Tag Archives: radio tools

Blue ESR Meter

20151103_114924Something great showed up in the post, a package from Anatek with the Blue ESR meter kit.

I have been trying to get an LCD/LED TV set working. I was running into some problems in the diagnostics. Everyone I came across online that does TV work says the  best tool for basic electronics diagnostics is an ESR meter, and the Blue ESR is an affordable ESR solution. As a kit, it’s $80 and worth its weight in gold.

20151103_122349There aren’t a lot of parts, so the kit is fairly simple to assemble. The assembly order is based on parts types, first the 1% resistors, then the 5% resistors, followed by capacitors then semiconductors and so on.

Getting the parts on the board goes quickly. My best recommendation to anyone building the kit is to take your time and be sure of each part and it’s placement.

20151104_095312Once all of the parts are are on the board it’s time to calibrate the meter. Calibration is easiest if you have a variable power supply for testing the low battery indicator, but you can get away without one. The assembly instructions include a simple circuit you can build for this test.

20151104_100108Calibrating the meter itself only requires the two resistors included with the kit for this purpose and the turning of two trim pots. I decided to take the calibration resistors and keep them stashed in the battery compartment for possible recalibration at a later date.

20151104_101648With everything calibrated and running well it’s time to button it all up. After buttoning it all up, it’s time to get back to that TV project.

Although the TV project is still pending, the Blue ESR is done.  More to come on the TV in a future post.


Radio Kits

When I first started this blog I planned on posting a separate page for each project I did. After some thinking on the matter I decided that scratch-built projects would have a page dedicated to them.

L/C Meter IIB from Almost All Digital Electronics AADE.com

The last post was an example of a project while important and interesting, I don’t think it rated a page. I am of course referring to the post on the AADE L/C Meter IIB.  Part of the reason I’m not devoting a page to the project is that it is a kit, a great kit, but still a kit.

Don’t get me wrong on this, kits can be a really useful tool. Often times kits can cost less that the parts purchased individually. They can also be useful in overcoming sourcing issues.

Scratch-built, from paper to product

For the beginning builder kits are a great way to get your feet wet and try the building process as well as exercising the construction skills needed in scratch-building. A kit can get you on-the-air faster than scratch-built as well. Kits give a potential scratch-builder a chance to see if they actually like building.

Kits also offer a choice for the builder. The kit can be built by just filling up the board following the instructions, or if you are looking at going scratch-built later on, taking the time to trace things out and compare the schematic with the board layout, and understanding what components perform what function along with how and why things are placed as they are goes a long way in improving your understanding of the circuit.

While kits can be a good learning tool or refresher for the builder, they off-load a lot of the mental gymnastics involved in design, sourcing, layout, placement, and proximity matters. Or at least they should, a poorly designed kit can be a real challenge for even the most skilled builders.

I decided to post about kits rather than page them because of this off-loading. While the kit may be of educational value, it is the mental exercise not the physical work that provides the real educational benefit. I don’t think I would be bringing much to the table beyond the instructions that come with the kit.

Breadboard Radio Kits
4 kits from BreadboardRadio.com waiting to be assembled

So don’t be surprised when you see a project as a post rather than a page. I will start the trend in my next post when I show off the BreadboardRadio.com kits I built before beginning my 40 meter Direct Conversion receiver. I will likely set up a Kits page as an index to kit projects if it looks like I need one.

Stay tuned and 73,

The AADE L/C Meter IIB

If you don’t work with RF electronics the need for an L/C meter may not be readily apparent. If you work with RF, you have likely found capacitors and inductors in the junk pile and played hobb trying to figure out the value, unless of course they were marked.

My first homebrew toroid inductor. Aint she purdy?
My first homebrew toroid inductor. Aint she purdy?

If you wind your own inductors or make your own capacitors the need for an L/C meter is a no-brainer. I bought a cheap Chinese manufactured meter and it was no bueno. No redeeming qualities what-so-ever.

Within the Amateure Radio world AADE (Almost All Digital Electronics)  and the L/C Meter IIB has earned an almost legendary reputation for being just the piece of equipment the homebrew ameture needs.

20150518_173544Being a homebrew ameture and a recycler of electronic components, I decided to buy the L/C Meter IIB kit and build it. The kit itself is very straight forward. Assembly is well documented and easy to follow.

I have been generating a lot of solder smoke lately so I may have an advantage here in assembly speed but I went from shipping box to functioning test equipment in about 4 hours.

20150518_194352Starting with full parts inventory I went right into construction. The parts list is only one sheet and it is very detailed. After checking in all of the parts and tagging them to the parts sheet I fired up the soldering iron  and started melting metal. Filling the printed circuit board didn’t take long at all.

Th20150518_212344e only hiccough was technician error. I got all of the components soldered in, mounted the board in the back of the case, mounted the LCD, and plugged in the battery. When I turned on the power switch I got nothing. I knew from reading the instructions fancy that that a common oversight is that the contrast pot should be turned fully clockwise. When I went to check the pot I noticed something missing, I forgot to install the IC’s in the sockets. Doh!

A great product that supports a US, family owned and operated business AADE L/C Meter IIB

After installing the IC’s I checked the pot and Voilà! A working L/C meter.

At $100 a kit that looks as simple as this one does you may be tempted to buy a cheaper factory assembled meter. I would strongly advise against it. A comparable factory manufactured meter will set you back at least twice what the L/C Meter IIB will, probably more.

LC meter
Save yourself the time, trouble, and expense of having to return this piece of junk, don’t buy it in the first place

I purchased a cheap meter for $38, paid $6 for shipping and another $8 to return it. Sure, it looks nice but it is complete garbage.

And if you need something else to push you over the fence on this purchasing decision, buying from AADE supports a family run US business that takes pride in the work they do. Now that’s a bargain at any price.

Solder smoke is filling the air as I continue work on the 40 meter Beach 40 DSB transceiver so check the build page for updates. I will be making an update tomorrow!

73 for now,

Marker Generator and more

20150507_190019Picking up where I left off in the last post, I got the drill bits and finished the 40 meter Helically Wound Vertical antenna. I will get a project page up soon.

Now when I say “finished”, what I mean is the antenna is useable. I still need to seal and cover it but I wanted to get it all tuned up first. As far a receiving goes, the vertical is out performing the dipole strung in the house just sitting on the floor leaning up against the wall next the operating station, so it’s looking good.

I need to finish the tuning with a transmitter on it. Since the only transmitter I have for 40 meters is a CW 250mW transmitter I am holding off on that.

20150508_121409In the mean time I put together a Marker Signal Generator. The design takes an 8 MHz crystal and divides the signal down several time ending up with the desired 1 kHz signal with many harmonics to mark out a tuning dial in 1 kHz increments.

20150508_150243It was fun to build and I leaned a little about some ICs I had never used and some of the basics of working with multiple devices in a single package.

When I came to function, I was very disappointed. The oscillator was anything but stable and we very dependant on an extremely stable input voltage. The onboard diode voltage regulations stunk so I tuned down the power supply from 12 volts to the 5 the ICs need.

20150508_153648At this point I was finally able to calm down the oscillator and get close to 1 kHz I was hoping for. A millivolt up or down and the frequency was out. Not a particularly useable device as it sits but it does give me some ideas for using out of band crystals to generate a signal.

As always, this is the whole point, to experiment and learn about RF design by doing, not just reading and modeling on a computer.

The big news, and the reason I missed a post last week is that I have been doing some research on finding my next big build project. The winning design was the Beach 40 by VK3YE. I have been scouring the web looking for a simple phone (voice) transmitter. I was hoping for SSB (Single SideBand) but the Beach 40 DSB (Double SideBand Suppressed Carrier) is simple and straightforward as is.

IMG_20150513_125237Being me, I had to make some modifications to the design and tweak a few things. One of the great things about this design s that it uses discrete components rather than ICs.

At one point Peter (VK3YE) recommends changing the audio amplifier to one that uses the LM386 chip rather than discrete components because the output is rather low. Since one of the main reasons I chose this project was to keep to available discrete components I went out in search of a different audio amp.

Enter Arv Evans K7HKL and his Discrete Component AF Amplifier paper. By the way, at least via email, Arv is a really nice guy. Thanks for the help Arv!

20150513_170104Now with the circuits mostly settled and parts enroute, Digi-Key arrived a day early! 🙂 I sat down tonight and began kitting the parts for each of the transceiver subsections beginning with the Super VXO. I am only installing one crystal set right now but the plan is to set it up for several banks of crystals. I also had some ideas as to using the banks for multiple bands as well as sections of a single band, but that’s for later.

20150513_202942I also kitted the Local Oscillator/Buffer and the Balanced Modulator/Product Detector sections. There are a few bits that will need some refinement, mostly inductors, but these will be addressed as needed.

And speaking of inductors, since I sent back that crappy one I am still in need of one. I will be ordering one tomorrow because I wont get far in this build without one. The goal is to have this radio up and running before Field Day June 27-28.

Look for a project page soon.

Till next time, 73,

LC Meter Disappointment

LC meterThe Newcason XC4070L Handheld LCR Meter I ordered showed up on Monday. Wow, what a disappointment. No stability in measurements whatsoever and I’m not talking bounce between two consecutive numbers. 32 ρF to 64 ρF on a 50 ρF capacitor which by the way I checked with another meter that pegged it at 49 ρF.  This puppy is on the express return train.

20150505_085212I did get something good done while testing the meter. I wanted to make a set of alligator clips on banana plugs to easily check through-the-board components. I wanted to make a set of these for some time. Now I have them.

20150505_085407One of the advantages of using these is that it reduces the inductance and capacitance errors that can be introduced by some meter cables and close proximity of hands.

In other pending order news, I have the tap and dies for the antenna. Of course I am waiting on the drills. So there the tap and dies sit, on the group W bench, just waiting on the  for the drills.

20150501_131901As soon as I get the drills I should be able to get all of the antenna parts all connected up so I can start tuning and testing. Then I can move on to the ATU.

Thats it for now, 73,

Package Pending

shopping-cart-blur-hiI have some tap and dies on order that I need to finish the 40 meter vertical antenna. I also have some parts  in transit that I need to get started on the antenna tuner which is the next project on deck. As well as the project parts I ordered a couple of items for stock.

One acquisition I have been needing is an LC meter to test inductors and capacitors.The one I ordered measures inductance (L), capacitance (C), resistance (R), and it also checks transistors. A very handy piece of equipment. I have several meters, digital and analog, nearly all measure resistance and voltage, a couple can check transistors, and one can test capacitance in a very limited range.

Since I am planning on making my own air dielectric capacitors, and a variety of inductors and transformers, having a wide scale LC meter will make this work much easier. It will also be a lot of help at flea markets and garage sales to check out components that I am interested in.

With all of this in transit I have some time to get some administrative stuff done. The main thing is to plan out the next few projects. The basic 40 meter direct conversion receiver is done, the antenna is almost done, and the antenna tuner is next with most of the parts enroute, so it makes sense to build a transmitter for 40 meters, I am leaning towards a CW/SSB transmitter.

One of the reasons I want to build CW/SSB is that it will add several other digital modes as well. Many of the digies can be connected straight throught the audio in/out ports on a computer or a handheld device. Leaving only the need to provide a key  or key signal to switch between the receiver and transmitter which could be done manualy or by serial connection to a RT swiching circuit in the radio.

It sounds a lot more complicated that it really is. With a little planning and some experimentation setting up a cable with a couple of connecters on each end will do the job nicely.

I will need to add a couple of circuits to the receiver at some point in the near future as well. An second stage audio amplifier is a must, and a switchable audio filters with bandwidths for CW, SSB, and something in the middle for digi, between first and second stage audio amplification. Neither of these should be all that dificult.

Once I get the 40 meter station all put together I will start work on building another station in another band. By this time I will have figured out a lot of the kinks and bugs and beable to build the second station much more efficiently.

At this point I’m not sure what the next band will be. There are 16 amateur bands currently with the potential of two more that I can gain access to under an experimental license so it is wide open. Each band presents new challenges, ether in technique or materials.

VHF and UHF present strictor tolerances and microwave (UHF-SHF) presents even more challenges. Most bands in HF will be about the same requirements as 40 meter since it is about the miiddle of the HF band. MF presents some challenges in radiators (antennas) because the wavelength is so long. LF presents more challenges in power and radiaors, not to mention the need for that experimental licence.

Fortunatly ist’s all about the fun and learning. As long as I am learning new things, honing skills, and having fun it’s all good.

Until next time, 73