Tag Archives: Magnetic Loop Antennas

Bob’s Updated Passive, Resonant, Transformer-Coupled Loop Antenna for Shortwave

Figure 1. A Passive, Resonant, Transformer?Coupled Loop Antenna for Shortwave

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bob Colegrove, for the following guest post:


A Passive, Resonant, Transformer?Coupled Loop Antenna for Shortwave

By Bob Colegrove

Over the years I have resisted the level?of?effort necessary to construct and maintain outdoor antennas. Rather, I have focused on squeezing out all of the microvolts I could get inside the house. Many years ago I had access to a well?stocked engineering library, and used my advantage to gather information about the theory and development of loop antennas – a daunting undertaking for an English major. Ultimately, by adhering to a few basic rules, some of them dating back 100 years, I found quite acceptable performance can be had with an indoor passive antenna intersecting just a few square feet of electromagnetic energy.

Theory

There are a couple of advantages of resonant loops as opposed to non?resonant ones. The first is the fact that the signal dramatically increases when you reach the point of resonance. The second follows from the first in that resonance provides a natural bandpass which suppresses higher and lower frequencies. This gives the receiver a head start reducing intermodulation or other spurious responses. The downside of all this is that the resonant loop is, by design, a narrow?band antenna, which must be retuned every time the receiver frequency is changed by a few kHz. On the other hand, there is nothing quite as rewarding as the sight (S?meter) and sound you get when you peak up one of these antennas – you know when you are tuned in.

There is nothing new about the loop antenna described here. It’s just the distillation of the information I was able to collect and apply. There are a number of recurring points throughout the literature, one of which is the equation for “effective height” of a loop antenna. It basically comes down to the “NA product,” where N is the number of turns in the loop and A is the area they bound. In other words, provide the coil with as much inductance as possible.

Unfortunately, for resonant loops, the maximum coil size diminishes with frequency.
With this limitation on inductance, the challenge becomes minimizing unusable capacitance in the resonant frequency formula in order to get the highest inductance?to?capacitance (L/C) ratio possible. Some of the unusable capacitance is built into the coil itself in the form of distributed capacitance, or self?capacitance between the coil turns. This cannot be totally eliminated, but can be minimized by winding the coil as a flat spiral rather than a solenoid, and keeping the turns well separated.

The second trick is with the variable capacitor. Even with the plates fully open, there is residual capacitance on the order of 10 to 20 picofarads which can’t be used for tuning purposes. A simple solution is to insert a capacitor in series, about 1?4 the maximum value of the variable capacitor. This effectively decreases the minimum capacity and extends the upper frequency range. In order to restore the full operating range of the variable capacitor, the fixed capacitor can be bypassed with a ‘band switch.’ With the series capacitor shorted, the variable capacitor operates at its normal range and extends coverage to the lower frequencies. Continue reading

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Wire antennas vs. mag loop antennas

In the past few weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of questions from readers who are trying to decide if they should install a magnetic loop antenna or a simple wire antenna at their home. Obviously, most of the questions come from shortwave radio listeners, but some have come from ham radio operators as well.

I realize that there’s a common theme to my answers and I thought it might be useful to share it here on the SWLing Post for future reference. I started to write a slightly more comprehensive article about this, but I quickly realized I want to keep my advice as short and clear as possible. I’ll be painting in broad brush strokes, but here you go:

If you live in an environment with a lot of radio interference…

Magnetic loop antennas are your friend.

By design, mag loop antennas are some of the best antennas for mitigating the radio frequency interference (RFI) that plagues so many of our homes and neighborhoods. When oriented vertically, mag loop antennas can also be rotated to null out unwanted signals on lower frequencies.

Mag loops come in a wide variety of configurations:

  • The most popular among SWLs are wideband amplified loop antennas manufactured by companies like Wellbrook, Chameleon Antenna, MFJ, DX Engineering, Cross Country Wireless, Bonito, and a number of manufacturers in China. Unlike passive loop antennas, wideband amplified antennas require no manual tuning. These loops do require a power source, typically fed through a Bias-T or batteries.
  • Passive loop antennas are popular among ham radio operators because they’re easy to build and, unlike amplified loop antennas, one can transmit into them if designed correctly. They’re less popular among radio listeners only because they typically have a very narrow bandwidth and need to be re-tuned (via a variable capacitor) each time you move frequency even a few kilohertz. The NCPL (Noise-Cancelling Passive Loop) which is also known as the Moebius or YouLoop is a bit of an exception and doesn’t require tuning, but does require a receiver with a very high dynamic range.

Loop antennas can also be very stealthy. In fact, Loop on Ground (LoG) antennas are essentially invisible and could be deployed (under the cover of darkness, of course!) in the most restrictive of neighborhoods. Note that since LoGs are horizontal, they are essentially omni-directional. [13dka corrects this in the comments: “This is somewhat ambiguous and not entirely correct: LoGs are horizontally oriented but (somewhat surprisingly) vertically polarized, and even more surprisingly they have the trademark property of verticals”]

We’ve also featured other stealthy loop designs like this porch loop.

As with any antenna, mag loops prefer to be outdoors but can be effectively used indoors if that’s the only option.

If you live in an environment free of radio interference…

Outdoor wire antennas are very hard to beat.

I am a case in point, in fact: I live in a rural, remote location without any meaningful RFI. All of my external antennas are homebrew wire antennas and they serve me incredibly well.

If you’ve been a reader for long, you may note that I don’t personally review amplified magnetic loop antennas often–these are typically published by some of our amazing contributors. This is because I like to do “apples to apples” comparisons and usually don’t have a second compact magnetic loop antenna for comparison here at SWLing Post HQ.

Almost without exception, my cheap homebrew wire antennas outperform wideband amplified mag loop antennas…sometimes, by orders of magnitude.

Many years ago, I tested a Pixel Loop amplified mag loop antenna (now under a different name and sold by DX Engineering) specifically for use on the mediumwave band to null unwanted stations. It was a very capable amplified mag loop antenna, but other than its MW nulling abilities, all of my homebrew wire antennas outperformed it on the HF bands. Reception was, at times, dramatically better on my wire antennas.

Of course, for a wire antenna to perform properly, it needs to be deployed properly. There are excellent resources out there that describe ideal heights and configurations for any given wire antenna design.

Keep in mind that wire antennas can be incredibly stealthy as well. It’s very difficult to see a wire antenna among or in front of a patch of trees, for example. At a previous home, I deployed a horizontal delta loop antenna on my property that–if you knew where to look–was easy to spot from the road. In all of the years we lived there not one neighbor took note, though, because the antenna wire had sky blue jacketing and I deployed it while no one was looking.

Summary

Experiment!

This isn’t an either/or choice for most of us. There’s no harm in building a simple wire antenna and trying it at home first. If the local noise floor is high, then consider adding a magnetic loop antenna to your arsenal as well.

You might find that the wire antenna has an advantage on frequencies where you have less radio interference, and the mag loop serves you well in those portions of the band with thicker RFI and QRM.

Find the best antenna system that works for you at home, but always remember that hitting the field with your radio has advantages as well!

What did I miss?

I omitted numerous antenna designs that aren’t straight-forward loop or simple wires. Check out some designs by our contributors Grayhat, , TomL, and many others here on the SWLing Post. As always, please feel free to comment!

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Mike Harwood explores active magnetic loop antennas with SDRplay

Many thanks to Jon Hudson with SDRplay who shares the following announcement:


Introducing a new series of videos comparing the performance of wideband active loop amplifier/antennas for HF frequencies and below. In this introductory video, Mike Harwood shows how an RSPduo enables a real-time comparison of two antennas – in this demo, he uses a Wellbrook 1530AN and one of his own compact loop creations. You can see that he has lined up several other active loop antennas/amplifiers to try in future videos, including the Bonito Megaloop FX, the LZ1AQ amp and the Cross Country Wireless amp.

SDPlay will endorse antennas which work well and formally recommend them on its website antenna suggestions page: https://www.sdrplay.com/antennasuggestions/

This is one of many videos from SDRplay – makers of the RSP family of SDR radios. See the full list of SDRplay videos and applications documents on: https://www.sdrplay.com/apps-catalogue/

The RSP family of SDRs from SDRplay cover 1kHz to 2 GHz with no gaps and give up to 10MHz spectrum visibility.

SDRplay is a UK company. The RSP SDR receivers are made in the UK and can be purchased for worldwide delivery directly from http://www.sdrplay.com/ (click on purchase and select your country to view shipping costs) or you can buy from any of our worldwide resellers listed here: http://www.sdrplay.com/distributors/ Many of the resellers offer local free shipping and/or local language technical support.

The SDRplay YouTube Channel is: https://www.youtube.com/c/SDRplayRSP

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The Chameleon CHA RXL amplified wideband loop antenna

A few weeks ago, Chameleon Antenna sent me a pre-production model of their new wideband magnetic loop antenna called the Chameleon CHA RXL.

I’ve evaluated and reviewed a number of Chameleon’s ham radio antennas (primarily on QRPer.com). I find that the quality of their products are second to none. Price-wise, they tend to be at the top of the market, but keep in mind they machine and manufacture all of their antennas here in the US and they’re incredibly rugged; indeed, military-grade. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I’m proud Chameleon has been a sponsor the SWLing Post and QRPer.com since last year. My sponsors are by invite only and focus on companies I trust with our radio community’s business.

When Chameleon shipped the CHA RXL to me, it wasn’t from their factory, it was directly from the field: Fort Irwin, to be exact.

(Source: NTC Operations Group, Ft. Irwin)

This CHA RXL sample had been used by NTC Operations Group Fort Irwin (who, incidentally, won QRPX this year–click here to read the PDF report).

I was told that the condition of the antenna could be very rough after the QRPX because it had essentially been sandblasted in the desert winds. I was also told that someone accidently transmitted 5 watts into it at some point but it didn’t seem to harm it (for the record, like all amplified receive-only loops, it’s not designed to take RF).

Tony (W0NTC), who was one of the Ft. Irwin radio ops, sent me this note as he dropped off the shipment at Fort Irwin’s FedEx:

“Had a blast with [the CHA RXL], and it was absolutely critical while I was operating in the Army HF Low Power Competition (think tons of high powered MARS stations piling up and drowning out the 20W or less competitors). It absolutely crushed some localized RFI from a huge building I operated behind, and the receive on it I can only describe as “layered” in that I could hear stations somewhat clearer than usual if they transmitted simultaneously. Receiver I used was the IC-705 with default Auto Notch and Noise Reduction.”

Tony volunteered all of this info–I never asked him how it performed.

A few days later, I wasn’t sure what to expect when I opened the box although I knew that my operating locations were nowhere near as cool as its position next to a Humvee at Fort Irwin in the photo above!

I pulled the CHA RXL out of the box and it looked cosmetically flawless to me.

Frankly, there’s not a lot to get damaged. The 36 inch diameter loop is made of rigid aluminum and has a Navy gray powder coating.  The preamplifier unit is completely sealed and made of a high-impact plastic/PVC type material. The steel loop is attached to the preamplifier loop flanges with wing nut connectors.

The only potentially vulnerable part of the antenna system is the  Bias-T box which would normally be located in your shack close to your receiver.

If I mounted the CHA RXL permanently outdoors, I would use Coax Seal around the BNC connection point, of course.

Although the CHA RXL has a supplied mounting bracket for permanent installations, I love the fact that the preamp box has a 1/4” x 20 threaded camera socket on the bottom. This makes for a brilliant portable loop because it can so easily be mounted on a standard heavier-weight tripod! All antenna manufacturers should give us tripod mount options when possible.

On the air

One of the reasons amplified receive loop antennas have become so incredibly popular over the past couple of decades is because they do an amazing job mitigating radio frequency interference (RFI) a.k.a. “QRM.” If you live in a neighborhood with significant radio interference, you really should consider some form of loop in your antenna arsenal.

Ironically, at home, I live in pretty much an RFI-free zone. I’m surrounded by tens of thousands of acres of national forest, so I’ve only used amplified loop antennas in the past for mediumwave DXing–mainly, when I wanted to take advantage of their amazing ability to null out unwanted signals.

Many years ago, I purchased a Pixel Loop Pro antenna (now under a different name via DX Engineering), mounted it outside where it lasted almost a year before a bear decided to pull it down and chew through the coaxial feedline. He/she did so with enough energy that it ripped down the loop and damaged the connector end of the Pixel’s pre-amp. This all happened when our family was travelling for two months in Canada. Why bear, why?!? But I digress…

The CHA RXL version I was shipped has one single rigid loop–the “EU” version’s loop comes in two pieces (for easier shipping/transport)–but I had no problem fitting the entire assembled loop in the back seat of my Subaru or my truck (as long as no one was sitting back there at the time). If you plan to travel with your loop a lot, consider the “EU” version!

I’ve taken the CHA RXL to my parent’s home a couple of times and enjoyed doing a little mediumwave and shortwave listening. Inside the house, the loop would attenuate RFI nicely, but when outside it would all but eliminate many sources of RFI.

At their house, I primarily used my Icom IC-705 for cruising the bands (being careful, of course, to disengage the transmit function).

Listening time in my hometown, though, was very limited. Since the CHA RXL is so portable, I decided to set it up at home on our porch for a few days, giving me an opportunity to test both the Sangean ATS-909X2 and Tecsun H-501x with an external antenna.

I’ve especially appreciated using the CHA RXL on mediumwave. Even from our screened-in porch, I can rotate the loop and use its excellent nulling properties to pick out multiple station IDs on crowded frequencies.

I’ve spent time on shortwave, too, and found that it certainly gave these two portables a signal boost.

In fact, it was by using the CHA RXL that I discovered the audio level difference between AM and SSB on my ATS-909X2 is very minimal when an external antenna is connected.

I’m sure you’ll hear the CHA RXL in action when I post audio clips and recordings in upcoming reviews.

Summary

If I owned a CHA RXL loop, one of the first things I’d do is build a power cord for it with an in-line fuse and terminated with an Anderson Powerpole connector. Since the operating voltage of the Bias-T is 12-14 VDC, it would pair perfectly with one of my Bioenno LiFePo4 batteries, offering a power source with longevity in the field–ideal for a group LW/MW/SWL DXpedition.

It’s difficult for me to truly comment on the loop’s performance because I don’t have another loop at present for comparison. I can say that it’s amazing on mediumwave, where I’ve spent much of my listening time this past week. I believe shortwave reception has been at least on par with my former Pixel Loop, if not better. It’s hard to say, in truth, because propagation conditions have been so poor lately. The CHA RXL loop does effectively mitigate noise!

I’m not sure if the CHA RXL is currently on backorder or not, but I would suggest you check out the product page on Chameleon’s website and possibly contact them if you’re interested. They’ve a number of options and accessories to consider.

Click here to check out the CHA RXL at Chameleon Antennas ($490 US).

One thing for sure: this must be one of the most rugged and durable RX loop antennas on the market. In addition, that Navy gray powder coating helps this rigid aluminum loop disappear against the sky. I believe you could strategically mount this loop and the friendly neighborhood association may never notice–it’s pretty stealthy. Speaking of which…

Josh’s CHA RXL install and demo video

Josh over at Ham Radio Crash Course recently installed a CHA RXL on his house and tested it on several bands, comparing it with a number of his external antennas:

Click here to watch on YouTube.

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Giuseppe is impressed with the performance of his homebrew passive loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who shares the following:

Dear Thomas, I’m Giuseppe Morlè from central Italy, the Tyrrhenian Sea, Formia.

Today I tested my noise canceling loop inside the radio station by comparing it to the crossed loops. Again, like my medium wave T Ferrite, this loop proved to be very quiet, practically immune to house noise.

You can see my two videos about listening to the Voice of Turkey and a QSO on 40m. between radio amateurs–a test with two different powers, one high in AM and another much lower among radio amateurs.

Here are the videos from my YouTube channel:

Click here to view on YouTube.

Click here to view on YouTube.

A nice result knowing that we are receiving inside my radio station. The homebrew NCPL antenna you encouraged me to build is truly amazing.

Best wishes to you and the SWLing Post community.

73 by Giuseppe Morlè IZ0GZW.

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and these videos with us, Giuseppe. It is very encouraging that we have some antenna options that help us cope with all of the RFI generated within our homes! Thank you again!

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Michael pairs the Tecsun PL-990 and the AOR LA400

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Michael Ye (BD4AAQ), for the following guest post:


In the Loop: PL-990 and LA400, a Perfect Match

by Michael Ye (BD4AAQ)

PL-990 and LA400

I have been a happy owner of Tecsun’s PL-880 world band receivers for years. In fact I have two PL-880 radios, one sitting at home and the other staying in my car. So, after Tecsun introduced the new model PL-990 in late 2020, it didn’t take me long to decide to purchase one. In this article I will discuss the Tecsun PL-990 receiver working with loop antennas, while referencing some relevant features of the PL-880.

Overall performance of the PL-990

Merely by its model number, it is easy to regard the PL-990 as an upgraded version of the already highly reputable PL-880. As expected, the PL-990 can very much be regarded as a combination of all the existing fine radio features of the PL-880 AND the music and bluetooth additions, with a number of improvements for instance in shortwave and medium wave performance. The ergonomic design of the PL-990 looks and feels different from that of the PL-880 in a number of ways. Although I may prefer the the more slim and elegant appearance of the PL-880, the PL-990 gives a more rugged and durable feeling, among other improvements over the older PL-880.

Working with loop antennas

The PL-990 and the PL-880 side by side

Living on the twelfth floor of a condominium in the crowded Shanghai, I have often been fascinated with loop antennas. As a licensed amateur operator, I have used the MFJ-1786X and have been impressed with its performance. On reception, I also find loop antennas appealing, as they are able to pull in weak signals while noticeably reducing electro-magnetic interference rampant in the urban environment. I have an unbranded shortwave loop antenna which I believe is based on and performs similarly with the AOR LA320. Despite its excellent performance, it is only good for the 5MHz – 15MHz shortwave range. So a few years ago when AOR launched the new LA400 wideband loop antenna, I bought one, which I often pair up with the PL-880 and other radios for shortwave listening, and get satisfactory results!

Antenna Switch on the PL-990

Now, back to the PL-990. When I first tried the PL-990 with the LA400, the results were generally good but not as good as as compared with using the same LA400 on my PL-880. This puzzled me for a day or so until I realised that the PL-990 actually has an antenna switch which the PL-880 does not have. The switch is used to toggle between an internal antenna (i.e. the built-in ferrite bar/telescopic antenna) and an external one (e.g. the AOR LA400). So a new PL-990 user who has often operated the PL-880 when first using the PL-990 could easily ignore the switch which should be pushed to “Ext” when plugging in an external antenna. This explains why the PL-990 may suddenly appear less sensitive than expected.

“Ext” antenna input for all bands

Contrary to the PL-880 whose external antenna socket is only good for shortwave signal input, the PL-990’s external antenna socket works with all bands, from long wave to FM. I found this to be an important and very useful change, and a pleasant surprise for my LA400, which covers a wide range of frequencies from long wave to medium wave to FM and up to 500MHz.

Once the LA400 is connected, the correct band selected, and last but not least the antenna switch turned to “Ext”, the PL-990 and the LA400 work like a charm in the indoor setting, remarkably better than the built-in telescopic antenna. With the loop connected, while there is not much to expect on the long wave band because of very few long wave stations remaining in the world, reception improves considerably on all other bands including on the medium wave and FM bands, as is also reflected on the upper right hand display of the signal strength and S/N ratio readings. Needless to say, performance on shortwave is as good as on the PL-880, if not better (again, remember to push the antenna switch to “Ext” when using it on the PL-990). Using the AOR loop on the PL-990 for FM reception is somewhat different as there does not seem to be a noticeable tuning point. Simply select the “Others” band, which appears to be broad enough for fair FM reception.

Tecsun AN-200 loop antenna

It is worth mentioning that I have a Tecsun AN-200 tunable medium wave antenna, which I have not used often. As its name suggests, it is for medium wave reception only. I tried it on the PL-990. Works great.

The AN-200 and the PL-990

It is hard to tell which one, the PL-LA400 or the AN-200, fares better, as the signal strength and S/M readings are quite close. They both perform better than the radio’s internal ferrite bar antenna to varying degrees, by improving the signal strength or the S/N ratio or both. The Tecsun loop is a passive antenna, meaning no power is required, making it easy to be used “wirelessly”, by simply placing the loop close to the radio, without having to be connected to the radio via a cable.

Chocolate, our house cat, tries to enhance reception with her tail

It should be noted that in the “wireless” mode of the AN-200 the antenna switch on the PL-990 should remain at “Int” so as for its built-in ferrite bar and the loop to couple with each other.

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Giuseppe’s cross-loop experiments

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who shares the following:

I’m Giuseppe Morlè from Formia, central Italy, on the Tyrrhenian Sea.

I wanted to share with you and friends of the SWLing Post community this antenna project of mine dedicated to those who do not have enough space on the roof or in the garden to install antennas.

These are two separate loops, with two different diameters, one 60 cm, the other 90 cm, each with two variables for tuning … the system is able to receive from 3 to 30 MHz.

I joined these two loops in an opposing way, better to say crossed that can communicate with each other due to the induction effect that is created between the two small coupling loops that are placed one under the other at the top.

In the videos you will be able to see how the antenna system receives. I can use one loop at a time, to detect the direction of the signal or I can use them together for a more robust signal and in an omnidirectional way.

I really like experimenting with the induction effect and you can see that even when closed at home the two loops do a great job.

From my YouTube channel:

I’m not a technician but I really want to experiment to try to listen as well as possible.

Thanks to you and CIAO to all the listeners of the SWLing Post community.

Giuseppe Morlè iz0gzw.

Very cool, Giuseppe! I must say I’ve never tried dual loop experiments like this where one can experiment with the induction interplay. I imagine this could give you some interesting nulling capabilities if you have an unwanted station interfering with a target low-band signal. Thank you again for sharing!

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