Etherkit, Homebrewing, Microcontrollers, QRP, Wideband Transmission

Wideband Transmission #6

Happy New Year 2015!

2014 was a bit of a mixed bag here. It’s been a transition year for Etherkit, as I reorganize and reorient the business for a renewed push to get the CC1 and other new products to market. I believe that good things are beginning to happen there.

On a personal level, my two boys have been doing fantastic. Noah started preschool and is really enjoying it. Eli is at a bit of a difficult age (the Terrible Twos) and is between baby and little kid, but he’s got an amazing personality and is growing up so quickly. Jennifer and I celebrated five years of marriage and 11 years since our first date! Things haven’t been perfect in the extended parts of our families, but at least in our household we’ve all been pretty healthy and have been able to enjoy many blessings.

Si5351A Breakout Board Campaign

There have been a fair number of neat projects I’ve seen using the Si5351A Breakout Board that I posted on OSHPark, along with my Si5351 Arduino library, which is absolutely wonderful. However, I realize that it’s a pain to order PCBs and all of the parts separately, and that a kit or a finished board would be ideal.

I’ve decided to try something new in order to bring the Si5351A Breakout Board kit to market: we’re going to try crowdfunding the first batch of kits. I’m going to set a modest goal to trigger the funding, but all orders will be welcome over the goal amount. In fact, I intend to set a stretch goal at some higher funding level to devote a certain number of hours to improving the Si5351 Arduino library, including:

  • Add tuning from 8 kHz to 1 MHz
  • Add tuning from 150 MHz to 160 MHz
  • Fix the bug that does not allow output over 125 MHz
  • Implement access to the phase register
  • Implement sub-Hz tuning for modes like WSPR
  • Other bug fixes

I also intend on lowering the BOM cost by removing the broadband output transformers, and offering multiple variants of the kit, including the option to add SMA connectors and a TCXO. I’m composing the campaign on Indiegogo right now, and I’m shooting for a launch in about 10 days. I’m hoping to gain experience with this campaign with the goal of using it to fund CC1 kitting later in the year.

Why am I telling you this now? Because I would like to let those of you are are interested in purchasing one (or otherwise interested in supporing Etherkit) get advance notice so that you can order on the first day that the campaign goes live. This will help to give the campaign more momentum and perhaps help to spread the word further. I will be sure to make a blog post here when the campaign goes live and tweet about it as well, so keep an eye on those channels if this is something that intrigues you.

Simple WSPR Transceiver using Si5351A

I came across this simple WSPR transceiver from KC3XM driven by one of my Si5351A Breakout Boards via @wm6h and Dangerous Prototypes. The WSPR transmitter is simply a BS170 driven by one of the Si5351 outputs, which is buffered by a logic gate and keyed by a standard PNP keying switch. Control of the Si5351 and keying of the transmitter is performed by a plain vanilla Arduino Uno (the code has been posted to GitHub).

This looked so simple to build that I had to give it a try. I quickly built up the transmitter portion, tacked on a 10 meter LPF (the original version is for 30 meters), modified the code for my callsign and grid, and changed the Si5351 output frequency to the 10 meter band. The transmitter put out nearly exactly 1 watt of RF (with only about 1.2 watts of DC input total) into 50 ohms and ran quite cool. Hooked up to my Moxon, it had no problem generating spots when pointed east and started on an even minute so as to properly synchronize. Fun stuff!

Generating PSK with an Arduino

If you haven’t been following the blog of KO7M, you should be. Jeff has been doing a lot of experimentation with with NB6M and other home experimenters in Washington state, especially with stuff like the Minima and using microcontrollers in ham radio projects.

Lately, Jeff has been working on getting an Arduino to output PSK audio. He has a series of recent posts about it, but these two are probably the most important. The character timing is not quite right yet, but the basics of how to generate PSK via PWM audio signals are here. Good stuff!

Si5351 and Raspberry Pi

Another really great homebrewer blog is M0XPD’s Shack Nasties (oh you Brits and your silly names) blog. Paul has been doing a lot of work with the Si5351 as well, and his latest post about the Si5351 is details of how he interfaced it with the Raspberry Pi. Excellent information to have, as the RPi is of course much more powerful than your garden variety Arduino.

Etherkit, Homebrewing, Microcontrollers

Si5351A Breakout Board Update

I’ve had a good response to the Si5351A Breakout Board when it was posted on Hackaday last month. There have even been a few folks who went through the trouble of ordering PCBs from OSHPark so that they could build their own copies of the board for experimentation. One of them, Tom AK2B, even constructed a complete receiver using the Si5351A Breakout Board and the RF Toolkit modules from Check out the link to the nice-sounding audio in the embedded tweet below.

When the link to the Breakout Board was posted on Hackaday, I wasn’t even sure that anyone would be interested, so the design was not as robust as it should have been for public use. But thanks to some suggestions from Tomas OK4BX and some of my own ideas, I’ve created a Rev B Breakout Board that has a number of improvements.

Si5351A Breakout Board Rev B
Si5351A Breakout Board Rev B

I increased the size of the board by 10 mm on the short side in order to accommodate some new circuitry. I could have kept the board the same size and put the new components on the back side of the board, but I thought it would be better to keep everything on the front. Thanks to Tomas’ suggestion, I added simple MOSFET I2C level conversion so that the Si5351A can be properly interfaced with a 5 V microcontroller. I also added a 3.3 V LDO regulator and jumper blocks so that the I2C interface voltage and the 3.3 V source can be selected. The traces from the Si5351A to the output transformers were also screened with vias, which improved crosstalk between outputs by about -6 dB. I also increased the pad size for the SMT crystal in order to make it easier to hand solder. In addition, I added a provision for the crystal footprint to double as a footprint for a TCXO. So far, the crystal works fine, but I haven’t ordered the TCXO yet in order to verify that it works as well, but I don’t think there will be any problems as long as the crystal is working.

As I anticipated from a previous post, Adafruit has released their own version of a Si5351A breakout board. It looks like they use the same I2C level conversion scheme as my board, but that is where the similarity ends. The Adafruit board seems to be geared to using it strictly as a clock generator, where the Etherkit board is designed to be used in RF applications by providing output isolation via broadband transformers and screening of the output traces. The Etherkit board also has more flexible options for using the board in 5 V or 3.3 V environments.

You can order the new board from OSHPark here, and find the documentation for it on GitHub.

I need to do a bit more testing to ensure that everything is working as it needs to, but so far the preliminary tests look great. Assuming that everything with the new board checks out, there’s a decent possibility that I will kitting at least one batch of these boards for sale. Stay Tuned.

Coding, Etherkit, Microcontrollers

Si5351A Breakout Board Documentation

I appreciate all of the interest in the Si5351A Breakout Board that I have available on OSHPark. I apologize for not having this available sooner, but here is a GitHub repository which hosts the KiCad design files and a PDF of the Breakout Board schematic, which lists the part numbers for the reference oscillator and the output transformers so that you can order your own. Also the few passives on the board are size 0805.

This, along with either the avr-gcc library or the Arduino library, should get you going in generating all kinds of clocks and local oscillators. While this board seems to work fine in interfacing with the 5V Arduinos that I have, I worry that comms might be iffy, so I’m going to add simple MOSFET-based level conversion to the next iteration of this board. Keep an eye on the blog for further developments in this area.

CC-Series, Coding, Etherkit, Homebrewing, Microcontrollers

Si5351A Investigations Part 6

The theme of this blog post is not lots of tedious work, but refinement leading to good results.

First off, let’s talk about the funny I2C address on the parts which I received from Mouser. Since Digi-Key has no order minimums and very inexpensive shipping available (in the form of USPS First Class mail), I ordered another batch of Si5351As from them so I could see if they would respond to the correct address of 0x60. Sure enough, once I received them and used the Bus Pirate I2C address scan macro, they came up on address 0x60. So it seems obvious that Mouser has some oddball parts; perhaps they were custom parts that inadvertently escaped Silicon Labs. I’m still waiting to hear back from Mouser about the issue, but in the meantime, I would recommend you order from a different distributor until they fix this problem.

I also decided last Friday to try to get my KiCad skills back in order and crank out a cheap and cheerful breakout board for the Si5351A. It didn’t take me too long to get back in the groove and design a small, simple PCB that would make it easier to prototype with the Si5351A. The board is 30 mm x 50 mm, with three end launch SMA connectors on the right edge and the power/I2C pins on the other side. I’ve also added wideband transformers (Mini-Circuits TC1-6X+) to the outputs to isolate them from the breakout board. Below you can see the OSHPark rendering of the board.

Si5351A Breakout Board

They will hopefully be here in about a week or so (one of the benefits of living in the same city as OSHPark). Assuming that they work as expected, there’s a chance that I may end up selling these as kits, so stay tuned if that interests you.

Now on to the best news. The last big question in my Si5351 investigations is whether it would be suitable for VFO usage in a standard amateur radio receiver, where it would have to be tuned rapidly. Having seen in a Silicon Labs application note that the Si5351 can be tuned glitch-free by locking the PLL to a fixed frequency and only changing the synth parameters of the attached multisynth, I set out to implement that in the Si5351 avr-gcc library.

Next, I ripped the AD9834 DDS and crystal BFO oscillator out of my last CC1 prototype and substituted the Si5351 for the VFO and BFO. Long story short, after a bit of tweaking, the part performed beautifully! I can crank the tuning encoder knob as fast as I possibly can, and I get no hint of any glitching or other tuning artifacts. The Si5351 has enough oomph to drive the BF998 dual-gate MOSFETs as well. Into a high-impedance, the drive level was over 4 Vpp, which is a decent drive level for that mixer. The only slight hardware change I had to make was to change the I2C pull-up resistors to 10kΩ and reduce the I2C clock speed down to about 100 kHz in order to reduce noise from the I2C line getting into the receiver. This change seemed to have no adverse affect on the tuning speed of the Si5351.

At this point, I believe I have investigated most of the main points that I wanted to look at when this first began. Wonderfully, the Si5351 appears to be a very suitable IC for use in all kinds of amateur radio applications. The multiple independent outputs is a superb feature, and has the potential to greatly reduce parts count and price in ham radio transceivers. I’m already thinking of many applications where this inexpensive, stable, and versatile IC can be used.

Even though the main objectives have been met, I’m still not done with this IC. I would like to look into further details, such as phase noise. I also have a lot of plans, such as building a new radio from scratch using the Si5351, possibly selling the breakout board mentioned above as a kit, and maybe even creating a more complete development board (which could be used as a wide-range VFO) by incorporating a microcontroller, LCD display, and encoder knob. Keep watching the blog for further updates.

Coding, Design, Microcontrollers

Si5351A Investigations Part 5

The Si5351 library for avr-gcc that I’ve been promising for the last four posts is finally in a state where I feel comfortable releasing it, so I’ve posted it on GitHub. I think that the documentation posted on the README file and inside the code should be enough to get you going, but if you run into problems, please comment here or file an issue on the GitHub repository.

At this point it is very basic, but it will generate frequencies from 1 to 150 MHz on any of the three outputs of the Si5351A, and you can do stuff like turn the clocks on and off and change the drive strengths of the output drivers. More features will be added as time goes on, with the priority on things which will be needed to make a functioning amateur radio transceiver.

I’d like to point out something interesting that I’ve discovered about the parts that I’ve been working with. I ordered my Si5351A parts from Mouser (P/N 634-SI5351A-B02075GT). I never had any luck communicating with them on the datasheet-specified I2C address of 0x60; instead they need to be addressed at 0x6F. Thanks to the Bus Pirate and its built-in I2C address space scan macro, that didn’t take me too long to figure out. I just chalked it up to yet another datasheet error (the Si5351 is riddled with problems), but it turns out that I may actually have some defective or custom parts which shouldn’t have made it out to Mouser.

Over the last few days, I have been corresponding via email with Ian K3IMW, who has been having a horrible time getting his Si5351 to work. After he described his symptoms to me, I suggested that he try address 0x6F, and sure enough, that worked. What confounded him was that another ham he was in correspondence with was able to talk to the Si5351 using address 0x60. It turns out that those parts that work on 0x60 were from Digi-Key and both Ian and I obtained our parts from Mouser. So, the theory is that perhaps some custom parts accidentally made it out the door to Mouser. I will try to contact Mouser in the next day or two and see if perhaps they can get it straightened out with Silicon Labs.

The moral of the story to to pay attention to where you got your parts from if you are having problems with the Si5351. Once I can get my hands on some of the same P/N from a different vendor and can confirm that it does indeed work on address 0x60, I will make the change in the library. In the meantime, you may need to change that value yourself in the si5351.h file in order to get it working.

Design, Homebrewing, Microcontrollers

Si5351A Investigations Part 3

Since the previous Si5351 Investigations post, I’ve made quite a bit of progress integrating the Si5351 into a grabber receiver. First, let’s look at the grabber receiver architecture and how the Si5351 is used in it.


Above you can see the basic block diagram of the receiver. The front end has two switchable plug-in bandpass filter modules (which is switched by a pair of TI TS5A3157 analog switch ICs controlled by the AVR microcontroller). An ADE-1 diode-ring mixer is fed directly from one of the Si5351 ports set for the lowest output level (which is about +8 dBm). The pair of IF amplifiers are TriQuint AG203-63G MMICs, and the actual IF filter is a 6-crystal ladder filter with a bandwidth of 3 kHz (filter plots provided below). Another ADE-1 is used as the product detector, with the BFO signal provided by another output port on the Si5351. Finally, the recovered audio is amplified to line level by a NE5532 op amp and delivered to a 3.5 mm stereo socket by way of a transformer in order to provide good ground isolation between the receiver and sound card.

grx1 grx2

As an interesting side note, you can see my modular bandpass filter boards below. They are your standard double-tuned circuits placed on a 20 mm x 50 mm piece of copper clad, with 0.1 in SIP headers soldered to pads cut out of the material with a rotary tool. There are some extra pins which are reserved for a future module identification system.


Happily, the receiver mostly worked as expected right out of the gate. A few minor tweaks need to be made, such as in the gain of the AF amplifier, but I’m pretty happy with the results so far. Although it’s my intention to pair this receiver with a Raspberry Pi running LOPORA in my garage, right now the receiver is sitting on my bench capturing WSPR RF on various bands, and looks to be doing a fine business job doing that. Frequency stability looks at least as good as my IC-718 on WSPR, based on an eyeball assessment of WSPR spots.


The Si5351 seems to do a bang-up job acting as both the VFO and BFO. What’s nice is that I can easily switch sidebands merely by changing the output frequency of the CLK1 BFO output with one line of code. I haven’t seen any indications of spurious products affecting the receiver yet.

My Si5351A library for avr-gcc is still pretty rough, so I’m not quite ready to publish it yet. Next up on my todo list is to get it in a state where I’m ready to put it up on GitHub, then implement the USB control protocol and client program so that the grabber receiver can be tuned via command line (especially handy when using SSH).

At this point, I’m fairly confident that the Si5351 will make a very fine oscillator system for a grabber receiver. My next line of investigation is to look at the temperature stability of the Si5351 via a thermal chamber lashup. I’ve got a nice Styrofoam cooler, an Arduino knockoff, a 120 V relay shield, a temperature sensor, and a frequency counter I can read via serial port, so I just need a heat source (probably in the form of an incandescent bulb) and I should be good to go. Keep watching for more experiments!

Design, Homebrewing, Microcontrollers

Si5351A Investigations Part 2

It has been another productive weekend with the Si5351 here in the shack. Since the last report, I’ve made significant progress in confirming that the Si5351 may be a good candidate for use as a LO in a radio.

After getting the most basic communications with the Si5351 going via the Bus Pirate, my next task was to find out if I could determine a calibration routine that eventually would be easy enough for anyone to do with even simple equipment like a digimode PC program and WWV. Recall from my previous post that there was quite a bit of error in the output frequency when uncorrected (over 1 kHz error at 20 MHz output frequency). According to its datasheet, the Si5351 has 0 PPM of inherent frequency error, which means that all frequency errors should result only from the attached 25/27 MHz reference crystal. Theoretically, if that can be measured, one calibration value should be good across the entire tuning range.

I added in a line of code to change the nominal 25 MHz reference frequency (called “parent_rate” in the above code snippet) based on an amount of error entered as a command line argument in parts-per-ten million. This reference frequency is the basis of the calculations of the two synthesizer values calculated in the program, so tweaking it to its actual oscillation frequency should give the proper output frequency wherever that output frequency is set.


After adding this simple calibration code, I first used my tuning program to output a set of registers for 10.000000 MHz oscillation with 0 correction. These tuning registers were loaded into the Si5351 and the output was measured on my Tektronix DC 503A frequency counter at 1 Hz resolution. A difference of -887 Hz was measured between the nominal 10.000000 MHz frequency requested and the actual output frequency. Next, as you can see in the screenshot above, I entered a correction factor of -887 parts-per-ten million into the tuning program and generated a new set of tuning registers. (For those who are curious, the program prints out a variety of variables for troubleshooting, then at the end spits out the hexadecimal code for the Bus Pirate to send the registers to the Si5351. I just copy and paste that string into my serial terminal).

Happily, the Si5351 output a frequency within 1 Hz of the nominal 10.00000 MHz requested frequency. Experiments with other tuning frequencies showed similar amounts of error. Up at 50 MHz, the frequency counter only showed ~3 Hz of error. This bodes very well for the use of the 5351 in amateur radio projects.

SI5351 Test Board
SI5351 Test Board

So, with calibration seemingly under control, it was time to move everything over to a microcontroller. The above photo shows the current hardware setup. I’ve added my old favorite, an Atmel ATmega328P microcontroller, with a 16 MHz crystal. I have also added a USB B jack, as I intend to make this Si5351 controlled and powered exclusively via USB. Since the Si5351 operates off of 3.3 V power, I provide power to it and the ‘328P via a LE33CZ LDO regulator fed from the USB 5 V supply. I have also added some simple resistive voltage dividers to the AVR ISP lines to convert 5 V programming signals down to 3.3 V.

Fortunately, I now seem to have enough AVR code sitting around that a lot of these new endeavors can be launched very quickly via the application of a bit of copy-and-paste. I borrowed a bit of I2C code from some CC1 development work and pasted in the rough tuning code that I originally wrote for the Linux command line. A bit of jiggery-pokery and I was able to get the ‘328P sending I2C commands to the Si5351 to set various parameters and tune to a non-default frequency in order to ensure that the I2C comms were working.

Which is where I currently sit with the project. Next up on the agenda is to write a basic Si5351 library for the ATmega88/168/328 series and then paste in the V-USB code in order to get USB control up and running. After that, it will be onward with the grabber receiver portion of this experiment. Stay tuned for updates (and yes, code will be forthcoming on GitHub once it’s in a decent state).

Cool Stuff, Microcontrollers

A Hellschreiber Clock!

Hellschreiber Clock Display
Hellschreiber Clock Display

I don’t know if the guy who created this is a ham (he does say he’s an engineer), but it’s a neat application of some old-school technology. He uses a PIC 12F510 to output a Hellschreiber modulated square wave right to his PC’s sound card line in port. I really get a kick out of seeing one of these “obscure” ham technologies escaping out into the Maker universe. The hardware is dead simple, as you can see in the instructions. If you wanted to try to create a Hellschreiber beacon, I don’t see why you couldn’t just take this same design and plug it into your rig’s sound card interface instead of a PC. I’m already thinking about how cool this would be to try…there’s a good chance I will give it a shot (with an AVR) after I finish up my latest DC transceiver. Watch out for more aliens infecting the bands.

Cool Stuff, Microcontrollers

BCD Switch Goodness

DDS-60 Controlled by BCD Swtiches
DDS-60 Controlled by BCD Swtiches

A blog that I follow on a regular basis is from Aussie ham Peter Marks, VK2TPM. He posts from the perspective of an experienced ham who is really starting to get bitten by the homebrewing bug, so it’s a real pleasure to see him discover some of the things which make that aspect of the hobby fun. In his latest post, he introduces us to his DDS-60 controlled by a bank of BCD switches. The whole shebang is tied together with an ATmega32 using C code compiled by the avr-gcc toolchain (my favorite).

I love this for a couple of reasons. First off, it reminds me of the first major homebrewing project that I attempted, the W8DIZ MultiPig. One of my favorite aspects of it was the PLL controlled by BCD switches exactly like this. As a side note, I never did successfully complete the MultiPig. Not for lack of effort (or ability, I think), but because I went and made some stupid life choices. However, I’m happy to say that I was able to cannibalize the remnants of my MultiPig for many successful homebrew projects later on. The second reason is just the cool factor. I guess it’s the retro, 70s look and feel of the swtiches, but there’s something alluring about the whole tactile experience of using BCD switches. FB job Peter!

Coding, Microcontrollers

Programming AVR Microcontrollers in Eclipse

Lately, I have been using my Ubuntu Hardy Heron box for coding and programming my AVR projects using the simple combination of gedit, the avr-gcc toolchain and the USBtinyISP. It’s a little bit of a pain to get set up correctly, but it works very well once it’s up and running. I’ve been pretty happy with editing code in gedit then compiling and programming the AVR via command line. It’s pretty easy to quickly make changes to the code and save the C file in gedit, then use the command history of the terminal to re-run make and avrdude.

However, I recently ran across this posting when browsing the AVR Freaks forum. The author kindly gives instructions on how to set up the Eclipse IDE for use in AVR development on the Ubuntu platform. This looked really promising, since I’ve always been a sucker for nice IDEs (yes, I know that probably lowers my geek cred a few notches). So I gave it a go and found that the instructions worked nearly flawlessly. The only hiccup I encountered was at the very end of the build process when Eclipse was waiting for the sudo password for avrdude (oddly enough, you have to run avrdude as root to access the USB programmer, unless you implement a little workaround that I’ll show you in a second). I didn’t see any way to enter the root password into a terminal, so I had to cancel the whole process.

A bit of thought and much more searching brought me to the answer to the problem. There is a way to get non-root access to the USBtinyISP. You have to create a udev rule to tell the kernel to change permissions on the USBtinyISP. The documentation on the ladyada website tells you to do this, but it only gives you half of the story. First of all, it doesn’t mention exactly where to place the new rule that you are creating. Her documentation stated that I needed to put the rule in a file in /etc/udev/rules.d/. The problem is that this doesn’t state whether I need to place the rule in an existing file or create a new one. After a bit of trial-and-error and yet some more Google searching, I found out that I needed to create a new file for the USBtinyISP. So a new file named 50-usbtinyisp.rules was created. The other problem is that the actual rule given on the ladyada site seems to have a typo in the MODE parameter. Comparing this rule to some other rule examples, it appears that the correct rule is:

SUBSYSTEM==”usb”, SYSFS{idVendor}==”1781″, SYSFS{idProduct}==”0c9f”, GROUP=”users”, MODE=”0666″

Once you get the udev rule set up correctly, you no longer need root to access the USBtinyISP, and the entire build process in Eclipse works flawlessly.

So far, using Eclipse as an AVR development platform has been a real pleasure. There’s a lot of nice little touches, like having quick access to all of the special function registers of each device and easy configuration of the build parameters via GUI. If you are like me and like the convenience that an IDE gives you, then the AVR/Eclipse environment is an excellent choice, and may even be better than WinAVR.