Following the monthly club meeting we enjoyed a brief tech program on some of the incredibly affordable and indispensable tools that a radio amateur can add to their bench-testing arsenal in 2019. We focused on two main devices for this tech program:
The NanoVNA is a small form-factor vector network analyzer available from online resellers. Developed by @edy555 and ttrftech, NanoVNA brings a highly affordable vector network analyzer to the amateur radio operator. Until fairly recently, VNA’s were industrial/commercial hardware normally available only to a select few working in RF product development or maintenance disciplines.
Implementing a simple touchscreen interface, two RF ports, a USB-C charging/data port, and a thumbwheel control, the NanoVNA provides accurate, essential RF circuit data to users for less than $50 USD. Available at online resellers, the NanoVNA has been mass-produced by several Chinese manufacturers and offered to the US market at very affordable prices (some listings at a popular online auction website were as low as $17 shipped as of this writing.) Several excellent reviews have been written on the NanoVNA, but this one at RTL-SDR.com captures everything quite nicely:
The NanoVNA provides several critical functions for amateur radio operators. This list is by no means all-inclusive, but is intended to give the reader a brief idea of the capabilities of such a powerful tool:
- Antenna Analyzer (Return Loss, SWR, Smith Chart)
- Coax Cable Test Tool (Time Domain Reflectometer, Loss Calculations)
- RF Filter Tuning (Duplexer Cavities, BP/BR Filters)
- Circuit Phase Measurements
If you are an amateur operator who wants to ensure your equipment and homebrew circuits are performing at their peak, a NanoVNA is an essential piece of equipment for your shack.
The second critical amateur tool we examined was the RTL-SDR receiver:
The RTL-SDR software defined radio receiver provides the radio amateur with a high-quality 8-bit ADC radio receiver for approximately $20 USD (as of this writing.) The receiver is used in conjunction with any number of different SDR software packages with are available in one or another form for all major computer operating systems.
The RTL-SDR receiver v3.0 provides a receive bandwidth of 2.8MHz from 500kHz-1.7GHz. This allows it to receive transmissions in these and other bands:
- AM Broadcast Band
- Amateur Radio HF/VHF/UHF/SHF Bands
- US Air Band
- DoD UHF
- NOAA Weather Radio
- Amateur Radio Satellites
- FAA ADS-B (Air Traffic Transponders)
Many other services are available using software designed to support the RTL receiver. To get started discovering what you can do with your RTL receiver, start here:
Of course, you’ll have to add your own antenna system to the RTL to get peak performance, but low-cost wideband discone antennas are readily available at Amazon and eBay.
These two devices are vital tools for the amateur radio shack of 2019 and provide phenomenal capability at very low cost. Don’t delay in pickup up your 21st century shack tools today!