Wednesday, 30 May 2018

In The Loop! - First Impressions of the MFJ-1788

Was feeling pretty chuffed after repairing the MFJ-1788 'Super Loop' and couldn't wait to try it out! So for a couple of evenings of experimenting I put the loop in the garden on a 5ft pole held up by a heavy drive-on stand with 20m (65ft) of RG58 running into the shack.

Temporary test setup
I chose the easy option of using FT8 to do some testing, selecting the 30m FT8 frequency initially. I tuned the loop and was met with a cacophony of signals, far louder than my usual OCFD would receive. Working with around 30 Watts had a few contacts in a brief 30 minute session, including a nice one in Greece with SV1IW.

PSKReporter showing where I was spotted
What was striking was the lack of noise and just how tight the tuning was, indeed I had to tweak the tuning a couple of times during tests, a slight adjustment either way and the signals just disappeared. I checked out 40m and 20m as well with similar good results.

I had a few more sessions and a few days later I tried it out to receive the Shortwave Radiogram broadcast from Bulgaria on 9400kHz, this time as it was a broadcast band had to use my ear to do the tuning, adjusting till I heard a rise in 'noise' and signal.
I have now got the loop up on a rotator and mounted slightly higher up with a shorter length of RG213 (not on the video) it is still quite low and unfortunately is slightly shielded to the south by the neighbours metal roofed building,



I am very happy with the loop. Transmission wise it unsurprisingly doesn't seem a huge improvement over the OCFD on its resonant bands, it scores over the OCFD is on its 'non-resonant' bands such as 30m and 17m. But the massive improvement is in receiving, signals are stronger and noise is much lower, picking up some more distance signals even given the poor conditions.
The antenna cannot be said to be a pretty thing to have in the garden! The tuning is very particular, in the video I show the 'auto tuning' isn't ideal. It requires the radio to be putting out a signal into a mismatched load for what could be nearly a minute. Not good for the radio and is a source of QRM during this time, the usual technique of tuning slightly off a QSO frequency is more problematic due to the sharpness of the resonance. You can still tune off frequency and then tweak with the slow tune buttons to bring it in. I've noticed that on some of the higher bands it occasionally doesn't auto-tune because the 'dip' seems very short/sharp and the controller doesn't react in time and overshoots especially using low power settings.



I also have had issues trying to operate the radio remotely, I have tuned it up on an FT8 frequency in the morning and then later in the day logged in to try to make a few QSOs during a coffee-break to see the loop has drifted out of resonance. This can only be down to the loop getting warm in the summer sun.

I am still evaluating the antenna but am looking at making a better controller, over on AmateurRadio.com where this blog is syndicated, I have had a number of kind comments including one from Elwood Downey, WB0OEW who pointed me to his published design of a controller, using a similar method to what I was toying with. Thanks Elwood.

73 for now, more updates soon.

The antenna farm

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