Since building The Sproutie a few months ago I have had a great deal of fun with it. It is only the 4th regen I have ever built, but it is the best one so far. One of my main motivations for building it was to own a “serious” regen. I have long thought that the main reason this type of receiver is not taken more seriously nowadays is because they are rarely taken seriously when being built – and perhaps even designed. Kit designers are forced to make severe compromises because, well, who is going to pay hundreds of dollars for a high quality regen kit? A few of us would, but probably not in large enough numbers to make such a kit economically viable.
As an example of taking things seriously when building a regen, take a look at this build of NR5Q’s “Ultimate Regen” by Jim K4XAF. Now that is a receiver any avid SWL would be proud to own and operate.
To make a long story short, I wanted to prove to myself that a regen could serve as a useful and valuable listening tool. I was mainly concerned with SW AM broadcast stations as my main station rig, a K2, doesn’t have general coverage receive. For AM shortwave listening, The Sproutie is indeed very usable, and definitely more than just a novelty. I had spent very little time or effort listening to SSB and CW, and my initial impressions were that CW reception was fine, but SSB reception was occasionally good and occasionally not. I didn’t really think about why, and thought that perhaps it was something to do with the design that I didn’t understand.
Recently, I spent some time with The Sproutie on the ham bands, and the obvious finally occurred to me. It works fine on SSB but when the input signal is too strong, the oscillator pulls, resulting in FM’ing of the signal. In order to overcome this, the best way to operate The Sproutie when listening to SSB is to run the AF gain at, or near, maximum volume, and use the RF gain to set the desired volume. This will ensure that on strong signals, the RF gain is kept down. This is counter-intuitive to anyone who is used to operating a modern receiver with a product detector, where the modus operandi is usually to keep the RF gain at, or close to max, while using the AF gain to control the volume. However, if you got your start with SSB by using an older receiver that had a diode detector and was primarily designed for AM, you’ll remember that controlling the amount of BFO injection was fairly important in resolving the SSB signals well. With one of my first radios, a British R-107 WW2-era military receiver, I was taught to keep the AF gain turned up, and to control the signal-to-BFO ratio by adjusting the RF gain. On strong signals, I quickly learned to keep the RF gain down so there wasn’t too much input signal for the amount of BFO signal. With The Sproutie, the principle is the same, except you are also limiting the amount of input signal so as to not cause the oscillator to pull. Those who have built and operated a number of different regens will be able to comment on this, but my sense is that this is a very common issue with them. Perhaps some designs minimize the effect of oscillator pulling. Can anyone more experienced than me comment? (Note – qrpgaiijin did. Please see his comments below this post on the reasons for oscillator pulling in regens. Input from experienced builders is very valuable so if you’re interested, please do take the time to read.)
Also note that another technique you can use to prevent oscillator pulling on stronger signals is to increase the amount of regeneration. On weaker signals, you might want to reduce the amount of regeneration closer to the “critical” point of onset of oscillation. At that point, sensitivity is greater, which will help with the weaker signals. Of course, all these adjustments will affect the tuning, so you will need to adjust for that. It’s all part of the fun of operating a regen!
To sum up, The Sproutie does indeed resolve SSB signals well, but it requires much more attention and input from the user than other receiver architectures do. The “sports car with a stick shift” analogy works well here. When tuning the bands for SSB signals, you need your hands on the controls on a much more regular basis than when tuning AM signals. Listening to a QSO with stations of vastly different signal strengths can be an exercise in user attentivity and engagement.
By contrast, listening to AM stations on this receiver is much easier. If the oscillator pulls a few 10’s of Hz on strong AM signals (which it almost certainly does), you’re not going to hear the effects. It’s still a good idea to run the AF at a high gain setting so as not to overload the detector, but the need for this is nowhere near as critical. In fact, listening to AM stations on this little gem isn’t much more work than doing the same thing on a superhet. Although the precise regeneration point varies with frequency, you don’t need absolute maximum sensitivity when scanning the band for signals. When casually tuning a SW BC band, I can tune several hundred KHz before roughly resetting the regeneration control. Only when I find a signal I want to investigate further do I take the time to set the regeneration more precisely. It’s a process that becomes second nature after a while. I can almost imagine the diehard regen users in the 1930’s deriding owners of the newer superhets, as they were too easy to use and “not real radios”. What’s the betting that happened?
So here’s the deal – The Sproutie does indeed receive SSB just fine, but you’re going to have to put a bit of work into it. It is, after all, a sports car with a stick shift, and not a luxury sedan with an automatic transmission:-)
NOTE – I just read the original article in Electric Radio magazine, describing NR5Q’s “Ultimate Regen”. There is, of course, no definitive word on whether it is indeed the best regen out there, but I took heart from the following quote by Bruce,
“Before we go any further, if you are a SSB operator you may be wasting valuable time. While I listen to SSB all the time on my ‘regens’ I would not want to try to operate a SSB station using nothing but a homebrew regenerative radio – that would be an exercise in futility.”
The above quote comes from a gentleman who built over 60 regens and authored many articles in the pages of Electric Radio. His words mirror my experience with The Sproutie, and further cements my belief that, as far as regens go, this one is pretty darned good. I love listening to AM on it, really like listening to CW on it, and although I can listen to SSB on it with little difficulty, I’d rather listen to SSB on a superhet with a product detector.