Tagged: filter

Building a Hydrogen Line Front End on a Budget with RTL-SDR and 2x LNA4ALL

Adam 9A4QV is the manufacturer of the LNA4ALL, a high quality low noise amplifier popular with RTL-SDR users. He also sells filters, one of which is useful for hydrogen line detection. Recently he’s uploaded a tutorial document showing how to use 2x LNA4ALL, with a filter and RTL-SDR for Hydrogen Line detection (pdf warning). 

Hydrogen atoms randomly emit photons at a wavelength of 21cm (1420.4058 MHz). Normally a single hydrogen atom will only very rarely emit a photon, but since space and the galaxy is filled with many hydrogen atoms the average effect is an observable RF power spike at 1420.4058 MHz. By pointing a radio telescope at the night sky and integrating the RF power over time, a power spike indicating the hydrogen line can be observed in a frequency spectrum plot. This can be used for some interesting experiments, for example you could measure the size and shape of our galaxy. Thicker areas of the galaxy will have more hydrogen and thus a larger spike.

In his tutorial Adam discusses important technical points such as noise figure and filtering. Essentially, when trying to receive the hydrogen line you need a system with a low noise figure and good filtering. The RTL-SDR has a fairly poor noise figure of about 6dB at 1420MHz. But it turns out that the first amplifier element in the receive chain is the one that dominates the noise figure value. So by placing an LNA with a low noise figure right by the antenna, the system noise figure can be brought down to about 1dB, and losses in coax and filters become negligible as well. At the end of the tutorial he also discusses some supplementary points such as ESD protection, bias tees and IP3.

One note from us is that Adam writes that the RTL-SDR V3 bias tee can only provide 50mA, but it can actually provide up to 200mA continuously assuming the host can provide it (keep the dongle in a cool shaded area though). Most modern USB 2.0 and USB3.0 ports on PCs should have no problem providing up to 1A or more. We’ve also tested the LP5907 based Airspy bias tee at up to 150mA without trouble, so the 50mA rating is probably quite conservative. So these bias tee options should be okay for powering 2xLNA4ALL.

Finally Adam writes that in the future he will write a paper discussing homebrew hydrogen line antennas which should complete the tutorial allowing anyone to build a cheap hydrogen line radio telescope.

One configuration with 2xLNA4ALL, 1x interstage filter, and 1x recceiver side filter with bias tee.
One configuration with 2xLNA4ALL, 1x interstage filter, and 1x recceiver side filter with bias tee.

Discussion and Review of our RTL-SDR Blog Broadcast AM High Pass Filter

Early last month we released a new broadcast AM high pass filter product. The goal of the filter is to block out extremely strong broadcast AM signals (and other problematic LF/MF signals) in order to prevent an SDR from overloading. This is especially needed if you live close to AM towers.

Over on the Utility DX Forum files section, reviewer D. B. Gain has written an excellent review of our broadcast AM high pass filter (pdf), also explaining why and in what situations it might be needed. In the review he explains how broadcast AM propagation works, and how it can change from day to night. He also explains how devices with diode switches (used for switching RF circuits such as filter in and out electronically) can easily overload and contribute to IMD within the switches themselves. This is why a filter without any diode switches in front of it is usually the best solution for reducing strong RF energies.

In the review he then goes on to test the filter, showing some screenshots of the reduction is AM signal strength.

RTL-SDR.com Broadcast AM Block High Pass Filter Now for Sale

Back in October we released a broadcast FM bandstop filter for removing strong signals in the 88 – 108 MHz region. Today we’re releasing a new broadcast AM high pass filter (BCAM HPF) with a 2.6 MHz cutoff. The cost is the same as the BCFM bandstop filter at $14.95 USD including free international air shipping. Faster shipping options may also be chosen if desired. We’ll eventually have this product on Amazon USA in a few months too, but for now it is only available from our Chinese warehouse.

The filter comes in a 2.8 cm x 2.8 cm x 1.3 cm aluminum enclosure and uses female SMA connectors on each end. Included in the package is also a SMA male to SMA male straight barrel adapter.

Click here to visit our store

The Broadcast AM High Pass Filter
The Broadcast AM High Pass Filter

This filter is designed to eliminate broadcast band AM (BCAM) stations by attenuating (blocking) any signals below 1.7 MHz. In reality due to roll-off the filter is usable from about 2.5 – 2.6 MHz and above.

The broadcast AM band exists at around 525 kHz to 1.705 MHz. These signals are usually local, and if you live close to a transmitter they can sometimes be extremely strong. Broadcast AM signals that are too strong can overload your SDR or radio, causing poor reception in other HF bands too. The filter also helps attenuate any other strong VLF/LF/MW interference. Note that this filter is a high pass and not a bandstop, so it will also block VLF signals. Specifications are shown below:

Filter Type: LC High Pass Filter
3 dB Cutoff: 2.5 – 2.6 MHz
Attenuation: ~60dB
Pass band I.L: Typically well below 2 dB
Power Levels: RX power only, cannot pass DC

Insertion Losses

Insertion Losses

Insertion Losses

Insertion Losses

Return Loss

Return Loss

V3 Direct Sampling no Filter

V3 Direct Sampling no Filter

V3 Direct Sampling with BCAM HPF

V3 Direct Sampling with BCAM HPF

BCAM_Filter_PCB3

We’ve also uploaded a video below that shows a demonstration of reception when using an RTL-SDR.com V3 dongle in direct sampling mode together with the BCAM HPF. In the video we first compare reception against an upconverter (the Spyverter). It’s worth nothing that the upconverter can receive signals well even without the filter in place. Using the filter does still help the upconverter receive a little bit better but the effect is not shown in the video. Then we simply scroll through the spectrum and listen to a few signals.

Building a Hydrogen Line Front End on a Budget with RTL-SDR and 2x LNA4ALL

Adam 9A4QV is the manufacturer of the LNA4ALL, a high quality low noise amplifier popular with RTL-SDR users. He also sells filters, one of which is useful for hydrogen line detection. Recently he’s uploaded a tutorial document showing how to use 2x LNA4ALL, with a filter and RTL-SDR for Hydrogen Line detection (pdf warning). 

Hydrogen atoms randomly emit photons at a wavelength of 21cm (1420.4058 MHz). Normally a single hydrogen atom will only very rarely emit a photon, but since space and the galaxy is filled with many hydrogen atoms the average effect is an observable RF power spike at 1420.4058 MHz. By pointing a radio telescope at the night sky and integrating the RF power over time, a power spike indicating the hydrogen line can be observed in a frequency spectrum plot. This can be used for some interesting experiments, for example you could measure the size and shape of our galaxy. Thicker areas of the galaxy will have more hydrogen and thus a larger spike.

In his tutorial Adam discusses important technical points such as noise figure and filtering. Essentially, when trying to receive the hydrogen line you need a system with a low noise figure and good filtering. The RTL-SDR has a fairly poor noise figure of about 6dB at 1420MHz. But it turns out that the first amplifier element in the receive chain is the one that dominates the noise figure value. So by placing an LNA with a low noise figure right by the antenna, the system noise figure can be brought down to about 1dB, and losses in coax and filters become negligible as well. At the end of the tutorial he also discusses some supplementary points such as ESD protection, bias tees and IP3.

One note from us is that Adam writes that the RTL-SDR V3 bias tee can only provide 50mA, but it can actually provide up to 200mA continuously assuming the host can provide it (keep the dongle in a cool shaded area though). Most modern USB 2.0 and USB3.0 ports on PCs should have no problem providing up to 1A or more. We’ve also tested the LP5907 based Airspy bias tee at up to 150mA without trouble, so the 50mA rating is probably quite conservative. So these bias tee options should be okay for powering 2xLNA4ALL.

Finally Adam writes that in the future he will write a paper discussing homebrew hydrogen line antennas which should complete the tutorial allowing anyone to build a cheap hydrogen line radio telescope.

One configuration with 2xLNA4ALL, 1x interstage filter, and 1x recceiver side filter with bias tee.
One configuration with 2xLNA4ALL, 1x interstage filter, and 1x recceiver side filter with bias tee.

Discussion and Review of our RTL-SDR Blog Broadcast AM High Pass Filter

Early last month we released a new broadcast AM high pass filter product. The goal of the filter is to block out extremely strong broadcast AM signals (and other problematic LF/MF signals) in order to prevent an SDR from overloading. This is especially needed if you live close to AM towers.

Over on the Utility DX Forum files section, reviewer D. B. Gain has written an excellent review of our broadcast AM high pass filter (pdf), also explaining why and in what situations it might be needed. In the review he explains how broadcast AM propagation works, and how it can change from day to night. He also explains how devices with diode switches (used for switching RF circuits such as filter in and out electronically) can easily overload and contribute to IMD within the switches themselves. This is why a filter without any diode switches in front of it is usually the best solution for reducing strong RF energies.

In the review he then goes on to test the filter, showing some screenshots of the reduction is AM signal strength.

RTL-SDR.com Broadcast AM Block High Pass Filter Now for Sale

Back in October we released a broadcast FM bandstop filter for removing strong signals in the 88 – 108 MHz region. Today we’re releasing a new broadcast AM high pass filter (BCAM HPF) with a 2.6 MHz cutoff. The cost is the same as the BCFM bandstop filter at $14.95 USD including free international air shipping. Faster shipping options may also be chosen if desired. We’ll eventually have this product on Amazon USA in a few months too, but for now it is only available from our Chinese warehouse.

The filter comes in a 2.8 cm x 2.8 cm x 1.3 cm aluminum enclosure and uses female SMA connectors on each end. Included in the package is also a SMA male to SMA male straight barrel adapter.

Click here to visit our store

The Broadcast AM High Pass Filter
The Broadcast AM High Pass Filter

This filter is designed to eliminate broadcast band AM (BCAM) stations by attenuating (blocking) any signals below 1.7 MHz. In reality due to roll-off the filter is usable from about 2.5 – 2.6 MHz and above.

The broadcast AM band exists at around 525 kHz to 1.705 MHz. These signals are usually local, and if you live close to a transmitter they can sometimes be extremely strong. Broadcast AM signals that are too strong can overload your SDR or radio, causing poor reception in other HF bands too. The filter also helps attenuate any other strong VLF/LF/MW interference. Note that this filter is a high pass and not a bandstop, so it will also block VLF signals. Specifications are shown below:

Filter Type: LC High Pass Filter
3 dB Cutoff: 2.5 – 2.6 MHz
Attenuation: ~60dB
Pass band I.L: Typically well below 2 dB
Power Levels: RX power only, cannot pass DC

Insertion Losses

Insertion Losses

Insertion Losses

Insertion Losses

Return Loss

Return Loss

V3 Direct Sampling no Filter

V3 Direct Sampling no Filter

V3 Direct Sampling with BCAM HPF

V3 Direct Sampling with BCAM HPF

BCAM_Filter_PCB3

We’ve also uploaded a video below that shows a demonstration of reception when using an RTL-SDR.com V3 dongle in direct sampling mode together with the BCAM HPF. In the video we first compare reception against an upconverter (the Spyverter). It’s worth nothing that the upconverter can receive signals well even without the filter in place. Using the filter does still help the upconverter receive a little bit better but the effect is not shown in the video. Then we simply scroll through the spectrum and listen to a few signals.

Finding Cheap Pre-Designed PCBs for SDR Projects

Recently RTL-SDR.com reader Neil KM4PHK wrote in to us to let us know that he’s been having a good time searching for SDR related PCB’s over on OSH Park. OSH Park is a company that allows you to upload and share a PCB, and then have it cheaply printed and sent to you for construction.

Some useful RTL-SDR related PCBs we found searching through their shared projects include PCB’s for a SAW filter, a PSA4-5043+ based LNAan MGA-53543 based LNAa lowpass or bandpass filteran FM trap, an ADS-B filter with LNA and a bias tee. More projects can be found by searching the shared projects page for strings like “SDR, LNA, Filter, Bias Tee, ADS-B”. Neil also writes that although some projects don’t have instructions on their OSH Park page, usually searching Google will reveal them.

An example PCB for an LNA that can be found on OSH Park.
An example PCB for an LNA that can be found on OSH Park.

Creating a DIY 88-108 MHz FM Trap

One of the most problematic strong signals you can encounter is regular 88 – 108 MHz broadcast FM stations. They transmit at high power and can cause overloading and intermodulation problems on simple receivers such as the RTL-SDR. This means that FM stations can prevent you from receiving signals even when you are tuned far away from the broadcast band.

The simplest solution to reducing strong FM stations is to build an FM trap. This is simply a band stop filter that blocks frequencies between 88 – 108 MHz from entering your radio. Adam (9A4QV), the creator of the popular LNA4ALL and several other RTL-SDR compatible products has recently uploaded an article showing how to build a home made FM trap out of cheap common parts.

Adams article goes through and explains the design of a FM trap and how to use freeware software to aide in the calculations. The final FM trap designed by Adam uses just 3 common SMD capacitors and 3 hand wound coils. His filter attenuates more than 30dB in the 88-108 MHz range with an insertion loss of less than 1dB up to 1.7 GHz.

A DIY FM Trap
A DIY FM Trap

New ADS-B Filter with Built in Bias Tee Available

Adam who is the manufacturer of the popular LNA4ALL low noise amplifier (LNA) that is commonly used with the RTL-SDR has come out with a new product for ADS-B enthusiasts. The product is an ADS-B filter with a built in bias tee for providing phantom power. Adam previously sold an older version of the ADS-B filter that came without the bias tee.

The bias tee allows you to inject DC power into the coaxial cable in order to easily power an LNA (like the LNA4ALL) or other device that is placed near the antenna. The antenna could be far away from a power source, such as on your roof or up a mast. It ensures DC power reaches the LNA, but at the same time does not enter the RTL-SDR dongle, as DC current on the antenna input could destroy the RTL-SDR. For best performance it is recommended to use an LNA near the antenna, especially if you have a long run of coaxial cable between the antenna and RTL-SDR.

The filter uses Low Temperature Co-fired Ceramics (LTCC) type components as opposed to the seemingly more commonly used SAW and microstrip filters. Adam writes that each type of filter has its tradeoffs, but he believes the LTCC filter is the best for this application.

Comparison between different filter types.
Comparison between different filter types.

The insertion loss of the filter in the pass band is about 2.4 dB and the filter will significantly attenuate broadcast band FM, TV stations, WiFi and 1.8 GHz+ cell phones. However, it does not do so well with 950 MHz cell towers and possible radar on 1.2-1.3 GHz as the LTCC filter is not as sharp as a SAW filter. In Adams own tests he shows that the addition of the filter improves ADS-B decoding performance by about 20%, but the improvement you see will vary greatly with your RF environment.

The filter is currently selling for 20 Euros + 5 Euros shipping (~$28 USD).

ADS-B LTCC Filter with Bias Tee
ADS-B LTCC Filter with Bias Tee

Building a 145 MHz Low Loss Helical Bandpass Filter

Over on YouTube user Mile Kokotov has uploaded a video showing his home made low loss helical bandpass filter for 145 MHz, but also tunable from 110 MHz to 160 MHz. Bandpass filters are useful for the RTL-SDR as often strong out of band signals can cause overload, causing poor reception. A bandpass filter blocks all signals outside of its pass band. A helical bandpass filter is simply a coiled wire enclosed in a conductive container that can be tuned with a variable capacitor made out of two plates.

In his video Mile shows the inner construction of his helical filter, explains the parts and shows what calculations he used for construction.

Characterizing RF Filters with a Noise Source and RTL-SDR Dongle

Over on YouTube RTL-SDR experimenter Adam Alicajic has uploaded a video showing how it is possible to use the RTL-SDR as a tool to measure the frequency response of an RF filter. To do this he uses a noise source circuit which produces wide band white noise connected to an LNA4ALL, connected to the RF filter and finally connected to the RTL-SDR. Then using the Touchstone spectrum analyzer software he does a 300 MHz bandwidth sweep over a section of the spectrum which shows the response of the filter.

The noise source can be built from a simple diode based circuit as shown in a previous post, or if you have the Ham-it-up upconverter you can buy the parts for the noise generator part of the circuit.

In his video he shows the frequency response of a 145 MHz helix filter, a coax notch filter and a 1090 MHz home brew bandpass filter.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X_gd2gWyGi4
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UvdaURc01Ts