28 Feb 2012
The name comes from the natural crystals originally used as a detector to separate the audio from the signal coming in from an antenna. These crystals are called the detector. (1) The early detectors were called cat whisker detectors because they used a small wire to probe the crystal to find the best spot where the signal was greatest. (2)
Crystal radios use no power supply and are powered only by the radio waves they are receiving. Originally these only tuned in AM frequencies, but they can be made for Shortwave and FM radio frequencies as well. (5)
Because they are so low power and quiet they were quickly replaced by vacuum detector and amplifier circuits that drove a loud speaker so that more than one person at a time could listen to the radio. They are used only only by hobbyist and science classes teaching the fundamentals of radio reception. (1)
At the simplest you need a high impedance ear piece, a diode, an antenna, and a ground. You wire the ear piece to the diode and to ground on each lead. You then touch the diode to the antenna and you will be listening to all the strong stations in your area at the same time. As well as all the noise that the antenna is pulling in. (2)
The ear piece is not a typical ear plug found in today's modern portable audio devices. These speakers have a low resistance of just a couple of dozen ohms. The ear piece you need is a low powered speaker with high resistance of thousands or millions of ohms. The more sensitive speakers can be told from the less sensitive ear phones by rubbing the end of one wire across a piece of rough metal and listening for a scratching noise in the ear piece. (3)
In order to isolate out one signal you need to build a circuit that oscillates at the frequency you wish to tune in. This allows all the other frequencies to go directly to ground, while the frequency you are tuning in goes through the diode and into the ear piece. This also tends to amplify that frequency a little bit. (4)
The tuning of this frequency can be done in several ways. You can change the number of turns on the coil. You can change the capacitance of the circuit. Or you can change the magnetic permeability of the material inside the coil. (1)
The number of turns on the coil can be adjusted by either sliding a connection over the rails, or connecting a jumper wire to loops brought out for that purpose. (1)
The higher the selectivity, the more narrowly you are tuning the frequency. This blocks out more noise, but at the cost of less volume on the ear piece. The lower the selectivity, the more widely you are tuning the frequency. This allows more signal to drive the ear piece, resulting in a louder volume, but at the cost of more noise being picked up by the circuit. (7)
You can improve this selectivity by matching the impedance of the antenna to the detector circuit. You can do this in several ways. One way is to connect the antenna to the middle of the coil. Another way is to have another coil that the antenna connects to and then the distance between the main coil and the antenna coil is changed. (7)Building Crystal Radios is a good way to become familiar with the basics of electronics. It is a great intro into the world of physics. This project is very easy to complete while making a useful end product. To many people building a radio is like magic. To be able to build your own and understand how everything works is very rewarding. The Crystal Radio is a stepping stone to bigger and better electronics projects dealing with amplification and better detector circuits.
(2) Crystal Radio Circuits http://www.techlib.com/electronics/crystal.html
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