The Fine Art Of Making Power

Make no mistakes, I think real amp designers are witch doctors and that amp design is more voodoo than art. But this has never stopped me from having a go and seeing what I can come up with and what I can learn.

Today I hit a new milestone, I raised peak power to 50W. 50W might not sound like much to those who have gone out and bought their kilowatt to power cheat with, or for the guy who bought a amp pallet off the interwebs and assembled a kit. But for me, someone who has looked at lots of schematics, tried to understand each design decision the designer made and why they made it, then went and captured the schematic, laid out the PCB and had boards made, 50W is something of an achievement.

And don’t get me wrong here, 50W is what WA2EBY was getting out of 2 IRF510 and I am using 4 of them to make that same amount of power and still struggling to contain the magic smoke within the epoxy that is covering the silicon.

I was hoping for a little more out, 70W or there abouts would have been really nice. I do have room to push the amp a lot harder than I currently can. I can give it more drive, more bias and more voltage, with the current limitations being 5w drive from a CW transmitter i home brewed, 2V gate bias, and 30V and 10A from the lab power supply.

Along the way many parts were broken. I call this pile My Shame. Actually its not as bad as it looks, the first 4 fets to go were Ebay specials from China. I think they are fakes, they were never happy and just ran into uncontrolled oscillation.

The next 4 were all my fault. I gave it all the amps and they gave up the ghost after about 40 seconds of full key down madness.

This is the current mess of what is my work bench. Plenty of crap on the bench. A certain old guy home brew legend would say my bench is to clean LOL

Nothing like burned flux to get the soldering fan boys to go wild. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the board, its is a little bit pedantic though. Its window of oportunity is quite narrow. Its kind of all or nothing. I had to change the input transformer and its ratio, the bifilar inductor feeding power needs to be changed as it gets to hot. Everything else is ok. Mechanically its easy to change out the fets on detonation. That is a plus.

Using the CW transmitter I built a while back to drive it.

This is the schematic. I probably should learn about temperature compensated biasing to make it a little more bullet proof. Other than watching the duty cycle and keeping it to say 50% or less, its ok and I have not harmed anything yet. It really could do with a bigger heatsink and some forced cooling to really crank it up. But for now, I am happy that it works.

I did key it up on 40m and sent some CW with it. Listening on KiwiSDRs i could hear myself in VK2,3 and 4. Not that, that is a challenge, I can do that with 5w. But i know its working and sounds fine. So that’s the end of this journey. I am calling this one won and done and now its on to the next thing.

Better add this image as well. Fiddy Whats. Oh one last thing, 5w in and 50w out, is 10dB gain. It is what it is.


40m WSPR Transmitter

Following on from playing with WSPR last week, I grabbed out on of CW TX boards i have here, reworked the gain in each stage to account for the greater signal input from the SI5351a and ended up with 8W out. Keydown for the last 30min and all the important bits have remained steady at 55 Deg C. So it should be more than upto the job of high duty cycle TX from WSPR.

The Transmitter board.

Signal from the SI5351A VFO board.

What the scope says is happening into a 50ohm load. And here are a few more pictures, because why not 🙂

Setup as transmitting currently into my 40m antenna.

A close up of the swarez meter. Showing 6W but its closer to 5W according to the scope.

And this was the reports after the very first wspr cycle. It works rather well.


ESP32 With Dual VFO’s

Hey look, its a home brew radio post. HAHAHA. So i have settled into this whole locked down for corona virus nightmare and have sorted out most things and have a game plan for how life will go on for the next 6 months of lock down and no work. And because i have everything in order, i have slowly been getting the enthusiasm to get into building some of the stuff i have in the pipeline and seeing if it works.

I have shelved the tuner for now, i really am not sure about it and it or how to correct its problems, which are both design and code and have started on the second iteration of the universal control board. First time round all the audio stuff worked just fine, more or less, but there were some design issues in the micro controller side of things. Namely, i screwed up things pretty bad and destroyed the 2 older ESP32 Dev Boards i had here which meant redoing footprints and all the other exciting things.

Obviously not everything has gone smoothly this time either, turns out that i laid out the board with to use an L7833 3.3v regulator as I am using a L7805 5v regulator as well, you know bog standard parts everyone uses. But guess what, the TO220 3.3v regulators I had were 1117A’s and they have a different pinout. Turns out, getting an L7833 regulator in Australia is not as simple as it seems, I had to order them from Element 14 for way to much plus way to much in postage. But, it got the parts and well got to getting this thing working. Lesson learned.

On the board, we have an ESP32 micro controller, the little red daughter board is a shift register module, ESP32 is 3.3v logic and most of the crap hanging off it is 5V logic, thus the need for shift registers on the I2C lines. The fuse is there from another lesson learned from the previous version of this board where I turned the solder on the micro into lava HAHAHA. We also have 2 headers for LCD screens, 2 rotary encoders, SI3531A module, yeah still using modules because the 2 times i have tried to roll my own using bare components, they never worked, and finally a real time clock. There is also footprints for 5 buttons, one of which is a reset button for the micro, 2 banks of 5 pins for band switching and pads for a thermocouple for monitoring heatsink temp of the final PA.

A bit blurry, but this is the initial fire up to make sure that I had things working right. Not much use spending hours writing code if there is an issue on the board.

Here I am starting to make some progress on the software, which is pretty much a ground up rewrite of one of the basic VFO codes out there, I think if i recall right was a very early version of a VFO by Jason Mildrum NT7S

And finally, this is where I am at with this. All the buttons work, the rotary encoders work and both the displays work. The one thing i do not like about just about all the VFO codes out there is that they all follow the radix math method for setting the vfo increment value. I want to have a 500hz increment, and actually, when i start to build things for 2m FM i will want an 12.5Khz increment and the like. Now using radix math you only get to have things go up in orders of magnitude, 1, 10, 100 etc. So I changed how that all works and simplified things alot, by combining the increment and displaying into the one function that gets checks once per loop. I can now set my increments to whatever value I like to suit my purpose.

Finally before i close down this epic post, on Jason Mildrums etherkit github some people have reported issues with ESP32 and the SI5351A library. I am not having any problems at all here. Everything works as expected and there are no I2C glitches. Well, that was a manuscript, thanks for reading and I will catch you next time.




Rig Control by VK4HAT

So i am on the 4th iteration of this board and I have just about got it right. Kind of sad that its taken me so many goes to get this right, but what can i say. LOL. There is still one bodge wire on the backside of the board because I somehow left off a trace joining one row of push buttons off the 5v line. I am also not sure about the 5V regulator, its running very hot and it should not because its should only have about 300ma running thought it and there is no short to ground anywhere i can find, to explain it running so hot. By hot im guessing its hitting over 60 Deg C as its painful to touch.

Anyway, back to the point of this post. I have gotten back into coding things up and am making inroads. It mostly works now. Pressing the mode button will cycle through LSB, USB and CW. The band button will cycle through 80, 40, 20 and 15m the 4 bands that this radio will support, selecting the appropriate filter banks for both Low Pass and Band Pass filter boards as well as change the IF filter to a narrow CW filter in that mode.

The logger button will put it into logging mode, which along with a keyboard will make log entries and save them to SD Card in ADIF format. The logger is loosely based on my old arduino logger code which can be found in the menu bar above. Though, the code that is going into this is much more refined and polished and fixes most of the clunkyness that was in the earlier versions. I am a much improved programmer now than i was a few years ago when i wrote that code.

The VFO button will exit the logger and put the radio back into VFO mode. I still need to add in a couple more push buttons, one to change the Attenuation setting and the final one to allow changing the TX RX offset. At the moment it is hard coded for a 600hz offset for CW operation, but, i am going to make that variable for real split operation in SSB as well.

Anyway, that is where I am at with this at the moment. When i get things closer to being done, I will probably make a video of all the functions in action to put on youtube. But that is likely to be a couple of weeks away yet. Lots of work to be done in the mean time.