Two Bravo Receiver Experiments

Introduction

An experimental direct conversion receiver is presented. This 1990's style receiver was built to re-familiarize with DC receivers and try out a few new ideas. Design-on-the-bench bread boarding was used exclusively and was a pleasant way to both learn and pass time. Feedback has been received stating that that certain stages of previous receiver experiments were either too basic or too complex and thus a particular receiver was not built. This web site is as much a cookbook as anything. Kludge together whatever receiver stages you want; no project is meant to be set in stone. This receiver has a high popcorn factor with MPF102 and 2N3904s as the main semiconductors.

 

Variable Frequency Oscillator

The first stage built was the VFO shown above in Figure 1. The oscillator portion is based upon Figure 4.15 from EMRFD. The VFO resonator tank is isolated from the JFET by tapping down as shown. This is an outstanding VFO topology. See this web page for a few more details and a coil tap calculator. I favor high L to C ratios in my RF tanks, although this does not affect the VFO function. The tapped inductor in this oscillator allows you to use a high RF voltage (low C + high L) while still keeping the FET gate AC voltage at a reasonable level. The buffer amp was designed for high output power and supplies nearly 5 volts peak to peak to the product detector local oscillator port. You can vary the output voltage by increasing or decreasing the 15 pF coupling capacitor for use in other projects.
To peak the L2 tank trimmer capacitor,  use a scope, RF voltmeter, or temporarily connect a 10K (or greater value) resistor load to ground via a 10 - 47 pF output capacitor and adjust this capacitor while listening with a nearby CW receiver. (Use a short piece of wire as an antenna.) Additionally, you could also peak this trimmer cap while listening to a CW signal with the completed 2 Bravo receiver. It takes around 100 pF to resonate the L2 tank at 7.040 MHz in case you are wondering.

Since air variable capacitors were used for tuning and to set the band edge, Q is high and frequency stability is excellent. My 1 hour frequency drift was 50 Hertz uncovered. The high RF energy in the tank circuit results in low noise. The L1 taps also allow the use of a 5 pF gate coupling capacitor rather than the hard to locate 3.3 pF cap used in many example VFO schematics. With different buffer/amps as required,  this is now my number 1 VFO topology and it is nothing short of stellar. Note that the 100 uH RFC can be wound with 15 turns on an FT37-43 ferrite torroid, or replaced with a fixed value choke. 

In the above photograph is the VFO bread board.  I used 26 gauge wire for the inductor and took my time to make sure the wire was laying flat on the T68-6 torroidal core. You can pull the wire tighter if you wash your hands before winding.

Band pass Filter and Product Detector

Please refer to Figure 2. The second stage constructed was the double tuned band pass filter. You will need about 50-54 pF to resonate L1 and T1 at 7.040 MHz. The C1 and C2 values chosen are thus perfect for tuning the 40 Meter CW band. I peaked my particular front end filter at a center frequency of 7.025 MHz using a 50 ohm output impedance RF generator and then did some fine tuning with an antenna connected after the receiver was constructed. You may also just tune C1 and C2 for maximum signal strength when listening to band noise and QSOs. Filter bandwidth is sufficient to cover the whole CW sub-band. No AM broadcast band radio was heard during several nights of testing.

The product detector is single balanced for improved port isolation and BCB rejection. Lay out your circuit to try to achieve symmetry. The schematic calls for J310s. I built the first prototype with MPF102 that were matched for Idss. To find two with the same Idss, I had to measure 16 transistors! This is too painful, and I recommend just using a pair of J310s. The words "matched" and "MPF102" should not be used in the same sentence! Ideally, your J310s should be matched, however, the process should not take as long as for MPF102 JFETS. The choice is yours to make. T1 is a little tricky to wind, however, your best effort should be good enough.
Some builders will be unhappy with using a audio transformer (T2), however, they are still in catalogs and online stores, or can be harvested from an old transistor radio. CB radio modulation transformers are also a possible source. A higher impedance audio transformer, will likely give even more conversion gain. Without the 51 ohm drain resistors, oscillations occurred in my bread board.


Above. A temporary  5K1 (5.1K) resistor was soldered across the second tank for testing when the front end filter was designed on my work bench.   

Audio Pre-amplifier


To match the low impedance winding of the audio transformer, a common base amp topology was chosen. I decided to use a favorite circuit; the audio chain from the first amateur band receiver that I ever built -The Ugly Weekender. The final common emitter feedback amplifier from the original schematic was omitted as the 3 stages above provided enough voltage gain. The Figure 3 amplifier is worth studying. It is difficult to DC couple audio amplifier stages and not end up with your second and/or third stage in saturation. This example of good design by W7ZOI illustrates how to do it. The third stage, a common emitter amp is a level shifter and drops the DC voltage back down, although this stage is AC coupled to the volume potentiometer. For lower noise, you could AC couple the first common base amp to a 5532 op-amp, although, this would reduce the popcorn factor a bit. Do not expect ear blasting voltage gain from this humble circuit. It provides reasonable drive to the power amp stage.
The 0.82 and 0.68 uF capacitors shunt any detected RF energy to ground and also provide some low pass filtering. The original schematic called for 0.1 uF capacitors and which values work the best is yours to decide. Polyester film type capacitors were used in the bread board.

Photographed above is the Figure 3 bread board. You can also see the VFO buffer/amp and the audio transformer. I tried several AF preamplifiers, but preferred Figure 3 to all others.

Audio Power Amplifier


Figure 4 provided 3 nights of experimentation. The base circuit for this amplifier was Figure 1.17 from EMRFD. To increase power gain and reduce harmonic distortion, Darlington configured emitter follower pairs were employed. This worked, except the power followers were under biased and had serious crossover distortion. To remedy this, the amplified diode (level shifter) bias was increased until a sine wave was seen on the oscilloscope. This was achieved by replacing the 10K resistor (R6 in the original schematic) with a 4K7 ohm resistor. The next task was to try to increase the voltage gain. Rg in EMRFD Figure 1.17 called for a 3K3 resistor. Rg was dropped to 1K; this worked. The degenerative feedback on the common emitter amplifier of EMRFD Fig 1.17 was also dropped somewhat. Next some bootstrapping feedback was AC coupled to the collector of the main common emitter amplifier. Each of the 2 collector resistor values was changed around and the outcome was recorded. Ultimately the 100 ohm plus 1K ohm resistor series pair was chosen and provided a boost of 0.85 volts peak-to-peak clean voltage gain to the output waveform. The power follower emitter degeneration resistors were also decreased from 22 to 3.9 ohms. The result is a low distortion power amp with about 150 mW of clean average power output. This receiver is not super loud, but it is reasonably loud and the audio is bell clear. If you use this amplifier stage in other projects that have a higher gain pre-amplifier, I recommend keeping Rg at 3K3 ohms as this amplifier will likely exhibit lower distortion characteristics.


Shown above is the Figure 4 bread board. A 10 ohm resistor was used to decouple this stage. Without the resistor, audio oscillations at around 850 Hz manifested when the volume was greater than about half way up. The voltage drop across the 10 ohm resistor is trivial. You may have to increase this resistor value if you experience instability. Expect all amplifiers to oscillate and decouple them accordingly. The 390 pF feedback capacitor is required. The Figure 4 amplifier exhibits greater gain as frequency increases and in a direct conversion filter with no low pass filtering, this would be very harsh indeed. Feel free to experiment with the value of this feedback capacitor. Kudos to W7ZOI for the EMRFD Figure 1.17 schematic which serves as a great specimen to inform and challenge us experimenters. The original common emitter amplifier (Q1 in EMRFD Figure 1 .17) bias current is perfect and although I tried increasing and decreasing it, I returned to the originally specified bias resistor values.


Additional Outputs


Figure 5 depicts the product detector with a high impedance output. From my experiments at least, it was better to use the low Z coil for improved product detector balance and audio voltage gain.

Figure 6: A high impedance input audio stage. The first stage is a hybrid cascode. The second stage is common emitter, common base cascode. Care was taken with transistor biasing to try to optimize distortion characteristics. Certainly, I am a total novice with such amplifiers and more time on the bench and also with computer simulation is required to better understand these amplifiers. At any rate, the schematics with DC voltages are posted for others to study and hopefully improve.

I have 3 adapted versions of the EMRFD Figure 1.17 amplifier in my note book. This is my favorite and has the greatest clean maximum average power output of all of the 3 versions. This power amplifier somewhat lacks sufficient voltage gain for the 2 Bravo receiver (with its relatively low gain audio pre-amplifier) and thus Figure 4 was chosen as the more suitable power amplifier. You could lower the 3K3 resistor to increase the voltage gain. This circuit begs experimentation.


A couple of low pass RC audio filters were tried but later abandoned. One filter with its 1 uF AC coupling capacitors is shown in the photo above. It is quite an experience to hear an unfiltered direct conversion receiver. I love the purity. This is okay for an experimental or casual receiver, but not for a contest rig. Low pass filtering is definitely required in that context.

A different angle photo of the VFO bread board. My "build most of the project on 1 copper clad board" construction technique is not really suitable for "a keeper" receiver. VFOs should ideally be in a shielded box. Proper construction techniques and grounding ideas for DC receivers can be found in EMRFD, so they are not covered on this web page.

A GPLA simulation of the front end band pass filter centered at 7.025 MHz.