Test Gear That Won’t Break Your Budget
It used be that station engineers had to do with minimal test gear, often a Volt/Ohm Meter (VOM) and/or an older Heathkit or B&K scope, unless they had a good friend at a TV station, who might lend a spectrum analyzer for a day to find a problem.
Getting the station manager to authorize spending $7,000 to 12,000 (or much more) so for test gear just was not going to happen.
Today, between software driven oscilloscopes (not entirely unlike what you have in a Nautel transmitter) and low cost digital products, you can have test gear at some stunningly low costs – and they do work accurately.
If you would like a better look at the products mentioned, take a look at the BDR Video on Test Gear that Will Not Break the Budget. You will find the listing/link for it at www.theBDR.net/TLG/
AC POWER MEASURING DEVICE
Danny Boyer started our discussion with an AC Power Measuring Device that he got for well under $20 – and its readings matched his Fluke device.
This 100A AC LCD Display Volt/Ammeter/Power Meter is, as this is being written, listed on eBay here currently for $22, but if you watch the video, Danny got it even cheaper.
Another option is the Kill-A-Watt series from P3. They come in several iterations and measure power, power factor, kWh, etc. One model even has WiFi connections to monitor it from far.
Spectrum analyzers are among the most helpful tools for an engineer to view what is going, from audio to RF frequencies.
Costs depend a lot on the bandwidth and accuracy needed. You can easily spend thousands of dollars, even for something used. On the other hand, you can get this little gem, a handheld analyzer for well under a hundred dollars.
In fact, this TinySA will look at 100 kHz to 960 MHz. It is on Amazon right now for less than $77, you can link to it here.
No, this might not have the ability to do everything you might want, but you sure can get an idea of what is going on with an RF signal in the MF/HF/VHF/UHF range. The 2.8 inch touch screen unit also includes a signal generator.
Many engineers used to buy a cheap B&K scope, or something like it for basic work on the audio frequency spectrum.
As with Spectrum Analyzers, the price range can be all over the place, based on bandwidth. For example, if you want to view a really wide range, you can find models that have price tags from very modest to pricey.
There are several of the modestly priced units on eBay, under $200. For example, these two portable two channel models are listed for $150-200, the second one including a built-in signal generator.
But suppose you only want something really basic, to look at audio to ensure it is not clipped, or to ensure it is in-phase? How about a free two channel software oscilloscope that will cover 20-20,000 Hz?
Take a look here.
For non-commercial users, this one is actually free. Of course, if you want a commercial license, it is available … but still not a lot – the web site offers it for under $39.
A VARIETY OF AUDIO LEVELS
With the need to set the right loudness levels (lkfs) for streaming, in addition to diagnosing what is going around the audio chain, there are several free apps.
One of them is especially well-known and recommended: the Orban Loudness Meter is available for download.
The screen can display includes multiple looks at the audio.
Another mentioned on the program was at youlean.co/youlean-loudness-meter
This too, is free, although a “pro” version opens up some additional features. Currently, it is priced at $29 on the youlean.co website.
DIAGNOSING ROOM AUDIO
And Gordon Carter recommends a free package called “Room Acoustics Software,” which gets a bit more complex in what it can show.
Like some other apps, REW does have a “pro” version, depending upon how detailed you want to get to get the best sound in a control room, production or listening room, etc.
Another solution, for quick and dirty solution is to pick up a mono radio. Even non-technical staff can tell if an element is out of phase. Grady Moates recommends the Panasonic RF-2600D – $28!
A similar little suite of programs was mentioned by Harold Hallikainen: ARTA Software.
It works especially on inter-modulation distortion and spectrum purity.
Once broadcast gear did away with crystals, the majority of stations stopped doing regular frequency checks.
However, even solid state generators can go bad, so it is worth your while to periodically check the frequency for your transmitter, STL, RPU (if you are still using one), etc. Decent frequency counters are available for under a hundred bucks. Check around with your browser, this one seems to come in a variety of names and prices, generally under $100.
One comment offered was to ask, and get one that you can calibrate against WWV.
HOW ABOUT A MEGGER?
Do you want to check on the insulation integrity of some part of your system? Would you pay $50 for a reliable meter?
This Digital Insulation Resistance Megohm Meter is $49.99 on eBay, with free shipping.
LOOKING AT THE ANTENNA
David Stewart showed off information on his SARK-110 antenna analyzer. He said it was light, easily taken to wherever he had to go, and gave decent readings of the antenna he was looking at.
This comes in two versions, one independent, one driven by a computer. Pricing is several hundred, not thousand dollars.
Harold noted he has the SARK-110 as well, and likes it.
TINY RADIO, TINY PRICE
Perhaps your need is to come up with a simple FM receiver to feed some monitor speakers
This little FM radio, designed to drive earphones, will run only $4.99 – shipping is $3, but if you buy two or more, shipping is free.
There are literally dozens, if not hundreds more like this out there. You might find one with more features, or with a better antenna, whatever you may need.
You may have a favorite item of test gear for those on a tight budget. If so, please do let us know.
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