Sunday, August 14, 2016

Dekatron tubes controlled by arduino

Interfacing dekatron tubes with a microcontroller is fairly easy, once you understand how the tubes work. Threeneuron's Pile o'Poo of Obsolete Crap provides the necessary background information and schematics for making this work.

I used two russian OG-4 tubes. I prefer the orange look of the neon tubes rather than the purple look of the argon filled OG-3 tubes. The latter tubes just look to modern for my liking. On the above picture you can see how I have mounted the tubes on a rig alongside two Magic eye tubes.

The schematics is more or less directly from the Threeneurons page. It uses two output pins from the arduino, and one input-pin. My high voltage supply is somewhat unstable, so I used a zener diode to protect the input pin from over voltage.

The above picture show the PCB, soldered Manhattan style. The high voltage power supply is from Ebay, and works best with less than 10V on the input side, but can provide up to 1000V. The current is however in the microampere area, hardly enough to kill a mosquito, and just enough to drive two dekatrons at 450 V. There is also some other outputs on the board providing around 170 and 250 V respectively.

I am going to use the dekatrons as part of the display solution for my homebrew RF transceiver. Now I have the Nixie display, magic eyes and the dekatrons under control (the radio itself is not finished yet). Even my cardboard mock-up is looking great!

The above video show the prototype assembly.

The dekatron code is as simple as this. Notice that the input pin is not used in the below code.

int DekIn1=13;
int DekOut11=12;
int DekOut12=11;
int DekIn2=6;
int DekOut21=5;
int DekOut22=4;

int count=0;

void setup()
  pinMode(DekOut11, OUTPUT);      // sets the digital pin as output
  pinMode(DekOut12, OUTPUT);      // sets the digital pin as output
  pinMode(DekOut21, OUTPUT);      // sets the digital pin as output
  pinMode(DekOut22, OUTPUT);      // sets the digital pin as output

void loop()
    digitalWrite(DekOut11, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(DekOut21, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(DekOut12, HIGH);   
    digitalWrite(DekOut22, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(DekOut11, LOW);  
    digitalWrite(DekOut21, LOW); 
    digitalWrite(DekOut12, LOW); 
    digitalWrite(DekOut22, LOW); 
  else if(count>=30 && count < 60)
    digitalWrite(DekOut12, HIGH);
    digitalWrite(DekOut21, HIGH);     
    digitalWrite(DekOut11, HIGH); 
    digitalWrite(DekOut22, HIGH);    
    digitalWrite(DekOut12, LOW); 
    digitalWrite(DekOut21, LOW);       
    digitalWrite(DekOut11, LOW); 
    digitalWrite(DekOut22, LOW);  

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Magic Eye Tube 6e5c

Magic Eye Tubes were used as RF-indicator tubes on radios from the 1930s until the end of the tube era and needle movement meters displaced them.

I love the glow of these tubes and want to use one as a rudimentary S-meter in my homebrew HF-transceiver. I purchased two Soviet 6e5c tubes from Ebay. I think both of them were used. I also bought two VU-meter PCBs from a Hong-Kong Ebay seller.

I could not find a schematic, but drew the circuit diagram based on the PCB on a piece of paper in order to understand the circuit. From my understanding it is a basic buffer audio amplifier followed by a DC coupled stage that rectifies the negative half cycle to provide the negative DC to drive the Magic Eye Tube.

Soldering the PCB was simple and I had all components in my junk box. The tube is mounted in a 8 pin PCB-mounted socket. There seems to be room for a LED beneath the tube. Nice if you want to pimp it up a notch or two. I do not want such modern nonsens in my old-school experiments, so I skipped that.

For the power supply I purchased a high-voltage supply from Ebay. Unfortunately, it does not seem to be able to provide enough current to drive the tube at any higher voltage than 180V, so it is a bit dim. I have to find an alternative solution. For the heater I used 6.3 V DC.

I used a signal generator to test the circuit. It was very satisfying to see the Magic Eye Tube perform its magic. The above video should convince you.

Future work include soldering up another tube and mounting them in a box together with my Nixie-tube display and some hefty dekatrons.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

WA2EBY IRF510 amplifier

The WA2EBY amplifier is a famous linear amplifier project published in QST in March and April 1999 by Mike Kossor WA2EBY. As this amplifier can give up to 50W out with 1W drive, it is a perfect pair for my Softrock RXTX amplifier.

The articles can be found on the ARRL-site (search for WA2EBY) and are highly recommended reading.

I have had a suitable box laying around for quite some time that was perfect for the amplifier project. I decided to go for Manhattan style construction using mainly the parts I already had in my junk-box and not order the PCBs and toroid set which are available from different sources on Ebay. In other words: a low-cost project.

The first I did was to make room for the IRF510 mosfets and two heat sinks. I drilled the holes in the aluminum box with a hole saw.

Then I made the RF-detector part (used for RX/TX) switching. It is in the upper part of the picture between the two relays.

I followed the articles and the schematics as best I could. The only alteration I did was to use 12V relays (instead of 15V) and a 7812 regulator for the relays and a 7805 regulator for the MOSFET bias instead of zener diodes. The above picture shows the power supply part. It is a rather conventional design. I addeda heat sink on the 7812 to make it handle 28V without dying on me.

I used a 1dB pad on the input (can be seen to the right of the left relay). It is probably not necessary to use a pad but it might improve the stability and provide a solid 50 Ω load for the Softrock RXTX Ensemble.

Mike Kossor recommends using teflon wire in output transformer due to the possible high temperature. I did not have that and used standard stranded wire which will probably survive just fine. I used coax cable for interconnections to and from the IRF510s.

I used 5k potmeters for the bias adjustment. The value should not be critical since it only acts as a voltate divider. The article does not specify the bias current, and different sources on the Internet recommend between 10mA and 100mA. I decided to try 60mA and used the method described in W2AEWs excellent video.

I only made one of the many low pass filters in the schematic (for the 17m/20m bands) following the instructions from WA2EBY. There is no band-switching at the moment, but there should be plenty of room for that later.

The network analyzer plot shows that the filter is far from excellent. The -3dB point is as high as 20 MHz and the 2nd harmonic frequency for 20m transmissions is only about -23dB down. It does not mean that the filter is useless, but I will change it later to a steeper filter and lower the -3dB point when I`m at it. Nevertheless, the output waveform seems nice, and an FFT analysis show that the 2nd harmonic is within legal limits.

A picture of the final assembled amplifier. The switch on the front panel is on/off. One LED indicates ON, whereas the other indicates TX.

The rear of the amplifier. I used banana jacks since I like them, they are robust and cheap. A protective diode takes care of business should I ever connect red to black.

The verdict

Using a signal generator and a dummy load, the amplifier easily produces about 30 W on 1W input. The amplifier seems very stable, and I have had no problems what so ever. The power consumption and efficiency is about the same as WA2EBYs figures.

The above picture show the unit with an MFJ antenna tuner for size comparison. A nice pair. With my Softrock I usually drive the amplifier to about 10-15 Watts on 20V and this have given me many contacts on JT65/9.  I live in an antenna restricted environment, and have struggled hard to get out with my mere 1W from the Softrock. I believe that this amplifier will give me lots of joy in the future.

Further reading

Thursday, May 5, 2016

EMRFD Direct conversion 40m receiver in a tea caddy

I woke up one day eager to build something simple (at least I thought is was simple) and opened up the first chapter in EMRFD and decided to build the 40m direct conversion receiver. I already had most of the components in my junk box. By the way, Experimental Method in RF Design (EMRFD) is the best book about homebrewing amateur radio gear. You should get it if you don`t have it.

I know you are sitting on the edge of your chair, eager to see the end result, so I will give it to you straight away.  Here it is: My 40m Direct Conversion Tea Caddy Receiver.

Then, lets rewind back to the build process. I started off with the schematics from EMRFD.

The first chapter of EMRFD is available online, so I guess I will not go to jail by showing the circuit diagram here. 
The receiver is based on a NE602 gilbert cell mixer and the famous and old LM386 audio amplifier. The rest of the components are a few capacitors, including three tunable, two T37-6 toroids, and some resistors. 

Prototype of the mixer circuit almost done.

Prototype of the receiver is now finished. In the first version I followed the circuit diagram from EMRFD 100% and used two 75pF air tuning caps (from Russia). The receiver was very difficult to tune with those caps, and I got some oscillations. It was a very fine Theremin, however.

The above video show the performance of the receiver. It is not very sensitive, but it is working. In this version I had some problems with the preselector filter. It seemed like all the RF went straight to ground. Trying to debug this problem did not help much, so in the above video, the antenna is connected straight to the NE602.

For the second version I used just one tuning capacitor of 80pF. It was even more difficult to tune, but I got rid of the oscillations. In addition, I went ahead and used a different preselector circuit from Sudden receiver.

On the final version, I used a 60pF polyvaricon with a reduction drive as the tuning cap and adjusted the oscillator circuit to enable the receiver to tune from 6.9-7.3MHz. It was build using Qrpme MePads in sort of Manhattan style. I soldered the component on two PCB boards which was soldered together to fit in a oriental Chinese tea caddy.

Finally, I added a switch and a 5mm LED. The receiver is powered by 6xAA batteries. It could probably run on anything between 6-9 volts. In the datasheet of the NE602, it says that the maximum supply voltage is 9V, so I am probably pushing it a bit. I used a protective diode and a series resistor for safety reasons and to keep the voltage down a bit.

I used an SMA-connector on the back.

The final receiver. Eager to sniff RF from the ether...

The schematics for the receiver (using Fieldnotes schematics software). The series diode is not in the schematics, but I put it in for good measures. I used somewhat different component values in the colpitts oscillator than those in EMRFD.

The verdict

It was a very fun build. It is a simple circuit on the paper, but it sure teaches you a lot regarding radio functionality. Alright, the receiver works, but it does not seem very sensitive. I should be noted, firstly: that I do not have any 40m capable receiver to compare with. Secondly, my antenna is not very good on 40m. Thirdly, I have no idea what I am doing.

That being said: CW pops in very nicely, while SSB is a bit difficult to tune in. The oscillator seem suprisingly stable given that it is a VFO rather than a VXO, and the fact that I used random capacitors and no fancy NP0-ones. At least it was stable enough to receive RTTY with fldigi during a brief experiment.

In a future version I would like to add some sort of audio filtering before the LM386. Some sort of audio gain control would also be nice, since it is a bit loud on my iPhone headphones on strong signals. 

Further reading:

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Loaded dipole for 20m

My HF-project has stalled since I do not have a decent antenna. I have limited space for a full-sized antenna on my roof. My friend LA8OKA has assembled a loaded 20m dipole, and I wanted to test a similar design so I could get on the air on 20m.

First I simulated the antenna in EZNEC+ 6.0. The antenna is about 6m with 9uH loading coils halfway on each dipole segment.

Above, the parameters in EZNEC. I created two coils at about 9uH, which I calculated as 0R+791j ohm.

This is how the antenna looks like in EZNEC.

The SWR minimum is 1.34 at 14.05 MHz, meaning that the antenna should be great for WSJT work at 14.0760 MHz.

Then I created the two coils using 32mm PVC and 23 turns of 1mm2 multicore copper wire. I calculated the inductance to be 8.8uH, and a prototype coil proved to be in the ballpark of the calculated value.

Picture of the coil (in the rain).

I used a cheap 1:1 China-Balun as the center isolator.

Then, I mounted the antenna on a test location on my balcony and tuned the antenna using a NWT150 scalar network analyser and a directional coupler.

The above picture show the test setup using the SNA, a directional coupler, and a 50 Ohm dummy load for calibration of the SNA.

The first sweep gave a minimum SWR of 2.0 at about 13.5 MHz. By shortening the antenna, the minimum moved to 14.07 MHz. Minimum SWR is still 2.0. I suspect that the antenna impedance somewhat below 50 ohm due to the loading coils. In addition, there was about 50cm of wet snow on the roof just 1m below the antenna when I did the measurements. This might affect the result, which deprives me from experiencing the holy grail of 1.0 SWR. 

The verdict: Honestly, I am not sure how good the antenna is, since I do not have anything to compare with. In addition, the band conditions on 20m has been really poor and my softrock only outputs about 1W. Hence the chances to obtain great DX is limited. Nevertheless, I have made a few contacts up to 2500 km.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Synthicase and Softrock timelapse build video

I finally got around to throw my synths in a suitcase. It is a injection moulded case (Pelicase copy). The case consists of a x0xb0x bass synth, a Sonic Potions LXR drum machine, a Shruthi-1 synth, a MFOS noise toaster, and my DIY modular mixer consisting of mostly MFOS modules. The devices are mounted with velcro tape.

The LXR is not subjected to the best fit in the case, since I do not have right angle phono and MIDI cables.

I created a first tune with my Synthicase using the x0x as the master MIDI clock and the LXR sequencing the Shruthi. The x0x bass tune is a classic theme, probably heard before. Ok, here it goes, DJ DIYcrap in action:

By the way, the video shows me building the Softrock RXTX HF Transceiver. The video is shot using my DIY time lapse device and a Nikon D90. In other words, this video is truly DIYcrap.

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Minima #2 - Crystal filter construction

Making the crystal filter for the Minima Transceiver has been a challenging but very interesting experience. Challenging because I do not have any fancy test equipment. But I learned a lot, and it was very fun going through all this.

I bought about 50 HC-49 24MHz crystals from different ebay sources and  started out making the G3UUR colpitts oscillator tester from Experimental Methods of RF Design (EMRFD). I used 330pF capacitors for Cf (Ref EMRFD) and measured Cs to 35pF (including the switch).

All crystals were fundamental mode crystals, but they were all over the place frequency-wise. I borrowed an old Phillips PM6671 frequency counter for the characterization, as my own counter does not go all the way to 1Hz resolution.

I used boxes with small compartments to keep the crystals in order during the work.

The frequencies was jotted down in Google Sheets (with the G3UUR switch in both positions), and then I sorted the crystals by frequency.

I found seven crystals within 65 Hz for the QER crystal filter. I calculated Cm for the crystals using the updated formula from the 2015 ARRL handbook, and used Dishal to calculate the crystal parameters.

A 2.8 kHz bandpass resulted in 234pF capacitors and input/output impedances of 22.6 Ohms. I did not use this alternative, however. Instead I constructed the filter for 50 Ohm in/out, which required 109pF (I used 100pF) and an estimated bandwidth of 5.6 kHz. Probably a bit wide, but I wanted to give it a try.

Then I "characterized" a few capacitors and soldered the filter together bravely. In the above picture you see a 6dB pad at the input and a 51 ohm resistor at the output. I have no network analyzer so I had to improvise.

I used a Si5351 controlled from an Arduino. A few buttons let me step the frequency in 100Hz intervals. The Si5351 was connected to the input of the filter and the output was connected to an oscilloscope. For every 100Hz interval, I jotted down the RMS voltage at the input and output, and calculated the loss.

The response is not great, as there is some falloff. The passband ripple is about 2-3 dB. I have no idea whether this is bad or not. The Elecraft K2, for example, is supposed to have 3.2dB ripple, so my filter can not be all that bad although the QER filter is supposed to be very flat. The reason for the passband ripple can be either an error with my measurement technique, or it could be that the output impedance is not exactly 50 Ohm as estimated in Dishal (i have not measured the impedance), or it could be that the individual placement of the crystals matter (I did not care), or that the crystals are crap. The filter is about 5kHz, a bit narrower than estimated.

Anyway, the filter is good enough for initial testing, and I am satisfied. I think I need a simple Scalar Network Analyzer, however, as all these measurements were a bit tedious, and it could be interesting to do them again them with different capacitor values.