Testing a $2 USB Powered LNA with RTL-SDR

Over on his blog '19max63' has posted about his tests with a $2 Aliexpress low noise amplifier (LNA) and his RTL-SDR. The LNA is advertised as for boosting HDTV signals, but 19max63 has found that it does a decent job on other frequencies too. It can be found on Aliexpress for less than $2 including free shipping, by searching for "TV Antenna signal amplifier". One example listing is this one.

An LNA is useful to help lower the noise figure of a radio system which results in higher SNR values (especially at the UHF and higher bands), and can be used to overcome losses in the signal chain from components like coax cables and connectors. However, an LNA will not always help and when combined with strong in or out of band signals will make reception worse by causing overload and intermodulation products. Better quality LNAs have a low noise figure, and are able to handle stronger signals and not overload so easily.

Ultra Cheap $2 LNA
Ultra Cheap $2 LNA

Upon opening the cover, 19max63 found that the cheap LNA consists of a BFG425W transistor which should cover 40 MHz to 3 GHz, but may be band limited by the passive components. The BFG425W also has a max gain of 20dB at 2GHz and a noise figure of 0.8 dB at 900 MHz. 

In 19max63's tests, the LNA was able to improve his DAB radio (174 to 240 MHz) reception significantly, allowing him to receive several extra stations. His further tests also seem to show that it does a decent job at other frequencies from 137 MHz NOAA satellites to 1090 MHz ADS-B. Many of the comparison images do seem to show signs of overloading and intermodulation, but ADS-B in particular looks to be boosted quite nicely. So this looks like it might be a very cheap way to try and improve ADS-B reception.

Check out the his post for multiple SNR comparison images.

Cheap LNA PCB
Cheap $2 LNA PCB

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