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How to properly install a Mini Whip antenna in an noisy urban environment

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Grayhat, who shares the following guest post:

Setting up a Mini Whip antenna

by Grayhat

I’ve been fiddling with my “balcony antenna” experiment for quite a while now, and I settled with a Linear Loaded Dipole (LLD, also known as “Cobra”) which, in my case, due to self-imposed limitations was a short one (about 9m total).

Since I mentioned it, here is a pic of the antenna showing its installation:

Click images to enlarge.

In the above image you can see the overall setup of the LLD, the modification I did, by adding additional wires to the end of the arms and also the Mini Whip location

The LLD served me well, from LW up to around 200MHz allowing me to listen to broadcasters, hams, aircraft communications, time signals and then more, and it’s definitely a keeper, but I wanted to give a try to the “Mini Whip” antenna, even if a lot of people discard it saying it’s a noisy antenna and not worth it; keep in mind the Utwente SDR uses it and it seems to work fine, so I had to give it a try !

Anyhow, after searching the internet for a suitable whip, I finally found this one:

I bought the antenna on Amazon, but it’s also available on eBay and while the price isn’t the lowest one, I chose it since it uses BNC connectors only (some models use a mix of UHF/BNC or the like). This one had a top wing nut allowing to connect an additional (optional) external whip (may be useful on lower bands) and, last but not least, its color; being gray, it is quite stealth, which may be useful for some people (not my case, luckily). So I went on and ordered the antenna, the delivery took about 10 days and the package contents were exactly as shown above. The supplied coax is thin (RG-174 I believe) and it would be a good idea replacing it with some runs of RG-58, but for the sake of the experiment, I used the original wire.

So, having the antenna, I looked around for informations about the correct installation for the “Mini Whip” and found that in most cases, the reported poor performances of the Mini Whip are due to people installing it the wrong way. For reference and information about how the whip works and about how to properly install it, please refer to the information from PA3FWM found here and here.

Now, if you can place the whip in a garden or yard, using a pole, the correct installation of the whip is the one shown in this pic:

If you carefully look at the image you will notice that the whip sits above the supporting (metallic) pole and that the ground of the connector is electrically connected to the pole (through the clamp). Plus, the pole is then grounded (at the bottom) and the coax (which has chokes) runs away from the metallic pole.

What does the above mean ? Well, the Mini Whip antenna needs a “counterpoise” (ground) to work, and installing it as above, instead of using the coax braid as its counterpoise, the Mini Whip will use the supporting pole, this helps a lot minimizing the noise and it’s one of the tricks for a proper setup, the other one is placing the whip as far away from the “noise cloud” of your home as possible. In my case, I choose the far end of the balcony–also since I had a nice support there, the image below shows the whip installation using a piece of PVC pipe I bought at a nearby home improvement store:

At first, I just installed the antenna without the ground wire and with the coax coming down vertically from the connector. When I compared the whip to my LLD, the results were discouraging: the noise floor was much higher and a lot of signals, which the LLD received without problems, totally disappeared inside the noise floor.

Being the kind of hard-headed guy I am (and having read the documentation about proper setup) I went on and made further modifications.

Let me detail the installation a bit better with this first image (click to enlarge):

As you can see in the above image, the whip is supported by a piece of PVC pipe which keeps it above the metal fencing of the balcony (or a support pole if you’ll use it) and I also connected a short run of insulated wire to the ground of BNC plug at the bottom of the whip. This short run goes to a wire clamp which allows it to connect to the “counterpoise” (ground) wire.

In my case, since the balcony was at 2nd floor, I didn’t have a way to give to the antenna a real ground, so I decided to run a length of wire (AWG #11) down the pipe and then along my balcony fencing (10m total). An alternative, which will also work for roof installations, would be using chicken wire (fencing). In such a case, you may lay as much chicken wire as you can on the floor/roof and connect the wire coming down from the whip ground to it. I haven’t that that (yet!) but I think it may further lower the noise and improve performances.

Notice that in the case of the Utwente Mini Whip, the antenna support pole is connected to metallic roofing so it has plenty of (virtual) ground.

Later on, I improved the setup by raising the antenna a bit more and routing the wire (almost) horizontally from the feedpoint to reduce coupling with the vertical “counterpoise” wire.

The image below shows the final setup:

While not visible in the above image, I also wrapped the coax wire in a loop at the point where it’s held by the fencing and added some snap-on chokes to the coax at the point where it enters the building.

With all the modifications in place, the antenna started performing as it was designed to. The noise floor is still a bit higher than the one of the LLD, but given that it’s an active antenna, that’s to be expected

To give you an idea of the signals and noise floor, here are a couple of images taken from the screen of my laptop while running SDRuno. The first one shows the waterfall for the 40m band

While the second one, below, shows the one for the 80m band:

At any rate, my usual way of testing antenna performance (and modifications effects), aside from some band scanning/listening, is to run an FT8 session for some hours (and optionally repeat it over some days) and then check the received spots.

In the case of the Mini Whip, after all the modification to the setup, I ran an FT8 session using JTDX for some hours and the images below show the received spots. The first image shows the whole map of the received stations:

While the second one below is a zoom into the European region to show the various spots picked up there; the different colors indicate the 20m (yellow), 40m (blue/violet) and 80m (violet) bands:

As you can see, the Mini Whip performed quite well despite the “not exactly good” propagation.

While some time ago I’d have discarded the Mini Whip as a “noise magnet”, as of today, with a proper installation, I think it’s a keeper. While it can’t be compared to bigger antennas, I believe it may be a viable antenna for space-constrained situations. The only thing it needs is a bit of care when setting it up to allow it to work as it has been designed to.

Brilliant job, Grayhat! Thank you so much for sharing your experience setting up the Mini Whip antenna. As you stated, so many SWLs dismiss the Mini Whip as “noisy”–but with a proper ground, it seems to perform rather well. The benchmark example of a Mini Whip’s performance must be the U Twente Web SDR

Thank you again, Grayhat! 

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Portable Powerhouses: Comparing the Bonito Boni Whip and Wellbrook ALA1530LNP Antennas

One fits in a car (well, most vehicles anyway) and another easily slides into a small daypack; which antenna is best for DXing on-the-go? The ALA1530LNP and Boni Whip are at opposite ends of the portability scale (as well as the price scale).

I’ve written about the ALA1530LNP in the pages of the SWLing Post before, where I compared it against another Wellbrook loop antenna on extremely weak medium wave signals. The ALA1530LNP currently costs $413 USD including shipping to the Seattle USA area where I live.

More recently I’ve been intrigued by UK Oxford Shortwave Log’s (YouTube) excellent videos demonstrating the DXing prowess of the very compact, highly portable Bonito Boni Whip antenna. Through a Bonito USA dealer I was able to purchase the Boni Whip at an attractive $99 USD price (plus $11 shipping).

So, is it fair to compare “apples and oranges”? Maybe not, but it was fun and interesting nonetheless to take both antennas to the countryside to find out how they perform head-to-head in a portable situation. My destination was a small forested campground, in a valley east of this beautiful Mount Rainier, Washington scene:

In mid-July, Tipsoo Lake near Mt. Rainier is still surrounded by snow.

Over the course of three days I compared the two antennas with these receivers:

  • Eton E1XM
  • Sangean ATS-909X
  • Elad FDM-S2

I set up the E1XM and ATS-909X receivers on a portable tote box with the antennas powered by SLA gel cell batteries and using a two-way antenna switch for instant comparisons.

Each antenna was mounted on its own “pro” speaker stand and separated 60 feet from each other. The antennas were connected to receivers by equal 100 foot lengths of RG-58 coax cable, and were over 80 feet away from my laptop computer (the only noise source in the area).

In keeping with the uber-portable theme of the Bonito antenna, I used a very compact 1.2Ah SLA gel cell battery for its power injector (junction box). Since the antenna consumes a mere 45 ma. of current, this small rechargeable battery will power the Boni Whip for many, many hours.

The Wellbrook ALA1530LNP requires a still reasonable 200 ma., and I brought along a much larger battery to power it.

Below are a selection of 30-second medium wave and shortwave recordings, each one of them beginning with the Boni Whip and switching to the ALA1530LNP midway through the recording.

Boni Whip vs ALA1530LNP – E1XM Receiver

660 kHz

870 kHz

1660 kHz

3330 kHz, CHU Canada

4960 kHz, VOA Sao Tome

9535 kHz, R. Algerienne

11600 kHz, Denge Kurdistan

11760 kHz, R. Havana Cuba

EDIT 7/14/2017: 11905 kHz, Reach Beyond Radio, Kununurra WA Australia (tentative; listen for the Aussie-accented weather forecast at the end of the Wellbrook loop portion. This catch was at 03:48 UTC, which matches up with the brief English language broadcast in Reach Beyond’s schedule for 11905 kHz. This catch does not appear to be China National Radio as  I first thought.)

Boni Whip vs ALA1530LNP – Elad FDM-S2

These 30-second videos are from the Elad SDR’s FDM-SW2 software. As above, the first half of each recording is the Bonito antenna followed by the Wellbrook loop. If you maximize the playback of a video to full screen you can read the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) change (“Delta”) as the antenna is switched to the ALA1530LNP.

The compact Boni Whip is a unique commercial design of “mini whip” antenna, pioneered by Roelof Bakker, PA0RDT some years ago. As with all these compact e-field antennas they can be a significant “noise sponge”, collecting any RFI or interference in the area. This is especially true if the coax shield is not grounded. Despite using two Bryant/Bowers design of RF chokes in series, the Boni Whip’s reception was degraded by RFI emitted from my laptop over 80 feet from the antennas. The RFI was quite a bit worse without any RF chokes in-line. You’ll note though that even the Wellbrook loop received some interference from the laptop on the higher shortwave frequencies.

4840 kHz, WWCR, Nashville TN USA

5985 kHz, R. Taiwan Intl. via WYFR, FL USA

6090 kHz, The Caribbean Beacon, Anguilla (distorted, with transmitter problems)

6100 kHz, R. Havana Cuba

9600 kHz, unidentified station

11725 kHz, R. New Zealand Intl.

11790 kHz, R. France Intl., Issoudun

11840 kHz, R. Havana Cuba (target: Chile)

Observations. On medium wave (E1XM examples) the directionality of the Wellbrook loop could be noted on one, maybe two of the three recordings. This can be a benefit–or not–depending on your goal. (I did not rotate the Wellbrook loop to null or peak any specific MW signals.) The omni-directional Boni Whip would not be the antenna of choice for a hard-core medium wave DXer; however, it is extremely compact and lightweight for camping and travel if you will be DXing or SWLing on shortwave also. The Wellbrook though is highly regarded as a medium wave DX antenna, especially when used with a rotor to take advantage of its sharp broadside nulls.

I didn’t test the Boni Whip on long wave, but Oxford Shortwave Log and others report it does very well on LF. I tried the antenna on FM frequencies against the Eton and Sangean’s telescopic whip antennas but in every case the reception was worse on the Boni Whip.

As I expected on shortwave, the ALA1530LNP greatly outperformed the Boni Whip on some signals. On others, reception was extremely comparable! The 3330 kHz CHU recording surprised me with the neck-and-neck reception. At this tropical band frequency there may have been some directionality to the signal, and the loop may not have been oriented optimally. The 4960 VOA reception was also very close.

I was disappointed, but not surprised at the RFI pickup of the Boni Whip when using my laptop and the Elad SDR receiver. The two RF chokes tamed the spikes and hash a bit, but removal was far from complete. The Wellbrook wasn’t always “clean” in this regard though.

Final notes. I think the Boni Whip is an extremely high value in a “jack of all trades” very portable antenna. Like Oxford Shortwave Log and others, I find this active antenna’s noise level to be extremely low, helping its sensitivity reveal weak DX signals in a surprising fashion. I would not hesitate to use this antenna away from noise sources when traveling with a non-computerized receiver. Well done, Bonito!

Is the Wellbrook ALA1530LNP worth four times the Boni Whip’s USA price? To the serious DXer who has no room for large passive antennas (Beverages, phased delta loops, DKAZ, etc.), the 1-meter diameter Wellbrook is clearly in a class of its own. By the way, the US Dollar to UK Pound ratio has improved in recent months, so the Wellbrook is an improved value for USA radio hobbyists now.

Truly this was an “apples to oranges” comparison, but I thoroughly enjoyed using both models. I welcome your comments, particularly if you also own both of these fine antennas.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

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