It was a reader, Mario Filippi, who set me on this path. He posted a comment that said, in part: “An interesting place to DX would be the segment between 1500 – 1590 kc’s where there are a number of news stations, one being federal news on 1500.”
Huh, I thought, federal news? I wonder if I can hear that. So I hooked up the MFJ 1886 Receive Loop Antenna to my Grundig Satellit 800 receiver and tuned to 1500. With the 800’s whip antenna, I heard mostly static; switching to the 50-foot indoor room loop, pretty much the same; same thing with the 1886 with the amplifier turned off. But turn the 1886’s amplifier on, and it was like getting slammed against the wall by the schoolyard bully: LISTEN TO ME! A big, fat, S9 signal, sounding like WGY 810 just a few miles from me. Wow, I thought, this loop can really pull out a signal.
A little research revealed, as nearly as I can tell, that Federal News 1500 is in Washington, DC, over 300 miles from me. Over the next few days I would occasionally check on Federal News 1500 using the 1886 loop, and typically it was loud and clear here in Troy, NY.
Hidden behind a curtain, the 3-foot aluminum loop of the MFJ 1886 works well for MW DXing.
Early this morning, Jan. 28, 2023, a thought crept into my brain: how many big, fat, MW signals could I detect with the combo of the Satellite 800 and the MFJ 1886 loop antenna? (Bear in mind that my 1886 rests flat against a window and is NOT rotatable in its current configuration.) Here’s the log, with station IDs when I could get them.
1100Z 1520 WWKB Buffalo
1102Z 1530 Milwaukee? Sports, Australian open
1106Z 1540 CHIN Toronto, old time radio programs
1112Z 1560 religious music
1115Z 1660 orchestral music, Strauss waltzes
1118Z 540 middle eastern music
1121Z 660 WFAN, NYC
1124Z 700 WLW, Cincinnati
1127Z 710 WOR, the Voice of New York
1129Z 730 French language, Canada mentioned
1132Z 750 WSB, Atlanta
1134Z 770 WABC, NYC
1135Z 790 ortho doctor show
1138Z 860 French language, Canada mentioned
1140Z 880 WCBS, NYC
1142Z 1010 WINS, NYC
1144Z 1020 Talk
1146Z 1030 WBZ, Boston
1148Z 1050 WEPN, ESPN radio, New York
1149Z 1060 KYW, Philadelphia, PA
1153Z 1090 WBAL, Baltimore
1154Z 1110 WBT Charlotte, NC
Bottom line: it was immense fun, tuning around for “fat” MW stations in the early AM. Periodically I checked the other antennas as I traversed the band, but universally the MFJ 1886 was better at pulling them in.
Hang out any place online where shortwave listeners gather, and you won’t have to wait long before you hear something like this: “I recently moved to a condo, apartment, or house where there is a home-owners association. Listening conditions are pretty rotten, and I cannot string up outdoor antennas because of physical constraints or HOA rules . . . help!”
Ever since I got back into SWLing nearly two years ago, I have faced similar issues, as I explained here. During that time, I have frequently read that amplified small loop antennas work pretty darn well, and that has piqued my curiosity.
A couple of days ago, the good folks at MFJ (an SWLing.com sponsor) sent me their MFJ-1886 receiving loop antenna. Weighing just 2.5 pounds, the 1886 is a 36-inch-diameter loop of aircraft-grade with an amplifier attached in a weatherproof enclosure. Designed for receiving only, it covers .5 to 30 MHz.
The fit and finish of the 1886 is, in my opinion, great. Looking at the seamless loop and the molded enclosure for the amplifier, I have no reason to doubt what MFJ has to say about it: the MFJ-1886 is weather-sealed, very ruggedly constructed, and mechanically stable under all weather conditions. In fact, you can mount it permanently on any inexpensive TV rotor and direct it from the comfort of your shack . . . it also installs easily on a tripod or handheld mast for portable use.
From MFJ’s manual for the 1886 loop.
Important: the 1886 loop is a directional antenna. If you are looking through the open area in the middle of the loop (the flat side, if you will), you are looking in the direction in which the antenna tends to null out signals . . . in both directions. If you are sighting along the edge of the loop (at right angles to the flat side), that is the direction in which the antenna produces the most gain. As a result, you will get the most utility out of the 1886 if you can mount it in such a way that you can rotate it to maximize gain and/or null out noise or interfering signals as needed.
Since my mission was to test the 1886 indoors, I wrapped some parachute cord around the loop and hung it from a screw attached to the top of a window frame. Obviously, I am not getting the most from the 1886 by keeping it in a fixed position (in fact, I was getting maximum gain to the northeast and the southwest), but I did experiment with the antenna hanging from the ceiling so that it could rotate, and I did, indeed, find that signal strength rose and fell as the antenna changed position.
To see how the 1886 performed, I used my Grundig Satellit 800 as a test bed. The Satellit 800 has three different antenna inputs: a wire input, to which I attached the 50-foot horizontal room loop (an indoor antenna which runs around the perimeter of my radio room at about seven feet in the air); a coax input, to which I attached the MFJ 1886 loop, and the four-foot whip antenna that is built into the Satellit 800. By reaching around the back of the radio and sliding the antenna selection switch, I could easily change from one antenna to another and compare the 1886 loop with the whip and the horizontal room loop at various frequencies and settings.
Setting up the 1886 loop is super easy. First, attach a length of coax to bottom of the amplifier box. (The 1886 uses SO-239 connectors.) Attach that coax to the top of the Bias Tee. The Bias Tee supplies power to the amplifier mounted on the loop using the coax and without introducing noise. Run another piece of coax from the bottom of the Bias Tee to the receiver, and, finally, plug the power supply into the Bias Tee and the house power where you are using the antenna.
Operating the 1886 is even easier. To hear the signal from the loop without amplification, leave the Bias Tee switch in the OFF position. To hear the signal with amplification, just slide the switch to the ON position. That’s all there is to it. There are no fussy adjustments to make.
So how did the 1886 loop perform? Very well, thank you. In all cases, it clearly outperformed the Satellit 800’s whip antenna, providing more signal with less noise. When pitted against the 50-foot horizontal room loop wire antenna, the 1886 typically delivered more signal and less noise. In a few instances, the horizontal room loop was equal to the 1886 loop in terms of signal strength and low noise. In no cases, did the horizontal room loop outperform the 1886 loop.
Tuning around a bit, I found myself listening to a ham from Spain working DX on the 15 meter band. A little further up the band, a ham from central Bulgaria was dealing with a pile-up of U.S. hams trying to reach him. Of the three antennas options I had on the Satellit 800, the 1886 loop offered the most pleasant listening with more signal, less noise.
Then I tried the 1886 with a couple of my portable shortwave receivers. The Bulgarian ham was still on the air and was marginal on one portable and not hearable at all on the other on their native whip antennas. With the 1886 loop connected, however, the Bulgarian was clear and easy to hear. And – thanks to a ham friend who whipped up an additional coax “jumper” with amazing speed – I tried the 1886 loop with the MFJ 1045C active preselector and found the two made a very potent combo for pulling signals out of the mud.
So, would I recommend the MFJ 1886 Receiving Loop for a would-be HF listener who lives in a condo, apartment, or house with antenna woes? Absolutely . . . even if you have to hang it flat in front of a window. And if you can find a way to mount it so that it can be rotated, even better. (Someday, I hope to try the 1886 outside mounted on an inexpensive TV rotator. For now, there simply isn’t room in my cramped radio space.)
Of course, the performance at your location will depend on the conditions where you live. Nevertheless, I found the MFJ 1886 Receiving Loop to be easy to set up, easy to use, and effective.
Suggestions for MFJ: offer a kit or accessory that would be make it easy to set the 1886 on a desk or table. Likewise a kit or accessory that would facilitate using the 1886 on a camera tripod seems like a good idea.
Additional note:The SWLing forum is a great place for discussing all things related to shortwave listening.
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).”
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.)
This is Giuseppe Morlè, IZ0GZW, from Formia, central Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea.
I went back to listening with my Kenwood R1000 and indoor homemade cross loops …this time a station in Kuwait, 9k2yd Younes on general call.
I used the 2 loops together and in the last part only the one in the East / West direction and I did not notice any changes. Very strong signals and good evening propagation at 18.00 utc today, 04 June 2022.
Note the absence of electrical noise; the S Meter remains at zero in the absence of modulation and signal.
I am always amazed at my indoor cross loops for the reception quality and they have become the main antenna of my Kenwood R1000.
Giuseppe I hope you enjoy the video
Greeting to all of you from central Italy.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who shares the following:
Dear Thomas and all friends of SWLing Post,
I’m Giuseppe Morlè iz0gzw from central Italy on the Tyrrhenian Sea, Formia.
A few days ago at a fair for radio amateurs in Latina, I bought an excellent very large variable capacitor–those of ancient military radios–and I found a splendid antique knob with a fantastic gear ratio.
I called this VariabilOne and it consists of two sections of 250pf each. It’s very portable and can be applied to any loop with crocodile clips.
I built another cross loop made up of 2 turns the internal loop, 35 cm. and only one turn for the external loop, 40 cm.
I can tune frequencies from 3.500 to 20.0 MHz. The crossed loop is strongly directive given the two loops that work together being joined on their ends.
I have made some demonstration videos and it is a pleasure for me to share them for our entire community (see below).
Thanks to you and I wish you all the best for you and your family. Greetings to all. 73. Giuseppe iz0gzw.
Giuseppe, thank you once again for sharing your brilliant homemade antenna projects with us. I absolutely love that monster variable cap and tuning whee! What a thing of beauty–and obviously your loop is very effective.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Joshuah, who writes:
I recently dedicated some funding to rebuilding my shortwave listening station.
I had paid attention to new amplifiers and became aware of some review data by an engineer at SDRPlay comparing amplifier performance that suggests the Cross Country Wireless amplifier, at a cost of only 80 dollars, had become a competitive design offering performance comparable to amplifiers costing 10 times that much.
I was hooked by the specific demonstrations showing that the LAA++ offered IMD characteristics more similar to a Wellbrook, with gain more similar to other high amplification designs. I had to have one.
I set up my station with the following components:
A used Icron Ranger 2304 USB over ethernet extender off eBay
A used Airspy Discovery off eBay
A Cross Country Wireless receiver protector(or similar ferrite + gas discharge diode isolator)
A custom ordered LAA++ amplifier from Cross Country Wireless built for 75 ohm with F connectors and a low pass filter at 14MHz
A power inserter from an W6LVP that wasn’t cutting the mustard
A pair of classic, solid transforming power adapter bricks
An unshielded ethernet cable
Some Fair-Rite ferrite snap ons with multiple turns
I obtained a weatherproof enclosure and some pex tubing and specialty cable glands and built an antenna housing. Inside the enclosure I mounted the amplifier, adding a large gauge copper wire for the antenna element, and used an affordable tri-shield RG11 with specialty connectors as the feedline for the antenna.
The antenna measures approximately a 2 meter diameter, and is mounted about 5 feet off the ground at the base of the antenna. It is located outside of a remote shed at the edge of my property, and the ethernet (alternatively, wireless repeating parabolic dish with router) mirrors the USB data back to the PC in my basement which serves as the shortwave receiving server host.
I have been overwhelmed both with the amount of new noise and new signal that this antenna picks up.
In shortwave, the other night, I was picking up stations around the world.
Tonight, I was able to very clearly make out CHLO. I am located in EM38, over 700 miles from the transmitter, which only operates at 250 watts during the night time.
I was also able to pick up some international NOAA NAVTEX alerts on 518kHz about a right whale slow zone in the Atlantic off the shore of New Jersey.
I would highly recommend this antenna amplifier.
Thank you so much, Joshuah, for allowing me to post your note here in the SWLing Post. I’m so glad you found such an affordable way to cobble together an effective antenna system to not only mitigate interference, but also afford you DX-worthy reception.
I’ve only heard good comments about Cross Country Wireless as well.
Again, thank you for sharing your impressions and details about your setup!