Tag Archives: Magnetic Loop Antennas

How to build a Milk Crate AM Broadcast Loop Antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, James Townley, who shares the following guest post originally posted on his Shortwave/Medium Wave blog:


540 kHz to 1700 kHz Loop Antenna (Click to enlarge)

AM Broadcast Loop Antenna

by James Townley

Several years ago, I became interested in medium wave DXing. One of my limitations was the size of my yard, so I developed an interest in tuned loop antennas to compensate, because setting up a beverage antenna was out of the question. I experimented with different sizes of loops, and found that the bigger the aperture, the more gain the loop would have. The tuned loop antenna is also very directional, which allows you to reject, or null out interference from either noise or other stations. Loops are considered bi-directional in that they receive to the front and back, but not to the sides. The tuned loop antenna quickly became my weapon of choice for medium wave DXing.

Recently when the weather began allowing me to enjoy the outdoors, I decided to make another smaller loop antenna from a plastic milk crate I had lying around. I saw the idea on the internet when I observed that someone had used a milk crate for their loop. Click here to see a variety of tuned loop antennas that others have made. Whichever material you decide to make your loop antenna from, just make sure that it is not a conductive material. Wood, plastic, and cardboard seem to be popular materials for loop making. In the photo above, I am using my Sony ICF-2010 to listen to WCCO on 830 kHz. This station is nearly 200 miles south of me, but I am able to receive it with 9 LEDs lit on my signal strength meter while using the loop. There is no direct connection of the loop to the radio, it is inductively coupling with the radio’s own ferrite rod antenna.

If you are interested in making a loop antenna like mine, here are the materials you will need:
120 ft of 18ga insulated wire (I bought a 100 ft spool of cheap speaker wire and pulled the 2 conductors apart):

1 – Plastic milk crate
1 – 15 to 365 pF air variable capacitor (found in many old radios, or a google search to buy one from an internet store)
1 – Tuning knob. Any knob will do as long as it fits the shaft on the variable capacitor.
1 – Tape or wire ties. I used tape to secure the wire while winding, then hot glue when finished.

When you begin to wind your coil, use tape or a wire tie to secure the wire, and leave about a foot of wire. This extra foot of wire will later be soldered to the frame on the capacitor. As you wind your coil, pull the wire snugly and with each turn leave about a quarter inch spacing between each turn. The spacing isn’t critical as long as the spacing is consistent.  I wound 21 turns on my crate. This may differ for you, depending on the size of your crate, or the value of you capacitor. If you find that the bottom frequency isn’t low enough, you can add more wire to make a few more turns. This will lower the bottom frequency for you.

After winding the coil, you can solder each end of the coil to your capacitor. The beginning of the loop gets soldered to the frame of the capacitor, and the other end of the coil to the rotor solder lug on the side of the capacitor. If you do not have a soldering iron, you can use alligator clips to connect your loop coil to the capacitor as well. I secured my capacitor to the inside corner of the crate with hot glue. I put a generous amount of the hot glue onto the bottom of the capacitor frame, and held it to the crate until the glue cooled enough for the capacitor to stay on it’s own. I used enough to get the job done, but not so much that it interfered with the plates in my capacitor. The hot glue seemed to adhere very well. I then checked the spacing of my coil turns, and secured them with the hot glue as well.

I was very impressed with the results after spending some time with the loop. It’s small enough to maneuver around easily, but big enough to give it some gain, so I can listen to daytime DX. I may make another tuned loop using two crates to see how much more gain I get with the larger aperture.

Happy DXing,
James Townley


Many thanks, James, for sharing your project with us! This loop appears to be relatively simple and accessible even to those with little knowledge of soldering or homebrewing. I’m now wondering how a loop made of four milk crates might perform!

Click here to view James’ Shortwave/Medium Wave blog.

The W6LVP magnetic loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, who asks:

Just curious if you or anyone you know have any experience with Magnetic Loops from W6LVP? […]Here’s his eBay page – 458 feedbacks and 100%.

Thank, Troy! I’ve never used the W6LVP loop, but the price–in comparison with other wideband mag loop receive antennas–is very attractive.

W6LVP currently offers two models of loop antennas:

Here’s the product description of the Mag Loop with Power Inserter from the W6LVP website (where orders can also be made–pricing identical to eBay):

The Wellbrook Model ALA1530LN-2 and DX Engineering (Pixel/Inlogis) Model RF PRO-1B magnetic loops are both good amplified receive antennas.  However, they are both expensive.  Shipping the Wellbrook antenna from the UK to the US adds another $100.

Extensive side-by-side testing of the Wellbrook, DX Engineering, and W6LVP receive loops was compiled using simultaneous WSPR signal-to-noise reception reports on all LF, MF, and HF amateur bands.  In addition, extensive laboratory bench tests measuring gain, signal-to-noise ratio, and IMD were also performed.  Signal-to-noise ratio is important to pull weak signals out of the noise and IMD is important to reject distortion caused by nearby strong transmitters such as AM broadcast stations.  In both test regimens, all three antennas performed very well and without significant difference.

The antenna version listed here includes a power inserter for use with receivers or with transceivers that have a separate receive antenna input.  If your rig doesn’t have a receive antenna input, check out my antenna with a transmit/receive switch.

If you live in the shadow of one or more high-power AM broadcast transmitters, contact me about a special version just for you.  Please contact me at lplummer@vcnet.com.

W6LVP amplified receive-only magnetic loop antenna (boy is that mouthful):

  • The W6LVP mag loop is a complete receive antenna system delivering top-of-the-line performance to amateur radio operators and SWLs – particularly for those with space and/or budget limitations.  It is a great complement to vertical or wire transmit antennas.   You have a knob to turn up the power but don’t have one to turn up the received S/N.
  • Ten foot circumference (approximately 1 meter diameter) loop.  Small size yields a natural stealth for HOA challenges.  The loop is rigid enough to maintain its shape but flexible for portable transport or attic installation.
  • Includes a low-noise, broadband amplifier covering 2200 (135 kHz)  through 10 meters (30 MHz) with no tuning or adjustment.  Perfect match for continuous tuning SDR receivers.  Great for contesters to quickly check all bands.  Greater coverage is possible at reduced performance.
  • Light-weight antenna structure fabricated from furniture-grade PVC yields a strong but very light antenna weighing only 2 pounds (not including power inserter or power adapter).  Great for both portable/camping as well as fixed installations.  Light weight and small size make for lower shipping cost – particularly compared to shipping from the UK.
  • Directly compatible with a low-cost speaker tripod stand (not included) for portable operation.
  • Compatible with light-duty rotator (recommended) for fixed operation.  Loop can be rotated to null interference by up to 30 dB or enhance desired signals.
  • Includes low-noise linear AC power adapter to generate clean 12 volts for the loop amplifier.  Unlike the DX Engineering antenna which requires 24 VAC, power can be easily supplied by 12 volt batteries during portable operation.  Reverse polarity and short circuit protection provided by automatically resettable fuse.

Eham reviews are very positive–so far, 5 stars on all six reviews.

I also discovered this short video of W9OY comparing the W6LVP loop to a full size 80 meter vertical (verticals are much more susceptible to noise than loops):

Click here to view on YouTube.

I am very curious if any SWLing Post readers have ever compared the W6LVP loop to the Wellbrook or Pixel Loop antennas.

I actually own the Pixel Loop and might very well purchase, review and compare the W6LVP loop later this year (if time allows).

If you own the W6LVP loop and/or have compared it with the Pixel or Wellbrook, please comment!

Click here to view W6LVP antennas on eBay.

Click here to view the W6LVP website.

Klaus demonstrates his folding mag loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Klaus Boecker, who follows up after our recent post showcasing his homebrew magnetic loop antenna.

One of the cool things about Klaus’ antenna is that he can easily position it vertically (see above), or fold it over into a horizontal position (see below).

While one would think Klaus would get optimal performance from his loop while vertically-oriented, it’s not always the case. Klaus has discovered that on some frequencies, placing the antenna in the horizontal position lowers the noise level and increases the target signal’s strength.

To demonstrate, Klaus made the following short video for us:

Click here to view on YouTube.

That’s a pretty amazing difference, Klaus! I’m no antenna expert, but perhaps what’s happening is you’re eliminating noise that is polarized in the plane of your antenna, thus the signal “pops out” much better when oriented horizontally?

I’m curious if any readers can explain this.   I know very little about loop antennas–especially small loops since so much of their surroundings affect their performance.

Thanks for sharing, Klaus!

Klaus’ magnetic loop antenna in “urban camouflage”

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Klaus Boecker, who originally posted these images of his homebrew magnetic loop antenna on the Shortwave Radio Station Listening Facebook page.

I love the design of his mag loop which easily allows for a vertical or horizontal orientation.  Kaus has discovered, in certain cases, places the loop in a horizontal position dramatically decreases the noise level.

Having a little fun with what I call “urban camouflage” Klaus recently decorated his antennas to match the neighborhood flower boxes!

I’m sure more than one neighbor may be wondering what sort of creative floral arrangement Klaus has planted! 

Klaus notes that the vertical to the left of the loop is a a 2m / 70cm J-Antenna.

Thank you again, Kalus, for allowing me to share your images here on the SWLing Post.  I imagine your modest home-grown antenna farm works some serious DX on occasion!

Thanks again for sharing!

Readers: Have you camouflaged or decorated your antenna(s)?  Please share your photos!

A preliminary review of the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

eecraft-kx3-pk-loop

The Elecraft KX3 and the PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18

Over the past year, a number of SWLing Post readers have asked me to review the PK Loop portable magnetic loop antenna produced by Paul Karlstrand in Australia.

I finally caved in and purchased one.

I ordered the shortwave version of the loop, the  C-LOOP-HDSW6-18 in early November and received it about one week later.

sony-sw100-pk-loop

The Sony SW100 tuned to WBCQ.

I was first introduced to this antenna by SWLing Post contributor, Mark Fahey, who brought it to the SWL Fest and our 2015 PARI DXpedition.

Mark has taken his PK Loops (both the shortwave and mediumwave models) on his numerous travels around the world. He finds that they’re relatively effective portable antennas in RFI-dense environments like hotels and guest houses. They’re better at mitigating RFI than, say, portable wire antennas or telescopic whips.

Mark hooks up his portable SDR to the PK Loop and makes spectrum recordings (wideband recordings)–from, say, his hotel room in Kuala Lumpur–then takes the recording back home to listen and tune at his leisure via his laptop or tablet PC.  While I’ve certainly made spectrum recordings while travelling in the past, the appeal of such a portable loop antenna is what finally caused me to pull the trigger.

Overview

pk-loop

The PK Loop is a small loop antenna–measuring about 12″ in diameter. It’s encased in UV-stabilized PVC conduit and the matching box also seems to be made of PVC. It feels very durable and can, no doubt, even survive the wildest of luggage handling.

The PK Loop has an attached battery 9V battery holder, but can actually be powered by any 9-18 volt DC supply. Current consumption is less than 15 mA. On the matching box, you’ll find a tuning knob, a BNC connector, DC power in port and a HI/LOW gain switch. My loop shipped with a 2 meter BNC-BNC Cable, 3.5mm adapter, and DC Power lead to open ends.

Operation

Operating the loop is very simple:

  1. Power the antenna with a 9V battery or other DC source
  2. Chose either the high or low gain setting
  3. Place it on a stable surface (height from the ground is not a critical issue, but you should avoid placing it next to noisy electronics or mobile phones)
  4. Connect the PK Loop to your receiver’s antenna jack with the supplied cable
  5. Turn on your receiver to the desired meter band, then adjust the loop’s tuning knob until you hear the signal level peak
  6. Start listening, keeping in mind that as you tune around the band you may need to adjust the loop’s tuning knob for maximum gain

Loop antennas, in general, are fairly narrow-band and–unlike a Wellbrook or Pixel Loop–manual adjustments need to be made with the tuning knob to match the PK Loop as you scan across bands.

Still, I see why Mark favors the PK Loop for spectrum recordings: the bandwidth is wide enough that if I tune the loop to the middle of the 31 meter band, for example, it does a fine job covering the entire band.

On the air

pk-loop-kx2-sw100

My free time has been very limited since receiving the PK Loop earlier this month, but over Thanksgiving holiday, I took it to my family’s home that has relatively high RFI levels.

The following are a couple of videos I made with my Moto X smartphone. I’ll be the first to admit that these are not the best videos–I had no tripod and the Moto’s microphone leaves much to be desired–but I think you’ll still get the idea of how well the PK Loop works.

With the Sony SW100

Click here to watch on YouTube.

With the Elecraft KX2

Click here to watch on YouTube.

So far, I’m very pleased with the PK Loop. It does seem to mitigate noise better than other portable antennas I’ve used in the past and certainly improves my SW100’s reception. It makes SWLing with the Elecraft KX2 or KX3 easy and convenient.

One word of caution: if you use the PK Loop with a transceiver like the KX2, please turn off the ATU, and set the power level to 0W before using. The PK Loop is receive-only and will not handle any RF power.

Note that with the SW100, I have only used the PK Loop’s low gain setting. I’m a little nervous about overloading the SW100, so do not plan to use the high gain setting. The Elecraft KX2 seems happy to handle either gain setting: I imagine this will be the case with most general coverage transceivers and tabletop receivers.

More to come!

In a couple of weeks, I’ll be staying in a hotel room (likely with inoperable windows and heavy RFI) so I will attempt to put the loop through its paces and compare it with my radio’s built-in antenna.  Stay tuned!

Post readers: have you used the PK Loop or other similar portable/travel antennas? Please comment!

Click here to view PK’s Loop antennas on Paul Karlstrand’s website.

Paul also sells his antennas and ships internationally on eBay–click here to view the selection.

pks-loops