Recommendations for an HF/VHF/UHF station in an apartment or flat

Photo by jay blacks on UnsplashMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jamie, who writes:

Hi,

I would like to ask a few questions about what would be a good set up for my situation.

I am in a 2 storey property, which is not owned by me (renting via community/public housing), located in a large city in Australia. I currently have an SDRPlay RSP2, along with standalone AM/FM tuners – Sony XDR-F1HD and Onkyo T4970. The computer and all radios are upstairs at the back in a room that is not attached.

Given renting would limit what I can do, what would be best for me to get. For MW and SW frequencies, I am trying to decide between the MLA30+ or the AOR LA400. For above 30MHz (6m, 2m, broadcast FM etc) I am deciding between the AOR SA7000 or a Discone.

I have been told that putting antennas in the roof space is not recommended. Would they work fine in the room near a window? I should mention, I do have a 50ft end fed longwire with 9:1 balun, that has been in storage and never used.

I am also looking at upgrading my receiver. Trying to choose between the WinRadio WR-G305e or the Icom IC-R8600 (would also get the RS-R8600 CD software for computer controlling the receiver). How do the specs compare between these two?

Thanks for your time, and hope that wasn’t too many questions.

Regards,

Jamie

Thank you for your inquiry, Jamie, and I hope you don’t mind, but I’m sharing this message as a post as we have readers who are in the same type of living situation and listening environment. In addition, I believe owners of the gear you’ve mentioned might be able to offer some helpful advice!

I can tell you that you’re correct: in general, antennas want to be near windows or, better yet, outdoors. Even placing an antenna on a balcony can make a big difference in terms of lowering the noise floor. This is less an issue with VHF/UHF, but those antennas also benefit from being outside since there’ll be less attenuation from obstructions.

For HF, I would personally suggest you check out the MLA-30 loop first since it’s such a modest investment and is fairly flexible in terms of how you can configure it. I’m sure our regular contributor, Grayhat, will have some helpful advice as he’s a bit of an expert with urban HF antennas.

Also, the IC-R8600 is a brilliant wideband receiver. Depending on what you wish to have for frequency coverage, I would also suggest you check out the Icom IC-705 transceiver (noting that its RX coverage is not as comprehensive as that of the IC-R-8600).

Post readers: Please feel free to comment with some suggestions for Jamie, especially if you have experience with urban radio listening.

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30 thoughts on “Recommendations for an HF/VHF/UHF station in an apartment or flat

  1. ThaDood

    Well, if you want a multi-band RX’ing antenna on the super cheap, there’s always the Ripped Coax Antenna. It’s where you split and fold back the outer braid of a coax, to be used as the Ground Radial Counter-Poise, and use the Center Conductor, left in the Dielectric Jacket, as the Radiator Element. (a.k.a. you are just making a simple VERT Dipole Antenna.) For upper HF, Lower VHF, VHF Mid, and High, and UHF, the sweet length seems to be about 75cm for both the cut-back Outer Braid and the Center Conductor, or about 30 inches each, if you like standard. Yes… This is a compromise antenna, at the very least, but simple to do yourself, and super cheap. And, you can stow it in the corner of a closet. FM Broadcast and AM Aircraft bands will work best on this antenna, from what I’ve experienced, but you should still get something from below, and well above that, as well. Hope this helps.

    Reply
  2. Ron, ON2RON

    It’s always a problem when living in a city area, so you have to make compromises. You will encounter much man-made noise, specifically on HF. It makes almost no sense to buy a IC-8600, as it will not use its full potential in a hostile city environment. Also, a first class radio will not work optimal without decent antennas even in a rural part of the country.

    I also suffer from a number of noise sources here in suburbia and build my radio setup with this in mind. This made me constructing directional antennas to get rid of the nasty pests. Also, on VHF/UHF some LogPeriodic directive antennas are in use. On HF, I use loops on a ROTOR, but of a high quality like the Wellbrook, NTi or the Heinz Stampfl models to name a few. There is a new tunable active loop in development which can also be benificial in combatting unwanted signals that creep in the bandpass filters which are mostly to wide in present SDR’s.

    I have lots of SDR’s in use, including higher priced models. I dismissed all my SDRplay models except for the RSPduo. The reason for this is that all of them are prone to overload, even if they have bandpass filters on board, like the RSP2 you are using. The RSPduo have a bit better bandpass filter arrangement, but here the diversity reception is key as you can steer away from a local pest when using some suited antennas.

    The Airspy HF+Discovery is a real good and affordable SDR which has a big dynamic range and a low noise level. I can really advise you this one when the budget is low and still having good quality SDR!

    So, it comes down to FIRST getting some decent antennas without making compromises and preferably loops. Stay away from the Chinese MLA-30 as it is a bad performer compared to the established models. See how they do with your RSP2 and after this invest in a better quality SDR. The Elad FDM-S2, Perseus, Winradio and the likes are good choices and will offer you lots of radio enjoyment in the years to come.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  3. VK5014SWL

    I’m in a very similar situation to the OP, here in Adelaide. For your SDR, I would look into using mains earthing from the GPO (Safely of course). I have recently done this myself for my RSP1A. Does clean up the signal a fair bit.

    Reply
  4. Andrew

    Hi Jamie,
    I’m in a similar situation.. 2nd storey apartment in Sydney with limited space/options for antennas. From experience can I tell you what does and doesn’t work. Most modern high-end receivers are extremely sensitive.. if you connect one directly to a wideband amplified loop (like the MLA30) you may get images and mixer products. On HF this sounds like lots of AM broadcast stations all coming in at once and the S-meter goes off the scale. The solution is a high-pass filter which cuts off everything below about 2MHz. Even then you may need to use the rx’s attenuator to reduce the gain. Sometimes with a high-end rig, the internal whip works better than an amplified loop. Conversely, an amplified loop may work better with a cheap (deaf) receiver.
    I think the best solution is a monopole or dipole made resonant and close to the window. Rather than buying an amplified loop, buy an ATU. Make your own antenna from speaker wire with a loaded base (tape the wire to the window and wrap the remaining wire around a ferrite bar, then connect to ATU). Sometimes a short but resonant antenna, away from noise sources (as much as possible) can deliver a better signal-to-noise ratio than an amplified loop in a noisy location. If you experiment, you’ll save money and get better results. Best of luck!

    Reply
  5. Samuel Rhine

    How is the PK Loop? I’m looking at either that or used AN-LP1 on eBay for Sony 7600GR. I narrowed it down to those 2 so just want to know what receives and nulls noise better. Don’t need other recommendation thank you and 72s

    Reply
    1. Rick

      I have a PK loop that I use in my condo near a window, and outside on my balcony, works great! I do recommend using it connected to a 12v battery, not the 9v option. It does come with both 12 and 9 volt connectors however. I have the Sony loop as well and it’s not even comparable IMO to the PK.

      Reply
  6. Brian VK2XBP

    Hi Jamie, I’m in Sydney so I know all too well the interference we all get in urban areas!

    Regarding the Winradio G305e, I absolutely love mine and would never get rid of it, it’s very expensive for an SDR that technologically dated. I hear the Airspy sdrs are much better for a cheaper price.

    Reply
  7. K.U.

    I collected a few links for those interested in QRM elimination by phasing / directional nulling:

    * X-Phase QRM Eliminator has got very positive reviews:
    https://www.eham.net/reviews/view-product?id=13511
    * Noise-reducer by Sture Börvall (SM7CHX) has similar working principle but it is implemented with bipolar transistors instead of FETs:
    https://www.esr.se/phocadownload/oldesr/noise.pdf
    * Tuned ferrite loop antenna with good performance for 3-10MHz. The web page claims good directivity:
    http://www.elektronik-labor.de/HF/LoopAntenne6.html#fe
    As this is a tuned device, I assume it could be further improved by adding a regenerative circuit to it.
    * A loop-whip combination antenna:
    http://www.elexs.de/drm6.htm
    Normally loop antennas have nulls in two opposite directions. However, in this loop whip combo it is possible to adjust the directional pattern by adjusting the whip length. With careful adjustment it should even be possible to unite the two nulls into one. Even though this is a wide-band antenna, I think this idea should work with tuned loops as well.

    Reply
  8. Jerome van der Linden

    Without wanting to poor cold water on the suggestions of others, listening with a receiver in a modern city is trying to achieve the almost impossible. I would suggest using Kiwi SDRs perhaps located in Australia, for your listening. Generally these will let you know what the “ultimate” is, and when you compare these signals with what you can receive yourself, you will know what you’re up against.
    The best suggestion for listening with your own equipment would be to physically move to a small country town, where power is provided underground t o your home, and you have yard space for some external antennas.
    It’s so difficult as to be almost impossible.

    Reply
    1. Andrew (grayhat)

      You gave up 🙂 others didn’t ! Sure listening in an RF dense environment is quite a challenge, but refusing it and giving up is not in the spite of an SWLer, not saying that using a web SDR id a sin, but usually one tries his best with the antenna (and later receiver) system before declaring defeat and totally giving up; SWLing is a thing of patience and a bility to make one step at a time, if one pretends to setup a perfect receiving station… it’s possible, if you live in a far out (rf noise) location and have the money to setup antenna towers and connect them to the best receivers money can buy… but at that point the poor guy sooner or later will realize he missed all the fun … oooh well 🙂

      Reply
  9. TomL

    A number of questions come to mind first. Are you thinking of transmitting as a licensed amateur radio operator or just SWLing? If just listening, this frees up a lot of constraints since you would not have to worry about reflected vs radiated power (SWR matching). For my MW/SW listening-only setup, I have access to a wooden porch outside my living room. On it I created two separate 32 foot magnet wire square loop antennas that are phased through an expensive phase box (you can try an MFJ 1025 as a cheaper option). Each antenna has its own 1:1 balun/RF choke and I have an RF choke (for each antenna) on the receiver side, too.

    Waldo’s advice about putting in RF filter/ferrites is good. Indoor noise is a killer of any useful reception. Putting some ferrites on any incoming antenna leads as well as any AC adapters helps, too. https://swling.com/blog/2021/03/guest-post-indoor-noise-and-ferrites-part1/

    If you do not have an outside porch, then maybe you could use the roof space for one large horizontal loop. Man made noise tends to be polarized vertically, so a horizontal loop should avoid some of the noise. However, a vertical loop can be rotated to avoid noise, but would need to be on a rotator with cable running all the way back to your radio. Besides, who told you that you should not put a wire antenna in the roof space??? Some roof spaces are good, some are not, depending on whether they use a foil type heat shield (bad) or just plain old fiberglass for insulation (good). Main House power is sometimes routed up there (bad). Also, are you the only one who accesses this roof area (good) or can people from other places or the landlord go there too (bad)???

    I would skip getting another receiver for now. The SDRPlay RSP2 device is perfectly fine for experimenting with what wire antennas work for you first (I use one for FM/VHF listening). I use an Airspy HF+ for MW/SW listening.

    I would not try any type of amplified antenna right now, loop or not. The two you mentioned both depend heavily on the included amplifier and would just amplify indoor noise. Even mounted outside on a porch, they would still amplify your own and neighbor noise. Try large, unamplified wires first, a horizontal loop being the first one I would personally try. I suppose you could just buy/make a good 1:1 balun and some *CHEAP* audio speaker wire from a hardware store. My article on this is for a vertical loop but you would just turn it sideways. You might be able to tape it to the ceiling of the back room for experimenting – https://swling.com/blog/2021/01/build-an-affordable-but-stealthy-magnet-wire-vertical-loop-antenna-to-mitigate-condo-qrm/

    For FM/VHF, you could get the YouLoop antenna direct from AirSpy (don’t buy the cheaper chinese “youloop” clones!!!). The SDRPlay RSP2 is perfect since it has two separate antenna inputs. The antenna can be used in a VHF configuration for easy directionality; you basically turn it upside-down and squish it – https://airspy.com/youloop/

    Let us all know how it goes.

    Reply
  10. Andrew (grayhat)

    Hi Jiamie

    Let me start by saying that the best antenna is the one placed high and away and that even the best receiver in this world won’t serve you well if you don’t give it a good antenna system.

    So, my first suggestion is that since you already have a good SDR (RSP2), instead of going for an IC-R8600 which is quite an investment, start by investing into a good antenna system, that will allow your existing receivers to work much better and the investment will be much smaller

    Now, as I wrote at the beginning, while there are antennas which may serve you decently well even inside an apartment, you should keep in mind that such antennas are a compromise and that, since they sit inside the “noise cloud” present in many/most house, you can’t expect such antennas to pick up weak signals since those will often be lost in the noise floor

    What misses from your request are some more detailed indications about the room you have for (and the possibility of) putting out an antenna, that is, if you have a balcony or if you can put some kind of support outside a window (I’m excluding the roof since you wrote it isn’t an option) or even if, since you referred to an endfed wire, you can strung an antenna between (say) a window and an external tree/pole/support, such informations would be fundamental to try envisioning the types of antennas you may set up

    Thomas named the MLA-30+ now, that’s a pretty cost-effective antenna, since with some rather simple modifications, it may be turned into a decent antenna (at least from MW up to around 20MHz), not a WellBrook, LZ1AQ or a Bonito, those are in a different category (and price range), yet with a bit of modification the cheap MLA-30+ could serve you well, the point is… can you go through some (simple) soldering and wiring ? If not, then skip the MLA and go for (e.g.) a Bonito Megaloop FX https://www.bonito.net/hamradio/en/mega-loop-fx/ which will serve you from 9KHz up to 180MHz

    But before going any route, ensure you can find a way to put the antenna outside your window (or on a balcony) since that will make a LOT of difference, also ensure to add as many (and good) chokes you can to your coax feedline, that will help lowering the noise and improving the receiving system performance

    Another cheap alternative may be picking the following components

    https://www.nooelec.com/store/balun-one-nine-v2-barebones.html

    https://www.nooelec.com/store/flamingo-fm.html

    https://www.nooelec.com/store/lana-hf-barebones.html

    and building your own loop, in such a case you’ll have the loop connected to the balun, the output of the balun will go to the FM filter and from there to the preamplifier, all the bits will be enclosed in a waterproof box, and the preamp will be powered over the coax using the bias-t offered by the RSP2, the FM filter is used to cutoff the FM band and avoid that strong local FM signals may overload the preamp and/or the SDR frontend, in this case, if you want a “stealth” antenna, the loop may be built using some insulated wire running around the OUTSIDE of a window (not optimal, but a best-effort and stealth :D), from there a good coax with some chokes will get the signal inside to the receiver

    As you can see, you have several options, but picking the one which better fits your location depends from the kind of outside space and limitations you have, yet I’ll repeat, before going for some “super receiver”, improve your antenna system as much as you can

    Reply
    1. Andrew (grayhat)

      following up, here’s another idea; start with the following building blocks (that’s what they are

      https://www.nooelec.com/store/balun-one-nine-v2-barebones.html

      https://www.nooelec.com/store/flamingo-fm.html

      https://www.nooelec.com/store/flamingo-am.html

      https://www.nooelec.com/store/lana-hf-barebones.html

      and pick some lenght of sat/tv cable (low loss and cheap) and some connectors/adapters (smabnc will be fine) plus some pigtail cables, add a good number of snap-on ferrite chokes and some electrical wiring boxes (waterproof) to enclose some of the parts and a length of insulated wire

      Enclose the balun in a box carrying a coax connector and a pair of binding posts for the antenna wires

      now use the insulated wire to form a (rectangular) vertical loop outside your window (you may stick the wire corners using whatever is suitable), or willing to make the loop larger, you may place it outside between two windows 🙂

      connect the balun to the loop and the coax to the output of the balun, make three or more loops with the coax near the connection to the balun and snap 4 or more ferrite chokes on them

      wind another choke as the above at the inside end of the coax, connect the coax to the two filters and use a pigtail to connect the output to your receiver

      If you believe that the signal is too weak, you may then turn your passive loop into an active one by connecting the preamp right before the receiver or outside, right after the balun

      Reply
  11. Jamie

    Thanks for your contributions, much appreciated. As far as receivers go, I have now also added the AIrspy HF+ Discovery, plus SpyVerter to the list of receivers to consider. However, I do agree, the antenna(s) will come first, since I already have an SDR. Out of interest, has anyone compared an SDRplay (mine is the RSP2) with the Airspy HF+ Discovery? Was just looking at the AIrspy website, and it looks rather good.

    As for the questions regarding why I would want another receiver, the SDRplay is my first in regards to SDRs, and have had it a few years now, so I guess it’s just a case of wanting to go a step up now.

    Reply
    1. Andrew (grayhat)

      Jamie, before “stepping up” as you say, try squeezing your current SDR performance to its limits, this means refining and improving the antenna system (everything from the antenna to the receiver antenna plug) as much as possible, otherwise you will be just wasting your money

      Reply
  12. Al Pawlowski

    I would skip the extra cost of an xcver, if you will only be SWL’g. Ham xcvr’s are in a change period right now anyway – going to SDR from analog. For SWL’g there are many very good rcvr’s and that only need a long wire connection hanging out your window to work quite well. A very good wide range SDR unit (with PC or with knobs like an analog radio) can be hand for a few hundreds of dollars. If you can put and antenna on the roof, I would go for a wide-band amplified loop, and maybe a tv style rotator. Loops commonly work from 1kHz into the tens of MHz. At 50MHz, or so, you might want some type of directional gain antenna which can be pretty small, lightweight and reasonably inexpensive. A discone would be fine for short range, omnidirectional rx at VHF and UHF.

    Reply
  13. Mangosman

    Jamie,
    Why not use antennas designed and manufactured in Australia http://www.amradioantennas.com/ They are available internationally.
    There are antennas up to 30 MHz

    SDR receivers typically do not have any RF tuned circuits to reduce the possibility of interference from strong sources. A tuned RF amplifier prior to conversion from analog to digital will make a big improvement in problem areas. http://www.amradioantennas.com/hifi_antennas.htm at the bottom.

    If you want FM, and VHF/UHF directional antennas give much better results. A rotator is required to point the antenna at the transmitter. Australian TV antenna manufacturers, make antennas for these bands. Mount separate FM, Band 3 VHF and UHF antennas on the rotator shaft for best results.

    Reply
  14. Mike Agner

    I tried to post earlier but evidently it got lost – I would also ask the original poster why you want another SDR. The last time I looked, WinRadios don’t have the greatest amount of software it can work with – you are pretty much limited to a few applications outside of WinRadio, but there aren’t many. I haven’t heard of much WinRadio software development in the recent past. However the SDRPlays enjoy the ability to use a lot of other apps not limited to a certain app base. Precisely what are you looking to do with a new SDR that you can’t do with the SDRPlay?

    Reply
  15. Mike Agner

    I would avoid the MLA30+ like the plague if you are in an urban area with lots of TV, FM and other RF in the area. As I understand it, the amp for this loop is a wideband video amp. A much better bet than the super expensive AOR loop is the W6LVP Experimenter’s kit, which is available from the link below. Larry has been known to add filters in the amp for FM, TV and other stuff. You can make it as big or as small as you wish…https://www.w6lvp.com/product/w6lvp-magnetic-loop-antenna-experimenters-kit/

    Another option is making yourself a YouLoop. As its passive, and you find that you need a bit more oomph, then the amp kit below would be something to look at. You could even make a small amplified dipole (with short legs – around 3 foot each) out of this. Some relevant links…

    https://swling.com/blog/2020/04/diy-how-to-build-a-noise-cancelling-passive-loop-ncpl-antenna/

    https://swling.com/blog/2020/04/hack-a-broken-vga-cable-to-make-a-binocular-ferrite-cores-for-your-ncpl-antenna/

    https://swling.com/blog/2020/04/more-about-hacking-vga-cables-to-make-binocular-ferrite-cores/

    https://active-antenna.eu/amplifier-kit/

    Finally for VHF and UHF, and to be less visible than that SA7000, try the off center fed dipole – there’s both an outdoor and indoor version shown here…

    https://wiki.radioreference.com/index.php/Homebrewed_Off-Center_Fed_Dipole

    I too wonder why you want another SDR. What are you looking to do with it? Mike

    Reply
  16. Waldo

    Hi Jaime
    As a former Merchant Marine Radio Officer I have worked and experimented with top notch commercial receivers and seagoing quiet environment. Now is the opposite and to be frank is hell. As you I live in a big crowded city, a narrow street corner with an avenue where traffic is 7 x 24. My place is also a second floor. Although I love analogue receivers (I have a Kenwood TS-590SG transceiver) but my main receiver nowadays is a SDRPlay RSP Duo. I have tried quite a few antennas, mostly in the balcony, a 1 metre diameter MW dedicated aluminum loop, a Nti Bonito MegaLoop, a Chameleon CHA Hybrid Mini with both the supplied 30’ of wire and as a vertical with CHA-MIL + CHA Mil Extended. So far the best results were with a 60’ long-wire with a homemade 9:1 balun in the roof of the building. Four random length radials complete de installation with coax to the flat. (Fortunately the roof is non-transitable so I’ve got a special permit to place the antenna) Is done with electric black wire and as inconspicuous as possible. The radials stretch and bend round the corners of the roof, the longest about 40 ft).
    Then the receiver is about 20 ft from the computer so as to avoid as much noise as possible. Then everything is filtered and when I say everything is what I mean. There is no device, socket, transformer without cores. I guess I’ve spent more money in ferrites than with the receiver. Modern light is a killer. Dimmers, tubes, low consumption lamps, led lamps, you name it.
    Is far from good but given the conditions some times I have very good catches. I try sometimes listening very early in the morning, 4 or 5 AM when the city still sleeps, with all my appliances unplugged and alas, there is my tropical band African or South America station a few thousand of miles away.
    Honestly, before spending money en antennas, experiment with simple homebrew. And remember, killing noise begins inside the home first. You’ll be surprised!!!
    Good Luck.
    73
    Waldo

    Reply
  17. Mike S

    I suffer from terrible RFI in my rental. I’ve tried all manner of indoor antennas and receivers, and settled on a loop and an Airspy SDR- the noise level of the Airspy is worlds better than any physical radios I have tried (there are many high-quality communications receivers I can’t afford though so I can’t speak to those). The loop will let you null out local interference, though in my case it’s so overwhelming it only helps a little.

    What did help was getting a wire outside. Is there any way to simply drape a length of wire out of your window? You could then buy a ribbon cable designed to fit securely between the lower window frame and sash- no outlet to the exterior needed. You can reuse your 9:1 balun for this.

    If you choose a wire color that matches the facade paint, perhaps even use removable adhesive to string it neatly straight down, no one might be the wiser.

    Reply
  18. Gustavo

    I would suggest you to check and compare the Icom IC 705. It is a QRP transceiver with great reception capabilities, portable and powered supply with battery. I have one running indoors with a Wellbrook loop antenna by the window, with excellent results.

    Reply
  19. Alexander, DL4NO

    As you have an SDRplay SDR receiver I do not understand your requests about yet another receiver: You already have about all you might need. Only if you wish for a small box with a few knobs near your bed or so you might want to have something simpler/smaller.

    As you can receive you can already experiment with antennas. The biggest problem might be noise. So check out any loop antenna, They are less prone to gather noise from the house. In this blog you will also find many notes about ferrite rings and other usage of “iron” to reduce antenna noise.

    Transmitting antennas have different problems. Their biggest problem is the ratio of transmitter output to radiated power. It is also important in which direction the radiation goes, especially elevation. If you with to talk to OMs around you (up to 1000 km or so), you need to radiate into the sky. The further you wish to go, the more you should try to direct the radiation to the horizon. This means vertical antennas.

    Anything more specific you should try to discuss with local hams. Down under this might not be as easy as it is here in Germany: The next local chapter of our society is never far away. If you have a handheld VHF/UHF transceiver, you might also find partners on the next repeater.

    Reply
  20. Robert Gulley

    Jamie,
    Before spending a lot of money on commercial antennas, you might want to try experimenting with wire antennas for HF such as a zigzag antenna which can be hidden behind an oriental rug hanging on the wall if visual constraints apply.
    Another wire antenna option is a dipole running from the base of the floor up one corner and then spread out at right angles along the ceiling, or depending on the design of the apartment, going through multiple rooms. For securing the wire antennas along the ceiling or at the top of the wall, you might consider getting the removable stick on picture hangers which when removed will not damage the paint.
    Since you are looking primarily at receiving, experiment with different shapes directions and even allowing the ends of the dipole to drop down to increase length.
    This is not to say the antennas you are considering would not be as good, but having multiple options such as the dipole or zigzag antenna as an alternative using an antenna switch, might prove useful. Just a few thoughts in case they help. Cheers!

    Reply

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