Making some progress on the SoftRock

It's alive! But just barely.

It’s alive! But just barely. Receiving CW on 40 meters. Click for a larger view.

Electronics tend to work better when chips are installed properly. So I felt like an idiot when I realized one of the ICs on the SoftRock was installed 180 degrees wrong.

Let me back up a nub… I’ve already written a little about the travails of putting the SoftRock RX Ensemble II together. I decided to finish what I thought was a DOA project and last week I wound up all the remaining toroids. I needed to order some spare parts to replace some sketchy resistors, and one of the resistors I managed to crack. I also replaced the flea-sized voltage regulator because I feared it had been fried during rough handling while I tried to clear a solder bridge.

Still, when I connected the SoftRock to my computer, it wasn’t receiving any signals. I was about to throw in the towel today when something in the back of my mind told me to double-check the orientation of all the surface-mount ICs. Sure enough, the only one that didn’t have a clear indicator of pin 1, was in backwards. I had to look up the technical pages on this particular component just to figure out where pin 1 was located (if anyone is wondering, the component is the Fairchild dual D-type positive edge-triggered flip-flop — no, I didn’t just make that up!)

As if by divine providence, there was a spare chip in my bag of loose parts from the kit construction. I believe they include two in case a builder wants to construct the SoftRock for LF bands. Once I wrestled the old chip out, it was a snap to solder the new one back in. I connected the SoftRock to my computer, fired up my K3 and sent a series of dits on 40 meters. Wow! Code was in my waterfall!

I jury rigged an antenna connection and tuned to the 10mhz reference signal (aka, the clock) and I could hear it!

Strangely enough, I wasn’t able to hear any other signals up and down the amateur bands. I believe I caught some SSB transmissions, but they were very faint. I believe I need to inspect my work on the inductors and toroids again. I believe the inductor that links the antenna to the rest of the circuits may be shorted or the enamel wasn’t stripped enough from the magnet wire to ensure a good connection. This should be easy enough to fix. I also need to figure out how to deal with the mirror imaging of the signal. This could be attributed to a physical problem on the board, or perhaps a software configuration issue.

More later…

4 thoughts on “Making some progress on the SoftRock

  1. I did try that and it didn’t affect anything. I’m almost 100% certain that I have issues with toroids and inductors at this point. I can’t get a continuity reading off the transformer that couples the antenna, or on any of the other toroids either. I think my lazy enamel stripping has come back to haunt me. I’ll redo the windings and use sandpaper to strip the enamel this time. The re-windings don’t bother me. The desoldering doesn’t both me. Unclogging the solder from the holes on the board… now that’s annoying.

    I feel like I’m so close. If this thing works, I shall make a presentation for it for the next club meeting.

  2. I’m sure that this goes without saying, but make sure that you have a stereo mic/line in port on your soundcard. If not you will see exact mirroring between the two sides.

    • Richard, I believe the sound card does have stereo input. I’ve been using my iMac, dual booting Win 7, and I’ve also tried my Lenovo laptop and I get the same mirroring. The cable is definitely a stereo cable. I’m sure I’ll get it figured out sooner or later. This has been a fun/frustrating/strangely gratifying kit. Hehe.

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