Tag Archives: Wellbrook

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!

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.

The Bonito Boni whip: proving to be excellent portable antenna for DXing

Hi there, if you’re a subscriber to the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel, you will be aware that I have been using a Wellbrook ALA1530 H field antenna, for 15 months or so, with (at times) excellent results. A while back I was on the lookout for a second antenna, however at more than £250, I couldn’t justify purchasing a second Wellbrook. Ultimately I splashed out on the Bonito Boni whip E-field wideband active antenna (20 kHz to 300 MHz) and with a very compact form-factor suitable for DXpeditions/portable operation in general, the Boni whip definitely ticked all the boxes. Furthermore, with reasonable second and third order intercept points of +55 and +32.5 dBm respectively, the Boni whip, on paper at least, looked like a pretty good buy at around £100.

 

Initial testing at home confirmed, perhaps not surprisingly that the Boni whip could not match the SNR provided by the Wellbrook ALA1530 in a noisy, urban environment. However, less predictably, the Boni whip has proven to be a truly excellent antenna away from the ubiquitous blanket of ‘electrosmog’ at my QTH. Furthermore, it really is so compact, I simply leave it in the car in a small flight case, with a portable and connectors etc. for ad-hoc listening sessions. Since returning from my most recent trip to Brazil, I have had a chance to review my most recent catches with the Boni whip, some of which are realy pleasing and most definitely underline the excellent performance of this diminutive antenna. In particular, signals from Radio RB2  on 11935 kHz and Radio Aparecida on 11855 kHz, both low power Brazilian stations, are testament to how sensitive the Boni whip is in an electrically quiet environment. Check out also the quality of longwave signals from Poland and the  Czech Republic – simply amazing for such a physically short antenna. Finally, there’s a personal first from Lusaka, Zambia, Voice of Hope Africa on 13680 kHz. All the more rewarding that this was actually copied in my work office!

I hope you found this article interesting. There are embedded reception videos below and text links for all, which will take you directly to the relevant video on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel. Thank you for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all excellent DX!


 

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Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

North American and European medium wave signals into Oxford, UK

Hi there, I’ve been rather preoccupied of late, initially with the brilliant Tecsun PL-310ET and latterly with the even more brilliant Eton Satellit. However, in the background (as always), I’ve been trying to catch transatlantic medium wave DX. My listening schedule is broadly based on shortwave DXing during daylight hours – when I’m not at work of course, typically a Friday afternoon or at weekends – and always with a portable. Evenings usually start off with a tune around the tropical bands, followed by setting up the Elad FDM DUO to run some medium wave spectrum recordings overnight. In the past few days though, my daylight DXing has been bolstered by my NooElec RTL-SDR and ‘Ham it up’ upconverter. I bought the device over a year ago and after some initial exceitement, it quickly became quite obvious that I needed a reciever with a bit more ‘oomph’! However, it’s actually proving very useful to view signals on a  spectrum, even when I’m conducting most or all of my listening on a different (i.e. higher performing) receiver. Ultimately, the RTL-SDR is always going to be a compromise, with relatively limited sensitivity, but because by it’s very nature it has excellent selectivity, overall it’s a reasonable performer. My particular RTL-SDR performs quite well if a decent antenna is employed with it, such as a longwire or the Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop.

Anyway, back to the medium wave DX. In the past month or two, I’ve copied a number of stations from North America, with really nice signals, including WRCR Rampano – New York, WFED Federal News Radio – Washington DC, WENE – Endicott and WUNR – Brookline from Newton, Mass. I’ve also recorded a lovely interval signal from RAI Radio 1, Milano and further European signals from Magyar Radio, Budapest and Radio Slovenija 1, from Ljubljana. During the past 18 months or so of DXing, I have been mostly ignoring signals coming into Oxford from the continent. However, that changed a little after I stumbled across the RAI Radio 1 interval signal, which complete with the rather rousing Italian National Anthem, inspired me to dig out some more European DX. I’m actually finding European DX quite rewarding, particularly because it feels new again – not surprising since I haven’t listened to Europeans on medium wave for any length of time since the 1980s. I hope you enjoy the reception videos – embedded video and text links follow below and I wish you all the very best DX. 


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Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Medium Wave DX: CBC Radio 1 Gander, 1400 kHz, remarkably clear signal in Oxford UK

CBC Radio 1, Gander, heard in Oxford UK

A really great signal from CBC Radio 1 Gander – the best I’ve ever heard on this or any other medium wave frequency, complete with a clear station ID and very much out of season so-to-speak. I can’t remember recording any Medium Wave transatlantic signal with an audio bandwidth filter of 7 kHz, which says everything about the relative strength of this signal; 2.5 to perhaps 4 kHz would be more typical. As the subscribers to my youtube channel Oxford Shortwave log will know, I dabble in Medium Wave DXing, however, it requires a lot of patience because conditions of good propagation can occur quite infrequently. This is where the band recording features incorporated into the Elad FDM-SW2 software (and similar software for other SDR receivers) come into their own, allowing you to record the entire medium wave band, for example, for later analysis. As for the Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop antenna, I can’t praise it highly enough, both in terms of combating QRM and overall performance as a function of compactness.

Recorded in Oxford UK using an Elad FDM DUO and Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop antenna (indoors) on 29/06/16 at 03:00 hrs UTC.

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.