Ham it Up HF Converter

Ham It Up

Introduction
How would you like to have a very good HF SDR receiver with a wide spectrum display covering 2MHz or more for about $75? Well, you can when you combine the Ham it Up HF Up-converter with a RTL2832U stick. NooElec is selling an HF Up-Converter board based on an open hardware design in conjunction with Opendous Inc. for about $50 plus shipping. The Up-converter board basically converts HF signals to the FM band (specifically 100.5 MHz to 150 MHz) allowing your RTL2832U to tune in the HF signals. When used in conduction with SDR Sharp or HDSDR you are able to receive HF signals in AM, USB, LSB, CW, and other modes. HDSDR gives you roughly the same functions found on most better HF receivers like noise blanking, automatic gain control, variable filters widths, etc. These inexpensive HF up-converters are nothing new. There have been many designs floating around in either DIY form or completed boards. However, the Ham It UP converter looks like the first product produced in quantity and is available  directly from NooElec in the US. I purchased the Ham it Up HF converter for testing from NooElec and it arrived very quickly.

The Converter
As mentioned earlier the converter is an open source design and all the information about the design and performance information can be found on the  Opendous web site. There is pretty extensive testing information available about the converter if you are interested.  Basically the Ham It Up converter is a very small board with a female SMA connector on either end. There is also a bypass switch, which is a nice edition which allows you to switch the converter out of the antenna path. You can go back to using your dongle in the FM/VHF/UHF  modes without having to disconnect the converter. Power is provided by a +5V source such as a usb phone charger. You will need one with a Micro-B usb connector on the end that plugs into the converter. Fortunately these power adapters are easy to find. The Ham It Up HF Converter can be purchased at:
Ham It Up v1.0 – NooElec RF Upconverter For Software Defined Radio. Works With Most SDRs Like Funcube, RTLSDR (RTL2832U with E4000, FC0013 or R820T Tuners); MF/HF Converter With SMA Jacks

Ham It Up Board HF Upconverter with Oscillator

Setting It Up
The Ham It Converter is reasonably simple to get going with a RTL2832U dongle. You will need to buy or make an adapter cable to connect the Ham It Up converter to the antenna input of your Dongle. You will also need a SMA adapter to whatever connector you use for your external antenna. You can either make your own or buy prebuilt adapter cables (see list at bottom of the article). If you decide to make your own Radio Shack does sell male SMA plugs that you have to solder and crimp on. You will need to connect your RTL2832U antenna jack to the SMA connector labeled IF and your external antenna to the SMA connector labeled RF. You will also need to install the Oscillator package provided with the Ham It Up converter into the empty IC socket on the Ham It Up board. Be sure to line up the black dot on the Oscillator package with the white Dot on the circuit board. You will also need to have SDR Sharp or HDSDR already and set up running with your RTL2832U stick. Power up the Ham It Up converter. Make sure the switch is not in bypass mode. Tune SDR Sharp or HDSDR to around 100.00 MHz and switch the receiving mode to AM and you should be seeing / hearing local and distant AM broadcast stations. If this works, you should be basically good to go and now ready to do a little tweaking.

Oscillator Package Installed – Black Dot on Oscillator should be oriented with white dot on circuit board

Tweaking the Software for Best Performance
The first thing you will want to do is to adjust the gain of the RTL2832U stick. Too much gain and you will overload the front end of the RTL2832U stick and you will begin to hear stronger stations all over the band. Too little gain will result in noisy weak signals. There is no standard for setting the gain since everyones RTL2832U, antenna system, and RF environment is different. I highly recommend not using the automatic gain settings provided in the ExtIO settings, but rather adjust the gain manually to get the best balance of a low noise floor and best signal. If you are using HDSDR click on the button labeled ExtIO to access these settings. If your using SDR Sharp click the Configure button near the top of the SDR Sharp window to access these settings.

You might want to also adjust the frequency offset which will allow SDR Sharp or HDSDR display the HF frequency you are tuned too. The Opendous web page has a section on how to calculate the offset frequency exactly. My suggestion when using SDR Sharp is to use the Frequency Manager to create a shortcut to a known standard frequency like WWV at 10 or 15MHz. In the offset box enter you calculated offset it should be something like -106,000,000. Save the shortcut. With SDR Sharp running double click on the shortcut in the frequency manager and you should land near your target frequency. If you are a little off, adjust the offset and try again. You can set a shortcut up for the center frequency of every HF band if you want and the offset will automatically be applied. In HDSDR the process is similar, but you will need to go in to the RF Calibration menu and select the Upconverter box. Enter your calculated offset number as a positive number something like 106000000. Again, some trial and error may be required. Check the Video in this post on how to setup the Ham It Up converter, software tweaks for SDR Sharp and HDSDR, and a demo of how well these setups receives.

How well does it work?
In my real world testing with the Ham It UP converter  connected to a RTL2832U / E4000 stick, to say I was pleasantly surprised would be a understatement. It was amazing how well this $75 HF SDR setup worked. Ok, it probably doesn’t work as well as a $700 – $800 HF SDR, but it is 1/10th of the price for what I would bet about 90% of the performance. I have had at least one well rated $700 SDR receiver that I can say that the RTL2832U / Ham It Up combination was just as good or better in everyday use. I would definitely say this setup blows most of the sound card based SDRs away. Even compared against my commercial HF receiver with Digital Signal Processing, the Ham It Up / RTL2832U combination did a better job. The Ham It Up converter provided a very low noise floor allowing me to hear much weaker signals. When combined with HDSDR with its adjustable filtering and AGC, the received signal was excellent. When using good quality computer speakers, even SSB audio was superb not to mention AM broadcasts even better quality. Plus you get a nice 2MHz or more of waterfall display so you can easily watch the activity on an entire amateur band (this is something that even the more expensive SDRs don’t often have). Now to be clear, I am sure this is a situation where your “mileage will vary”.  Performance will depend highly on how well you tweak the setup, your antenna, the individual RTL2832U stick and you RF environment. I can say that I have a less than optimal antenna (20 Meter Attic Dipole) and a less than ideal RF environment and still got very good results. For you DIYers, you could probably put the Ham It Up converter and RTL2832U stick in an enclosure and have a nice looking little VHF/UHF/HF radio. If you do, post a picture of your work in the RTL2832U Forum.

Video of Ham it Up Setup and Demo

Prebuilt Cables

For you that are not interested in making your own adapter cables, here are some links to some pre-made cables and adapters that should cover most DVB-T Stick antenna combinations:
“SMA” to “PL-259″ Adapter Cable

Gino Gold-Plated BNC Male to SMA Male Connector Coaxial Cable 8.8″

Gino SMA Male to BNC Female Plug Adapter Antenna Pigtail Cable 13″

Gino Silver Tone Plated F Female to TV PAL Male Plug RF Coaxial Adapter 2 Pcs

“Coaxial Adapter, UHF Male / F Female”

MCX Male to F Female Video Adapter

MCX male to BNC female GPS Antenna RF Adapter (Garmin compatible)

21 Responses to Ham it Up HF Converter

  1. Anonymous says:

    Would this setup be able to tap into the IF of my Yaesu 900? If so, how?
    Looking for a RX/TX SDR setup using existing rig, purchasing the hamitup and the dongle.

    • KS4JU says:

      I am not sure about connecting to the IF, but if your Yaesu has a CAT interface, you could use HDSDR to control the Yaesu by using the Omni Rig control features in HDSDR. This would allow the RTL2832U / Ham It Up combo to act as a spectrum display for the Yaesu. You would of course need two antennas one for the spectrum display setup and one for transmitting unless you use one of the automatic antenna switches or a computer controlled switch.

      • Ian says:

        Thanks for the reply. Yes, the yaesu 900 has a CAT, having driver issues with the CAT cable at the moment. Hope to get that resolved first. Will definitely look into a antenna switch.

      • Matthew Kent says:

        Ian,
        How much success did you have hooking up your FT-900 and how well did it work with the RTL2832U / Ham It Up combo? I ask, because I am getting ready to pair the 2 radios together. I love my FT-900, but the lack of RF makes it a pain to listen too. I think pairing the 2 together is a great idea. I will be using 2 different antennas.

    • KB1UIF says:

      I connected the HF Ham it up converter and dongle to an Icom IC-R7000′s IF output after blocking the 9v DC out from the IF Out and it worked quite well as a pan adapter, my Icom also has an HF module installed so I can use it from dc to light. Next I will try it with my Ten-Tec Jupiter after I add the IF output to the Jupiter as there is no IF out as standard.
      The IF freq out of the Icom was 10.7MHz so I tuned the Ham it up and Dongle to rx that frequency with SDR# and left it there, and tuned the Icom. Bingo instant pan adapter!!

    • N4ZAW says:

      Running it thru my Yaesu FT-840 using a cat interface would be redundant,as my CAT is running to a computer running HRD. With it’s twin DDS VFO’s it pretty-much “SDR” as it is. I’m not sure of the FT-900′s internals, but they are no-doubt better than mine. I plan on experimenting with using the SDR w/upconverter as a stand-alone,cheap n dirty Spectrum analyzer.

  2. Dennis says:

    Jim,
    Thanks for all your efforts on these issues. I live within 2,000-3,000 feet of some FM radio stations (my grid DN07fh in Central Washington). I have no experience with converters, but am uncertain about the Ham It converter after reading the Jan 2013 QST article about their design and how they designed their converter to avoid the FM band. Wouldn’t the Ham It converter, given my location, give me problems when trying to use it as a panadapter on HF? The ERP for KULE-FM, strongest one here, is about 25,000 watts on 92.3. There are some other transmitters in the 100-108 mHz range up at the same hilltop location but not quite as much ERP.
    Thanks again…Dennis

    • HRS Staff says:

      Good question. I am not sure how being that close to a strong FM station would effect things. Since the Ham it Up converter is simply converting HF to be received by a FM receiver, the converters signal at the FM receiver will be very strong. It’s hard to say if a more powerful FM signal would interfere . Maybe someone will chime in, if they have tried the Ham It Up converter in a similar environment.

  3. Hi,
    Just wondering if anyone can tell me what type of cables I need or connectors, as far as I can tell the e4000 is bnc male and sma male (to attach the standard ebay e4000 rtl to the ham it up, while the other types would require a mcx to sma male
    can someone confirm or direct me to an economical place to buy these,aslo what is the deal on attenuators etc.. on the reverse, how exactly does it get attached for reverse function? and can it be used in tx/rx at the same time in the same configuration through some type of pass through setup? kindly email

    • HRS Staff says:

      The E4000 basically need a Pal to SMA adapter. You may need to use a couple adapters. Radio Shack sells a Pal to F connector and Male SMA connectors. You could whip up your own connector. You may want to contact NooElec, they sell connector kits for the Dongles.

  4. Tom Mavros says:

    COULD I USE THE UPCONVERTER ON ITS OWN BY APPLYING TUNING VOLTAGE TO THE L.O WITHOUT THE USE OF THE DONGLE OR HDSDR?..CAN YOU THEN SUPPLY ME WITH A SCHEMATIC OF THE UPCONVERTER SO I CAN DO THIS?
    THANK YOU IN ADVANCE.
    Tom

  5. jos says:

    Hi
    Can you tell me where I can find the circuit diagram?
    I would like to locate the up converter together with an active antenna at the feed point of the antenna and run a ( powered) USB cable to the shack.
    Instead of using the micro USB for power, i would like to make a dedicated power supply. hence the need for a circuit diagram.

    Nice project ! Well done
    VK3DJO

    • jos says:

      I would like to add to the above that I want to place the RTL dongle also at the foot of the antenna in the same box as all the other stuff

  6. Matthew Kent says:

    How can I use RTL2832U / Ham It Up combo with a convetional HF radio, without damaging the RTL2832U/HF converter with too much input? The antennas are about 50 feet away from each other, but I think they are still too close for comfort. I am not a super station, but a 100 watts, can still do damage. Is there an overload protection circuit(s) in the units?

    Thanks
    Matt

  7. jos says:

    I have asked the question before…is it possible to get a circuit diagram somewhere?
    Thanks
    jos

  8. JR says:

    When it’s inline or enabled, what’s the essential frequency receive range or tunable/usable of the V1.2 125 mHz UpConverter ?

    That is, it can allow tuning with say SDRSharp or SDR-Radio from what to what range, or before one would have to switch it out of the RF path ?

    We are using with the RTL2832 + R820T based NooElec SDR dongle, new version.

    This “rough capability range” should be stated somewhere.

  9. John Greusel says:

    Saying “I would definitely say this setup blows most of the sound card based SDRs away.” tells me you don’t have much experience with sound card based SDRs specifically a Softrock Ensemble- thousands are in daily use around the world including being used in sophisticated research projects. It’s far superior, from every angle, to a dongle based system. Not only is a Softrock better- it’s cheaper.

  10. Bill Violin-Wigent ( W8MH) says:

    Is there any way to narrow down the display to maybe 50 khz? It seems to me the
    wide display makes it difficult to fine tune signals on HF. I’m using gqrx on a
    MacBook. The latency is terrible but the mac is probably the cause .

    • Joe Rotello says:

      Bill… Although the SDR software is mainly Windows-based for now, yes, of course, the SDR software allows the NooELEC dongle / Ham-it-Up converter to spectrum also any width you like, suggested up to abbot 2 MHz to 3 MHz, depending on the PC’s capabilities and performance. Do not recommend dropping the spectrum width TOO low, but in Windows and with SDR-Radio V2, your choices are nothing short of superb, low to high spectrum width, zoom in, etc.

      Noe that Mac choices are few and slim indeed, but again, my above comments are for the Windows OS, not the Mac.

      Another way of putting it, we use the likes of SDR-Radio V2.x with the above NooELEC dongle / Ham-it-Up converter and we not only use to tune LW through 1370 MHz, we also use the units as a surprisingly high-quality spectrum analyzer for a wide variety of uses.

      • Bill Violin-Wigent ( W8MH) says:

        Tuning a ssb signal on hf is very difficult using gqrx because the bandwidth of the display is too wide. Making is smaller make the display jerky and slow. I suppose
        I may have to get off the Mac and go to a PC. Thank you for your response.

  11. KS4JU says:

    No, it’s usually just the opposite. Normally even with a modest antenna, you have to go into the ExtIO control panel on what ever SDR software you are using and turn of the automatic gain control and lower the gain manually to keep the converter from picking up interference from strong HF stations. Be sure you have your antenna and dongle connections oriented correctly, the bypass switch in the correct position, and getting power to the converter board through its usb connector. Make sure you installed the oscillator module correctly. You will also need to be sure to enter an offset frequency as described in this article make sure your SDR software tunes to the proper HF frequency. However, you can initially just test things out by using your SDR software to tune around the FM broadcast band, since this is where the converter will place the HF signals until you calibrate an offset. If everything is working and properly tweaked you should get plenty of HF signals. Actually if everything is working correctly you should not hear anything any FM broadcast at all.

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