Micro-Tel MSR-904A Microwave Receiver: the big box arrived!

Look what I found on the doorstep yesterday:
msr-904a big box

Wrapped in 20+ feet of bubble wrap, nothing less than a Micro-Tel MSR-904A Microwave Receiver, needing some TLC, later, to be added to a special equipment collection elsewhere.

The MSR-904A. Arguably, it is the last member of a series of 18 GHz+ receivers, build by Micro-Tel at Baltimore, MA, and intended for surveillance work, by governmental agencies. If you ask the right people, these receivers are pretty famous, and have been considered a strategic item for a long time.

They are build using all discrete parts, and hardwired CMOS and TTL logic. After all, many parts, but if you have seen other Micro-Tel instruments, not too unfamiliar. Some say, 80s technology, but actually, is is build in time-less style – from the best components available (not only at the time – these components, YIGs and filters haven’t really improved since).

Some performance data:
Frequency range: 0.5-18 GHz – fundamental mixing; fully YIG pre-selected over the full range (using 18 dB drop-off filter, i.e., three YIG spheres; one preselector for 0.5-2 GHz, the other, 2 to 18 GHz).
1st Image rejection, 70 dB, and 65 dB at above 12 GHz.
IF rejection: >70 dB
IF filters: 100 kHz, 1 MHz, 5 MHz, 30 MHz – quite handy.
IM3: about 5 dBm
LOG and LIN detectors
AM and FM demodulator
Spurious: 90 dBm at input equivalent over full range.
Noise figure is about 20 dB

Note: All in all, 3+3+1+1 = 9 YIG spheres are used, and an uncounted number of filter crystalls. The 100 kHz 21.4 IF filter, it’s quite impressive.

In the 2 to 18 GHz range, a 250 MHz-21.4 MHz IF chain is used, with LO 250 MHz above the signal.
For 0.5 to 2 GHz the signal is mixed with an additional 2.08 GHz from an auxilliary LO. I.e., LO frequency is 2330 MHz (2080+250 MHz) above signal.

The other great things about it:

(1) Fully fundamental mixing, using YIGs – lowest phase noise possible. Fully preselected.

(2) Unit has a 250 MHz IF output, with about 40 MHz bandwidth – this makes this unit ideally suitable as down-converter, if you want or need to receive at medium to high GHz frequencies. Can be directly fed to any SDR for demodulation. The MSR-904A has very small group delay, seems pretty suitable for handling of digital modulation schemes.

(3) It is fully remotely controllable, and has a phase lock input – will hook it up to a ADF41020, and/or a fractional-N PLL, same PLLs as already developed and tested for the Micro-Tel 1295 receiver. Such PLL unit will go along with the MSR-904A, once the repair and proper adjustment and testing is finished. Micro-Tel used to offer a frequency stabilizer (PLL) for the MSR-904A, but I have never seen one offered. If you have one, please let me know!

Two downsides – NO serice manual, no manual or documentation at all. If you have one, even if only for another MSR unit (MSR-901, MSR-902, MSR 903), please, let me know.

Second downside – the condition. Well, there don’t seem to be many of the MSR-904A around for sale any more. One unit I know off, but it doesn’t have the panoramic (scope) display. Other might be available, at outrageous cost. This unit was sold even blow the market value of a fraction of the components.

msr-904a as received - front

Note the tuning know – different from the typical Micro-Tel style. But nevertheless, seems to be the original, unmodified part.

msr-904a as received - top

msr-904a as received - bottom

msr-904a as received - back

The full repair, it will be a major job, because currently, it is a bit beat up – I wish, the earlier owners would have treated it a bit more carefully, and Micro-Tel should have never touched the green paint that just isn’t lasting and a sticky mess on a good number of their instruments – fortunately, only the panels are affected, and these are easy to remove – re-painting already in process!
Also, it doesn’t seem to work well, powers up, but seems to have a leaky supply – keeps tiggering the RCD. It needs a through inspection.

Cosmetically at least, the inner working are in much better shape than the exterior would suggest.

Center – edge-connector boards, mainly YIG driver and analog control. The metal box on the right – the RF box with the microwave stuff. The other items – IF converters, detectors and so on. Everything: very well shielded.
msr-904a top view

2.08 auxilliary LO. Mixers.
msr-904a aux LO filters mixer

A Narda 2-18 GHz broadband -10 dB coupler. Still available from Narda today!
msr-904a narda 4203-10 LO sample coupler

The preselectors: S082-1630 (2-18 GHz, might work up to 20-22 GHz), and a custom Systron Donner 0.48-2.05 GHz YTF.
msr-904a preselectors

2 thoughts on “Micro-Tel MSR-904A Microwave Receiver: the big box arrived!”

  1. I have a Microtel MSR-904A available to me.
    Should I buy it? Any interest?

    Mike 954-591-9419

    1. These are great units to use as downconverters with SDR, etc, but be prepared to fix some issues due to age. I am always interested in Micro-tel equipment but can’t pay much.

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