Antenna tuning by stealth
One of the most important documents for anyone who wants to know what makes a magnetic loop tick is Leigh Turner VK5KLT’s “An Overview of the Underestimated Magnetic Loop HF Antenna” which can be found on his club website.
Midway through building my version of Loftur Jónasson – TF3LJ / VE2LJX‘s Automatic Loop Controller, I came across Leigh Turner’s impassioned plea to consider this noise bridge antenna tuning design mentioned on page 32 of the “Overview”. As a concluding note VK5KLT states that he considers “The perceived need for a slick and salubrious auto-controller for properly tuning an MLA is oftentimes overrated and exaggerated, IMHO”.
He argued that elaborate microcontroller aided automatic loop tuning circuits are unnecessary and people should consider using this more covert and considerate approach. I think the bridge could be an excellent idea and a simpler way of staying in tune as you change frequency for all sorts of antennas. For a magnetic loop, it still requires a way to remotely adjust the tuning capacitor.
“The circuit goes inline between the rig and the antenna and sends a gated broadband noise signal to the antenna using a directional coupler and a noise bridge. You just listen on the desired operating frequency and watch your RX S-meter for a sharp dip whilst adjusting the loop tuning capacitor.
You simply remotely tune the loop with the aid of the receiver S-meter while you are on the wanted frequency without keying up and TX power output. This makes tuning a breeze without having to move off frequency and have the TX put out any RF power.”
VK5KLT mentioned the MFJ-212 Matchmaker that uses this same approach (and which is still on the MFJ catalog at US$99.95) and also referenced ZL3KB’s April 2001 RadCom article (pp17-21) as an easy and more economical way to replicate the same functionality.
“The distinguishing merit of the novel gated coupler/noise bridge loop tuning method is it’s completely passive and covert in operation; you don’t transmit any TX power whatsoever to attain an optimal loop tune setting. The technique makes for fast, QRM free, safe and easy QSY shifts and netting a frequency.” Leigh Turner adds that it’s even simpler if you use a pan adaptor or a modern SDR receiver as you can see the sharp null on the screen of the band scope display.
Kelvin Barnsdale ZL3KB’s RadCom article describes building and using the wide band noise bridge as a silent antenna tuning indicator. These four pages include circuit, PCB design and layout and full details of BOM and balun/transformer construction.
On 14 May 2001 ZL3KB published a 4-page follow-up pdf document “Instructions for Antenna tuning Noise Bridge” with info supplementary to the RadCom article about construction and operation. This article has an updated circuit and parts layout and refers to an issue B of the PCB. The new board includes places for the LED and dropping resistor R14, and pads for the two 100Ω load resistors and the two diodes D2 & D3.
This is the updated circuit with some updated values.
This indicates parts placement with the updated PCB.
Here is the foil side of the updated PCB
I contacted Kelvin Barnsdale and was lucky enough to obtain the PCB above.