Tagged: interference

Simple RTL-SDR Shielding with Copper Tape

Last month we posted about an RTL-SDR experimenter who shielded his RTL-SDR dongle using an aluminium case. Shielding the RTL-SDR helps to reduce out of band interference which can enter the device through the PCB itself.

Now Melih, another RTL-SDR experimenter has recently posted on his blog about his simpler shielding method that uses cheap copper tape. The copper tape was purchased from ebay, and is the type that is commonly used for creating a slug barrier in the garden.

Over on the Reddit thread discussing his work, there are some concerns about excessive crystal drift due to there being no ventilation holes. However, it seems that the general consensus is that lack of ventilation will not significantly affect crystal drift and may actually help to stabilise the crystal over time by keeping the internal temperature more constant.

You may also be interested in Melih’s previous post where he replaces the MCX connector on the dongle with an SMA female connector.

Copper Tape Shielding RTL-SDR
Copper Tape Shielding RTL-SDR

Shielding the RTL-SDR

Over on Reddit user will1384 has posted about his imgur photo album that clearly documents some well researched steps that he took in an effort to shield the RTL-SDR dongle from interference. Interference is caused by strong out of band signals that can sometimes show up even when no antenna is connected to the dongle. Shielding the dongle helps to remove this interference.

The main steps he took were the following:

  1. Buy an aluminium case from ebay and put the dongle inside it.
  2. Remove the USB connector and ground the dongle ground to the aluminium casing using a 1M Ohm resistor and a 47nf ceramic disk capacitor.
  3. Connect the USB data lines to a USB extension cable and wrap a toroid around the 5v and GND lines and twist the two data lines together.

There is a discussion about this shielding project on Reddit.

Shielding Wiring Diagram
Shielding Wiring Diagram

Testing a FM Broadcast Bandstop Filter

Over on YouTube user Cameron Conover has been testing a simple FM broadcast bandstop filter with his HackRF. The same filter can just as easily be used with the RTL-SDR to remove broadcast FM interference and images. Cameron uses a MCM Electronics 88 – 108 MHz FM Trap which can be found very cheaply on Amazon or Ebay for around $15 USD. His video shows that the FM trap works very well and significantly reduces out of band FM interference.

HackRF One with an FM BCB filter

Locating an Interfering Signal with Radio Direction Finding and the RTL-SDR

The people at the MIT Haystack Observatory discovered recently that someone was transmitting an interfering signal on their licensed radar band. The interferer was effectively jamming the radar, preventing them from carrying out any experiments.

After checking for local causes of interference and finding nothing, they decided that the interferer must be coming from further away. To find the location of the jamming signal they did some radio direction finding. This involved driving around with Yagi and magnetic loop antennas and RTL-SDR and USRP N200 SDRs and then measuring the signal strength at various points.

For the software they used a custom GNURadio block which calculated the power spectra using the FFTW C library, and averaged the results to disk. They then post processed the data to calculated the RFI power, and correlated the data with GPS coordinates recorded on his phone.

After all the data was processed, they discovered that the interference originated from an FM radio tower which had a faulty FSK telemetry link. They notified the engineer responsible who then replaced the link and the interference disappeared.

RFI strength at various geographic locations
RFI strength at various geographic locations

Exploring Unintended Radio Emissions with the RTL-SDR – Talk now available on YouTube

A few weeks back we posted about some slides from the Defcon conference by information security researcher Melissa Elliot which detailed how she used an RTL-SDR to explore the world of unintended radio emissions.

The talk to go with the slides is now available on YouTube

DEF CON 21 - Melissa Elliott - Noise Floor Exploring Unintentional Radio Emissions

SDR Soundcard Mod

Yesterday we got an email from a reader (Tom) about a soundcard capacitor mod that is useful for SDRs. Tom writes

First you buy one of these sound cards: Creative Soundblaster X-Fi Surround 5.1 Pro USB (various internet sources)

Then you make the following mods: http://www.rfsystem.it/shop/download/SB_Creative_XFi_Pro_USB.pdf

I did the capacitor mod and it makes a HUGE difference, and there is a bonus. Not only do you get an excellent, very low noise sound card, but the drivers include a “what u hear” mixer that works find on Windows 7 so you don’t need to buy a separate virtual audio cable.

The unmodified  Soundblaster X-Fi had somewhat fewer noise spikes showing up across the spectrum on SDR# than my internal soundcard. However when I did the capacitor mod, they decreased by a drastic amount. Before I realized the extent of the original internal noise spikes, I wasted time trying to “decode” them – worked about as well as my attempts to communicate with aliens via my dental work.

So now my SDR# display looks really clean and most everything that looks like a signal is a signal. I don’t have before and after pictures, but the ones in the pdf file look like mine.

BTW the capacitor values are probably not all that critical. I used a couple I had laying around – a 1000 uF 16v and a 120 uF 16v. Anyone with some soldering experience and a reasonably small tip can do the mod but it’s a little tricky to position the caps and have the case close properly. The unwary might get polarity confused – the tantalum caps on the board are marked on the positive end and the electrolytics you add are marked on the negative end.

The capacitor mod essentially involves soldering in two more capacitors onto the soundcard PCB. The improvement is more useful for soundcard based SDRs such as the SoftRock, however, in Toms case he found that the capacitor mod also improved his RTL-SDR reception by removing numerous unwanted noise spurs he was seeing.

Since the RTL-SDR is not a soundcard based SDR, in Toms case the external soundcard was probably causing strong interference that the RTL-SDR was picking up, and the capacitor mod treated the noise source.

The mod may also help by giving you a cleaner audio signal, which may help when decoding digital signals.

SDR Soundcard Mod

Tip: Effect of Power Sources on the Ham It Up Upconverter

The Ham-It-Up upconverter uses a 5V USB power input. I discovered that different 5v power sources can cause significant interference with this upconverter, and the same effect will probably occur in other upconverters as well.

When the upconverter was powered by mains power via a phone charger, the signals were almost completely drowned out in noise. Powering it with a PC USB port was better, but the PC USB power introduced some other strong noise sources. Powering it with a battery (used a mobile phone with OTG cable) was the best option. There are still some strong noise sources present, but I can probably solve them with better shielding.

Click continue reading to see some comparison images.

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