RF Preamps

W1FB 6M RF Preamp


Here is a schematic sent to me by W1FB many years ago. It is very similar to a 6M two-stage preamp that he published in QST in the mid eighties. Doug really favored the grounded gate FET for narrow band preamps. His published work is replete with examples of them on just about every band. I built that amp and remember getting about 10 dB gain, which is all that I wanted for the 6M direct conversion receiver using a diode ring detector that I was building. The great feature of the amp is that it combines a band pass filter and preamp in one. I lost the original schematic that Doug sent me but was delighted to see that I made a bitmapped drawing of it on a floppy disk that was recently re-discovered when we were moving an old desk. The shield shown in the schematic was a small piece of grounded ,double sided PC board in which, I made a small chamfered hole in to pass the lead going to the T2 tap. The shield, along with very short component leads will help minimize parasitic oscillations. The T2 tap is 3 turns down from the end of the T2 main winding that connects to the variable capacitor. Doug specified T37-10 cores for the inductors, but I substituted T37-6 cores and used the same number of windings as specified for the T37-10 core inductors. It worked fine.

VE7GC Popcorn RF Preamp


Here is an easy RF preamp by Dick Pattinson, VE7GC. It uses a single tuned circuit at the front end and can connect directly to a mixer or product detector in a simple receiver project. Note how Dick provided adjustable RF gain control for this circuit in his Wee Willy project on this website. If you can not find Tak Lee green 10.7 MHz IF coils, probably any other brand of 10.7 MHz slug tuned IF transformer would work. The Mouser catalog number is 421F123 . If your 10.7 MHz IF coil has a built in capacitor at the base , remove it. A fixed inductor may also be wound using a powdered iron torroid core and then all or a portion of the C1 capacity would be made variable. The input impedance is 50 ohms and the output impedance is low due to the Q2 emitter follower stage.

A Low Noise, High Dynamic Range Broadband RF Amp


This schematic is a version of a circuit developed and patented by David Norton and Allen Podell in June 1974. This variation was described by Joe Reisert, W1JR in the now defunct Ham Radio Magazine. The Norton design uses transformer coupling to achieve "noiseless negative feedback" and is really outstanding.
A great article utilizing and augmenting on this technique receivers is by Jacob Makhinson, N6NWP in QST magazine for Feb 1993 with "A High Dynamic Range MF/HF Receiver Front End". Makhinson arranged 2 in push-pull to obtain excellent results. Obtain a back-issue of QST for closer study. Note that the fore mentioned Feb QST article has the coil phasing wrong and the correct phasing can be seen at this web site from QST for July 1996. There is also information about Norton feedback RF amplifiers in EMFRD.

If you are building a contest-grade receiver and need a good RF preamp and/or post mixer amplifier, the Norton type is quite suitable. An amp built using a 2N5109 can have a noise figure in the 2.5 - 3dB range. I have also built them with 2N3866, MRF517, MRF581 and a 2N5179 although the last transistor would be a somewhat poorer choice. This schematic with a 2N5109 is good from 1.8 to 150 MHz with a 1.2:1 VSWR or less according to Joe Reisert. I have even put one in a friends CB radio and he was delighted.

Winding and Construction Hints

Making the Norton amps requires some planning to keep all component leads as short as possible. The transistor leads and any connecting components should be trimmed as short as practical to promote stability. Sketch the component layout on a piece of paper and modify it until you are satisfied you have designed a good layout. The ferrite beads on the transistor collector aid in stability and should be used to preserve the noise figure by squashing any oscillations should they develop. The 22 uH choke can be the little epoxy coated units that are color coded and look somewhat like resistors. Do not use a choke less than 22 uH.

Before winding, the builder must first decide how much gain is needed from the amp. For an RF preamp, the stage should have gain equal to or greater than the passive stages after it. Also there will be losses in the transformer, so the theoretical gain of the Norton amp maybe 1 dB off and will need to be factored in. For the purposes of discussion, a 9.5 dB amp is desired , so N = 5 and M = 3. The first step is to mark one side of the core with a dab of liquid paper, paint or a small piece of tape. This will allow you to keep track of the transformer later. To mark, hold the core so that both channels are parallel to the floor, one on top of the other. Apply your dab of paint to the top of the core and use the marked top to denote the A windings. 1a, Ma and Na will all start from the top channel in the balun core. Using 32 AWG wire for all three windings, start with winding 1 and wind the single turn from point 1a to 1b. Cut off the leads so they are shorter than 5 centimeters (2 inches). Next, wind Ma to Mb three complete turns through the binocular core and trim the leads if needed. Tie a small knot in the wire at both ends. This will clearly mark this M winding. Both windings should look like the diagram under the schematic. 1a to 1b are on the left of the balun core and winding Ma to Mb are on the right side of the core. Mb has a distinguishing knot at the tip of both wire ends. Ma starts from the top of the core which you have marked with a dab of paint or something. Finally, wind Na to Nb five complete turns through the core in the same direction as the previous winding M. Strip wires Na and Mb (Mb has the knot), twist together and solder. Scrape the enamel off the leads very gently with a sharp hobbyist knife.

Insert the transformer in your circuit and cut the leads to their proper length and then solder away. It maybe preferable to pre-strip the leads on winding 1 as it is hard to strip the enamel off a fine wire that has only one turn and it may accidentally pull out of the core. If it does, just re-insert it into the balun core on the correct side. Once you have soldered Na and Mb you can always identify the windings later because you have marked the top of the balun core which denotes the A windings. Try and make your windings gently tight as if there is too much slack you may have difficulty getting the last few windings thru the core channels. A 14 dB gain amp maybe impossible to wind with 32 AWG wire, it may best to use 34 AWG for that amplifier. I have never built one for greater than 12 dB. The transformers are a bit tedious to wind, however persevere and the results will be well worth it. For HF, you can substitute 0.1 uF caps for the 0.01 caps shown if you like.

Toroidal Inductor Norton Amp Experiments


The amp shown in the schematic to the right uses a ferrite torroid for the transformer and has ~10 dB gain. Winding 1 turn of wire over the cold end as shown in the schematic is tricky. Try to keep this link as short as possible. A ferrite bead or a  22-51 ohm resistor on the transistor collector is desirable. You can try increasing the turns (1:21:5 etc ) to experimentally obtain more gain from this amp. The torroid version is a valid option for builders who do not have balun (binocular) core ferrites in their junk box. Toroidal inductors are certainly easier to wind then binocular core versions.

In 2007, I built several Norton "noiseless feedback" RF amps using FT50-43 and FT37-43 ferrite torroids. These are outstanding and I recommend using them in projects. The input and output Z is 50 ohms. The overall BJT topology is reminiscent of a common base amp. I have some basic information concerning this amp on this web page . They are straight forward to build. The biggest problem is the phasing of the single turn link. Get it wrong and your amp can turn into an oscillator.

Shown above. The breadboard of Figure 1.

Shown above is the Figure 1 amp above (labeled Figure 2) with a 50 ohm -10 dB pad on the input and output, so gain is low. I used these pads to evaluate the amp in a number of experiments. I never got around to writing up these experiments on the web site and likely never will. I wish I had more time as my notebooks are full of unpublished experiments that would be great content for this web site.

The amp above (labeled Figure 3) is a hot one; 10.7 dB gain even with 10 dB of attenuation. You can leave off the input pad and decrease the output pad to -6dB if you want or require a wide band, low noise RF amp with lots of guts. Most builders use binocular ferrite cores for the inductor, but torroids work fine for many applications.

Shown above is a photograph of 1 of the experiments from 2007. The one turn link from the Norton amplifiers just above is shown phased correctly and then phased incorrectly. Note the oscillation in the "badly wired" amp at 14.86 MHz. I routinely check all of my noiseless RF amps using the oscilloscope. Occasionally, I will put a shunt coil and cap (from input to ground) on the input to "exaggerate" any oscillations. This has proven to be a useful technique for testing if the phasing of the one turn link was done correctly.

RF preamp for the 40 Meter band with 3 tuned filters

An experimenter's 40 Meter band front end for CW. This has a double-tuned filter and a low gain, lower noise RF amp. Great circuit for isolation of a product detector or mixer in a popcorn receiver.

A photograph of the above 40 meter band front end, double-tuned filter plus tuned common gate RF amplifier. Input and output Z is 50 ohms.