RF input response for a -120dBm input signal level

Direct digital UHF SDR radio receiver with DRU-244

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Direct digital receiver

A direct digital receiver has the Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC) directly connected to the incoming RF signal without any frequency translation. This is contrary to the superheterodyne or direct conversion methods, which translate the RF signal to an Intermediate Frequency (IF) or the BaseBand (BB) respectively before digitizing. The direct digital receiver concept can be regarded as an example of the ultimate software defined radio.

Instantaneous versus input bandwidth

Instantaneous bandwidth is the frequency band that is continuously processable by the digitizer device. This bandwidth is determined by the sampling frequency; half of the sampling frequency is often called the Nyquist-frequency. The maximum bandwidth of the processable signal should be less than this Nyquist-frequency in accordance with the Nyquist-Shannon sampling theory. However, the input bandwidth is determined mainly by the the analog front-end and the sample-and-hold circuit in the ADC. If the limit imposed by these circuits is higher than the Nyquist-frequency, we have a chance to sample higher frequency signals as well. This is usually called under sampling or sub-Nyuist sampling.

Input bandwidth of the DRU-244

I have an older version of the DRU-244 digitizer board. The input bandwidth was not specified, but it should be up to a few hundred MHz. Maybe even as high as 144 MHz or 432 MHz. I’ve connected the 432 MHz output of the signal generator to the input of the SRM SDR radio receiver, and I’ve tuned to the same frequency to get a good look at the signal. I’ve observed that the level is more than 20 dB less than in the HF band. So, I need at least 20 dB preamplification to maintain the sensitivity in the UHF band.

Sensitivity testing in the 432 MHz (70 cm) band

First, I’ve checked the sensitivity with my FT-897 transceiver. I’ve connected a signal with a -120 dBm output power, which had a well audible sound level employing the Singel SideBand (SSB) demodulator.

sig

Next, I’ve connected two MiniCircuits ZX60-6013E amplifiers in cascade providing 30 dB amplification with a reasonable noise figure.

preamp

I’ve checked the input noise level of the receiver without the connected preamp.

selfnoise

Then, I’ve checked again with the preamp. The noise floor increased by a couple dBs.

preampnoise

This was a good indication that the system sensitivity was determined by the preamp as opposed to the digitizer in the receiver.

I’ve connect the -120 dBm signal to the input, which was unfortunately less audible after the SSB demodulation then with the FT-897.

sig01

The Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) at AF level was not sufficient.

sig02

437 MHz falls into the 11th Nyquist band of the converter. My idea was that all of the preamp output noise ended up getting aliased into the baseband, and consequently reduced the SNR. So, I’ve tried a Band-Pass Filter (BPF) at the preamp output, before the digitizer input. It helped a lot, and the SNR increased substantially.

sig01a

I had a really good, clear audio signal without any noise. The next picture shows the audio output spectrum of the direct digital SDR radio receiver with DRU-244 running the SRM radio receiver software for the -120 dBm input signal at 437 MHz.

sig02a

 

Conclusion

Usually, modern ADCs have significant input bandwidth, and allow sampling in higher Nyquist bands. This way direct digital VHF/UHF radio receivers can be built with simple architectures. However, input signal degradation should be mitigated with input preamplifiers. Although, we loose some dynamic range, this is an acceptable price for a very simple receiver architecture.

PS: Why 437-450MHz? This is the down-link of the MASAT-1 satellite. So, I guess, now you know my next plan… :-)

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5 comments

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