Tag Archives: Magnetic Loop Antennas

Larry’s variation of the W6LVP amplified magnetic loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Larry Thompson (WPE8EKM), who writes:

I’ve just finished building a variation of the W6LVP amplified magnetic loop antenna. I was able to purchase the preamplifier, power inserter, and the power supply separately. I then created my own loop antenna using LMR400Max coax and designed my own knock-down PVC support. I wanted something extremely compact and portable to take on sae-kayaking expeditions and to DXpeditions to Africa.

I spent many years teaching in the DRC Congo and hope to return.

I’ve used a 6’ loop, a 9’ loop, a 12’ loop, and an 18’ loop. All do very well, but the 6’ and the 9’ seem to do the best. I’ve been using the 9’ length of coax doubled into two loops and that seems be be doing extremely well.

The signal strength from the W6LVP variation is equal to my Parr EF-SWL End-Fedz 45’ dipole, but the reduced noise level on the bands is amazing. I live in a central city high-rise with no possibility of an exterior antenna. The EF-SWL is strung out a 5th floor window down the side of the building. It performs well, but with a high degree of noise. My QTH is rampant with QRM and RFI noise. The W6LVP amplified magnetic loop has really resolved that in a big way.

The bands are horrible at the moment, so evaluating the loop antenna is difficult. But the cleaner, stronger signals of CHU Canada on 3339 kHz and 7850 kHz, as well as WWV on 10,000 kHz is impressive.

I’m impressed with the reduced noise level on the bands tuning across them, as well as the noise-free signal once you lock into a station. I’ve heard hams on the 17 mb for the very first time.

So far, I’m very impressed with the performance of this amplified magnetic loop.

Very cool Larry! You’ve build a compact loop that can bring the RFI down to a tolerable level–I’d say that’s a complete success. Thanks for sharing!

Click here to read our previous article about the W6LVP loop.

A review of the W4OP portable magnetic loop antenna

The following review first appeared in the August 2017 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.


The W4OP Magnetic Loop Antenna (Photo Credit: LnR Precision)

What can one say about portable antennas? They’re up, they’re down, they’re basic in design:  they either work for an intended purpose or they don’t.  But, I wondered, could they provide their service easily and conveniently, even in the field?

Last year, I decided to purchase a portable field antenna, and at the Dayton Hamvention I became the owner of the three-band (40/20/10) EFT Trail-Friendly antenna from LnR Precision.

Then, I caught a bug: the National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) bug. And, wow, I caught it in a bad way…! Having activated seven sites during the 2016 Dayton Hamvention with my buddy Eric McFadden (WD8RIF), I found NPOTA the perfect excuse to play radio outdoors. Last year, from August to December, I activated all but that initial seven of my ninety-one NPOTA park activations. All of these activations were QRP and all of them were “field” activations; meaning, I set up my field antenna each time; no activations were made with a mobile (vehicle) HF installation.  And I made 85% of all of my activations using LNR’s EFT Trail-Friendly antenna.

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is incredibly compact and quite easy to deploy.

The EFT Trail-Friendly antenna is end-fed and requires some sort of support system to raise the end of the 33’ radiator. Most of the time, I simply hung the lightweight EFT from a sturdy tree branch. On a few occasions, I hung the end on a 31’ or 22’ fiberglass telescoping pole. I was altogether pleased with its performance; indeed, I can’t recommend it enough for someone who wishes to have a simple, roll-up, resonant antenna for QRP field work. But it does have one limitation: it requires that source of external support, which I worried could undermine some NPOTA activations.

In December 2016, my buddy Eric (WD8RIF) and I organized a mini NPOTA DXpedition in Ohio.  I decided that en route to Ohio, I’d make a run through West Virginia and activate some relatively rare parks along West Virginia’s mighty river gorges.

Eric had made the same activation run earlier that year, and had advised me that when I seek permission to activate these parks, I would be asked to apply for and pay at least one, sometimes more, “special use permit” fees merely to drape the lightweight EFT antenna over a tree branch or to stake a fiberglass support pole in the ground. Even if my equipment is less invasive in the great outdoors than the poles and stakes of a basic pup tent, I understood US park trees and shrubs can be delicate, rare, or endangered, and even park soil can be, for example, geologically or archaeologically sensitive, so of course I didn’t want a mere antenna to bring about any harm––however minor––to the parks I was enjoying.

Eric had simplified this step by strapping a fiberglass pole antenna to his vehicle, thus avoiding either penetrating the ground or using park vegetation as a support.  So as not to potentially harm sensitive park environs, nor be obliged to hop through time-consuming (and expensive) administrative hoops, I decided I would adopt an option similar to Eric: I would use a portable antenna that could stand on its own, thus not requiring external support from park property.

Enter the W4OP magnetic loop antenna

LnR precision had only a few weeks before announced their new portable, self-supporting, magnetic loop antenna: the W4OP loop ($329.99 US).

I contacted LnR in November to tell them about my upcoming December NPOTA DXpedition, and inquired whether they thought the W4OP loop would be a good fit? They responded by sending me a loaner unit to both use and review. After all, what better way to evaluate an antenna than by using it in the field?  I said I’d be happy to give it a test drive.

The W4OP loop arrived in early December, about one week before my trip.

Contents of the loop package are straightforward:

  • The main loop assembly and support
  • The coupling loop assembly and clamp
  • The tuning box
  • The support feet assembly
  • An owner’s manual

The main radiator is a sturdy, flexible-yet-rigid shielded cable. The tuning box is a heavy PVC box, and the tuning knob has an appropriate amount of brake and drives a 6:1 reduction drive on the tuning capacitor.  

The overall package feels well-built and of very decent quality. The only piece of the equipment package I didn’t like are the four support feet: these feet attach to the bottom of the tuning box with red thumb screws, a very basic way of supporting the unit, since the red screws are challenging to tighten and almost any movement from the feet loosens the screws.  Since my review, however, LnR has designed a tripod mount for the W4OP loop which promises to make it much, much easier to deploy this antenna in the field. With the tripod mount, one would only need to pack a sturdy (camera) tripod, and then toss out the included stabilizing feet.

The manual is fairly simple and concise, but certainly provides enough information to get you on the air in short order.

On the air with NPOTA

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I was something of a newbie when it comes to passive mag loop antennas. I’ve used a number of wideband mag loops over the years––receive-only versions, to be precise––but had never used one specifically designed for amateur radio transmitting.

My first proper NPOTA activation using the loop was on the Blue Ridge Parkway at the Folk Art Center in the mountains of western North Carolina. The loop operates best when raised off the ground and sitting on a dielectric base.

Having no tripod mount at that point, I simply sat the antenna on a plastic storage bin which sat on top of a picnic table where I operated. It’s not ideal to be so close to the antenna, of course, but I thought I’d give it a go.

And go I did.  What truly surprised me was how many contacts I racked up in relatively short order on the twenty and forty meter bands using SSB at QRP levels. I’ve always been a wire antenna guy in the field who believed in getting antennas up as high as possible; it still blows my mind that an antenna so compact, in such a compromised position, could rack up the contacts thousands of miles away.

This first activation was the only chance I had to properly learn the dos and don’ts of this antenna before I had to deploy it in the field on my river run through West Virginia. There, I simply didn’t have the time to worry about the process. I did take a few notes, however:

  • The W4OP loop is high gain and very narrow band; if you move off frequency even a few kHz, you’ll certainly need to re-tune;
  • The bandwidth is so narrow that, if you’re turning the capacitor too quickly in the field–especially in windy conditions– you’ll miss hearing the audio level increase when you make the loop resonant;
  • Sometimes being near the loop while tuning the capacitor can affect the results;
  • Loop antennas are not terribly practical for hunting and scanning for DX across the bands due to frequent re-tuning;
  • For NPOTA or SOTA type activations where you operate on one frequency, the loop performance is downright amazing!

Mini DXpedition

My excursion into the three river gorges of West Virginia––the Bluestone, New River and Gauley––took an amazing amount of planning for such a short trip. Firstly, I only had a limited amount of time to activate each site, yet these were rare sites and I wanted to log as many stations as possible at each site. Secondly, I had to announce my activation times and frequencies well in advance so chasers could find and spot me. Also, I knew a number of west coast chasers who really needed one or more of these sites, so had to plot on-air times to maximize 20 meter propagation. Finally, an actual valid activation site has a lot of requirements and is not easy to find on a map!

Surprise snow started falling well before I even entered West Virginia that morning.

And––oh, yes––the weather was really dodgy.

As soon as I hit the West Virginia state line on I-77, the snow started in earnest. Despite being from the southeast, I’ve no fear of driving in snow, but this was a bit unexpected and no roads had been prepared in advance. Also, I was driving into some pretty remote areas with my least snow-capable vehicle: a minivan. The snow was bad enough that I knew I would not attempt to activate the New River Gorge at the site I originally planned, which required negotiating a very long, steep, and winding road deep into the gorge. Instead, Eric advised me of another New River site option that was more easily accessed. I readily took him up on his suggestion.

And it was at the alternate New River site where the loop antenna truly saved the activation.

The activation site was essentially a one-car off-pavement parking spot next to a river access for small boats. Space was tight, but plenty big for the loop antenna.

It was about 20F with sharp wind, and spitting snow; wind gusts were high. I set up two plastic storage bins with the W4OP antenna on top, only about four feet off the ground; fortunately it did not blow over. I tuned the loop quickly to my pre-announced frequency of 14.312 MHz. I made a couple of calls, was answered by a chaser who spotted me…and whoosh! In less than an hour, as I sat there in the freezing wind, I worked 70+ chasers with 15 watts SSB with my Elecraft KX3. It was exhilarating.

As I packed up my station to move to the next site, I quickly scanned over my log sheet: I found I had worked much of the east coast of North America, almost all of the west coast states, several Canadian provinces, Italy, Slovakia and Croatia.  All with this incredibly modest antenna.

Weather was much better in the New River gorge.

Signal reports were averaging about S7.

Of course, I was a DX target, which, as any ham will tell you, gives you an automatic 30 dB of gain! Still, people could hear me clearly even though I was at a fairly low elevation in a gorge.

Impressive.  I was really beginning to appreciate this antenna.

Problems at Gauley River

My next destination, the Gauley River, was about a seventy-minute drive from the New River and at a much higher altitude. The light rain turned into snow again accompanied by more very strong winds. I was really feeling chuffed about the easy loop setup ahead of me at the site.

 

After arriving on site, I set up the loop quickly, my Elecraft KX3 quickly followed, and started the tuning process. Unfortunately, I could not get the antenna to find a match on the 20 meter band. No doubt, the cold, the wind, my frozen hands, and a desire to stay on the tight schedule all influenced my ability to tune the antenna.

After ten minutes of trying to tune the loop, I initiated Plan B, pulling out the trusty EFT Trail-Friendly antenna and launching it into a nearby tree. The EFT didn’t fail me: once I was on the air, I worked almost 100 stations in a little over one hour.

I felt a little badly about hanging an antenna in a tree limb since I did not seek permission from the NPS in advance. Still, I was the only person at the park that day. No one in their right mind would have been hanging out by the roadside, save your author. I took comfort in the fact that the mature tree that aided me was entirely unharmed, and by the fact that not only do I strictly adhere to the Leave No Trace philosophy, I also clean up other visitors’  trash in the vicinity of all of my activation areas, as a means of honoring the park. I don’t think even the CSI would be able to find evidence of my activation.

Back to the loop.  When I finally arrived at the QTH of my buddy, Eric, we took the loop out and he hooked his antenna analyser up to it. Again, we were not able to get the excellent match I had on 20 meters earlier that day at the New River. Eric and I both assumed (incorrectly, it turns out) that something had happened to the capacitor inside the tuning box.

Once I returned home, I called Larry with LnR and described what was happening. He quickly identified the problem: the coupling loop wasn’t positioned and clamped correctly. Whoops…I should have considered that.  Once I adjusted the coupling loop an inch or so, it worked fine again.

Summary

Every radio, accessory, and antenna has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a product, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget some of my initial impressions. Here is the list I formed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the W4OP.

Note that, since this was my first proper experience with a loop antenna for QRP operations, many of these items are indicative of loops in general, not just the W4OP.

Pros:

  • Excellent build quality and overall value
  • Excellent gain when tuned to a frequency (see bandwidth con)
  • Overall impressive performance in the field and super fast and simple setup
  • Excellent choice for those living in high-density neighborhoods with antenna restrictions
  • LnR telephone customer support is excellent

Cons:

  • Bandwidth is very narrow and the loop requires re-tuning on frequency changes (see gain pro)
  • Supplied support feet are very basic; splurge for the new tripod mount
  • Not always convenient and accessible to tune the antenna on the antenna base (though LnR will soon produce a remote tuning W4OP loop)

LnR Precision has recently released a remote tuning W4OP loop ($354.99) and a 6m kit for the current loop.

The W4OP Remote Loop Antenna (Photo: LnR Precision)

I think a remotely-tuned W4OP loop would make this an excellent antenna for amateur operators who wish to set up the antenna as a semi-permanent home installation; certainly a bonus for those living in restricted neighborhoods. Without a remote tuner, you would need to go to the antenna to make frequency adjustments. Note that LnR even has an upgrade program if you wish to turn your W4OP loop into a remote loop.

Of course, this first version of the W4OP loop isn’t designed as a permanent home antenna; it’s designed for field use.

And am I impressed with the W4OP loop? Absolutely.

Like me, if you’ve never used a mag loop antenna for field operations, spend a little time at home learning how to deploy it and tune it in advance.

Most of the criticisms of the W4OP loop I mention in this review are simply indicative of passive mag loops in general: narrow bandwidth, sensitivity to nearby metal objects, and the need for frequent re-tuning.

I understand that the W4OP may have even narrower bandwidth than other similar field-portable antennas. While some may consider this a disadvantage, I think I prefer it; in fact, I would rather be inconvenienced by re-tuning in exchange for higher overall gain.  After all, even broader bandwidth loops require re-tuning if you move frequency more than a few kHz.

The W4OP antenna meant that my mini NPOTA DXpedition was a success, especially at the super-restrictive New River access point. Though I’ve used it in the field on a number of occasions now, I’m still in awe when such a compact antenna performs so well on such little power.  I unhesitatingly recommend it.  Great job, LnR Precision!

The W4OP is made in the USA by North Carolina manufacturer LnR Precision. The loop, and its accessories, can be ordered directly from LnR:

http://www.lnrprecision.com/loop-antennas/

Video: Paul’s large aperture “Volleyball Net” loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Paul Walker, who shares the following video and notes:

Here is a 10 minute narrated, detailed video on my 25 foot long by 10 foot tall “Volleyball Net” Loop antenna using a Wellbrook ALA100LN amp control head and antenna interface.

Click here to view on YouTube.

Great job, Paul!

I like how Paul is using the antenna space he has so effectively. Though he has no antenna restrictions, his mag loop can be deployed and taken down quite easily; it’s obviously serving him well on both the HF and mediumwave bands. As he mentions, it’ s also manually steerable.

Those of you with the Wellbrook ALA100LN amplifier might try building this loop as well.

I also like how Paul is using the Tecsun ICR-100 recorder. Not only does it provide an easy way to record line-in audio from his radio, but the built-in speaker serves as an excellent monitor. It’s pretty affordable, too.

I agree with Paul about the Emtech ZM-2 ATU: it’s an exceptional little tuner that can be used for both QRP and SWL applications. I recently purchased the ZM-2 after having borrowed one from my buddy Eric (WD8RIF). Great value, in my opinion.

Thanks again, Paul!

Post readers: If you have an antenna design you’d like to share, please comment or contact me.

How to build a Milk Crate AM Broadcast Loop Antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, James Townley, who shares the following guest post originally posted on his Shortwave/Medium Wave blog:


540 kHz to 1700 kHz Loop Antenna (Click to enlarge)

AM Broadcast Loop Antenna

by James Townley

Several years ago, I became interested in medium wave DXing. One of my limitations was the size of my yard, so I developed an interest in tuned loop antennas to compensate, because setting up a beverage antenna was out of the question. I experimented with different sizes of loops, and found that the bigger the aperture, the more gain the loop would have. The tuned loop antenna is also very directional, which allows you to reject, or null out interference from either noise or other stations. Loops are considered bi-directional in that they receive to the front and back, but not to the sides. The tuned loop antenna quickly became my weapon of choice for medium wave DXing.

Recently when the weather began allowing me to enjoy the outdoors, I decided to make another smaller loop antenna from a plastic milk crate I had lying around. I saw the idea on the internet when I observed that someone had used a milk crate for their loop. Click here to see a variety of tuned loop antennas that others have made. Whichever material you decide to make your loop antenna from, just make sure that it is not a conductive material. Wood, plastic, and cardboard seem to be popular materials for loop making. In the photo above, I am using my Sony ICF-2010 to listen to WCCO on 830 kHz. This station is nearly 200 miles south of me, but I am able to receive it with 9 LEDs lit on my signal strength meter while using the loop. There is no direct connection of the loop to the radio, it is inductively coupling with the radio’s own ferrite rod antenna.

If you are interested in making a loop antenna like mine, here are the materials you will need:
120 ft of 18ga insulated wire (I bought a 100 ft spool of cheap speaker wire and pulled the 2 conductors apart):

1 – Plastic milk crate
1 – 15 to 365 pF air variable capacitor (found in many old radios, or a google search to buy one from an internet store)
1 – Tuning knob. Any knob will do as long as it fits the shaft on the variable capacitor.
1 – Tape or wire ties. I used tape to secure the wire while winding, then hot glue when finished.

When you begin to wind your coil, use tape or a wire tie to secure the wire, and leave about a foot of wire. This extra foot of wire will later be soldered to the frame on the capacitor. As you wind your coil, pull the wire snugly and with each turn leave about a quarter inch spacing between each turn. The spacing isn’t critical as long as the spacing is consistent.  I wound 21 turns on my crate. This may differ for you, depending on the size of your crate, or the value of you capacitor. If you find that the bottom frequency isn’t low enough, you can add more wire to make a few more turns. This will lower the bottom frequency for you.

After winding the coil, you can solder each end of the coil to your capacitor. The beginning of the loop gets soldered to the frame of the capacitor, and the other end of the coil to the rotor solder lug on the side of the capacitor. If you do not have a soldering iron, you can use alligator clips to connect your loop coil to the capacitor as well. I secured my capacitor to the inside corner of the crate with hot glue. I put a generous amount of the hot glue onto the bottom of the capacitor frame, and held it to the crate until the glue cooled enough for the capacitor to stay on it’s own. I used enough to get the job done, but not so much that it interfered with the plates in my capacitor. The hot glue seemed to adhere very well. I then checked the spacing of my coil turns, and secured them with the hot glue as well.

I was very impressed with the results after spending some time with the loop. It’s small enough to maneuver around easily, but big enough to give it some gain, so I can listen to daytime DX. I may make another tuned loop using two crates to see how much more gain I get with the larger aperture.

Happy DXing,
James Townley


Many thanks, James, for sharing your project with us! This loop appears to be relatively simple and accessible even to those with little knowledge of soldering or homebrewing. I’m now wondering how a loop made of four milk crates might perform!

Click here to view James’ Shortwave/Medium Wave blog.

The W6LVP magnetic loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Troy Riedel, who asks:

Just curious if you or anyone you know have any experience with Magnetic Loops from W6LVP? […]Here’s his eBay page – 458 feedbacks and 100%.

Thank, Troy! I’ve never used the W6LVP loop, but the price–in comparison with other wideband mag loop receive antennas–is very attractive.

W6LVP currently offers two models of loop antennas:

Here’s the product description of the Mag Loop with Power Inserter from the W6LVP website (where orders can also be made–pricing identical to eBay):

The Wellbrook Model ALA1530LN-2 and DX Engineering (Pixel/Inlogis) Model RF PRO-1B magnetic loops are both good amplified receive antennas.  However, they are both expensive.  Shipping the Wellbrook antenna from the UK to the US adds another $100.

Extensive side-by-side testing of the Wellbrook, DX Engineering, and W6LVP receive loops was compiled using simultaneous WSPR signal-to-noise reception reports on all LF, MF, and HF amateur bands.  In addition, extensive laboratory bench tests measuring gain, signal-to-noise ratio, and IMD were also performed.  Signal-to-noise ratio is important to pull weak signals out of the noise and IMD is important to reject distortion caused by nearby strong transmitters such as AM broadcast stations.  In both test regimens, all three antennas performed very well and without significant difference.

The antenna version listed here includes a power inserter for use with receivers or with transceivers that have a separate receive antenna input.  If your rig doesn’t have a receive antenna input, check out my antenna with a transmit/receive switch.

If you live in the shadow of one or more high-power AM broadcast transmitters, contact me about a special version just for you.  Please contact me at lplummer@vcnet.com.

W6LVP amplified receive-only magnetic loop antenna (boy is that mouthful):

  • The W6LVP mag loop is a complete receive antenna system delivering top-of-the-line performance to amateur radio operators and SWLs – particularly for those with space and/or budget limitations.  It is a great complement to vertical or wire transmit antennas.   You have a knob to turn up the power but don’t have one to turn up the received S/N.
  • Ten foot circumference (approximately 1 meter diameter) loop.  Small size yields a natural stealth for HOA challenges.  The loop is rigid enough to maintain its shape but flexible for portable transport or attic installation.
  • Includes a low-noise, broadband amplifier covering 2200 (135 kHz)  through 10 meters (30 MHz) with no tuning or adjustment.  Perfect match for continuous tuning SDR receivers.  Great for contesters to quickly check all bands.  Greater coverage is possible at reduced performance.
  • Light-weight antenna structure fabricated from furniture-grade PVC yields a strong but very light antenna weighing only 2 pounds (not including power inserter or power adapter).  Great for both portable/camping as well as fixed installations.  Light weight and small size make for lower shipping cost – particularly compared to shipping from the UK.
  • Directly compatible with a low-cost speaker tripod stand (not included) for portable operation.
  • Compatible with light-duty rotator (recommended) for fixed operation.  Loop can be rotated to null interference by up to 30 dB or enhance desired signals.
  • Includes low-noise linear AC power adapter to generate clean 12 volts for the loop amplifier.  Unlike the DX Engineering antenna which requires 24 VAC, power can be easily supplied by 12 volt batteries during portable operation.  Reverse polarity and short circuit protection provided by automatically resettable fuse.

Eham reviews are very positive–so far, 5 stars on all six reviews.

I also discovered this short video of W9OY comparing the W6LVP loop to a full size 80 meter vertical (verticals are much more susceptible to noise than loops):

Click here to view on YouTube.

I am very curious if any SWLing Post readers have ever compared the W6LVP loop to the Wellbrook or Pixel Loop antennas.

I actually own the Pixel Loop and might very well purchase, review and compare the W6LVP loop later this year (if time allows).

If you own the W6LVP loop and/or have compared it with the Pixel or Wellbrook, please comment!

Click here to view W6LVP antennas on eBay.

Click here to view the W6LVP website.