Popcorn Direct Conversion Main Frame



Note: if you click on a schematic, a larger version will appear in a new web browser window.

Shown to the right is the schematic to a low cost popcorn direct conversion receiver main frame. To complete the receiver, a front end band pass filter and a VFO with an output power of 7 dBm is required. This is indeed a frugal project using 4 cheap transistors, an RC low pass filter and an LM386N for output power to a pair of low-impedance headphones. The builder also has a choice of 5 diplexers and an optional mute circuit. This receiver is easily built using Ugly Construction and can be built in 3-4 hours with a bit of luck.

Product Detector and Diplexers

The 50 ohm diode ring product detector can be commercial units such as the Mini-Circuits SBL1 or TUF-1 or homebrewed 50 ohm impedance units. Five simple "diplexers" are shown in the lower "Adjuncts" schematic for you to choose from. The one you choose will depend on available parts, cost and your requirements in a popcorn receiver such as this. These diplexers are mostly of the low pass filter variety and provide a ~50 ohm termination to the diode ring mixer and some matching to preserve the product detector dynamic range. I realize that except for (A) and (D) these audio frequency filters are not truly diplexers and will not provide DC to daylight matching. The intent of this web site is not high performance-high cost design and please do not confuse it as such. Note that electrolytic capacitors that bypass to ground such as the 1 uF caps must be non-polarized or bipolar for best results.

The (A) diplexer is by W7ZOI and is described on the Diplexer Web Page on this site.

The (B) and (D) diplexers are my designs and the (D) diplexer is the (B) diplexer with out the high pass component.

The (B) diplexer shown has a 3000 hertz 2 pole high pass/2 pole low pass design. This 2nd order filter provides reasonable overall matching Capacitors are standard-value, non-polar electrolytic types.

The (C) diplexer is a very basic, but very practical choice for this receiver.

The (E) diplexer is one that I used in one of my first DC receivers and the 47 millihenry inductor is a standard value unit sold by Mouser Electronics and others.

Another diplexer choice for this receiver might be the unit described by Rick Campbell, KK7B in his Binaural I-Q receiver project published in the March 1999 issue of QST.

Update May 15, 2009

There was confusion regarding the 2.7 to 47 mH inductors mentioned on this web page. I originally wound just the 2.7 mH inductor on a ferrite, but not the others.  This is not a great idea as losses are high. For millihenries-value inductors, commercial parts should be purchased. A good brand to consider might be Epcos.  Sorry for causing confusion.

AF Preamps

The AF preamp section follows that of the Ugly Weekender Receiver designed by Wes Hayward, W7ZOI. I tried many other configurations and came to the conclusion that these two simple but elegant stages give a winning combination of low noise, good gain, low parts count, low hum and good AM broadcast band rejection. The Q1 transistor decouples the receiver preamp very well and no hum was detected in the headphones providing a well filtered DC power supply was used. The Q2 grounded base amp provides a low impedance termination of the product detector and diplexer stages. Q2 and Q3 are direct coupled and provide lots of gain to drive the succeeding low pass filter without it adding a huge abundance of noise to the signal. The bypass capacitor ( 0.022 uF ) is essential to bypass any broadcast AM detected in the Q1 stage to ground. Other values of capacitors maybe tried, but do not omit this critical part.

Low Pass Filter

I cannot handle listening to a DC receiver on a crowded band without some low pass filtering. The high pitch heterodynes effect my concentration and give me a headache. Nevertheless, it is neat to temporarily listen to an unfiltered DC receiver; to hear the pure and wonderful signals possible by beating RF directly into audio. I prefer low pass to band pass filters at audio and have used many combinations of active filters using discrete components and op-amps, as well as passive designs using AF inductors to build wave filters. This receiver uses none of these devices, however they could be easily substituted for the filter shown. Connected to Q3 is a simple, cheap RC low pass filter based upon the design criteria given on the Discrete Component RC Audio Filters web page on this web site. The cutoff values you calculate will be ballpark and values of 0.047 uF for CW and 0.015 uF for SSB were chosen, but other values could just as easily been used and please do not hesitate to experiment with the caps and/or the resistors to suit the parts you have on hand. For the capacitors in the low pass filters, avoid using ceramic disk type caps if you want the best possible performance. Polyester, polypropylene, polystyrene or polyester film type are all suitable, however, ceramic caps will work if you are really going junk box/low cost.

I attempted to make a wave file to demonstrate the low pass filter. I came right off the headphone jack into the input of the of my 16-bit PC sound card via a step up audio transformer and the results were a little disappointing. Sixty-cycle hum and distortion of loud stations were added by the sound card. The sound file is big ( 636 KB ) and is a digital recording of me tuning through a 30 meter pile-up using the lowest sample rate and frequency possible on my computer. The low sample rate/frequency also degraded the sound somewhat as well, but I decided to put it on the page, warts and all. The DX station was a VK2 and sure did cause a lot of excitement on 30 meters that night around sunset on the left coast. Actually the wave file demonstrates how good the receiver sensitivity and AM radio immunity is. In addition, the low receiver background noise is also very apparent underneath the constant 60 cycle hum. The 60 cycle hum and clipping of loud CW signals is not heard in the headphones and is a soundcard manifestation. Perhaps the best method would be to come of Q4 and go right into the sound card with a smaller line-in signal voltage. Download the popdc wave file

AF Driver and Final Amp

Connected to the input and output of the Q4 stage are small value capacitors to provide some high pass filtering for the receiver amplifier chain. Some emitter degeneration is used on Q4 to provide a better termination of the preceding RC low pass filter. The receiver amplifier chain has a lot of gain and when the 10K pot is turned to minimal resistance ( cranked ) , the LM386N can be driven into distortion. You may want to limit the maximum gain with a series resistor connected to the 10K pot after building and testing this receiver.

The final AF amp is the perennial LM386N, a low cost, easy to use AF amp. Turn it upside down and solder pins 2 and 4 right to your copper ground plane to anchor this part. It can easily be configured to drive a small speaker.

An optional mute circuit is shown in the "Adjuncts" schematic and is labeled (F). This circuit is a simple transistor switch which grounds the output from Q4 and mutes the receiver audio. This circuit switches rapidly and there are no annoying pops or clicks to be heard in the headphones when it is switched. Apply the VCC to the diode as shown to mute the receiver during transmit if the receiver is used in conjunction with a transmitter. Q5 in the mute circuit can be a 2N3904 or 2N2222a or substitute.

In addition, a suggested side tone input to the LM386N is shown. I have started to use simple one section RC filters on the output of my side tone oscillators to smooth the waveform into a more pleasing audio tone.


This popcorn receiver can be made very inexpensively and has good sensitivity and a reasonable noise level and selectivity. I tested this main frame on 30 and 40 meters and really enjoyed it. This receiver main frame could be combined with an inexpensive VFO using tuning diodes to keep cost down and the popcorn factor up. Although it does not use tuning diodes, a 40 Meter band VFO schematic has been placed on the VFO page.

Here is a YouTube Link using the receiver with a different front end filter and VFO.  This is not my radio or video.

A blog post from Peter  AK6L --- it's good to see builders moving beyond kits.