with Firefox). So here is the schematic again. Clicking this image should bring up the full sized image clearly.

Hum fixed on the 28MHz WISPY WSPR RX

Rev B 28MHz WSPR receiver
Adding more audio decoupling around the oscillator and adding a common base FET RF preamp has totally fixed the common mode hum issues with my Polyakov mixer based DC receiver (WISPY) for 28MHz WSPR. Even running from a mains PSU I am getting good sensitivity and no hum. The board is working on the bench with no attempt at screening and appears totally fine. The oscillator buffer appears redundant, so has been removed.
Wispy Rev B (built using MeSquares)
One possible further mod is to make the input to the RF amp a series tuned circuit. This would be needed when the full transceiver version is made (back-to-back diodes would short the cap to ground on TX).  For now, I will leave the little RX running to see what I spot.

25 Aug 2012

WISPY (Polyakov RX) - 1st spot

I rebuilt my 10m WSPR RX today (the rig has to be called Wispy) onto a tidier, smaller board using MeSquares and took a few steps to reduce the 50Hz common mode hum pickup, although there is still too much there and more work is needed. Someone suggested it was radiation of the 28MHz 2nd harmonic of the oscillator mixing with 50Hz in nearby PSUs being re-radiated and detected. Still unsure of the mechanism but there are lots of things to overcome this.

EA8FF on the Polyakov RX (note the 50Hz and harmonics lines locally generated)
However, the good news. The RX, even without a preamp, can detect down to an amazing -127dBm MDS, possibly lower but this is as low as my signal generator will allow and I did not try with an attenuator. My first reception of a WSPR signal was EA8FF at -18dB S/N. Remember this is a DSB RX so the noise figure is actually 3dB worse as it is picking up noise from both sidebands.

Next stage is to add a small preamp to see if this helps reduce the common mode 50Hz pick-up and increase the sensitivity another few dB.

23 Aug 2012

Polyakov mixer and 50Hz hum

There is something strange about my Polyakov mixer based direct conversion receiver for 28.1246MHz WSPR at the moment.

On the bench, when connected to a 50 ohm signal generator or sitting on the bench without an antenna connected, the background noise is a quiet hiss. With an earpiece in a quiet room I can just hear a -125dBm signal, even without an RF preamp: it is a good, sensitive and simple design.

However, the moment I connect my outside halo antenna via a coax to the (unscreened) breadboard RX the 50Hz hum level is quite high, certainly some 40dB higher audio than the MDS signal. This is with the RX run from a small sealed lead acid battery. With a mains supply I might expect some hum, but what is going on? Why the high hum pickup?

My coax antenna feed passes through the loft and then outside passing plenty of mains cables, so I must be inducing some 50Hz pick-up on the coax outer which is coupling into the copper laminate breadboard ground plane. A tidy rebuild will be needed before I could put the RX into a screened box.

I do not recall having a similar problem with other DC designs I have tried (single balance diode pair, NE602, SBL1 etc.) when used in a similar lash-up breadboard.

Anyone any suggestions?

22 Aug 2012

KX3 leadtimes shortening

The KX3 image on the Elecraft site
The Elecraft website now shows "New Order Lead Time: 60 days" for the KX3 10W transceiver. At one time this was around 120 days, so they are working hard to get products out more quickly now that any initial teething troubles have been addressed. www.eham.net still shows a satisfaction rating of 5 from 25 reviews, which is excellent.  A 2 month lead-time would put delivery around the end of October when DX on HF is likely to be at its best for many years.  I have to admit that I'm very tempted, but it is a lot of money.

The second 472kHz transverter (with MeSquares)

Partially built 472kHz transverter using MeSquare islands
This afternoon I started the build of my second 472kHz 10W transverter to confirm repeatability of the design. This time I'm using MeSquares from www.qrpme.com as islands to aid construction. The build is about 75% complete so I thought I'd take a photo to show the technique before the board gets too crowded. With some care the results can be almost as neat as a PCB.

20 Aug 2012

MySquares and MyPads arrive

My order from www.qrpme.com arrived today by airmail from the USA. The PCB stick-down island pads look just the job and my plan is to build a second sample of my 472/500kHz transverter using these on a piece of copper laminate. There is no doubt that these pads will be a big improvement on my own rough-cut homebrew pads. I especially like the islands for SO8,  DIL8 and DIL14 ICs as fixing these with Manhattan construction has always been a real pain.

19 Aug 2012

LF/MF Loop antennas on transmit

For the last few winters I've used a wire loop antenna on 136 and 500kHz transmit with moderately successful results. Well, considering the extremely low ERP it is better to say excellent results. My wire is not that thick: around 1mm PVC covered multistrand wire and the loop area around 80m square, with the lower part of the wire either very close to, or actually on, the ground.  Using the TX loop calculator at http://www.66pacific.com/calculators/small_tx_loop_calc.aspx the efficiency is around -30dB at 500kHz, so that 5W from the PA would result in around 5mW ERP radiated. My calculations and measurements, with less than ideal loop geometry, suggest the ERP is some 3dB lower at around 2-3mW. At 137kHz the loop is considerably less efficient at around -50dB.

For a small plot with nearby trees I am not sure how well this compares with a small Marconi with a short vertical section (around 6m max) and a horizontal section of around 6m. Anyone know the answer?

Another country on 472-479kHz

Lubos OK2BVG reports that he has been granted access to the new 630m MF band and is already working stations.  Gradually more countries are gaining access although I doubt UK amateurs will be allowed access to the band before January 2013.

A few years ago I was extremely excited when Lubos managed to copy my 2mW ERP 500kHz WSPR beacon at over 1000km for the first time. Since then the beacon has reached Finland at almost 1800km. 

It is good to hear that several German stations are now active in the new band with conventional CW QSOs being quite common.

RX performance comparisons (and the KX3)


Sherwood carry out comprehensive tests on various amateur products. See the full list in the link above to get an idea how good the Elecraft KX3 is. Sometimes ultimate performance is unimportant but it does indicate which products are the very good ones when it matters .

15 Aug 2012

Simple 28MHz Polyakov Mixer WSPR RX

As the first part of my WSPR transceiver project for 28MHz, I breadboarded a Polyakov harmonic mixer based, crystal controlled, direct conversion receiver this afternoon. It was a great success!

28MHz Polyakov mixer based WSPR RX
The circuit shows the idea implemented. A low cost GQRP club 14.060MHz crystal is pulled to 14.0623MHz in the oscillator/buffer stage. This is then injected into the back to back diode "Polyakov" harmonic mixer which switches at 2x injection frequency i.e. 28.1246MHz, the WSPR USB dial frequency. The 28MHz input from the antenna is filtered and directly applied (no RF amp) to the diode harmonic mixer with the audio output amplified and filtered in the 2 stages of audio gain. The output then goes to the PC sound card. I may improve the audio filtering and add a 600ohm line transformer between the audio output and the PC mic or line input.

Minimum discernable signal (MDS) is around -124dBm, possibly a shade better. AM rejection was tested by injecting a 100% AM modulated carrier at 28MHz. An input of -53dBm was needed before the AM signal was detected, so 70dB AM rejection, which I think is very good.

More bench work to do, then I'll try looking for 10m WSPR signals on-air with the RX, but for about an hour of work, a very fine result. Once the RX is air-test proven, the TX part will be added to make a complete WSPR transceiver.

14 Aug 2012

Autumn project list

My wife often calls me a "fireside fusilier" as I am always gunner (going to) do this or gunner do that.

Well here is my current projects ideas list, some of which I hope to address in the coming weeks and months. How many will be replaced with other ideas first?
  1. Finish the 472kHz transverter and write this up.
  2. Simple 28MHz QRP WSPR transceiver to use with a netbook.
  3. Stand alone 137kHz receiver (for use with PC).
  4. Semi-permanent E-field probe antenna and on-line 137kHz/472kHz grabbers
  5. More non line-of-sight light beam experiments (get better distances).
  6. Semi-permanent 481THz QRSS beacon for NLOS light beam tests.
  7. Alternative HF antennas - maybe re-erect my Par Electronics 40/20/10 end-fed.
  8. Further earth-mode (ground conduction) experiments - tests at around 30 and 73kHz as well as more tests at VLF aiming to improve best though ground DX (currently 6km with 5W).
  9. Experiment with horizontal loop antenna on TX at VLF (maximising coupling into ground).
  10. Build some better LF/MF test gear such as resistive SWR bridge, 50W dummy load and a noise bridge.
I'll give you all a progress update in about 6 weeks time!

PC based LF/MF receivers

There are some very neat ideas for simple LF receivers around that make use of programs like Spectran or Argo effectively as the second IF and detector stages.

DK7FC's simple 137kHz receiver
DK7FC recently posted his schematic for his 137kHz receiver which used a 4MHz crystal divided down to 125kHz using a 4060 IC with the IF at 12kHz (corresponding to 137kHz) being fed straight into the PC software. With programs like Argo the scale can be offset so that the correct frequency is displayed. Of course, there needs to be some front end filtering to remove the image, in this case at 113kHz. Using this approach one can make a very simple "stand alone" LF receiver for 137kHz weak signal reception. Such an approach is ideal for grabbers which are permanently connected to a PC anyway, uploading the received signals to the internet.

13 Aug 2012

Baofeng UV-3R very inexpensive VHF/UHF handheld

You may or may not have seen the adverts on eBay for the Baofeng UV-3R handheld transceiver. These are available in several colour versions (including the yellow version shown here) for prices between £25-40 including shipping. For example Solidradio of Hong Kong have these available for just £29.90. Reports suggest these are not bad rigs at all.

What I've just noticed is that, the same supplier shows there is a 3 year UK SquareTrade (no matter what) warranty available for £8.49. So, for less than £40 you can buy a dual band VHF/UHF handheld with a decent warranty for 3 full years.  I've heard of some deals, but this takes some beating.

12 Aug 2012


As I cannot access my "lab" currently (kitchen refit materials are everywhere!) I am restricted to operating from my shack, so this morning I've been trying out 28MHz WSPR with 500mW out to the halo in anticipation of my QRP WSPR transceiver design coming soon. This will be DSB, so I will need 1W RF out to get the equivalent of 500mW on the WSPR frequencies.
500mW 10m WSPR reports today
Not unexpectedly, there are loads of reports on the screen when I last looked from all over Europe. The best report so far today is +8dB S/N which suggests just 500uW would have been sufficient to be spotted. I know that others have achieved similar, indeed very much better, success when the band is open. What is also intriguing are that I have been spotted within the UK at over 300km, presumably by Es or backscatter, although maybe by tropo?

I have still to finish off the 472/500kHz transverter and write this up before starting on the 10m WSPR rig, but should have the latter done quite soon. It will be fun to have a stand-alone 10m WSPR transceiver running with a little netbook.

10 Aug 2012

Lack of recent posts

My apologies for lack of recent content, but we've been away from the home QTH whilst our kitchen is being refitted. The local builder, a good and reliable person, advised us to go away and avoid the chaos, so we have been exploring Kent and East Sussex from our son's home near Canterbury. No ham gear with me, just the iPod Touch 4g.

Update Aug11th: we have now returned home (PW awaiting me) to find the kitchen almost finished - 2 more days work - and looking good. Problem is access to my "lab" is impossible because of boxes and builders tools. With luck all should be clear by Wednesday when ham radio building can resume.

CW from Mars

The latest NASA rover "Curiosity" apparently imprints JPL in CW on the Martian surface as a result of its tyre pattern. See http://www.tyrepress.com/News/OFFBEAT/25967.html . If I recall correctly my callsign is on a microchip on "Curiosity" (see post last autumn).

2 Aug 2012


As a fan of sticking small bits of cut-up PCB material to a solid piece of copper laminate ground plane in most of my projects I get through a LOT of bits of copper laminate. Getting lazy in my old age, I've just ordered some MePADS and MeSQUARES from www.qrpme.com in the USA. These are arrays of pads or IC footprints for dead bug or Manhattan style construction that can be snapped out and glued to the main ground plane making a neat layout possible without a real PCB.