I Have Finally Built Something I Am Proud Of

So a few weeks ago I had sent and email to Pete Juliano asking some questions and showing off the progress of my projects, he commented that my work bench looked way to clean for me to have been productive, well I sent him this picture from this morning when I was hard at working building this project. There is currently CRAP EVERYWHERE.

Anyway, now onto the real story. The first thing I have built and designed that I am actually proud of. It all works as designed and I think i am finally starting to get up the learning curve.

So there is nothing revolutionary here. Its a simple CW transmitter biased Class A all the way. Why class A when there are more efficient biasing schemes for CW? Well, because I want reusable circuit blocks that I can use for DSB, SSB and other modes that require linearity.  The theory of operation is simple. We have an ATMEGA328 that controls an AD8950 DDS module, Q3 is a buffer so the gain stages do not load down the DDS. Q1 is a simple switching circuit. When the key is keyed, it pulls the base to ground, 12V can flow from collector to emitter of the PNP transistor, turning on Q4 and Q5.

I had to switch both of these and you will notice on the build board below a mod wire, as originally I had only one of these stages switching, but i was getting massive leak through. In a future build I will look at a better switching method to improve the overall usefulness of the transmitter and think about adding in some wave shaping and all the fancy stuff.

Q4,5 and 6 amplify the 300mv DDS signal to 10V p-p where it is then amplified by a single FET to around 5 watts. Its simple, but works, and getting those gain stages all working together was not an easy feat, I spend a lot of time in LTspice making them place nice with each other.

Here is a close up of the board. You can see the mod wire on the top side, on the bottom side of the board I cut a trace to isolate it.

This is most of the test setup, using only 1 side of the paddles because my straight key has the wrong size jack on it.

Current draw is around 0.7 amps key down.

Power out is 5w.

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Output on the oscilloscope.

And this is why you should never trust the output on the scope to give a honest representation of the harmonic content of the signal. First harmonic is -40db down and the second harmonics is only -30db down. Not good enough for the kinds of girls I go out with. So I need to spend sometime going over the build and see where added distortion is coming from that was not present in the prototype. When I put it on air later to test it out, I will add an extra 7th order filter to knock those harmonics on the head.

You know what. Its really nice when things start to click and what you build looks and works like the design. I get the feeling that 2020 is going to be a ground breaking year for my home brewing.

Cheers,

Rob.

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Op Amp Gain Bandwidth NanoVNA

I have been thinking for a while about using high speed op amps as IF amps in a receiver. As mental as that might sound to some, it actually makes practical sense in someways. Gain is easy to set, impedance is easy to set, being that the IF is at a fixed frequency you are not worried about being broad banded and can tailor the circuit to suit by using a suitable op amp with sufficient bandwidth to do the job.

And that is where the problem lies, op amp gain bandwidth is given at unity gain, IE a gain of 1 and as soon as you start adding gain, you start losing bandwidth. This means that you need a unity bandwidth of Gain x MHz to be somewhere close and then you also need a op amp with a fast enough slew rate to deliver the waveform amplitude you desire.

Now there are what are called current controlled op amps that give much better gain bandwidths above unity, but they are kind of expensive and so that leaves using voltage controlled op amps and working around all its limitations, but as you start to get up there in unity gains above 300 MHz even they start becoming non cheap items also.

So a few weeks ago I was on one of the Chinese parts sellers just looking at all the different crap they have and for some reason I ended up in the op amp section and found an op amp with a few hundred MHz unity gain bandwidth for pretty cheap. And by cheap, i am talking in the 40c each kind of space. So i bought a few to try out.

So i built up the non inverting circuit as shown above. Which is quite simple to set the gain and the impedance’s just by changing the value of a few resistors.

This is the circuit built on the test board. While the op amp is an SMD part, its SOIC 8 so its big enough that even a dummy with coke bottle glasses could hand solder, but I am kind of slack in that regard so I used paste and hot air, i mean why not. LOL

You can see from the S21 gain plot that there is usable gain from 40m to 10m. I am not sure what that notch is, but i suspect that its an artifact from the nanovna, because a manual sweep of that section of spectrum using a function generator and oscilloscope did not show that dip.

Oh I should say that I have the gain set to 6x for this test. And slew rate was not an issue for 7MHz to 30MHz, with the op amp able to deliver 1.3v peak to peak quite happily. Below that, particularly around 80m, the op amp could not deliver much more than 500mV peak to peak. So for a 9MHz or 12MHz IF amplifier, the op amp might be a credible option.

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Measuring Gain Bandwidth With NanoVNA

The NanoVNA is more than just a fancy SWR meter for checking your antenna. Its much more and a very useful tool for the home brewer building amps and filters and the like. Now i have been buying things like crazy for various projects that I would like to build in the future. Often these parts are spec’ed for bands not of interest to me. So what do you do? Well you measure them at the frequency of interest and see how they work yourself.

Below is a MMIC amplifier part that I found for really cheap. By cheap I am talking in the 40 cents per range, so i bought 100 of them. I mean why not, they are spec’ed for 100mhz to 3gig with +30db of gain. Worst case senario they are kind of useless at HF and I will have parts for when I actually want to build things at VHF and up.

So anyway I had a test board built with 4 different circuits on it for testing out various parts I have here and it includes Op Amp, Mosfet and BJT amp circuits. So i decided to start with the MMIC and see what it can do.

The good thing about MMIC gain blocks is the fact that they have such a low parts count. 2 blocking caps an inductor, bypass cap and gain setting resistor. Initially i set the bias resistor a little to high and was getting a lot of distortion, so I halved the value and boom it was providing 24dB of gain at 7MHz, which is my go to frequency for all these sorts of tests. Next though, I wanted to see how the gain bandwidth was. My bandwidth of interest is HF so 3 to 30MHz, so just for shits and giggles I measures it out to the 6m band.

The test setup was Port 1 of the NanoVNA to the input of the test board, the output of the test board to the RF Sampler i made the other day, which was also connected to a dummyload and then back to Port 2 of the VNA. Then an sweep of was performed and the S21 Gain was measured.

Things actually looked quite nice and rather flat. A few dB down at 80m and 1 dB down at 6m. That is pretty good for a part with a minimum frequency of 100MHz. So all in all, this part is a winner and something I can use in a project sometime soon.

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NANO VNA Calibration

So long story. I have had some trouble getting the Nano VNA to hold a calibration and display the correct information. I always had a -10db offset when using certain SMA leads i had there. It would display fine with semi rigid SMA leads, but, others would show -10db. Like the leads had loss in them.

Well anyway, I think i have resolved the issue and got the calibration right. 0.5db loss in my leads would be about right and that is what is showing now, they are after all cheapest crap leads from China, not high end leads you would use in a lab.

So anyway, popper calibration procedure.

Open: Open Load on S11 port.
Short: Short load on S11 port.
Load: 50 ohm load on S11 port.
Isolation: 50 ohm load on both S11 and S21 ports.
Through: Shortest high quality 50 ohm cable connecting S11 and S21 together.

Then save that. That is it, that should then give you fairly accurate, well as accurate as the NANO VNA is results. As you can see by the plot of a 40m bandpass filter above, it looks about what you would expect from a known design that has low insertion loss. A couple of dB, made up of the lead loss and the filter loss. This means my filter has about 1dB insertion loss. That is something I can live with.

Anyway, through no fault of my own, I broke the mini USB socket off the original NANO VNA i bought and tore the tracks off the board. Yeah not really happy with myself but it is what it is. So i bought another one, this time it seems to be one of the better clones, it even came with shielding and a battery. So anyway, i plan this time to ruggedise my NANO VNA and mount the whole think into an aluminium box, and have an panel mount USB port on the side that will take the abuse of me pulling and stretching and inserting a lead in and out on a regular basis. So i ordered one of these as well, yeah the new VNA came with USB type C not that stupid micro USB rubbish. Anyway, by the time i mount this in a box, i will never have to worry about breaking the damn socket off the board again.

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