Back in March we posted about the release of Outernet's moRFeus device which is a low cost wideband RF signal generator. Since then we've received a few emails from two readers who've received their units and have found some interesting hacks and have developed software for it.
First we have a submission from Ohan Smit who discovered a hack that allows moRFeus to work as a wideband noise generator by setting the LO to 5 GHz and the Mixer current to 3. Together with an Airspy and the Spectrum Spy software he was able to measure the response of a bandstop FM filter. Over on the forums he also shows screenshots of Python based control software that he's developed for controlling moRFeus.
Next we have a moRFeus Linux GUI created by "Lama Bleu". It can be used to access the same functions as via the moRFeus LCD screen, but is also has a few very useful features such as a step generator which allows a generated tone to sweep across the frequency spectrum. The moRFeus GUI can also connect to GQRX and sync with the LO frequency specified in the GQRX GUI for easy control. It should also be possible to implement a CW morse code generator with some scripts.
Over on the forums Zoltan, one of moRFeus' designers also notes that it might even be possible to use moRFeus for WSPR modulation, although this isn't confirmed yet. It seems that moRFeus is shaping up to be a very useful tool for RF testing and experimentation. The device is currently still available on Crowd Supply for $149US with over 136 units sold so far.
During development of the Outernet project the engineering team developed several tools to help them in their RF testing. One tool that they created has now been developed further into a commercial product that they are calling 'moRFeus'. moRFeus is a small handheld RF signal generator and frequency mixer. It can be used to generate an RF tone at any frequency between 85 MHz - 6 GHz and to upconvert or downconvert signals via the mixer with an input/output frequency range between 30 MHz - 6 GHz. This type of tool is useful for people working with RF hardware as it can be used for testing and prototyping.
morRFeus is currently selling for US$149 over on CrowdSupply, and the units are ready to ship out soon. They note that the current price is a special, and that it may be increased in the future. We think that this is a fairly good deal considering that similar products can cost much more. If you are interested in the technical details the datasheet includes figures on phase noise and conversion losses. There is also a user guide that explains how the buttons work, and what each screen on the menu is for. The morRFeus press release reads:
Outernet launches sales for wideband frequency converter and signal generator with complete field-level configuration.
Today, Outernet announced the launch of moRFeus - a wideband (30MHz - 6GHz) frequency converter and signal generator with complete field-level configurability. The product is available on Crowd Supply for $149. The price will increase after the 30-day launch campaign.
The device has an LCD display and button interface for complete field-level configuration - from setting the LO frequency to toggling between mixer and generator mode, and more. It’s in a precision-milled all-aluminum enclosure for durability and aesthetics.
moRFeus was built for hams and hackers, people with a traditional amateur radio background, as well as a makers and researchers that are interested in RF experimentation. It was designed for easy integration into a wide variety of RF projects.
In mixer mode, moRFeus enables dynamic frequency up- and down-conversion. In generator mode, it is one of the most, if not the most, affordable tools to generate a stable +/-2.5 ppm CW signal. Additional information on features, specifications, and performance metrics can be found in the datasheet.
The team already has 100 units in stock and another 900 are going through final assembly and quality assurance in Chicago. The first 100 units will ship one week after launch and orders beyond the initial stock will ship within 30 days of the close of the campaign, or earlier.
Outernet has been working on novel RF projects since the founding of the company in 2014. moRFeus was developed because from an internal need for a wideband field-configurable frequency converter for testing purposes. The company identified a huge gap in the market for a solution that met the needs of others with similar problems add their own. Outernet’s founder describes the development process:
“The idea was hatched about a year ago because we needed an easy, quick way to dynamically up-and down-convert the various radios we were experimenting with for a new product. By the summer of 2017, we had our first prototype and functional firmware. The design still required some slight tweaking. The current version of moRFeus is its third iteration. Oddly enough, the last phase of the project, industrial design, ended up being the most time-consuming. We worked with a local designer/machinist with decades of experience to come up with a custom-made all-aluminum enclosure.”
For more information and to purchase moRFeus, visit Crowd Supply.
Furthermore the product features, description, and also some of the applications and use cases for moRFeus are quoted below:
RF Input Frequency: 30MHz–6GHz
RF Output Frequency: 30MHz–6GHz
LO Frequency: 85MHz–5400MHz
LO Step Size: 1.5–3Hz1
2.5 ppm precision TCXO
Generator/Mixer Function Toggle
Input IP3 +23dBm
Small, Portable Form Factor
Adjustable Mixer Bias Current
LCD Display With Backlight Feature
Button Control Interface
Dimensions: 88mm x 38mm x 68mm
Weight: 7.4 oz
moRFeus is a 30MHz–6GHz programmable Fractional-N wideband frequency converter and generator designed for low spurious emissions and dynamic configuring of the LO frequency. moRFeus is designed for easy integration into popular RF environments using SMA connectors and is powered using an external micro-USB 5V supply. The LCD display and button interface provide a dynamic way to program the mixer LO frequency in the field with a step size of 1.5–3Hz.1 The device is USB programmable, enabling automatic operation from a PC (must be running Linux). Dynamic toggling between mixer and generator modes adds to field-level functionality. An optional bias voltage of 5V is available via RF choke to the mixer input to supply active antenna systems.
Distributed Antenna Systems
Software Defined Radios
Frequency Band Shifters
Remote Radio Heads
Frequency Up/Down Conversion
Automated Test Equipment (ATE)
Wireless Communication Systems
Review and Testing
The Outernet team sent us a moRFeus unit for testing a few days ago. It comes in a portable 3.5 x 2.7 x 1.5 inch (8.9 x 6.9 x 3.8 cm) conductive milled aluminum enclosure and weighs 7.4 ounces (210 grams). The construction is very solid, and should easily survive being thrown around in a carry bag, although we'd still advise caution as the LCD screen is not protected by a window.
The unit is powered via a standard micro USB port. After connecting a USB cable the unit immediately powers up shows a frequency selection screen on the LCD display. Five small buttons are used to control the interface, and we found it very easy to adjust the output frequency using these buttons.
Using the interface the unit can be switched between the "Generator" and "Mixer" modes. In the generator mode moRFeus simply generates a CW tone at the desired frequency. In the mixer mode moRFeus takes an input signal, mixes it with the generated tone and puts the result on the out port. Mixing a signal with a tone is the core concept behind devices like upconverters, downconverters and tuners. For example, by generating a mixing tone at 2 GHz with the moRFeus, we are able to view 2.4 GHz WiFi signals at 2.4 GHz - 2 GHz = 400 MHz.
In the screenshot below we set moRFeus to run in mixer mode with the LO frequency set at 2 GHz. This allows us to view an active WiFi signal at 2.475 GHz using an Airspy and the SpectrumSpy software. The Airspy can only tune up to 1.8 GHz by itself, so it can't view the WiFi band directly. Of course to use as a proper downconverter filtering is required to remove any images and interfering signals, but by being able to easily change the LO frequency you are able to move the signals around quite easily to avoid images or interference.
Unfortunately one limitation is that moRFeus' lowest input frequency is 30 MHz, so it can't be used to upconvert HF signals.
moRFeus also works well as a standard RF signal generator, and we were able to get a clean CW tone on any frequency between 85 MHz - 6 GHz.
moRFeus also shows up a a device on the PC, and the team write that it is possible to control it programatically via Linux, however documentation for this does not exist yet although it is scheduled to be released later. We would love to see a sweep feature which should be possible with PC control.
In conclusion if you are looking for a low cost signal generator or mixer to use in your experimental RF projects, then moRFeus certainly does seem like a good deal. A tool like this is very handy to have in your RF kit.
Over on YouTube Adam 9A4QV has uploaded a video of him testing out his 'UP-64' upconverter together with an RTL-SDR. An upconverter moves low frequencies 'up' into a higher frequency. This is useful for HF reception, as normal reception on an RTL-SDR starts at about 24 MHz (without using direct sampling mode).
Adam previously manufactured and sold his UP-100 upconverter, which was an upconverter of his own design that utilized a 100 MHz oscillator. These days it has been accepted that using an upconversion frequency that avoids the broadcast FM band is generally better as it avoids the interference that can come from very strong FM signals. The 64 MHz oscillator on the UP-64 avoids the broadcast FM band for the most part unlike the older UP-100.
Last year KD0CQ discovered that the SUP-2400 is a cheap $5 – $10 DirecTV (US satellite TV) module which can be hand modded into a downconverter for the RTL-SDR. A downconverter allows you to listen to frequencies above the maximum frequency range of the RTL-SDR by converting frequencies down into a range receivable by the RTL-SDR (or of course any other SDR). The modified SUP-2400 allows to you listen up to just over 4 GHz.
The SUP-2400 modification is moderately involved and requires soldering and desoldering SMD pieces, so this product is great for anyone who just wants a cheap and low cost downconverter which is ready to go. And at $25 USD it’s still very good value. Shipping within the USA is $7.75, and internationally it is about $13.50.
Qrp Gaijin’s post goes into some detail about his circuit and shows the schematic as well. He also shows the results with an active loop antenna, RTL-SDR and the upconverter in some videos. In the email to us he also notes that his upconverter is still a work in progress as the LO is quite noisy and he suspects that it may be too weak to drive the 1N4148 based diode ring mixer. There is also no filtering on the circuit yet, so there is some broadcast FM breakthrough.
Another project he worked on was attempting the direct sampling mod on a standard RTL-SDR. However, Qrp Gaijin’s method is slightly different to most attempts as instead of soldering the wires into the Q-branch holes he simply uses hot glue to hold them mechanically in place. This may be an idea to consider for those who want to attempt the mod on a standard RTL-SDR, but don’t have any soldering tools or experience.
Homebrew RTL-SDR upconverter: physical construction
Back in 2016 KD0CQ discovered that a $5 DirectTV device with model name SUP-2400 could be used as a downconverter with an RTL-SDR for receiving frequencies of up to 4.5 GHz. A downconverter is a device that converts high frequencies such as 4.5 GHz down into a frequency actually receivable by the RTL-SDR. The SUP-2400 is able to be modified into a useful downconverter by opening it up and manually removing some mixing harmonic filters.
Over on YouTube user Full spectrum technician has uploaded an interested video where he shows how he used a beam deflection tube to create an upconverter for his RTL-SDR. A beam deflection tube is a type of vacuum tube that can be used as a mixer. If you aren’t aware, a vacuum tube (a.k.a tube or valve) is an electrical component that was used in electrical equipment heavily back in the first half of the 1900’s. They could be used to implement circuits like amplifiers, mixers, switches, oscillators and more. Even today they are still used in some high end audio equipment because many people believe they produce superior audio quality. Full spectrum technician writes on his video:
A simple test using a 6ME8 beam deflection tube as a balanced mixer up converter for an RTL-SDR to enable HF reception.
The only problem I had was too much conversion gain. Even with a relatively short antenna, and literally starving the tube for voltage, the signal output levels were high enough that I had to crank back the gain of the RTL SDR and/or use padding on the input of the RTL-SDR.
The LO was feed to grid 1 for common mode input. The antenna was feed to the two deflection plates via a transformer as a differential input. The output was taken from the two anode plates via a transformer as a differential output.
That resulted in the LO balancing it’s self out on the output so that the LO would not overload the front end of the receiver.
Operating voltages at the time were.. 20V anode. 5V deflection plates. 20V accelerator grid. Cathode tied to ground.
Using a beam deflection vacuum tube as a mixer for an RTL-SDR up converter.