Antenna Analysers – The New World

Many years ago I had an MFJ-259B antenna analyser that I used for all my HF antenna projects. It was a simple device with a couple of knobs, an LCD display and a meter but, it provided a great insight into the resonance of an antenna.

MFJ-259B Antenna Analyser
MFJ-259B Antenna Analyser

Today things have progressed somewhat and we now live in a world of Vector Network Analysers that not only display SWR but, can display a whole host of other information too.

Being an avid antenna builder I’ve wanted to buy an antenna analyser for some time but, now that I’m into the world of QO-100 satellite operations using frequencies at the dizzy heights of 2.4GHz I needed something more modern.

If you search online there are a multitude of Vector Network Analysers (VNAs) available from around the £50.00 mark right up to £1500 or more. Many of the VNAs you see on the likes of Amazon and Ebay come out of China and reading the reviews they aren’t particularly reliable or accurate.

After much research I settled on the JNCRadio VNA 3G, it gets really good reviews and is very sensibly priced. Putting a call into Gary at Martin Lynch and Sons (MLANDS) we had a long chat about various VNAs, the pros and cons of each model and the pricing structure. It was tempting to spend much more on a far more capable device however, my sensible head kicked in and decided many of the additional features on the more expensive models would never get used and so I went back to my original choice.

Gary and I also had a long chat about building a QO-100 ground station, using NodeRed to control it and how to align the dish antenna. The guys at MLANDS will soon have a satellite ground station on air and I look forward to talking to them on the QO-100 transponder.

Getting back to antenna analysers, I purchased the JNCRadio VNA 3G from MLANDS at £199.96 + postage and have been trying it out on a couple of antennas here at the M0AWS QTH.

Initially I wanted to check the SWR of my QO-100 2.4GHz IceCone Helix antenna on my satellite ground station to ensure it was resonant at the right frequency. Hooking the VNA up to the antenna feed was simple enough using one of the cables provided with the unit and I set about configuring the start and stop stimulus frequencies (2.4GHz to 2.450GHz) for the sweep to plot the curve.

The resulting SWR curve showed that the antenna was indeed resonant at 2.4GHz with an SWR of 1.16:1. The only issue I had was that in the bright sunshine it was hard to see the display and impossible to get a photo. Setting the screen on the brightest setting didn’t improve things much either so this is something to keep in mind if you plan on using the device outside in sunny climates.

(My understanding is that the Rig Expert AA-3000 Zoom is much easier to see outside on a sunny day however, it will cost you almost £1200 for the privilege.)

A couple of days later I decided to check the SWR of my 20m band EFHW vertical antenna. I’ve known for some time that this antenna has a point of resonance below 14MHz but, the SWR was still low enough at the bottom of the 20m band to make it useable.

Hooking up the VNA I could see immediately that the point of resonance was at 13.650Mhz, well low of the 20m band and so I set about shortening the wire until the point of resonance moved up into the band.

JNCRadio VNA3G showing 20m Band EFHW Resonance
JNCRadio VNA3G showing 20m Band EFHW Resonance

With a little folding back of wire I soon had the point of resonance nicely into the 20m band with a 1.35:1 SWR at 14.208Mhz. This provides a very useable SWR across the whole band but, I decided I’d prefer the point of resonance to be slightly lower as I tend to use the antenna mainly on the CW & FT4/8 part of the band with my Icom IC-705 QRP rig.

Popping out into the garden once more I lengthened the wire easily enough by reducing the fold back and brought the point of resonance down to 14.095Mhz.

JNCRadio VNA3G showing 20m Band EFHW Resonance 14Mhz to 14.35Mhz Sweep
JNCRadio VNA3G showing 20m Band EFHW Resonance 14Mhz to 14.35Mhz Sweep

The VNA automatically updated the display realtime to show the new point of resonance on the 4.3in colour screen. I also altered the granularity of the SWR reading on the Y axis to show a more detailed view of the curve and reduced the frequency range on the X axis so that it showed a 14Mhz to 14.35Mhz sweep. With an SWR of 1.34:1 at 14.095Mhz and a 50 Ohm impedance, the antenna is perfectly resonant where I want it.

It’s interesting to note that the antenna is actually useable between 13.5Mhz and 14.5Mhz with a reasonable SWR across the entire frequency spread. Setting 3 markers on the SWR curve I could see at a glance the SWR reading at 14Mhz (Marker 2) , 14.350Mhz (Marker 3) and the minimum SWR reading at 14.095Mhz (Marker 1).

I’ve yet to delve into the other functionality of the VNA but, I’m very happy with my initial experience with the device.

More soon …

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