4.1.1 The Simplest Superheterodyne AM ReceiverThe author presumes that most of the readers, especially those just entering the world of radio with this book, are somewhat scared by the block diagram from Pic.4.1. Their question probably is: Can an amateur build such a receiver? Yes, he can. The author has a friend that succeeded in this some 40 years ago, when all had been done with the electronic tubes, making the practical realization of a receiver much harder than it is today, with semiconductors (its radio amateur call sign is YT1FA, and those who doubt it may contact him). However, he was doing this in the premises of YU1EXY Radio Club, in the attic of the Electrotechnical Faculty in Belgrade, using the club (more less trophy) instruments and, more important, he had help of Sasa Piosijan, Radivoje Karakasevic and Kiro Stojcevski, who knew all about the radios, especially Sasa.
The main problem in making a superheterodyne device is not the circuitry complexity but its setup, which requires lot of practical experience and some special instruments, that our readers probably don't possess. But they are much better than the TRF receivers, both regarding the sensitivity and selectivity, so we made simpler devices that are simple to set, with no instruments necessary than your ears. They are realized around the NE612 IC, whose pin description, block diagram and main features are given on Pics.4.2-a & b.
This IC comprises the critical stages of an AM superheterodyne receiver, the mixer and local oscillator. the station signal is led either on pin 1 or on pin 2 (or on both of them, in case of symmetrical coupling with the previous stage), and the IF signal is obtained on the pin 4 or 5 (or on both of them, in case of symmetrical coupling with the next stage). An oscillatory circuit, that determines the frequency of the local oscillator and the positive feedback circuit are connected between the pins No.6 and 7. Pin 3 is connected to Gnd, i.e. the minus pole of the DC supply voltage. Pin 8 receives a positive DC supply voltage which can, acc. to the table given on Pic.4.2, vary between 4.5 V to 8 V. The value of this voltage is not critical, but it is extremely important for normal operation of the receiver that this voltage is stable, therefore urging for it to be separately stabilized (with special care), as seen in some projects in this chapter and in the Appendix, that involve the NE612.
In the text that follows 3 simple superheterodyne receivers made with NE612 will be described.
More will be discussed in the chapter dedicated to NE612 IC, and the reader should pick one of these, or make the receiver that suits him best by combining these diagrams with earlier described HF amplifiers and input circuits.
The electronic diagram of the simplest superheterodyne AM receiver in the world, with reproduction over the loudspeaker, is shown on Pic.4.2-c. The device has got only one oscillatory circuit in the IF amplifier (being marked as MFT), whose frequency does not need to be set to some specific value (meaning the receiver will work OK even if its frequency is bigger or smaller than standard 455 kHz). Further simplification was done by omitting the input circuit, therefore avoiding the problems with quite complex adjustments between the input circuit and the local oscillator. All these simplifications do have their price: this device is less sensitive and selective than the complete superheterodyne, and is also more prone to disturbances. Even so, it has better both the selectivity and sensitivity than the TRF.
Signals of all the stations are being led directly from the antenna onto the pin no.1, i.e. the mixer. On the other hand, the mixer also receives the HF voltage from the local oscillator, whose frequency is equal to the resonance frequency of the parallel oscillatory circuit made of CO, CtO, and LO. This frequency, if neglecting the parasite capacitances, is:
On the mixer exit the signals from all the stations are obtained, but now they have new carrier frequencies, that are equal to the difference of the oscillator frequency and their original one. Nevertheless, only one of these signals will have the frequency that is equal to the resonance frequency of the MFT, and it will be the only one to appear on the ends of this oscillatory circuit. Here's a numerical example.
Let us assume that we have (only) 3 MW signals in the antenna, having the frequencies of fS1=711 kHz (Nis), fS2=855 kHz (Bucharest) and fS3=1008 kHz (Belgrade 2). The IF transformer frequency could be fm=455 kHz. If we set the frequency of our oscillator on fm=1166 kHz (with CO), the following signals, modulated by the radio stations' programs, will exit the mixer:
fm2=f0-fS2=1166-855=311 kHz and
Since the oscillatory circuit on the mixer exit (MFT) is set to 455 kHz, we will have Radio Nis's signal from it, others will be suppressed. If we wish to hear Bucharest, the oscillator frequency should be set to 1310 kHz, and for Belgrade 2 1463 kHz. Of course that the listener doesn't need to know all these frequencies, he will just turn the knob of CO until hearing the desired station's broadcast.
The IF signal is led from the pin 3 to the detector with AA121 diode. The LF signal is taken from the R1 resistor and over the capacitor C4 it is led to the volume potentiometer P and the audio amplifier.
* the MFT is also being called the inter-frequency transformer. It is a special type component that is hard to find in the ordinary electronic shops, therefore the radio amateurs are usually obtaining them from disused factory-made devices. The IF transformer is shown on Pics.4.3-a,b,c & d. As you can see it on 4.3-a, the MFT is, in fact, a parallel oscillatory circuit with a leg on its coil. The coil body has a ferrite core (symbolically shown with single upward straight dashed line) that can be moved (with screwdriver), which allows for the setting of the resonance frequency of the circuit, being mostly fm=455 kHz. The same body contains another coil, with less quirks in it. Together with the bigger one it comprises the HF transformer that takes the signal from the oscillatory circuit into the next stage of the receiver. Both the coil and the capacitor C are placed in the square-shaped metal housing that measures 10x10x11 mm (Pic.4.3-b). From the bottom side of the housing you can see 5 pins emerging from the plastic stopper, that link the MFT to the PCB, being connected inside the MFT as on Pic.4.3-a. Besides them, there are also two noses located on the bottom side, that are to be soldered and connected with the device ground. Japanese MFT's have the capacitor C placed in the cavity of the plastic stopper, as shown on Pic.4.3-c. The part of the core that can be moved with the screwdriver can be seen through the eye on the top side of the housing, Pic.4.3-d. This part is coloured in order to distinguish the MFT's between themselves, since there are usually at least 3 of them in an AM receiver. The colours are white, yellow and black (the coil of the local oscillator is also being placed in such housing, but is being painted in red, to distinguish it from the MFT).
Un-soldering the MFT isn't that simple and is to be performed very carefully. The iron is not to be kept leaned too long on the pins, since there's danger of melting the plastic stopper. All the tin from the pins and noses has to be removed first, by the aid of the iron and the vacuum pump (or a piece of wire stripped from the antenna coaxial cable). You can then safely remove the MFT from its original PCB.
* Pics.4.3-a, b, c & d almost fully apply for the oscillator coil as well (LO). The only difference is that LO doesn't have the capacitor C. looking from the outside, LO and MFT can be distinguished only by the marking colour, until they're lifted from the PCB.
LO's have red colour, while MFT's (IFT’s) are white, black or yellow. During the PCB design, absolute care must be taken that pins 1 & 4, as well as 2 & 3, do not permute. If that would happen, the feedback would be negative (instead of positive) and the oscillator wouldn't function. However, if you conclude during the design phase that it would be more convenient to connect pin 4 to Gnd (instead of pin 1), do have in mind that it can be done only if you connect also pin 2 to Gnd (instead of pin 3).
* Fine tuning (if necessary) of the LO's and MFT's inductance values is done by adjusting the position of the ferrite core with screwdriver.
* With CO and CtO, variable capacitor and the trimmer capacitor in the oscillator are labelled. Acc. to Pic.4.3-e & f, which shows the capacitor we spoke about in the connection with Pic.3.7, the abovementioned capacitors are connected with the circuitry over the legs O and G (Ca and Cta are not used), with G connected to Gnd.
* The receiver from Pic.4.2 can be utilized for the reception of AM stations in the SW waveband. All there is to be done is to make a new oscillator coil, acc. to Pic.4.3-g & h. It is being made of 0.4 mm CuL wire (a thicker one can also be used), on the 32 mm diam. carton body, the same one used for making coils on Pics.3.6 & 3.28. Number of quirks on the picture is 9, but other combinations should also be tried, say, 12 quirks, or somewhat less than 9. The feedback coil has 3 quirks and is spooled along the oscillator coil (as shown on picture), or over it. If you have already accomplished the reception of SW stations with some of the previously described TRF devices, you will be surprised with much bigger selectivity of the receiver from Pic.4.2. in the evening hours you'll be able to perform the receipt of huge number of stations on the radio-broadcast, professional and amateur wavebands.
For the reception of SW stations smaller capacitances for C1 should also be tested, say, C1=33 pF and similar, since it affects the oscillator frequency.
* In the previous numerical example we saw that tuning is done by setting up the frequency of the local oscillator and that fm=455 kHz, Radio Nis will be heard when the oscillator frequency is fO=1166 kHz. The story is not over, though: What will happen if there is a station that operates on 1621 kHz? Mixing its signal with the voltage from the local oscillator the modified signal is made, its frequency being
1621 kHz-1166 kHz=455 kHz.
We now have two signals on the MFT. They both have the same carrier frequency (455 kHz), one of them is program of Radio Nis, and the other comprehends the program of the station transmitting on 1621 kHz. Both of them are being heard in the loudspeaker, the interference occurs. Speaking in expert language, the obstruction because of the symmetrical station occurred. That is a station whose frequency fSS iz greater than fm for the value of the oscillator frequency:
Suppressing the symmetrical station signal must be done before the mixing stage. In the radio-broadcast receivers this is being done over the input circuit, and in the professional devices, by input circuitry and the HF amplifier. If you have experienced disturbances while using the receiver from Pic.4.2 (mixing of stations or, more common, whistling or squeaking tone) try changing the MFT's oscillation frequency (by turning the ferrite coil), then re-tune the receiver.
* If the receiver from Pic.4.2 is power-supplied from the battery (or adaptor) whose voltage is over 6 V, a voltage stabilizer should be inserted in the plus (+) line of the power supply for NE612, as it was done with the receivers on Pics. 4.4, 5.7 and 5.9.
If you cannot receive the signal of some station transmitting on 1500 kHz, not even with the capacitor CO knob in the rightmost position, start reducing the CtO capacitance (turning the trimmer with screwdriver) until you hear the signal. similarly, if you can't hear some station you're fond of, that transmits on 500 kHz (e.g. Radio Budapest), try increasing the LO inductance (by turning the core towards inside with screwdriver). If this doesn't succeed, change a little the MFT frequency, then try again.
* The reception can be significantly improved if input circuit (UK) is added to the receiver. In order to avoid problems with attuning the UK and the LO, the UK with special variable capacitor can be used, as on Pic.4.3-i. It is "our" capacitor from Pic.3.7, with all the capacitors connected in parallel, and "our" coil from Pic.3.6. Station tuning is now being done with two buttons, which isn't "a job for everyone". The receiver is first roughly tuned to the station using these two buttons, and then the optimum reception is carefully searched.
* If you omit the amplifier with 386 IC on the Pic.4.2, and connect high-resistance headphones instead of R1, it is the truly the simplest superheterodyne receiver in the world.