This is a pair of modules that Maplin was selling some time back, to send stereo audio over a 2.4GHz radio link. The transmitter identifies as a USB sound card, I’ve personally used these units to transmit audio about 60ft. The transmitter, above, has a single button for pairing with the receiver below.
The receiver unit has a large external antenna, a link status LED & volume buttons, these directly control the volume level on the host PC via the sound card drivers.
Popping the case open on the receiver reveals a large PCB, holding the chipset, along with the audio output jacks & Mini-USB power input. The antenna Coax is soldered to the PCB.
The top of the board has the control buttons, and the status LED.
The chipset used here is a Nordic Semiconductor nRF20Z01 2.4GHz Stereo Audio Streamer, there’s a small microcontroller which does all the register magic on the RF transceiver. The RF chain is at the top of the photo, audio outputs on the top left, and the micro USB power input & voltage regulators at bottom left.
The transmitter PCB has a Sonix USB Audio Codec, to interface with the host PC. This is then fed into another Nordic Semi part on the opposite side of the board:
The bottom of the transmitter has the RF section, and another small control microcontroller.
I’m no fan of power inverters. In my experience they’re horrifically inefficient, have power appetites that make engine starter motors look like electric toothbrushes & reduce the life expectancy of lead-acid batteries to no more than a few days.
However I have decided to do a little analysis on a cheapo “600W” model that Maplin Electronics sells.
After a serious amount of metallic abuse, the bottom cover eventually came off. The sheet of steel used to close the bottom of the aluminium extrusion was wedged into place with what was probably a 10 ton hydraulic press.
As can be seen from the PCB, there’s no massive 50Hz power transformer, but a pair of high frequency switching transformers. Obviously this is to lighten the weight & the cost of the magnetics, but it does nothing for the quality of the AC output waveform.
The 12v DC from the battery comes in on very heavy 8-gauge cables, this device is fused at 75A!
Here’s the fusing arrangement on the DC input stage, just 3 standard blade-type automotive fuses. Interestingly, these are very difficult to get at without a large hammer & some swearing, so I imagine if the user manages to blow these Maplin just expect the device to be thrown out.
On the input side, the DC is switched into the pair of transformers to create a bipolar high voltage DC supply.
The large rectifier diodes on the outputs of the transformers feed into the 400v 100µF smoothing capacitors.
As mains AC is obviously a bipolar waveform, I’m guessing this is generating a ±150v DC supply.
After the high voltage is rectified & smoothed, it’s switched through 4 more MOSFETs on the other side of the PCB to create the main AC output.
The label states this is a modified-sine output, so I’d expect something on the scope that looks like this:
Modified-sine doesn’t look as bad as just a pure square output, but I suspect it’s a little hard on inductive loads & rectifiers.
However, after connecting the scope, here’s the actual waveform:
It’s horrific. It’s not even symmetrical. There isn’t even a true “neutral” either. The same waveform (in antiphase) is on the other mains socket terminal. This gives an RMS output voltage of 284v. Needless to say I didn’t try it under load, as I don’t possess anything I don’t mind destroying. (This is when incandescent lamps are *really* useful. Bloody EU ;)).
About the only thing that it’s accurate at reproducing is the 50Hz output, which it does pretty damn well.
As is usual these days, the whole system is controlled via a microcontroller.
A member of the family recently bought one of these torches from Maplin electronics, and the included chargers for the 18650 lithium-ion cells leave a lot to be desired.
Here’s what’s supplied. The torch itself is OK – very bright, and a good size. Me being cynical of overpriced Chinese equipment with lithium batteries, I decided to look in the charging base & the cigar-lighter adaptor to see if there was any actual charging logic.
Answer – nope. Not a single active component in here. It’s just a jack connected to the battery terminals. There’s all the space there to fit a proper charging circuit, but it’s been left out to save money.
OK then, is it inside the cigarette lighter adaptor?
Nope. Not a single sign of anything resembling a Lithium-Ion charger IC. There’s a standard MC34063A 1.5A Buck converter IC on the bottom of the PCB, this is what’s giving the low voltage output for the torch.
Here’s the IC – just a buck converter. The output voltage here is 4.3v. This is higher than the safe charging voltage of a lithium ion cell, of 4.2v.
The cells supplied are “protected” versions, having charge/discharge protection circuitry built onto the end of the cell on a small PCB, this makes the cell slightly longer than a bare 18650, so it’s easy to tell them apart.
The manufacturers in this case are relying on that protection circuit on the cell to prevent an overcharge condition – this isn’t the purpose they’re designed for, and charging this way is very stressful for the cells. I wouldn’t like to leave one of these units charging unattended, as a battery explosion might result.
More to come shortly when I build a proper charger for this torch, so it can be recharged without fearing an alkali metal fire!