Reminder: The SWLing Post has its own little oldschool message board!
The SWLing.com Message Board front page
Here’s a friendly reminder that the SWLing Post has nice little message board to discuss SWLing Post articles, everything radio, ask for advice on all things radio or share logs, experiences and thoughts! It’s online since almost a year now, but so far there wasn’t much traffic on the board except for the time when the SULA antenna was born on that board. 🙂
The idea for this message board came out of necessity: Thomas got swamped with emails asking questions of all sorts, and replying to them all became a very time-consuming chore because – you know what kind of guy Thomas is – he’s trying to answer all of them. The message board is an easy (and probably faster) way to get the information you need, if Google doesn’t cut it!
Also, the comment section below each post is good for comments but not for discussions: You can’t quote key sentences or post pictures and comment threads are limited to n comments before the layout breaks apart and you can’t reply anymore. If there are many reactions to a post, creating a new thread in the SWLing.com message board and posting the link to it in the comment sections here is a much better way to continue an in-depth discussion on articles posted here on the SWLing Post!
High Noon: Belka MW shootout part 2, with a review of the AFA200C active MW ferrite antenna
When I reviewed the updated Belka (gen3, 2022) for its MW/LW performance in October last year, I just wanted to know if it’s any good with just the whip antenna and used the XHDATA D-808 as a reference radio because it’s a Jay Allen 2.5-star average performer on MW and my expectations were not high for MW reception on a short whip. To my surprise that average bar turned out way too low for the Belka!
That was sure asking for a comparison with the most sensitive MW radio I have and gave me hope to use the Belka for ultra-portable MW DXing on the move. The omnidirectional whip doesn’t allow me to null out unwanted co-channel interference though, therefore I wanted to find a reasonably sized loopstick antenna to pair with the Belka. Continue reading →
AM bandwidth confusion: IF Filters today vs. yesterday
Whether or not a radio is a joy to listen to, or apt for difficult DX is decided to a large part by the last IF filter stage. Most radios of the past didn’t come with many IF filters to begin with, their quality varied a lot and harsh compromises had to be made in multi-purpose radios. With the advent of digital filtering and inexpensive DSP portables, we got spoiled by a rich choice of selectivity settings that came with an idiosyncrasy I had to wrap my head around first, namely a shift in how some (digital) filters are labeled now.
Grazing the rich pastures of the interwebz I just stumbled upon this short documentary made by students of the School of Visual and Media Arts program at the University of Montana. It aired on Montana PBS in November 2022 and was uploaded to YouTube 2 weeks ago.
I like the modern style of this work, letting the images and the people in them speak for themselves, and radiate their fascination with the hobby. Enjoy!
Get it while you still can: The Luxemburg-Gorky effect
The Radio Luxembourg longwave transmitter Junglinster in the 1930s [RTL Group]
“In radiophysics, the Luxemburg-Gorky effect (named after Radio Luxemburg and the city of Gorky (Nizhny Novgorod)) is a phenomenon of cross modulation between two radio waves, one of which is strong, passing through the same part of a medium, especially a conductive region of atmosphere or a plasma.” (Wikipedia)
That sounds pretty abstract, right? In my own words, imagine your radio is tuned to a station on let’s say 162 kHz, 500 miles away. Somewhere in the middle between your receiver and the 162 kHz transmitter is a station transmitting on a different frequency, let’s say 234 kHz. The Luxemburg effect is that you can hear the modulation of the 234 kHz transmitter in the middle, on the 162kHz station you are receiving. The effect is not depending that much on the frequency/wavelength though, the longwave station could affect medium wave stations and it has been created using shortwave frequencies far apart.
It was observed first in 1932, when listeners of the Swiss Beromünster 60kW medium wave station built just one year prior also heard a bit of Radio Luxemburg’s longwave transmitter (250kHz) on the Beromünster frequency (653kHz until 1934). Of course this was assumed to be some kind of crosstalk within the receivers and probably drove radio engineers insane until 1933, when Bernhard D.H. Tellegen, a Dutch electrical engineer and inventor suggested the true origin of the effect: The new (1932) 150kW Radio Luxemburg longwave transmitter in Junglinster was directly modifying the ionosphere hundreds of kilometers above, it “heated” the ionosphere in a way that it made the plasma’s charge and reflectivity follow the amplitude modulation of Radio Luxemburg, thus modulating waves of other wavelengths crossing this part of the ionosphere.
Even if you’re living in Europe, you may never have witnessed that effect and according to this article by Paul Litwinovich, chances to observe this in the US are rather slim, due to the relatively low power of the stations. I’m in Europe but never noticed it either – until recently: Continue reading →
The new 2022 “Belka” (generation 3) general coverage receiver
Since its introduction in 2019, the super-tiny Belka (back then called “Belka DSP”) shortwave receiver sure gained an enthusiastic followership among SWLs and hams. The main reason for this is certainly the way how the Belka is incredibly small yet playing in a different league than the various consumer grade, Chinese mass-production radios, particularly the DSP-based ultraportables: The Belka is an all-mode shortwave communications receiver with a completely different (direct conversion SDR) architecture, developed and produced by a radio enthusiast (Alex, EU1ME) in a small mom&pop shop in Belarus.
In case you’ve never heard about it amidst all the buzz about more popular brands, here’s the skinny:
The Belka offers true allmode (including NFM and CW) reception with a proper 400 Hz CW filter and individual settings for the low and high filter slopes for AM, FM and SSB. It has an AM sync detector and comes with a 0.5ppm TCXO-controlled local oscillator for absolutely spot-on, calibration-free frequency precision and stability, which makes SSB or ECSS reception of broadcast stations a pure joy. The second iteration “Belka DX” brought a slightly extended coverage down to 1.5 MHz and an I/Q output for panadapter display and/or processing via your favorite SDR software.
All Belkas are quiet and very sensitive radios with a surprisingly robust front end, the filters are better and its AGC works like you’d expect it from a communications receiver, without the artifacts and distortion the DSP radios are infamous for, and of course smooth, non-“muting” tuning in variable steps down to 10Hz.
The Belkas have no built-in speaker (available as option tho) but really excellent audio on headphones and external speakers and they actually give my Icom IC-705 a run for its money in terms of reception quality, and they do that for up to 24 hours on a single charge of the internal Li-Ion battery. This stunning feature set is crowned by the best performance on a telescopic whip antenna ever – the Belkas have a high-impedance (>10 kOhm) antenna input optimized for this whip and taking it on a walk is (really!) like having a big rig with a big antenna in tow…
Despite all this goodness setting the Belka(s) quite fundamentally apart from most (if not all) current and former, even much higher priced portables and simultaneously putting it solidly into pricey tabletop territory, it hasn’t put Tecsun et al out of business for a couple of reasons: One reason is that it can only be obtained from Alex in Belarus, which is now often assumed to be impossible (it isn’t, more on that later). Another reason is that it doesn’t try to compete with aforementioned multiband radios from China, so there is no FM broadcast band and – until now – no AM BC band, but most owners and potential buyers particularly in the US really wished it had at least the latter. Well, Alex obviously heard us! After the Belka DSP and the Belka DX, the new Belka is just called “Belka”, so in order to avoid any ambiguity I’m going to refer to this model as “Belka 2022”.
The most prominent addition to the Belka 2022 is the extended 0.1-31 MHz coverage, the previous version only started receiving at 1.5 MHz. With LW and MW included, its “pseudosynchronous” detector (as featured in venerable radios from Harris, Racal or Drake), the great filtering and the great frequency precision for hassle-free ECSS reception are promising that the “squirrel” is now an ultra-ultraportable companion for MW DXers as well.
This wideband unidirectional antenna is an outstanding and innovative development for the portable DXer. I love the fact that it came to fruition via a collaboration between Grayhat and 13dka: two amazing gents and radio ambassadors on our SWLing.net discussion board and here on the SWLing Post. So many thanks to both of them!
Please enjoy and share Part 3:
Part 3: SULA Q&A
Q: Where can I ask questions, discuss all aspects of the the SULA or collaborate in its further development?
Q: Since the antenna is “lossy”, what’s the point of having a “beam”?
A: The answer is once again “SNR”: First off, remember that the LNA is there to make up for most of the losses. Secondly, this is all about the noise pickup, 20dB less gain/more losses outside the main lobe means also a reduction of atmospheric/cosmic/whatnot QRN and of course everything manmade from all these sides. The wide horizontal lobe is more or less one hemisphere horizontally, but the flat-ish vertical pattern makes that only a slice of it. In other words, there will be less QRN and QRM pickup from the back and the top. The idea is that the SNR will ideally increase more than the preamp’s noise figure will cost and it often sounds like this is what actually happens. Of course it’s also nice that you can turn an unwanted signal down using the more or less pronounced notch in the backside pattern up to 21 MHz – also very helpful for direction finding.
Q: Do I need a rotor?
A: It depends. If you are one of the lucky few still having a low-QRM-environment at home and you want to put it in the backyard, you really may want to be able to turn it remotely. If you’re using it portable you can simply rotate the mast manually. If you have local QRM or can’t mount it very far away from your or other houses, you may want to rotate the back of the antenna towards that source, leave it at that position forever and enjoy what’s coming in on the pretty wide main lobe of the antenna. The horizontal lobe covers more or less half of the horizon, depending on your stations of interest and location you could get away with never turning the antenna at all.
Q: Is it better than the XYZ loop?
A: Hey, that’s exactly what I wanted to ask you! 🙂 Even though the SULA is very similar in appearance and performance to a good SML working in ideal (ground conductivity) conditions, the SULA is a pretty different animal with a different behavior: Regular small loops, besides being bidirectional, can lose quite a bit of their low angle sensitivity over “poor” ground while the SULA is supposed to be retaining its properties better over any type of ground. Also, while many SMLs are tuned for VLF through the lower portion of the shortwave, the SULA complements those with quite uniform (good) properties up to 30 MHz and beyond.
Q: I have an end-fed random wire or dipole strung up from the house to a tree etc. – can the SULA beat that?
A: That’s quite possible. To get low takeoff angles from horizontal wire antennas you need to string them up at least 1/2 wavelength high, that’s 20m/66ft on 40/41m, 10m/33ft on 20m and so on. If you can’t do that, the SULA may be your ticket to listen farther beyond the horizon. Also, wire antennas are often strung up to match space restrictions or avoid QRM vectors and that way you may end up with some directionality in directions you don’t want, or no directionality at all when the wire is too low. Another noteworthy point is the ground: For most horizontal antennas, better ground means a considerable higher takeoff angle so the dipole needs even more height for low angles. The SULA’s takeoff angle benefits a little from the better ground and only gets a little worse over poor ground.
Q: Do I really need an LNA?
A: I hope so? Of course it depends… if you are going to try this antenna in a very noisy environment, the LNA may have little to no benefit. The noise is limiting your “radio horizon” to very loud signals anyway and for those you may not need an LNA, ever. On the other hand, the antenna is very lossy and in a quiet environment where noise is not an issue at all, weak signals may drop below the sensitivity threshold of your receiver without the LNA. The less noise you have, the more you’ll be able to benefit from an LNA. You will also need one when your radio isn’t all that sensitive, similar to the requirements to run a YouLoop. Andrew kept the loop impedance as constant as possible in order to allow any low impedance coax preamp to work behind the Balun. Any LNA with 20dB of gain should do, as per usual, better stuff may bring better results.
Among the sparse offers for decent shortwave LNAs, the NooElec LANA HF seems to be the only decent LNA sold via Amazon. It’s comparatively low-cost and unlike the other offers on Amazon, ready to be powered via Bias-T or even via Micro-USB and therefore happy with 5V. Since I also had the balun from the same company I could simply connect that all with a couple of these cute little SMA plumbing bits and it worked. The downside is its unknown but perceivably low resilience against intermodulation (low 3rd-order intercept point), this is usually not a problem with such a small loop but it can be in the presence of nearby transmitters.
If you do have nearby transmitters and don’t mind sourcing an LNA from Europe, Andrew recently pointed me to preamps from here. They offer a moderately priced preamp with a 2N5109 transistor (based on the W7IUV design) for a high IP3 value and low noise, which is also available in PCB-only and fully assembled versions including a compartment. They also offer Bias-T boxes.
Q: What is special/different about this antenna? There are already very similar designs!
A: It’s supposed to be simpler and more compact/portable, and it seems to deliver more consistent results over the entire coverage range in different usage environments than similar designs. The SULA was designed to be made with things that are particularly easy to obtain, or which were already obtained — many of us SWLs have some of that Nooelec stuff in our drawer anyway, even when (or because) we’re not habitual antenna builders and balun winders. Now making a better balun and buying a better preamp is not hard and could even bring better results but the point is that you don’t have to. In summary, this is not meant to be a miracle antenna, just number of compromises re-arranged to create a particularly uncomplicated, small, unidirectional loop antenna that aims for DX, for apartment dwellers and DX nomads like me.
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