USB RTL SDR 28.8 MHz Reference: VCO design established

A quick update on an earlier post, USB RTL SDR 28.8 MHz Reference: VCXO, development of a low-noise 28.8 MHz is now complete. A BB159 varicap has been selected for the voltage tuning control, and it works nicely, even within a 10 V tuning range. This is a UHF varicap diode, C_28V of about 2.1 pF, 9:1 ratio.

bb159 varicap

The updated schematic – the test setup still shown here still uses a few through-hole parts, put most of the RF caps are SMD 0805. J310 J-FETs are used, both for the oscillator, and the amplifier – mainly because of their low cost, and they are widely available.

28800 vco schematic

This is the test setup – test signal provided by a 8904A, and frequency measured by a 5372A Time and Frequency Analyzer, 4 s gate time.
28800 vco test

That’s the tuning curve, it happened to be at 28.800000 MHz, for about 5.5 Volt, nicely centered within the tuning range. No need to worry about the deviation from linear slope, the PLL will have a very long time constant, and the non-linearity of the tuning curve won’t have any impact on the VCO performance.
28800 vco tuning curve

A nice additional feature – this VCO circuit works with the default 28.8 MHz crystal (which is actually no so bad, it is quite stable over temperature, at least the samples I have tested here, taken from cheap USB RTL SDR sticks). +-700 Hz range, +-25 ppm, should be pretty much sufficient to keep the VCO locked over a wide range of temperatures. If not (for other 28.8 MHz that might be around out there), two of the varicaps can be used in parallel, and the C* capacitor adjusted a bit; pullability of the xtal is pretty good, +-1.8 kHz is easily possible. It is best not to use a trimmer cap, but to solder-in suitable capacitors, to keep noise down, and stability up.

HP (Agilent Keysight) 346B Noise Source: finally, a calibrated ENR standard, and a temperature compensated current source

Today, a rather ordinary envelope arrived, still it feels a bit like xmas, because of the contents….
346b envelope

…. a HP (Agilent Keysight) 346B Noise source, with nominal 15 dB ENR. I have long been looking for one, at a reasonable price, and finally scored this unit on xbay.


The calibration sticker shows good flatness, especially, in the 0.01-1 GHz region, which I need most, it is perfectly flat.

346b enr cal

Prior to having it re-calibrated, a good opportunity to look inside. There are two sections: the current source, and the RF noise source assembly (which is hermetically sealed, and you better don’t touch!).

346b parts

These are some close-ups of the 00346-60001 power supply and current regulator board.

346b top side

346b bottom side

The current regulator inside of the 346B has always been a big mystery to me, because no schematic has been published by HP, in any of the service manuals. How it works, check out the schematic. The incomming 28 V (which is provided by the noise figure meter) is converted to a square wave, about 7-8 kHz, using a LM311H comparator. This is then converted to a negative voltage, about -20 V, absolute value varies a bit with loading condition.
The negative voltage is then used to sink current from the noise source assembly. The current setting of my unit is about 18.7 mA, programmed by the “10 Ohm” resistor.
Why the negative voltage? To simplify the design of the noise diode.

00346-60001 346B noise source schematic

Why did HP use a 5V6 Zener for the current reference, well, this is fairly obvious, when looking at the datasheet of such diodes.

bzx85 zener data

Around 5.6 V, the temperature coefficient virtually vanishes (this is why such voltages are also used for voltage reference circuits). The other Zener diode, unfortunately, I was not able to identify. It has 24 V drop, fair enough, any regular Zener should to the job to keep the base bias of the output constant.

For a quick burn-in, the source has now been connected to a 8970A Noise Figure Meter, and output appears to be very steady, less then 0.1 dB drift over a few hours. More noise measurements and calibration tasks to come, let me know if you need any noise sources measured, might be able to help.