Dave Richards AA7EE

October 15, 2016

Comparing the Weak Signal Performance of a WBR Regen with a K2

The WBR seems to get a bit of a bad rap with some people for it’s sensitivity. A comment on the last post from a reader called Simon, reminded me that some WBR builders have experienced poor sensitivity. Based on my experience, this design does seem to be fairly deaf on AM, but the sensitivity on SSB/CW is fine. I think there are two reasons why some builders experience low sensitivity –

1) They follow the schematic from the original QST article, and do not include an audio pre-amp immediately before the LM386. In this case, the receiver is not necessarily insensitive – it’s just that the low audio is limiting what you can hear.

2) The value of Z1, the inductance between the coil tap and ground, is not high enough. In the original WBR design by N1BYT, this inductance was a 1-inch length of #20 solid copper wire. I followed this direction with my first WBR (for 40M) and it worked well. The WBR was tackled as a group build in the QRP-tech Yahoo Group, as I have mentioned in this blog before, and some builders experienced low sensitivity. The fix was to replace the 1-inch length of wire with an inductor wound on a toroid. Builders in the group found the optimum value of inductance to be somewhere between about 0.2uH and 1uH. I went lower with my 30M WBR, and found that a value of 0.03uH  (3 turns on a T37-6) worked well.

Of the above 2 reasons, my suspicion is that 1) is the main one for most builders.

We regen fans do get a bit braggy about the performance of our sets. I could never make the claim that my regens perform as well as a superhet, for several reasons. Obviously, the strong signal handling of regens is pretty poor, and the bandwidth is wide. When a regen is adjusted close to the point of oscillation, the nose of the response curve becomes quite narrow, but the skirts are still broad. Also, it’s a small difference, but the fact that a regen listening to SSB or CW hears on both sides of the oscillator, as opposed to a superhet, which only hears on one side of the LO, gives the regen an immediate 3dB disadvantage. Basically, for a given signal, a regen is listening to twice as much bandwidth as it needs to (a doubling of power is an increase of 3dB). It’s not a big difference, but it is there.

Having said all that, I am constantly surprised by how much my regens do hear. I remember one evening, a few years ago, when the Russian K beacon was coming through very, very weakly on 7039.3KHz on my K2. I was amazed to discover that I could also hear it on my WBR. Admittedly, I had to strain to copy it on the WBR, and the fact that it was sending the same letter over and over again – and I knew in advance which letter it was, all helped. However, the fact that it was marginal copy on the K2, combined with the fact that I could copy it at all on my WBR (albeit even more marginally) was an eye-opener.

With all that in mind, here’s a 3 minute video of my K2 and 30M WBR side by side, both tuned to the same weak signal, as I swap the same antenna between both receivers. Hope you enjoy it. PS – no cats in this one!

October 6, 2015

Some More Sproutie MK II Videos

Since finishing The Sproutie MK II and publishing the blog-post on it a few weeks ago, I have been listening to it, winding an extra coil or two, and also attempting to tweak the active audio filters. Coverage of The Sproutie is now up to 18.3MHz, and while I know from previous experience that it will cover up to 30MHz, I am going to leave the upper limit where it is for the time being. Any new coils will most likely be wound for more limited coverage on specific bands under 18MHz. PS – I just spent part of the morning testing out the upper limit of the newest coil by listening to SSB on 17M, and it’s working great – quite stable too.

I had wanted to give the CW and SSB active audio filters more gain, to compensate for the fact that in those modes, the RF gain needs to be wound down to prevent oscillator pulling. Because the narrower filters, even if they have the same gain as the wider filters, give the perception of lower volume, I wanted to design them with higher gain to compensate. Currently, the narrowest filter, a 700Hz low-pass, has a gain of 20dB. I tried building 700Hz low-pass filters with gains of 46 and 34dB, but they both oscillated, putting out a square wave with 10V amplitude at a frequency of somewhere in the region of 100-150Hz. I made sure to keep the Q below 3 – in fact the highest Q stage in the 34dB filter was just a little over 2, but this didn’t help any. For the time being at least, I have decided to keep the current filters as they are. If you view the videos, you’ll see that The Sproutie does indeed work on SSB and CW. If receiving a weaker station for which the set could use a little more gain, plugging headphones in helps and at this point, it’s a compromise I’m willing to make. Trying to build the perfect regen is a rabbit hole from which it sometimes feels as if there’s no escape, so I decided to draw a line in the sand and leave things as they are.

Once again, I feel as if I should apologize for the quality and resolution of these videos. I just entered the 21st century a few months ago with the acquisition of my first smartphone, a first generation Moto G. It’s a budget model, so doesn’t have the best video. It is an improvement on the videos I used to post from my decidedly old Canon Powershot A80 though. The one thing the videos do achieve, I think , is to give you some kind of feel for what the receiver is like to operate. For detailed views, the still photos are the way to go.

This one shows how a regen, if you nudge it into gentle oscillation, can provide some carrier injection for reception of weak AM stations –

Here’s the 25M SW broadcast band –

And another video on the 40M amateur band on CW and SSB, with a special brief guest appearance by Jingles the blind kitty –

September 14, 2015

The Sproutie MK II HF Regen Receiver

NoteIf you have read this article before and are checking back in, it would be a good idea to clear your cache, to ensure that you are viewing the very latest version of this post. I do add material and make corrections from time to time.

It’s been about a year since I finished building The Sproutie, and it’s been a good year. Of all my scratch-built projects, it has been the most satisfying to own. It works well, looks pretty good and also, there is always the lure of possible of tweaks and improvements. This is partially because it’s a home-brew project, and also because it’s a regen ūüôā It was really enjoyable to build a receiver with the basic circuit architecture taken from the 1930’s, but with a combination of solid state devices and lovely old vintage parts.

I have continued to occasionally purchase vintage reduction drives and variable capacitors. After using a National N Dial for the main tuning control in The Sproutie, I became quite pre-occupied with what, to me, is close to the ultimate dial and drive for an analog receiver – the classic National HRO micrometer-type dial and gear drive. I wanted to find a good example of one of these, and use it in a regen. ¬†I also spent quite a bit of time performing Google searches using phrases such as “best regen receiver ever”, and “the ultimate regen”. These are the kinds of things I search for when at a loose end, in the vague hope that I’ll magically find the most amazing regenerative receiver ever designed and built! One very inspirational regen I did discover while searching for the “ultimate regen”, was Jim K4XAF’s build of Bruce NR5Q’s “Ultimate Regen”. What a beautiful receiver! It’s a tube set, built on 2 separate chassis. One chassis contains the main receiver, while the other houses the power supply, the speaker, and the “Selecto-O-Jet” audio filtering. It makes use of a National HRO dial and gear drive for the main tuning, along with National “Velvet Vernier” drives to control the regeneration and variable antenna coupling. Now this was the type of regen that inspires true longing, and convinced me that as enjoyable as The Sproutie was to build and own, I needed to build just one more regen ūüôā

Initially, I was hoping to use a different type of circuit for this receiver from the tried-and-tested front end used in The Sproutie. I did build VE7BPO’s regen #4 and had some trouble with it picking up a local FM broadcast station. In retrospect, I should have realized that I have had this issue with other simple receivers at this location, until they were cased up and grounded properly. The problem seemed to be a little worse than normal, but this could well have been due to the amplification factor of Professor Vasily Ivanenko’s hycas detector. I gave up far too soon and headed for the security of the front end I used in both the first version of my Sproutie, and the WBR. It is, of course, the circuit used in Nicky’s TRF, as featured in issue 70 of SPRAT (with a few corrections and suggested mods in issue 72). Incidentally, “Bear” NH7SR built a very functional version of Prof V’s Regen #4 which he described in this thread over on The Radio Board.

However, I didn’t just want to exactly duplicate the circuit of The Sproutie, even if the new receiver was going to have a different physical form and different hardware. This new receiver would have to have some alternate type of circuitry that would make it worth building. I was interested in trying a different type of filtering in the audio chain, and a tip from Prof V in his Solid State Regenerative Receivers group on Google+ clued me in to a great tool for designing active audio filters (more on that later). The pieces were beginning to come together. I had a bunch of NE5532’s in my parts stash that had sat unused for a couple of years and it struck me that a regen which utilized a series of active audio filters for different bandwidths, switched from the front panel, might be an interesting idea for a receiver. The LM380 output stage I had used in The Sproutie works well, so I saw no reason to change it.¬†It is fairly low noise, a welcome factor that makes it possible to listen to a receiver comfortably for long periods of time.

Here’s the block diagram of The Sproutie MK II. As it contains 6 separate AF filters, I decided to also switch the +ve supply to the filter. A 5532 active filter draws about 7mA (14mA if using 2 x op-amp stages). Although it’s not a lot of current, it’s a fairly significant amount relative to the total consumption of this receiver if all 6 filters are continuously powered. One of the reasons I prefer solid state over tubes is the power efficiency, so no reason to keep all 6 filters powered if only one is being used at a time –

Fig 1 – Block diagram of The Sproutie MKII. Note that S1a, S1b and S1c are all part of the same rotary switch.

The front end, as I mentioned, is exactly the same one I used in the original Sproutie. It is the one used in Nicky’s TRF featured in issue 70 of SPRAT. I thoroughly recommend joining G-QRP. Your initial membership includes an archival DVD of past issues of the club magazine SPRAT, which is a very valuable resource for homebrewers. If you have access to this archive, you should also take a look at issue 105, in which a slightly different version of the same receiver is featured. It employs a simple passive LC audio filter, if you’re not keen on the extra complexity that my version here entails.

Here’s the schematic of the front end. The oscillator tank circuit has been simplified to just one variable capacitor, and all details of the plug-in coils removed, purely for the purposes of making the circuit a bit easier to understand. If I drew the octal coil socket without the coil (as I did with the schematic for The Sproutie) it would make the process of understanding the circuit diagram a bit less intuitive –

Fig 2 – The Sproutie MKII front end, with details of plug-in coils and fine tuning capacitor removed for simplicity.

Here are details of the coil base, using an octal tube socket. You can use any pin configuration you like – this is the one that worked for me. It is the same configuration as used in The Sproutie –

Fig 3 – Plug-in coil base wiring

The final AF amp is a simple LM380 circuit. It’s easy to build, is fairly low-noise, and it works. If you’re used to AF circuits which use an lm386 in high-gain mode, with a 10uF cap between pins 1 and 8, you are going to love the much lower-noise performance of this circuit! As well as a phone jack, I included a jack for an external speaker on the rear panel. It took me a while to figure out how to wire the internal speaker and the 2 jacks properly. ¬†I wanted the internal speaker to cut out if either headphones or an external speaker were plugged in. I also wanted the the external speaker to cut out if the headphones were plugged in. It’s a simple problem really, but simple things often elude me. I got there in the end –

Fig 4 – The AF output stage. The “bass” switch only gives a very gentle lift to the lower frequencies. The effect is so subtle that you won’t be missing much if you leave it out.

The thing that makes this receiver different from the original Sproutie, electrically speaking, is the bank of switched active audio filters. If you don’t want to be bothered with building multiple filters, and switching them all with a switch, you could permanently wire just one filter into the circuit. Another idea would be to replace this bank of switched filters with an adjustable filter made from op-amps, with the center frequency and bandwidth controlled by potentiometers on the front panel. Once you bring op-amps into the mix, all sorts of things are possible. Another idea suggested by Bear NH7SR, is a 5KHz audio notch filter, which could be quite useful for AM SWBC listening. The design tool that made all this happen for me was by Texas Instruments (thanks Prof V). There is an online version called Webench Filter Designer. It¬†has a user-friendly interface that actually made the process of filter design harder for me than the offline software they also offer, called Filter Pro. Use which one works best for you – they are both accessible from this page (opens in a new browser window).¬†Of the two, I recommend Filter Pro. You can use this software to design low-pass, high-pass, bandwidth, allpass (time delay) and notch filters. I stuck with low-pass filters. I was tempted to try a bandpass design for the CW filter, and may still do at some point. The CW filter I constructed was the very last filter out of 6. By that time, I didn’t have the patience for the slightly more complex design of the bandpass filter. I also rationalized that I might need to tune through a CW signal to hear the other side of it, if trying to escape QRM, so a lowpass would make this easier, as I’d be able to hear the signal all the way through to zero-beat and out the other side. This might simply have been my excuse for not wanting to build a bandpass filter ūüôā

I wanted a “straight-through” position to give me something to compare the other filters to. All the filters, with the exception of the narrow CW filter, were designed with a 6dB gain, so I designed my “straight-thru” filter with a 6dB gain also, so I could step through the bandwidths seamlessly. If doing this again, I would have given the filters a bit more gain. I’ll explain why later. Dan N7VE gave a talk to the Arizona QRP Scorpions a few years ago on (among other things) designing active audio filters. It’s definitely worth taking a look at his presentation, which is available here.¬†In fact, I wish I’d paid attention to it before embarking on designing the filters for this receiver, as I would have tweaked some of the resistor and capacitor values a bit. Dan explains how it’s desirable to keep the resistors in the main signal chain fairly low in value, to avoid noise. He recommends trying to stay under 1K. I only read the presentation before designing the very final filter – the CW one with a cut-off of 700Hz – so while my resistor values in that filter are nice and low, they are not quite so low in the others (though in my defense, they are not atrociously high either).

Here’s the first, and widest filter. As far the ear is concerned, it’s not really a filter, as it has a cut-off set at 20KHz, with a gain of 6dB –

Fig 5 – The “straight-through” filter (an LPF with a cut-off of ~20KHz)

I wasn’t interested in the shape of the response as, for this stage, all I wanted was effectively an unfiltered stage with a gain of 6dB. For this reason, I used just one half of a dual op-amp 5532 package as a real-pole filter. Filter Pro doesn’t show the power supply and biasing arrangements, so I added the 2 x 47K resistors to keep the input biased at about half of the supply voltage. I also added the 10uF capacitor, which keeps the bottom end of the 1K resistor at ground potential for audio signals, while blocking the DC bias. I also added the lowpass filter formed by the 10 ohm resistor and the 100uF electrolytic on the supply line, as well as the 0.1uF ceramic RF bypass cap on pin 8 of the IC (mounted close to the pin). I don’t know how essential these 0.1uF caps are, but the datasheet suggests them, and they can’t do any harm.

The other filters were all 4th order low-pass filters (2 stages = 1 x 5532 dual op-amp package), with the exception of the 2.4KHz filter, which was an 8th order low-pass filter (4 stages = 2 x 5532 dual op-amp packages). The 8th order filter has a sharper cut-off, of course. Feel free to design your own filters, with the help of Filter Pro, for whatever cut-off frequency and rate of roll-off you wish. I’ll show you the R and C values I used for my filters but you might want to fiddle around with the software and come up with your own values that keep the R values in the main signal chain at or below 1K, if possible. The resistors in the first stage of the filter are particularly important, as the noise they produce is amplified more than noise produced in later stages. Just click on a component in Filter Pro, enter a different value, and hit return to see what new values of the other components the software has calculated. A bit of trial and error should get you close. Also note that you can specify the series of resistor and capacitor values you want to use (E96, E48, E12 etc), and watch how the filter response curve changes as you change the tolerances and values.

First of all, here’s the gentler roll-off 4th order filter that uses just one 5532 8-pin dual op-amp IC – or use the op-amp of your choice. I chose the 5532 because I had a bunch of them in my parts stash and because they are the 2N2222 of the op-amp world – plentiful, reasonably priced, and all over the place –

Fig 6 – Schematic for the gentler roll-off 2-stage LPF

Here are the component values I used for my 4th order filters –

Fig 7 – Component values for the 2-stage filters in my Sproutie MK II

For a sharper roll-off, an 8th order filter, which uses 2 x 5532 dual op-amp packages (or equivalent) –

Fig 7 – Schematic for the 4-stage sharper roll-off LPF

The 2.4KHz 8th order filter I used, although a bit on the narrow side for SSB, is good for listening when there are nearby stations higher in pitch that need cutting out. If you think about it, this 2.4KHz LPF is going to sound roughly like the 2.1KHz filter in a regular SSB rig. The reason for this is that your regular SSB filter is a bandpass filter, with the bottom edge being set to cut off at about 300Hz. This means that a 2.1KHz SSB bandpass filter will pass frequencies up to about 2.4KHz (2.1KHz + 300Hz). Here are the values I used in mine –

Fig 8 – Component values for the 4-stage filter

After I had built the receiver and all these filters, and done some listening, I concluded that for SSB and CW, a bit more filter gain would be helpful. The set has plenty of gain when listening to AM but on CW/SSB, the RF gain has to be wound right down to prevent the oscillator pulling. This creates a need for more AF gain in the CW/SSB modes. At the time of writing this, I have only just finished building this set and have no enthusiasm for building more filters. I actually had to build 8 filter boards to get the 6 that I used, and 3 front end boards to arrive at the final one. Together with the physical side of the construction, I am tapped out right now and have no desire to construct anything else at all for a while!

If you want to use this receiver mainly for SSB and/or CW, you may want to experiment with the value of the NPO capacitor in the front end that connects the hot end of the main tuning coil to the base of the 2N3904 oscillator transistor. It is listed on the schematic as being 39pF, and that is the value I used. However, it is possible that a lower value will cause the oscillator to pull less on strong signals. Of course, the lower value might also reduce the signal strength into the detector which will put you back to square one. It’s worth trying though. I’d be tempted to try a value as low as just a few pF. Remember that changing this capacitor will affect the frequency coverage – particularly at the top end of each range.

When building the filters, I originally built the 700Hz CW filter with a gain of 6dB, like the other filters. The idea is that if they all have the same gain within their passband, the operator can step through the different bandwidths without a change in the volume of the wanted signal in the speaker. This was the way it worked except with the 2 narrowest filters. The 2.4KHz 4 stage filter had a slight, but noticeable drop-off in volume. The effect was very pronounced with the 700Hz filter – so much so that I redesigned it with a gain of 20dB and still found that there was a slight drop-off in volume within the passband as compared to the other filters. I don’t know the reason for this. EDIT – Thomas LA3PNA Tweeted the following explanation – “The perceived loss when changing filters is because the power delivered to your ear is 10log(BW of filter) and less with less BW. So basically, the reduction in noise makes it sound like the volume goes down” ¬†He also gave a very useful tip for adjusting the gain of the filters so as to preserve the perception of constant volume – “I like to add gain in a filter circuit after the formula 20log(bw/orginal bw) for AF filters” ¬†That is very useful information Thomas. I’m a little tapped out after building The Sproutie, but if and when I decide to revamp the filter bank, I’ll be paying attention to this formula.

I may, at some point, rebuild the 3 narrowest filters with higher gains. If that ever happens, I’ll report the results here in this post. Incidentally, at this point, allow me to say one more thing about the filters. If building and wiring up all these filters sounds like it is making the construction of a regen overly-complicated, I can definitely sympathize. If you want to use this set for CW, SSB and AM and you want to permanently wire in just one filter, I’d go for a 4th order (2-stage) LPF with a cut-off of 3KHz. The one I have is perhaps a touch wide for SSB (it’s roughly equivalent to a 3.3KHz passband filter, as explained earlier) and a bit narrow for AM broadcast, but it’s a good compromise for both. If it were the only filter I had, I know I would get used to the sound of it. As for the gain, mine has a gain of just 6dB, but I’d like to up it in order to have a good volume when turning the RF right down, as is necessary to prevent oscillator pulling on SSB/CW. I can’t know until I’ve tried it, but I’m thinking something along the lines of 26dB gain. Just make sure to be careful when on AM, as you may find that you have way more gain than you need – so keep an eye (and a hand) on that RF gain control.

A big part of the inspiration for building this receiver, as I mentioned earlier, was the physical form of K4XAF’s version of NR5Q’s Ultimate Regen. In the search for a National HRO dial and gear drive in really nice condition, I bought several, and finally came up with a dial and drive combination that just cried out to be included in this receiver.¬†This gear drive has a shaft rotation limiter, which was perfect, as the tuning capacitor I wanted to use didn’t have any kind of rotation limiting built in – it was the capacitor in the first photo in this post – a Hammarlund MCD-50-M. The final M stands for midline, referring to the fact that the off-center shaft and shape of the vanes help to make the tuning a lot more linear than with regular variable capacitors. With a standard capacitor, you’d find that the frequencies would become very compressed at the top of the tuning range i.e. the tuning would get a lot more fiddly. Try to get a midline unit. I believe they also go by other names, depending on the manufacturer.

Of course, a big dial and gear drive need a big chassis, and Terry from Seaside Chassis, who made the chassis for The Sproutie, came to the rescue again. I decided to use a chassis and front panel that would be compatible with 19″ rack cabinets, for a variety of good enclosure options. A chassis that big needs to be fairly thick in order to still be stout and solid. Terry does offer the use of 12 gauge aluminum for bigger enclosures, and I wanted this receiver to be big and solid (although compared to your average boat anchor, it’s still relatively light). As well as a large, stout chassis, I decided that I wanted to try designing a custom front panel with the services of Front Panel Express in Seattle using their free design software. Right at the beginning of this whole project, in the first month or two of 2015, I downloaded their software and casually laid out a very rough front panel, mainly for the practice, and the fun of learning something new. As the project progressed, I’d spend a few weeks working on circuit boards, then go back to the front panel, then do a bit of work on the plans for the chassis, to send to Terry. I had an idea that, with a bit of luck, I’d complete the whole thing in or around the fall, and that’s how it worked out. At no point did I rush though. Why rush? Besides, the longer a project takes, the less it costs per month. I could see that building this regen in the way I had chosen to build it was not going to be a cheap affair, so I took my sweet time.

Here is the chassis as it arrived from Seaside Chassis, along with 2 side braces for supporting the front panel, 2 mounting brackets for the main tuning capacitor, and 2 mounting brackets for the regeneration pot. I only needed 1 of each of these brackets, but like to have extras on hand. As it turned out, an extra bracket was needed to help secure the main tuning capacitor which I forgot to ask Terry for, so I put in an extra order. The shipping from Canada dwarfed the cost of the bracket but at this point, it was easier to ask him for it than to find someone local and besides – I just wanted him to fabricate all the chassis components. Terry’s work is first-rate. It’s good to give him as much relevant information as you can. Simple drawings with penciled-in dimensions work well. If it’s important to you, remember to take into account the thickness of the aluminum if there are any dimensions that are particularly critical. Also remember that he is bending and fabricating these components by hand, so allow for a certain amount of tolerance in the final dimensions. Having said that, the chassis he supplied was remarkably close to the exact dimensions I requested, and within the tolerances I had allowed for. If you have any dimensions that are particularly critical or non-critical, I think this is all good information to pass onto him when making your request –

Figuring out exactly where to drill holes for controls in front panels and enclosures usually takes quite a lot of time. It’s a bit like a game of chess in that every decision you make affects everything else down the road. To make matters tougher, I have trouble thinking about more than one thing at a time, so juggling all the variables in my head takes a lot of thinking, measuring, and drawing. For front panels, I always draw the shape of the panel on a full-size sheet of paper, and place all the knobs and controls on it to see how they look in various configurations. Just when I think I have it right, I leave it and walk away, often overnight. On returning, I inevitably come up with an improvement or two. Building something like this is all baby steps for me. I am impressed and amazed by builders who claim to be able to throw something like this together in a few afternoons – this one took me over 6 months. Heaven knows how long a more complex receiver, such as a multiband superhet, would take me.

I took a great deal of time and care in designing the front panel. They are worth every penny, but they are not cheap. I didn’t want to make a mistake that would result in having to re-order the whole thing. So after checking, rechecking, going to sleep, then waking up and rechecking again, I went through this whole process several more times before finally clicking “order”. A week or so later, this beautiful 4mm thick aluminum panel arrived via UPS, packed with a little bag of gummie bears –

Gummy bears!

The front panel as it arrived from Front Panel Express, vacuum packed to a stiff baseboard. The metal ruler is 18″ long (the panel is 19″ wide).

Look at this beautiful, black anodized front panel!

I just couldn’t get enough of this thing when I first saw it –

There were some scratches in the black finish on the rear, but this is normal. I later found out that ¬†it is possible to add a note when ordering, to ask the people working with the milling machinery to take extra care with the back side of the panel. The front surface is guaranteed, but not the back. ¬†I decided I was OK with the rear of my panel as, well, it was the rear, and the bottom half of it would be in direct contact with the front of the chassis anyway –

You’ll notice a number of “blind” holes milled on both the front and rear. The panel is so thick (4mm) that controls sticking through both the chassis and this panel wouldn’t protrude far enough for the nuts to thread onto the bushings. For the RF gain, AF gain and filter rotary switch, the blind hole was milled on the front side, as the knob would cover it. For the phone jack and bass switch, the blind holes were milled on the rear. Here’s a close-up of the blind hole on the rear side for the bass toggle switch. You’ve probably figured (if you didn’t already know) that a “blind” hole is one that doesn’t go all the way through the panel –

After the initial euphoria of receiving this fantastic front panel had subsided a little, it was time to put some time and labor into making all the remaining cut-outs in the chassis. I had asked Terry to make the holes for the octal tube socket and the main controls, but there were others that still needed to be done. My usual method of making non-standard cut-outs and holes is very time and labor-intensive, but it works quite well. I mark the edges of the cutout with a pen or pencil, then with a hand-drill, drill lots of small holes around the perimeter. Then, with an old screwdriver, I knock out the piece of metal in the center, and clean up the edges with files, usually using a bastard file first, and finishing off with something finer. These photos should help illustrate the process. The speaker cut-out was inspired by a WW2-era British military R107 receiver that I owned as a teenager. It is simple – just 4 large holes arranged in a square. This is the “during” photo, showing the series of small holes drilled around the edges of the holes. The rectangular cut-outs to the right were made using the same technique, incidentally –

– and after –

Here’s another photo, taken a bit later during the assembly, showing the placement of some of the main components. This particular National HRO NPW gear drive, unlike most that I have seen, has a shaft rotation limiter. The tuning shaft is a little on the short side. I needed to mount the gear box as close to the front panel as possible in order to be able to mount the dial properly. If you scroll back and look at the photos of the front panel, you’ll see there are 3 smaller holes located around the main hole for the gear drive. These holes helped in locating the gear box as close to the front panel as possible (the 3 screw heads fit into the 3 smaller holes on the front panel). Most of these gear boxes don’t have this rotation limiter, so the extra holes won’t be necessary. Also, do you see the aluminum shaft couplers on the regen pot and fine tuning capacitor? Those are quality parts personally machined by¬†John Farnsworth KW2N. The one on the right is a standard 1/4″ to 1/4″ coupler, while the one on the left was made to order. It couples the 1/4″ shaft of the 10-turn regeneration pot to a short 3/16″ shaft that the National knob fits onto. I wanted to use the same type of National Velvet Vernier knob and escutcheon plate for the regeneration that I used for the fine tuning, but I didn’t want to use the 5:1 reduction drive. I wanted to use a 10-turn wirewound pot instead, as I like the feel of those pots. From the front (as you will see in later photos) the 2 National knobs and escutcheon plates look the same. However, the knob on the left is connected directly to the 10-turn pot and not to a National Velvet Vernier reduction drive. The black escutcheon plate for the regen control is spaced away from the front panel by one washer thickness, and bolted to the front panel with 4-40 hardware. It is not used for anything, other than looks.

Now, let’s look at some of the boards. They were built, as always, with W1REX’s very useful MeSQUARES and MePADS. This is the AF output stage and the 4KHz filter mounted on one board, and installed in the chassis. The idea was that this board, together with the main RF board, would form a working receiver, after which I could build and install the other filters, one by one –

Mounted above the AF output stage, on the stand-offs, is this next filter board, carrying 2 LPF’s. The first filter to be built was the 6KHz one –

Next came the 3KHz filter (in the foreground of the next shot). The grey rectangular poly capacitors were from Tayda Electronics. Thier prices are low, and the caps seem good. The resistors are 2 types – either 5% carbon film from the parts stash I had as a kid in England in the early 80’s. They lasted a long time, but I am beginning to run out of them. The others are newly-acquired Xicon 1% metal film parts, purchased in lots of 200 from Mouser –

The same board, taken from above (3KHz filter on the left, 6KHz filter on the right) –

The same board, with the 3KHz and 6KHz filters, mounted in the chassis above the 4KHz filter and AF output stage –

Here are 2 shots of the 4-stage (8th order) 2.4KHz LPF, with temporary leads in place for testing. It’s quite the QRM-buster –

At this point, allow me to introduce the main RF board. Electrically, it is exactly the same as the one in the original Sproutie. I tried a couple of small mods but went back to the original. So – nothing new here, except for a small physical detail that I learned from my experience with The Sproutie. There are 2 pads on the board that connect to the octal tube socket with (ideally) short, stiff wires. In the original Sproutie, I used very short lengths of solid 16 gauge wire. They were so stiff that, over time, with repeated insertions of coils, the wires placed enough stress on the pads to detach them from the board. It took me a while to figure out why the dial calibration was suddenly off by about 10KHz. The pads had only separated from the board by 1mm at most, so it was hard to see, but it was enough to throw off the dial calibration, and cause it to change slightly in an unpredictable fashion. I did 2 things to remedy this. The first was to replace these 2 wires with thick stranded wire, which I tinned thoroughly. The tinning stiffened the wire, but it still had more flex than the original solid 16 gauge wires. Secondly, I removed the 2 pads, and re-attached them with epoxy instead of superglue. Problem solved! ¬†When I built the Sproutie MK II board, I attached these 2 pads with epoxy (I used JB Weld). Superglue gel was used with all the other pads, as before. The 2 pads in question are at the very front edge of the board in the next shot. They are the second and third pads from the right. Missing from this shot is the 0.1uF capacitor that couples the audio to the next stage. There is also one extra capacitor that was part of a mod I later uninstalled. I’m showing you these shots to give you the overall idea of layout, what it looks like, and because it’s fun looking at circuit boards. For absolute accuracy of the circuit, follow the schematic –

The next 2 shots are the same board, but at an earlier point when I was using 1uF caps for interstage coupling. They are the 2 blue box-like caps. They didn’t make it to the final version of the board –

Here’s a wider view of the underside of the chassis at this stage of the construction, showing the main RF board wired to the octal tube socket, as well as the AF output stage with 4KHz filter, the 3KHz and 6KHz filter board on top of it, and the 2.4KHz filter board sitting on it’s own for the time being –

A closer view from a slightly different angle. At this point, it was beginning to dawn on me that keeping all this wiring tidy would take a bit more work than I had anticipated. I never did get the wiring as tidy as I wanted, but it’ll do –

This one’s a bit boring. It’s the “straight-through” real-pole LPF with a cut-off frequency of 20KHz, shown installed in the chassis on top of the 2.4KHz LPF –

and the 700Hz CW low-pass filter –

Here are all those filter boards stacked on top of each other. Looking at the left-hand stack first, from the top down is the 700Hz filter, the 20KHz “straight-through” filter and, at the bottom, the 2.4KHz sharp roll-off filter. On the right-hand side is the 3KHz and 6KHz filter board, with the 4KHz filter and AF output stage board on the bottom. You can also see the 6-position rotary switch that selects between the different filters. I had no trouble finding a 6-position switch with 2 poles but when I decided to also switch the +ve supply line to the filters, finding one with more than 2 poles proved tricky. I finally found it from a supplier of parts for musical instruments. It is distributed by AllParts, and is part number EP-0920-000. It is a 6-position 4-pole switch (one pole goes unused). Prices vary a bit, so search around for the best deal if you want this particular switch. If you want fewer filters, then you’ll probably find it easier to locate a switch that has 3 or 4 poles and 4 positions or less. This is the finished receiver, by the way. Well, finished for the time being – until I decide I just have to modify something –

Some more views of the underside of the finished receiver. You’ll notice that I designed a rear panel too. That also came from Front Panel Express – a more detailed view of it is coming later. The speaker is an 8 ohm, 4 inch, 6 watt unit made by CUI, model # GF1004. I got it from Digi-Key, part # GF1004-ND. Before finding this speaker, I purchased one from a company well-known for supplying vintage radio parts. It turned out to be very lightweight, with a small magnet, and generally rather disappointing. I liked the speaker I used in The Sproutie, so got the 4″ version of that one instead (the one in my Sproutie is a 3″ version). The aluminum speaker grille was custom cut by speakerworks.com

Coils were constructed in the same fashion as the coils for The Sproutie. In fact, the pinouts used on the octal socket are the same, so my Sproutie coils work in the Sproutie MK II, though they cover a wider range, due to the greater maximum capacitance of the tuning capacitor I used – a 2 x 50pF instead of the 2 x 35pF used in the original Sproutie. I decided to wind a complete set of new coils for this receiver. As of writing this post, I have 6 coils wound with a few more to go, as needs and desires dictate.

With The Sproutie, I used nylon hardware to secure the larger T68-6 toroids for the lower frequency bands. On the higher frequency bands, I used T50-7 toroids, and secured them with hot glue. This time around, I found that hot glue worked perfectly well for securing the T68-6 toroid cores too, so I used that technique exclusively. It’s faster and easier than using nylon nuts, washers and bolts. I didn’t think it would be the case, but if you need to re-make a coil, you can peel/break the glue off and re-use a tube base. In fact both the coils in the photos below were made with bases that were used at least once before –

I like these ceramic bases, because they are just a little higher than the phenolic ones, offering a bit more protection to the toroid. Wherever you get yours from, if they’re ceramic, they may well be the same ones as these, as most of these bases and sockets seem to be made in China these days –

“Take us to your leader”

You’ll need to figure out the exact details of your coils with the help of online calculators (I like the ones on W8DIZ’ site) and good old trial and error, but here are my details – they should give you a start. Remember to take into account the values of main and fine tuning capacitors, if they are different from mine – and the value of that 39pF capacitor between the tank and the base of the oscillator transistor, if you try a different value. I’ll update this table as I wind more coils. The plan is to wind general coverage coils up to about 21MHz or so, and a few more coils for specific bands. It is much easier, with the aid of the dial calibration graphs, to pinpoint exactly which 5KHz channel you are on, when the band coverage is limited to 1MHz or less.¬†With the 20:1 reduction ratio of this National HRO drive, and the large, relatively massive dial, I found it quite easy to tune in stations even on the 13500-18300KHz coil, which spans almost 5MHz. For pinpointing which 5KHz “channel” I am on though, a general coverage receiver to listen to the oscillator of The Sproutie is more reliable (and faster) than reading dial calibration graphs.

For dial calibration, I use a piece of freeware called Graph. You won’t be able to read the following graph, as it’s a bit small. The original is a bit larger, and the software has an option for zooming in on a particular area of the graph. This is the dial calibration graph (so far) for my 5475-8450KHz coil –

I guess it’s time to do a reveal and show you what this little feller looks like from the front. You wouldn’t think it, but I spent a great deal of time on the front panel, figuring out the exact placement of all controls, placement of the lettering, and fonts. I was looking for a specific type of vintage knob for the RF gain, filter, and AF gain controls, but didn’t find any in good condition while building the receiver. Then I found some knobs on clearance at my local Radio Shack. Those are brand new RS knobs, but I think they look good and fit in well with everything else on the front panel. My main concern was to not “overdo it”. When sitting at the computer with the Front Panel Designer software running, it’s quite tempting to go overboard on the lettering, or try a colored panel, and colored letters in a fancy font. Just because you can do something though, doesn’t mean you should, and I wanted a front panel that was understated, functional, and that would still look good, regardless of how my personal aesthetic might change. Minimalism is the key, though the one extravagance I did allow myself was the larger “Sproutie MK II” declaration, and my callsign. I did try my callsign in red but decided that it looked gaudy. Best to play it safe, I think. I was also concerned that the finish might be a bit too shiny or glossy, but it turned out to be matt with a slight sheen. I’m very happy with how this looks –

Although the regen and fine tuning knobs, and escutcheon plates look the same, the ones on the right are attached to a National “Velvet Vernier” 5:1 reduction drive, via a fairly long coupling shaft. The knob on the left is connected to the 10-turn regen pot (via a 3/16″ to 1/4″ shaft coupler), while the black escutcheon plate is spaced away from the front panel by washers, and attached to it in a fixed position with 4-40 hardware –

Here’s The Sproutie MK II with her little sister, for size comparison –

A quick word about that regen control. On first installing the main RF board, one filter, and the AF amp into the chassis, I noticed that occasionally, when receiving a strong carrier, I’d hear a ringing in the speaker. My first thought was that it was microphonics caused by physical feedback between the internal speaker, which was bolted to the chassis, and some part of the circuit. Plugging in headphones didn’t cause it to go away, however. Undeterred, I continued building, and it was only after finishing the whole receiver, that I realized what was going on. I discovered that if I hear a ringing, all I have to do it back off the regeneration control a bit, and it disappears. I think this ringing is due to the high Q of the circuit when set right at the threshold of oscillation. If you recall Dan N7VE’s presentation on filters that I referenced earlier, he talks about how ringing in filters is caused by abrupt phase changes at the edges of the passband. The cure, when designing them, is to limit the Q in any one stage. Similarly, if you experience ringing in your regen, backing away from the critical threshold of oscillation will lower the Q of the circuit, and should solve the problem. Fascinating. I’ll be interested to hear if any other regen operators have experienced this. My guess is this would be less likely to happen in a regen that utilizes a bipolar transistor for the detector (or combined oscillator/detector if it’s just one device, unlike this design).

I had to try a shot from a lower angle, for that authoritative look. When I’m spinning that big old dial and listening to CW, I can almost kid myself that I’m intercepting enemy broadcasts for the valiant code-breakers at Bletchley Park. ¬†In reality, I’m usually just listening to some ham tell some other ham what the weather is like at his QTH! –

The rear panel (thanks again, Front Panel Express) –

I like this receiver as it is, with the partially open chassis. From using The Sproutie, I have become used to seeing the vanes of the variable capacitor rotate as I tune the band, and I like that. I like seeing these vintage radio parts in action. However, I did learn from The Sproutie that whatever isn’t covered picks up dust – and when you’re living with 3 cats, 2 of whom are long-haired, a lot of cat hair too. I designed this receiver so that it would fit any standard 19″ enclosure that is also 6RU (rack units) or more high. The first plan was to make use of a hack (as the kids call it) of an IKEA product to make a low-cost rack cabinet. The IKEA Rast nightstand¬†is the right size, and only costs US$14.99. For that, and the cost of a pair of rack strips, you can have a rack cabinet that is either 6RU or 8RU high, depending on how you construct it. A Google search on “IKEA Rast rack cabinet” or similar will yield a lot of sites and info on how to do this useful mod.

That was my plan for this receiver until I came across nice-racks.com. ¬†David Tatelbaum makes beautiful studio racks out of his workshop in Massachusetts. He uses furniture-grade pine, though he will use other woods if you request them. The mahogany racks look gorgeous (but they do cost a bit more, of course). From his website –

“Nice-Racks are constructed of solid Pine¬†furniture-grade panels…not just pressed wood or¬†particle¬†board¬†covered in a laminate like some studio racks, but 100% real wood. The panels are cut to size and the components joined together securely using pocket-hole construction and self-tapping pocket-hole screws. The front sides and top edges are rounded, then the racks are sanded and stained. The finish is a clear matte enamel, scuff sanded between coats, to preserve the look and feel of real wood. Finally, hardware is installed and the fully assembled rack is boxed up and shipped out to its new home.”

After finding his site, I was hooked. ¬†Yes, it was going to cost more than the cheap IKEA hack but at some point during the design and construction of this regen, I decided that I wanted it to look really nice, and expense was going to be a secondary concern. I was going full-hog on this. Besides, it took me over 6 months to plan and put together and spreading the cost over that time, the cost per month for my hobby was actually quite reasonable – especially if I take into account all those movies and dinners I didn’t go to because I was at home building! Incidentally, David’s racks are most definitely not expensive. When you consider the cost of your standard rack cabinet – the ones you find in music stores that are made of heavy particle board and covered in black veneer, his racks compare in price very favorably – and they are vastly nicer. They’re not ideal for the rough life of touring but for a home studio, they are perfect – and very good-looking.

OK, so time for the big reveal. This rack cabinet makes The Sproutie MK II look so great –

David also fitted rack rails to the top half of the cabinet at the rear, and supplied a 3RU-high steel panel to help enclose the receiver, and hopefully keep the cat hair away. On the left interior side you can see the recesses for the self-tapping pocket-hole screws that hold the whole cabinet together –

And in case anyone ever wonders who made this fantastic cabinet for my regen, David left his mark. What a quality job! –

The National HRO gear box does have a small amount of backlash – even when I apply as much tension to the anti-backlash gear as my poor little fingers can manage. At first, the backlash was something like 1 – 1 1/2 dial divisions. After increasing the tension on the anti-backlash gear as much as I could reasonably easily manage without the use of tools, the backlash, though still there, decreased to about 1/2 a dial division. It is a small amount, and also predictable, so not really a problem. For the purposes of dial calibration, I always turn the dial in the direction of increasing frequency before taking a dial reading. This ensures consistency in the readings.

Some videos of The Sproutie MK II in action. In the first one, the ¬†towels are on top because Sproutie, my 3 1/2 year-old kitty (aka Sprat The QRP Cat) likes to sit on top of it, and I don’t want her claws to do to the wood what they have already done to my leather sofa –

The Sproutie MK II on 49M, 41M and 40M (though mainly 49M) –

There are some more videos of the Sproutie MK II, showing how a regen can be used in exalted carrier mode to enhance reception of weak AM stations, and on the 25M band, in this slightly more recent post.

There are a couple of things about my Sproutie MK II build that I’d like to change. The first is that, especially at the higher frequencies, the set is slightly sensitive to physical shock. A knock on the cabinet will shift the frequency slightly. I don’t recall noticing this effect with the original Sproutie, although to be fair, I didn’t do as much listening to SSB and CW with it as I do with the new receiver. I think one reason for this slight frequency shift may be the fact that the thick wires connecting the 2 stators of the main tuning capacitor to the coil socket are longer than in the original Sproutie. Although the effect is only slight, it is there, and that bugs me. It may also have to do with the much larger chassis, meaning more metal in the vicinity of a tuned circuit, that flexes when a physical shock is applied. The more I think about it, the more I think this second factor is the main reason. In practice, it is not a problem, but it is there, and I’d like to reduce it, if not eliminate it completely. Fixing a bottom plate to the chassis may help in this regard.¬†Incidentally, banging the desk on which the Sproutie MK II is sitting has no effect. The rubber feet probably help a lot.

The above phenomenon is responsible for an interesting ringing effect that happens occasionally when the regen is set close to the critical point for receiving AM. It only happens with the internal speaker, so is being caused by sound from the speaker vibrating the main chassis. I did mount the internal speaker on small grommets, but this didn’t cure the issue. I have been looking for a reason to purchase a Palstar SP-30B external speaker, and this may be it! This is what the ringing effect sounds like –

The second thing is that, because the cabinet is wood, the receiver is not completely shielded. This would be useful were I to wind a coil for the 2-3MHz region and use The Sproutie MK II in conjunction with crystal-controlled converters to cover specific bands. This is a Regenorodyne approach, like Gary WD4NKA’s inspiring Regenerodyne receiver here.¬†It would also be nice to reduce the possibility of picking up very local QRM in the shack. I could achieve better shielding with my Sproutie MK II by either simply housing it in an all-metal rack cabinet, or by cladding the interior of the existing wooden rack cabinet with thin metal plate or mesh. There is absolutely no hand-capacitance effect when using the set, due to the metal front panel, but when my cat Sprout jumps up on top of it (as she often does) the frequency shifts by about 20Hz. This is also due to the lack of shielding on top of the set. Again, it is not much, but it is there.

Sproutie (aka Sprat The QRP Cat) and The Sproutie MK II. Her contribution to the dial calibration of this receiver was carefully knocking the plug-in coils off the top of the receiver and watching them hit the floor.

August 21, 2014

The Sproutie – A General Coverage Regen Receiver with Plug-In Coils

NOTE – Many thanks to Aaron N9SKN and Cliff WA9YXG, who pointed out errors in the schematics. They have been corrected, and N9SKN has built a working Sproutie from the schematics in this post so rest assured that if you follow them, you can too.

If you’re thinking about building this great little general coverage regen, I’d urge you not to print out any of this article to work from. The reason is that whenever I make an improvement or addition to this receiver, I edit this article. By working from a printout, you’ll be missing out on any changes I subsequently make. Having said that, The Sproutie works fine as is, so don’t be scared off from building it.

I’ve mentioned before in posts how one of my first shortwave receivers as a teenager growing up in England (in fact, possibly the first) was a one tube battery-operated regen built from a kit. Many of the popular electronics magazines at the time, including my favorite, Practical Wireless, carried advertisements from a company called H.A.C. (“Hear All Continents”) who sold kits for simple HF regenerative receivers. This was the ad I remember best. To the teenage me, this receiver was the holy grail. With this receiver, there would be no stopping me. I would be the king of the hill, if only I could have this magnificent shortwave receiver –

Ads like this for H.A.C. shortwave receiver kits were common in the UK up until the early 1980’s. Image taken, with permission, from Louis Meulstee at http://www.wftw.nl/

I saved my pennies and eventually sent off for the H.A.C. Model DX Mk. 2. It wasn’t as fancy-looking as the one picitured in the ad, as it didn’t have a front panel or a calibrated dial but hey – those kinds of regens were only for the truly well-heeled, and I was just a kid with a modest allowance. The kit that arrived used an HL23DD valve (or equivalent). It was a battery operated double diode triode, with a coated filament, to maximize emission on the low filament voltage of just 1.5V (2V maximum, with a current consumption of just 50mA). This set didn’t have a front panel or a calibrated dial, sporting just a modestly-sized aluminum chassis with 3 chicken head knobs on the front, but with my 2000 ohm headset and 90V high tension battery, I truly was the king of the shortwave hill. I don’t have any pictures of my H.A.C. Model DX Mk. 2, but featured here are pictures of someone else’s taken from Louis Muelstee’s great website,¬†which is where the ad shown above came from too.

The H.A.C. Model DX Mk. 2 cost me all of ¬£14.50 in the late 70’s. (Photo taken by Philip McNamara and taken, with permission from Louis Meulstee at http://www.wftw.nl/)

This one tube regen used an HL23D double diode triode tube with low current consumption 1.5V filament. The blue lead on the left leads to a connector that plugged into a 90V high tension battery. (Photo taken by Philip McNamara and taken, with permission from Louis Meulstee at http://www.wftw.nl/)

Truth be told, this wasn’t exactly the most sensitive receiver ever created, but it mattered little to a teenager in England in the 1970’s, with plenty of loud shortwave broadcast signals. There was much to keep those high impedance headphones firmly glued to my head. They were fairly cheap quality, and the way the metal headband tensioned the earpieces against my ears made them a little red after 30 minutes of use. Did I care? Not at all – I wore them for hours on end, as I was enthralled by the sounds of Radio Nederland, Radio Prague, Radio Tirana Albania, Radio Moscow, The BBC World Service and many other broadcasters, as well as all the weird-sounding utility stations and the very mysterious numbers station from East Germany. I had no idea back then what it was, but the female voice announcing strings of numbers in German was strangely compelling. Every day, I would rush home from school, eager to get into my bedroom, plug the low-tension battery in, wait for a short while for the tube filament to heat up, then connect the high tension battery and clamp the headphones to my head, cup of tea by my side, as another listening session began. Weekends were heaven. As soon as all my homework was out of the way, there was nothing but blissful hours and hours of potential shortwave listening time stretching ahead. From time to time, the 90V battery would run down, and I would walk the 2 miles into the village of Astwood Bank to buy a new one from the local gas station. ¬†It didn’t take me long to figure out how to power the filament from a transformer in order to save money on low tension batteries. I eventually figured out how to do the same for the high tension supply too. On good days, I could even pick up some local amateurs on 80M SSB. Man, I was indeed the king of the shortwave hill! At the back of my mind, though, was the idea that somewhere out there was still a truly dreamy shortwave receiver – one that had a front panel fashioned from a sheet of aluminum, and a calibrated tuning dial. It only took me until the age of 50 to finally own one of those only-in-your-dreams kind of receivers.

Which is what this blog-post is all about.

I’ve had some encouraging success with regens recently. Both the WBR and my modified version of the the WBR, which I built for the 31M BC band, worked well, with no common-mode hum, instability, or any of the other kinds of naughtiness that sometimes accompany the operation of regenerative receivers. There was one main thing about the WBR’s that limited them for me, and that was the fact that they only operated on a limited range of frequencies. After building these 2 receivers, the next logical step was to build a general coverage regen with plug-in coils. I wanted a set that was built solidly, with a reduction drive and a calibrated tuning scale, so that I could prove to myself something that I already knew – that a regen, properly constructed, can serve well as a shortwave receiver rather than just as a novelty, which seems to be the category most people have placed them into these days. I’m reminded of a comment on a discussion forum I saw recently, in which a gentleman was talking about a regen he had built once. It was sensitive, received lots of stations, and gave him much enjoyment, he said, but he never really knew where he was on the band. “Well of course you didn’t!” I thought to myself, “but that’s not because it’s a regen – its because when you built it, you didn’t build it with a calibrated dial. It’s not the regen’s fault you didn’t know where you were on the band – it’s yours!”

Charles Kitchin had a design for a receiver which caught my attention. It was published in the Feb 2010 edition of CQ Magazine and consisted of an oscillating detector feeding a 2-stage amplifier consisting of a low-noise FET-input opamp acting as the preamp. The preamp had a low-pass filter with a variable cut-off point, as well as an extra capacitor in the audio chain that could be switched in to give a nice lift to the lower frequencies, for those times when you have a nice strong signal and want a bit of bass boost. This preamp drives an LM380, which makes for a much lower noise AF amp chain than the default in these types of receivers that employ an LM386. On top of that, there is provision for a line out jack for recording. I was interested – regardless of the front end I used, this could definitely be the AF amp for a “serious” regen!

Before I had even fully decided on the finer details of this project, I assembled the AF amp on a separate board. I wanted this to be a somewhat modular receiver, with the AF and RF sections built on different boards so that if either section didn’t work out, I could try a different one. I wasn’t entirely convinced that the value of Hammarlund tuning capacitor that I was planning on using was going to be ideal, so I wanted it to be a relatively easily swappable part with other tuning capacitors of different value but with the same form factor (of which I own a few). If I was going to go to the trouble of building something like this on a nice chassis, I wanted to give myself the maximum possible chance of succeeding.

Here is the schematic of the AF board. It is a little different from the version originally designed by Mr Kitchin (though not by much) as I will explain –

In Chuck’s original version, the 2.2K resistor on the input was 5K. ¬†The ratio of this value to the value of the 100K resistor between pins 2 and 6 of the AD820AN determine the gain of the stage, and I wanted a bit more. Also, the LM380 was motorboating when the AF gain pot was set to anything higher than half-volume, so I added the 10 ohm resistor in the supply line and bypassed it with a 470uF electrolytic, which stabilized it nicely. The +ve supply line was connected directly to pin 7 of the AD820AN, but this could also be bypassed if necessary. A series 100 ohm resistor with a 47uF or 100uF bypassing to ground should work nicely. You can also sprinkle a few large decoupling electrolytics in the range of 100 – 470uF at various points on the 12V bus directly to ground. A small issue I experienced was that when the AF gain pot was at absolute maximum volume, rotating the low-pass filter pot caused clicks and “bloops” in the speaker. It seemed to only happen when the slider of the pot had finished traveling over the carbon track and had actually made contact with the metal that formed the hot end of the control. A 47 ohm resistor placed at the hot end of the 10K AF gain pot provided the necessary isolation (this is shown in the schematic), and I was left with a volume control that operated smoothly, and a variable low-pass filter pot that also operated smoothly. I also added a 0.1uF coupling capacitor on the input (pin 2) of the LM380. The 0.1 and 220uF bypass capacitors on the 12V line were placed so as to bypass the 12V supply directly at the point of entry into the chassis. They were soldered directly on the back of the DC power connector and grounded with a solder tag bolted to the chassis. The 1N4001 diode was also placed at the same point.

Here’s the AF board as I first built it, before¬†changing the 5K resistor on the input to a 2.2K resistor – and before adding the 10 ohm resistor in the 12V supply line and the 470uF capacitor to bypass it. The lengths of lavalier mic cable for the variable low-pass filter and the AF gain potentiometers have already been soldered in place, and they exit through holes drilled in the board. The headphone jack and DC power connector are temporary, for the purpose of testing. The Manhattan pads are of course, as always, W1REX’s MeSQUARES and MePADS

The front end is a very standard design. It is the same configuration (and indeed the same circuit) as used in the WBR, with the exception that the tank (unlike that in the WBR) is unbalanced. This same arrangement was used in Nicky’s TRF, as featured in issue 70 of SPRAT, and I believe the original circuit was developed by GI3XZM. I wanted this receiver to be usable over a wide range of frequencies, and in keeping with my “modular” approach, wanted the receiver to be as versatile as possible. A plug-in coil system, with both gangs of a dual gang variable capacitor, as well as the fine tuning capacitor, all available at the pins of the coil base, allows for a lot of flexibility when winding coils for different bands. The user decides, when constructing a plug-in coil, whether to include parallel or series capacitors for the main tuning and fine tuning capacitors, as well as choosing whether to use one, or both gangs of the tuning capacitor. In this way, with some calculations and a bit of trial and error you could, say, wind a coil to cover a large segment of the HF spectrum, or a single narrow band of frequencies. If, after some listening, I decide one day that I am particularly interested in the 16M broadcast band, I can construct a coil to cover just that one band. Neat!

The J310’s in the RF amp and the detector stage could be any similar N-channel JFET such as the MPF102 or the 2N3819. Likewise, the two 2N3904’s could be most any small signal general purpose NPN transistor. I originally fed the output of the J310 “infinite impedance” detector stage directly into the input of the AF amp board, but quickly discovered that the gain wasn’t enough to comfortably drive a loudspeaker. Had I done a few quick calculations beforehand, I would have realized that.¬†I wanted to take advantage of the fact that the output chip is an LM380, by driving it enough to make a loud noise into the speaker! Adding the single 2N3904 preamp stage after the detector solved the problem nicely. I have built enough of these simple receivers that can drive “a small speaker to a comfortable volume in a quiet room” ūüôā No more!

As with any circuit of this type, the RF stages, and the frequency-determining part of the circuit especially, should be built with short leads, and stiff wiring. Top quality components will help. ¬†The two 330pF capacitors in the feedback circuit of the 2N3904 oscillator stage should be NPO’s (or C0G’s – same thing), as should the 39pF capacitor. The coils were wound on toroids, and the coil assemblies mounted in octal tube bases. I spent a great deal of time on W8DIZ’ site, using his online calculators to figure out the number of turns required for varying degrees of coverage. Unless you build a receiver with the same variable capacitors, and use a very similar physical layout, you’ll need to do your own calculations, and then be prepared to tweak the final values of inductance and capacitance to get the coverage you want. Incidentally, I used a Hammarlund MCD-35-MX dual gang component for the main tuning capacitor. It was this one that I got a deal on over a year ago.¬†The official specs say that each section has a capacitance of 6 – 31pF, but I also had to make a rough estimate of the stray and circuit capacitance when calculating the required values of inductance and capacitance to cover each band. My fine tuning cap was a Hammarlund MC-20-S, and I had to include the capacitance of that in the calculations too.¬†This is the online calculator on W8DIZ’s site for the T68-6 core. He has similar calculators for all the popular toroids. Very useful stuff. ¬†Note – for some reason, the calculator doesn’t always estimate the correct length of wire that needs to be used. This is easy to work around. Just wind one turn around a toroid measure it’s length, multiply that by the number of turns, and add a few extra inches for good luck (and pigtails).

Here’s a view of the RF board as initially built, before adding the extra (pre-AF board) preamp stage –

Here are the details of the coils wound so far, including the temporary “experimental” coil for 24-29MHz. I didn’t get as far as installing a link winding for this coil, but the main coil was picking up plenty of signal from the proximity of pin 7 of the tube socket to the coil. I have been very pleasantly surprised at how sensitive and stable the set is at these higher frequencies. Soon after winding it, I copied SSB on the 12M and 10M amateur bands, as well as plenty of over-modulated and very loud local signals on 27MHz ūüôā ¬†Unless you also use the same values of tuning and fine-tuning variable capacitors, and closely copy my layout, your values will be different, but here is the info on my coil set so far. After a little while spent looking at it, it should make sense. Once you get used to figuring out how to wind a coil for a specific set of frequencies, it’s fun. ¬†I have 15 coils so far, with ideas for a few more. I have already filled up my cigar box coil box, and am getting ready to make a second coil box and wind a few more coils. One of the really enjoyable things about a regen with plug-in coils is making coils for new bands. Fun!

If you¬†wind too many turns for the link winding, you may find that you have to turn the regeneration control nearly all the way clockwise in order to reach oscillation, or you may not be able to reach it at all, as the link winding loads down the oscillator. It is particularly easy to do this on the higher frequency bands. If this occurs, remove a turn or two from the link winding. In operation, it is easy to overload the detector (as it is with all regenerative receivers). I use my Sproutie with a large outdoor antenna and find that on the lower bands, I usually only need to operate the set with the RF “gain” control set halfway.

The 15855 – 17850khZ coil stops about 50KHz short of the top of the 16M band, which is nominally 17480 – 17900KHz. However, all these coverage figures are quoted with the fine tuning control set to maximum capacitance. With the fine tuning control, I can tune all the way up to 17900KHz with that coil plugged in.

With the first set of coils I wound for specific bands, I was using significant values of fixed capacitance across L1 in order to reduce the frequency swing caused by adjustment of the main tuning capacitor. I noticed after a while that these specific band coils weren’t giving such good sensitivity as the general coverage coils. I have since discovered that it is best to avoid large values of parallel fixed capacitance, as this seems reduce the performance. Adding a capacitor of a few pF to tweak the coverage is fine, but large values (of the order of 50 or 100pF) will reduce performance. If you want to reduce the frequency swing to cover a narrow band, best to achieve it with the use of a capacitor in series with the main tuning capacitor instead. The performance of the coils in this receiver seems to be maximized by using as much inductance and as little capacitance as possible. This is more noticeable on the higher frequency bands.

The table for specific band coils is a work in progress. I will add to it as I wind more coils –

The coils were constructed in two different ways. The lower frequencies used a larger T68-6 core which I mounted with nylon hardware. I first took a #10 nylon bolt, cut the head off, and epoxied it into the hollow center spigot of the tube base thus –

Before adding the toroid, any jumpers and capacitors were soldered in place (this is going to be the 3050- 3950KHz coil). The soldering’s a bit messy, but it was the first time I had soldered one of these things –

A couple of nylon nuts followed, then a nylon washer, and then the toroid, topped off by another washer and finally, another nut –

The higher frequency coils used T50-7 toroids, and were mounted vertically and secured with a couple of dollops of hot glue from a glue gun. In the following picture, the 3050 – 3950KHz coil is on the left, the 14460 – 15980KHz coil in the middle (in a white ceramic tube base), and the 8040 – 10720KHz coil on the right. ¬†The middle and right coil were pictured before the hot glue was added. Since building this version of The Sproutie, I have started using hot glue for the larger, lower frequency coils too, and it works fine. It is a lot faster than using the nylon bolts and nuts –

Here’s the 14460 – 15980KHz coil with the 2 dollops of hot glue to secure the toroid. I like these ceramic bases and think I’ll use them for all subsequent coils. Incidentally, here’s a quick hot glue tip. I don’t know what temperature the guns that have a single setting use, but if you purchase a dual-temperature gun and use the dual temperature sticks, the hotter setting allows the the glue to flow more freely before it sets, which makes building these coils a bit easier, and gives a better end result. I think the coils in these photographs may have been made with the temperature inadvertently set to the lower setting, giving me headaches while the glue was setting as to whether it was going to flow into all the places I wanted it to before it set! –

The coils for the higher frequency bands need less in the way of a link winding, such as 1/2 a turn, which is simply a piece of wire passing through the toroid, but not even being wound around it. For the 16M/17M coil, I found that a 1/2 turn from pin 1 to pin 7 wouldn’t allow the circuit to oscillate, so I used a simple u-shaped loop of wire between pins 1 and 7 placed near the toroid, as in the photo below. The link winding is the green wire.¬†My attempt at using a 1/2 turn link winding for this coil involved a wire from pin 7 through the toroid to pin 1, and this stopped oscillation. However, it’s possible that a 1/2 turn from pin 7 directly through the toroid to pin 4, which is also at ground potential. might allow oscillation while coupling more signal into the detector (it’s a shorter run of wire). I didn’t try it though, opting instead to go for a loop outside of the toroid. Experimentation is definitely key here, and it’s one of the things I had in mind when building The Sproutie. Once you’ve built the receiver, you can still have plenty of fun designing coils for many different bands and amounts of coverage. Here’s that 16M/17M coil, showing the green link winding –

The coil for the 16M BC and 17M ham bands. This one covers 17400 – 18200KHz.

When designing coils for The Sproutie, here are a few things to bear in mind –

Adding capacitance across the coil will bring the overall frequency down, and limit the range of frequencies that the main tuning capacitor will cover (as the tuning capacitor is now just part of the overall capacitance across the coil). However, if you place too much capacitance across the coil, the circuit will not oscillate. When making estimates and performing calculations, remember to include the capacitance introduced by the circuit, and stray capacitances. Another strategy for limiting the range of frequencies the tuning capacitor covers is to put a capacitor in series with it (the tuning capacitor). ¬†If I haven’t already mentioned it, the online calculators on W8DIZ’s site are great for figuring out resonant frequencies for tuned circuits involving toroids. The calculator for the T50-7 is here, and the menu to the left of the page has links for the pages for each of the other toroid cores. Each page also tells you what range of frequencies that particular material is good for. However, even after you think you’ve figured out what values you need for the inductor and capacitors, whether you’re going to use padders, series caps etc, you’ll most likely still have to do some tweaking of values until you get the coverage for each coil that you want, based on observation and experimentation. Once you’ve got the exact values you want, make sure to hot-glue the toroid to the tube base. If you don’t do that, you’ll experience instability and microphony. It’s amazing what difference a couple of dollops of hot glue will make!

For the chassis, I first looked at what was available in off-the-shelf sizes and couldn’t find anything that fitted the bill. Hammond have a good selection of different sizes, but their enclosures, for the most part, use 0.04″ thick aluminum. I wanted something thicker, for a very sturdy structure, so I decided to look into having a custom chassis made. A bit of searching turned up two businesses that manufacture aluminum chassis’ for homebrew tube amp enthusiasts – Dirty Dawg Amps, a US based business who are temporarily out of business due to a fire, and Seaside Chassis¬†Design, who are located in Novia Scotia. Seaside Chassis use a minimum of 14 gauge aluminum for their enclosures. 14 gauge is about 0.064″, which I knew would make for a nice stout case.

Terry was very communicative and straightforward via e-mail about what he could do and what it would cost. I sent him rough drawings, with dimensions, of the chassis, front panel, and mounting bracket for the main variable capacitor that I was hoping he would be able to fabricate. He was able to make all 3 items and on top of that, he would punch all the main holes for me, leaving me just to drill the smaller holes for mounting screws. This was great news, knowing that I would shortly have a solid and well-made chassis on which to build this receiver.

I dropped the ball somewhat and didn’t take a picture of the chassis when it arrived, but here’s what it looked like with all the main components fitted, before wiring it all up. The 2 biggest factors in making this receiver look so grand are the National “N” dial with Velvet Vernier drive, and the excellent chassis. Does this look inspiring or what?

The controls on the upper row are, from left to right – regeneration, the main tuning knob, and the fine tuning. On the lower row, also from left to right is the headphone socket, RF attenuation, the bass boost switch (down = more bass) , the low-pass filter cut-off control, and the AF gain control.

Here’s a view from the back at this point in the construction. Look at that accurately made chassis, front panel, and capacitor mounting bracket. Terry from Seaside Chassis Design did a great job –

Both the RF board (without the extra AF preamp that was built later) and the AF boards installed but not yet wired up. All cables are tagged for easy identification –

Another view of the underside, before everything has been wired up –

The next task was to begin wiring the boards to each other and to the controls. Looking at this view of the underside, I’m thinking that I perhaps could have put a little more effort into dressing the cables more neatly, but it’s perfectly functional. The schematic shows pin 1 of the octal base being grounded but as I was wiring it up, I decided to also ground pin 4 –

Some more views of the underside from different angles and distances. I only twisted the 12V supply lines together for neatness and not for any electrical reason, though it does rather make them look like tube filament wiring ūüôā ¬†Just to the left of the antenna socket on the right, is the phono jack for the line out. This is such a useful feature. In fact, as I write this, I am using the line out to record KCBS from Pyongyang on 11680KHz. On the other side from the BNC antenna connector, you can see the DC power jack with the reverse polarity protection diode and the RF bypass capacitors. Vinyl grommets were used for all wiring that needed to pass through the chassis. RG-174/U in the form of Belden 8216 was used for the connection from the BNC antenna connector to the board, and lavalier mic cable with 2 conductors and a shield for all other connections to controls (and to the phono jack) –

A view from the top, with a coil plugged into the octal tube base. The shaft couplers came from different sources. The one on the left, on the main tuning control, is a Jackson Bros part, purchased from Mainline Electronics in the UK through eBay. The coupler on the right was made from all aluminum by John Farnsworth KW2N. He has a small business making these and can also make custom sizes, if you have a non-standard shaft you want to use. For instance he just made a 3/16″ to 1/4″ coupler for my next project. John sells on eBay, but you can also contact him directly through his fledgling website (not yet finished) here.¬†I really like his all-aluminum couplers –

The original intent was to mount the internal speaker on top of the chassis on the side using some kind of simple right angle bracket(s). I didn’t ask Terry from Seaside Chassis to fabricate a bracket for me because at that point, I didn’t know what speaker I was going to use. Looking around my room for something I could use, I noticed an unused LMB Heeger enclosure #143 in the size 4″ x 4″ x 2″ – exactly the same enclosure I used for the 31M version of the WBR. I figured that the top part of the box, being a U-shape, could be used as a bracket. If using that part though, why not use the whole box? There might even be some extra acoustic benefits to housing the speaker in a little case, and having it fully enclosed will protect it from dust and small bits of wire, metal filings etc being attracted to the speaker magnet (which happens here in the shack). The sound was a little “boomy” with the case closed, so I stuffed some foam in with the speaker, and it cleaned the “boominess” right up. Although you can’t really see it in these next shots, the speaker case is bolted to, and spaced off the chassis with 4 vinyl grommets to dampen any unwanted acoustic resonances in the chassis. The speaker wire enters the speaker enclosure through a grommet in the side. It’s a small detail, but the grommet is mounted not in a hole, but in a slot in the side of the cover. That way, when I remove the cover of the speaker enclosure, I can slide the grommet out, leaving the grommet still on the speaker wire, and allowing me to completely remove the cover –

There are a few improvements and modifications I’m considering making to The Sproutie but it is now completely functional, and this is how it looks at this point. I must say that I think it’s looking pretty good –

I was lucky enough to obtain a National “N” Dial in good condition and nice working order – not all of them look or operate this well. I bought several from Gary at Play Things Of Past and used the nicest one. The tuning knob and reduction drive are an important part of the feel of any receiver, and can do a lot to affect the operating experience so I’ll say a few words on that subject if I may. Before, I do, here’s a clip from a page of the 1947 National Radio catalog. I get a kick from seeing vintage parts in old catalogs, then seeing the exact same thing, in really nice condition, in front of me. It’s a bit like meeting a celebrity for the first time ūüôā

I was initially concerned that the 5:1 reduction ratio of the National drive wasn’t going to be high enough for accurate tuning on the HF bands – it was a good part of the reason why I chose the value of the main tuning capacitor and wound the coils so as to limit the tuning ranges to around 2MHz or less. This approach results in more coils, but really helps in creating a regen that can be set to a particular frequency, and from which you can read the frequency (with the help of a calibration graph – more on that later.) This receiver can be set to within a few KHz of any frequency. This is good enough for finding a particular SW AM broadcast station. I can also read the dial setting and then consult my custom calibration graph to find what frequency I am on to within a few KHz. It’s not much by modern standards, but is pretty good for a regen with an analog dial.

The National “N” Dial is marked from 0 to 100 and thanks to the vernier scale located at the top, it can be read to one-tenth of a point. These dials, when in good condition, have a firm yet smooth action with no backlash that makes tuning a receiver like this a good experience. Another thing to note is that these dials were manufactured with CW (clockwise) and CCW (counter-clockwise) characteristics, meaning that as you rotate the dial clockwise, the numbers either go up (CW type) or down (CCW type). This makes sense when you consider that variable capacitors were made as units that either increased in capacity as you rotated the spindle clockwise, meaning that the frequency went down (CCW type), or as units that decreased in capacity as the spindle was rotated clockwise, meaning that the frequency went up (CW type). The latter type is the convention for variable capacitors today. When we rotate our tuning knobs clockwise, we expect the frequency to increase. Back in the days when our predecessors thought more in terms of wavelength, they would have expected wavelength (instead of frequency) to go up with a clockwise rotation of the knob. This particular regen uses a CCW-type variable capacitor, so I married it up with a CCW-type vernier dial. It does take a while to get used to the fact that the frequency goes down when you turn the tuning knob clockwise, but I am beginning to adjust. There seem to be quite a lot of these lovely old National “N” dials around, if you take the time to look. A fellow homebrewer told me that his local electronics surplus store had a number of them in good condition for a very good price (I believe he bought them all!) Hamfests and swapmeets are also a good place to look. eBay is another possibility but the prices asked are a bit on the high side, in my opinion. I got mine from Gary at Play Things Of Past. He was easy to deal with.

Note – the National N dials have 3 small rubber/fiber bumpers installed on the mounting plate to prevent the front metal “flange” (the part with the engraved dial markings) scraping on it when the dial is turned. ¬†If your dial is in good condition, none of the main parts are bent, and everything is running “true”, you can remove these bumpers. I did, and the result was a dial that rotated very smoothly. With the bumpers in place, there is a very slight scraping sound as the dial is turned. If you do this, make sure to save the bumpers in case you later wish to re-install them.

One downside to each coil only covering a relatively small part of the shortwave spectrum is that you end up with quite a few of them – more if you decide to wind specialty coils for specific bands. A coil box was definitely in order, so I headed to my local cigar and tobacco shop and purchased an empty cigar box. A trip to the local craft store yielded a length of bass wood, which is a little harder than balsa but can still be cut with a sharp craft knife. I cut slots in the lengths of basswood so they would slot together to form dividers to store the coils in –

The dividers installed in the cigar box, with the coils that had been wound so far (at time of writing this, I now have one more, for the 120M BC band) –

In order to know where you are on the band, you’ll need to calibrate your dial. ¬†I accomplished this by plotting a graph for each coil with frequency on the x axis and dial markings from 0 to 100 on the y axis. For frequency references, you can use a crystal-controlled marker, or off-air signals and an online frequency database such as short-wave.info¬† Bear in mind that the setting of the regeneration control does alter the received frequency. Probably the best way to standardize your results is to keep the regeneration at or just below the point of oscillation at each dial setting that you take a measurement. The following is one of the graphs I am currently plotting. The original was larger and it is a little hard to read the markings on each axis on this smaller version. That’s fine, as your calibration will be different anyway. ¬†In this graph, look at the line formed by the red dots (the black dots are something different – you can ignore them) –

The variable capacitor I used is what Hammarlund called a “midline” type in which the moving plates (the rotor) were mounted off-center so that the relationship between degrees of rotation and the resulting capacitance was non-linear. ¬†The intent was to keep the relationship between degrees of rotation and frequency fairly linear and by looking at the graph, you can see that it is not bad at all. I also found that once a graph was plotted, I was able to set the dial and return to a particular frequency with a good degree of accuracy and repeatability. When listening to AM stations with this receiver and it’s bandwidth, which is of the order of 10KHz, you can be assured of returning to a dial setting and hearing the station you want.

The Sproutie does work on SSB and CW, but SSB reception is trickier due to the need to control the signal input level (with the RF attenuation/gain pot) in order to prevent overloading of the regen detector and pulling of the oscillator, and to adjust the level of regeneration in order to inject the right amount of carrier. If the signal level to the regen stage is too high, the oscillator will pull, resulting in the signal sounding “wobbly” due to FM’ing of the oscillator. This happens very easily, even with moderately strong signals. My preferred method of operating the set when listening to SSB stations is to run the AF gain at, or close to, maximum volume, and to keep the RF “gain” low. Sometimes, I need to keep the RF gain twisted almost to zero in order to achieve a nice stable demodulated signal. When adjusted properly, SSB sounds good on The Sproutie, but it takes a fair bit more work than with a superhet fitted with a product detector. Hams and shortwave listeners who have used older superhets that used BFO injection into a receiver with a diode detector will be familiar with the technique of keeping the AF gain up high, and using the RF gain to control the signal-to-carrier injection ratio. In this case, we are also using the RF gain to prevent the detector from being overloaded and pulling the oscillator. Sound tricky? If you’ve never done it before, it can take time to get used to, but after a while, it becomes almost second nature.

While I’m on the subject of fine tuning, allow me to expound a little more on reduction drives. In contrast to the friction drive on the National “N” Dial I used for the main tuning, the reduction drive on my fine tuning is a Jackson Bros 10:1 ball drive which has a small amount of backlash and feels a bit “spongy”. I don’t like it, and am grateful that for my main intended use of listening to AM stations, I won’t need it. I may change this ball drive for either another friction drive, or a different ball drive. ¬†The Xtal Set Society sell 6:1 ball drives manufactured (I believe) by Oren Elliot) that have a more pleasing feel. EDIT – I have since found that making the 2 screws that hold this mini ball-drive to the front panel very, very tight seems to eliminate the backlash and reduce the spongy feel a bit. ¬†I suppose it increases the pressure on the bearings a little. For the time being, I’ll keep this drive but if I ever change the front panel, that will be the point at which I’ll drill a bigger hole for a more conventionally-sized reduction drive.

For the above reasons, if I were intending to listen to more SSB and CW on this receiver, I would definitely wind coils to spread each entire amateur band over the whole rotation of the dial, and make sure I had a reduction drive for the fine tuning with very little or zero backlash and a better feel (though having said that, the regeneration control works very effectively for fine tuning).

Another thing that has often interested me is the bandwidth of regens. In general, as you approach the point of oscillation, the bandwidth becomes narrower, until it is at it’s narrowest somewhere around that critical point. As you continue to advance the regeneration, the bandwidth broadens out somewhat. I connected the output of a simple noise generator to the antenna socket of The Sproutie, and took screenshots while running Spectrogram, which was being driven from the line out jack of the receiver. ¬†All 3 of these screengrabs were taken just marginally below the point of oscillation (the ideal point for receiving AM). The first one was with the low-pass filter adjusted for maximum bandwidth –

Well, it’s obviously not the kind of brick wall shape we might expect from a good crystal or mechanical filter but if you look closely, the passband is about 25dB down at the 5KHz point and 30dB down at the 10KHz point, That’s not too bad for AM reception, though if you wanted to get really serious about it, a passband of around 5 – 6KHz with a much steeper wall would, of course, be more ideal.

Here’s a grab taken with the low-pass filter pot at the median point, which is looking better –

…and better still with the low-pass filter set to the lowest cut-off point –

It is important to remember that these spectrums represent the response of the entire receiver, and not just that of the front end. SSB and CW signals become higher-pitched as you tune away from the center of the signal, but although the audio frequency make-up of an AM signal tuned off-center does change, the whole signal does not become higher-pitched. Therefore, an audio filter will be more effective at rejecting off-frequency signals for SSB and CW signals than for AM. Nevertheless, the adjustable low-pass filter is very good at cutting down much of the high pitched static that can make simple receivers like this quite tiring to listen to for long periods whatever mode is being received. It makes The Sproutie feel like a “grown-up” receiver!

Here’s The Sproutie, with it’s coil box. I would have felt as if I had died and gone to heaven if I’d had this receiver as a teenager. I’m feeling pretty good about it at my current age of 50 ūüôā

The Sproutie is not completely finished yet (is any homebrew project ever truly finished?) The changes and additions I am considering include –

-Designing a thicker, and custom front panel with Front Panel Express, and making it a little wider than the current one to allow for a pair of instrument handles to be mounted

-Changing the 10:1 Jackson Bros reduction ball drive on the fine tuning control for something with less backlash and a firmer, less “spongy” feel

-Winding more coils for specific bands, so that the bands I am most interested in can be spread out over the entire dial, making tuning using just the main tuning control even easier

-I had also considered finding a local cabinetmaker to make a wooden cabinet for The Sproutie, but am not too sure about the convenience of sliding the chassis out of the cabinet every time I want to change a coil. If you’re thinking about building a receiver like this, completely enclosing it in metal would be quite a good idea – perhaps with a hinged flap or door on top for coil-changing. Regenerative receivers are quite sensitive, and this one picks up signals from my computer and/or my monitor, which are located nearby

It always feels good to build something that works, and The Sproutie certainly does that. It’s a great little receiver for shortwave listening and with an extra tube base, a toroid, some wire and a few extra capacitors, you can add whatever frequency coverage to it you like as you go along.

Oh – and I just realized I didn’t explain that Sproutie is the nickname I gave my 2 1/2 year-old cat Sprout, whose ham radio name is Sprat The QRP Cat. I had already named one of my home-brew radios after a kitty I used to have called Rug, so figured it was time to honor Sproutie in the same way.

Sprat The QRP Cat aka Sprout aka Sproutie, after whom this receiver is named.

Videos of The Sproutie in action are here.

Thoughts on using The Sproutie to receive SSB are here.

Sproutie is ever-curious, just like her regen namesake is always seeking out signals.

I continue to update and re-write this post, as I make additions and improvements to The Sproutie. I would rather incorporate them here, rather than into subsequent, and separate posts. That way, if you are thinking of making your own version of this receiver, you can get all the latest updated information by reading this one (rather long!) post, instead of checking my entire blog for updates. As of February 2015, I have filled the entire cigar box with coils, with one to spare (that one is plugged into the receiver). The latest coil I made was for 17400-18200KHz to cover both the 16M BC band and the 17M ham band. 16M is just about the highest frequency shortwave BC band that is in regular use so I now have all the SWBC bands covered – most of them with coils specific for the individual bands. Here’s what my coil box looks like now. The unmarked coil sitting at the top of the box is the experimental one for 24-29MHz –

This cigar box cost $5 from a local tobacconist and makes an excellent coil box. The unmarked ceramic tube base sitting on top is the experimental coil for 24-29MHz. 4 adhesive vinyl bumpers stuck to the bottom help to protect it from rough surfaces.

June 24, 2014

Building A WBR Regen Receiver For The 31M Broadcast Band (or the 30M Ham Band)

Note – some of the narrative in this blog-post assumes that you have access to, and have read, N1BYT’s original article on the WBR Receiver in the August 2001 edition of QST.

EDIT – as of July 2016, I just modded this receiver to cover the 30M ham band only, and have been surprised by it’s sensitivity. My WBR’s appear to be more sensitive on SSB/CW than AM.

It has been almost 3 years since¬†I first built N1BYT’s WBR¬†– a regenerative receiver for the 40M amateur band. It was an intriguing design for me, as it employed a Wheatstone Bridge arrangement to minimize oscillator radiation into the antenna without the use of an RF amplifier stage. Unlike older tube designs, more modern semiconductor regens don’t generate as much RF energy, though although you might think that the need for minimizing radiation into the antenna is less, that is not the case. Radiation into the antenna can be the cause of one malady that plagues some regens – that of common mode hum. This circuit avoids that. It is quite a unique design. In fact, unless I’ve missed something, you have to go back to the 1920’s in order to find anyone who was designing along the same lines, as Mike Rainey AA1TJ relates in this post of his.

Such was my pleasure at the performance of this little receiver, I have often wondered how it would adapt to other frequencies. I did briefly try to make a general coverage version of it but for some reason, couldn’t get the oscillator stage to oscillate and gave up on it far too soon. Then, a few weeks ago, I started wondering about building a second WBR, for the 31M shortwave broadcast band. I already had a small aluminum enclosure into which I knew I wanted to put the finished receiver, and some months earlier, had cut a piece of PCB for whatever Manhattan project would find it’s way into the box, so getting the envelope of MePADS and MeSQUARES out and beginning to build didn’t take much of a leap, once I had found the initial inspiration.

A few rough calculations revealed the number of turns that would be required on the toroid for this new, higher frequency coverage, and they proved to be correct. I guesstimated that I should be able to achieve something of the order of 500KHz of coverage, which would allow the receiver to tune the 9400-9900KHz 31M band. I was also hoping to be able to cover up to 10MHz in order to be able to receive WWV and as it turned out, that was indeed possible. As well as a new frequency range, I decided to try a different configuration for the LM386 AF amp. N1BYT uses the 386 in it’s standard high-gain configuration that places a 10uF capacitor between pins 1 and 8 of the chip. ¬†This has the advantage of providing high gain with low component count (an important consideration if you are to engage as many builders as possible), but it is also an approach that results in a lot of hiss. If you’re using a regen, you’re already dealing with a fairly high amount of hiss, so I wanted to at least remove some of that from the audio stages. In his¬†Micro 40 DSB transceiver,¬†Peter VK3YE uses the LM386 in a way that still gives high gain, but is a bit less hissy. Much has been written in the pages of SPRAT on trying to eke more gain from this venerable and much-maligned little chip, and Peter’s circuit appears to be based on LA3ZA’s ideas in SPRAT 116 (page 4). This circuit worked well in the¬†Micro 40 I built,¬†so I decided to use it in this, my second build of the WBR. I also incorporated a pre-amp stage, as suggested by N1BYT in his original article in the Aug 2001 issue of QST.

On completing the receiver, I noticed that it seemed a little deaf. The WBR was a project in the¬†QRP-Tech Yahoo Group (Yahoo membership required),¬†led by Chuck K7QO, and a few builders there also experienced lack of sensitivity. I am wondering if they made the same mistake that I made with both my builds of the WBR – to miss the fact that the full details of Z1 were not published in the original QST article. A later list of corrections revealed that Z1 was intended to be a metal strip measuring 1/8″ x 1/2″ and connected to ground via a short wire. In both of my WBR builds, I used a piece of stiff wire instead of the recommended metal strip, as detailed in the original article, and was perhaps inadvertently placing too little inductance at Z1. ¬†Although Dan N1BYT does warn against increasing this impedance, lest it lead to detector overload,¬†LA3ZA found that an inductor of 0.22uH at this point¬†helped the sensitivity (and presumably didn’t overload the detector). Builders in the QRP-Tech Yahoo group experimented and found values between 0.22uH and 1uH to be optimum. I followed a slightly different route, first adding a 0.3uH inductor, consisting of 9 turns wound on a T37-6 toroid core. This increased the sensitivity dramatically, but also resulted in breakthrough from a local religious broadcaster on 1640AM. Instead of experimenting with lower values of inductance, for some reason, I added a simple BC band trap. At first it appeared to solve the problem, but then I noticed that although the AM breakthrough was much diminished, it was not, in fact, completely gone. At this point, I reduced the number of turns on my T37-6 from 9 to 4 and found that it did the trick. My WBR was still quite sensitive, yet without the disadvantage of breakthrough from strong broadcast signals. I left my BC band trap in circuit but would suggest if you build this circuit, you first experiment with the value of the inductor before deciding whether to add the trap. ¬†Keep the value of inductance as low as possible and depending on where you live, a trap may well not be necessary. EDIT – Jason NT7S has also built a WBR using the schematic published here. He reduced the number of turns on his inductor to just 3 and found no need for a BCB trap, despite having a strong local station at 1390KHz that was causing detector overload when the number of turns on his inductor was 4. It pays to experiment! See the bottom of this post for more info on Jason’s experience with the BCB trap and for a video of his WBR in action. Jason also found that the BCB trap I detailed here does not have an ideal response. Details of that are at the bottom of this post.

I know there are some experimenters who are sitting on the sidelines waiting to build a WBR, but who are a little confused by the various mods published, and want to see more information on a successful build before going ahead with their own. By sharing detailed information on mine, I’m hoping a few more people will be encouraged to build their own version and share their experiences – the internet is a great way to do this. Many thanks to Dan N1BYT for graciously giving me the go ahead to show you a full schematic for this version that I built. The only changes I made to the core part of the circuit (the regen stage and the infinite impedance detector)¬†were to employ a 10-turn pot for the regeneration (with a 33uF cap across it to stop the “whizzing” sound), the addition of the trap, and the substitution of Z1 for a small toroidal inductor, a mod that was first publicized by LA3ZA. The actual value of this inductor may require experimentation on the part of the individual builder but, and this does bear repeating, ¬†it is wise to err on the side of keeping it small in order to avoid detector overload. My 40M WBR uses just a piece of stiff wire for Z1, and I have never heard any kind of breakthrough from all the signals my outside antenna deliver to that defenseless little receiver!

If you are thinking of using the optional AM BC band filter, I have since discovered that the attenuation of this filter is not as high as I had hoped. Give this one a try instead. It uses molded chokes instead of toroids, which some builders may prefer.

 

The description of circuit operation is contained in the original article which is readily available to ARRL members. Having read horror stories of unstable and unpredictable regen behavior by some builders (not of the WBR, I hasten to add), I was pleasantly surprised to find that the WBR has smooth regeneration control with no hysteresis, and is overall a tame set to operate. I have read that for solid state circuits, the designs that incorporate a separate Q-multiplier and detector (as does the WBR) tend to work better. Whether this is fact or hearsay, I am not sure. I have found it quite difficult to separate technical fact from folklore in the area of regens. This could be partially due to the fact that many builders, like myself, don’t have an in-depth knowledge of the workings of these circuits. Add that to the fact that regens are particularly dependent on good RF practices and solid physical construction, and I suspect that some designs are declared to be wanting simply because the experimenter didn’t build it properly. Likewise, due to lack of knowledge on the part of many builders, marginal regen designs are published and propagated by people who don’t have the ability to discern whether a circuit is “any good” or not. The world of regens seems to be a mystical and magical one inhabited by equal parts myth and fact.

I used 10-turn wirewound pots for both the regeneration and tuning controls (Bournes 3590S-2-103L). These pots aren’t cheap and if you need to save money, you can use a preset to set the approximate regeneration voltage range, and a regular 1-turn pot for the regen control, as N1BYT describes in the original article. A 10-turn pot does seem to give more precise control over the regeneration though. If you use a wirewound pot here, add a 33uF capacitor between the slider and ground, as shown in the schematic. This will eliminate the “whizzing” sound as you rotate the pot. I have an affinity for 10-turn pots, so I used them for both controls. I like the fact that I don’t have to bother setting the approximate regeneration range with a preset, as I have the full range of control voltages available to me immediately with the 10-turn control. The 10-turn seems to give better control over setting the receiver for the threshold of oscillation. Also, when using the injection of carrier to receive weak AM stations, the regen control can be used as a very fine tuning control in order to set the receiver to zero beat when in exalted carrier reception mode. Adjusting the regen control does have the effect of slightly shifting the frequency of the receiver, which can come in quite useful when wanting to make critical adjustments to the tuning of the receiver. Incidentally, this is a good reason to pay close attention to the physical construction of your WBR. You won’t be able to set the receiver for exalted carrier reception if it’s not stable enough.

The one disadvantage of using a 10-turn pot for the tuning is that you can’t see at a glance roughly where you are in the band. An arrangement of two 1-turn pots, one for bandsetting, and one for bandspread, will be cheaper, and will allow the operate to easily judge where he is in the band simply by looking at the setting of the main bandsetting pot. ¬†Other arrangements might be possible. One thought that comes to mind is the use of an old-fashioned vernier reduction drive with a logging scale connected to a 1-turn pot. This would allow for quite accurate calibration of the dial and of course, the ability to see where you are in the band with one glance. The expense and trouble may not be justified, but if you already have one on hand, it would be an intriguing option. Expanding on this – how about a version of the WBR with plug-in coils for wider coverage? The padder and trimmer capacitors could be included in the coil form so that each frequency range could be adjusted individually. Well – that may be too fanciful an idea, but imagination is free! If you’re using a 10-turn pot, how about one of those turns counter dials combined with your own personalized logging chart? This is an idea I may try to implement in my build of this receiver at some point.

When setting the frequency coverage, you can run a short piece of wire from the antenna lead of a general coverage receiver close to the main tuning coil of the WBR and turn the regen control in order to make the set oscillate. Then, listening to the WBR oscillator in your receiver and with the tuning pot in the WBR turned fully clockwise, set the trimcap for the uppermost end of the desired frequency coverage. Twist the WBR tuning pot fully counter-clockwise, and use the 5K trimpot to set the bottom of the tuning range. With the values given, I was able to get my WBR to receive as high as 10.3MHz and lower than 8.6MHz, giving me the ability to pick any 500-600KHz tuning range within those limits. It would be a fairly simple matter to set the WBR to receive on any desired band of frequencies by changing the number of turns on the coil and/or the value of the 47pF padding capacitor (the capacitor in parallel with the trimcap).

Here’s the basic board. At this point, the only inductance between the center-tap of the main tuning coil (the big one on the yellow T68-6 toroid) and ground is a short piece of stiff wire. ¬†Also, the AM BC band trap hasn’t been built yet (I didn’t know that I would need it). The cables for the various connectors have been bundled together in order to look neat for the picture –

On connecting this board up, the receiver seemed a little deaf, To be fair, although the original article doesn’t mention it, corrections to the article published in a future edition of QST did mention that Z1, the impedance between the center-tap of the coil and ground, should have been drawn as a metal strip 1/8″ wide, 1’2″ long, and grounded to the board with a standard piece of wire. I was using just a piece of wire, as you can see in the photo. This probably wasn’t providing enough inductance. I clipped part of the wire connecting the center-tap to the ground plane, and inserted an inductor consisting of 9 turns of wire on a T37-6 toroid. ¬†This is an inductance of about 0.3uH. Wow – what an improvement in sensitivity! Unfortunately, a local broadcaster whose transmitter on 1640KHz is just a few miles down the road from me, was breaking through. This was presumably caused by detector overload as a result of increasing the impedance at Z1. I added a simple AM broadcast band trap which I initially thought had solved the problem, but later discovered that the breakthrough was still there, albeit at a much lower level. I rewound the T37-6 toroid with 4 turns, for an inductance of about 0.05uH. Bingo! Breakthrough gone! In retrospect, a better way to proceed would have been to attempt to find an optimum value for the inductor that would have given good sensitivity while still avoiding overload of the detector, before adding the trap. Here’s the board after the trap was added, and the center-tap of the coil modified. The stiff wire to ground was cut and a 10M stand-off resistor inserted in it’s place to help with rigidity, before adding the inductor wound on the T37-6 toroid. This is the first version of the inductor, with 9 turns. The later version had just 4 turns –

Time to box it up. I’ve had a couple of small aluminum cases from LMB Heeger that I bought because I thought they’d make great cases for small projects. ¬†It’s their model #143 in plain aluminum finish, though it is also available in grey and black.¬†One thing I particularly like about it is the small lugs on the top cover – 2 at the front and 2 at the back – that prevent the front and back panels from flexing inwards. This feature helps to make it a very stout little case. This enclosure was the obvious choice to make a nice compact receiver out of this version of the WBR –

 

After a few hours of listening to it (what fun!) the AF amp began to make occasional motorboating-type noises. It appeared that audio peaks were changing the regeneration point and pushing the set into slight oscillation. The battery was still at about 8.5V, so this should not have been happening. While researching possible causes, it occurred to me that in reality, this receiver was going to spend nearly all of it’s time in my shack, meaning that I could run it off the shack gel cell power supply. Instead of solving the issue I took the easy way out, removing the battery holder and fitting a jack for a DC power supply, along with a series diode for polarity protection. The receiver can easily handle the ~0.6V voltage drop from a 12V supply, and if you use the reverse diode to ground method with a bigger 12V supply, it will blow the diode like a fuse if you inadvertently connect the power to the set the wrong way round. ¬†With a small 9V battery, it’s internal resistance should prevent it from passing enough current to blow the reverse diode. Also, you cannot afford to drop 0.6V from a 9V supply, hence the reason for using the method pictured in the schematic. The holes that were previously used to mount the battery clips became tie points for the antenna cable –

My downstairs neighbor’s cat was standing over the WBR in this next shot. You can see his whiskers in the top right-hand side of the frame. I think he’s interested in regens. In these next 2 shots, you can also see the lugs on the top cover that help to make this such a stout little case. It’s a neat little receiver –

From time to time, I am asked what knobs I use for my projects. They are manufactured by Eagle Plastics. I get them from Mouser, though I’m sure they’re available through many other outlets.

The large one I use for tuning is part # 450-2039-GRX (the exact same knob is also available from Radio Shack, and is RS catalog # 274-402

The medium sized ones I normally use for AF gain, RF gain etc are part # 450-2035-GRX

and the small ones I use for AF gain, RF attenuation, and regeneration in this receiver (because space was at a premium) are part # 450-234-GRX

For wiring up the connectors, I use a thin cable consisting of 2 conductors plus a shield. It’s made for lavalier mics, so is skinny and flexible – ideal for wiring up pots and jacks. I used to get mine from a local pro-audio store that recently closed down, so had to find a new supplier. Most places online seem to either want to sell large reels of the stuff or, if they do sell it by the foot, charge too much. I found a place in Connecticut called Redco that sell it by the foot for a reasonable price. On top of that, they will ship via first class USPS mail, which helps to keep the cost down. I haven’t tried any of this new batch yet, but it’s a quality cable made by Mogami (type W2697), and it looks like it will do the trick.

RF connections (like from the antenna connector to the RF attenuation pot) are made with Belden 8215 RG-174/U. ¬†It’s skinny and flexible.

Following are a number of videos designed to show different aspects of this regen, My old camera takes awful quality video (sorry about that) and limits the clips to 3 minutes, which is why there are several videos instead of one long one.

This one shows how the set has quite a narrow bandwidth when set to the point just below oscillation. In all these videos, the WBR is directly driving an external speaker. There is no external amplifier connected –

In this video, you can hear how the audio bandwidth broadens out considerably when the set is oscillating –

Tuning around the 31M band. There aren’t many strong signals, as band conditions generally have been poor. It’s not due to any shortcomings in the WBR –

This video shows how stable a homebuilt regen can be. I could have made mine more impervious to knocks by holding the toroid with a nylon screw and washers, but that might have introduced more long-term drift –

Another video just tuning around. It cuts off rather suddenly at the end –

This one shows how effective the technique of exalted carrier reception can be – and you can do it with a regen! –

It seems fairly sensitive, and quite stable, both in terms of it’s response to physical knocks, and the long term drift. I like regens over direct conversion receivers, because of their ability to demodulate AM as well as CW and SSB transmissions. I suppose that with a very stable VFO (a synthesized one perhaps) a DC receiver could receive AM in exalted carrier mode but with a regen you can actually take it out of oscillation and receive AM with no carrier injection. The regenerative detector is a versatile one.

The only criticism I have of this particular build of the receiver is that I seem to have a noisy LM386. The 386 stage is generating a type of low frequency random scratchy noise that wasn’t present the last time I used this circuit configuration (in the Micro 40). I have heard that there is enough variation in these chips such that you can get a particularly noisy one. This chip was part of a batch of cheap ones I bought from eBay. I just ordered some LM386N-4’s from W8DIZ. They seem to be quality parts from National Semiconductor and because they are LM386N-4’s, they have higher power dissipation and a higher max supply voltage (16V) than the others (12V), which can’t be a bad thing. I may, at some point, put one of Diz’s 386’s in place of my eBay cheapy-chip in this set. ¬†¬†EDIT June 25th 2014 –¬†I just replaced the eBay cheapy LM386 with an LM386N-4 from W8DIZ and the scratchy rumble is gone! The ones that Diz sells are National Semiconductor devices and of course, they still hiss, because they are 386’s being used in a high-gain configuration. With a good 386 though, the noise is just a smooth hiss that is much easier to deal with than the scratchy rumble of the bad part. ¬†Here’s what the¬†sub-par IC sounded like. The hiss is normal for a LM386 used in a high-gain configuration, but that scratchy rumble is most definitely not –

Jason NT7S built a WBR using the schematic in this post. Instead of building it for the 31M band, he built his for the 40 amateur and 41M broadcast bands. If I remember correctly, he set his coverage for 6900 – 7500KHz, which gives him coverage of the pirate BC band at around 6925KHz ¬Ī, 40M from 7000-7300, and 41M from 7200 – 7450KHz, though it does make tuning SSB and CW a bit tricky. If you want to make tuning SSB/CW easier, then you can limit the coverage of a 40M RX to just the amateur band. If you’re a hpone-only person, you could have your WBR tune 7150-7300 (in the US) for much smoother tuning! Before removing a turn from his antenna-input inductor, Jason was getting breakthrough from a strong local station on 1390KHz – even with the AM BCB trapin place. He did a sweep of the trap on his scope and here was the result. ¬†The marker is at 1390KHz – the strong undesired signal –

Note how the attenuation of the trap is only about 5dB at the frequency of the unwanted signal. I may take another look at the values of the components in this trap with a view to increasing the cut-off frequency but my first step will be to also remove a turn from my antenna-input inductor to reduce it to just 3 turns and see if I can also manage without the trap. ¬†Thank you for this input Jason! ¬†Jason’s WBR¬†sounds¬†great. It is the first time he has¬†successfully built a regen, and I’m tickled pink that I was able to inspire him to build this one. I don’t think he was disappointed either –

Jason sent me this picture of his WBR, all wrapped up in a smart blue enclosure. ¬†Aluminum for the bottom half, and PCB material for the top half, if I’m not mistaken. I like the attractive pattern of holes for the speaker cut-out. Is the bottom half from an LMB Heeger Crown Royal enclosure, by any chance? Nice! –

Jason NT7S’ WBR in it’s attractive blue enclosure. Jason built his for coverage of 6900KHz – 7500KHz.

This successful build of another WBR is helping to pull me down the rabbit hole of wanting to build the perfect regen. My goal is to build a really good general coverage regen on a nice-sized chassis with plug-in coils for band changes. I am starting to collect parts with this goal in mind and being relatively inexperienced with regens, have many questions in my mind, such as

– semiconductors or tubes?

– separate detector and regen stage, or an oscillating detector?

– an FET or a bipolar detector?

– high mu, or low to medium mu tubes for the detector?

– throttle capacitor with ball drive, or resistive regeneration control?

– toroids or traditional coils?

– any other considerations?

Although I’m secretly looking for a solid technical reason to make my dream general coverage regen a tube design, a semiconductor one would probably be best, as long as I’m not potentially giving up anything in performance. If any experienced regen builders are reading this and have any ideas, I’d love to hear them.

Oh – and the downstairs neighbor’s cat, whose whiskers you saw poking down from the top of the frame in the shot of the WBR from the back? That’s Stephen. He likes regens (I think). Here he is wondering what magical electromagnetic signals there are out there in the ether. He might also be looking at a bug –

Such an enjoyable little receiver. Thank you for the circuit once again N1BYT.

May 11, 2013

The NA5N Desert Ratt 2 Regen

EDIT –¬†If you’re thinking of building the Desert Ratt 2, although the pictures in this post are numerous and quite large, I do recommend reading all the text too, as I have included what I thought were relevant details on the construction as part of my narrative. Also make sure to read the comments and replies. ¬†Previous blog-posts have taught me that readers often ask pertinent questions, so you may be able to glean a little more information from them too. ¬†In fact, just before I wrote this, Paul NA5N made a comment which includes a usefiul piece of information about the 2 x 1,000pF (0.001uF) capacitors in the regen stage.

EXTRA EDIT – Please read the update at the end of this post, after the videos.

I’ve been wanting to build NA5N’s Desert Ratt regen ever since I first found his very¬†attractively¬†drawn schematic for it online.¬†I then found the updated version, called the Desert Ratt 2, and a very good description of how the circuit works – all of these documents available on Paul’s website. What more could an avid regen builder want? Not much, it turned out. Late last year, when N2CX and N2APB dedicated an episode of Chat With The Designers to the¬†Desert¬†Ratt (and to the subject of regens in general), I just had to listen and of course, it fueled my interest in building the DR2 even more. The whiteboard for this particular episode of CWTD is here, and the podcast audio is here.

The WBR¬†was a successful regen for me and while it worked well on SSB/CW, it didn’t seem to quite have the gain with AM stations. This makes sense, as a regenerative detector has to be set below the point of oscillation for AM reception, at which point it has less gain than when it is oscillating (which is where you set it for SSB/CW reception.) ¬†Even so, I had read that bipolar transistors tend to work better as regen stages for AM, as they have higher gain when not oscillating. The search was on for such a receiver, and this was one of the key deciding factors in building the DR2 for me. In fact, Paul has mentioned (I forget where I saw it, as I have done so much reading on this receiver) that the Desert Ratt doesn’t do so well with SSB/CW as it does with AM. My experience with it backs up this assertion, thought it’s a pretty neat receiver for AM.

In particular, I wanted a receiver for covering the 49M SW BC band as although my Elecraft K2 covers a few of the BC bands, 49M is not one of them. There were a few things I found interesting about the design. The use of a phase splitter transistor to convert the single-ended output of the detector to a balanced output in order to drive the LM386 in differential mode was novel. Paul talks about how much RF is flying around inside regen receivers, and how the common-mode rejection of the 386 when used in differential mode can be advantageous in such an environment. I was also intrigued by the detector consisting of 2 germanium diodes – I think I was just looking for an excuse to build something with Germanium diodes again to remind me of my crystal-set building days as a kid ūüôā

If you look at the schematic of the DR2, ¬†you’ll see that one of the changes in the design from the original DR is that instead of a variable capacitor, it uses 1N4004 diodes as varicaps. I have a bit of a “thing” for nice air-spaced variable capacitors, and I had in mind a nice Millen 50pF capacitor that I picked up on eBay for a very fair price last year.¬†Combined with a 6:1 reduction drive, it made a good combination with a very useable tuning rate for tuning in AM stations.

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself here. I did make a few changes to the original schematic for my version, so allow me to introduce my rather wobbly circuit diagram –

The differences between my schematic and Paul’s are as follows –

РI added an RF attenuation pot at the antenna input. After building the DR2, I found that using a relatively short piece of wire indoors as an antenna was causing a lot of common-mode hum.  On top of that, I wanted to be able to increase the signal level into the receiver with the use of my regular outside antenna (A 40M dipole fed with 300 ohm balanced feeder.)  Using the attenuation pot allowed me to use the large outdoor antenna without overloading the receiver.  Use of my outdoor antenna created enough separation between the receiver and antenna that the hum problem almost entirely disappeared.

– Earlier versions of the Desert Ratt included instructions for winding the coil on a plastic 35mm film canister and on an IC shipping tube. The DR2 schematic doesn’t include such instructions, but I wanted to use a toroid, so I experimented a bit and came up with a scheme that seems to work OK. ¬†I used a T68-6 former and the turns info is on my schematic above – a T50-7 would take up a little less space. More about this later.

– I had a few 2-position center-off¬†switches¬†that I wanted to use, so I used one of these for a bandswitch instead of the SPST switch in NA5N’s DR2 schematic. I had originally thought that using the 50pF tuning capacitor with no padding would make the upper limit of frequency coverage too high, resulting in too large a frequency swing in one band, but there must have been more stray circuit capacitance than I had anticipated, as the coverage with no extra padding was about 7.3 – 13MHz. This band became the center position.

– I was attempting to power the DR2 from my shack power supply, which is about 45AH of sealed lead acid batteries with a float charger constantly connected. ¬†This also powers my K2, and the DR2 was picking up¬†processor¬†noise from the K2, as well as a low-frequency “burbly” kind of noise of undetermined origin. The problem went away when I powered the receiver from a¬†separate¬†SLA. but I decided to add extra filtering to the power line anyway. ¬†I found that a 1mH choke as well as a 1,000uF electrolytic almost (but not quite) got rid of the unwanted interference on the power line. ¬†For good measure, I added a 0.01uF RF decoupling capacitor across the power line at the input connection.

РI added an AF preamp stage directly after the diode detector to ensure enough power to easily drive a speaker Рeven with weak signals.

– The inputs to the LM386 are the opposite way around from the way indicated in NA5N’s DR2 schematic. ¬†With the inputs connected as shown in Paul’s diagram, the LM386 emitted a loud screeching sound. ¬†Swapping the inputs cured this. I was not the only person who had this problem, as I discovered from this post in the GQRP Yahoo Group¬†(you need to be a member of the group to read the post).

– ¬†I left pin 7 unconnected. I don’t understand the way that NA5N has it connected to the junction of the series resistor and capacitor connected between pin 5 and ground in his diagram. ¬†Most circuits that use pin 7 call for a decoupling capacitor direct from pin 7 to ground (usually about 10uF). ¬†This helps reduce large signal distortion, though Paul does say that in this application, it may not do a great deal to help and is therefore optional. ¬†I elected to leave it unconnected.

Now for some pictures. ¬†I didn’t want to spend a lot of time constructing an enclosure, so decided to make a simple PCB L-shaped chassis and build the circuit directly onto that. ¬†With the variable capacitor mounting bracket, it still ended up taking quite a while to construct though. All my projects begin like this, with the main components and control being laid out on the front panel, while deciding on the basic layout –

I’ll spare you the words at this point and apologize for all the pictures that are about to come. If you’re living in a remote area and are still relying on dial-up, then I feel a bit sheepish about the sheer number of images to follow! ¬†I’ve talked before about constructing enclosures from PCB material, so won’t repeat that information here. As well as constructing the chassis from PCB material, I also made a mounting bracket for the variable capacitor and a tuning pointer to attach to the reduction drive with 2 small screws – all from double-sided copper-clad laminate.

I applied several thin coats of lacquer from an aerosol spray. ¬†It was sprayed from a distance, resulting in a light, and stippled coating, which you can see in these pictures. I’d rather apply too light a coat than risk overdoing it. The downside of this is that oxidation will being to affect the appearance of the copper fairly soon. Oh well. The capacitor mounting bracket received a thicker coat. You can see the smoother, shinier finish.

I got the 6:1 reduction drive from Midnight Science. A number of others sell them, and one place that springs to mind is Mainline Electronics in the UK. They are the suppliers for Jackson Bros components (I think they have the rights to manufacture and sell the parts).  They sell on eBay using the name anonalouise.

The enclosure looked a little bit different by the time the DR2 was finished, as the hole for the nylon toroid mounting hardware hadn’t been drilled in the base at this point.

Look at that gorgeous variable capacitor!

A close-up view of the Millen 21050 50pF air-spaced variable capacitor and mounting bracket. This component is silver-plated (the vanes are probably brass), and has double bearings and a ceramic base. It is a very nice variable capacitor, and had never been soldered to before being used in this project. It is at least 35 years old – most likely older!

Boy, was I glad to finish the chassis so that I could start work on wiring it all up. ¬†I decided to build the AF amp first and work backwards, my thinking being that the AF amp would be relatively straightforward. The act of touching the input with a metal screwdriver and hearing a hearty buzz in the loudspeaker would give a welcome psychological boost! If I started by building from the antenna end, I’d have to wait until the entire receiver was built before getting any clue as to whether it was working.

Here’s the chassis with the LM386 amp, the 2N3904 phase splitter, and the 2N3904 preamp built. As has been the case with all my projects since I started using then, I used W1REX’s wonderful MePADs and MeSQUAREs to build the¬†circuit¬†–

Here’s a close-up. The 2N3904 preamp is just below the 6:1 reduction drive, and the 2N3904 phase splitter is to the left of the LM386. ¬†The 100uF capacitor that decouples the supply line to the LM386 straddles it. I read that it is best to ground it to pin 4 instead of to some other point on the chassis to avoid instability, hence the reason for this placement. The other electrolytic that is straddling the chip is the 10uF capacitor between pins 1 and 8 that sets it to the maximum gain of 46dB. The black shielded cable connecting the AF gain pot to the circuit on the PCB is lavalier mic cable. ¬†It has 2 conductors, each of them in it’s own shield, which is ideal for wiring up potentiometers. It is fairly thin and very flexible. I use it in all my home-brew projects. I bought it from a local pro-audio store which recently closed down, so will now need to find another supplier.

In this view, you can clearly see the extra DC supply line filtering that I added, consisting of a 1mH choke in series with, and a 1,000uF electrolytic across, the DC supply. After seeing these pictures, I noticed that there wasn’t very much solder on the joint connecting the choke to the power jack, so I¬†re-flowed¬†the joint and melted a bit more solder onto it.

The power indicator LED’s main function is as a voltage regulator. NA5N marked the various voltages on his schematic for the DR2, and I chose an LED with a forward voltage drop to match those voltages as close as I could. ¬†A green LED in a variety pack I got from Radio Shack had a forward voltage drop of 2.1V, which seemed about right. ¬†The 1N4148 had a forward drop of about 0.65V.

The next stages to be built were the detector and impedance converter/buffer stages. ¬†The description of the DR2 on NA5N’s site gives more info on these stages (as it does for the whole receiver). I couldn’t be sure these stages were working, but bringing my finger close to the diodes resulted in a pleasing cacophony of stations in the headphones – and at a louder level than in doing the same to subsequent stages, so I figured there was some detection/amplification¬†going on ūüôā

I didn’t know how many turns I was going to use on the toroid, but using the calculator on W8DIZ’ site and an online resonant¬†frequency¬†calculator,¬†I figured that 36 turns on a T68-6 should be a good starting point for the whole winding from pin 3 to pin 6. In Paul’s version, with the coils wound “traditional style”, the tickler winding was about 1/3 of the whole winding. ¬†Coupling between windings is tighter with a toroid than a “regular” coil, so I reduced the number of turns on the tickler. I found that regeneration was occuring at only about 25% rotation of the regen pot, so further reduced the number of turns. Using the turns shown on my schematic at the beginning of this post, ¬†the regen stage moved into oscillation at anywhere between 40 and 50% rotation on the pot, so I left it at that. For the same reason of tight coupling, I used fewer turns on the antenna winding too and because I am using an outdoor antenna, could probably have used even fewer turns.

The toroid was fixed to the PCB with nylon nuts, bolts and washers that I got from my local Ace hardware store.

Here are some pictures of my Desert Ratt 2 with the circuit finished –

The red wires running along the back of the front panel are the regulated 2.1V and 2.75V lines. ¬†I would have run them on the main board but ran out of room due to lack of planning, so went vertical. ¬†Incidentally, although I refer to the 2 regulated lines as 2.1V and 2.75V, ¬†the exact voltages¬†aren’t¬†important. ¬†That’s just what they turned out to be in my case.

The RF amp and regen stages can benefit from transistors with high hfe. I got a cheap Harbor Freight DMM that measures hfe from an eBay vendor for under $6 including shipping. ¬†hfe varies depending on the¬†collector¬†current, but I was doing this mainly for¬†comparative¬†purposes rather than absolute values, so the fact that I didn’t know what value of collector current was used to measure hfe in this cheap meter didn’t matter. It just so happened that my 2N2222A’s tended to have higher hfe than my 2N3904’s, so I ended up using a 2N2222A that measured in at hfe = 203 for the RF amp, and a 2N2222A with hfe = 223 for the regen stage. ¬†The other stages don’t require high-gain transistors. NA5N talks about it in this post on QRP-L from 1999.¬†Bear in mind that he was talking about the original¬†version¬†of the Desert Ratt in this post (just so you don’t get¬†confused¬†when he identifies the various transistors).

I did promise that I’d give a bit more detail on the toroid. Mine was wound on a T68-6 former. The main winding was 30 turns tapped at 27 turns from the top (3 turns from the bottom). The antenna coupling winding was 5 turns. ¬†All turns are wound in the same direction. I used 26 gauge wire, but the precise gauge isn’t important. 26 gauge was narrow enough to easily fit all the turns on the former, yet stout enough to lend some stability to the oscillator, as the toroid isn’t sitting close to the board, and the leads are relatively long. When putting taps on coils, I used to not cut the wire i.e. I would simply make a loop in the wire, twist it, tin the twisted part and keep on winding. ¬†Now I find it is easier to treat them as 2 separate windings connected together. If you can get heat-strippable wire, please do – it makes winding toroids so much easier and more pleasurable. ¬†I wound the first winding of 27 turns, stripped and tinned the end, then stripped and tinned the end of another piece of wire, twisted and soldered them together, and carried on winding the last 3 turns in the same direction (this is important). ¬†The separate antenna winding of 5 turns is also wound in the same direction. ¬†I’m afraid I didn’t write down (or if I did, I have since lost it) the lengths of wire used. I did notice that the turns calculator on W8DIZ’ site (linked earlier in this post) was quoting lengths that are too short for the T68-6 former. ¬†All you have to do is wind one turn around your former, measure that length, multiply it by the number of turns you’re going to wind, add an extra inch or two for the leads and, as we say in England, Bob’s yer Uncle and Fanny’s yer Aunt (meaning – you’re home free!) ¬†When winding toroids, I often find that the first 1 or 2 turns aren’t quite as tight as the rest so when¬†I’ve¬†finished winding, I will unwind one turn from the beginning of the coil, then wind an extra one at the end, to keep the total number of turns the same. ¬†Sometimes I will repeat that exercise a few more times until all the turns are nice and tight. ¬†For this reason, I use enough wire to leave several extra inches at each end.

The next picture shows an anti-hiss filter that wasn’t in the earlier pictures, which I tried and ended up removing due to a low-frequency oscillation it was causing at the higher volume settings. ¬† It was a series 0.01uF capacitor and 4.7K resistor connected from pin 1 of the LM386 to pin 5. ¬† From what I have read, too low a value of resistor or too high a value of capacitor can cause the oscillation. I have seen other anti-hiss filters that used a 0.01uF cap and a 10K resistor, so it is very possible those values would have cured my problem. However,¬†I was near the end of the project and itching to move on, so I just removed it.¬†You can also see the 0.1uF capacitors on the inputs of the IC that have been swapped over to stop the uncontrolled oscillation, and are now crossing each other. ¬†You may not have to cross these caps if you plan your¬†layout¬†accordingly –

Other than the problem with the loud screeching that was solved by swapping over the inputs to the LM386 (my schematic reflects the way the inputs were finally connected), the only other problem I had was with what appeared to be a defect in the 0.001uF (1,000pF) capacitor that leads from the tap on the coil to the emitter of the regen transistor. ¬†I wasn’t getting any regeneration at all but on replacing this capacitor, the circuit broke into a nice loud hiss when advancing the regen pot.

I do have one ongoing issue that I hope someone can shine a light on for me, and that is a loud crackling sound when adjusting the tuning capacitor. At first, I¬†thought¬†a dirty rotor connection was the problem, but it only happens when extra padding capacitance is switched in by the¬†band-switch¬† ¬†With no extra capacitance switched in, the tuning is smooth, but on the lower frequency bands, the receiver crackles when being tuned. ¬†I need to try bypassing the¬†band-switch¬†and soldering the padding capacitors into circuit in case the switch is the problem. I’ll report back when I’ve done further work on this.

Incidentally, the main tuning range on mine covers approximately 7250 – 13000KHz. ¬†Switching in a 47pF capacitor changes the range to 5825 – 8050KHz. I’m a bit limited with my receiver and test equipment here, so haven’t yet been able to determine the coverage of the lowest frequency band.

When first listening to the DR2, I had no idea what frequency I was listening to – only that I was probably somewhere between 5 and 12 MHz. I had no antenna connected (and at this point, hadn’t even built the RF amp stage) but started hearing CW. Lo and behold, it was Hank W6SX 180 miles away from me in Mammoth Lakes, CA. His CW signal was coming through well and in fact, this was the only time I have received CW in a satisfactory fashion on the Desert Ratt. There was no antenna – he was being picked up directly by the toroid. ¬†Any concerns I¬†might¬†have had about the sensitivity of this receiver would have been¬†immediately¬†allayed.

I know the main question that is probably on your mind is – how does it sound, and what is it like to use? How does it “handle”? There are some videos of my Desert Ratt 2 in action at the end of this post. Apologies for the poor video quality, but my only video camera is 10 years old (and has a faulty CCD sensor). You’ve probably read articles about regens that describe the many and subtle adjustments that need to be made when tuning a regen in order to coax maximum performance from it. If you haven’t operated a regen before or if it’s been a while, it does take some time to get the hang of getting the best out of it. As you get further away from the setting of the regen pot where it breaks out into oscillation you lose selectivity and gain, so you need to try and keep the control set just under the point of oscillation. Loud stations can overload the detector, resulting in audio distortion, so it’s worth keeping an eye on the RF attenuation pot too. Also, if the attenuation pot is set too high (too little attenuation), you may get breakthrough from stations on other frequencies. There’s quite a bit going on to keep under control, but if you manage to keep all controls adjusted well, you can coax some pretty decent performance out of the set. I think this is why regens appeal to some people – we are incurable knob-twiddlers!

Stability is easily good enough for AM reception and with a logging scale fitted to the front panel, I don’t¬†think¬†it would be hard to find specific frequencies, as the majority of SW BC stations stick to 5KHz channels. In my casual listening so far, I have heard The Voice Of (North) Korea on 9435 and 11710KHz, Radio Habana, Cuba on the 49M band, Radio Australia on the 31M band, coastal station KLB (South Korea) on 8636KHz, the BBC World Service (forget which band or frequency), China Radio International on 9790KHz, WTWW on 5830KHz, and a number of other evangelical Christian stations (sorry, I tune them out and don’t pay them much attention.)

To sum up, you can definitely have a lot of fun and engagement with the bands on this set. ¬†Being a regen, it is not the easiest receiver to operate, but you shouldn’t let that put you off. The best analogy I can think of is to reference the way that although an older British sports car may not have the finesse and performance of a newer sports model, it’s a lot of fun, and it’s lack of suspension gives you an¬†exhilarating¬†feel for the road that the more expensive cars cannot.

The Desert Ratt 2. A logging scale fixed to the front panel would make frequencies in the SWBC bands easy to find. I must do this sometime ūüôā

Please note that in the following videos, an MFJ-281 ClearTone speaker was used. My understanding is that this speaker has a slight resonant peak at around 700Hz (helpful for CW) and a relatively restricted overall bandwidth that is good for communications applications. This probably means that it’s not optimum for getting the maximum fidelity from an AM SW broadcaster (not that those stations have a lot of fidelity, but they tend to have a bit more than your average SSB transmission). On top of that, the audio was captured with the built-in mic in my old Canon A80 compact. Please don’t judge the quality of the Desert Ratt 2 audio from these clips. It’s better than this! I’m working on a few audio only recordings that will better demonstrate what the DR2 sounds like, and will put them up in the next blog-post (hopefully within a week or so).

Update¬†– It has been about a year since I built my version of the Desert Ratt 2 and I feel compelled to provide an update. Whenever I first build a project I am often so thrilled that it works at all, that I tend to gloss over any shortcomings, particularly in my blog write-ups. Some of this is due to the possibility that any deficiencies are due to my layout and construction, as opposed to a problem with the circuit design. In the case of my DR2, I am still not sure whether the issues arise from the circuit itself or from my construction, as I have only built one of these. I did, however, want to document what I have observed, as my DR2 has laid on my shelf for the past year, largely unused, while I drag my WBR out and take it for a spin on a regular basis. Here are the issues I have observed –

* There is a lot of scratchiness in the speaker when tuning the DR2. This happens on some frequency ranges more than others, but it happens a lot. ¬†At first, I wondered if it was due to inadequate grounding of the rotor plates but I don’t think this is the case. There is a solder tab for both the rotor and the stator, and the rotor is grounded to the chassis by a direct wire. Also, it is a quality Millen variable capacitor, and it is clean (the oxidation has been cleaned off). ¬†I’m still considering the possibility that it as something to do with my variable capacitor, or the way that I have connected it.

* The set does seem to overload very easily on my outside antenna. Breakthrough from other frequencies is a common occurrence. This got me to thinking about the RF amp stage. The instructions call for picking a high hfe transistor to use in this position but thinking about this, I’m not sure why. Surely the purpose of an RF stage in a regenerative set is to provide isolation between the detector and the antenna, with gain actually being undesirable, due to the tendency of the detector to overload? The more I think about it, the more I think that different configuration for this RF stage would be more appropriate.

* Hum, though not always apparent, does still occur from time to time.

A commenter who goes by the name of Mast does mention that the tank circuit is very tightly coupled to the collector of the regen transistor. I’ll cut and paste his comments here, as I now wonder why I didn’t pay more attention to his input at the time,

“A nice schematic for general use. But the tank circuit is tightly coupled to the collector of the regenerative stage. You will suffer a lot from changing internal stray capacitances of the transistor when setting the regen level. And strong SSB signals will change these capacitances too, causing an unintelligible reproduction of SSB signals.”

At this point, the DR2 has gone back on the shelf while I move on to planning other projects, but I’d be very interested to hear what the experiences of others have been with this circuit. ¬†I know there are folk who found N1TEV’s beginner’s regen to be a little hard to tame – and the DR is based in part on that circuit. ¬†In contrast, both my WBR’s are well-behaved, and have been used regularly since I built them.

August 13, 2011

Video Of WBR Regen

I finally got around to putting up a video of the WBR Regen on YouTube. Unfortunately, I didn’t get many good recordings of SSB – this was mainly due to band conditions and the times of day that I was recording. However, it was time for me to get this thing out so that I can move on. First plan is take a break this weekend. I never quite know for sure what my next project will be or when it will begin. This is a hobby and I simply follow my interests:

July 24, 2011

The WBR – A Simple High Performance Regen Receiver for 40M by N1BYT

EDIT (July 26th 2014) – If you’re thinking of building the WBR, I strongly suggest you check out my most recent build here, which incorporates a mod suggested by LA3PNA, and a different configuration for the AF amp that I¬†think¬†provides nicer sounding audio. The full schematic is published there also.

A few weeks ago when a sizable order of parts arrived from Dan’s Small Parts And Kits, the plan was to use them (along with the parts from a few smaller orders from kitsandparts.com and Mouser) as the basis for some fun home-brew projects. I got my feet wet by building some small circuits Manhattan style – an audio filter and RF preamp for my VRX-1 DC receiver, and a crystal oscillator in an Altoids tin to check out the MeSQUARES I had just received from QRPMe. These are detailed in recent posts.

Like anyone who builds circuits, I have a mental list of things that I’d like to build which is updated constantly.¬† Some ideas get pushed to the back of the queue to make way for newer ones, and some stay pretty close to the front for long enough that eventually opportunity and desire collide and magically, it gets made. This is what happened with the WBR regen receiver.

As a teenager growing up in England, I had a one-tube shortwave regen that I built from a kit.¬† It was an HAC Model DX which used a mere handful of components and used a big rectangular 90V battery for the high tension supply.¬† It used plug-in Denco coils for band-changing (I think I remember having 3 of them).¬† I spent countless hours in my bedroom with the high-impedance headphones clamped around my ears, constantly tweaking the regeneration and tuning capacitors and listening mainly to shortwave broadcast stations.¬† I could figure out which band I was on, but had little idea of the actual frequency.¬† It really didn’t matter though, because the likes of Radio Australia, Radio Tirana Albania, Radio Moscow, Radio Nederland’s “Happy Station” shows, Radio Prague and many, many more kept me glued to that little set. It was just a small bent aluminum chassis with 3 variable capacitors,¬† a battery triode, a set of headphones, a coil, 3 fixed resistors and 2 fixed capacitors, but it was pure magic to me.

I think I spent the majority of my teenage years in my bedroom, listening to my record collection and radios. As an adult who recently semi-retired, it feels as if I’ve come full circle.¬† The chance to spend all the time I want building and listening to radios is an absolute gift, and the WBR Regenerative Receiver (Aug 2001 QST) that I’ve had the pleasure to use these last few days has brought the magic of radio listening back in a big way. It is sensitive, very stable, suffers from no microphonic effects at all, and thanks to the ingenious Wheatstone Bridge tank circuit has very minimal radiation of the local oscillator signal from the antenna port and so no common-mode hum problems.¬† Oh – and no hand capacitance effects either. I haven’t yet measured the drift, but after I’ve switched it on and let it warm up a little, I can set it to a frequency to listen to a net or QSO, and it stays there. Obviously, there must be some drift, which I hope to measure soon, but I’m not hearing any.¬† One more thing, not only is there little long-term drift, but my unit is very frequency-stable when subjected to physical shock too.¬† It’s a great little receiver and has pleasantly surprised me with it’s performance.

I won’t be publishing the schematic for the WBR receiver here, as it’s not mine to publish. (NOTE – Dan has since said he doesn’t have a problem with me publishing the schematic, so I went ahead and published the schematic for the slightly different version I made for the 31M band here.) ¬†It appeared in the Aug 2001 edition of QST, so if you’re an ARRL member, you should be able to download it from their site. The article was also reprinted in the ARRL book “More QRP Power”. There were a few errors in the original QST article and although the parts list has been corrected in the “More QRP Power” reprint, the schematic hasn’t. For the record, when you look at the schematic, R17 should be labelled R7, C22 should be 0.01uF,¬† C19 (the capacitor connected between R15 and pin 5 of U2) should be 0.01uF, and “the other C19” – the capacitor connected between R16 and ground, should actually be labelled C20. If they’re going to reprint articles (which I’m very glad they do) I wish they’d make sure that all the corrections are included.

This was the first time I had ever attempted to fabricate an enclosure from PCB material and I’m quite pleased with the results.¬† I won’t fully detail my construction methods, as I got them from K7QO and WA4MNT, and they both already have excellent tutorials available online on how to make PCB cases. Ken WA4MNT’s PDF tutorial is here, and Chuck K7QO’s is here¬†(Chuck’s tutorial has since disappeared from this url and I haven’t been able to find it’s new home, if it has one).

One or two people have asked me how I cut PCB material. If you don’t have a bench shear you can get nice clean cuts by scoring it with a utility blade and breaking it.¬† After using a sharp pencil to accurately mark the line where I want to cut, I use a metal rule and fresh sharp utility blade to make deep scores on both sides of the board. Expect to go through a few blades, and don’t be shy about replacing them;¬† cutting with a nice new blade is a pleasure, while an old one will just give you grief and raggedy cuts. Make sure that the cuts on each side are exactly opposite each other. Then sandwich the board in a vice between 2 bits of wood at the score mark thus:

Then, bearing down hard on the whole sandwich, firmly flex the board up and down until it breaks cleanly off.¬† You can run the board back and forth a few times over a piece of sandpaper, sandcloth etc. on a flat surface to smooth it a little, and you’re done. Easy! If you have a vice, you can use it for the above step.

Work progressed on cutting the panels for the enclosure (the 2 triangular pieces were used later to strengthen the cover) –

and before long I had a drilled front panel, a back panel, a base and 2 strengthening side-struts, which cleaned up with a scotch-brite pad and a little dish soap (for de-greasing). I made sure to rub the Scotch-Brite pad on the board mainly in straight lines as it does give the copper-clad a slight brushed look:

As suggested by WA4MNT in his tutorial, I used an angle iron to ensure 90 degree corners. The one I’m using is actually aluminum angle stock.¬† One thing that I would have had to learn the hard way were it not for this tutorial is the fact that when you solder the pieces of board together, as the solder cools, it shrinks, and you end up with something closer to 88 or 89 degree corners.¬† That can really mess up your nice square box, but Ken tells you how to square up your angles. Little by little the enclosure took shape and the thought occurred to me “Wow, I can actually do this!”:

I gave the finished enclosure a final cleaning with Tarn-X and sprayed it with a light coating of lacquer to prevent against oxidation of the copper. It didn’t fully work, as you can see from pictures of the completed receiver at the end of this post.¬† I’m thinking that I didn’t apply a thick enough coat of lacquer.

I thought it would be fun to fit the controls and stick-on feet to the enclosure to get a feel for what the finished receiver was going to look like:

I have a fondness for quality multi-turn wirewound pots, in the same way that I used to like using high quality air-spaced variable capacitors in my projects. Similarly,¬† the way that a regular one-turn pot feels when operating is important to me. The pot that I originally was going to use for the AF gain felt a little “scratchy” in the way it rotated, so I bought one from Radio Shack that feels silky smooth.¬† Even the first BNC connector that I used for the antenna socket (which was left over from an earlier project) was a cheap component, and I noticed that plugging and unplugging the antenna took more force and fiddling than it should have, so I used a new higher quality part (Mouser # 161-9323).¬† If this seems like a little too much attention to detail, let me explain. The connectors and controls are the way that you, the operator,¬† interface with the radio.¬† Higher quality components used here will greatly improve your experience of the radio. What would you rather use – a radio that takes force and fumbling to connect the antenna, has hard to adjust tuning due to the use of a cheaper one-turn pot, and a volume control that turns roughly, or a radio with controls and connectors that operate and rotate smoothly? These kind of things make a big difference. It might seem illogical to spend so much more on connectors and controls than on the rest of the circuit, but given how positively they can impact the user experience, it’s an investment worth making. I was hoping that this receiver would become a permanent part of my station, so spending a little more wasn’t a problem.

You’ll notice in the next picture that I used two 10-turn pots. One was for the tuning, and the other for regeneration. In the QST article, N1BYT details his method of using a one-turn pot with a separate preset to set the regeneration range on the main regen control. I’m sure that this works very well, but I happened to have an extra 10-turn pot available and was wanting an excuse to use as many of these wonderful things as possible, so I omitted the preset (R6 in the article) and used a 10-turn for the regen control. You do get a “whizzing” sound when adjusting the regen if you use a wirewound. To eliminate this, you can bypass between the wiper and ground for both audio and RF with a 10uF and 0.1uF connected in parallel. I’ve left mine as is for the time being, as I quite like the whizzing sound! (Edit: The novelty of the whizzing sound wore off swiftly, so I placed a 33uF cap between wiper and ground at the regen pot. It took care of things nicely.)

Daniel N1BYT’s original design for the WBR didn’t use a volume pot in front of the LM386, relying just on the 1K RF attenuation pot in the antenna lead. I decided that I wanted a little more audio gain in order to drive a loudspeaker, so I used the audio chain from N1BYT’s OCR II receiver, but connected a 10uF electrolytic between pins 1 and 8 of U2 to get the maximum gain of 200 out of the LM386 IC. Running the LM386 with maximum gain, and also fed with a preamp, I wanted to be able to control the gain of the AF stage as well as being able to attenuate the RF input, hence the extra pot. The toggle switch will be used to switch audio filtering at a later stage.

The enclosure build had gone so well that I started hoping that the performance of the receiver, when I built it, would be good enough to justify putting so much time and effort into the case. In retrospect, I probably should have built and tested the circuit first before deciding whether it was worthy of an enclosure.  Luckily it was.

I built the circuit Manhattan style using pads from W1REX at QRPMe.¬† I talked about the MeSQUARES in an earlier post and liked them so much that I ordered a sheet of MePADS from Rex.¬† MePADs are Manhattan pads for IC’s, as you can see in this picture. I had already broken off the pad I was going to use in this project:

As you’re building with these pads, if you find that you’ve glued one in the wrong place (I use Super Glue in the gel form), just slip a sharp utility blade underneath the pad and it comes right off. No need to fear a bad circuit layout, as you can change it if you make a wrong move.

The first part of the circuit to be built was the detector and regeneration circuit.¬† I didn’t have an MV104 dual tuning diode as specified in the original article, so used two back to back MV209’s, which you can see in the following picture, along with Q1 and Q2, the 2N3904 regeneration transistor and the MPF102 regenerative detector respectively:

Now I’ve added a few more components, including the 78L05 voltage regulator, which is hiding behind the grey 2.2uF electrolytic in the foreground:

The completed circuit. At this point, I hadn’t added the 10uF electrolytic between pins 1 and 8 of U2 (LM386).¬† The 2N3904 audio preamp is just below the LM386 audio IC:

Some more views of the completed circuit.¬† I knew that I was giving myself plenty of space to work with, but didn’t realize that there would be so much of it left over.¬† This is rather handy though, as it allows room for some low-pass audio filtering that I want to add later:

All very well and good, but would it work, and how well? The next picture shows the board installed in the case.  I added a 10K trimpot in place of R12 in order to adjust the tuning coverage of R11, the main tuning potentiometer. You can see the orange trim-pot near the front left-hand side of the board. It was only just now looking at this picture, that I realized I had left out C22, the 0.1uF capacitor in the antenna lead:

The same shot from a slightly higher angle:

By adjusting trimmer capacitor C8 and the trimmer resistor in place of R12, I achieved coverage of approximately 6970 Р7311 KHz. The extra 11KHz at the top of the band was important to me so that I can listen to the BBC World Service on 7310.  Vatican Radio broadcasts in English daily at 0250 utc on 7305, so the extra coverage above the top end of 40 allows me to receive that also.  Adjust C8 to set the top end of your coverage, and the trimmer in place of R12 to set the bottom end of the coverage. The tuning rate is a bit higher at the bottom end of the band than the top, being about 50KHz/turn in the CW sub-section.

I spent a few days enjoying the radio in this state before making a top cover for it.¬† The RF attenuation control doesn’t take the input signal completely down to zero. No doubt this has a lot to do with my decision to use an unshielded piece of copper wire to connect the antenna socket at the back of the rig with the 1K pot.¬† N1BYT does this in his receiver pictured in the QST article.¬† I liked it because it’s a reminder of the days when complete radios were wired using this technique, but I think I’ll probably replace that wire with a length of co-ax (after fitting C22 inline with the antenna lead) from the BNC to the 1K pot. That should allow attenuation of the input down to zero (or very close).¬† (Edit:¬† I just did, and it does.)

A top cover for the receiver:

The completed WBR Receiver (darn those front-panel fingerprints!) –

The space left at the top right-hand side of the front panel was in case I found a way to hook up a frequency counter to the regenerative detector while in oscillation in order to provide a frequency readout.¬† I have heard of people achieving this with the WBR by placing a pick-up coil near the main tank coil.¬† Still not sure whether I’ll pursue this.

Some of the things I’ve heard on this wonderful little radio in the first few days of owning it are the Vatican Radio transmitter in Sackville, New Brunswick on 7305 and Radio Australia (it was great hearing their Waltzing Matilda sign-on melody).¬† I also heard FO8RZ in French Polynesia on 7001 and immediately switched over to the Norcal 2N2/40 to work him with 4 watts! One of the reasons for building this receiver was in order to listen for AM activity on 40 (amateur, as we all know that there is plenty of broadcast activity there!) and I was happy this morning to hear W6LHQ running 200W of AM from his QTH in Modesto, CA on 7293KHz. This is one great thing about a regenerative detector – it will receive SSB and CW as well as AM. I believe it can receive FM too via the slope detection method, though I haven’t had a chance to try this out.

The Wheatstone bridge circuit in the tank is an elegant way to resolve the problem of oscillator radiation from the antenna that is common in simple regens, without resorting to adding a stage of RF preamplification, and it works very well.¬† I made no particular effort to match C5 and C6, so either I was lucky, or the circuit is forgiving, because I have encountered no issues with re-radiation. Without re-iterating the summary of this receiver’s performance that I gave in the second part of the 4th paragraph of this write-up I’ll just say this; I was hoping that this regen’s performance would be good enough for me to have it as a permanent part of my station, and it is.

The next step will be to replace the antenna input wire with a length of co-ax, and then build some audio filtering.¬† At that point, I’ll make some recordings of the audio and post a YouTube video.

I’m also thinking about bread-boarding another version of this receiver to encompass a larger portion of the shortwave spectrum. I have some MV108 varactors, and am thinking that the wider capacitance swing of one of those could give me broad coverage of a large part of the HF spectrum, with a fine tuning control provided by another diode. It would be great to have a regen to give me continuous¬† coverage of, say, 3 – 10MHz, or even higher.

Lots of fun and experimentation to come. Many thanks to N1BYT for this fine little receiver.

Notes added after above post was written –¬†

*Current consumption is low too – I measured around 12-13mA in regular use.

*A number of other builders have experienced problems with low sensitivity with their WBR’s. ¬†LA3ZA found that substituting a 0.22uH inductor for Z1, the 1″ length of stiff wire between the center-tap of the coil and the ground plane, did the trick. ¬†In the QRP-tech group on Yahoo, Steve AA7U did some experimenting and found 1uH was the optimum value for him. ¬†Other builders have not had these issues with theirs. ¬†My suggestion would be to build it as in the original design, adding the inductor if it seems necessary.

*As mentioned earlier, I added an audio pre-amp stage to my WBR, as suggested by N1BYT in the original article.  The schematic of the simple stage I added can be seen in this post.

*If I were building this again, I would change the configuration of the LM386 amp stage. Using a 10uF cap between pins 1 and 8 to get maximum gain introduces quite a lot of hiss.  The design that VK3YE used in the Micro 40 utilized a couple of ideas that had been discussed in SPRAT and is lower noise. I would try using the 2N3904 pre-amp as detailed in this post with the LM386 circuit as used in the Micro 40.

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