Miscellaneous RF Topics 2011


My basic goal for Fall and Winter 2010 was to fearlessly advance my RF design ability — pushing just beyond my comfort zone to impose the psychological stress that promotes focused learning. You may have experienced this in University or when working against a deadline. Cramming, "burning the midnight oil", or locked room brainstorming exemplify this approach.

These circuits feature carefully measured input and output impedances (nominal impedance = 50 Ω ), plus voltage gain and DC current.

This web site spawns email with builders worldwide. Our interactions are varied; getting help, giving help — or just chat. On occasion, I design, build and/or test circuits to help struggling builders. After spending considerable time, I email them my work hoping it will help. Often enough, I never receive any acknowledgement from these readers — did the circuit work or did they appreciate I spent 1-2 hours researching their concern?. This is actually normal — we must constantly strive to overcome our innate, self-centered nature; lest it dominate our behavior. все нормальные.

To that point, I wish to gratefully acknowledge the people who support me in this hobby: Wes, Ken, Scott, Peter, Tom and the many others whose email advice and published and private work informs and inspires me.


  1.  Transmit Mixer Experiments
  2.  Bipolar Transistor Feedback Amplifier Experiments
  3.  JFET Common Gate Transistor Amplifier Experiments

Navigation and Preamble:

This web page grew into a large monster — and includes a supplemental web page with numbered topics referenced in the text. I apologize for the navigation difficulties this web page poses. Equal time was spent experimenting with the circuit designs and circuit photography. I strive to provide a variety of bitmap and photographic image styles on this web site.

1. Transmit Mixer Experiments

Since I've never experimented with transmit mixers, I didn't appreciate how much time goes into their design. Consider, for example, the LO system from the project entitled A Monoband SSB/CW Transceiver in Chapter 6 of EMRFD. The mega low (about -20 dBm) output from a diode ring mixing a VFO and crystal oscillator is triple tuned band-pass filtered and then amplified to +8 dBm. Continuing on, the transmitter chain features more mixing, band-pass filtering and voltage amplification by a feedback amplifier chain boosting the signal to around 300 mW. The circuits needed to mix, filter and amplify this RF chain would challenge most amateur designers — me included.

Contrast this with a typical first transmitter built by a new builder. Likely your first scratch homebrew transmitter consisted of a crystal oscillator, a keyed Class A buffer/amplifier and perhaps a Class C final amplifier. No mixer was needed for we obtained a crystal cut on the frequency of choice. Our focus was power— getting 0.25 to 1 watt into our antenna system! A good example was the Tuna Tin 2 transmitter by the late Doug DeMaw, W1FB that only used 2 stages. Although Doug wrote his 1976 article for Hams to build a transmitter from parts found at home, kitted versions are sold today.

Returning to transmit mixers — as amateur designers, we likely need to start on a small portion of the transmit chain and then after developing some competency, slowly extend our experiments all the way to the antenna port. In Fall 2010, I just examined some basic transmit mixing to get a feel for what's involved and what to expect. Mixing signals is a complex affair encompassing topics such as intercept point, conversion gain or loss, image noise suppression, noise figure, spurious/intermodulation products and port isolation. To keep things simple, only mixer port isolation and reducing spurious mixer products were examined.

Before beginning, I express the following concern: We experimenters, as stewards of the airwaves, must build exemplary transmitters with very low spurious outputs. I follow the example of Wes, W7ZOI and others — my transmit chains have spurious frequencies at least 50-60 dB down from the carrier (dBc). As a web author and radio amateur, I never want to directly or indirectly contribute to RFI and hope you agree.

Why Use a Transmit Mixer?

If you plan to design a superheterodyne based transceiver, you'll probably need to use a transmit mixer. Also mixing 2 frequencies permits using cheap microprocessors crystals to target a desired transmit frequency; separate crystal oscillators drive the RF and LO ports of the mixer. For added flexibility, the LO can be converted to a VFO once you have the basic design working well.

I purchased a bag of low cost crystals. By mixing 2 appropriate crystals, output on a Ham band is possible. For example, crystals at 2.048 + 5.0688 MHz = 7.117 MHz; 4.194 + 11.228 MHz = 7.034 MHz; and 3.932 + 11.046 MHz = 7.114 MHz. I frequently operate QRP on 40 Meters in the USA Novice band, so 7.114, or 7.117 MHz is okay. This helps CW operators avoid all the RTTY and QRM down in the traditional 40M band QRP frequency window.

Some Mixer Bullets

  1. Mixers have 3 conventionally named ports; RF, LO (local oscillator) and IF (output).
  2. The diode ring mixers presented are Level 7 mixers. Maximal LO power is 7 dBm.
  3. Many builders limit the maximum RF power into a Level 7 diode ring transmit mixer RF port to between 0 to -3 dBm.
  4. The term isolation refers to the amount of LO power that leaks into the RF or the IF ports.
  5. Low-pass filtering the LO can significantly reduce harmonic products in a mixer
  6. The top of the spectrum analyzer screen (always the top, and never the bottom) is called the reference level. That is the power at the top. If you have a signal generator with the output adjusted to be -27 dBm and pass this signal into the spectrum analyzer and adjust the attenuation in the analyzer to put that signal at the top of the screen, you then the reference level is -27 dBm. (Pertains to examining a mixer output in a SA)

Choosing a Mixer

A number of mixers were considered; passive, active, unbalanced, single-balanced and finally, double-balanced. The diode ring mixer is an obvious good choice commensurate with my goals of reducing spurs, LO feed through and achieving high port-to-port isolation. In future web pages, other mixers may be presented, however this page is focused on the diode ring mixer. Click for a file with a few scanned pages concerning mixers from my "ideas only" notebook from ~2002. I own over 30 notebooks now.

Above — ADE-1 diode ring mixers. We're using these now as they're cheaper than the SBL-1, TUFF-1 etc. hole-though versions. Although SMT parts, they can be flipped over and wired "normally" with a little effort, steady hands and good vision. Mini-Circuits will sell them in small quantities to Hams; email them and enquire. I feel the diode ring mixer has been misunderstood by some amateur builders — lore and misperceptions that the 7 dBm LO port drive, the need for 50 ohm port terminations, a ~ 5 dB insertion loss and cost make them undesirable. Their excellent performance and design challenges are reasons why we use them; "the journey — not the destination" stuff.

In receiver applications, some builders and kit sellers seem more focused on features such low-battery indicators, digital displays, miniaturization and cost containment than basic receiver performance. Certainly keeping cost down down deserves consideration, however, good mixer performance is king. You'll have to decide what's affordable and important and build accordingly.

Above — My very first transmit mixer experiment. My hope was to build a transmit mixer possessing low spurious output to alleviate the need for stiff, post mixer band-pass filtering such as a triple tuned band-pass filter. Thus, low-level, low distortion output was taken from between each crystal oscillators' shunt capacitor and crystal. The desired output frequency is ~7.114 MHz to build a transmitter for the 40 Meter Ham band.

The mixer output to 50 MHz looked like this in a Spectrum Analyzer. The dominant frequencies are the sum and the difference: 11.046 + 3.932 MHz = 14.98 MHz; 11.046 - 3.932 MHz = 7.114 MHz. The frequencies realized are slightly different since the oscillator output is shifted by crystal variances and from circuit capacitance.

In the experiments that follow, I built some circuits to filter and/or amplify the output of the above mixer circuit.

Above — The first post mixer amp; a common base input amplifier that's AC coupled to a common drain FET amp. I hoped that 2 tuned L-C tank circuits could substitute for a passive double or triple-tuned band-pass filter, plus provide some gain.

A broad-band, common base input amp was chosen to properly terminate the diode ring mixer and alleviate the need for a diplexer. A ~50 Ω input impedance is established by a 47 Ω series resistor since the 2N3904s input impedance is quite low due to the moderately high emitter current employed to boost gain and IMD performance.

This amplifier failed to reduce spurious output 50 dB down or greater — my design goal. Here are its scope and spectrum analyzer outputs; please observe that the unwanted 14.98 MHz signal is only 32 dB down from the desire IF of 7.114 MHz. An RC network consisting of a shunt 10 ohm resistor + an 18 pF cap provides additional low-pass filtering above 20 MHz. I attribute this simple filter to Dr. Ulrich Rohde as I have seen it in some of his post mixer, common base RF amplifier designs. Click for a brief supplement regarding his low-pass network (#2 RC Low-pass Network on the Supplemental Page)

The amp design shown above was actually an improved version of this prototype. In the prototype amp, the mixer power at 14.98 MHz was only 23 dB down from the desired intermediate frequency of 7.114 MHz. You can't expect a single L-C tank to well filter a mixer output. Unfortunately, the 1K2 -12K resistor providing DC bias for the emitter follower lowers the Q of the common-base collector tank circuit. 12K is better than 1K2 in this regard. Poor performance sparked the design of the second common base amp shown above.

I use ferrite beads and 51 Ω resistors interchangeably on the collector/drains of amplifiers to snuff out UHF oscillations. According to my experiments, the resistors may work better. I purchased the ferrite beads from Diz. After the common base amplifiers shown above, I decided to try a tuned input + output common gate JFET amp:

Above — A JFET common gate amp with tuned input and output built about 3 years ago. For spectrum analysis. I padded the amplifier output to provide a -28 dBm 7.116 MHz signal. The vertical resolution on the SA is the standard 10 dB/division. As shown, the 14.98 MHz signal is ~ 39 dB down; an improvement over the amplifiers shown previously. This narrow-band amplifier requires a diplexer. I wanted better filtering than that offered by amplified circuits with 2 tuned L-C circuits, so I halted this experiment and decided to try a triple tuned band-pass filter.

This JFET circuit experimentation spawned over 8 weeks of experiments concerning common-gate RF amps — some of them appear later.

Above — A triple tuned band-pass filter designed with software from EMRFD called TTC-08. Click for the breadboard photo. The diode ring was connected to the filter input via a 6 dB attenuator pad using short leads. Click for analysis in GPLA. All inductors are 3.0 uH — 23 or 24 turns on a T50-2 powdered iron toroid. I measured all the inductors and obtain the exact desired inductance by expanding or squishing the wire turns, or if necessary, adding (this means rewinding the entire coil) or removing a turn. If you lack an inductance meter, just winding the formula calculated number of turns will be close enough for most applications — I only got a good L- C meter in 2009 and somehow managed.

I learned that the ultimate way to peak a triple tuned filter is by tweaking the tuning capacitors while it's connected to a spectrum analyzer — what a thrill!

Above — While a little tedious to build and align, the triple tuned filter worked magnificently; the strongest spur is 54-55 dB down and the 14.98 MHz signal is gone. Insertion loss = 2.5 dB. This experiment provided a benchmark of what great post mixer filtering looks like. Post mixer filtering is an important topic worth studying further:

Why do we need filtering on a mixer output?

Let's examine mixer ports more closely. A port is just a pair of wires where signals are applied or removed. There are 2 kinds of mixer outputs: 1) the sum plus difference frequencies; 2) spurs.

Further, 2 kinds of spurs occur: One type is straight feed through where 1 signal from the 2 input ports makes it out to a 3rd port. Examples include LO feed through to the RF port, or LO feed through to the IF port.

The other type of spur is a mixing product such as a harmonic.

In general, the mixer output frequencies are numerically described by an equation:
IF (output) = N x L +/- M x R
N and M are both integers, 1, 2, 3, ....... L = local oscillator frequency, R = radio frequency

A mixer is said to be balanced when you duplicate some of its functions and then combine them — usually with transformers. Consider, for example, the single diode mixer — they work, but the output contains ++ feed through and spurs. A mixer with 2 diodes or 2 FETs etc. can be much easier to use because the transformer combines the signals in a way that cancels some of the spurs and feed through. The double-balanced diode ring mixer uses four diodes and 2 transformers — producing even less feed through and harmonic output.

In a double-balanced diode ring mixer, the LO and RF ports are balanced and all ports of the mixer are isolated from each other. The double-balanced mixer greatly reduces, but does not stop all LO feed through at the RF and IF ports. A wideband match at 50 ohms is required to maintain mixer balance; hence you will often see attenuator pads on the LO, RF and especially the IF ports.

Let's focus on the IF port. Attenuator pads absorb any reflected mixer products and signals coming back into the IF port, thus increasing the match to the IF port. You may have noticed some builders use a diplexer on the IF port. The diplexer presents a wideband match to all IF port frequencies — passing the desired sum or difference frequency and absorbing the unwanted mixer products reflected back into the IF port by subsequent stages.

Since the IF output contains the sum and difference of the LO + RF, LO feed though, and other spurious energy, band-pass filtering is required to launder the IF signal into something useful. Following a transmit mixer, we filter with an L-C band-pass filter — after a receive mixer, crystal band-pass filters dominate. If you choose an unbalanced mixer or single-balanced mixer, filtering becomes more difficult than with a double balanced mixer. Unbalanced mixers are usually reserved for situations where high performance is being sacrificed for cost containment and/or want of a low parts count. There is no free lunch — you either alleviate as many mixer products as you can at a low-level with good practices, or have to deal with them down your signal chain while sacrificing optimal mixer performance.

Double balanced mixers are sensitive to non-resistive IF port terminations. When improperly terminated, the 2 transmission-line transformers work poorly — any reflected power generates high voltage across the diodes and degrades mixer performance. According to Dr. Ulrich Rohde, some proper ways to terminate the mixer include using a diplexer followed by a wideband 50 feedback amp, or a common-gate JFET amplifier. (Reference 1)

Improved Local and RF Oscillators

In the earlier experiment, I really should have the run the LO port at 7 dBm. In order to improve my experiments, new crystal oscillators were designed with emphasis on correct LO output power and low harmonic energy.

Above — The new LO; a 3.93 MHz crystal oscillator with stiff low-pass filtering. Admittedly, this 7 element Chebychev low-pass filter is overkill, however, I wanted to examine filtering and learn how much is required. On the bench — do whatever you like; even chasing crazy personal goals can be instructive and help you relate to information from texts and articles, or satisfy a whim. I can read something 100 times, but may not understand it well until I actually do it.

Above —The LO breadboard in close-up using a long focal length lens. Click for a wide angle photograph. The unsoldered end of the 100 Ω resistor in the close up photograph is where I connected the VCC.

Above —  Spectrum analysis of the well-filtered 3.93 MHz LO. Not surprising, no harmonic energy is seen.

Above — The redesigned RF port oscillator. Clearly, the 7 element Chebychev low-pass filter isn't needed, so an N = 5 version was tried. Click for the spectrum analysis — again no harmonic energy was seen. In both the RF and LO signal generators, I tried to get as close to 7 dBm output power as possible.

To operate this oscillator at the desired RF port signal level; for example, between 0 and -10 dBm, you might just attenuate the output with a fixed pad or step attenuator. My conclusions echo the work of others experimenters; lowering the RF port down from 7 dBm to as low as - 10 dBm, lowered the amplitude of the spurious mixer products seen in the spectrum analyzer. Click for a sample. Refer to the QST Technical Correspondence citation in the references section for more information.

Above — The 2 re-designed oscillators wired up and connected to an SBL-1 mixer. I actually connected the attenuator pads after the low-pass filters as explained later.

Two different crystal oscillators were then built:

Above — Two different crystal oscillators targeting ~ 7.034 MHz were built.  Click for the breadboard photo. You can see the crystal frequencies in this photograph. The RF port oscillator power was set to -3.39 dBm by choosing a low value JFET source resistor and attaching a 10 dB attenuator pad. Relatively low harmonic distortion prompted the exclusion of a low-pass filter on the RF oscillator. The LO output power was ~ 7 dBm.

Above — The final experiment; placing a double tuned band-pass filter after the TUFF-1 diode ring mixer with the 2 latest crystal oscillators attached . This filter was in my junk box and I peaked it for the 7.034 MHz IF with a spectrum analyzer. The strongest spur was 42 dB down from the carrier — falling well short of the triple tuned band-pass filter presented before.

Clearly from all these experiments, a strong case for placing a triple tuned band-pass filter after a transmit mixer exists. If you use an unbalanced or single-balance mixer, a double balanced mixer might sufficiently not block feed through and spurious RF to keep your signal chain tidy. I enjoy studying the transmit chains of others to see how they filtered spurious and feed through RF. At the end of the day, as long as the output carrier spurs are low enough to meet your country's regulatory requirements, you're okay. Designing for low spurious emissions is an exciting challenge — one you'll miss if you don't try your hand with RF design.

A realization emerged following these experiments — I couldn't measure the return loss of the local oscillators! It technically could be done, but not by me. After 2 weeks of struggling, I engaged an American colleague with whom I occasionally build experimental circuits. After making some progress, we became stalled again. This time I asked Professor Ken Kuhn and Wes, W7ZOI for some ideas. Eventually a method to measure the RL of local oscillators came together along with enough material for another web page — RF Workbench 3.

When you do experiments, knowledge evolves as you go — for me, I learn mostly from making mistakes. I often think I should repeat most of my experiments over before presenting them, but this would consume too much time. However, footnotes can serve to steer readers for minor issues. If I had to re-build the crystal oscillators from Part 1, I'd build each crystal oscillator with a separate JFET buffer — then the return loss of the oscillator buffers could be measured as shown on RF Workbench 3 (with a shorted oscillator tank). Also, the pi attenuator pads on the crystal oscillators should follow the low-pass filters to garner the best output return loss. The good news is past experiments inform future experiments.

2. Bipolar Transistor Feedback Amplifier Experiments

I love making signals bigger — especially while preserving fidelity. It would be nice to become a reasonably competent amplifier designer — hopefully by studying sound schematics, applying software, building circuits and measuring evermore parameters this might occur. The mathematical equations of RF amplifier design seem quite daunting; they're the fodder of electrical engineers with their Hewlett Packard scientific calculators, SPICE software and GHz F-t transistors. With most things technical, as you try to advance, more questions than answers cross your mind; however, somehow this is normal and may actually signal progress.

Abundant amplifier references exist; for example, EMRDF Chapter 2: Feedback Amplifiers. This is essential reading and I won't repeat this information. Rather, I'll just share some ideas developed or reinforced on my bench. In the past, I've preferred amplifiers with narrow-band (tuned circuits) in an attempt to reduce distortion and maximize gain. Now after critically examining these tuned amps with scope and spectrum analyzer, I better appreciate the significant intrinsic feedback of RF transistors (the tendency to oscillate) and broadband designs are sought. Often you'll spend more time taming a tuned amplifier than building one.

This section focuses on return loss, bias techniques and achieving linear amplification — for example; finding ways to apply negative feedback, match the input, or how to set the collector voltage. All my experiments and thoughts about RF amplifiers are from an amateur designers' perspective and I welcome your feedback. The first amplifier shown is a classic W7ZOI topology that I call the "Beaverton Special".

Above — A classic feedback amplifier popularized by Wes, W7ZOI in books like Solid State Design for the Radio Amateur and EMRFD. My respect for this humble design increased after building and testing 4 different versions to get a feel for amps with both shunt and series feedback. Of the 4 built, this particular version became my favorite — providing excellent input and output matching without crazy high emitter current. Employing a low noise / high F-t 2N3866 transistor is icing on the cake — an attempt to maximize impedance matching and performance using this standard, fits most transistors bias/feedback circuit. The humble 2N3904 also worked well in this slot. You don't need the ferrite collector bead with a 2N3904.

Other good experiments include trying different transistors and/or increasing the emitter current while being careful not to exceed the BJT's current rating (plus add heat sinking as required). You might also try the stage at different frequencies or perhaps sweep it to see at what frequency the gain starts to fall off.

Of the 4 BJT feedback amps shown in part 2, only this amp has a true broad-band input and output. What bothers me about broad-band linear amplifiers is that when you chain up 2 or more of them, signal fidelity generally degrades as it passes through each successive amp stage. Solutions include mopping things up with some low-pass filtering after the last stage, leaving it alone, or tuning the amplifiers (i.e. not using broadband stages).

The biggest caveat for feedback amps are variations in input and output impedance caused by source and load mismatches. For example, a 75 Ω resistor was connected to the output of the FBA above. The input return loss degraded to 16.8 dB. Further, the same 75 Ω load was removed and then connected to the input during output return loss measurement— this degraded the output RL to 23.4 dB. Clearly load mismatches upset return loss more than source mismatching. A 50 Ω attenuation pad should likely follow a feedback amp in situations where high input return loss are desired; for example, after a diode ring mixer.

Noticing a variation of the classis feedback topology in EMRFD Figure 6.140, I asked Wes, W7ZOI about it. It turns out there's another way to "skin the shunt feedback cat". The above RF amp uses a series connection of 2 feedback resistors (1K5 and 1K5 with a bypass cap across one 1K5). The result is a resistance at DC of 3K, but a resistance at RF of just 1K5. You could also use a 3K resistor directly from collector to base that is paralleled by a series connection of a 1K5 resistor plus a 0.1 uF capacitor. That network has the same impedance as my amp shown above. That is; the resistance would be 3K at DC, but 1K5 at RF.

This explanation fueled the next experiment — transistor amplifiers have 2 operating conditions; 1 at DC, the other at AC. Like a carpenter framing a house, you begin design by setting the DC bias — no small design task since bias concerns more than just establishing the base voltage and emitter current. For example, biasing may effect voltage gain, maximum signal handling capability, noise figure, impedance matching, class of operation, the operating point (sometimes called quiescent point or q-point), feedback and temperature stability. Biasing provides much to think about, however, a practical way to explore any topic is to chunk it into small, understandable pieces that become a stepping stone to advancement. Let's focus on biasing for temperature stability. The next amp uses the wrap-around PNP bias — an awesome technique.

Above — A 7 MHz FBA using PNP wrap-around biasing. I learned about wrap-around biasing from Wes, W7ZOI and share a simple way for new builders to also learn this technique as the #1 Design Center on the supplemental web page Click for a prototype breadboard photograph. This amplifier employs heavy shunt feedback from collector to base. Degenerative (series) feedback from the 2 parallel 10 ohm resistors also enhances temperature stability.
Expanded bias circuit temperature stability discussion follows amplifier number 4.

The wrap-around or feedback bias scheme is good because it's self stabilizing. The diode in the PNP bias network further ensures that the PNP bias remains constant with temperature changes. It really should be to glued to the NPN transistor (or its heat sink) to allow tracking of the NPN’s temperature variations. This bias circuit doesn't load the NPN base input impedance. Another great virtue is that the emitter of the amplifying transistor can be directly connected to ground allowing better performance at VHF and UHF.

Noise from the PNP will be amplified by the NPN, so the low-pass network formed by the 0.1 uF capacitor and 4K7 resistor is essential. In some related circuits, you may see an RF choke used instead of a resistor.

The actual 2N5109 input impedance is probably around 40 ohms — easy matching with an L-match network.

Amplifiers with an L-match tuned input shouldn't follow a diode ring mixer unless preceded with a diplexer since the narrow-band L-match tunes only 1 frequency. L-match networks can make an impedance bigger or smaller depending how they're oriented and also provide some low or high-pass filtering depending on the configuration. I design my L-networks on the bench using experience plus trial and error — a better way is to use software. I recommend the program called Zmat08.exe that is included on the CD that accompanies EMRFD. The software will get you close, however, bench tweaking is required since you're often matching a complex impedance, comprised in part, of stray reactance.

Setting up an L-Network for an Input Match

A suggested bench method for optimizing input Return Loss (RL) using an L-Match network.

Your task is find the "perfect" L and C values to get a RL of 20 dB or higher. Start by soldering in an inductor calculated from Zmat08.exe or according to your wisdom. Set up the amplifier for input return loss measurement. The first chore is to find the nominal target capacitance that provides the best match at the design frequency. I use a big range, air variable capacitor for this — with the input circuit connected to a return loss bridge, connect up and tune the big variable capacitor to give the greatest RL. Remove the variable capacitor, measure it, and then solder in an equivalent trimmer capacitor, and as required, fixed capacitor(s) so you can tune at least 25 pF above and below the target capacitance. Often, the target C will be close to whatever the software recommends. In amplifier 2, my C values are the 180 pF + a 10-70 pF trimmer.

Next, determine the optimal inductor. On my bench, I keep a variety of pre-wound #6; and #2 material powdered-iron toroid inductors and choose one close to the calculated or a self-chosen L value. I start with an inductor wound with 4-5 more turns than needed. After soldering it in, the RL is checked. Remove 1 or 2 turns, tweak the trimmer capacitor and again check the RL. If after removing 1 or 2 turns, the RL is going up, you've determined there was enough inductance to get the best RL. (If the RL goes down, you probably didn't start with enough L to get the best possible RL).

You can also also squeeze together or spread apart the toroid windings to vary inductance — the maximal inductance variation varies due to factors including wire gauge and total turns. Compressing the windings with thumb and forefinger increases the inductance and widening the gaps between windings reduces inductance on a toroid.

Assuming the RL increased after removing 1 or 2 turns, remove another turn, tweak the trimmer capacitor and check the return loss, and so on. Repeat until your return loss starts to decrease. Then add back a turn or 2 to find the absolute best match. This procedure allows you to find the optimum inductance in-situ. Once, you've figured out the best inductance, cut the inductor leads short, solder it in, tweak the trimmer capacitor, and then consider further tweaking the coil by expanding or squishing the windings on the toroid while looking at the RL in a bridge detector.

In summary, to get the best possible RL — design a prospective L-match with software, and then bench test to determine the optimal in-situ L and C by using values above and below the calculated L and C values while observing the results in a return loss bridge. This method seems tedious, but emphasizes that repeated bench practice and patience pays off. You can always just use the calculated L-network values and/or develop your own method to set them up.

Consider mitigating the stray inductance caused by the long lead that occurs after removing wire turns by cutting the lead and scraping off the enamel insulation every couple of turns or so. This is a gamble — If you cut the lead and need to add back a turn, you'll have to rewind the coil from scratch, or add in and solder another turn (messy). I'm often able to get a L-network RL of 22-26 dB using my method and feel it's worth the the time and effort. 

When bench tweaking the L and C values, your actually looking at the peak-to-peak AC voltage with the amp input connected to the unknown port of the RL bridge. Tune for the lowest, stable peak-to-peak voltage. Test it against the open circuit peak-to-peak voltage to calculate the RL. Since the open circuit doesn't change, you know the return loss is improving when the peak-to-peak  voltage of the amplifier under test is going down. I store the open circuit voltage in my scientific calculator and calculate the RL from time to time as I'm tweaking the L and C values. After awhile, the whole procedure becomes automatic and quick. Once you 're done and everything's tidy, measure the open circuit and connected amp peak-to-peak voltages and calculate RL a final time. This is your reportable return loss.

You can scale matching networks from other builder's schematics by calculating the XL and XL and then applying these reactances to your desired frequency. Bench tweaking is still required. I also hope the person whom I'm copying didn't make a bench or drafting error. Be discerning about whatever your find on the Internet "Misinformation Highway" — this site included. Although I'm no philosopher, I know at least 3 things about people. They: 1. are often biased; 2. can lie; and 3. can make errors.

Above —Some toroids and the air variable capacitor I sometimes use to coarsely bench tune L-C circuits to determine the "ballpark" tuning capacitance. This capacitor features built-in reduction drive and varies from 15pF to 428 pF. When using an external capacitor connected to your circuit with short copper wires, expect some signal distortion and watch out for hand and body caused capacitance variations. The connecting wires also have reactance which won't be there when you swap in a small trimmer cap plus any fixed value capacitors.

Next up is a common emitter amp using "noiseless" feedback - this means the AC feedback is achieved with transformers instead of "noisy" resistors.

Above — Schematic of a 7 MHz collector-emitter "Griffiths" feedback amp.  I ran substantial emitter current through this NPN. RC = 116.5 ohms — I paralleled 2 resistors for RC because I lack resistors between 100 and 150 ohms. The basic design is by Bruce Griffiths, who has a great web site. I thought I put up big schematics!

The input L-network was designed on the bench and provides a good input match peaked at 7.040 MHz — this pumped up the gain 3-4 dB. In my amp,  a T50-2 powdered iron toroid inductor forms the L-match coil. Matching for the best possible input return loss is touchy and best done on the bench. For example, if the 6 uH inductor is decreased to 5.8 uH, the match could fall by 2-4 dB. With patience and careful tweaking return losses approaching 29 dB are possible, but likely too time consuming for most builders. The procedure as described earlier is pragmatic: connect a RL bridge to the input and adjust the L and C values until the lowest return loss is discovered. Even squishing or expanding the toroidal inductor windings can squeeze out a final dB or so of input matching.

Output matching proved interesting. Although I tried, the best output RL I could muster was 14.5 dB. Lowering the 10 Ω degeneration resistor or increasing the current could increase the output return loss. An output attenuator pad might be considered — a 3 - 6 dB pad would increase the output RL to over 20 dB.

All 3 output transformer windings were wound on a FT37-43 with care to keep the phasing correct. Amplifier gain is not dependent on collector current. For example, substituting an Ra of 180 ohms (clipping out the 330 Ω resistor) yielded a gain of 19.5 dB, an emitter current of ~ 20 mA and an output return loss of 12.6 dB, while the input match changed very little.

The oscillation snuffer 22 Ω collector resistor was 15 ohms in another version, however, parasitic oscillations were discovered at ~175 MHz and snuffed out by raising this resistor from 15 to 22 ohms. I sometimes go as high as 51 Ω; especially in JFET circuits.

Above — The breadboard of the noiseless collector-emitter 7 MHz feedback amp. Click for a photo of another version. The hot "modern" replacement for the 2N5109 is this SMT part. I also like the BFG135 T/R BJT.

The final FBA experiments below use a standard voltage divider bias, tweaked for temperature compensation. The AC feedback is base to emitter — a rarely used topology in North America; although I'm not sure why.

Above — The DC bias resistor values for a 2N2222a with a DC Beta or hFE of 150 and a emitter current of 20.1 mA. Almost every text author writes about voltage divider bias temperature stability, but some builders get bogged down in the details. Since the bipolar junction transistor is a voltage controlled device (see section 4: QRP-POSDATA for an explanation), you must set up some DC voltages — I created a design center presenting an easy approach to design reasonably temperature stable BJT amps. See #5 Design Center on the supplemental web page. After getting the bias, the AC parts were added, and the completed schematic is shown below.

Above — A base-emitter feedback amp built Dec 21, 2010. I read about base-emitter feedback in Dr. Rohde's book (Reference 1). He had some discussion, a small signal model and lots of difficult math, but no circuit examples. After searching on the web I found 1 example in the HBR-2000 transceiver; a project designed and built my respected Canadian colleague Marcus, VE7CA. Click for his web site. I decided to build my own design using a L-match to tune the input to 50 Ω.

The above amp was built around around a 2N2222a. The 39 ohm resistor is not really required with the 2N2222a. For high F-t transistors like the 2N3866, 2N5109 or microwave transistors, ferrite bead(s) or the resistor are not an option. Low F-t transistors like the 2N2222a or 2N3904 don't need the UHF oscillation snuffer resistor since they lack real gain at these frequencies. With the design center, you should be able to bias your own amp according to the emitter current you want — choose a BJT, measure or choose its hFE and then choose IE.

Missing from this web page is how to choose an operating point + discussion about DC load lines and related topics. I may tackle these topics on a future web page. I'm not sure anyone cares about this anymore.

The most difficult part was the output transformer. Lacking a base to collector connection, the collector impedance runs quite high and finding a good match into 50 Ω proved impossible — even with a shunt resistor across the primary coil. I saw a strategy in Marcus' amp; AC couple the collector to ground via a 510 Ω resistor. I did this. From then on, it was just trial and error to identify the optimum turns ratio for the collector transformer.  An interesting experiment might be to figure out the turns ratio using a lower loss output transformer such as a FT-37-61.

The turns ratio of the various collector and drain transformers on most of these amplifier designs were determined by placing the amp in an output RL measurement setup and adding or removing secondary turns to get the highest possible RL. See the procedures for RL measurement on the RF Workbench pages.

Above — The breadboard of the first version of the base-emitter FBA.

3. JFET Common Gate (CG)Transistor Amplifier Experiments

These experiments focus on setting up a desired input return loss and getting a reasonable output return loss in the CG amplifier. My expectation of an easy set of experiments proved wrong — assumptions never substitute for actually building and measuring.

I like motorcycles. The difference between riding a motorbike versus driving a car parallels learning on the bench versus learning by just simulating or calculating component "ideal" values on paper or computer. In the car you're isolated from wind, smells, temperature changes and subtle road traction and camber differences that you fully sense on the motorcycle. Bench experiments prove equally visceral and experiential — the sensory input from learning as you build and test circuits imprints deeply in your mind.

Above — A 7 MHz JFET "linear" amplifier built only for testing ideas — do not build. It went through several incarnations and prompted many experiments. The input return loss was deliberately set to 20.8 dB, although I set a RL from 10.0 - 28.6 dB during my experiments. Bypassing the JFET source resistor increases gain, but of course changes input RL.

The output transformer represents a terrible design, but shows the length I went to to try an obtain a decent output return loss. Working with this circuit, led me to abandon tuning the output transformer in situations where a high return loss was desired since the low value resistors required kill the tank Q significantly.

Above — Breadboard of 1 version of the prototype low-level JFET "linear" amplifiers for 7 MHz.  Click  Click . Cx is tuned with a variable cap and a nearest standard value substituted; in my case 46 pF was the measured value of the variable cap at point Cx.

Setting Input Impedance

Above — The procedure used to set a desired CG amplifier input Return Loss. Numerous factors influence the input impedance and I discuss them in #4 Some Factors Affecting Common-Gate Amplifier Input Impedance on the supplemental web page.  I keep some tapped inductors on my workbench such as this FT50-43 or these FT50-61 core inductors. To find the best return loss using such a coil, you can change tap points, remove windings and even wind more turns and solder the 1 end of your new windings to 1 end of the existing wire. Some builders omit inductor taps and manipulate the input return loss other ways as described in the supplemental article.

Normally we set the input match after establishing the output match since the output impedance dramatically affects the input impedance.

Further, you might notice that the tap point may vary between different JFETs. Most of my "real world" coils have at least 2 tap points and I choose the tap that gives the best return loss. More often than not, I bias for 14 - 18 mA and leave off the source bypass capacitor; it's your call.

The input return loss that gives the lowest noise figure is often chosen by engineers.

Above —  An experimental 7 MHz common gate amp designed to terminate a diode ring mixer. The best thing about using 2 JFETs is that you don't have to determine the tap point in the decoupling inductor (12 turns on a FT37-43 in this amplifier). I put up to 4 in parallel during my various experiments. It's faster to match just 2 JFETs, so 2 were favored.

The output RL wasn't great at ~ 14 dB, however is probably normal or better than most published amateur projects. I set the output match by adding a shunt 1K8 resistor across the primary winding and then finding the turns ratio to give the best output return loss. Without the resistor, the best output RL will be ~5 dB or worse. The resistor reduces power.

I learned that putting JFETs in parallel in a common gate amplifier reduced the output return loss in circuits using an output transformer like in the schematic above; this is unfortunate. 

I wanted an output RL of 20 dB or greater — this is no small request; over a week was spent investigating transformer behavior and finding ways to improve output return loss when you really want to.

Above — The breadboard of the above 7 MHz CG amplifier.

Output Impedance Experiments

For some reason, I assumed that when using an arithmetically correct turns ratio, the output transformer will end up at 50 Ωs. For example, if I wish to transform 450 ohms to 50 ohms, I'd use a 9:1 impedance ratio (3:1 turns ratio) and get 50 ohms. Sadly, it isn't this simple — impedance transformation is complicated and whole books have been written about it. I'll share some of my experiments that might inform yours.

The first task was to built a simple jig to evaluate primary and secondary coupling, turns ratios and return loss.

Above — The simple tool built to evaluate the return loss of a transformer out-of-circuit. In this case, I examined the 24t : 5t transformer of the 7 MHz CG amplifier shown earlier. The table shows the best possible return loss when the 1K8 resistor is across the primary coil. Additional experiments were completed and follow below.

Above — An experiment to see if changing the shunt resistor can improve return loss; yes it can. The shunt resistor was a 4K7 potentiometer — Using the potentiometer, I was able to determine the optimal resistance needed to increase the return loss @ 14 MHz of the FT37-61 ferrite-base 24t : 5t transformer. The pot was removed, measured and replaced with the nearest standard value; a 1K2 resistor. The best possible RL was 16.7 dB using a 1K2 shunt resistor. At 7 MHz, the FT37-61 didn't work well. Five turns on a FT37-61 based transformer doesn't have enough inductive reactance to get a good return loss.

Above — The transformer testing jig. I omitted the switch shown in the schematic above and just soldered the shunt resistor across the primary winding.

Above — Some of the outcomes using the transformer jig pictured above. While I basically understood that transformer efficiency tends to fall as the turns ratio increases, I never thought this would also happen with return loss. By no means do these crude experiments constitute science, but the following themes emerged:

  1. The better coupling of transmission line transformers (bifilar, trifilar etc.) translates into improved RL over conventionally wound transformers
  2. Limiting the turns ratio to 3:1 or less generally improved the return loss. As the turns ratio moves above 3:1, the best possible return loss tends to decrease.
  3. The smaller or secondary winding should have 4-10 times the inductive reactance of the impedance it's connected to. For a 50 ohms impedance this means a minimal XL of 200 - 500 ohms. I noticed a weak trend towards better return loss with higher XLs. This means that to use a FT37-61 at 7 MHz, the secondary winding should be 9 -14 turns or so.

Above — Further transformer experiments. For a 4:1 impedance transformation at 7 and 14 MHz, a FT37-43 ferrite toroid gave a better out-of-circuit RL than the FT37-61 The comparison transformer with a FT37-43 ferrite core was shown earlier. It's possible to transform a big impedance such as 16:1 by cascading 2 bifilar transformers, or by using a quadrifilar transformer. I didn't build the quadrifilar transmission line transformer, but show it for completeness sake.

Of course, once you connect the transformers to a real circuit, things will change — still it's great to be able to examine transformer return loss in a controlled environment.

Above — a common gate amplifier experiment using 2 cascaded 4:1 Z transmission line transformers. Data with and without the 820 Ω resistor shows that while the resistor gives a great output RL; it eats a lot of power. In cases where I've seen cascaded transmission line transformers used, the resistor was omitted. The Ugly Weekender transmitter by Wes, W7ZOI provides a good example.

In many cases, it's prudent to sacrifice gain for return loss, however, when you see a builder (like the former me), put a 32:3 turns ratio on a 5 MHz amplifier output transformer and label the secondary windings "50 Ω", we'll know better.

Above — An evolution of the amplifier above to get the best possible output RL. I omitted the 820 ohm resistor and matched the output with an L-network. The return loss on the output of the second transmission line transformer (measured before the L-match was added) was 3.4 dB.

The L-match values were roughly determined by using this chart (you can also do the math). According to the chart an (output) RL of 3.4 dB, is either 10 ohms or ~250 ohms or so. Ten ohms is unlikely, so I designed my L-match to match 250 to 50 ohms. This provided some starting values for the L and C parts and the rest was done on the bench using trial and error with an RL bridge. At the time, this was the highest output RL I'd ever achieved.

RF engineers use math to calculate impedance (they always do). I sent the schematic to Wes, W7ZOI for his analysis and summarize his return email comments as follows: At 7 MHz, the XL of the 2.22uH inductor is 97.6 Ω, therefore the impedance looking into that with 50 Ohms as the load is 50+j97.6. A complex inversion of this value gives a complex admittance that has a real part: 0.0041. Flipping that gives 240 Ω. The equivalent reactance is inductive with a value that would be tuned by a 184 pF capacitor; a bit more than you have there — so there is some reactance presented by the center tap of the second transformer. Neglecting these details, the L net generates about 240 Ohms. The two transformers then kick the Z up by 16 to 3856 Ohms.

I was pleased that my simple chart gave a value close to his calculation. Test it out — the chart may work okay for you.

The input match is over 20 dB and reasonable. More time could have been spent on the input autotransformer by tapping and such to increase the input RL, however, time is the 1 resource we all seem to lack.

The final amplifier experiments employ an L-match to set output return loss. When reading electrical engineering books you'll often see all sorts of matching networks on both the input and output of FETs and BJT amplifiers. The networks look simple, but in practice, aren't. They tune sharply, have a low bandwidth and in the case of the CG amp, harbor a big problem — tuning the output for the best output return loss, dramatically affects the input return loss and potentially, your return loss measurement by the reactance affecting the RF signal in your bridge. When tuning the output, you're actually changing 2 complex impedances — this is not trivial.

Also if you're off by a few pF or tens of uH in your network C and L values respectively, you can wreak havoc with the measurements. At this point, I don't possess all the skills needed to tune both the output and the input network to a RL of 20 dB or greater; especially with a broadband input.

Above — A common gate amp employing a high-pass L-network to match the output. Miraculously after 2 hours of tweaking, I obtained a good input and output match; however this amp isn't reproducible. The inductor was wound on a T68-2 using 28 gauge wire — always a pain. Through trial and error, I learned that the output impedance of the drain was around 11800 ohms. Starting with 18.4 uH on theT68-2, I removed 2-3 turns at a time until a reasonably low return loss was obtained; then I removed 1 turn at a time. I went too far and had to add back a turn. I clipped the excess lead every second turn which made it tedious, but exacting. It seems that the L value is very critical – it would be nice to use a variable inductor to figure these things out. Compressing and expanding the windings also provided a simple way to vary inductance.

In several other circuits, the best possible input return loss was only 14 dB. Mistuning also caused oscillations to occur in one 14 MHz amp with an output network inductor of 7.4 uH. I also tried a 14 MHz amp with an L-match on both the input and output, however, was unable to match both the input and output due to the interplay between them.

Above —  Here are 3 possible L-network configurations for tuning a CG amplifier output. They can be used in other circuits and are worth studying. The L-match with 2 variable capacitors generally requires lower inductance than the others.

Above — A breadboard of 1 of the high-pass tuned CG amps. The gate lead on this transistor is too long — the inductance will likely cause UHF oscillations. 2 ferrite beads were placed on the drain to mitigate these, but a better construction technique is recommended and shown below.

Above — the preferred way to ground the gate with the JFET on its side. The hole-through version of the U310 JFET has a metal case that is connected to the gate that makes it ideal for grounded gate amplifiers. Some suppliers only sell SMT versions of the U310 now.

4.  QRP — Posdata for January 2013: Transistor Bias Model

This discussion concerns setting up the DC bias point for linear BJT operation.

Earlier I stated that a bipolar transistor is a voltage controlled device. A few readers thought I made a typo: something I frequently do, but not in this case, since I purposely made that statement. In reality, the argument could go either way since collector–emitter current is controlled by the base-emitter current (~a current controlled device) and by the base–emitter voltage (~a voltage controlled device).

Stated using the correct physical model, a transistor is a current controlled current source. With external circuitry we can manipulate this physical model into a voltage controlled current source, or a voltage controlled voltage source, or even a current controlled voltage source. Whether you model the transistor with current or voltage, the math tells the truth when properly examined.

Please view the following two 2N3904 SPICE models generated by Wes, W7ZOI for me many years ago when I began to learn small signal analysis using impedance and hybrid parameters, plus set out to learn ways to establish DC bias and temperature stability in BJTs.

Above — the Y axis shows how changing base-emitter voltage or current changes the VBE. We tend to assume a VBE of 0.7, however, the math shows the truth. Whether we plot voltage or current for the Y axis data, the graph slope remains similar. The greater the applied DC voltage placed on the base-emitter port, the more current will flow.

Above — Logarithimic base current plotted against VBE. If we want this current to increase, we need to put more DC voltage on the BE junction. On the bench, we may easily measure base voltage to confirm our calculations — measuring base current proves more difficult. Whether I'm setting up amplifer bias with voltage dividers, a current source, or even biasing it with a downstream AGC voltage,  I prefer to think in terms of voltage control — although I get that V and I truly just coexist.

Current or voltage modelling — it's your choice and the math will guide you. Look for these equations on the Web, or in second hand bookstores. I've got 8 or 9 transistor theory books now and they're really timeless.

5. Miscellaneous Figures and Photographs

6. References

  1. Communications Receivers - Principles & Design. Rohde, L.R and Bucher, T.T.N. 1988. McGraw-Hill.
  2. Technical Correspondence QST Magazine (ARRL) Aug 1990. Hayward W.
  3. Experimental Methods in RF Design (ARRL) 2003. Hayward W. Campbell R. Larkin B.
  4. Microwave Handbook Vol 1. Components and Operating Techniques. 1989 RSGB.
  5. Emails with Wes, W7ZOI and Professor Ken Kuhn, Winter 2010-2011 — Thanks!  Никогда не забуд.