VHF-UHF Baluns

This is the talk that I presented at the RSGB Convention in October 2018.

RSGB will eventually release a video of the talk, but in the interest of publishing the technical content as soon as possible, you’re very welcome to download and click through the slideshow.

Even without the voiceover, the important points are clear:

  • Today, “baluns” are about controlling interference, reducing noise
  • Choke baluns are best for doing this.

So we should aim to:

  • Minimize common-mode RF currents on the outside of the coax
    and along the boom.
  • Don’t upset the good feedpoint balance that VHF-UHF Yagis already have.

Comments and discussion, please!  This is new information for VHF-UHF, and certainly not the last words to be said about it. It’s still very much ‘work in progress’.
Leave a reply

 

Technical slide content © 2018 Ian White, GM3SEK
Side template © 2018 RSGB
Images as attributed (except where that would be embarrassing).

Switching 24V Relays from a 12V DC Supply

How to operate a 24V relay with no 24V DC supply

It only needs this simple circuit.

Relay pulser topside

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Most amateur equipment operates from 12-13.8V DC; but many of the best RF coaxial relays are military surplus and designed to operate from 24-28V DC. Obviously you can generate 24-28V using a switch-mode power supply operating from 12V, and circuit boards are very cheap on eBay. But that isn’t the only way to do it… and not always the best way, either.

“Relay Speed-up” Circuit

This little circuit was originally published in my Radcom ‘In Practice’ column for April 2002 as a way of speeding up the slow open-frame antenna changeover relays that are used in many older power amplifiers. It works by providing a switching pulse at twice the normal voltage, which will roughly halve the switching time. For more details, download the Radcom article.

The idea appears to have originated with K1KP and K6XX. To make it compatible with the switching outputs of most modern transceivers, I added the low voltage / low current switching interface (TR1) so the final circuit looked like this:

rc9181

Corrections: TR1 should be ZVN3306A (or 2N7002) and TR2 should be ZVN3306A (or similar)

Fig.1: Relay speed-up using a pulsed low-side switch.

Notice that the relay(s) are connected to the positive supply rail, and the switching circuit TR2-TR3 is connected at the ‘low side’ between the relays and ground. For that reason, this type of circuit is often called a “low-side switch”.

Alternative Use: Operate 24V Relays from 12-13.8V

This same circuit also has another use: it will allow the large majority of 24V relays to function directly from a 12-13.8V DC supply, with no 24V supply at all! This is because most so-called “24V” relays only need the full voltage while actually switching over. Once the relay has pulled in, most “24V” relays will hold in quite satisfactorily on 12V or even less. So there’s actually no need for a continuous 24V supply – all you really need is that first short pulse.

If a low-side switch is what you need, simply connect Fig,1 to a 12-13.8V DC supply rail and most 24V DC relays will function almost as normal. However, we can simplify it a little more…

Now Even Simpler

Fig.2 is even simpler than Fig.1 was. We have now converted the whole circuit into a ‘high side switch’ which no longer needs a separate control interface. The active switch is connected between the supply rail and the relay; and the ‘low’ side of the relay is connected directly to the ground return. We can now control the relay directly from the gate of Q2, so Fig.2 is simplified to just the two transistors and a handful of other components.

Fig.2: High-side pulsed switch.

Parts List for Fig.2

C1: 220uF 35V, 10mm dia, lead spacing 5mm (eg Farnell 9451293 )
C2: 1000uF 35V, 13mm dia, lead spacing 5mm (eg Farnell  9451323 )
D1, D2: S1M (SMD version of 1N4007, eg Farnell 2675069 )
Q1: TIP32C PNP bipolar, TO220 (eg Farnell 9804161 )
Q2: NDT2955 P-channel MOSFET, SMD (eg Farnell 9846271 )
R1: 1K0  0805 SMD (various sources)
R2, R3: 10K  0805 SMD (various sources)
R4: 100K 0805 SMD (various sources)

CIrcuit Notes for Fig.2

About C1 and C2: C1 is the capacitor that adds an extra 12V pulse in series with the permanent 12-13.8V supply. The value of C1 usually isn’t at all critical, and in most cases 220uF will give a switching time almost identical to what you’d see with a conventional 24V supply. You can experiment with different values for C1 while using an oscilloscope to monitor the pulse shape and voltage. 

C2 is a reservoir capacitor connected across the 12-13.8V supply rail, to help meet the pulsed current demand. If the relay is mounted remotely (eg at the masthead) then the whole circuit needs to be located close to the relay itself, but the presence of C2 at the load end of the supply cable makes it unnecessary to use heavy wiring.

C1 and C2 see no higher voltage than the 12-13.8V supply rail, so a typical voltage rating would be 16V. (Higher voltage ratings are perfectly OK, of course; but not actually needed.)

Do not connect a ‘protection’ diode across the relay coil – it isn’t needed. The switch-off surge is absorbed by recharging C1 and C2.

The whole circuit can be built on a scrap of Matrix Padboard (search eBay.co.uk) or Veroboard. To fill some free space on a PC panel that was mainly for another project, I made a very compact semi-SMD version as shown in the Lead Photo and Fig. 3.

Relay pulser underside

Fig.3: Compact version of the pulsed high-side switch.

 

Page © 2017-8 Ian White, GM3SEK
Fig.1 and related links © RSGB)

“Play Nicely Together”: Integrating the K3, SDRplay RSP1, HDSDR and N1MMlogger+

HDSDR and N1MM+

These notes describe how to configure the HDSDR software to allow your SDR to act as a 2nd receiver, fully co-ordinated with your existing transceiver and logging software.

The procedure has been tested with the Elecraft K3 but should also work with any OmniRig compatible transceiver.

1. Create a Virtual Port Splitter

The COM port numbers used below are typical examples only, and could be changed. However, it is good practice to keep virtual port numbers well separated from physical port numbers, so I begin my virtual port numbering at COM11.

[ Physical and Virtual COM ports:
COM ports are used for serial data communication. Physical COM ports are associated with real hardware connectors. In older PCs these were 9-pin ports for RS232 communication, but in modern PCs these are typically USB sockets.
Physical port numbers are allocated by the operating system and are usually single-digit numbers starting from COM1.
Virtual ports exist only in software, and their numbering is normally user-configurable.]

The transceiver is connected to the PC using the USB port (in my example, COM6). But a physical COM port can only support one program at a time – any other programs trying to connect to that port will produce error messages about port conflicts.

We get around this problem by using Virtual Serial Port Emulator from www.eterlogic.com/Products.VSPE.html  The 32-bit version is freeware, but the 64-bit version requires a contribution to help pay for software licences.

vspe1

VSPE has a “virtual port splitter” facility which can connect to a physical COM port (COM6 in this example) and then creates multiple instances of a virtual COM port with a different number (which I configured as COM11). These virtual COM11 ports are all identical, but are hidden from each other by the VSPE program. This allows several different programs to connect to the same virtual “COM11” port.

VSPE’s description of a virtual Splitter ‘device’.

VSPE must be started first, to create those virtual COM11 ports. When you start up each program, its own port configuration menu will now include COM11 so that is the one you should select (COM6 will still be listed, but make sure you don’t connect to that any more).

These menu selections show how to configure the port splitter:

vspe2

2. Start your logging software

Now you can start up your existing logging program, reconfigure it for the new virtual port COM11 and make sure that it talks to your transceiver exactly as it did with the old hardware COM port connection. The logging program should be able to control the transceiver, and the logging software should also follow any frequency/mode changes that you make on the transceiver.

3. Connect your SDR

Now is also the time to connect your SDR and arrange for its RX feed.  Usually this will come from the transceiver, either a dedicated IF output or a signal-frequency feed which is shared with the transceiver itself (typically a rear panel RX OUT connector).

For HF you can probably connect the SDR to the HF transceiver’s own dedicated IF output (at 8.215MHz in the case of the K3). However, if the transceiver is connected to a VHF/UHF transverter, a better signal/noise ratio will probably be available at the output of the transverter (typically 28MHz). Use a 3dB hybrid splitter to isolate the HF transceiver from the input to the SDR, reducing the possibility of birdies.

CAUTION: make sure that your SDR cannot be overloaded and damaged by your transmitter!

Next you can start up HDSDR. When you configure HDSDR for COM11 (details below) there should be no error messages about port conflicts. When everything is working OK, go back into VSPE and save your port-splitter configuration as a .vspe file that can be loaded automatically at startup.

4. HDSDR configuration

HDSDR2

HDSDR control panel. Lower right is a magnified spectrum/waterfall display of the current frequency (144.388MHz). Ctrl+Shift toggles the whole control panel on/off. For menu options, click Options or press F7.

Assuming that you already have HDSDR set up and working with your SDR as a standalone program, most of the additional changes can be found in the following HDSDR sub-menus (F7 or click Options on the control panel).

4.1 Options > CAT to Radio (OmniRig) > OmniRig Settings

Configure Port to the number of your shared virtual port (eg COM11). The rest of your port settings should be pretty much the same as you were already using. However, you should set RTS and DTR to be permanently Low so that HDSDR cannot accidentally key the transmitter.

4.2 Other settings in Options > CAT to Radio (OmniRig)

  • Sync Rig 1 = ON
  • Sync To OmniRig = ON
  • Sync From OmniRig = ON

Those three settings should ensure that your transceiver, logging program and HDSDR can all communicate with each other. However, I noticed that the VFO B knob on the K3 has considerable delays in tuning the SDR, so I normally tune HDSDR directly with the mouse. Click on the waterfall for large frequency changes and then roll the mouse wheel for fine tuning.

Also set Sync Tune Frequency = ON. (Do not select Sync LO because the LO frequency needs to remain fixed.)

4.3 Options > CAT to HDSDR

Not needed. Just make sure that Activated = OFF (unchecked).

4.4 Options > RF Front-end Config

Full sync in both directions = ON

With my VHF and UHF transverters, I use Transverter mode to give a direct signal-frequency display. For direct HF operation you will need one of the other options (which I haven’t explored).

4.5 LO settings

I always tune the band with a fixed frequency span, covering the whole range of interest and remaining static on the screen. This is important to maintain the straight vertical waterfall display (see the header photo above).

Setting the frequency span is not easy in HDSDR. You have to juggle the Spectrum Zoom slider on the control panel to set the desired width of coverage (very delicate) and each time you do that, the spectrum frequency scale ribbon will move as well. Drag the spectrum scale ribbon sideways to make it cover the exact frequency span required. This may require a few iterations between the two controls – and then be very careful not to move it again!

With the 2m transverter I select 144.150-144.400 which is the normal contest sub-band. The LO frequency then needs to be approximately centered within the display span, which in this example is 144.275.

You should now be able to QSY by clicking on either the HDSDR waterfall or the cursor in the spectrum segment. Watch to see that the transceiver follows these changes.

4.6 Choose the correct VFO

A small problem: at the moment you’re tuning the wrong VFO in the K3! The default in HDSDR is VFO A, but if you want to use the SDR as a second receiver you’ll normally need to link it to the K3’s VFO B. Fortunately it’s easy to change. On the HDSDR  frequency control panel, click on [A] (the small square box to the right of LO) and that label will change to [B]. You should now be able to tune VFO B correctly instead.

Notice that the LO frequency should not be changing (it will only change if you move completely outside of the visible frequency span.) If the LO frequency has changed for some reason, reset it to the centre of your desired display span.

Finally, right-click on the word LO to lock the LO.

At switch-on, HDSDR will restart with your previous LO and Tune frequencies, but it always defaults back to VFO A with the frequencies unlocked. You simply need to repeat the little routine above.

CAUTION:  When in use, VFO control of the K3 can occasionally jump back to VFO A.  This seems to happen if the VFO A and B frequencies are too close (eg if you have pressed A=B on the transceiver). VFO tracking can usually be reset to follow VFO B by splitting the two frequencies more widely apart, and then repeating the routine above.

4.7 HDSDR screen

I prefer the configuration in the header photo above, with a very small spectrum on top and the largest possible waterfall below. This maximizes the time history that is visible on-screen.

Setting the desired frequency span is described in 4.5 above.

The HDSDR control menu and the small passband spectrum appear in the lower part of the HDSDR window, but once your setup is OK you can press Shift-C to close those displays, and then the waterfall can flow further downward.

CAUTION: Your logging software probably has a very large number of keyboard shortcuts… but so too does HDSDR, and many of them use the same shortcut keys. Take great care that the Windows focus is on the correct program before you start typing!

 

Those settings should get you there… or at least somewhat closer to SO2V using HDSDR as the second receiver.

If this works for you, there are also ways to automate the setup and shutdown.

Special thanks for all the help and support from David, GM4JJJ.

 

Ian White GM3SEK
v2, 2017-09-30

13 Ways NOT to Design a 432MHz Transverter Kit

  1. When designing a UHF transverter, start from a 50MHz design. You already stretched it to 144MHz, so everything is sure to stretch a little bit farther. What could possibly go wrong?
  2. Do not leave a continuous groundplane underneath the PC board. Beneath any UHF striplines, be sure to create gaps in the groundplane by routing IF and DC tracks underneath as well. This will ensure that important 432MHz, 404MHz (LO) and 28MHz IF signals are all freely shared around the entire board.
  1. Wherever there is groundplane both above and below the board, take care not to use too many RF grounding vias between them.
  1. Spread yourself out – make all leads and traces nice and long, especially if they are carrying UHF signals.
  1. When using chip capacitors for critical UHF bypassing, be sure to use thin ‘thermal relief’ connections to add some extra inductance between the capacitor and the groundplane.
  1. Even though you are pre-installing some SMD devices in areas of the board that are carrying UHF signals, include plenty of larger, less suitable, wire-leaded components in these areas as well.
  1. If one of your pre-installed SMD devices is a PHEMT with a very fragile gate (like the ATF-34143) be sure to provide a grounding link for the gate. But then require the kit builder to remove this link, to exchange it for a slightly different-shaped piece of wire. This will greatly increase the chances of successful ESD damage.
  1. When ordering overtone crystals, always choose the highest frequency available – in this case, 404/3 = 134.67MHz. Use this crystal in a simple one-transistor oscillator (which specifically requires 9mm long leads on the transistor in order to oscillate) and do the frequency-tripling in the collector circuit of the same transistor. Pass the output through a single tuned circuit at 404MHz and then use the hottest possible modamp to amplify what comes out.

Don’t ever pause to question why everyone else does it differently. Other reputable designers use 101MHz crystals in more complex oscillator circuits, followed by two frequency doublers. But you’re an innovator, so you don’t need to do that.

  1. Do not analyze the gain distribution… or if you do, ignore the fact that NF Analyzer instruments only measure the NF of the transverter itself. It’s always safe to assume that the NF of the following HF receiver will be zero (even if you also happen to manufacture a matching range of HF transceivers with an NF of at least 15dB).
  1. To achieve the best possible gain distribution, do not include a RX IF stage between the transverter and the transceiver. Also do not include an LPF at this point, as it will impede the rich two-way flow of signals and harmonics that is so necessary to produce birdies.
  1. When installing a Mitsubishi PA module, use only a small piece of 1/8in aluminium as a “heat spreader”. Do not use a finned heatsink – the bottom panel of the box will do just fine. Do use a fan, but nothing larger than 40x40mm (choose the loudest possible). In the assembly manual, emphasize the need for washers to separate the mounting flange of the PA module from the underside of the board. Anywhere around the PA module, keep the number of RF-grounding vias to an absolute minimum.
  1. Where metal-to-metal contact is required for shielding panels, be sure to use tough grey paint.
  1. And finally: if someone posts warnings about any or all of the above problems (eg http://tinyurl.com/ydynjb5n), ignore them. On no account change anything in your original design.