Author Topic: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work  (Read 9185 times)

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Offline andtfoot

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Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« on: June 02, 2014, 12:40:04 pm »
At my work I've been asked to look into ways of checking rooms for possible interference when installing wireless microphones (~650MHz and 1.8Ghz) and wifi networks (2.4GHz and 5GHz).

I've been looking at the Aaronia Spectran series from Trio T&M; in particular the HF-6060 V4:
http://www.triotest.com.au/shop/en/handheld/3424-aaronia-spectran-hf-2025e-v3-700mhz-25ghz-with-hyperlog-7025.html

Has anyone used one of these before? Any comments and/or alternatives to look at?
Am I even on the right track?  ;D

Thanks.
 

Offline VK5RC

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2014, 12:50:22 pm »
I owned one, I thought the display was pretty poor, it never worked well for me then I fried it for good measure! If I recall you can't put much up the front end 5dBm or something.
You can get a slightly better display by linking it to a PC but then the portability plummets.
For me it taught me you get what you pay for. I have switched to used HP/Agilent SA (8561) and am very happy.
The new HH SA from Agilent come at hefty price but I suspect will do a much better job.
Whoah! Watch where that landed we might need it later.
 

Offline Mr Simpleton

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2014, 09:06:11 pm »
Those HP 856x are not exactly portable at 20-ish kg!

You may look a bit closer to what Signal Hound offers...  You do need a computer but the SA is powered from the USB-port.
My take is that is better than the Aaronia, but not in Agilent territory FWIW.

I have the SA44B and it is a great tool to bring along, when having "real" equipment (20 kg) is out of the question.

My main objection to the Signal Hound is its somewhat sluggish sweep, but if your signals are stationary, a 2-10 second sweep should not matter. Time is dependant on sweep bandwith mainly.
 

Offline andtfoot

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2014, 09:56:47 am »
Thanks for the comments so far.

I'm mainly looking for something portable and easy to use to encourage the use of it in the first place. Don't know if the wanky looking antenna on the Aaronia would encourage use... I'm hoping it would it be easy to find a generic omni to chuck on the SMA connector?

I was hoping to avoid laptop based systems as it would mean it probably wouldn't get used until the "why doesn't the wireless microphone work?" stage. That said, that's where I usually come into things anyway, so if a laptop based system is a lot better then I would definitely consider it.

It's a bit of an impulse buy from management, so I need to keep it in the $3k kind of range.
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2014, 10:11:03 am »
If you are interested in just seeing how much bang you can get for your buck you could do a lot worse than buying the very reasonably priced RF Explorer. Its not a toy and was born out of the designers need to check for interference with Radio Control and other short range wireless links. It meets all your frequency needs except 5GHz which is sadly a challenge at the budget end of the market. From what I have heard the RC and Live Music communities like it. The designer is also a very friendly and accessible chap.

I own 'real' Advantest Spectrum Analysers but they are lugable rather than truly portable, The RF Explorer is pocket sized and does appear to work pretty well in the role for which it was designed. I have two. The ISM band +2.4GHz model and the fully loaded 15MHz to 2700 MHz model. No complaints about it yet and there is a decent software package if tethering to a PC is desired for logging purposes.

There is a lot to be said for using a Spectrum Analyser running a waterfall type display. You will see patterns of interference and it is especially good at displaying impulse type signals. A quick look at a spectrum analyser screen in real time to see 'blips' on the trace is not, IMHO, a good way to hunt for interference. A logging session provides far more detail. Waterfall displays are used in professional RF monitoring deployments  ;)

http://rfexplorer.com/

http://micro.arocholl.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48:introducing-rf-explorer&catid=40:article&Itemid=64

 
« Last Edit: June 03, 2014, 10:15:12 am by Aurora »
 

Offline Mr Simpleton

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #5 on: June 03, 2014, 10:19:31 am »
You may even try the new fancy Surface Pro from Microsoft, they should work with the "Hound" and yet let you run without a keyboard. Having said that, I find myself having access to a laptop most of the time I'm on the move so I just let the SA44B rest in my computer bag.

It's not perfect by a long shot, but it is as good as it gets for the price and portability .

There seems to be several users that actually do EMC measurements on wireless mics, you may have some further comments by posting on Signal Hound facebook page.

In fact they do offer 30 days trial at no cost, so what can you loose??

The new real-time spectrum analyzer is a totally different beast, demanding major computer power to run, so this is not really a valid option, unless having an über-PC with latest i7-CPU
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #6 on: June 03, 2014, 10:52:51 am »
For dedicated Wi-Fi spectrum monitoring you may also wish to consider the well known Wi-Spy offerings as there is a model that covers the 2.4 and 5Ghz bands and has interference detection capabilities. The 5GHz band will add a lot of cost to any 'all in one' solution that you find. Even the Signal Hound gets expensive when you need the 12GHz version to cover the 5GHz band.
 

Offline TopLoser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #7 on: June 03, 2014, 11:21:38 am »
In true TopLoser style I've just found a couple of old Aaronia HF4060 V2 kits on my desk.

http://www.testequipmentdepot.com/aaronia/rf-spectrum-analyzers/hf-4060.htm

They are an old model, seem to be specced 100MHz - 6GHz. Complete with HyperLog 7060 6GHz antenna. All nicely boxed up in an aluminium case with charger and cables. New and unused, pushed to one side when the V3 and V4 came out. The ni-mh batteries in the HF4060 will be buggered by now, but they are just a string of 7/8 size AA.

Aaronia used to have a very generous upgrade program where you could part-ex your old outdated kit for new stuff. I used to sell these to people just so they could get a cheap upgrade.

£150+VAT and shipping?

ALL SOLD NOW

« Last Edit: June 06, 2014, 08:20:54 am by TopLoser »
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #8 on: June 03, 2014, 12:50:26 pm »
@Toploser,

I will have one, if still available please.

PM Sent

Fraser
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2014, 02:08:32 pm »
Thanks to Toploser I now have a new AARONIA Spectran HF4060 to play with. The unit arrived this morning in a large aluminium hard case....couldn't hide that from my wife..... oooops !

First Impressions of the unit.....

1. Design is weird with odd shaped plastic handheld case and small shiny silver buttons  :palm: I thought shiny silver buttons went out in the 1980's ! It looks a bit tacky to be honest.
2. Display is large but slightly cluttered making interpretation without the manual difficult..... ergonomics do not appear to be a strong point of the design.
3. The Ni-Mh 1300mAh battery pack has been discharged for some time so is currently being cycled and tested to see if it has life in it. Easy to remove thanks to the dedicated battery cover. The battery is just six AA size cells so easy to replace if needed.
4. The 700MHz-6GHz Log Periodic aerial is a nice design and looks to be of decent quality. Very pleased with that  :)
5. AARONIA provide all that is needed to get the unit up and running out of the case. They provide a nice table tripod that may also be used as a handle for the LP antenna. Good ergonomics there.
6. The rear of the HF4060 is marked AARONIA  WWW.ELEKTROSMOG.COM. Such a reference would normally have me running away from the device. The Electrosmog crowd can be a tad weird with their desire to wear tin foil hats etc. and complaints that their kettle or TV is making them ill ! On this occasion I will suppress my desire to RUN  ;D
7. First switch-on caused the unit to immediately find my DECT telephone and identify it....not a bad start. I have yet to test the unit properly as I need to cycle the battery a few times on my external charger and battery analyser first. Running the unit off of its charger could cause all manner of weird behaviour.

Ok so first thoughts on the HF4060 ..... A bit of an ugly duckling, weird looking and less than perfect ergonomics, but maybe, just maybe, it will perform OK  ;D With a 10MHz to 6GHz specification it will certainly be a very useful portable spectrum monitor if it actually delivers on its promises. The PC software has been dramatically improved over the past few years and if the HF4060 performs OK, the PC software will be a superb interface through which to control the HF4060 and process its output. The ergonomics of the HF4060 then become less of an issue.

Am I please with my purchase from TopLoser ?  YOU BET I AM ! For GBP150+VAT you will not get close to the capability of this unit, even if its specifications turn out to be a little optimistic in some areas. The unit that was tested at my workplace was taken seriously and performed well, so looks can be deceptive. I really do think AARONIA should find another case designer though....weird shaped plastic shell , silver buttons and painted metallic blue....come on, it looks like a childs toy ! But then some would say its looks matter not if it works OK. We shall see  :)

My sincere thanks to TopLoser for providing this unit at such a hobbyist wallet friendly price.

Aurora
« Last Edit: June 05, 2014, 04:06:42 pm by Aurora »
 

Offline Paulv

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2014, 02:49:31 pm »
Does anyone know what the sweep time is of the RF Explorer when set to a span of 600 MHz?
Thanks, Paul
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2014, 02:53:41 pm »
I have quickly opened the HF4060 to see what lives inside.

First shocker....the case is held together with brass wood screws  :o That is a first for me.

Second shocker.... appalling design blooper with a DIL header too close to the case edge requiring its pins to be bent over in order to fit the case rear  :o

Third shocker... plastic case is NOT coated with RF screening paint on the inside.

The RF and Digital sections exist on the same multi layer PCB. It appears to be 6 layer FR4.

No obvious protection on the RF front end. The signal passes straight into an IC marked H346 8026. No silly part number removal here  :)

A distinct lack of RF screening cans has me a little concerned. A 6GHz spectrum monitor would normally need some pretty decent RF screening on the analogue RF sections to avoid lots on internal signal pick-up from the digital sections and would normally be kept separate from such for this reason. Nasty sharp edged square waves are not very friendly to sensitive analyser front ends. In some ways this looks more like an SDR than a conventional superhet design but I will need t dig deeper into the part numbers to work out what is going on.

There is a Ti DSP TMS30LF2407APGEA present but I have yet to investigate any of the ICs to establish their function. Lots of LT branded components and several AD IC's are present as well. I will not detail all IC's here as that belongs in the teardown section.

Hmmm first impressions are that this is designed based on IC building blocks and was not created using traditional spectrum analyser practices. That does not mean that it is no good, but I wouldn't mind betting that it has issues with self detection and that the manufacturer is likely using software exclusion techniques to 'mask' such internal signals from the user. Not great practice but I am minded that it was likely designed as a budget 6GHz analyser to meet the needs of a particular market...Electrosmog detection.

Am I still happy with my purchase ? Yep, its what I expected, nothing more, nothing less. Still a great value purchase for me IMHO. I have limited capability above 3.5GHz and this may will fill the gap and for hobbyist use it does not need to be R&S quality  ;D

I attach some pictures for interest.


Update:


I have identified every IC on the PCB. This design is, as I suspected, built using Hittite, Analogue Devices and Ti analogue and digital building block IC's. The unit is basically a software defined radio (SDR) IF with superhet front end. It is more akin to a modern satellite TV receiver than a traditional spectrum monitor/analyser.
« Last Edit: June 05, 2014, 04:20:37 pm by Aurora »
 

Offline fpliuzzi

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2014, 03:33:32 pm »
Does anyone know what the sweep time is of the RF Explorer when set to a span of 600 MHz?
Thanks, Paul

I included a screenshot below from the RF Explorer's PC client software. It shows a sweep time of 1.490 seconds for a 15-615MHz span. For narrow spans I usually seem to get at least 5 sweeps per second on my RF Explorer-3G Combo.

Regards
« Last Edit: June 07, 2014, 02:02:25 am by fpliuzzi »
 

Offline andtfoot

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2014, 11:11:34 pm »
Well I've put in my recommendation to the boss of getting 2 sets of RF-Explorer 3G Combos with ClearWaves software.

Thanks for the offer TopLoser. If I had any money myself, I'd be bloody tempted.  ;)
 

Offline TopLoser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #14 on: June 06, 2014, 08:20:23 am »
All the Aaronia HF4060's are sold now. That makes a bit more space on my desk to unpack some more boxes of random 'stuff'!
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #15 on: June 06, 2014, 08:59:52 am »
@TopLoser

Thanks again for the HF4060. Just bought a 2600mAh battery pack to replace the 1300mAh one. The original battery had aged in storage and tested at approx. 700mAh. I was pleased to see that they used a standard RC pack format.... easily available and only GBP10 for one with quality cells  :-+ (Edit: It is an RC 'flat 3x2' format, but you do need to add a wire (white) at the battery midpoint as the AARONIA needs a split pack (0v-3.6V-7.2V). Easy to add this on most packs though).

Having done some background reading on the HF4060 I now have a better understanding of how it works. There is even a Patent available detailing the core design features. A clever idea that did have some teething troubles but it is certainly not a 'toy' and worthy of a place on my labs RF bench. The lack of screening on the PCB was/is a concern and as I suspected, the manufacturer used software to get around the problem, hence the DSP chip.

The manufacturer makes it clear that the way to achieve the best from the HF4060 is via the PC software. Having used it briefly last night, I can see why. PC control provides excellent signal analysis capabilities, including the all important waterfall display for intermittent RF events and pulsing.   

I like the sound of "more boxes of random 'stuff' "..... please keep me in the loop on any 'Stuff' that you will be selling as you sell very good 'stuff'  :)

Fraser
« Last Edit: June 06, 2014, 10:38:30 am by Aurora »
 

Offline dunkemhigh

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #16 on: June 06, 2014, 09:56:31 am »
Quote
as you sell very good 'stuff'

You neglected to insert "very reasonably priced" along with "quickly shipped" and "hassle-free". Maybe he should change nick to TopWinner :)
 

Offline TopLoser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #17 on: June 06, 2014, 09:57:05 am »
@TopLoser

Thanks again for the HF4060. Just bought a 2600mAh battery pack to replace the 1300mAh one. The original battery had aged in storage and tested at approx. 700mAh. I was pleased to see that they used a standard RC pack format.... easily available and only GBP10 for one with quality cells  :-+

Having dome some background reading on the HF4060 I now have a better understanding of how it works. There is even a Patent available detailing the core design features. A clever idea that did have some teething troubles but it is certainly not a 'toy' and worthy of a place on my labs RF bench. The lack of screening on the PCB was/is a concern and as I suspected, the manufacturer used software to get around the problem, hence the DSP chip.

The manufacturer makes it clear that the way to achieve the best from the HF4060 is via the PC software. Having used it briefly last night, I can see why. PC control provides excellent signal analysis capabilities, including the all important waterfall display for intermittent RF events and pulsing.   

I like the sound of "more boxes of random 'stuff' "..... please keep me in the loop on any 'Stuff' that you will be selling as you sell very good 'stuff'  :)

Fraser

Ha! have you seen the price Aaronia want to charge for a 2600mA battery pack?!

One day I'll post a few pictures of the piles of boxes I have here. Currently 2 rooms full from floor to ceiling. Only small rooms though...
 

Offline VK5RC

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #18 on: June 06, 2014, 10:03:29 am »
I didn't want to see the price TopLoser sold it for! I paid a lot more, I think I may have to have a look again at my Aaronia, perhaps I didn't give it a fair go before I fried it, :palm: ,Another job to try and fix!
Whoah! Watch where that landed we might need it later.
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #19 on: June 06, 2014, 11:04:02 am »
@VK5RC,

Don't get me wrong, the HF4060 breaks many 'rules' of RF engineering and DOES have 'issues' as a result. But 10MHz to 6GHz spectrum visibility for less than GBP200 is a very good buy in my book. When you know what the signal frequency should be before a test, the presence of internal spurii becomes less of an issue. You just have to use such a piece of equipment with care to avoid a very confusing experience  ;). I can well believe that you found the unit frustrating to use ! I am more than happy to add RF screening and mods to the unit if needed so it becomes a bit of a project which I enjoy. I have studied the later versions to see what improvements were made so can mimic those if required.  The PC software certainly 'worked' fro me last night. I am not at all interested in RF absorbtion stuff so whether that function is accurate or not is of little interest to me. I will be uploading the latest firmware for the V1,V2 & V3 versions, as AARONIA make it freely available on their site.  :-+

With regard to having killed yours, the V2 unit that I have provides no obvious input RF overload protection. That is not uncommon, as such can be an issue with very wide band front ends such as used in the HF4060. The first chip that possibly got fried is a Hittite HMC346 voltage controlled absorbtion attenuator (0-32dB).It would b easy to bypass that for testing. I can have a look at the signal path from that point if it helps. The V3 is slightly different, and I found some comment on the signal path for that version on a German forum. The first mixer would also be a likely candidate for getting fried. Fortunately AARONIA use 'off the shelf' components so replacements should not be too much of a challenge. I think it would be worth the effort to repair you damaged unit if you do not already own an upto 6GHz spectrum monitor capability. Note I always use the term Spectrum Monitor..... I am not minded to call the AARONIA units 'Spectrum Analysers' as I would not trust their accuracy having seen the hardware design and lack of RF good practice in the layout and shielding. Maybe I will change my mind when I have had some time on my unit with known RF sources.

Aurora

 

Offline VK5RC

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #20 on: June 06, 2014, 12:30:23 pm »
@Aurora
I really bought it as a cheap spectrum 'analyser' several years ago to look for signals in Amateur radio home brew RF modules ( I am a Ham not an EE), unfortunately with home brew gear I don't know for sure what I am looking at until I look, If I recall correctly I fried it on a 500MHz local oscillator that was producing more than it was supposed to (rarely the case).
I have a fried 6065v4 and it does come with a small well soldered down RF cover over the early RF input section, a really quick look on the net  I can't identify the first ?attenuator ??mixer.
It looks like it would be a real bugger to get off without desoldering the entire early RF section as I am guessing you would need to use hot air.
It does appear to work to some degree when I feed it with RF but it appears deaf (about 40-50dB down) which goes along with your hypothesis the attenuator is defunct (always attenuating)
I put it away in the too hard basket as I got a good HP 8561 which has been so good in comparison.
I have included a photo close up of the early RF section.
Rob
Whoah! Watch where that landed we might need it later.
 

Offline 1design

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #21 on: June 07, 2014, 07:36:50 am »
Hi,

the parts in that design are made by Hittite, they are:
HMC427LP3 - DC-8GHz transfer switch
HMC311LP3 - MMIC AMPLIFIER, DC - 6 GHz
HMC424LP3 - 0.5 dB LSB 6-Bit Digital Attenuator SMT, DC - 13 GHz

So the first IC is the preamp switch, the parallel one is the preamplifier and the last one on the right is the attenuator. To change them with hot air sholud be a 15 minute job.
The small IC on the bottom right of the shield sholud be a power detector from the layout.
I hope this model is for under 4GHz operation as that SMA connector is low quality type that has bad performance above that frequency.

For example, look at this high quality connector from Telegartner, specially the central pin.
http://media.telegaertner.com/Spezifikationsblatt/J01151A1271KP.pdf

Is there a capacitor missing in front of the HMC427?

BR.
« Last Edit: June 07, 2014, 08:23:10 am by 1design »
 

Offline VK5RC

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #22 on: June 07, 2014, 09:08:05 am »
@1design  thanks for finding the parts,  there is a capacitor but it is standing end on, and was loose but resoldering didn't improve things.   I think I will have a go at fixing it,  will order the Hittite parts,  another input capacitor and good sma,  with a serve of brave pills:-) Actually nothing to lose as it's buggered now.
thanks guys
Whoah! Watch where that landed we might need it later.
 

Online Fraser

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #23 on: June 07, 2014, 09:58:12 am »
@1design,

I am of the view that the AARONIA SPECTRAN products were designed and built to serve the Elektrosmog community rather than the RF lab or EMC engineer. The designs are literally full of bad practice and the PCB is quite frankly a joke in terms of RF best practice. I place these units in the same category as the Gigahertz offerings...... field strength meters and indicators of RF signals rather than serious spectrum analysis tools. You have to coroberate what the unit displays in order to be certain that the signal is genuine and not an internal spurii.

As I mentioned previously, it appears the designer grabbed the Hittite, Analogue Devices and Ti catalogues and just 'bolted' together various 'building block' IC's to form a supernet receiver that 'looks good on paper'. When it came to actually placing the building blocks on the PCB it would appear that the designer has little or no RF PCB design background. Quite frankly, I am amazed that the unit works at all  ;) As I also stated, the pcb looks more like a modern cheap satellite tuner module than a piece of test equipment (but with the added poor pcb design thrown in for good measure !) I would compare this to a prototype 'proof of concept' unit that I would build out of those useful Mini-circuits modules. Trying to just transfer such prototyping techniques into a final design is really pretty poor.

I have read several test reports on these AARONIA units and some actually appear to indicate that it is accurate when measuring signals levels. The limitations of the design relate more to spurii and self detection than level measurement accuracy though. The design uses the same PCB for analogue and digital sections, without decent separation and screening, so it is to be expected that this unit has self detection and spurii issues. The lack of screening and conductive coating of the plastic case is laughable to an RF tech. I know not what the designer was thinking.  An insight to that may be the fact that the designer decided to use software techniques to reduce and artificially supress internal spurii. This suggests that he knew the RF design was beyond his ability and he wanted to 'fix' it in software. Hmmm that sounds like a botch to me. I cannot state that the unit is lacking in its RF performance as I have not carried out extensive tests yet...but I can say with a level of certainty that the unit is compromised by its immature and simplistic PCB design. I think SMA connector quality is the least of these units issues  ;) It has also been stated in some tests that the exposed SMA thread is too short to permit full engagement and lock-down of an SMA connector  :o It does look very short on my V2 unit ! AARONIA have obviously not seen the extended SMA sockets.

It is interesting to see that the AARONIA products have a hard core of supporters who will have nothing bad said of them. Some preach Secret techniques used to process out any false signals and spurii....to them I say ...... WHATEVER  ::) ..... life is too short to argue with such people. If they are happy, I am happy, and life goes on.

From my perspective, I bought a 10MHz to 6GHz spectrum monitor (with some design issues) for less than GBP200 including a decent Log Periodic antenna and table. I could not have built such a unit for that price and I definitely could not have written either the firmware or PC software. For this reason I am more than happy to own the HF4060 and use it with appropriate caution in my RF Lab, when needing a spectrum monitor to show me whether a known signal is present or not and at what level.  I would be VERY cautious if ever trying to use such a unit for 'search to source' or general spectrum searching deployments. So, in a way, I would treat it as though it were one of my home built RF test equipment's.

My thanks to TopLoser for selling this HF4060 at such a reasonable price and nothing that I have said should in any way be viewed as criticism of TopLoser or the quality of the equipment he sells. I knew EXACTLY what I was buying with the HF4060 and TopLoser is a person that I can heartily recommend as an honest and very friendly seller.

Its been quite an interesting insight into the AARONIA company and its products..... IMHO, the British term 'cottage industry' product, would not be inappropriate in this case. They used wood screws in it for heavens sake  :o

Aurora
« Last Edit: June 07, 2014, 10:08:22 am by Aurora »
 

Offline Gribo

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Re: Portable RF Spectrum Analyser for AV work
« Reply #24 on: June 08, 2014, 11:22:45 am »
I have one of those Spectran units  |O, it was quickly replaced with a proper Agilent Fieldfox. +1 for the Signalhound/MS Surface pro combo, their new software is quite impressive for the price (1K USD AFAIK).
I am available for freelance work.
 


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