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Experimenter's Corner

A Noise Bridge for

Antenna Measurements
by Keith Clark, WGSIY
Have you tried a noise bridge? These in-
struments are very handy for measurements
on antennas and feedlines, providing
separate readings of the resistance and reac-
tance components of impedance. This gives a
much more complete.picture of the load
characteristics than SWR readings. While a
selection of commercial noise bridges are
available at moderate cost, this is arelatively
simple test instrument for the home con-
structor to build and calibrate. Most of the
parts are probably already in your junk box
I11 cover some background material on
bridge circuit theory and variations, then
give the detailed design information for my
home-built unit. Finally, some antenna
measurements will be described along with
the math equations used to interpret ;hem.
Bridge Theory
Let's start off with the simplest example, a
DC bridge for resistance measurements. (See
figure 1.4) The bridge consists of four
resistors R1. R2. R3and RL. RL is unknown,
or load, resistance to be measured. A DC
voltage is applied to the top and bottom of
the bridge. The two sides are connected to a
DC voltmeter which can read either polarity.
R3 is adjusted for a 0 volt reading on the
meter. This occurs when
R1 + R 3
At this null condition on the voltmeter, no
current flows through it, so it doesn't load
the bridge circuit. The null adjustment on R3
also does not depend on the applied voltage
level. These two characteristics are what
make bridge circuits so useful. Such a DC
bridge could be used for measuring resis-
tance values above or below the normal range
df a VOM.
Now, let's adapt the bridge for RF
measurements instead of DC. (See figure 1B)
A single frequency RF source replaces the
DC source, and an 'AC null detector"
replaces the voltmeter. Figure 1C shows a
typical RF voltmeter circuit suitable for a
null detector. The same equation applies at
the null condition on the meter: RlIR2 =
Consider a practical application for such a
bridge, figure 2. Resistors R1. R2 and R3 are
each 51 ohm 2 watt carbon. A QRP transmit-
ter is used to apply RF to the bridge, and the
unknown a i m of the bridge is connected to a
transmatchlfeedlinelantenna. A null on the
meter will occur when the transmatcb is cor-
rectly adjusted to make the antenna system
look like a 51 ohm resistive load. The bridge
resistors must be non-inductive, so wire-
wound power resistors are not suitable. Also,
the physical layout of the bridge should be
symmetrical so that stray inductance and
capacitance tends to cancel out. This isn't too
difficult for HF use, but would be really
critical at VHF.
Figures 3.4 and 3B show two more varia-
tions of RF bridges. Since each side of the
bridge is a voltage divider, reactive com-
ponents can be used just as well as resistive
ones. The load has also been shown in general
form as an impedance having reactance as
well as resistance. In figures 3A, a capacitive
voltaee divider is shown. This circuit is used
far t<e ARRL Handbook impedance bridge.
with variable capacitors. The null occurs at:
XllX2 = Z3lZL where X=reactance and
Z=impedance. The terms in this equation are
complex numbers, such as Z3=R3+jX3, and
this provides us with more information about
the load. Circuit 3B shows inductors used for
the left side of the bridge, and the same equa-
tion applies at null. Circuit 3B is not com-
monly used, but it leads us naturally to the
next configuration.
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QRP Quarterly
Figure 4A is a modification of 3B with the
two inductors equal and coupled to the RF
source through a third winding. A broadband
trifilar wound transformer with a ferrite
toroid core would be appropriate. Because
the output voltages are equal in the top and
bottom halves of the hridge, our null equa-
tion becomes: Z3=ZL, again with complex
The RF source in 4A is a single frequency
output which could he set on any desired fre-
quency in the HF amateur bands. If VERY
low level RF was output, it could also he used
for antenna measurements outside the ama-
teur bands. The AC null detector has broad-
band response, so no changes to it are re-
quired at different frequencies.
Now consider the circuit of figure 4B. I t
has a transformer just like the one in 4A, hut
a RECEIVER is used as the null detector.
The same equation applies at null: Z3=ZL,
complex impedance. We would still use a
single frequency RF source set at the
receiver frequency, hut a more useful one is a
broadband noise generator putting out RF
energy throughout the HF frequency range.
The null is observed bv listenine to the noise
i n the receiver speaker, or hy Lalching the
S-meter. In circuit I n , we have finally arriv.
ed at the 'NOISE BRIDGE" so you can
breathe a sigh of relief.
Circuit 4A had a narrow hand RF source
and w~deband detector. The RF' source is set
LO the ~ P S I T P ~ measurement frequency Cir-
cuit 4B. the now br~dge, has a wrdeband RF
source and narrow-band detector (the
receiver). We set the receiver to the frequen-
cy at which we wish to measure the load im-
pedance. This gives us two advantages over
the 4A circuit. First, we are likely to already
have a receiver with accurate frequency
calibration. Second, the 50 milliwatts
(roughly) RF noise output is spread over 30
MHz or more, so it won't cause interference
to anyone else, even if it puts an S9 noise
signal into our receiver. We have to be more
careful with single frequency
outouts-vou're all well aware of how far a 50
mV;' CW iignal can go! With such low noisr
output power, i t is necessary 10 make sure all
antenna connections are right.
Home-built Noise Bridne
Figure 5 is the schematic of-a practical
Noise Bridge design which I built for anten-
na measurements. A zener diode is used as
the broadband RF noise source, with three
untuned stages of amplification. Minor varia-
tions of this circuit can be seen in the listed
references. Power for the circuit is obtained
from a 9-volt battery. A hroadband
transforn~ei couples the RF noise to the
hridge with it's secondary windings forming
the left two arms of the bridge. This is like
the arrangement of figure 4B.
The transformer is trifilar wound on an
Amidon FT37-43 ferrite toroid core. Three
lengths of HZ6 wire are first twisted together,
a fes; twists per inch. Then eight turns of the
bundle are wound on the care. Dots on the
schematic all indicate one end of the wire
group. The center tap of the secondary has a
wire from one end of the bundle tied to a dif-
ferent wire from the other end. The opposite
ends of these two wires connect to the right
side hridge arms. The third wire is used as
the primary, and is connected to the final
noise amplifier stage through a capacitor.
The arrangement of the two equal-
impedance arms on the right side of the
hridge needs a little explanation. The lower
arm has a coax jack for attaching the load.
but in parallel with it is a variable capacitor
having a maximum capacitance of about 400
pF. Thus, the impedance in this arm is not
just the Load impedance, but is the parallel
combined impedance of the load and the
capacitive reactance of the variable. The up-
per arm has a 100 ohm varihle carbon resis-
tor in parallel with a fixed capacitor. This
capacitor is selected with a value about half
the maximum value on the variable
capacitor. I obtained 225 pF by paralleling
150 and 75 pF disc ceramic capacitors.
Let's see how this works. First we attach a
51 ohm carhon resistor t o the "unknown" or
'load" jack using very short leads. The
receiver is attached to the "rcvr" jack via a
short length of coax, and power to the bridge
and receiver is turned on. Set the receiver to
a low frequency like 3.5 MHz. A loud noise
should he heard in the receiver. like S9+
QRN. The variable resistor and variable
capacitor on the hridge are both adjusted t o
obtain a null in the receiver noise. It should
go down to barely audible after a few hack
and forth adjustments of the bridge vari-
ables. At this point, the variable bridge
resistor should end up at 51 ohms, and the
variable capacitor should he set mid-range at
a value equal to the fixed one in the other
hridge arm. Each right side arm of the hridge
has 51 ohms resistance in parallel with 225
pF capacitance and the hridge is balanced for
the test load of 51 ohms resistance.
At this ooint. we should trv different fre- ~ ~ ~~~~~ ~ ~.
quencies on the receiver up to the maximum
one to be used - 28 MHz in my case. The null
positions on the variable resistor and
variable capacitor in the bridge should not
change. If they do, it is an indication of stray
inductance or capacitance problems and
some re-arrangement of the bridge arms may
be needed for better symmetry. I saw a varia-
tion of only a couple of ohms and few pF over
the HF bands. We can calibrate the
resistance dial by using various carhon load
resistors (5 to 95 ohms) like this and finding
the null, or we could just use a VOM to
measure settings on the variable resistor
(disconnect the receiver and load resistor).
Now, how about loads which have reac-
tance as well as resistance? We will treat the
load itself as a resistance in parallel with an
inductive (=X) or capacitive (-XI reactance.
The fixed and variable capacitor arrange-
ment of the bridge arms allows both types of
reactance to be measured. A couple of ex-
amples will show how this works.
Suppose this load impedance actually Iwk-
ed like 70 ohms resistance in parallel with 20
pF capacitance. We would obtain a null on
the bridge with the variable resistor at 70
ohms and the variable capacitor at 205 pF.
This capacitor setting would add in parallel
to the 20 pF load capacitance to give 225 pF.
equal to the fixed capacitance in the other
Now suppose our load was 70 ohms resis-
tance with parallel inductance such that at
the frequency of interest, the parallel induc-
tive reactance was the same magnitude as
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July 1987 5
the capacitive reactance of a 20 pF capacitor.
X~=j2(pi)FL XC=-jl(2lpi)FCl. Then we
would get a null with the bridge variable
resistor at 70 ohms and the variable
capacitor at 245 pF. The extra 20 pF is used
to cancel the inductive reactance, leaving a
hridge load arm that looked like 225 pF in
parallel with 70 ohms resistance. I t sounds
complicated to describe, but works out easily
in use.
The variable capacitor dial is calibrated in
oF. with 0 at the 225 o F ooint and one side
. .
marked "inductive" and ;he other marked
^capacitive." Calihration is done by placing. a
47 ohm carbon resistor in the 'unknown"
jack, and placing various known capacitance
values in parallel with it. I used disc ceramics
of 30. 56. 82, 100 and 150 pF. mostly IOU.
Dial ooints are marked where the noise null
occu;s on the capacitor, which will be set to
values lower than 225 pF.
The process is repeated by placing the
same capacitors in parallel with the variable
resistor arm of the bridge to calibrate the
other half of the dial. This side is for measur-
ing inductive loads. The 47 ohm resistor is
left in the "unknown" jack during this part of
the calibration.
My hridge was built on a thick piece of PC
board material with the copper removed.
This open construction allows good access to
the circuitry for calibration and use of the
hridge. I performed calibration while just
holding the capacitors in place, without using
solder. In a similar manner, it is possible to
extend the measurement ranee of the br i de
hy paralleling extra capacitance or resistance
with either arm of the bridge. Because of the
low power, they can be held in place hy hand
for quick checks.
Bridge Calculations
Suppose we wish to find the impedance of
an unknown load, let's say a dipole antenna,
at 1040 khz. We attach the receiver to the
bridge and set it to the frequency, then at-
tach the antenna lead-in to the "unknown"
jack. Power is turned on and we adjust the
bridge variables for a null in receiver noise.
On my Delta, it goes down from above S9 to
S3, the minimum reading on the meter. Lets
say the variable resistor setting was 60
ohms, and the variable capacitor setting was
25 pF on the capacitive side. We can
calculate the capacitive reactance XC=
-jl(2piFC)=-j904 ohms. Ow load at 7040
looks like a 60 ohm resistance in parallel with
a 904 ohm capacitive reactance. Usually, it is
more convenient to express this as an
equivalent series ckcuit instead of a parallel
one. The equations for making this transfor-
mation are:
Going thmugh the equations, we get
Rs=59. 7 ohms and Xs =4. 0 ohms
(capacitive). The equivalent series circuit is a
59.7 ohm resistance in series with a 4 ohm
capacitive reactance at this particular fre-
Suppose instead that the variable
capacitor setting was 25 pF on the Tnduc-
tive" side of the dial. Now we are dealing with
6 July 1987
an inductive load, not a capacitive one. The
reactance is calculated with the same for-
mula as before, hut it is the amount of
capacitive reactance used to cancel the induc-
tive reactance in the load. Xc=904 ohms
The same equalions apply for transforma.
t ion to the equivalent series load. so it would
be 59.7 ohms resistance m series with 4 ohms
inductive reactance. These two different
cases would he represented in complex
arithmetic as:
59.7-j4.0 ohm capacitive load
59.7+j4.0 ohms inductive load
The series or complex form is needed for
feedline calculations with a Smith chart.
When we make measurements as described.
we're finding the impedance seen at the
transmitter end of the feedline. This im-
pedance can vary quite a lot with feedline
length if the SWR is not equal to 1:l. A
Smith chart can be used to find the actual
antenna impedance if feedline length is
Noise Bridge Circuit Variations
The schematic given in figure 5 is pretty
much standard for the noise source. Varia-
tions from 2 to 4 amplifier stages are
referenced with some transistor biasing dif-
ferences noticed. The article in 73 magazine
featured a I-transistor noise source which
was quite effective. However, I had no luck
achieving circuit balance over the HF fre.
quency range.
Another area of considerable variation is in
the coupling transformer between the noise
source and the hridge. A toroid is generally
used with 3 or 4 windings. The 4th winding
may he left unterminated at one end. The
"Ham Radio" article described very detailed
adjustment and calibration of a precision
hridge using a 4-wire transformer with the
wires twisted together hut not wound on a
Bridge elements can be arranged in several
ways. Some circuits feature the reactance in
series with the resistance lor "unknown") in
both arms. This eliminates the need for the ~~ ~ ~~ ~~~~~ ~ ~ ~~~~
parallel lo aeries impdance cdcularions.
Ilowrver. ir might hc less convenient for i n-
serrlnr! additional components for range ex-
tmsiun. The parallel equivalent is nicer for
calrulating Dower to rhe load if RMS voltage
is measured. Some designs place the variaGe
resistor and variable capacitor in the same
bridge arm, with the fixed capacitor across
the "unknown" load. Since these variahle
components are rather large and require
space for dial calibration, it is easier to
achieve bridge layout symmetry if they are
placed in different arms.
My noise bridge has a capacitor in the
outut to the receiver. This was not needed
with test loads on short leads. However,
antennalfeedline measurements would not
give a good null until the capacitor was add-
ed. I'm not sure why this was needed, but it
was a simple trial and error cure for the pro-
Antenna Measurements
Antenna measurements can he accomplish-
ed very quickly using the noise hridge. With
everything hooked up and turned on, the
hridge dials are adjusted for a noise null.
Resistance and capacitance values are
recorded, notingif the capacitor dial is on the
"inductive" side. The impedance calculatons
take a little longer, as does the analysis of
feedline effects using a Smith chart. See the
ARRL Antenna Book for information on use
of the Smith chart - it's not difficult, but
there isn't room here for a detailed explana-
tion. I've made several measurements on my
antennas at frequencies XI OS3 each of the
HF bands. However. Illonly show results for
a couple of cases -t he dipole at 7050 khz and
the Miniquad at 14050.
My 40120 meter dipole has separate wire
elements for the two bands. They all slope
downward, inverted vee fashion, except on
the 40 meter leg which goes level over the
house roof. The center is just over 18 feet
high and driven directly with some OLD
RGRAU and RG58AU coax totalling 34.5
feet length. This coax should have a velocity
factor of .66 for an electrical length of 52.3
feet. A waveleneth at 7050 khz is 139.6 feet.
so we would ex-& the feedline to look like
0.315 wavelength.
This can he checked by temporarily discon-
necting the antenna from the feedline and
replacing it with a resistor such as 82 ohms.
Pick a value away from 50 ohms line imep-
dance, but not too close to the 0 or 100 ohm
range limits of the hridge. A noise hridge
reading is made at the transmiter end,
parallel reactance calculated and readings
transformed to seriesimpedance. This is then
entered on a Smith chart and the line
wavelength read out. Mine measured 0.406
wavelength at 1050 khz - the old coax had a
velocity factor of 0.61 and this was douhle-
checked at 14 MHz.
With the antenna re-attached to the
feedline, noise bridge readings were taken at
the transmitter end. They were 70 ohms
resistive and 35 pF on theinductive side. The
35 pF represents 650 ohms inductive reac-
tance in parallel with the 70 ohms resistance.
The transform from parallel to series
eauivalent imnedance eives the result
69sj7.5 ohms at the rransmllrer end of rhe
line. This is the anrenna system impedance at
7050 khz and it represents an SM'R of 1.4;)
read from the Smith chart.
The Smith chart was then used to transfer
back up the feedline 0.406 wavelength to
what the impedance of the antenna alone
was. This assumed loss-less coax, giving the
same SWR at the antenna end. Impedance of
the antenna itself came out 60-j16 ohms at
this frequency, a capacitive value.
- ~
My HQ-1 Miniquad is mounted at 23.3 feet
and fed with 51.2 feet of 3-vear old Radio
Shack RG58U. A balun is installed between
the feedline and antenna. The feedline alone
was measured and found to have a velocity
factor of 6.5, much closer to the expected .66
value. The line came out to 1.118 wavelength
at 14050 khz for an electrical length of 78.3
The antennalfeedline impedance was
measured on the noise bridge as 18 ohms
resistive in parallel with 240 pF capacitance
at 14050. Extra parallel capacitance was
need to extend the instrument range. This is
18 ohms resistance in oarallel with 47 ohms
capacitive reactance. Transforming to the
scrlrs equivalent given 16 ohms resktance in
series with 6.0 ohms capacitive reactance, or
16-j6 ohms for an SWR of 3 2 1 on the Smith
chart. This can be transferred back up the
feedline to an antennabalun alone impedance
of 36-j50 ohms. In this case it was still
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QRP Quarterly