Saturday, May 30, 2015

Softrock RXTX completed

After finishing up the receiver part of my Softrock Ensemble RXTX SDR transceiver with great success, I got really motivated to get the transmitter going. The last weeks I have followed AB4UG's progress building his own RXTX with great interest, and I got even more motivated to finish my own kit when I saw that he got the last component soldered on his RXTX.

Soldering the last component on the RXTX

Building the TX part was fairly easy after having built the RX part. The first thing after melting the last piece of solder on the board was to make a 50 ohm dummy load using a few resistors, and then to measure the output power with my scope. After that, I balanced the I/Q signals by playing with the TX image rejection settings in WSPR and by watching the transmitted signal on a RTL-SDR receiver. The RTL-SDR operated in a software direct sampling mode to make it work on the 20m band. This setup is not the best tool for this calibration task, but I think I came pretty close in my effort. I might check it up more thoroughly use a spectrum analyzer later.

RXTX is running WSPR

WSPR is an excellent choice for testing out a freshly built transceiver since it gives immediate feedback through Internet if anyone out there receives my signals. After a bit of fiddling, I got the RX mode running directly on I/Q in WSPR, and prayed to the radio gods that the TX would work as well. After verifying that the transmitter did "something" when connected to WSPR (it went hot), I left the softrock running for 24h with about 1W output. Then I just hoped that the black suited government frequency authorities would not kick down my door to revoke my amateur licence due to RF harmonics or for causing QRM on the image frequency.

Both RX and TX is now working in I/Q mode
Luckily the frequency authorities have not been kicking down my door (yet). On the contrary, during one night of operation I have gotten WSPR reports that my signals have reached most of Europe and even across the pond to America!

I can enjoy my working transceiver from my iPhone
I am truly amazed that my 1W transmitter (which I bravely soldered myself) can reach more than 7000 km. Notice that my "antenna" is just an indoor wire dipole (at about 5m length).

If you are listening on 20m and observe that my Softrock emits energy in the wrong parts of the frequency spectrum, please be kind to me. Please. I am a fresh amateur with very limited RF self esteem.

Summary of the build experience

I followed the excellent build guide of WB5RVZ step by step and it was really helpful. The most challenging part of the build was in fact soldering the through hole components on the awfully small soldering pads on the PCB. The SMT parts were mostly SOICs and 1205, which were easy. The Si570 (QFN) were the most challenging. I measured every resistor before soldering and took great care not to make any mistakes along the way. All in all, it was really an enjoyable build and the entire process building the transceiver took about 10-12 hours in total. The only mistake I did was to solder an opamp in the wrong orientation, but that was easy to fix.

Future work

The next step is to test out other WSJT digital modes such as JT65 and JT9 and to make some real QSOs. The goal is to make the Softrock operate stand alone on my Raspberry Pi2. 

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