Building a KK7B T2 phasing transmitter

Are you the kind of tinkerer who has a few unbuilt kits sitting around?  I mentioned last week that I want a faster way to get on the air than a designed-from-scratch SDR. If I stick to my current course, I may miss the peak of this solar cycle.  It turns out that I have had an R2 receiver and a T2 transmitter kit on hand for… well, a very long time. If I recall, I bought them as soon as they were available in 1994.

These are very neat radios. Rick Campbell, KK7B, set a goal of pushing the state of the art in direct-conversion receivers. His series of high-performance receivers includes the R1, R2, R2pro, miniR2, microR2, and microR1. The R2 family are single-signal direct-conversion receivers, and the T2 and microT2 are companion transmitters.

KK7B T2 exciter, top side

The T2 uses the phasing technique to generate single sideband. In this technique, the audio signal is passed through a filter (or a pair of filters) that generate two signals 90 degrees out of phase. These are mixed with local oscillator (LO) signals that are also 90 degrees out of phase. When the mixer products are summed or subtracted, a miracle of trigonometry occurs, producing a clean single-sideband signal.  As long as both sides of the system have closely-matched gains and the 90 degree phase shifts are very accurate, the opposite sideband is suppressed by 40 dB or more.

I decided to build the T2 first. Rick’s layout style is very dense, and I wanted to try the board with fewer components first. These are through-hole boards with the component holes falling on an 0.1″ grid in both directions. With only two exceptions, all of the resistors and diodes are installed “standing up”, with their leads 0.1″ apart and 0.1″ spacing to neighboring parts. The T2 board has no silk-screen, making construction that much more challenging. In any event, a fine-tipped iron and small-diameter solder (I chose 0.025″) are the tools of the day.

Rick suggests stuffing all of the parts before soldering any, as a hedge against putting them in the wrong holes. Then he recommends soldering and trimming the leads in rings from the outside in. I tried thaat, and it worked OK. For the R2, I will probably mount some of the trickier components individually, then switch to Rick’s method for the rest.

As you might expect, I had a few problems with solder bridges, but nothing a little solder wick couldn’t clean up.

Although there was no visible tarnish on this 17-year-old board, I did notice that the solder didn’t wet the pads as well as usual. Eventually I thought to start adding flux with the flux pen that I use for surface-mount work, and that did the trick.

Here is my handiwork. I’d like to solder as beautifully as Tom, the electronics tech I work with, but for basement tinkering this will suffice.

KK7B T2 phasing SSB transmitter, bottom side

The T2 needs one more once-over for bridges and cold joints, then I’ll apply power and see what happens!


Building the AK5388 ADC breakout board

“Honey, the package you’ve been waiting for from Hong Kong is by your computer,” said my dear wife shortly after I got home from work on Friday. Even better, a few minutes later she suggested that I spend the evening in the basement, building up one of my new boards. I have a wonderful wife!

The AK5388 ADC breakout boards finally arrived!  I had a hard time waiting for them. First, Itead Studio didn’t ask me to correct the design until the day the finished boards were supposedly going to ship. (They did apologize for the delay — it sounded like there was a communications snafu between them and the fab.) Then I waited five more days for the board to be fabbed. Shipping from Hong Kong to Ohio took ten days. Looking around on the web, I’ve seen shipping times reported from seven to ten days, sometimes going up to as much as 20 days during the holiday season.

All eight boards look great. Other people who tried Itead reported some over-etching and silkscreen problems, but I don’t see any defects on mine. Since Itead now does 100% electrical testing, I have confidence that the boards will all work. I could spot the tiny dimple in each pad where the flying probes touched down, so it is clear that all eight boards were tested.

I went to the basement and heated up the soldering iron. The board went together easily. The 0.80 mm pitch of the AK5388 was downright easy to solder after the 0.50 mm  A3PN250 FPGA and other fine-pitch parts I’ve been using at work. Besides, I’ve learned some new soldering techniques lately that helped me solder the AK5388 quickly, but I’ll have to share those in another post. I did use a meter to check all of my AK5388 solder joints, though. There were a few bridges, but they cleaned up without a problem.

The pads for the big electrolytic capacitors are larger than necessary. I used PCB’s default EIA7343 footprint. The pads had plenty of room for the soldering iron, but they could have been smaller without sacrificing ease of assembly. (Did I use the wrong footprint once again? 0805 capacitors seem to be the only ones I get along with…)

Lately Digi-Key has been taking much stronger steps to control moisture uptake by the semiconductors they sell. Instead of just shipping some cut tape in an anti-static baggie, they now seal the chips in an airtight bag with a packet of dessicant and a humidity indicator. I opened the bag this one was in about 4 weeks ago. Not bad so far, considering it was in my not-very-dry basement that whole time. Moisture uptake is important for reflow soldering techniques, but as far as I can tell, it is less significant for hand-soldering.

Now I’m left asking myself what comes next. In my original plan, the next step was to couple the ADC to the FPGA, put a USB core on the FPGA, and build a sound card. Once that works, adding a local oscillator and a quadrature mixer will make everything I need for a PC-based software-defined-radio (SDR) receiver, and this long trek will finally result in a radio.

However, I hear that the bands are great these days, and I’m not sure I want to take the time to homebrew an SDR rig just to get on the air. Maybe I should spend some time on a faster route to a radio, then come back to the SDR. I’ll probably have more on that idea next week.

Until then, keep on tinkering, and as always, your comments are welcome!