Measuring Frequency Response with an RTL-SDR Dongle and a Diode

[Hans] wanted to see the frequency response of a bandpass filter but didn’t have a lot of test equipment. Using an RTL-SDR dongle, some software and a quickly made noise generator, he still managed to get a rough idea of the filter’s characteristics.

How did he do it? He ‘simply’ measured his noise generator frequency characteristics with and without the bandpass filter connected to its output and then subtracted one curve with the other. As you can see in the diagram above, the noise generator is based around a zener diode operating at the reverse breakdown voltage. DC blocking is then done with a simple capacitor.

Given that a standard RTL-SDR dongle can only sample a 2-3MHz wide spectrum gap at a time, [Hans] used rtlsdr-scanner to sweep his region of interest. In his write-up, he also did a great job at describing the limitations of such an approach: for example, the dynamic range of the ADC is only 48dB.

Bode plots on an oscilloscope

bode

Bode plots – or frequency response graphs – are found in just about every piece of literature for high-end audio equipment. It’s a simple idea, graphing frequency over amplitude, but making one of these graphs at home usually means using a soundcard, an Excel spreadsheet and a multimeter, or some other inelegant solution. Following a neat tutorial from [Dave Jones], [Andrew] came up with a very simple way to make a Bode plot in real-time with an oscilloscope, a microcontroller, and a few off-the-shelf parts.

The basic idea behind [Dave Jones]‘ impromptu Bode plotter is to configure a frequency generator to output a sine wave that ramps up over a period of time. Feed this sine wave through a filter, and you have amplitude on the vertical axis of your ‘scope and frequency on the horizontal axis. Boom, there’s your Bode plot.

[Andrew] did [Dave] one better by creating a small circuit with an Arduino and an AD9850 sine wave generator. Properly programmed, the AD9850 can ramp up the frequency of a sine wave with the Arduino outputting sync pulses every decade or octave of frequency, depending if you want a linear or log Bode plot.

It’s a nifty little tool, and when it comes to building test equipment from stuff that just happens to by lying around, we’ve got to give it up for [Andrew] for his really cool implementation.

 

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