Teardown: Analog Radionic Analyzer

Have you ever looked up a recipe online, and before you got to the ingredients, you had to scroll through somebody’s meandering life story? You just want to know how many cans of tomato paste to buy, but instead you’re reading about cozy winter nights at grandma’s house? Well, that’s where you are right now, friend. Except instead of wanting to know what goes in a lasagna, you just want to see the inside of some weirdo alternative medicine gadget. I get it, and wouldn’t blame you for skipping ahead, but I would be remiss to start this month’s teardown without a bit of explanation as to how it came into my possession.

So if you’ll indulge me for a moment, I’ll tell you a story about an exceptionally generous patron, and the incredible wealth of sham medical hokum that they have bestowed upon the Hackaday community…

A Troublesome Burden

Imagine you’re in the unenviable, but for most of us inevitable, position of having to put your parent’s affairs in order. Even if you remove the emotional aspect of the sudden role reversal, becoming a caregiver to the person you always looked to for your own support, the logistical aspects of the transition are daunting. Especially when your parents, at great expense and over the course of several decades, amassed a very unusual collection of equipment.

These devices are mysterious, to say the least. Many don’t have any obvious brand or model markings, and the reams of documentation that accompany them are unlike any manual you’ve ever seen. It’s clearly technical data, of a sort, but none of it makes any sense. Each document, ranging from handwritten notes on scraps of paper to professionally bound books, is a jumble of technobabble. Even after reading several pages, its meaning seems just outside your perception. You understood the individual words well enough, but for as little as you got from the combinations they were placed in by the author, it all might as well have been written in Sanskrit.

Then one day, while searching online for more information about one of the devices, you stumble upon a website you’ve never heard of before. It’s an odd looking site, with white text on a black background, and a skull and crossbones at the top of each page. Actually, on closer inspection, those aren’t bones at all. In any event, the entry this site has for the “Magnetic Wave Tester” seems promising. Rather than describing it with the admirational babbling you’ve seen elsewhere, it gets examined with scientific skepticism. The end conclusion is that it’s a harmless enough gadget, even functional on some basic level, but one that’s ultimately been designed for a singular purpose: to separate the naive from their money.

Perhaps, you think, these are just the sort of people who could be entrusted with the collection. Rather than throw it all away, you could pack up the whole lot and send it along so that each piece could be meticulously analyzed and exposed for what it really is. Maybe in the end, some good could actually come of it all.

Otherworldly Treasure

When I agreed to take on this collection from our anonymous patron, I could hardly have imagined the scale of the undertaking. Due to their considerable size and weight each box completed the cross-country journey in its own time, and each time a new one arrived, I was sure it must be the last. All told, there’s enough material here that even if I did a teardown on a new pseudoscience gadget each month, it would take us years to get through them. But we’ve got to start somewhere, so let’s launch into the unknown with this radionic analyzer.

What is a radionic analyzer, you may ask? We get our answer from Kelly Research Technologies, a company that manufactures a what appears to be a modern clone of this device that they’ve imaginatively called the Kelly Personal Instrument. They give a succinct explanation of the device’s function right at the top of the manual:

Well, that sounds handy. Don’t know about you, but I’ve always found engineering the fabric of reality to be a bit of a chore. If this gadget can really help get things cooking at the subatomic level, then honestly, the integrated broadcast circuitry is just icing on the cake. With features like this, Kelly Research is almost giving the things away at $1,500 a pop.

I mean, come on. It’s not like we’re going to open it up to find a largely empty box with a bunch of random wires inside. Right?

What Did You Expect?

In all seriousness, what else could it have been? With the Magnetic Wave Tester, there was at least a chance that the device offered some level of functionality. But when the manufacturer’s own description of the unit says it can broadcast reality at the subatomic level, all reasonable expectation goes out the window.

But still, it’s not like the device is just filled with sand or contained a bunch of crystals wrapped in aluminum foil. There’s identifiable components here, and somebody has gone through the trouble of wiring it all up. So does it actually do anything? Well, even though the manual assures the user that their new radionic analyzer is a free energy device that doesn’t require any external power to function (seriously), it does note that plugging the unit’s AC adapter into the wall does speed up the whole becoming one with the cosmos thing.

Sure enough, if we power it up and fiddle with the switches and dials, the LEDs will blink at different rates. So let’s take a closer look and see what’s happening under the hood.

Analyzing the Analyzer

Inside the analyzer, the stars of the show are clearly the four variable capacitors. These are actually very nice units, and though I couldn’t find any identifying markings on them to confirm, they give me the impression of being vintage. Interestingly the manual claims the device utilizes “custom-made parallel plate mechanical capacitors”, and while I sincerely doubt they were custom made, there’s no question they were expensive. Spinning the dials certainly feels nice, but for the price, I should hope so.

Looking closely at the color coded wiring, we can see they have indeed been connected to the double pole double throw (DPDT) switches as described by the text on the front panel of the unit. That is to say that the four capacitors have been isolated into two banks, and that they can not only be independently connected or disconnected from the ground side of the circuit, but that you can select between the left and right capacitors using the polarity switches.

But what is the rest of the circuit doing? Beyond the “intensity” potentiometer, the indicator LEDs, and a coil that looks suspiciously like an old roll of magnet wire, there’s nothing else on the front panel. Logically, the secret to the device’s operation must be on the small PCB mounted inside the case.

It’s a simple little board with only a single IC on it, an LM3909N. Perhaps it’s some kind of subatomic transducer? No, far from it. A quick check of the datasheet confirms what many in the audience probably already guessed: it’s a chip designed to flash LEDs.

So just to be clear: not only is the single piece of legitimate circuity in this device a bare bones PCB that does nothing but flash the LED indicator on the front panel, but they couldn’t even be bothered to use a 555.

Scaled Down Sidekick

I think any reasonable person already knows what we’ll find in the smaller box, which according to the manual is the “sample well” where you’re supposed to put your crystals and such. But just so nobody can accuse us of cutting corners, let’s get it over with.

Oh look, what a surprise. It’s another LED blinker, and this time they’ve run the ground side through what appears to be a coil wrapped around a PVC coupling and a scrap of lamp cord. Enough said there, I think.

A Shameful Display

We’ve really gotten this series off to an auspicious start, haven’t we? While there was never any question that such a preposterous device would be anything but snake oil, I expected a bit more effort. Beyond the few high quality components, the internal construction of this device is abysmal. Between the lamp cord, heavy handed application of hot glue, and general disarray of the wiring, you’d think this was somebody’s first go with the soldering iron.

In terms of functionality, at best we can say that the device seems designed in such a way that it could be considered the most fanciful variable capacitor ever constructed. Additionally, attaching the oscilloscope between the output and ground plugs on the front of the unit did show a mad cacophony of low-amplitude analog noise, likely interference being picked up by the tangle of wires and coils within the box.

Of course, it occurs to me that the device may be working exactly as its manufacturer intended. Further, that if pressed, we would be told that the fact we can’t divine the purpose or function of the machine’s internals is the product of our own feeble understanding of subatomic technology. In other words, serious discourse simply isn’t possible when dealing with equipment like this. At best, we can simply shine a light into the darkness, and let the rational observer make their own conclusions.

66 thoughts on “Teardown: Analog Radionic Analyzer

  1. Thanks for this great work. A terrific public service. About 35 years ago, I did a similar teardown for a family member that paid a crazy amount for one of these devices. The version I opened up was a wien bridge with a gimmick capacitor attached to one of the metal “sample plates”. Needle moved and LEDs blinked… Shameful device.

    But IMO not much different than the water softener with a wrap of wire around a copper pipe, or the magical gravity flow water filter on a counter top that is so special (and un-measured). Always seemed to be a soft for of huksters where everyone looks the other way because the payment for the advertisement cleared; SIGH.

      1. I had an epiphany while talking to someone who had one of those.
        Me: “You know those don’t actually magnetically break up fuel into easier to atomize bits, right?”
        Him: “Sure, but for $2, if it does anything at all I’m ahead even if nobody knows why.”
        Me: “……..well, I can’t actually argue with that.”

    1. May I just point out that there are people designing audio equipment – shall we call them engineers? – who are producing very similar miasmatic toss. I quote ……..

      Using this unit has really changed my opinion of the effects of paper cores in audio transformer design.  My first impression was that the low level structure of the sound stage has improved immensely with increased definition and a more centred and measured approach to transients.  
      I’ve long noticed the fuzziness in positional clarity of impulsive instruments, for example, the extended use of the triangle in Belzeftiel’s 2nd.    That usage underscores the essential anamorphic message statementing the loneliness of the art critic in the blue world.  
      Now, it’s as if my ears have become coherent, what is received by them has an almost mystical inner clarity and the dimensional imaging becomes dynamic in its revelation of new acoustical realm micro vibrations.  The Danish intelligentsia – those who have the gift of understanding music – have a word which sums up this experience; “Nørdstrunsantzneüüdmat”.  Literally ” that which removes the taste of oily fish from the naturality of the experience”.  And I can say that these transformers really do.

      Pre-engineering of sub atomic reality huh – trivially simple compared with revealing new acoustic realms anamorphically.

      Toodle pip

      1. Mate! What you said has nothing over the charlatan Stanley Meyer who managed to get his engine that runs on water through the patent office. The patent includes phrases like “Other Dimensional Universes” and Claims that the planet earth is surrounded by a shell of sticky goo. I kid you not!!! I would suggest that his statements were done as a bet that he could get them past the patents desk. Ha

  2. You know, if I had less self respect and better lying ability, I could probably build something like this, market the heck out of it and fund my retirement.

    Sadly, I have scruples. Too many of them.

      1. Wayne Green, publisher of 73 and many computer magazines, basically became nobody when he started promoting quack cures in 73 (which was his remaining magazine at that point).

        After that it was moon landing hoaxes and cold fusion and probably weird diets.

    1. All you need is one scruple and you’d be ahead of that guy. But then again, that guy exhibits a serious neuron deficit (is that the politically correct way to say he’s an serious wacko?).

    2. You could always market herbal supplements that actually contain the herb listed in the quantity the label says it has and with no promises it will actually do anything. When it comes to scruples, that would put you well ahead of a lot of the herbal supplement industry.

  3. 2 options:

    1. Device is constructed by someone similar to main character of “Beautiful mind”.

    2. Some poor teenager decided to tap in and milk out “crystal Jenny” with 70’s vibes.

  4. “But still, it’s not like the device is just filled with sand or contained a bunch of crystals wrapped in aluminum foil.”

    Come on now! Any self respecting purveyor of such technology uses gold foil, or at least copper foil which sort of looks like gold.

    1. Fake news.

      It is well known that the materials needed are rock crystals, resin and metal shavings (copper, aluminium and iron).

      This makes it cheap to build, beautiful to look at and pricey to sell.

      Nevertheless I applaud your comment.

  5. What happens (obviously, nothing meaningful) if you put things in the PVC coupler while the device is powered on?

    Like, if you put a bar of iron, or a smart phone that’s transmitting in there, do the LEDs blink at different rates, showing that the object in the “well” is changing the characteristics of the circuit?

  6. You don’t know the half of it! I get an email from the US Radionics Society fairly often. Some years/decades ago an intelligent follower of radionics determined that since all the healing was really being done with your mind, you didn’t need the complicated electronics boxes. All you needed was something that LOOKED like the box. So he drew dials on cardboard, attached knobs with pointers on each dial and followed the instructions for setting for each illness and “got the same results”! So the phony electronics devices took a real hit and people now sell, just the fake cardboard devices for MUCH lower prices. Seriously, meditation will do the same job for no cost at all, except for your time. If it works at all.

    1. Just because something works no better than a placebo, doesn’t mean it doesn’t work
      Placebos are really effective
      The weird thing was hearing from a medic friend that there are different strengths of placebo – apparently placebo surgery under general anaesthetic is the most effective (used to test effectiveness of actual surgical procedures – they’ll open the control group up and just not do anything, but they still have the experience and the stitches afterwards)

  7. I recently disassembled and reverse engineered the last generation of purely analog scientology e-meters, built in 1996 and still using germanium transistors that they’d somehow managed to find. (To the best of my knowledge nobody had previously published a complete schematic, including the charging circuitry for the weird hybrid battery and all the values of the components.) One of the things I found interesting about it was that they were largely stuck with having to use germanium transistors, as their religion is based on the idea that a certain set of inputs (thetans inna brain) will result in a specific needle movement, and their design is dependent on the beta of a germanium transistor so without a LOT of engineering they couldn’t replicate the same behavior using modern decent transistors. (They later avoided this by moving to microcontrollers that emulate the same behavior in software.) Point being, even goofball pseudoscience people sometimes get pinched by physics when they try to maintain consistent ideology across different hardware platforms, especially when the underlying theory is bunk.

    1. I was starting to buy into your explanation until you did the “beta of a germanium transistor” thing. Beta is a ratio of currents, a unitless number not based on any elemental properties per se. Maybe if you said it needed the higher leakage current present in germanium (compared to say silicon or other more exotic semiconductors), or even it’s higher electron mobility than silicon (but none of that works without the right mixture of contaminants to produce N and P regions).

      (Did that sound serious enough?)

  8. “custom-made parallel plate mechanical capacitors”

    They probably were originally custom devices – but vintage stock has long been available cheaply – especially custom items that only have part numbers (or no markings at all). I have to say, those caps look good (so does the exterior)

    It is a real shame that the internal construction is such a mess, these would be excellent curios for some piece of steam/thermionic punk tomfoolery.

    Mind you, the whole snake oil emporium is a dreadful scam all round.

  9. “to allow pre-engineering of reality at the subatomic level.”

    At least they’re being truthful, here. I place a lot more trust in the pre-engineering of reality than in endeavors to design reality after the fact. And we do that all the time at the subatomic level, since photons and electrons are indeed subatomic. So making light blinkers is no less than what they claim.

    Also, the LM3909 is a wise choice, probably better in this application than an NE555. This chip was designed not only to blink LEDs, but to do so very efficiently, as it was intended for such uses as putting blinking LEDs on flashlights so they can be found in the dark.

    1. No, the LM3909 was actually horribly INefficient. With no inductors in the circuit, it spent half its power heating resistors while charging the capacitor. Other parasitics ate even more current all the time, even when not flashing. Even with very low rate flashing, it would eat a double-A cell in a month.

      Its only virtue was that it could drive a 1.6V LED from a near-dead 1.1V cell, with very few components.

      It would be silly to use such a thing today.

      1. My friend used to build a 3909-based LED flasher for his girl of the month, with the tag “this is my heart beating for you” (Gag, retch, etc.). He heat-shrinked the circuit to an alkaline AA cell, and it would run for a solid 9-12 months. So maybe it would eat through the Radio Shack Battery Club free AA cell in one month, but not a decent battery.

        Monster current it draws, typically 0.55 and a maximum of 0.75mA according to the data sheet.

  10. My ex had an educated friend with a real degree and everything who convinced her that a similar device could cure some scary disease. They had a schematic and assembly instruction and said any TV tech should be able to build one, or just send $200 for the ready made one. I told them it was shit but I would build a couple for cost, about $40 in proto board , 555’s, some passives and a pretty case. Good snake oiI requires a good sales pitch, and these women were sold, I don’t think they ever figured it out. I won’t dignify the inventor by naming it.

    1. What type of device did you build (box with flashing led lights, radio frequency emitting gadget or something else?) I’m just curious about what you built, I’ve seen some some very interesting, complex and detailed quack devices and some low effort builds like the radionic device mentioned in the article

  11. Looks like the two parts used the exact same circuit board.

    The output and aux in jacks suggest they had at least two peripherals available for it. Three guesses as to what you’d find inside those.

    1. What’s the bet the PCB featured in both was actually a LED flasher board for some other product, just hacked out and re-purposed like so many of us on this site do?

      Difference being of course, when we make a useless box, we say so… and the people know what they are getting will be useless… none of this pseudoscience nonsense.

  12. I love the LM3909 LED flasher. They use a very efficient capacitor charge circuit. When the cap is charged it is dumped into the LED so the duty cycle and the very low battery current means you can go for years on a D cell alkaline. We used to make waterproof ones and climb trees n camp grounds and secure them so that the occasional camper would see it from a distance at night. Fun times!

    On a more serious note, I have a large collection of “Quack Medicine” electro-therapy apparatus dating back to the 1850’s. The best read is the electricity in medicine book from 1905 which explains how the gentle glow of the neon discharge tube gives the patient the sense that something good is happening to them.

    I promise to post a tear-down of some of my epic devices. Thanks for the great show and tell.

        1. Diathermy machines I thought had some value, and were used by doctors. Big power oscillators, commonly in the 27MHz range, not stable and I recall they didn’t bother filtering the power supply much.

          They are legit, but it’s easy to see quackery deriving from such things.

          Hair removal can be done with RF.

  13. Those variable capacitors look awfully familiar. As a teenager getting started in Ham radio in the 1970s, these old WW2 aircraft transmitters were still commonly available at flea markets. Many of these units had very similar capacitor banks inside as tuning elements. I remember one unit I had was jam-packed with several of these capacitors and a huge variable inductor (it was either a transmitter or an antenna tuner). Turns out we wrote an article about one such radio a couple years ago: https://hackaday.com/2019/12/12/wwii-aircraft-radio-roars-to-life-what-it-takes-to-restore-a-piece-of-history/

    1. They remind me of some I have, Hamarlund or Cardwell. The square ceramic plate makes them “distinctive”, though maybe they were wide spread.

      Hams are used to scrounging, sometimes it’s a surprise to see surplus, or electronics above the consumer level.So very fancy variables when we’d get by with those generic “365pF broadcast” variables. I once took something apart and four or five controls had really good reduction drives.

      And yet, time from theme caught up. Such parts are expensive, which is one reason a move away.

      1. Love the report by Tom Bearden, the guy who would believe anything as long as there’s no chance it will actually work. How are his Fogel transistors coming along? Did he find a practical use for Quaternions yet?

        Yes, I do know everything. :-)

          1. The linked patent application describes an interesting invention, but by no means a free energy device. It is a DC to DC converter using saturable reactors (also known as magnetic amplifiers) with permanent magnet biasing to effect the switching. Mag amps were used at least into the 1990s, but have fallen out of use since then due to the development of semiconductor devices that can switch more efficiently. Nothing ground-breaking in this invention; the essential innovation is the addition of biasing magnets to lower the amount of control current needed to bring the magnetic circuits into and out of saturation. While there is some language in the patent application that states that once started, the input current can be removed, this does not appear to have been considered by the examiner to be essential to the utility of the patent. In the U.S., patent applications are routinely rejected for claiming to produce perpetual motion or perpetual power. And indeed, as long as there is no power drawn from the second coil, once the core is polarized by current through the first coil, that current can be removed, and the device will continue to operate. But this is not because there are no losses in the device; the currents through the control windings continue to “pump up” the magnetic flux on each cycle, making up for losses in the core. As for when a load is applied, this “generator” will promptly stop delivering power. Nothing over-unity here.

            I should also mention that the 2000 patent was allowed to expire in 2009, implying that the inventors found no market for the device sufficient to justify the expense of renewing it. Either that, or their lives and those of their families were threatened by Big Power. Whatever.

  14. Kudos and great gratitude for your entertaining and insightful article! It is said that true tragedy is actually uplifting while true comedy is, in the end, depressing, and the various comments bear that out (David Gee’s “May I just point out that there are people designing audio equipment”…). I watched my spouse’s work deciphering the (separate) estates of a recently passed cousin and uncle, and was appalled by the number of scams supported by little more than “word salad” … then I looked at what I have collected!

  15. The unit shown retails for $1,500. More visually impressive units are up to about $5,000. I think the panel looks nice, and I hoped this would be a cheap source for air variable capacitors. No such luck,

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