Sunday, February 13, 2011

A Magnetic Loop Antenna for Shortwave Listening (SWL)


Now that we’re on the downward slope of sunspot cycle 23 (2004) you may have noticed that some of your favorite broadcast stations don’t come in as strong as they did a few years ago. This is especially apparent on weaker DX stations. The whip on your shortwave receiver used to be sufficient to pull in some good DX, but now you find yourself looking for something better.

Maybe you have been thinking, or even have already tried, putting up a wire antenna. This may be a great solution if you live in a reasonably quiet area, noise wise, and your shortwave receiver doesn’t easily overload in the presence of strong signals. Perhaps you live in an apartment or are situated where installing a wire antenna is simply not feasible. Or maybe you’re looking for something that offers a bit more mobility so you can take it into different rooms of your house. Consider the small single turn magnetic loop antenna if any of the above situations apply to you.

Small Single Turn Magnetic Loop

The small single turn magnetic loop (SSTML) antenna consists of a single winding inductor, about 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter, and a tuning capacitor. A second loop, which is one fifth of the diameter of the large loop, is connected to the feedline and this small loop is positioned in the large loop on the opposite side of the tuning capacitor.

Magnetic Loop Antenna

The SSTML has some very interesting properties:


It has a small footprint. The loop I describe here looks like a circle in the
vertical plane and is just a little over 3 feet (1 meter) in diameter.


It is a rather quiet antenna. It doesn’t pick up as much man-made noise
from nearby sources as a wire antenna would in the same situation.


This antenna is somewhat directional, which can benefit you in two ways. You
can either aim (rotate) the antenna for maximum signal strength, or for minimum noise pickup. I prefer to do the latter, and here’s why. This antenna has what is called a deep null on each side of the antenna, the broad sides, meaning that signals coming from that direction will be attenuated quite a bit (30 dB is an often-quoted figure). However, this is mostly true for signals we receive directly, like noise sources, and not so much for signals from broadcast stations coming to us through skywave propagation. I aim the antenna for minimum noise pickup, which results in the best signal to noise ratio. In some situations it is quite possible to fully tune out a noise source such as a TV or computer monitor.


Since this antenna is really a tuned circuit, it also acts as a preselector. It only receives well in a narrow bandwidth of a few hundred kilohertz (kHz). The antenna requires retuning if you change the frequency on the radio by a hundred to two hundred kHz. This may sound like a disadvantage, but if you have ever tried a long wire antenna on a rather sensitive receiver, you probably have noticed that your receiver may get overloaded, resulting in hearing multiple stations at once or hearing broadcast stations on frequencies where there really aren’t any. This may make it impossible for you to pull in that DX station you’re really interested in or even make listening to a strong broadcast station rather unpleasant. This antenna will help prevent overloading your receiver.

When you search the World Wide Web for magnetic loops, you usually run into magnetic loops meant for transmission in the upper ham bands, perhaps 14 MHz and above. To be able to transmit on these loops you’ll have to follow stringent design rules in order to maximize the efficiency of the loop. If you’re interested in a receive-only loop, then the design rules become very relaxed. There’s no need for large diameter tubing and neither for a low loss capacitor to successfully build a loop antenna. On this page I will present a description of my SWL loop.

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