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Build your own superheterodyne receiver

Steve Hageman - August 01, 1996

Cell phones aren't the only devices to benefit from ever-smaller and more highly integrated
communications-IC technology. The simple, three-IC superheterodyne radio in Figure 1 can receive
stations in the 4.5- to 10-MHz range from around the world with only a 10-ft antenna. A
superheterodyne radio works by mixing the incoming RF signal with a local-oscillator (LO) signal to
produce an IF. We don't need to spell it out. The circuit then filters, amplifies, and diode-detects the
IF signal to reproduce the audio signal contained in the RF input.

The transformer-capacitor circuit at the input provides impedance matching to the antenna; the
T2-C2A tuned circuit provides rough preselection for the 4.4- to 10-MHz RF signal. IC1, a Philips
NE602, contains the required RF stages. IC1 also contains an active Gilbert-cell mixer and a
transistor configured to provide the LO function (pins 6 and 7). The LO uses a simple Colpitts
configuration. The L1-C2B tank circuit determines the Colpitt configuration's frequency. The LO
operates at 455 kHz above the incoming RF, thus producing a constant 455-kHz IF output at pin 5 of
The Toko ceramic filter removes any out-of-band responses.
The 4-kHz passband of the filter provides surprisingly good
audio quality and adjacent band rejection. The workhorse of
the receiver is IC2, a Plessey ZN414, originally designed as
a simple, one-chip AM radio. This IC provides more than 70
dB of IF amplification, an AGC, and a detector circuit in a
TO-92 package. You can set the gain of the ZN414 by
changing the bias on the device using the IF-gain trim pot.

When IC2 amplifies, provides AGC, and detects the IF, it produces baseband audio. IC2 can directly
drive high-impedance headphones, but this design uses an LM386 audio amplifier to drive a 3-in.
loudspeaker. Alignment of the receiver is simple. First, connect a suitable 5V power supply to the
unit. The current drain is only 10 mA, so almost any supply can work. For example, a low-dropout
regulator running from a 9V battery works well. You should verify that the LO is oscillating from
approximately 5 to 10 MHz when you tune C2. You can perform this verification by placing a 1x
probe or antenna from a frequency counter on or near the NE602 chip. Don't connect the counter
directly to the NE602 pins, because the added capacitance changes the oscillation frequency.

Next, set the IF-gain trim pot near the center of its range and add an antenna to the circuit. You
could use 10 or 20 ft of wire randomly strung about the house, but a longer outdoor antenna
substantially improves performance. Tune to the center of the receiver's range and carefully listen
for a station. You can usually hear a Department of Defense fax transmission on 8080 kHz at night
from anywhere in the United States. (The transmission sounds like a scratchy record.) Once you
hear a station, carefully tune C2 to peak the signal.

During the peaking adjustment, you may need to adjust the IF gain or volume
for optimum reception. Now, tune to the upper portion of the band. You can
hear WWV, the National Institutes of Standards and Technology standard-
time-and-frequency station, at 10 MHz. The station transmits time
information 24 hours a day. Repeat the adjustment of C1 for optimum reception. You may need to
adjust C2 at the low, center, and high portions of the band for a best compromise. Now, tune to any
moderately strong station and set the IF-gain trim pot for maximum signal with minimum audio
distortion. A large increase in the output-noise level accompanies the onset of distortion. (DI #1905)

Copyright c 1996 EDN Magazine. EDN is a registered trademark of Reed Properties Inc, used under