Drowning in Radio-Frequency Interference (RFI)
As an amateur radio operator on a small suburban lot, my receiver is under constant assault from a wide variety of RF noise generators. Everything from LED light bulbs to plasma TVs to networking equipment to defective streetlights have caused me all kinds of grief. Further down the page are some favorite references on RFI. I will not attempt to repeat what they say. They cover all the important topics, especially locating noise sources and mitigation procedures.
After a year-long trip to hell and back dealing with my neighbor’s LED light fixtures, I have decided to start characterizing various electrical devices, such as LED lights, and showing you which of them are the good and bad actors. Detailed reports appear below.
References and Articles
. Comprehensive. Everything you need to know.
RFI, Ferrites, and Common Mode Chokes For Hams by Jim Brown, K9YC. Jim is a leader in the application of ferrite materials and other techniques for interference reduction.
Build Contesting Scores By Killing Receive Noise by Jim Brown, K9YC. This focuses on locating and mitigating noise in receiving systems.
Finding and Killing Receive Noise. A presentation I give at ham clubs:
Severe RFI: Neighbors, ARRL, FCC, and Me. The complete process from detection to resolution:
How to make a direction finding antenna:
And an even simpler
Recommended LED Lights Power Supplies, etc.
This list will grow over time. Obviously there is an almost infinite marketplace full of devices that may generate noise and I can only afford to buy a few here and there. If you have something you want tested, I would be happy to do so; contact me and ship it over. Note that the primary emphasis here is on the HF bands, 1.8-50 MHz, but I do take data up to 150 MHz and note any obvious VHF issues. Click on a link for full info and data, and become a wise consumer.
My experience has shown that virtually every LED light fixture is a serious RFI generator. When in doubt, they should be avoided, but at the very least you should purchase a sample device and test it at your station.
RECOMMENDED FOR AMATEUR RADIO STATION USE
Probably undetectable at most ham stations.
Lights of America 8140SE2-WH5 4-foot LED shop light (reported by W1VLF, ARRL Lab)
Cyberpower 1500VA UPS, CP1500AVRLCD or similar (NA6O and others experience)
Lutron MA-PRO-LA Maestro dimmer. Expensive ~$75. Hard to find. Lutron eng. recommended.
This is based on numerous “no RFI” reports from reliable hams:
Generac Guardian series 16-20 kW
BORDERLINE (or OK after some user modification)
With some modification such as external filters, may be acceptable.
Torchstar LSDDL-19W6D50 6” LED recessed retrofit (reported by K6OK)
My Measurement System
The figure below shows my test system. This follows the standard setup required for FCC and CISPR conducted emissions testing. Please note that I am not running a certified testing laboratory, but my results are reproducible and internally consistent. After 35 years as an instrumentation engineer, I usually get things right...
The heart of the system is a Line Impedance Stabilization Network (LISN) that I built, again based on commercial instruments and standards. Full details are in . It provides three things: Lowpass filtering to eliminate external noise from the AC line; a stable 50-ohm impedance for the device under test; and outputs for analyzers. I use a spectrum analyzer as well as an oscilloscope to document the RFI, and that is the data that is presented in my reports.
FCC Part 15 calls only for normal-mode (NM), or differential, noise voltage measurements, that is, line to ground and neutral to ground. However, we know from practical experience that this may be insufficient. In fact, common-mode (CM) noise--current flowing in phase on all conductors--is the primary source of radiated energy. In essence, all the wires to the device comprise the antenna, and the common-mode current is what excites that antenna. For that reason, I included a current transformer into my LISN that directly measures CM current. This is data that you will not find reported elsewhere. I use units of dB uA for this current. You can actually convert that to power delivered to an antenna if you like. Knowing the current, just multiply Amps (squared) by a nominal antenna impedance, and you have a (very rough) estimate of power.
NM voltage noise is still important, however, because some devices I have tested have proven to deliver much larger signals on one lead than the other. In that case, application of CM filtering alone (i.e., a CM choke) may be insufficient for mitigation.
A final observation that I make is a qualitative survey of radiated signal taken with a portable shortwave radio and a small direction-finding antenna. I use this rig all the time for locating noise sources and it is a trusted companion. If I can’t hear it on that radio, I know I will not hear it on my station receiver.
This is NOT what you want...