What is a balun and why do I need one?

What is a Balun and why do I need one?

The article discusses 1:1 or choke type baluns and does not refer to impedance transforming baluns at all.

2 typical 1:1 ferrite core baluns supplied by InnovAntennas

If you do not want to read through the following discussion of baluns and would simply like to buy one to suit the needs of your operation and antennas, follow this link HERE and you will be able to purchase one.

Within this article we will look at the various methods and requirements of a balun in the hope that you will be better placed to make the right choice for your antenna. There are many different types of balun and some incorporate impedance transformation too and it is this area which often leads to confusion.

50 Ohm (Ω) direct feed antennas need a 1:1 balanced to unbalance transformer. However, other antennas need transforming from 12.5Ω to 50Ω up to (and beyond) or 200Ω to 50Ω for example and these types need the impedance to be transformed in addition to the feedpoint balancing effect. InnovAntennas products are designed withtout the need for any impedance matching as matching devices can install loss and noise into the antenna system, this one one reaosn our antennas work so well! You will need a 1:1 balun or choke at the feedpoint of a Yagi to ensure pattern symmetry and best long term results but why is this needed?

Coax Cable - The unbalanced feeder

Coax is a wonderful product. It's invention has allowed the feeding of antennas through a manner of different substances, conditions and places a balanced feed line could not. However, there are issues that need to be over come when feeding a balanced antenna with coax.

It has become commonplace that the Radio Ham or even commercial user use coax to feed antennas due to the convenience of so doing. So much so, commercial modern day transceivers have an unbalanced output designed to feed and receive directly from coax cable. Coax can be feed through walls, under-ground, up the side of our towers or metal poles without any drastic affect on the Antenna or it's tuning - or does it?

The best way to feed most antennas is with a balanced feeder. The reason being, most antennas (including Yagis which are of interest to us here) are balanced antennas. If we feed a balanced antenna with an unbalanced feed line, issues occur at the feed point; namely common mode currents which appear as a result of this balanced/unbalanced miss-match. These currents travel back down the coax and radiate and thus, the coax becomes a part of our antenna system and radiates.

In instances where we are feeding a multi-band vertical or horizontal wire, it may not matter too much to the operator as long as he is radiating a signal from his antenna (despite that there is more likelihood that he will cause interference and have RF in the radio shack due to the coax being apart of the radiating antenna). However, when we are feeding a Yagi, we need to ensure only the antenna itself radiates. Having the coax feeding our Yagi radiating will act to distort the radiation pattern of the antenna. No, this problem will not cause a high SWR. In fact, it may even reduce the SWR seen in the shack giving the ham a false sense of security that things are OK when they are not.

Balanced line feeders

The most common balanced line feeder in Ham Radio today is the 300Ω ribbon used within the very common G5RV antenna. Any twin line can be used as a balanced line feeder; speaker wire, bell wire, even mains flex. They will all have different characteristics but will all provide a balanced feed to an antenna if used that way. The twin feeder will not radiate (or very little anyway) as a result of the phase of the RF in each feed line being 180 degrees out of phase in each leg. This means, one side of the feed line cancels the other out so no radiation occurs.

Disadvantages of a balanced line

Firstly, we will need a balun to use a balanced line feeder or balanced antenna in any case as radios today are not presenting a balanced output. The next point is the effect that any close by objects have on the balanced feed line, walls, buildings in general, towers, all metal objects, ground, everything! We need the feed line to be in as much open space as possible in order to ensure the balance feed line can perform as it should. Beginning to understand why a balanced feed is not in mainstream use for the Ham?

We will not go any further into balanced line theory here as the majority of users will be using coax cable although we will look at the consequences of not having a balun installed below.

The Dipole Centre

The dipole is an important part of the Yagi, anything that goes on (or wrong) here is reflected throughout the rest of the Yagi. Below are 2 images of a dipole (fed element) removed from a Yagi. The cross section at the top representes the dipole itself (with green dots along it) while the down-wire is a representation of the coax or balance line feeding the Yagi. The pink lines indicate current distribution within these 'elements'. Let's first take a look at fig 1.

Fig1. A dipole with a balanced feed

Within Fig1 we can see a nice, clean and balanced distribution of current through the dipole itself with no radiation within the feed line. This represents a scenario where a perfect balun is placed at the feedpoint or the antenna ia fed with a balanced line feeder.

Fig2. A different story if the feedpoint is not balanced

Fig2 shows the distortion within the dipole if coax is connected and a balun is not installed. This may not impact vertical or mono-pole antennas so much but for a directional antenna such as a Yagi,  this is disasterous! Ensure you have a good balun at the feedpoint of your Yagi to ensure your antenna pattern stays clean, symmetrical and you see the performance you deserve.

The balun - What does it do?

In this instance we are discussing 1:1 baluns or chokes which takes an unbalanced input from your coax line and allows connection to a balanced antenna feedpoint. Have you wondered where the name balun comes from? Balanced to Unbalance, that's it.


The 1:1 balun

Fully Symmetrical Coaxial Balun

We need a 1:1 balun at the feed point of our Yagi. This means the balun will connect to a 50Ω unbalanced line and present a balanced 50 Ohm output. There are a number of ways to do this in my opinion. The first is a coaxial 1:1 balun as described by I0QM at this link:  http://www.iw5edi.com/ham-radio/files/I0QM_BALUN.PDF and for which there is a photo below.

This uses 2 pieces of additional coax cable at the feed point of the antenna. A full explanation is given with the document created by I0QM. This is the best method of producing a fully symmetrical balance at the feed point (using coax cable) without the losses seen in a torroid wound equivalent. However, it does have a number of draw backs. The first is it is relatively narrow in bandwidth.  This is course one of the major benefits of G0KSC Yagis (being wide-band) so do we really want to inhibit performance? The next is the additional connections and coax we are introducing which means additional losses in our feed system in addition to another point where weather (water mainly) could gain access to our antenna and feed line and as a result, de-tune our antenna or make it completely defective.

Finally, in addition to being narrow bandwidth, this type of balun can only be used on one band rendering this balun useless for our multi-band Yagis.

A Fully Symmetrical Coaxial Balun


Choke balun

The choke balun is a a cheap and easy method of removing common mode currents from the feedline, provided it is manufactured correctly. Basically, this is a coil (a few turns) in the coax feeding the antenna as close to the feed point as possible. This coil acts as an RF choke and prevents the common mode currents returning back down the feed line. However, Current may not be symmetrically distributed through the radiating element using this method. While it does work, it is not an 'ideal' method in all instances.

Firstly, the higher in frequency you need a choke to function, the more difficult it is to achieve a fully functional choke using coax. For example, with many good quality coax cables, the outer sleeve of the coax is too thick to provide sufficient capacitance needed between the turns in order to provide the combination of L+C needed to enable choking. Next (and although varies with coax cable type used) the coiled choke is fairly narrow band so provides performance over a relatively small area so although a common perception is the choke is a good fit for multiband Yagis, it is not.

The above said, this method of feed point choke has a number of benefits listed below:

  • The choke balun is easy to make and implement although in highe bands (VHF/UHF) it is advisable that a Vector Network Analyser is used to confirm the antenna is working correctly.
  • No additional connections required - for me this is one of the most important benefits, especially at VHF. Use one single piece of coax from the back of the rig, through the coaxial balun and right up to the feed point. This minimises losses and connections and therefore, any potential issues that can happen at a later stage in the life of the antenna and it's feed line
  • The best part of this choke balun is it is extremely easy to make! Lets look now at how this is done

See bottom of this page for Choke build instructions


Pawsey Stub

19/11/2010  Many Hams have seen inconsistencies with the Pawsey stub, largely believed to be due to the varied velocity factor seen in most coax cables. Steve, G3TXQ contacted me with a very interesting viewpoint and provided some seemingly valid information explaining why only coax of the same type should be used for the Pawsey stub, not a separate, dissimilar wire. I therefore would no longer recommend this style of Pawsey stub but will keep the information here. My antenna balun with a feedpoint choke may give the best, all round performance:http://www.hamradio.me/antennas/coax-velocity-factor-part-2.html#more-1528

This is a very interesting method of balancing the feeder at the feed point of the antenna and I have modified this balun from it's original make-up. All we need to do here is connect the coax to the antenna in the traditional way. However, in addition to the coax, we add a piece of wire to the point of the antenna that the centre core of the coax connects to, run the wire back along the coax and connect this wire to the braid or outer core of the coax at 1/4 wave back along the COAX. As this is a 1/4 wave length of coax, velocity factor needs to be taken into account too. This provides a fully symmetrical balun at the feedpoint of the antenna. In early versions I coiled the Pawsey stub. However, I now recommend keeping this in a straight line and connecting to the boom where the wire connects to the outer braid of the coax. This provides two additional features. The first, it provides a DC ground to the loop or driven element, further reducing potential noise pick up. Second, As it is in a straight line and running along the boom towards the mast, it is taking place that additional feedline would have to and therefore, reducing additional losses.

The G0KSC Pawsey as built by EI2GLB. Feeding the coax directly through the boom helps reduce potential pattern distortion

PA0WRS installed this impedance transforming version of the G0KSC Pawsey stub on his 50Mhz 5el

The 'Pawsey wire' can be clearly seen in the above PA0WRS example. This ensures a fully symmetrical balanced match at the dipole centre. Coax bending around the boom near the feedpoint can distort the radiation pattern. Arranging the coaxial transformer/balun in the above way moves the point at which your feedline has to go around the boom much further along the boom and away from the feedpoint. Any potential issue is drastically reduced the further you move away from the feedpoint so arranging the transformer/balun long the centre of the boom for it's whole length is ideal. Do not be tempted to coil the balun, this servers no purpose other than to reduce the power handling capability!

As discussed above, the point at which the wire connects to the outer braid of the coax is 1/4 wave length along the COAX rather than a 1/4 wave of wire. Therefore, when calculating our length we need to take into account the velocity factor of the coax we are using. The calculation is as follows:

300/Frequency x coax velocity factor x.25 The above is a Pawsey stub for my 70MHz LFA Yagi. The coax I used was Westflex 103 which has a velocity factor of .85 (RG213 is .66) so the calculation was as follows:

300/70.2 x.85 x.25 so my wire length had to be long enough to connect 940 mm back long the coax from the point where the coax was split in two. NOT the end of the centre core of the coax.

The Pawsey stub is an excellent method of producing a true balanced input at the antenna at minimal cost. Again, like the coaxial balun above, this is only good for mono-band antennas due to the relatively small bandwidth.

Please follow this link here for more information on coax cable velocity factors. Don't be put off of an OWL Yagi, if you chose a 12.5Ω version, you can swap the split dipole for a folded dipole and the antenna becones a 50 Ohm antenna and required just a 1:1 balun!


The Ferrite Core Balun

The Ferrite core balun is what I (G0KSC) recommend as the ideal solution for a coax cable fed 50Ω Yagi. The ferrite core balun is a piece of coax which has ferrite cores tightly fitted around the outer sleeve of the coax (normally sealed, InnovAntennas cover the ferrites in glue-filled heatshrink tubing). With this method the choking is formed within a cms or so of the feed point in order there is no exposed coax at all to radiate or de-tune the antenna. Next, the cores used by InnovAntennas have an extremely wide frequency range they function effectively across. For example, the material used for 50MHz, 70MHz and 144MHz has an operational range of 30MHz to 300MHz. This means they are ideally suited for multi-band applications within this bandwidth too. Finally, the ferrite core balun provides another very important function details below.

Filtering stray signals picked up on the outer sleeve of the coax

Often in urban environments, many modern-day electronic devices generation noise with is picked up by the receiver. However, it is often the case that these signals are along the route of the coax form the radio to the antenna and are picked up along outer sleeve of the coax, travels up towards the antenna and enters the reciever chain this way. The ferrite core balun not only prevent common mode currentls from travelling form the antenna back down the coax, it also prevents these unwanted noises picked out on the outer sleeve of the coax from entering the reciever chan which results in a lower noise floor on your receiver.

A selection of our commerical ferrite core baluns can be found HERE and custom versions available on request.

A Ferrite Core balun customer-fitted to a 4el 50MHz LFA Yagi


Creating a Choke Balun

Note: although called a choke balun, this DOES NOT match the unbalanced feedline to the balanced antenna. It simply stops (or helps reduce) common mode currents flowing on the coax as a result of the miss-match at the feedpoint. This will also result in an imbalance in the radiation of the pattern too AND reduce performance. Ultimately when feeding a Beam of any kind, I real 1:1 balun should be used such as the coaxial and Pawsey mentioned above.

I always make mine when the antenna it is intended to be installed upon is complete and ready to be installed on the mast. The reason for this is I am able to accurately install the balun in place by measuring the coax out along the boom and in most case, keep with one length of coax with no joins from the antenna to the radio.

First, we should prepare the coax for connection to the antenna feed point. Assuming we are going to install one single piece of coax from the antenna, through the balun and to the transceiver, cut the coax at one end and prepare it in order that you can see around 5 to 10mm of inner core with the same amount of braid. Keep in mind that the antenna dipole starts at the point that the inner and outer core of the coax split and therefore, this 5-10mm of each should finish where the coax is whole again (see picture).

Slide one ring end over each piece of the coax showing and test the connection on the antenna. the last thing you want to do is solder the rings to the coax and they are not long enough! Once you know where they need to be, solder the joints and ensure there is sufficient heat to allow the solder to flow deep in the joint. This will ensure a good connection and limit the chance of any water ingress.

Next we need to ensure our joint is sealed well reducing the chance of water being able to seep into the coax. One way is to install an insulator box at the feed point. However, from my experiments, it is much more difficult to keep the elements aligned this way. Generally, the dipole ends up a little higher than the rest of the Yagi elements which does have an impact on the pattern. Furthermore, if water were to gain access to this isolation box it could sit inside the box and cause the same issues as it would if it gained access to the coax.

I purchase good quality self amalgamating and simply wrap the feed point of the coax directly. Make sure to use plenty and ensure that you have covered every possible access hole to water. Once this is complete, you are ready to connect the rings to the antenna feed point.

Having connected the coax, decide where you want to place the balun (example in the picture at the top of this page) and mark this point on the coax with a ring of low-tack tape, perhaps insulation tape. Now take off the coax once again for a moment.

Winding the balun

Now we need a few extra tools in order to create our balun. Do you have a spray-can somewhere in the house? This could be furniture polish or a can of WD40. Any standard size household spray can will do. next, we need 4 to 6 strong cable ties that are long enough to go around 4 to 5 lengths of the coax we are using. Place each one of these cable ties face up on the side of the spray-can and place the low-tack tape over one side of the cable tie to hold it in place. now wrap the tape a 1/4 of the way around the can and place another cable tie. Do this until we have 4 to 6 of these cable ties in a ring around the can. Then place another line of tape around the over end of the can to fully secure the cable ties onto the can.

Now locate the mark you made earlier on your feed coax. Hold this point on one end of the can so as it can not move, making sure that the tape holding the cable ties on the can is outside of the point where you are holding the coax.

Now roll the can until you have 4 to 5 turns (50/70Mhz 2 is OK for 144MHz and 1 tight turn on 430Mhz. This should be tested with clip on ferrite chokes after the balun. If the SWR changes, you have too many or too few turns. Change and try again) of coax on the can. At this point, we need to remove the tape holding the cable ties in place on the can. the rolled coax will not be holding them to the can so they should not move. Loop back the cable ties and slot the ends together and tighten as appropriate.

You are now done with you balun! You may now remove the can and install the coax/balun onto your boom, you are ready to go!

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