HF In Small Spaces

Generally, the biggest problem a new ham radio operator will come across when starting out on the high frequency (HF) bands is finding physical space for the antennas. For a quick example, a dipole antenna for the 20 m band will need around 10 m of wire, and the lower frequencies like 80 m need about four times as much linear space. But if you’re willing to trade a large space requirement for a high voltage hazard instead, a magnetic loop antenna might be just the ticket.

Loop antennas like these are typically used only for receiving, but in a pinch they can be used to transmit as well. To tune the antennas, which are much shorter than a standard vertical or dipole, a capacitor is soldered onto the ends, which electrically lengthens the antenna. [OM0ET] is using two loops of coax cable for the antenna, with each end soldered to one half of a dual variable capacitor which allows this antenna to tune from the 30 m bands to the 10 m bands, although he is using it mostly for WSPR on 20 m. His project also includes the use of an openWSPR module, meaning that he doesn’t have to dedicate an entire computer to run this mode.

The main downsides of antennas like these is that they are not omnidirectional, are not particularly good at transmitting, and develop a significantly high voltage across the capacitor as this similar mag loop antenna project demonstrated. But for those with extreme limitations on space or who, like [OM0ET] want a simple, small setup for running low-power applications like WSPR they can really excel. In fact, WSPR is a great mode for getting on the air at an absolute minimum of cost.

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DIy Arduino FM radio enclosure with the lid off, showing the electronics inside

DIY Arduino Due TEA5767 FM Radio

Older hackers will remember that a crystal set radio receiver was often one of the first projects attempted.  Times have changed, but there’s still something magical about gathering invisible signals from the air and listening to the radio on a homemade receiver. [mircemk] has brought the idea right up to date by building an FM radio with an OLED display, controlled with a rotary encoder.

The design is fairly straightforward, based as it is on another project that [mircemk] found on another site, but the build looks very slick and would take pride of place on any hacker’s workbench. An Arduino Due forms the heart of the project, controlling a TEA5767 module, an SH1106 128×64 pixel OLED display and a rotary encoder. The sound signal is passed through an LM4811 headphone amplifier for private listening, and a PAM8403 Class D audio amplifier for the built-in loudspeaker. The enclosure is made from PVC panels, and accented with colored adhesive tape for style.

It’s easier than ever before to quickly put together projects like this by connecting pre-built modules and downloading code from the Internet, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a worthwhile way to improve your skills and make some useful devices like this one. There are so many resources available to us these days and standing on the shoulders of giants has always been a great way to see farther.

We’ve shown some other radio projects using Arduinos and the TEA5767 IC in the past, such as this one on a tidy custom PCB, and this one built into an old radio case.

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FM Radio From Scratch Using An Arduino

Building radio receivers from scratch is still a popular project since it can be done largely with off-the-shelf discrete components and a wire long enough for the bands that the radio will receive. That’s good enough for AM radio, anyway, but you’ll need to try this DIY FM receiver if you want to listen to something more culturally relevant.

Receiving frequency-modulated radio waves is typically more difficult than their amplitude-modulated cousins because the circuitry necessary to demodulate an FM signal needs a frequency-to-voltage conversion that isn’t necessary with AM. For this build, [hesam.moshiri] uses a TEA5767 FM chip because of its ability to communicate over I2C. He also integrated a 3W amplifier into this build, and everything is controlled by an Arduino including a small LCD screen which displays the current tuned frequency. With the addition of a small 5V power supply, it’s a tidy and compact build as well.

While the FM receiver in this project wasn’t built from scratch like some AM receivers we’ve seen, it’s still an interesting build because of the small size, I2C capability, and also because all of the circuit schematics are available for all of the components in the build. For those reasons, it could be a great gateway project into more complex FM builds.

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Is That A Tuner In Your Pocket…?

As a musician, it’s rare to consistently recognize with the naked ear whether or not a single instrument is in tune. There are a number of electronic devices on the market to aid in this, however if you’re leading into an impromptu performance to impress your friends, using one feels about as suave as putting on your dental headgear before bed. When tuning is necessary, why not do so in a fashion that won’t cramp your style?

To help his music-major friends add an element of Bond-like flare to the chore, [dbtayl] designed a chromatic tuner that’s disguised as a pocket watch, pet-named the “pokey”. The form for the custom casing was designed in OpenSCAD and cut from aluminum stock on a home-built CNC mill. Under its bass-clef bedecked cover is the PCB which was laid out in KiCad to fit the watch’s circular cavity, then milled from a piece of copped-clad board. The board contains the NXP Cortex M3 which acts as the tuner’s brain and runs an FFT (Fast Fourier Transform) that uses a microphone to match the dominant pitch it hears to the closest note. Five blue surface-mount LEDs on the side indicate how sharp or flat the note is, with the center being true.

[dbtayl’s] juxtaposition of circuitry in something that is so heavily associated with mechanical function is a clever play on our familiarity. You can see a test video of the trinket in action below:

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Homebrew Guitar Tuner Also Includes MIDI Out

A few years ago, [Frédéric]’s brother in law wanted a guitar tuner for Christmas. Instead of going out and buying one, [Frédéric] broke out the soldering iron and built one from scratch.

[Frédéric]’s tuner is built around an ATMega168 uC on a Real Bare-Bones Board with an LM386 amplifier. The display is a standard 20×2 LCD character display, and the interface is torn from the pages of stomp box schematics with a very hefty foot switch.

Detecting the frequency of a note played into [Frédéric]’s tuner involves a fair bit of math. To measure the frequency, the Arduino samples the waveform coming from the input jack. This signal is delayed for a fraction of a second and the area underneath the real and delayed waveforms is measured. This delay slides across the original waveform until the area between the real and delayed samples are minimized. At that point, delayed wave form will be exactly one cycle behind the real signal, and the cycles per second can be calculated. It’s called the YIN algorithm, and you can read more about it here.

Since [Frédéric] already knew the exact frequency being played into the tuner, he figured it would be trivial to add a small analog audio to MIDI converter. This feature (as shown in the video after the break) turns the sounds from a guitar into MIDI notes. It’s monophonic and probably a little superfluous, but still very cool.

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Digital TV Converter Reverse Engineering

Back when broadcast television was first switching over from analog to digital most people needed to get a converter box to watch DTV broadcasts. Remember that abomination that was “HD-Ready”? Those TVs could display an HD signal, but didn’t actually have a digital tuner in them. Nowadays all TVs come with one, so [Craig] found his old converter box was just gathering dust. So he cracked it open and reverse engineered how the DTV hardware works.

The hardware includes a Thompson TV tuner, IR receiver for the remote control, and the supporting components for an LGDT1111 SoC. This is an LG chip and after a little searching [Craig] got his hands on a block diagram that gave him a starting place for his exploration. The maker of the converter box was also nice enough to include a pin header for the UART. It’s populated and even has the pins labeled on the silk screen. We wish all hardware producers could be so kind. He proceeds to pull all the information he can through the terminal. This includes a dump of the bootloader, readout of the IR codes, and much more.

Oscilloscope Piano Tuning 101

fft on scope

[Todd Harrison] recently wrote in to tip us off on his submission to the Tektronix oscilloscope contest – using a scope to tune a piano. In his video he demonstrates how a Fast Fourier Transform can be used to determine the fundamental frequency of the note being played. This is a quick and easy way to determine if that key is in tune, and if not, how far off it is from the desired frequency and in which direction.

He goes on to explain that a scope can only be used as a starting reference point since “mathematically correct” tuning on a piano doesn’t sound right to the human ear. It turns out that when struck, the stretched wires in the piano behave less than ideally. In the case of a piano, the overtones (the other peaks shown on the scope higher in frequency than the fundamental) are actually slightly sharper (higher in frequency) than the expected harmonic whole-number multiple of the fundamental frequency.  As a result, the frequency ranges of each octave must be “stretched” in order to accommodate this and sound correct when multiple notes are played together across octaves.

Typically, only the A4 key is actually tuned to its correct frequency of 440Hz and all of the other keys are manually tuned off of this baseline. The amount of necessary stretch applied to each octave increases as you get further away from this initial reference point in either direction and is unique to each and every individual instrument – thus there is no universal device capable of perfect tuning. Although [Todd] admits that he won’t attempt to tune the entire piano himself using this technique, he finds it a convenient way to keep the most heavily played center sections of the piano closer to true between professional tunings.

If you have any interesting or unique uses for your Techtronix scope, you can enter the contest here. Just don’t forget to tip us off too!  Thanks [Todd]!