Wednesday, November 22, 2023

A simple VHF notch cavity from scraps of (large) Heliax

In a previous post I discussed how a band-pass "cavity" could be constructed from a chunk of 1-5/8" Heliax (tm) cable (a link to that article is here).  This is the follow-up to that article.

Figure 1:
The dual notch filter assembly - installed at the
Click on the image for a larger version.

Notch versus band-pass

As the name implies, a "notch" filter removes only a specific frequency, ideally leaving all others unaffected while a "band pass" filter does the opposite - it passes only a specific frequency.  Being the real world, neither type of filter is perfect - which is to say that the "width" of the effect of the notch or pass response is not infinitely narrow, nor is it perfectly inert at frequencies other than where it is supposed to work:  The notch filter will have some effect away from its frequency of rejection, and a band pass filter will let through off-frequency energy and both will have loss even where it would not be ideal.  These filters may be constructed many ways - from individual coils and capacitors to resonant structures, such as cavities - which are often larger-diameter tubes with smaller tubes inside, the latter being resonant at the frequency of interest.  The cavity-type of filters often have better performance as their operation is closer to that of ideal (perfect) components.

The degree to which a filters is imperfect is significantly determined by the "Q" (quality factor) of the resonating components and in general for a cavity-based device, the bigger the cavity (diameter of conductors and the container surrounding it) the better the performance will be in terms of efficacy - which is "narrowness" in the case of the notch filter and "width" and loss in the case of the band-pass cavity.

While a cavity-based device with a large inside resonator and larger outside container is preferred, one can use pieces of large coaxial cable, instead.  The use of large-ish coaxial cable as compared to smaller cable (like RG-8 or similar) is preferred as it will be "better" at everything that is important - but even a cavity constructed from 1-5/8" coax will be significantly inferior to that of a relatively small 4" (10cm) diameter commercial cavity - but there are many instance where "good" is "good enough.

Case study:  Removal of APRS/packet transmitter energy from a repeater input

As noted in the article about the band-pass cavities linked above, a typical repeater duplexer - even though it may have the words "band" and "pass" on the label and in the literature - RARELY have an actual, true "band-pass" response.  In other words, a true "bandpass" cavity/duplexer would have 10s of dB of attenuation, say, 20 MHz away from its tuned frequency - but most duplexers found on amateur repeaters will actually be down only 6-10 dB or so, meaning that even very far off-frequency signals (FM broadcast, services around 150-174 MHz, TV transmitters) will hit the receiver nearly unimpeded.  When I tell some repeater owners of this fact, I'm often met with skepticism ("The label says 'band-pass'!") but these days - with inexpensive NanoVNAs available for well under $100, they can check it for themselves - and likely be disappointed.

Many clubs have replaced their old Motorola, GE or RCA repeaters from the 70s and 80s with more modern amateur repeaters (I'm thinking of those made by Yaesu and Icom) and found that they were suddenly plagued with overload and IMD (intermod).  The reason for this is simple:  The old gear typically had rather tight helical resonator front-end filters while the modern gear is essentially a modified mobile rig - with a "wideband" receiver - in a box.  In this case, the only real "fix" would be the installation of band-pass cavities on the receive and transmit paths in addition to the existing duplexer.

In the case of APRS sharing a radio site, the problem is different:  Both are in the amateur band and it may be that even a "proper" pass cavity may not be enough to adequately reject the energy if the two frequencies are close to each other.  In this case, the scenario was about as good as it could be:  The repeater input was at 147.82 MHz - almost as far away as it could be from the 144.39 APRS frequency and still be in the amateur band.

What made this situation a bit more complicated was the fact that there was also a packet digipeater on 145.01 MHz - a bit closer to the repeater input,  but since it was about 600 kHz away from the 144.39 APRS frequency, that meant that just one notch wouldn't be quite enough to do the job:  We would need TWO.

Is it the receiver or transmitter?

Atop this was another issue:  Was it our receiver that was being desensed (overloaded) by these packet transmitters, or was it that these packet transmitters were generating broadband noise across the 2 meter band, effectively desensing the repeater's receiver?

We knew that the operators of the packet stations did not have any filtering on their own gear (the only way to address a transmit noise problem if generated by their gear) and were reluctant to spend the time, effort and money to install it unless they had compelling reason to do so.  Rather than just sit at a stalemate, we decided to do due diligence and install notch filtering on the receiver to answer this question - and give the operators of the packet gear a compelling reason to take action if it turned out that their transmitters were the culprit.

A simple notch cavity:

Suitable pass cavities are readily available for purchase new from a number of suppliers and used from auction sites - they are also pretty easy to make from copper and aluminum tubing - if you have the tools.  Because of the rather broad nature of a typical pass or lower-performance (e.g. broader) notch cavity, temperature stability is usually not much of an issue in that its peak could drift a hundred kHz and only affect the desired signal by a fraction of a dB.

As mentioned earlier, another material that could be used to make reasonable-performance pass cavities is larger-diameter hardline or "Heliax" (tm).  Ideally, something on the order of 1-5/8" or larger would be used owing to its relative stiffness and unloaded "Q" and either air or foam dielectric cable may be used, the main difference being that the "Q" of the foam cable will be slightly lower and the cavity itself will be somewhat shorter due to the different velocity factor.

Figure 2:
Cutting the (air core) cable to length
Refer to the calculator on the KF6YB web page, linked
at the end of this article.
Click on the image for a larger version.

The "Heliax notch cavity" described here can be built with simple hand tools, and it uses a NanoVNA for tuning and final adjustment.   While its performance will not be as good as a larger cavity, it will - in many cases - be enough to attenuate signals that are "far enough" away for the somewhat limited "Q" of a notch filter of this construction to be effective without excessively attenuating the desired frequency.

Using 1-5/8" "Heliax":

Note:  For an online calculator to help determine the length of cable to use, see the link to KF6YB's site at the end of this article.

The "cavity" described uses 1-5/8" air-core "Heliax" - and it is necessary for the inner conductor to be hollow to accommodate the coupling capacitors.  Most - but not all - cable of this size and larger has a hollow center conductor.  Cables larger diameter than 1-5/8" should work fine - and are preferred - but smaller than this may not or may note be practical in situations where the notch and desired frequency are closely spaced - this, for reasons of unloaded "Q".  If the center conductor is solid or if its inside diameter cannot accommodate the coupling capacitors (described later on) you will have to improvise their construction, using either a discrete variable capacitor or a small "sleeve" capacitor - external to the piece of cable similar to the coupling capacitors described below.

Preparing the "shorted" end:

For 2 meters, a piece of cable 18" long was cut.  For cables with an air dielectric, it's recommended that one cuts it gently with a hand saw rather than a power tool as the latter can "snag" and damage the center conductor.

Figure 3:
The "shorted" end of the stub with the slits bent to the middle
and soldered to the center conductor.
This end should be covered with electrical tape and/or
RTV/silicone to keep out insects/dirt.
Click on the image for a larger version.

For the "cold" (e.g. shorted) end, carefully (using leather gloves) remove about 3/4" (19mm) of the outer jacket and then clean the exposed copper shield with a wire brush, abrasive pad and/or sand paper.  With this done, use a pair of tin snips cut slots about 1/2" (12mm) deep and 1/4" (6mm) wide around the perimeter.  Once this is done, use a pair of needle nose pliers and remove every other tab, resulting is a "castellated" series of slots.  At this point, using a pair of diagonal pliers or a knife, cut away some of the inner plastic dielectric so that it is about 1/2" (12mm) away from the end of the center conductor.

Now, clean the center conductor so that it is nice and shiny and then bend the tabs that were cut inwards so that they touch the center conductor.  Using a powerful soldering iron (I used a 150 watter) or soldering gun - and, perhaps a bit of flux - solder the shield tabs to the center conductor all of the way around.  It's best to do this with the section of coax laying on its side so that hot solder/metal pieces do not end up inside the coax - particularly if air-core cable is used.  If you used acid-core flux, carefully remove it before proceeding.

With one end of the cable shorted you can trim back any protruding center conductor and file any sharp edges - again taking care to avoid getting bits of metal inside the air-space of the cable or embedded in the foam.  At some point, you should cover the shorted end with RTV (silicone) and/or good-quality electrical tape to prevent contamination by dust or insects.

Preparing the "business" end:

Figure 4:
This shows how the tube for the coupling capacitor is placed.
This photo is from the band-pass version with two tubes.
Click on the image for a larger version.
At this point, the chunk of coax should be trimmed again, measuring from the point where the center conductor is soldered to the shield:  For air-core trim it to 17" (432mm) exactly and for foam core, trim it to 16-1/8" (410mm).  Again, using a sharp knife and gloves, remove about 3/4" (19mm) of the outer jacket and, again, clean the outer conductor so that it is bright and shiny.

Making coupling capacitors:

We now need to make a capacitor to couple the energy from the coaxial cable to the center resonator and for this, we could use either a commercially-made variable capacitor (an air-type up to about 20pF - but much less will likely be required) or we could make our own capacitors:  I chose the latter.

At this point you may be asking yourself, "Self, if I make a coax stub for HF, I connect it directly to a coax Tee - why don't I do that here?"  While you could connect a 1/4" stub directly across the coaxial cable to effect attenuation, this is only practical for notches that are a significant distance away from the desired frequency.  For example, if you find yourself in the situation mentioned above (e.g. you replace your ancient repeater with a modern one with poor front-end filtering) where a nearby FM broadcast transmitter is overloading your receiver, you could reasonably measure/cut an open 1/4 wave stub for its frequency and put it across the coax feed with a "Tee" connector and reduce its energy by 20dB or so.  The problem is that a direct connection like this will have rather poor "Q" and be very wide - possibly suitable for a signal 10s of MHz away, but it won't help you if the signal is just a couple MHz away.

By "lightly" coupling to the resonator with a reactance - typically a capacitor in the 10s of pF range or lower - the "Q" of the resonating element is somewhat preserved and with "critical" coupling (not too much, not too little) one can achieve narrower, deeper notches.

Using RG-8 center for the coupling capacitor

For this, I cut a 3" (100mm) length of solid dielectric RG-8 coax, pulled out the center conductor and dielectric and threw the rest away.  I then fished around in my box of hardware and found a piece of hobby brass tubing into which the center of the RG-8 fit snugly cut to the same length as the center conductor.  If you wish, you can foam dielectric RG-8 center but be aware that it is more fragile - particularly when soldering.

I then soldered to tubing inside the center conductor/resonator as doing so offers good mechanical stability, preventing the piece of coax cable dielectric from moving around and changing its capacitance.

Using RG-6 center for the coupling capacitor:

While RG-8 and brass tubing is nice to use, I have also built these using the center of inexpensive RG-6 foam type "TV" coaxial cable and a small piece of soft copper water tubing that I had laying around - but it can easily be found at a hardware store.  This type of capacitor is fine for receive-only applications, but it is not recommended for more than a few watts:  The aforementioned RG-8 capacitor is better for that.

For this, I cut a 3" (75mm) long piece of RG-6 foam TV coaxial cable and from it, I removed and kept the center conductor and dielectric - removing any foil shield and then stripping about 1/2" (12mm) of foam from one end of each piece.

At this point, you'll need some small copper tubing:  I used some 1/4" O.D. soft-drawn "refrigerator" tubing, cutting a 2" (50mm) length and carefully straightening it out.  To cut this, I used a rotary pipe cutting tool which slightly swedged the ends - but this worked to advantage:  As necessary, I opened up the end cut with the deburring blade of the rotary cutting tool just enough that it allowed the inner dielectric of the RG-6 to slide in and out with a bit of friction to hold it in place.

Figure 5:
The PC Board plate soldered to the end of the coax.  This
is from the band-pass version, but you get the idea!
Click on the image for a larger version.

No matter which type of coax center you are using, using a hot soldering iron or gun, solder the tube for the coupling capacitor inside the Heliax's center conductor, the end flush with the end of the center conductor:  A pair of sharp needle-nose pliers to hold it in place is helpful in this task.  Remember that you are soldering to a large chunk of copper, so you'll need a fair bit of heat to be able to make a proper connection!

Making a box:

On the "business" (non-shorted) end of the piece of cable we need to make a simple box with a solid electrical connection to the outer shield to which we can mount the RF connectors with good mechanical stability.  For the 1-5/8" cable, I cut a piece of 0.062" (1.58mm) thick double sided glass-epoxy circuit board material into a square that was 3" (75mm) square and using a ruler, drew lines on it from the opposite corners to form an "X" to find the center.

Using a drill press, I used a 1-3/4" (45mm) hole saw to cut a hole in the middle of this piece of circuit board material, using a sharp utility knife to de-burr the edges and to enlarge it slightly so that it would snugly fit over the outside of the cable shield:  You will want to carefully pick the size of hole saw to fit the cable that you use - and it's best that it be slightly undersized and enlarged with a blade or file than oversized and loose.

Figure 6:
Bottom side of the solder plate showing the
connection to the coax.
Click on the image for a larger version.

After cleaning the outside of the coaxial cable and both sides of the circuit board material, solder it to the (non-shorted) end on both sides of the board, almost flush with just enough of the shield protruding through the top to solder it.  For this, a bit of flux is recommended, using a high-power soldering iron or gun - and it's suggested that it first be "tacked" into place with small solder joints to make sure that it is positioned properly.

Adding sides and connectors:

With the base of the box in place, cut four sides, each being 1-3/8" (40mm) wide and two of them being 3" (75mm) long and the other two being 2-1/2" (64mm) long.  First, solder the two long pieces to the top, using the shorter pieces inside to space and center them - and then solder the shorter pieces, forming a five-sided (base plus four sides) box atop the piece of cable.

Figure 7:
A look inside the box showing the connection to the center of
the capacitor, the "tuning" strips and ceramic trimmer.
Click on the image for a larger version.
Resonator adjustment capacitor:

You will need to be able to make slight adjustments to the frequency of the center conductor of the Heliax resonator.  If all goes well, you will have cut the coaxial cable to be slightly short - meaning that it will resonate entirely above the 2 meter band.  The installation of the coupling capacitor will lower that frequency significantly - but it should still be above the frequency of interest so a means for "fine tuning" is necessary.

Figure 7 shows two strips of copper:  One soldered to the center conductor (the sleeve of the coupling capacitor, actually) and another soldered to the inside for the Heliax shield.  These to plates are then moved closer/farther away to effect fine-tuning:  Closer = lower frequency, farther = higher frequency.  Depending on how far you need to lower the frequency, you can make these "plates" larger or smaller - or if you can't quite get low enough in frequency with just one set of these "plates", you can install another set.  

NOTE:  It is recommended that you do NOT install the copper strips for tuning just yet:  Go through the steps below before doing so.

If your resonant frequency is too low - don't despair yet:  It's very likely that you'll have to reduce the coupling capacitor a bit (e.g. pull it out of the tubing and/or cut it a bit shorter) and this will raise the frequency as well.

How it's connected:

A single notch cavity is typically connected on a signal path using a "Tee" connector as can be seen in Figure 1:  At the notch's resonant frequency, the signal is literally "shorted out", causing attenuation.  

As can be seen in Figure 7, there is only one connector (BNC type) on our PC board box - but we could have easily installed two BNC connectors - in which case we would run a wire from one connector to the center capacitor as shown and then run another wire from the capacitor to the other connector.

Adjusting it all:

For this, I am presuming that you have a NanoVNA or similar piece of equipment:  Even the cheapest NanoVNA - calibrated according to the instructions - will be more than adequate in allowing proper adjustment and measurement of this device.

Using two cables and whatever adapters you need to get it done, put a "Tee" connector on the notch filter and connect Channel 0 on one side of the Tee and Channel 1 on the other side of the Tee and put your VNA in "through" mode.  (Comment:  There are many, many web pages and videos on how to use the NanoVNA, so I won't go through the exact procedure here.)

Configure the VNA to sweep from 10 MHz below to 10 MHz above the desired frequency and you should see the notch - hopefully near the intended frequency:  If you don't see the notch, expand the sweep farther and if you still don't see the notch, re-check connections and your construction.

At this point, "zoom in" on the notch so that you are sweeping, say, from 2 MHz below to 2 MHz above and carefully note the width and depth of the notch.  Now, pull out the center capacitor (the one made from the guts of RG-8 or RG-6 cable) a slight amount:  The resonant frequency will move UP when you do this.

The idea here is to reduce the coupling capacitance to the point where it is optimal:  If you started out with too much capacitance in the first place, the depth of the notch will be somewhat poor (20dB or so) and it will be wider than desirable.  As the capacitance is reduced, it should get both narrower and deeper.  At some point - if the coupling capacitance is reduced too much - the notch will no longer get narrower, but the depth will start to get shallower. 

Comment:  You may need to "zoom in" with the VNA (e.g. narrow the sweep) to properly measure the depth of the notch.  As the VNA samples only so many points, it may "miss" the true shape and depth of the notch as it gets narrower and narrower.

The "trick" with this step is to pull a bit of the coax center out of the coupling capacitor and check the measurement.  If you need to pull "too much" out (e.g. there's a loop forming where you have excess) then simply unsolder the piece, trim it by 1/4-1/2" (0.5-1cm), reinstall, and then continue on until you find the optimal coupling.

It's recommended that when you do approach the optimal coupling, be sure that you have a little bit of adjustment room - being able to push in/pull out a bit of the capacitor for subsequent fine tuning.

At this point your resonant (notch) frequency will hopefully be right at or higher than your target frequency:  If it is too low, you may need to figure out how to shorten the resonator a bit - something that is rather difficult to do.  If you already added the "capacitor plates" for fine-tuning as mentioned above, you may need to adjust them to reduce the capacitance between the ground and the center conductor and/or reduce their size.

Presuming that the frequency is too high (which is the desirable state) then you will probably need to add the copper capacitor strip plates as describe above, and seen in Figure 7.  You should be able to move the resonant frequency down toward your target by moving the plates together.  Remember:  It is the proximity of the plate connected to the center conductor of the resonator to the ground that is doing the tuning!  If you can't get the frequency low enough, you can add more strips to the center conductor - but you will probably want to remove the coupling capacitor (e.g. the coax center conductor) to prevent melting it when soldering.

Optimizing for "high" or "low" pass:

As described above, the notch will be more or less symmetrical - but in most cases you will want a bit of asymmetry - that is, you'll want the effect of the notch to diminish more on one side than the other.  Doing this allows you to place the notch frequency (the one to block) and the desired frequency (the one that you want) closer together without as much attenuation.

Figure 8:
The simplest form of the "high pass" notch, used during
initial testing of the concept - See the results in Figure 9.
Click on the image for a larger version.

"High-pass" = Parallel capacitor

In our case - with the higher of the two notches as 145.01 MHz and the desired signal at 147.82 MHz, we want the attenuation to be reduced rapidly above the notch frequency to avoid attenuating the 147.82 signal - and this may be done by putting a capacitor in parallel with the center of the coupling capacitor and ground:  A careful look at Figure 7 will reveal a small ceramic trimmer capacitor.

This configuration is more clearly seen in Figure 8:  There, we have the simplest - and kludgiest - possible form of the notch filter where you can see two ceramic trimmer capacitors connected across the center coupling capacitor and the center pin of the BNC connector.  Off the photo (to the upper-left) was the connection to a "tee" connector and the NanoVNA.  If you just want to get a "feel" for how the notch works and tunes, this mechanically simple set-up is fine - but it is far too fragile and unstable for "permanent" use.

For 2 meters, a capacitor that can be varied form 2-35pF or so is usually adequate - the higher the capacitance, the more effect there is on the asymmetry - but at some point (with too much capacitance) losses and filter "shape" will start to degrade - particularly with inexpensive ceramic and plastic trimmer capacitors.  Ideally, an air-type variable capacitor is used, but an inexpensive ceramic trimmer will suffice for receive-only applications - and if the separation is fairly wide, as is the case here.  For transmit applications, the air trimmer - or a high-quality porcelain type is recommended.

"Low-pass" = Parallel inductor

While the parallel capacitor will shift the shape of the notch's "shoulders" for "low notch/high pass" operation, the use of a parallel inductor will cause the response to become "low pass/high notch" where the reduced attenuation is below the notch frequency.  If we'd needed to construct a notch filter to keep the 147.22 repeater's transmit signal out of the 145.01 packet's receiver, we would use a parallel inductor.

It is fortunate that an inductor is trivial to construct and adjust.  For 2 meters, one would start out with 4-5 turns wound on a 3/8" (10mm) drill bit using solid-core wire of about any size that will hold its shape:  12-18 AWG (2-1mm diameter) copper wire will do.  Inductance can be reduced by stretching the coil of wire and/or reducing the number of turns.  As with the capacitor, this adjustment is iterative:  Reducing the inductance will make the asymmetry more pronounced and with lower inductance, the desired frequency and the notch frequency can be placed closer together - but decrease the inductance too much, loss will increase.

Comment:  The asymmetry of the "pass" and "notch" is why some of the common repeater duplexers have the word "pass" in their product description:  It simply means that on one side of the notch or the other the attenuation is lower to favor receive/transmit.


Figure 9:
VNA sweep of one of the prototype notch filter depicted  in
Figure 8.  This shows the asymmetric nature of the notch and
"pass" response (blue trace) when a parallel capacitor is used.
 The yellow trace shows the low SWR at the pass frequency.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Figure 9 shows a the sweep of the assembly shown in Figure 8 from a NanoVNA screen.

The blue trace shows the attenuation plot:  At the depth of the notch (marker #1) we have over 24dB of attenuation, which is about what one can expect from a notch cavity simply "teed" into the NanoVNA's signal path.

We can also see the asymmetry of the blue trace:  Above the notch frequency we see Marker #2 - which is a few MHz above the notch and how the attenuation decreases rapidly - to less than 0.5dB.  In comparison the blue trace below the notch frequency has higher attenuation near the notch frequency.

If you look carefully you'll also notice that just above the notch frequency, the attenuation (blue trace) is reduced to the lowest value right at the desired pass frequency:  This is our goal - set the notch at the frequency we want to reject and then set the parallel inductor or capacitor to the value that yields the lowest attenuation and lowest VSWR (the yellow trace) at the frequency that we want to pass.

Again, if we'd placed an inductor across the circuit rather than a capacitor, this asymmetry would be reversed and we'd have the lower attenuation below the notch frequency.

Note:  This sweep was done with the configuration depicted in Figure 8 at whatever frequency it happened to resonate "near-ish" 2 meters to test how well everything would work.  Once I was satisfied that this notch filter could be useful, I rebuilt it into the more permanent configuration and tuned it properly, onto frequency.

Putting two notches together:

Because we needed to knock down both 144.39 and 145.01 MHz, we can see from the Figure 9 that we'd need two notch filters cascaded to provide good attenuation and not affect the 147.82 MHz repeater input frequency.  A close look at Figure 1 will reveal that these two filters are, in fact, cascaded - the signal from the antenna (via the receiver branch of the repeater's duplexer) coming in via one of the BNC Tees and going out to the receiver via another.

The cable between the two notches should be an electrical quarter wavelength - or an odd multiple thereof (e.g. 3/4, 5/4) to maximize the effectiveness of the two notches together:  Since we only need a very short cable, we can use 1/4 wavelength here.  A quarter wave transmission line has an interesting property:  Short out one end and the impedance on the other end goes very high - and vice-versa.  To calculate the length of a quarter-wave line we can use some familiar formulas:

300/Frequency (in MHz) = Wavelength in meters

If we plug 145 MHz into the above equation (300/145) we get a length of 2.069 meters (multiply this by 3.28 and we get 6.79 feet).

Since we are using coaxial cable, we need to include its velocity factor.  Since the 1/4 wave jumper is foam-type RG-8X we know that its velocity factor is 0.79 - that is, the RF travels 79% of the speed of light through the cable, meaning that it should be shorter than a wavelength in free space, so:

2.069 * 0.79 = 1.63 meters (5.35')

(Solid dielectric cable - like many types of RG-8 and RG-58 will have a velocity factor of about 0.66, making a 1/4 wave even shorter!  There are online tables showing the velocity factor of many types of cable - refer to one of these if you aren't sure of the velocity factor of your cable.)

Since this is a full wavelength, we divide this length by 4 to get the electrical quarter-wavelength:

1.63 / 4 = 0.408 meters (16.09")

As it turns out, the velocity factor of common coaxial cables can vary by several percent - but the length of a quarter-wave section is pretty forgiving:  It can be as much as 20% off in either direction without causing too much degradation from the ideal (e.g. it will work "Ok") - but it's good to be as precise as possible.  When determining the length of the 1/4 wave jumper, one should include the length to the tips of the connectors, not just the length of the cable itself. 

Figure 10:
The response of the two cascaded notch filters - one tune to
144.39 and the other to 145.01 MHz.
Click on the image for a larger version.

Because we know that the notch filters present a "short" at their tuned frequency, that means that the other end of a 1/4 wave coax at that same point will go high impedance - making the "shorting" of the second cavity even more effective.  In testing - with the two notches tuned to the same frequency, the total depth of the notch was on the order of 60dB - significantly higher than the sum of the two notches individually - their efficacy improved by the 1/4 wave cable between them.

As we needed to "stagger" the two notches to offer best attenuation at the two packet frequencies, the maximum depth was reduced, but as can be seen in Figure 10, the result is quite good:  Markers 1 and 2 show 144.39 and 145.01 MHz, respectively with more than 34 dB of attenuation:  The two notches are close enough to each other than there is some added depth by their interaction.  Marker 3 at the repeater input frequency of 147.82 has an attenuation of just 0.79dB - not to bad for a homebrew filter made from scrap pieces!

Comment:  If you are wondering of the 0.79dB attenuation was excessive, consider the following:  Many repeaters are at shared sites with other users and equipment - in this case, there were two other land-mobile sites very nearby along with a very large cell site.  Because of this, there is excess background noise generated by this other gear that is out of control of the amateur repeater operator - but this also means that the ultimate sensitivity is somewhat limited by this noise floor.  Using an "Iso-Tee", it was determined that the sensitivity of this repeater - even with coax, duplexer and now notch filter losses - was "site noise floor limited" by a couple of dB, so the addition of this filter did not have any effect on its actual sensitivity.

Putting it together:

Looking again at Figure 1, you will noticed that the two notches filters are connected together mechanically:  Short pieces of PVC "wood" (available from the hardware store) were cut and a hole saw was used to make two holes in each piece, slipped over the end and then secured to the notch assemblies with RTV ("Silicone") adhesive.

Rather than leaving the tops of the PC board boxes open where bugs and debris might cause detuning, they were covered with aluminum furnace tape which worked just as well as soldering a metal lid would have - plus it was cheap and easy!  (The boxes were deep enough that the proximity of metal - or not - at the top had negligible effect on the tuning of the resonators.

Did it work?

At the time we installed the filter, the packet stations were down, so we tested the efficacy of the filter by transmitting at high power on the two frequencies alternately from an on-site mobile-mounted transceiver.  Without the filter, a bit of desense from this (very) nearby transmitter was noted in the receiver, but was absent with it inline.

With at least 34dB of attenuation at either packet frequency we were confident that the modest amount of desense (on the order of 10-15dB - enough to mask weak signals, but not strong ones) - IF it was caused by receiver overload - would be completely solved by attenuating those signals by a factor of over 2000.  If it had no effect at all, we would know that it was, in fact, the packet transmitters generating noise.

Some time later the packet stations were again active - but causing a bit of desense, but this was not unexpected:  At the start, we were not sure if the cause of the desense was due to the repeater's receiver being overloaded, or noise from the packet transmitter - but because the amount of desense was the same after adding the notch filter we can conclude that the source of desense was, in fact, noise from the packet transmitters.

Having done due diligence and installed these filters on our receiver, we could then report back to the owner of the packet transmitters what we had done and more authoritatively request that they install appropriate filtering on their transmitters (notch or pass cavities - preferably the latter) in order to be good neighbors, themselves.

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"I have 'xxx' type of cable - will it work?"

The dimensions given in this article are approximate, but should be "close-ish" for most types of air and foam dielectric cable.  While I have not constructed a band-pass filter with much smaller Heliax-like cable such as 1/2" or 3/4", it should work - but one should expect somewhat lower performance (e.g. not-as-narrow band-pass with higher losses) - but it may still be useful.  With these smaller cables you may not be able to put the coupling inside the center conductor, so you'll have to get creative.

Because of the wide availability of tools like the NanoVNA, constructing this sort of device is made much easier and allows one to characterize both its insertion loss and response as well as experimentally determining what is required to use whatever large-ish coaxial cable that you might have on-hand.

"Will this work on (some other band)?"

Yes, it should:  Notch-only filters of this type were constructed for a 6 meter repeater - and depending on your motivation, one could also build such things for 10 meters or even the HF bands!

It is likely that, with due care, that one could use these same techniques on the 222 MHz and 70cm bands provided that one keeps in mind their practical limitations.


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Related articles:

  • A 2-meter band-pass cavity using surplus Heliax - link - This article describes constructing a simple band-pass filter using 1-5/8" Heliax. The techniques used in that article are the same as those applied here.
  • Second Generation Six-Meter Heliax Duplexer by KF6YB - link  - This article describes a notch type duplexer rather than pass cavities, but the concerns and construction techniques are similar.
  • When Band-Pass/Band-Reject (Bp/Br) Duplexers really aren't bandpass - link - This is a longer, more in-depth discussion about the issues with such devices and why pass cavities should be important components in any repeater system.


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