Tag Archives: Radio Frequency Interference

Indoor shortwave antenna options to pair with a new SDR

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chris Freitas, who writes:

“I am thinking of the new RSP1A SDR. Would you know of a good indoor antenna that would work well with it?”

Your antenna question is simple, but the answer is complex!

First off, I think the RSP1A is a great choice as it’ll give you proper exposure to the world of SDR (1 kHz to 2 GHz!)  at a modest price.

Unlike a portable radio of course, your SDR must be connected to a PC, laptop, tablet or some sort of mini computer like Raspberry Pi. This limits your ability to easily try different antenna locations within your home compared to, say, a battery-powered portable radio. It might take some dedicated experimentation and patience.

Indoor antennas are so vulnerable to the radio noise within your home.

If you live in an off-grid cabin with no radio interference nearby, even a simple $1 random wire antenna hooked up to RSP1A’s SMA connector would yield results. I occasionally spend my summers in an off-grid cabin and it’s simply amazing what you can do with a modest setup when there are no man-made radio noises around.

Listening to the final broadcast of Radio Netherlands in an off-grid cabin on Prince Edward Island in 2012.

But how many radio enthusiasts live in an off-grid cabin? Answer: very, very few! Most of us only get to experience off-grid life during natural disasters when the electrical grid has been damaged in our neighborhoods.

The reality of indoor antennas

You’ve told me previously that you live in an apartment in an urban setting, hence you probably cope with a lot of RFI.

When an antenna is indoors, it is forced to function within this RFI-dense environment. Your telescoping whip or wire antenna doesn’t discern between radio noise and your target broadcast signal. Thus, noise can overwhelm your receiver, essentially deafening it to all but the strongest shortwave broadcasters.

And simple, inexpensive portable amplified shortwave antennas? I’ve expressed my opinions about them before. They amplify the RFI as effectively as they do broadcasters.

This is why if you had a means to put a small random wire antenna outside–even if it was simply draped outside a window–it would likely perform better than an indoor antenna. I’m guessing this isn’t an option for you, Chris.

Think loops

A broadband loop antenna (image courtesy of wellbrook.uk.com)

Magnetic loop antennas are a popular topic here on the SWLing Post for a reason: they’re one of the best frontline tools for fighting urban noise. (Here’s a great tutorial/presentation [PDF] describing how mag loop antennas work.)

While you can build an amplified mag loop antenna (like our buddy, TomL) it’s not a simple project.  Passive single turn loop antennas, on the other hand, are quite easy to build but are narrow in bandwidth (here’s a very cheap, simple passive loop project). You would likely design a single passive loop to serve you on a specific brodcast band and would have to retune it as you make frequency changes. You could build a passive loop antenna for less than ten dollars if you can find a good variable capacitor. Here’s another tutorial.

Commercially produced amplified wideband magnetic loop antennas are not cheap, but they are effective. If you’re a serious SWL, a good mag loop antenna is worth the investment.

Here are a few of my favorites starting with the most portable:

PK Loops

The PK Loop

The most affordable and portable mag loop antenna I own is the PK Loop.  I have the more compact PK Loop C-LOOP-HDSW6-18 (6 – 8 MHz), but Guy Atkins also touts the slightly larger Ham Loop which he finds tunes beyond the advertised 3.5 – 14.5 MHz range.

PK Loops are not as broad in bandwidth as the other antennas I mention below. You will have to retune the loop with any band changes and sometimes even within a specific meter band.

Click here to check out PK Loop offerings on eBay.

W6LVP Loops

The W6LVP Loop Antenna

To my knowledge, the W6LVP is one of the most affordable larger diameter amplified wideband mag loop antennas. We’ve published positive reviews of this antenna in the past.

W6LVP sells two versions of the antenna–since you’re not operating a transmitter, this $250 model would be all you need. indeed, if I were in your shoes, this would likely be the loop I purchase–very cost effective.

Wellbrook Loops

Wellbrook antennas are the staple magnetic loop antenna for many DXers.

Wellbrook loops are manufactured in the UK and have been on the market for a very long time. Their re-engineered Active Inoor Loop Antenna LA5030 would serve you well. At £240.00 (roughly $330 US) plus shipping, it’s one of the most affordable in the Wellbrook line.

Wellbrook makes a number of loops, but since you have no plans to mount this outside, I believe their indoor model would suffice.

Other loop options

There’s no shortage of magnetic loop antennas on the market, but most are pricer than the models I mention above and I know you have a tight budget. Here’s are some models we’ve mentioned on the SWLing Post in the past:

I have the RF Pro-1B and am very impressed, but it’s overkiil for your application (and twice the price of the W6LVP loop).

Fighting urban noise

Even if you build or purchase a magnetic loop antenna, you still need to eliminate as much RFI as you can on your own.

A couple years ago, our friend London Shortwave wrote a brilliant guest post about fighting urban noise. Read through his piece and try to implement as much of his advice as you can.

I hope this helps, Chris! This post is by no means comprehensive, so I hope others will chime in and comment with their experiences. Good luck fighting urban noise and I hope you enjoy your journey into the world of the SDR!

Can you help Luke identify this radio noise?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Luke Perry, who writes:

I am experiencing a issue with my shortwave reception at my part-time home. I have been helping out my mother so I have brought over my Sony portable, along with the Sony active antenna. I have a constant ‘clicking’ sound starting at about 5 kHz or thereabouts that make listening unbearable. As the video shows the problem is non-existent below 4 kHz. I tried moving the radio throughout the house thinking it could be something in the room and still get the same interference.

I was hoping that the filter on the active antenna would help but it does little to remedy the problem. I have no issues with MW or FM reception at all.

I have made a short YouTube video to document the problem in the hopes that one of the blog readers can identify it. I looked online at other instances of RFI and I could not find one that is similar. Hope that someone can help me!

Click here to view on YouTube.

After listening to the first few seconds of your recording, I thought it sounded a bit like an electric fence controller. However the interval between pops is nearly random, which suggests a different source. I suppose it’s possible a faulty fence controller could do this. I believe the only way you could defeat this noise (without shutting it down at the source) would be to use a radio with a durable noise blanker. Of course, I know of no portable radios with an NB function (though most SDRs and tabletop receivers include an NB).

Post readers: Can help Luke ID the source of this noise?  Does it sound familiar to you? Please comment!

Advice on cancelling locally generated noise

An SWLing Post reader recently contacted me with the following question:

“What devices work well to cancel out local RFI? I’ve been told that both the Timewave ANC-4 and a number of BHI products are all worth considering.”

Unfortunately (or fortunately, for me) I’ve no experience with outboard DSP or noise cancelling devices because I live in such an RFI-free area.

I know this reader already has a Wellbrook Loop, but he’s looking for a way to even increase noise mitigation further at his home listening post.

Post Readers: Can you help guide him?  Please comment with your experience. Is a product like the Timewave or BHI the next logical step? If not, what is?

Fred Lundgren: “What happened to AM radio”

We all read articles about the utility and the demise of AM (mediumwave) broadcasting. In this short article via the Huffington Post, Fred Lundgren (Founder and CEO of KCAA) discusses “What Happened To AM Radio (that’s NOT a question)”:

On Christmas Eve morning, the electricity went off at our house and panic quickly spread among our younger guests.

First, the TV sets went dark. Then, the desktop computers began to die as UPS back up batteries failed. For a while, we were reassured by the sound of familiar alarms, but then suddenly, total silence. Could this be the end times? Is this the onslaught of the apocalypse?

Smart phones were quickly deployed and guests began calling each other from room to room. The panic began to subside when several millennials volunteered communal usage of their wireless data plans. The kingdom would be saved…crisis abated.

[…]As the younger generation huddled around the smart phones with data plans, I began to think of the outage as an opportunity to listen to AM Radio, so I went to my office and dusted off my old RCA SuperRadio III.

I couldn’t remember the last time I replaced the batteries but to my surprise, it came to life with its signature popcorn sound when I pushed its big silver button. “IT’S ALIVE” WOW…the AM band was extraordinarily quiet and responsive.

[…]I scanned across the dial from 610 AM to 1590 AM. All the stations were as clear as a bell. Then, I decided to press my luck. I tuned to KTSA 550 AM in San Antonio and then I moved the dial slightly to the right and heard KLVI 560 AM in Beaumont, Texas. Every station was booming in loud and clear.

I felt like a child with a new toy. I dialed up and down the band, experiencing the clear booming sound of AM Radio without any noise or interference. It was a feast for the senses. It was beautiful.

After a few minutes, one of my daughters walked in and asked about the source of my entertainment. I pointed to my SuperRadio and said joyfully, “listen”. She looked at the big black box and asked “How can you listen with the internet and electricity off?” I responded, “It’s my portable SuperRadio III.” Before I could explain further, she shrugged her shoulders, closed the door and went back upstairs, convinced that her Dad was conducting some sort of high tech experiment.

In a manner of speaking, her assumption was correct. I was listening to AM Radio in a big city without the interference of computers, wireless modems and an overloaded electrical grid. For the first time in my recent memory, the “Senior Radio Band” sounded beautiful. Sadly, my experiment ended with preordained results when the electric power was restored.[…]

Click here to read Lundgren’s full article on The Huffington Post.

Chris tracks down sources of radio noise

spectrum-waterfall-sdr

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Chris Smolinski, who shares this guest post from his blog, RadioHobbyist.org:


Yet Another !&*%$! Noise Source

by Chris Smolinski

The past few days, I have noticed higher than usual noise levels, generally on the lower frequencies, and particularly on the longwave band, including the 285-325 kHz DGPS band, where I run nightly SDR recordings, to later process the data and decode and detect DX DGPS stations using my Amalgamated DGPS app.

Thinking back to what new electronics devices have been added to the house, two came to mind, a new cable modem, and a new ethernet switch. The switch is up here in the shack, so it seemed to be a likely candidate. The switch is a D-Link DES-1008E 8-Port 10/100 Unmanaged Desktop Switch. It uses a mini USB port for power, using either the included AC adapter, or power from a USB port. When I installed it, I decided to not use the AC adapter, but rather a USB port on my UPS, figuring it was better to not add yet another potentially noisy switching power supply to the mix.

The test was easy, I just unplugged the power to the switch. Sure enough, the noise vanished. Great, the switch is a RFI generator. Or is it? As another test, I plugged it into a port on a USB hub. No noise. Hmm… so it seems that the noise is indeed from the USB port on the UPS. I did not notice any increase in the noise floor when I got the UPS a few months ago, but It’s something I should look into again, just to be sure. The UPS is a CyberPower CP1350PFCLCD.

Here’s a waterfall from the SDR, showing the DGPS band, 280-330 kHz. You can see where I changed the power to the switch from the UPS USB port to the USB hub, the bottom part of the waterfall is when the switch was still powered by the UPS (click to enlarge it):

pmuv3bc

I still have a noise source just above 305 kHz to hunt down.

Update

I decided to see what I could do to improve things, and reduce the noise floor.

Here is the baseline, after no longer powering the switch from the UPS:
qormmpg

First, I relocated the AFE822 away from the computer and rats nest of assorted cables behind it, powered from an HTC USB charger:
kljq7ef

The squiggly noise around 305 kHz vanished!

I then switched to an Apple USB charger / power supply, as their products tend to be a bit better made:
goyrdt4

Another improvement, the overall noise floor is a bit less now.

But can we do better? I then switched to an older USB hub for power to the AFE822, that I thought might be better filtered:
k0e8eaw

I then changed to a linear supply plugged directly into the AFE822. I don’t notice any obvious improvement? Maybe it even looks like a little more noise? Difficult to tell. You can see a DGPS station popped up on 304 kHz while I was switching things around, between the last two tests, it was likely Mequon, WI.

ocsavij


Thank you for sharing this, Chris! I find a wideband spectrum/waterfall to be such a useful tool for tracking down sources of noise. Not only can you “see” the noise, but you can measure its bandwidth and identify what portions of the dial it affects.

Follow Chris at RadioHobbyist.org.