Tagged: LNA4ALL

How an LNA can Improve VHF Reception with an RTL-SDR

Over on his YouTube channel Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a video showing how an LNA work to improve signal SNR on VHF, as long as the LNA is placed close to the antenna. Adam is the manufacturer and seller of the popular LNA4ALL low noise amplifiers.

On UHF and high frequencies an LNA can help by reducing the system noise figure, but on VHF this effect is small. But if the LNA is placed near the antenna then the LNA can still help significantly by overcoming any losses in the coax cable, filters, switches or any other lossy components in the signal path. It might also help create a better SWR match for the dongle and antenna. The video has some sound issues in during the demonstration part, but on his Reddit thread Adam writes:

Well, monitoring the beacon signal on 144.478 Mhz the S/n without LNA was just 10dB and cannot improve with decreasing the gain. Inserting the LNA in line, close to the antenna, through the Bias-T the S/n improve from 10dB to 23dB.

To meet the most of the user's conditions I was using the RTL-SDR dongle and the 20 meters of RG-6 coaxial cable with F-connectors.

It is obvious that using the LNA on the antenna can improve your reception even on the VHF band. Using the proper bandpass filter instead of a single FM stop filter will give much better results.

LNA4ALL on the VHF close to antenna effect

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.

Testing the HackRF and Portapack with an LNA4ALL

Over on YouTube Adam 9A4QV has been testing out his HackRF and Portapack with his LNA4ALL. The LNA4ALL is able to be powered inline via the bias tee on the HackRF. In the first video Adam shows that the HackRF and LNA4ALL is capable of receiving L-band satellites easily. The antenna he uses is a homemade circularly polarized antenna with a cooking pot being used as the reflector.

HackRF + LNA4ALL RX mode L-band indoor

In the second video Adam shows the HackRF, Portapack and LNA4ALL receiving a telemetry signal on 442 MHz.

HackRF + Portapack + LNA4ALL w/ Bias-t

Finally in the last video Adam shows himself making a full QSO contact using the HackRF, Portapack and LNA4ALL. The software he uses on the Portapack is Furtek’s ‘Havoc’ firmware which has microphone to TX functionality. The LNA4ALL is able to work in transmit mode without trouble. Adam has written instructions for modifying the LNA4ALL so that it can transmit and use the HackRF’s bias tee power at the same time over on his website lna4all.blogspot.com.

HackRF + LNA4ALL making a QSO on 145 MHz

Some Tests on the LNA4ALL

Over on the SWLing post blog Tony Roper has uploaded his review and testing of the LNA4ALL. The LNA4ALL is a PSA-5043+ LNA produced by Adam 9A4QV in Croatia. It is normally considered as one of the best wideband LNAs for RTL-SDR users as it designed well, built well, runs well and is reasonably priced at 20 Euros.

On his post Tony tests the LNA4ALL and compares his measured gain specs against the claimed gain specs on the LNA4ALL website. At 5V power supply he found that the real vs claimed gains matched quite nicely.

Although the LNA4ALL is only specified to run down to 3.3V, Tony found that he could still get usable performance out of it with only a 1.2V supply. However, the gain was reduced by a few dB’s, and we also assume that the IP3 characteristics would also be sufficiently degraded at the low voltage.

Testing the LNA4ALL with his NASA Engine AIS receiver, he found that the LNA4ALL boosted his reception range from 15nm without the LNA, to 22nm with the LNA, and also tripled his received messages.

Tony's LNA4ALL Gain Comparions
Tony’s LNA4ALL Gain Comparions

L-Band Reception with an LNA4ALL, Patch Antenna and RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a video showing how good L-band reception can be with only a cheap home made patch antenna, RTL-SDR dongle and LNA4ALL. The video is in response to a question on our previous post, which discussed the prototype Outernet downconverter. The question asked what difference can we expect with the downconverter compared to just using an LNA, like the LNA4ALL.

In the video Adam shows that L-Band reception with the LNA4ALL can be as good as with the downconverter. The main problem with L-band reception on the RTL-SDR is that some units tend to fail to receive properly at around 1.5 GHz. The downconverter bypasses this problem by receiving L-band at around 200 MHz instead. Though we believe that this problem is solved on the units we sell as we heatsink to a metal enclosure, and if that is not enough, it can be solved further by using this modified driver. The other advantages of the downconverter is that it includes filtering, an LNA, and allows you to use much longer runs of lossy cable, which is useful if for instance you want to put a permanent L-band antenna on the roof.

LNA4ALL & RTL SDR @ L band

RTLSDR4Everyone: The best RTL-SDR setup for $60

Over on his blog RTLSDR4Everyone author Akos has uploaded a new post showing what he believes is the best possible RTL-SDR set up that you can get for under $60. Akos writes that the best combination of components is one of our RTL-SDR Blog dongles (back in stock in a couple of weeks!) with bias tee combined with an LNA4ALL low noise amplifier. The LNA4ALL is a ~$30 USD LNA based on the Minicrcuits PSA4-5043+ component and is sold by Adam 9A4QV who also sells other products such as RF filters.

Akos reminds us that the LNA4ALL can actually be bought from Adam with the bias tee enabled already which saves you from the difficulty of needing to source the required inductor and perform surface mount soldering. The post also explains why  you might want to use an LNA in the first place and how to enable the bias tee on our RTL-SDR.com dongles.

RTL-SDR.com dongle + an LNA4ALL
RTL-SDR.com dongle + an LNA4ALL powered with the bias tee

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

Testing an LNA on receiving a weak signal with the RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube Adam Alicajic the designer of the LNA4ALL low noise amplifier has uploaded a video showing the effect of an LNA on reception of a weak signal. He shows an example of how a very weak signal cannot be received by the RTL-SDR even when the gain is set to maximum unless an LNA is connected.

Adam has posted this video in regards to some statements saying that an LNA will only increase the noise floor and cannot bring signals out of the noise floor. There is a discussion about this on this Reddit thread.

DVB-T dongle + LNA = Myth or Truth