Solid State Fremodyne.

The Fremodyne has been described in detail elsewhere on this site, starting here. Briefly, it was developed in 1947, by the Hazeltine Corporation as a simple and inexpensive FM receiver, using only one twin triode.
It is a super-regenerative superhet, with one triode functioning as a local oscillator, and the other functioning as a mixer and super-regenerative detector operating at 21.75MHz.. The advantage over a straight super-regenerative receiver was that, with the detector operating at a fixed frequency (21.75MHz), it was possible to optimise the operation at this frequency, and eliminate the need for regeneration adjustment. Additionally, there would be minimal radiation at the received frequency (88-108MHz). The Fremodyne was commercially produced in the U.S. and used for inexpensive FM converters and AM/FM mantel radios. It peaked in popularity during 1948, but went out of production within a few years.

In Australia, the electronics magazine, "Radio Television & Hobbies", used the Fremodyne concept for a multiband VHF receiver covering 30 to 250MHz. Essentially, the original Hazeltine circuit was provided with a selection of plug in coils, to extend the frequency range. In September 1962, the "Fremodyne Four" was first presented, and then in March 1967 the project was presented again. By this time Radio Television & Hobbies had changed its name to "Electronics Australia". It was a popular project in Australia and NZ, and by the late 1960's reader requests started to come in for a solid state version. In May 1970 the project described here was presented.

From Electronics Australia, May 1970.

Unlike U.S. magazines, Electronics Australia always had a very conservative attitude to straight super-regenerative receivers, and rarely published any designs. They considered the radiation problematic and discouraged their use.
Hence, the Fremodyne concept was seen as a way out of this problem, since radiation would be confined to the so called 'garbage band' on 27MHz.
And so, when it came time to present a simple solid state VHF receiver, it too was a super-regenerative superhet.

What Can be Received?
When Radio & Hobbies/Electronics Australia presented their versions of the Fremodyne circuits, there was an interesting selection of VHF signals to make construction worthwhile. The sound carriers of all the TV channels could be received, two way radio communication around 75MHz and 150MHz, and amateur bands at 52 and 144MHz. Additionally, was aircraft communication roughly around 120MHz. There were no FM broadcast stations, since these had been shut down in 1961, not restarting again until late 1974.
A super-regenerative receiver is an AM receiver, but by off-tuning it, also receives wide band FM using slope detection. TV sound (and FM broadcasting) is wideband FM. At the time, some VHF two way radio was still AM, but was gradually switched over to narrow band FM. Receiving narrow band FM with a super-regenerative receiver is possible, but the audio output is very weak. Amateur radio still had an AM component, but was also changing over to NBFM and SSB.
In the present day, TV sound is no longer receivable, since the signals are a digital data stream. The remaining commercial VHF two way radio is considerably less than it once was, and what remains is NBFM or digital. Amateur band operation is declining, and what remains is very unlikely to be AM. That leaves FM broadcasting and AM air communication as about the only thing left to receive on these multi-band Fremodynes.

Not a true Fremodyne.
It should be emphasised that the name "Fremodyne" was created by Hazeltine for their twin triode FM receiver. This solid state version differs in that there are three active elements instead of two. Instead of a combined mixer and super-regenerative detector, these are separate circuits. However, in Australasia, where the name "Fremodyne" was only known from the prior magazine project, the name stuck and became the generic name for any super-regenerative superhet.

The Design.

The circuit is centred around the 27MHz super-regenerative detector. The detected audio is amplified by a BC108, and then by a TAA300 audio amplifier IC. To obtain the 27MHz IF, a local oscillator based around a BF115 operates from 57 to 163MHz. The local oscillator is fed into the FET mixer along with the 30 to 190MHz input signal. The local oscillator operates on the low or high side, depending on the received frequency.
Construction was on a conventional chassis with the components mounted on tag boards. An ex work colleague who once worked for Electronics Australia told me how Ian Pogson (who designed this set) was famed for building circuits on tagboards, well into the PCB era. I can totally relate to this - tagstrips, tagboards, and valve sockets are just so much easier to construct circuits with.

At left is the transformer and audio amplifier; in the middle is the local oscillator, and at right is the mixer and super-regenerative detector.

Super-Regenerative Detector.
This part of the circuit is quite conventional and commonly used in transistor super-regenerative detectors. The BF115 oscillates because of the feedback between collector and emitter, caused by the 3.3pF capacitor. Since the collector and emitter are in phase, feedback is positive and the stage oscillates. The oscillation frequency is determined by L4 and the associated 47pF. In this circuit, the oscillation frequency is 27MHz. The 150uH choke decouples the emitter so that RF voltage can be developed, allowing oscillation. For the oscillator to super-regenerate, it must be taken in and out of oscillation at a supersonic rate. This is the purpose of the .0047uF and 3.3k in the emitter circuit. Since the transistor base voltage is fixed, it follows that if the emitter voltage rises, the transistor will cut off and stop oscillating. Initially, the .0047uF appears as a short circuit and the emitter voltage is low, allowing the transistor to oscillate. While it oscillates, emitter current flows through the 3.3k, causing the .0047uF to charge. Once the .0047uF has come up to sufficient charge, the voltage across it is sufficient to stop oscillation. Emitter current drops, the .0047uF discharges through the 3.3k and the cycle repeats. The 3.3k and .0047uF thus form the time constant for the quench oscillator, which in this circuit is around 26kHz.
The transistor operates in grounded base mode, with the base voltage fixed by the 10k preset for optimum operating conditions.

These waveforms show the interrupted 27MHz oscillation, and the quench waveform. The random triggering is due to noise.

The high amplitude quench frequency component needs to be filtered out, otherwise the following audio stages and speaker will be overloaded. A simple low pass filter comprising of the 15k, two 0.1uF's and a 1k take care of this. Additionally, there is a 0.01uF across the output of the BC108 preamplifier.

Mixer and detector board.

While the operation of super-regenerative detectors has been described in other articles on this site, a brief explanation is as follows: The super-regenerative detector is simply an oscillator, operating at the frequency to be received. This oscillator is interrupted at a frequency which is above the audio band - known as the quench frequency. The quench frequency is typically 25-35kHz. During the period when the oscillator is quenched, it is triggered into oscillation sooner than it would be by the quench oscillator. The effect of this is that the oscillator frequency changes with the audio modulation. Since the current drawn by the oscillator is dependent on the frequency, it follows that the average oscillator current will vary with the audio.
In this circuit, the 3.3k emitter resistor also functions as the audio load.

Superhet Converter.
To convert the incoming 30 to 190MHz signal to 27MHz, a conventional mixer oscillator circuit is used. The oscillator is another BF115, which also operates as a grounded base circuit, with collector to emitter feedback, via a 6.8pF capacitor. Instead of an RF choke, a 470R resistor decouples the emitter from earth.

Local oscillator board.

The EA article mentions a limitation of the solid state circuit here - unlike the previous valve Fremodyne Four circuits which received up to 250MHz, the Solid State Fremodyne only covers up to 190MHz.
For the 30 to 70MHz band, the local oscillator runs above the received frequency; i.e. 57 to 97MHz. For the 70 to 130MHz band, the oscillator again runs above the received frequency, at 97 to 157MHz. Because of the difficulties with stray capacitance limiting the upper oscillation frequency, for the 130 to 190MHz band, the local oscillator now operates on the low side, at 103 to 163MHz. For the three bands, only two oscillator coils are used.

The incoming VHF signal from the aerial tuned circuit appears at the gate of the FET, along with the local oscillator signal, via a 1pF coupling capacitor. Because the FET is biassed into class B, it operates as a detector and mixes the local oscillator and RF signals. Since the drain load (L3) is tuned to 27MHz, the difference frequency appears here, and is coupled into the 27MHz detector by L4.
Since the aerial circuit has to be tuned to the received frequency, there is one coil for each band.
If it sounds confusing to cover three bands with three aerial coils, but only two oscillator coils, then you're not alone. The best way to deal with it is just remember to use the big oscillator coil for the low band, and the small coil for the higher two bands, without trying to do the mental arithmetic associated with high and low side operation.

Audio Amplifier.
This is based around a Philips TAA300, one of the first IC's for audio power amplification. It would appear this IC was designed for battery operated equipment, given the 9V supply.

This IC can develop 1W into 8R with only 8.5mV input. It is, of course, a class B design, with the usual transformerless push-pull output. Note the 100R resistor which appears in the EA circuit across the speaker. This is simply to allow high impedance phones to be used with the IC. It isn't actually needed if only the speaker is used. The 200uF on the amplifier PCB is redundant since it is connected in parallel with the main 2000uF filter, but was included since the PCB was one used for other designs.

Power Supply.
A 6.3V transformer is used which provides 9V DC when rectified and filtered. This 9V supplies the TAA300. A simple 6.2V zener diode regulator provides a stabilised supply for the rest of the receiver.

Overview of the Solid State Fremodyne.
Since the start of my interest in super-regenerative receivers in the late 1980's, this project has been on the "to do" list, without anything coming of it. However, a follower of this site from NZ had seen one for sale on Trademe, and bought it.
Knowing of my interest in Fremodynes, he very kindly sent it across to me, to see if I'd like to examine and test it. Well, that was definitely an offer I couldn't say no to! It would be a very interesting opportunity to find out just how well this solid state receiver worked. It is this receiver pictured at the start of this article.

First Impressions.
For something which was obviously home made, the constructor had done a pretty good job of it; better than most home made apparatus I have seen. The chassis had been bent up from light gauge aluminium. It would appear that a block of wood had been used to do this, rather than a commercially made brake, since the edges are somewhat rounded. It also appears the aluminium has been cut with a hacksaw rather than a guillotine.
The dial mechanism is quite intricate, and only looking very closely can one tell it's also homemade. A scale has been drawn on the cardboard backing with a stencil. This is mounted on the rear of the front panel, and protected by a piece of perspex on the front. The dial drum appears to have been made on a lathe. All in all, considering the tools available, the constructor had put a lot of effort into it, doing the best job possible..
One thing that really stuck out is the 1W resistors everywhere. Two of the resistors actually look like 5W types. In this circuit, all resistors can be 1/4W, or as specified, 1/2W. This overkill with resistor ratings may have a reason behind it. It is not entirely clear when this receiver was constructed, but from the style of components, it looks like it was around the time of publication, or only a few years after. There were component shortages around 1972-1974, and it's quite possible the constructor used 1W resistors simply because that was all which was available. The situation may have been worse in NZ, with less component suppliers than in Australia.
The power supply had recently been worked on, and the transformer replaced by the reader who forwarded it to me.
The dial lamp had been recently changed to an LED, it seems by the original owner. The LED had been soldered to directly to the incandescent light socket, which had been largely cut away. A 220R resistor was mounted on a pair of vacant lugs on the local oscillator board to drive the LED from the 9V supply.
Unlike the original design, the aerial terminals connected directly to the coaxial cable feeding the aerial coil, without a balun.
One notable departure from the original was the inclusion of a 2" speaker on the front panel.
Only one set of coils was included; these being for the 30-70MHz band.

Getting it Going.
Initially, plugging it in gave forth a weak super-regenerative hiss. I have used the same super-regenerative circuit in other applications before, such as this, and knew that it produced more output than evident here.
It didn't take long with a capacitance ESR meter to discover the 330uF in series with the speaker was open circuit. Replacing it brought up the volume to what it should be, but with instability at low levels of the volume control.
Seeing that our constructor had built the audio amplifier on a tagboard (a very well constructed home made one), I suspected this was the source of the problem.

Audio amplifier and power supply. Note the circular tagboard for the IC.

Being a high gain IC with silicon transistors, it's easily capable of oscillating with the right feedback path. As such, assembly on a PCB with proper layout is important. Not just to provide a ground plane, but also to reduce lead inductance and stray coupling. Here, we had the IC mounted remotely from the other components and earth connections. The connecting wires were long enough to have sufficient inductance to cause oscillation, to say nothing of the stray coupling.
One thing I noticed was that both earth connections of the IC were connected to a common earth wire, which then was about 50mm from the actual chassis earth.
Looking at the data for the TAA300, it did mention that a 560pF capacitor could be connected at the input to prevent instability. This seemed to work, and I used 820pF for good measure.

Mixer and super-regenerative board. Gimmick coupling capacitor is made from the red and white wire.

A quick test revealed that the super-regenerative detector was not far off at 26.5MHz, so L4 was readjusted slightly, and the 10k preset checked for best sensitivity. A further slight improvement in sensitivity was obtained by moving L3 and L4 closer together.
By this time it was possible to receive some FM stations using the supplied coils. In this case, the oscillator was running on the low side, and the signals were strong enough to get through the incorrectly tuned circuit at the mixer input.

The dial cord was slipping, so I re-strung it. There were about four turns of dial cord around the dial pulley which was too many. The problem is the cord winds onto itself and jams up. Normally, 2.5 turns is about right.
It took some dexterity to re-string it because of the attachment to the dial drum. Access to the front of the dial drum isn't easy. The dial pointer itself is attached in an unusual way. The actual shaft of the variable capacitor has had a hole drilled and tapped down the centre. The dial pointer screws into this and is locked with a nut. Like the rest of the nuts and bolts, it looks like a 1/8" Whitworth thread.
The pointer needed to be lined up and this was done by loosening the nut. Later on I discovered that the pointer was too far back and rubbing on the scale, so it really needed to be unscrewed a couple of turns before being locked in place again. With a lot of careful manipulation and adjustment, it was eventually a smoothly operating dial.

To actually use this set properly on the FM band, and to see just how good it performed, I made up the missing coils. Although there's now nothing worth listening to in the 130-170MHz band, I made up the aerial coil for this just for historical completion.
I had to swap over the coil plugs and sockets, since the Sato branded parts used were of a different configuration to anything I had. I have plenty of the Mc Murdo types as per the original EA design, so used these.
Previous experience has shown that using these bakelite plugs and sockets for mounting VHF coils is not the best idea, since they are quite lossy. Maybe for lower impedance transistor circuits they are acceptable, and seeing as I was creating a replica of the original, I stayed with them.

Set of three RF coils and two oscillator coils.

At this point, it's worth pointing out that having a spectrum analyser made it a very easy job to see that the oscillator coils were operating over their correct range. Some adjustment is available by expanding or compressing the spacing between the turns. With the oscillator coils done, the aerial (RF) coils were tested. This was done with a calibrated signal generator, and the RF tuning checked that it could be peaked up for maximum sensitivity across the bands. As I found, making the coils exactly to specifications resulted in no adjustment required. So, despite the circuit operating at VHF it would have been possible for someone to construct, and get it working without any test instruments. That is of course, provided the instructions were followed exactly. The coils that had already been constructed turned out to cover their correct frequency range.

Local Oscillator.
By now, the Fremodyne was working across its 30-190MHz range, but I was less than happy about certain aspects of it. The sensitivity wasn't the greatest for a start. For a superhet, one thing that affects this is the local oscillator injection voltage. Too high or two low, and the receiver won't have maximum sensitivity.
Looking at the spectrum analyser, and using the high band oscillator coil, the amplitude varied as it was tuned across the band. In some places it became very weak and almost dropped out. Again, experience tells that this is due to construction techniques; in particular earthing and ground planes not being as they should be.
In EA's constructional article, it mentions earthing the local oscillator coil bypass capacitor right at the supporting bolt under the coil socket. In this instance, instructions had not been followed. There was no mounting bolt under the socket. The nearest earth was just too far away, and it was connected by a thin piece of wire. The oscillator circuit was not properly bypassed because of the inductance of this earth connection.

While satisfactory for lower frequency work, this earthing was not acceptable on VHF.

I had to move the mounting bolt to under the socket, and with a solder lug, connect the coil bypass to earth right under the tagboard. This evened out the amplitude vs. frequency response considerably.
Further improvement was had by adding a thin brass strap from the chassis, in addition to the original earth connection, which brought up the overall oscillation voltage.

To confirm things were operating correctly, an HP8654B signal generator was substituted for the local oscillator.

Substituting the HP8654B for the set's own local oscillator.

This allowed me to check what the optimum oscillator voltage should be; it's around 1V.  Switching between the Fremodyne's local oscillator and the HP8654 did not achieve any increase in sensitivity, confirming that nothing more needed to be done with the local oscillator.

FM stations at left, with local oscillator 27MHz higher at the right.

The remaining thing was the 1pF coupling capacitor. Maybe this wasn't really 1pF since it was a home made gimmick capacitor. I measured it to find it was 0.9pF which was close enough.

0.9pF gimmick capacitor for coupling the local oscillator to the mixer.

Aerial Input & Mixer.
In the final attempt to increase the sensitivity, I wondered about the tuning of the aerial input circuit.  At certain settings of the aerial tuning capacitor, the mixer not only oscillated, but at other settings started to super-regenerate! Again, the earthing connection is further away than the article specified. Luckily, this erratic behaviour was only with no aerial connected. With the aerial loading down the tuned circuit, everything was stable.
At this point, the front end of the receiver was working as well as it could.

Power Supply and Audio Amplifier.
The power transformer had been replaced with a modern 2155 type prior to being sent over to me. Also, I noted the filter capacitors had been replaced.
The original transformer specified by EA had a single 6.3V winding feeding a bridge rectifier. With the new 2155 transformer, the rectifier had been modified to a full wave centre tap circuit, using the 0, 7.5, and 15V tappings.
This is quite in order, and the higher rectified voltage would be of benefit to the regulation of the 6V zener stabilised supply.
However, the filter circuit had been converted to a pi circuit with two 1000uF's and a 47R filter resistor. In itself, this would give improved filtering, but a problem that was evident, since that because the audio output stage is class B, and the current drawn increases with volume, the supply voltage dropped at high volume; down to about 7V. At very high volume the amplifier would start motor boating.
To improve this, I changed the 47R to 4.7R to increase the regulation. Since the TAA300 is limited to a supply of 10V, this was right on the edge, with the 7.5V transformer. With high mains voltage, the 10V would be exceeded. I'm not sure exactly what's supposed to happen with a higher input voltage; I can't imagine all the PN junctions suddenly fusing. But, seeing as this is a vintage IC, it's best to do the right thing, and so I connected a 10V zener diode across its supply, which will conduct if the mains input is on the high side.

Now, having got the full supply to the audio amplifier, once again there was instability at low volume. This was not evident when the amplifier was powered with an external bench supply at 10V, yet was clearly a problem with the on board supply. It was a kind of distorted oscillation, with a 50Hz hum present. Checking the power supply did reveal there was some hum, and it was strange to see the period was 20ms. This would indicate half wave operation, since for full wave, the ripple is 100Hz, and the period is 10ms.
I checked the rectifier diodes, and that the transformer tappings were continuous, but it wasn't that. It turned out that in reality, the 7.5V tap wasn't exactly in between 0 and 15V, electrically speaking. In effect, one rectifier diode was receiving slightly higher input voltage than the other. So, for low currents, it's operating in half wave, since the other diode doesn't turn on, but once a high current is drawn, and the transformer voltage falls, the other diode starts conducting, and rectification becomes full wave. It's a trap with full wave centre-tap rectifier circuits, and something to be wary of if the transformer is not specifically designed for this kind of operation.
Anyway, it wasn't worth doing anything about since the filtering is ample, and the current drawn is very low.

Back to the instability, brute force filtering by connecting a 60,000uF capacitor across the 10V supply made it perfectly stable. But, it shouldn't need such a ridiculous amount of capacitance; 1000uF being quite sufficient.
Again, the layout of the TAA300 circuit was in question, and given the 50Hz modulation at low volume made me think of earth currents. This is because with the pot at minimum resistance, the input of the IC is earthed.
Experimenting with the earth connections fixed it. The .047uF output bypass connected to pin 2 was ineffective where it was, being some distance from the IC. Once connected right at the IC, we had complete stability.

There's a lot of unused space under the chassis.

Testing the Solid State Fremodyne - How Does it Perform?
One aspect of this receiver that makes it difficult to use is the separate oscillator and RF tuning capacitors. As I suspected it would be, this is quite a hindrance if anything but very strong signals are to be received.
Two problems exist. Firstly, is that once the local oscillator is tuned, any adjustment of the RF capacitor to peak up the sensitivity affects the local oscillator. This is because the two tuning capacitors are connected to each other by the 1pF capacitor. Once a signal is tuned in, any attempt to peak up the aerial circuit takes it off tune. For weak signals, tuning in becomes a process of two handed operation, carefully tuning the local oscillator, trying not to lose the station, while rocking the RF tuning back and forth to find the peak.
The other problem is where to set the RF tuning capacitor to start with. There is no calibrated dial to even give an approximate position, and the tuning capacitor is of the type that can be turned continuously with no end stop. It's too easy to tune past a signal, which isn't strong enough to get through the mis-tuned RF circuit, to find it so that it can be peaked up!
To give a practical example is 2NUR on 103.7MHz. It's a very weak station in my area, being 135km distant with the radiation pattern aimed in the opposite direction. A receiver needs single digit sensitivity (uV) to receive it well. Only because I know of this station's existence could I receive it on the Fremodyne. Either side of 2NUR is 2DAY on 104.1MHz, and 2CBA on 103.2MHz. These are both strong Sydney stations, and can easily be received with the RF tuning in any position. In the case of 2NUR, all I could do is tune in between 2DAY and 2CBA, adjusting the RF tuning until something was audible. Carefully tweaking both controls together would allow 2NUR to be heard. Unless the RF tuning is exact, 2NUR is simply not heard, even though the local oscillator is tuned past it.
I can understand that the set was designed this way for simplicity, but a dual gang tuning capacitor would eliminate both these problems. As it is, weak signals are likely to go unnoticed. This problem also applies to EA's "Fremodyne Four" receiver, with the same tuning arrangements.

The sensitivity is low over most of the receiving range. The designer admits that the mixer is more lossy than it could be, and it was for simplicity that it was designed this way. The sensitivity of the actual 27MHz super-regenerative circuit is good in itself, but it's the superhet conversion that is this receiver's downfall. It's unfortunate that Electronics Australia felt that lack of radiation was more important than sensitivity.
No actual sensitivity figures are given in the article, but given that TV stations gave out a fairly strong signal, and that the EA laboratory was on the south side of Sydney's CBD, with many signals from two way radios, and not far from the airport, they could be forgiven for thinking the receiver was more sensitive than it is.
Band Average Sensitivity Very noisy Mostly noise free Osc. Coil
30-70 MHz 100uV @ 35 MHz 30uV 200uV big coil - high side
10uV @ 65 MHz 5uV 30uV big coil - high side
70-130 MHz 40uV 15uV 100uV small coil - high side
130-190 MHz 100uV 30uV 200uV small coil - low side

There was a considerable variation in sensitivity across the low band, hence two different frequencies are shown.

In terms of off air reception, there were spurious responses when the local oscillator was actually operating within the FM band. Another thing to bear in mind is that because the detector oscillates at 27MHz, reception can be difficult at the harmonics; i.e. 54, 81, 108, 135, 162, and 198 MHz. The original Hazeltine Fremodyne was designed so that the IF harmonics and local oscillator were always outside the FM band. Of course, with a simple multi-band version, it's impossible to avoid these limitations, when a superhet arrangement is used. Fortunately, this is a minor problem since it is only a few points over a very large frequency.

Would be constructors might be wondering if they should construct the Solid State Fremodyne. The answer is yes, if super-regenerative receivers are of interest, and certainly as a historical project.
51 years after this project was published, there is little to listen to on VHF, except for FM broadcast stations, and aircraft communication. And for this kind of listening, the performance is satisfactory.
Mobile two way radio is now mostly digital, or has been replaced by cellular communications. Amateur bands are gradually becoming a thing of the past, as that hobby fades away. And of course, the other attraction to the VHF bands, being TV sound, was relegated to history almost 10 years ago.

On a positive note, the Solid State Fremodyne does work well for reasonably strong FM stations, and is a perfectly practical receiver for this purpose with quite good sound quality. The two inch speaker in the example I have is certainly not hi-fi, and a huge improvement was obtained with a larger, high quality speaker.
If you are interested in a solid state VHF receiver, but need higher sensitivity, the 6 transistor super-regenerative receiver is highly recommended, being a simpler design.
To sum up, it has been fascinating to finally learn about this receiver, and test it. It has been doing a very good job as a workshop radio listening to FM stations, while I've been experimenting with it. By all means, build one, but only expect it to be used for FM and aircraft reception.

The receiver could be redesigned to: