Quick review of the Kit-Projects AGC board

Jim W0EB, TSW Project Coordinator,  bought two of these kits for his 2 uBITX Version 5 radios. First off, the directions for installing this board are brief, but they are easily followed and the boards are easy to install.

Not wanting to drill a hole for the included switch and run a bunch of wires to it, he just wired the common pad to the “fast” pad for always on, Fast AGC.  A “Via” hole was identified in the trace between R70 and “Vol HI” and Jim ran a wire from there to the “VOL” pad on the AGC board. This worked great.

Even though the “S-meter” output of this AGC system was designed to work with the CEC software, we found it worked with TSW’s BITeensio board as well.

The BITeensio uses the A19 analog input on the Teensy 3.6 for the S-meter. This little AGC system drives the S-meter routines just fine on the BITeensio.

A 50 microvolt (-73 dBm) signal was fed into the antenna connector and Jim adjusted the software’s S-meter routine’s division ratio so the touch screen’s display read S9 as it should with a 50µV input. The rest of the S units were so close to correct that no further tweaking was deemed necessary.

He also found that adjusting the on board RF gain control for max recieved signal was the best way to adjust the level control. As you turn the control counter clockwise, the gain increases and there is a point past which saturation occurs. This is obvious when listening to a weak signal and you can hear the gain drop past this point. Simply adjust the gain to that point and turn it back to where the signal is just peaking.  It is best to just leave it there if you want your S-meter to work right.

Once adjusted, this little AGC board keeps the RF input nicely within bounds on strong signals quite well.

Jim calls out ND6T and N8DAH and says “Well done guys, well done! The kit is certainly worth the price IMO”.

Reference

Kit Projects AGC board

David N8DAH has AGC boards for the µBITx available to order.

If you have any questions please e-mail either David N8DAH or Tim, KE2GKB at: info at kit-projects dot com.

The cost of the kit is US$15.  Pretty much all international shipping is US$ 14 or US$15 with the exception of Canada which is US$10.50.

Order and information on the kit can be found here:

https://shop.kit-projects.com/index.php?route=product/product&path=59&product_id=101

ND6P Volume limited and distortion reducer

ND6P came up with this mod after testing his uBITX on the bench to determine how much signal it could handle before distorting at the speaker due to clipping of the audio signal.  What he found is that RF input signals greater than S9+5dB (-68 dBm) become distorted due to the audio output clipping on the negative side.

What the mod does is insert enough attenuation at the RF input to prevent the audio from clipping for signals stronger than S9+5dBm. Signals S9+5dBm and weaker are not attenuated. He’s tested with RF input as strong as S9+40dBm (-33 dBm) and gets a clean output.

He says he can now listen to a weak signal without having to reach for the volume control when a strong signal comes on. So effectively this is an automatic RF attenuation circuit to provide AGC functionality for the uBITX.

Points connected to the volume control are in parallel with existing wiring.

The pin diodes (MA27B) are available at RF Parts Co.

Reference

ND6T AGC design a winner – boards coming!

There has been a bit of BITX20 IO Groups list chatter about the winner in ND6T’s AGC circuit (with RF gain control).

Ion VA3NOI has two versions of an ND6T AGC circuit board designed.

  • A through-hole single-side version measuring 17X38 mm.
  • An SMT board measuring 18X31 mm, with SMT components that are 0805 in size.

The . 1 uF cap is tantalum or niobium polarized.

The design was done using Eagle 7.5 freeware. The zip file in the Gerbers Folders should be uploaded to the PCB manufacturing house.

The boards are roughly 1 square inch in surface. You can place 10 boards on a 100X100 mm panel and get 10 panels for $5 plus shipping.   For making into a kit, Ian recommends the SMT version as it will be more affordable and he expects it to have better performance on the upper bands.

He has ordered a through-hole version for experimenting with some values (AGC release time minimum resistor and coupling capacitors on RF line) and this is en route to Canada.

The PCBs have provision for adding a pot to adjust AGC release time and a switch to disable the AGC.   Ion has posted the files (schematic, board layout and Gerbers) here:

https://app.box.com/s/qf4jubi8942dhwdc8lhivctycnue4f12

Constructors should feel free to use the files as they see fit.  He is also happy for anyone wanting to put kits together.

Kees K5BCQ is looking into whether it can be sold as a kit through his website.

Reference

 

New AGC system

Don ND6T has been tinkering with AGC mods, and has come up with a new solution that gives much high levels of RF compression.

The µBITX presents some challenges with RF AGC system design: There is no RF preamplifier to use as a voltage-controlled attenuator, it is broadband and includes no tuned circuits in the receive path, and the intermediate frequency amplifiers are not configured for variable gain.

If we try to use a PIN diode in the RF, the high insertion loss raises the receiver over-all noise figure appreciably and the driver circuitry begins to become complex. The diode array also necessitates a fair additional current drain.

Original solution

Don’s original solution, designed for the BITX40, was to use a 2N7002 MOSFET as a shunt from RF to ground. The advantages were the simple circuit, the low current drain, and no insertion loss. The disadvantage was the limited dynamic control range (about 20 dB ). This was primarily due to the finite series resistance of the MOSFET when it was driven to full conduction, about 5 ohms. You can see this project by clicking here.

Putting another FET in series

Numerous experiments revealed that adding another 2N7002 in series with the receive RF path made it possible to add another 20 dB (or so) dynamic range across the HF spectrum. This was controlled with the same control bias as the original but the configuration requires driving the source connection of the transistor with the control and biasing the gate at 2.5 volts so that, at idle, the series transistor is driven to full conduction. This control topography requires that the new series transistor to be DC blocked from the RF line.

Pre-requisite Mod

This project assumes that you have already installed the manual RF Gain Control modification since it requires that the trace between relay K1 and relay K3 be cut. I designed mine to simply be glued on the back of the control potentiometer and cut the single-sided un-etched printed circuit board stock to be about 20 mm by 13 mm. The thickness of the completed circuit is only 3 mm and so fits easily.

Theory

Detected audio from the receive audio pre-amplifier is sampled by bringing a twisted pair of wires from the volume control. Just attach the pair across the outside terminals of the control, attaching the wire from the “hot” terminal (which also attaches to “audio1” plug on the main board, pin 4) to the vacant side of C1 on the new board. The other wire attached to the “cold” terminal (which also attaches to pin 3 of the “audio1 plug) connects the the “GND” area of the new board.

This audio sample is then amplified by Q1 and fed through C2 to be rectified by diodes D1 and D2 and filtered by C4 to become the AGC control bias. Signals below 30 millivolts RMS leaves the circuit idle, with Q2 (the series element) biased to full conduction and only adds about 0.6 dB of loss. Q3 (the shunt element) is biased to cutoff and has no effect on the receive signal. Louder signals (S9 and above) create higher bias voltages until maximum is reached (about 1 volt RMS audio) at about 3 volts DC control bias. At this point attenuation is about 50 dB at 3.5 MHz, 34 dB at 30 MHz.

The time constant of C4 and R6 sets the “AGC release” rate, several seconds from full to idle. Charging time is fast, milliseconds, so that sudden strong signals are handled without discomfort. This ratio prevents oscillation and diminishes “pumping” on strong signals. For faster recovery rates, decrease the resistance value of R6. Values down to 100 K work satisfactorily but 1 megaohm worked the best for me.

Construction

A hobby knife was used to isolate the connection pads as shown in the sketches. The remaining copper is then lightly tinned. Resistance checks should then be made to insure that there are no copper scraps or solder bridges between the lands.

I often find it convenient to simply begin in the top right corner of a board and work my way down and left so that I avoid working over previously completed circuit areas. Just place a component, hold it down, and touch the soldering iron to the board near one of the component leads. The thin solder will make a weak attachment to the component (called “tacking”). The builder can then move to another connection on that part and properly solder it using a hand to hold the solder. Then the rest of the component is soldered properly and the value checked with metering to assure a good connection and that the part wasn’t damaged in the process.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A spot of fast-setting glue holds the board to the back of the manual RF gain control. Remove the coax center conductor from the potentiometer wiper and connect it to the junction of Q3 drain and C5. Run a jumper from the wiper lug of the gain control and connect to the vacant pad of C3. Leaving the manual RF gain control in place will give you extra control should you wish it. Very short jumpers keep things solid and have purer control. Power can be supplied from any nearby 5 volt source (like pin 3 up on the Raduino, usually green wire). It just needs to be from 4 to 5 volts and only draws less than 2 milliamps.

If you want to add a switch to shut off the AGC, do so at the audio input. I would suggest a single-pole double-throw switch with the connection to C1 at the center, ground to one side, and the other to the hot side of the volume control. If power is removed from this circuit Q2 will not be biased “on” and will reduce signal levels significantly.

A good, solid ground is most important. I recommend a ground lug on the potentiometer shaft or on any other nearby ground point. A poor RF ground will yield poor attenuation. 40 dB is a ratio of 1 to 10,000! Hundredths of an ohm count.

If you don’t use an RF gain control

If you don’t have room for a manual RF gain control or a switch there is no reason to worry. This circuit can be left active and placed near the RF path connector without a problem. You could easily build this as a module that simply plugs into the connector. The most critical junction would again be a nearby ground but a third pin, this time through the board to the ground plane, would help. There should be little need to operate without it. If you need to run any tests that need it disabled, just remove the plug to the RF receive path and replace it with a shorting plug across the two RF pins.

If you adverse to surface mount construction, there is little problem in building it with leaded components. Use 2N7000 or BS170 MOSFETs and a 2N3904 or 2N2222 type NPN transistor. Try to keep wiring short and compact in the RF attenuator portion but the rest is very non-critical. If you use an electrolytic or tantalum capacitor for C4, observe polarity.

Parts List

  • 1: NPN switching transistor (1B, 2N3904, 2N2222) [Q1]
  • 2: N-channel enhancement mode MOSFET (2N7002, 2N7000, BS170) [Q2,3]
  • 2: Silicon switching diodes (1N4148, 1N914) [D1,2]
  • 2: 0.01 uF, 6 volt or higher ceramic capacitor [C3,5]
  • 2: 0.1 uF, 5 volt or higher ceramic capacitor [C1,2]
  • 1: 10 uF, 6 volt or higher ceramic (preferred) electrolytic, or tantalum capacitor [C4]
  • 1: 1 Kohm resistor [R2]
  • 4: 100 Kohm resistor [R1,3,4,5 ]
  • 1: 1 Mohm resistor [R6} (or other value, depending upon desired AGC recovery rate)

Explanation

Signals below 50 microvolts (S9) are unaffected. Above that level, the AGC begins to engage. Q2, the pass transistor, begins to turn off a bit while Q3, the shunt transistor, begins to turn on. Signals are attenuated to where the audio output is held to reasonable levels and the rest of the receiver does not experience distortion. If you are considering adding an S meter this circuit may be to advantage due to the amplifier stage. The control bias is available at the junction of D2,C4, Q2,R5 and R6. This is the spot that you would use for a metering source.

Conclusion

AGC makes for a much more pleasurable experience. Don seldom needs to reach for the RF gain control or the volume when an especially strong signal suddenly appears. During nets I can now wander about the shack and still hear all of the check ins. Round tables don’t require a hand on the controls. Things are getting easier.

Recommended by others

Tim AB0WR says, “I am using this new AGC circuit. It works well. You still get a slight pop when an extremely strong signal first comes on but it is very short and, to me at least, not annoying at all. You may want to lower the 1 M Ohm resistor to something smaller to decrease the pop i.e. decrease the attack time. The next time I open the case I’m going to try 500K.”

Jim W0EB says “Thanks ND6T for a very workable AGC circuit!”.

It is clear that this has become the new ubitx.net recommended AGC mod.

Reference

Using a 1N4004 or similar as a varicap or pin diode for AGC control

Allison KB1GMX finds it  odd that every one seems to be bent on levelling the audio volume in the audio circuit.

The Bitx or uBitx has enough gain and handy places that RF gain control based on audio detection works very well. The easy way is replace R13 (ubitx) with a diode such as 1n400x (x=1 to 7) and controlling the  current through the diode to make it behave as a variable resistance at RF.

The current would be about 4-6ma at max gain and decrease to zero (0) at minimum gain.  For that design the AGC range is about 26 to 32db depending on the band. If you feel that is not enough AGC range then add the same mod at R33 and with both the AGC range is near 60+ DB, generally enough.

AGC in this form is less prone to overload distortion as you are lowering gain. The control could be a pot between 8V (or RX-V) and ground and a series 1K resistor to the diode (x2 if using both diodes). That gives a manual gain control. To make it automatic use a circuit to detect the voltage at the top of the audio gain pot and feed that voltage to the gain control diodes. The circuit should be arranged to put 4-8V out at NO Audio and decrease to zero volts with increasing audio.

The 1n400x series with minor reservations makes a fine substitute for a PIN diode, the preferred but more costly device for this function. Beside being widely available and cheap  makes it useful.  It also makes a good 20pf varicap and a 1A rectifier to 1000V (1n4007).

This was tested on the first bitx20 that Allison built over a decade ago to test AGC.  It has been used on several older Tentec radios and more than few of her own design. That said its far from a new idea or design as its documented in EMRFD and an older book (Solid State Design, ARRL press, now out of print).

Jerry KE7ER climbs into the conversation saying:

“I have no idea what the capacitance of a slightly forward biased 1n400x is,
figure 6 here suggests it’s north of 30pf:    Therefore, it might be marginal at 45mhz, and can vary wildly with diode type and brand.

Consensus seems to be that a 1n4007 is preferred over other 1n400x flavors for use as a PIN.   Some experimentation may be required using diodes from different manufacturers:

If you are paying $5 postage to ship in some 1n4007’s, you might consider
also getting some BAP64-02’s at $0.43 each single unit pricing, Mouser 771-BAP64-02-T/R.  These are fully specified for use as an RF PIN diode.

Reference