I just received a message from Chameleon Antenna who is a proud sponsor of the SWLing Post.
They’ve added an SWLing Post affiliate code to all of their CHA-RXL Pro orders. If you’ve decided to purchase a CHA-RXL Pro, by adding the code QRP5 at the checkout page, Chameleon will give the SWLing Post a 5% commission at no extra cost to you.
For 80 years, a class of antenna called electrically small antennas has been stymied by a seemingly insurmountable barrier. These antennas, which can receive signals with wavelengths that are much longer than the antennas themselves, are seemingly stuck with designs in which there is a trade-off between high bandwidth and efficiency.
Now, a new program by the U.S. Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Activity (IARPA) agency seeks ways to finally circumvent or overcome these historical limitations for electrically small antennas. Over the next four years, the research teams participating in the Effective Quantitative Antenna Limits for Performance (EQuAL-P) program will work through three phases of progressively more ambitious benchmarks in order to prove their ideas can work.
The simplest form of antenna is a dipole antenna, which is essentially just two pieces of wire placed end to end with a feed point in the middle. The length of this antenna is typically half the wavelength of the signal that is being received or transmitted, so a shortwave radio dipole working in the 20-meter band would be 10 meters long. An “electrically small” antenna is one that is significantly shorter than the wavelength of the signals it is designed for. These antennas typically take the form of small loops or patches.
The benefit of electrically small antennas is clear—as the name implies, they confer an advantage when space is at a premium. Satellites, for example, can use them to reduce mass and free up more space for other components.
But the trade-off with electrically small antennas is that as they get shorter, their bandwidth and radiation efficiency also shrink, eventually hitting something named the Chu-Harrington limit. This has meant that although such antennas have been in use for decades, they remain difficult to design and limited in their applicability. Historically, any attempts to widen the usable bandwidth have decreased these antennas’ radiation efficiency even more, and vice versa. This is the problem the EQuAL-P program is aimed at.
“Because it’s an 80-year problem, we want to give them a little more time to come up with solutions,” says Paul Kolb, the program manager for EQuAL-P. The eight teams participating will work through three increasingly ambitious phases during the next four years to prove their ideas can pass muster.
At the end of 18 months, Kolb says, he hopes to see that the teams have made meaningful progress toward the ultimate goal of a 10-decibel gain in antenna performance in the HF and ultrahigh frequency (UHF) bands. But because of the difficulty of the challenge, teams won’t be required to produce a working demonstration of their technology at that point. [Continue reading full article at the IEEE spectrum…]
I’m Giuseppe Morlè from Formia, central Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
This time I want to show you 2 QRP connections made with minimal antenna over long distance and very few watts of power…
The antenna is a simple dipole, 5 meters per arm, 1/4 wave for 20 meters, on a bnc / banana socket directly on the Icom 705. You’ll see that the ROS is really optimal.
I wanted to experience this very simple antenna, easy to prepare in this location surrounded by greenery, Monte Orlando Park in Gaeta on my favorite DX bench;
this location is at 120 meters above sea level and facing south / west following the long path. A suitable place for the extreme right made especially for a receiver like the Icom 705– fantastic modulation and without any kind of noise.
In the first video the contact with VK2GJC, Greg from Australia who struggles a little to listen to me but immediately understands my name. As you can hear Greg’s voice is without any imperfection even if his signal is not that high:
In the second video, another link with Australia, VK5AVB, Tony from Kangaroo Island.
Tony had a hard time understanding my name but with the help of Nicola, IU5EYV from Tuscany, in pure Ham Spirit, he finally managed to log me:
As you can see, even with very minimal antennas hoisted on nearby trees, not even high from the ground, you can listen and contact over long distances … that’s why I love this place so much!
Thanks to you all, a cordial greeting from Italy.
Many thanks, once again, Giuseppe for showing us just how much fun we can have by building our own antennas and hopping on the air with very little power. I must say: you certainly play radio in a beautiful part of the world! Thank you!
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:
Photo by Chameleon
The Chameleon CHA-RXL Pro: Improved Amp Board Raises the Game
by Dan Robinson
Back in 2021 I reviewed the CHA-RXL loop by Chameleon. This loop antenna is sold by major retailers such as DX Engineering, Gigaparts and Chameleon itself – the company is a well-known name in antennas and other equipment for the amateur radio world.
I compared the CHA-RXL to Wellbrook 1530 and W6LVP loops feeding into a four-position Delta antenna switcher, and then to a Raven 16 port multicoupler which maintains good steady gain.
My Wellbrook is mounted on a telescopic mast about 15 feet above ground level, with a rotor. The W6LVP (using LMR400 coax) is tripod-mounted with an overall height from ground of about 12 feet. It has special filters to prevent strong medium wave signals from bleeding into HF.
I have since added a UK-made loop (essentially a copy of a Wellbrook loop but smaller diameter and made of metal) combined with a W6LVP amp. This W6 amp does not have filtering to block strong mediumwave signals. In all, I have four loops into my Delta switcher, which feeds about two dozen receivers.
There is by the way quite robust discussion at https://groups.io/g/loopantennas about various loops, including the Chameleon. And this past July, Steve Ratzlaff posted news about the upgraded loop amp board which will ship with what is now the CHA RXL Pro, saying:
“Chameleon has completely redone their CHA RXL loop amp board from the previous poor-performing loop amp that I tested some time back, and sent me one of the new production boards to test. I’m happy to say it tests very well especially for LF sensitivity, and I can now give it my “seal of approval”. The new board is a version of the LZ1AQ loop amp.”
Photo by Chameleon
It turns out, according to an email from Don Sherman of Chameleon, that Steve is one of the engineers who helped design the new amp board for the CHA RXL Pro, and on the Loop Antenna group he provides a folder in which he placed previous test results with “new files of the new board (sweep of the new RXL Pro loop amp, and a picture of the new amp PCB).”
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.
Another alternative would be https://www.sv1afn.com/en/product-category-5/-6.html – the design (using a GALI-84 MMIC) is promising more headroom than the LANA HF (which seems to use the lower voltage GALI-39), but needs 12V power like the W7UV preamp above. This LNA is available in a ready-to-use box as well.
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.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, for the following guest post:
Matt’s 2022 Portable Loop Antenna Shootout
by Matt Blaze, WB2SRI
Followers of this blog may be familiar with my “shortwave radio shootouts” that I post from time to time. The idea is to compare how well different radios demodulate the exact same signal. Basically, I take a bunch of radios, hook them up to the same antenna via an RF distribution amplifier, tune the radios to some distant signal, and record the audio output from them simultaneously. Sometimes that kind of comparison can be more revealing of actual real-world performance than lab measurements or technical specifications.
The other day, I decided to do the same thing, but for antennas instead of radios. Essentially, I inverted the setup. Instead of hooking up different radios to the same antenna, I hooked up identical radios to different portable antennas and recorded them demodulating the same signals at the same time.
In this first of perhaps a series of these antenna shootouts, I wanted to compare three portable amplified magnetic loop antennas. When I say “portable” here, I mean broadband antennas that can pack reasonable compactly for travel and that can be set up and broken down easily for use “on location”, say on a picnic table or hotel balcony, or perhaps installed temporarily on a roof, without too much fuss.
The antennas are:
– TheWellbrook FLX1530LN with a 1 meter diameter loop of LMR400 coax. This is my “standard” portable antenna (I use a telescoping broom handle for the support; I wrote about it here as the “signal sweeper” last year). Excellent performance, but on the bulky side for travel. Performs well from LW through HF. Not cheap, at about USD 225 including shipping for the amplifier and power injector, but not including the loop, mounting hardware, or feedline.
– The Wellbrook FLX1530LN with a 0.5 meter diameter loop of RG142 (a stiff “aircraft grade” version of RG58 that holds it shape well at this size). I used some 1/2 inch PVC pipe as the vertical support. Because of the smaller diameter loop and thinner coax, it packs down to a much smaller and lighter package than the 1 meter LMR400 version.
– The K-180WLA, an inexpensive (about USD 60) 0.5 meter loop from China, sold on eBay and Amazon. The loop is steel wire (which can be wound down to a small diameter for transport), and the kit includes everything you need, including a rechargeable power injector. (However, the power injector uses a noisy voltage booster, so I substituted my own bias-T injector for these experiments). Ostensibly covers LW through VHF, but the low end coverage is, shall we say, somewhat aspirational, as you will see.
– I also recorded, for comparison, the built-in ferrite bar (for LW/MW) and whip antenna (for HF) of the receiver.
This is, of course, only a small sampling of portable loop antennas, both commercial and homebrew. But I wanted to start with what I had on hand and with what meets my own needs. (I omitted from consideration loops that require tuning, since I want to be able to install the antenna without needing access to it every time I change frequency).
For each signal captured, I oriented and positioned each antennas to maximize signal quality, taking care to move them away from each other and interfering metal objects. So you’re hearing (approximately) the best each antenna had to offer (on my roof under suboptimal band conditions).
The receivers I used were four Sangean ATS-909×2 portable LW/MW/SW/FM/Air radios. I believe this to be the best currently available (relatively inexpensive) portable shortwave receiver on the market. It has excellent performance (and is admirably resistant to overload and intermod when used with an active antenna). It lacks a sync mode, but that’s rarely implemented well on portable radios anyway. As a practical matter, it has a good line-level output jack, and I already happened to own four of them.
As in my other shootouts, for each signal, there are a total of five recordings: a monoaural recording of the audio from each of the four antennas, plus a narrated stereo recording comparing a reference (the 1M Wellbrook) on the Left channel with each of the other antennas in succession on the Right channel. The stereo recording is intended as a quick overview, but it will only make sense if you listen in stereo, preferably with good headphones. (You can switch the earcups to get a quick comparison as you listen.)