Classifying Crystals With An SDR Dongle

When it comes to radio frequency oscillators, crystal controlled is the way to go when you want frequency precision. But not every slab of quartz in a tiny silver case is created equal, so crystals need to be characterized before using them. That’s generally a job for an oscilloscope, but if you’re clever, an SDR dongle can make a dandy crystal checker too.

The back story on [OM0ET]’s little hack is interesting, and one we hope to follow up on. The Slovakian ham is building what looks to be a pretty sophisticated homebrew single-sideband transceiver for the HF bands. Needed for such a rig are good intermediate frequency (IF) filters, which require matched sets of crystals. He wanted a quick and easy way to go through his collection of crystals and get a precise reading of the resonant frequency, so he turned to his cheap little RTL-SDR dongle. Plugged into a PC with SDRSharp running, the dongle’s antenna input is connected to the output of a simple one-transistor crystal oscillator. No schematics are given, but a look at the layout in the video below suggests it’s just a Colpitts oscillator. With the crystal under test plugged in, the oscillator produces a huge spike on the SDRSharp spectrum analyzer display, and [OM0ET] can quickly determine the center frequency. We’d suggest an attenuator to change the clipped plateau into a sharper peak, but other than that it worked like a charm, and he even found a few dud crystals with it.

Fascinated by the electromechanics of quartz crystals? We are too, which is why [Jenny]’s crystal oscillator primer is a good first stop for the curious.

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FM Stereo Transmitter

Reader [Mike Y] responded to our “What are you working on?” post¬† with his stereo FM transmitter project. If you’ve ever used an FM transmitter for your portable audio, you know that even the best consumer level ones can be difficult to make sound decent.

He obtained an NS73M FM Transmitter module from Niigata Seimitsu Company, but it required a controller to handle pre-emphasis, modulation level, frequency, and power level. He decided on an Arduino which would also control his LCD.

His results were quite good, with decent range and superb audio quality. His total cost thus far is $35, but he still needs to put it in an enclosure. You can find complete schematics as well as source code and helpful tips on his site.  You may also want to check out the regulations on broadcasting(pdf) as well.