Tag Archives: Wellbrook FLX1530LN

Matt’s 2022 Portable Loop Antenna Shootout

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:

The Wellbrook 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.)

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The “Signal Sweeper”: How to build a portable Wellbrook loop antenna

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze, for the following guest post:

The “Signal Sweeper”, a portable Wellbrook antenna setup

by Matt Blaze

Here’s a very simple construction project that’s really improved my travel shortwave and mediumwave listening experience.

When I go somewhere interesting (whether a day trip on my bike or a longer excursion to an exotic locale), the two things I’m sure to want with me are my camera gear and at least one good receiver. Fortunately, there are plenty of good quality shortwave receivers to choose from these days; the hard part is packing a suitably portable antenna that can do justice to the signals wherever it is I’m going.

I’ve long had a Wellbrook antenna on my roof at home. These wide-band amplified loops famously enjoy a reputation for excellent intermod and noise rejection, as well as an almost magical ability to pull in signals comparable to much larger traditional HF and MF receive antennas. A portable Wellbrook – something I could pack in my luggage that performs as well as the one on my roof, would be just ideal.

Fortunately, Wellbrook sells a “flex” version of their antenna intended for just this application, the model FLX1530LN. It’s essentially just the amplifier of their fixed-mount antennas, equipped with a pair of BNC connectors for you to attach a user-supplied ring of coaxial cable that serves as the antenna loop. This way, you don’t need to travel with the awkwardly large 1 meter diameter ring of aluminum tubing that makes up the normal Wellbrook. You can just bring a compact spool of coaxial cable and configure a loop out of it when you arrive at your destination.

The tricky part is how to actually form a stable loop out of coaxial cable without needing lot of unwieldy supporting hardware. In particularly, I wanted something that could be set up on a camera tripod to be freestanding and easily rotated wherever I happened to find myself wanting to play radio. The key would be finding or making some kind of mostly non-metalic support for the coaxial loop that could be folded down or collapsed to fit in my baggage or backpack for travel.

And then I found it: a humble 3-section telescoping broom handle sold on Amazon for about $15 that’s exactly the right size: the “O-Cedar Easywring Spin Mop Telescopic Replacement Handle“. It collapses to 22 inches (just short enough to fit in my suitcase), and extends to 48 inches (comfortably long enough for a one meter diameter loop).

Normally, a wire loop would need both vertical and horizontal supports in a cross configuration, but by using a reasonably stiff coaxial cable, I figured I could get away with just using the broom handle vertically. I found that LMR400 (the basic kind, not the “Ultraflex” version) holds its shape quite well in a one meter loop supported this way.

At this point, it was just a matter of the details of attaching and mounting everything together into a portable package.

A one meter diameter loop, which is the ideal size for the Wellbrook amp, can be made from 3.14 meters of cable (ask your middle-school math teacher). That’s about 10 feet for Americans like me. High precision is not required here, so I just cut 10 feet of LMR400.

The next step is to attach the middle of the cable to the top of the broom handle. The O-Cedar handle has a loop at the end for hanging it on a hook in your broom closet. It happens to be just the right diameter for LMR400, but not with BNC connectors attached. So you’ll have to thread the cable through before you crimp or solder on the with connectors. (See photo above). I used the Times Microwave crimp-on BNC connectors, which I had some extras of lying around. I also put some shrink wrap on the cable at either side of the broom loop, just to keep it from slipping out and becoming unbalanced, but that was probably unnecessary.

Now I needed a way to to attach the Wellbrook amplifier to the other end of the handle, as well as some way of mounting the whole thing to a camera tripod. My first thought involved a lot of duct tape. But I wanted something more permanent and reusable.

The key is something called an “L-Plate”, which is a piece of hardware intended to allow you to mount a camera to a tripod in either “landscape” or “portrait” mode. It’s basically two tripod dovetail mounts attached at a 90 degree angle. I used one that was in my junk box, but you can buy them new or used on eBay. I also needed a clamp to attach the L-plate to the broom handle. I used the Novoflex MiniClamp 26, which I got from B&H Photo. The clamp attaches to the inside of the L-plate with a captive screw. (See photos)

Next, I attached the amplifier to the other side of the L-plate using an ordinary screw-on hose clamp. Easy enough, and surprisingly sturdy.

And that’s it. To assemble the antenna, just extend the broom handle to about one meter, allowing for a roughly one meter diameter loop that’s as round as you can make it with the amplifier at the bottom. Then clamp the L-plate to the bottom of the handle so that the handle is just above the base of the plate, and attach to the tripod. (See the photos).

The Wellbrook is powered over the feedline with a 12VDC bias-T injector. So you need a clean source of 12 volts. I use a cheap Talent Cell battery pack (available on Amazon in various capacities). These actually deliver 11.1 VDC (3x 3.7V), rather than the 12V the Wellbrook calls for, but it works fine in practice. I can also use the same pack to power the radio and digital audio recorder.

In the photos, you can see the finished antenna setup on my roof, with my permanent base Wellbrook on the rotor in the background. The performance of the two antennas is quite comparable.

(Note that there’s an eBay seller that makes a somewhat similar travel loop. The performance is quite good under normal conditions, but it is a bit more subject to MW overload when near a transmitter site. So I prefer the Wellbrook, which is much less susceptible to overload, I’ve found.)

My usual complete travel setup is either a Reuter RDR Pocket C2 radio or a Sangean ATX-909X (recently upgraded to the X2 model). Both these radios work well with the Wellbrook. I use a Sound Devices Mixpre 3 to record airchecks in the field. In the photos, I’m on a rooftop DXpedition listening to Toronto traffic and weather from CFRX on 6070 kHz on a warm later winter afternoon.

The whole setup breaks down for travel pretty easily, and fits easily in my suitcase, backpack, or bike bag (see photos). I usually bring a larger tripod than this if I’m also taking my camera.

The Wellbrook setup has really made bringing a receiver into the field a lot easier and less uncertain. There’s no worry about finding trees or other supports for wires, and packing and unpacking is quick and easy. Have fun!

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