What is a Balun?

The word balun is a combination of the words BALanced and UNbalanced. As the name hints, it’s a device that connects a balanced system to an unbalanced one.

Some examples can be seen here

MFJ Enterprises Original MFJ-918 MFJ...
  • The 1:1 Current Balun was designed to replace the center insulator of a dipole antenna. It is made up of 50 Ferrite Core Beads placed onto a 13-inch piece of RG-303 Coax. Operates 1.8 to 30 MHz.
  • The coax and SO-239 connectors have Teflon(R) for maximum insulation and extended life of the product. The MFJ 1:1 Current Balun is enclosed in schedule 40 PVC pipe for maximum strength and protection. Unlike other baluns, the MFJ-918 makes a direct electrical connection to the antenna with #14 copper wire.
  • The MFJ Current Balun will reduce or eliminate stray RF often found on coax. This stray RF can cause burns and other problems with electronic equipment in ham-shacks and vehicles. Stray RF also results in a loss of radiated power from the antenna, which will lead to a great reduction in signal strength.

Baluns are often used to connect a balanced antenna (like the half-wave dipole) to an unbalanced feedline (like the coax). The balun, among other things, helps prevent current from flowing on the outside of the coax. Otherwise, when this current (called common-mode current) appears on the outside of the shield, the feedline behaves as if it were an antenna. There are several reasons why this isn’t what we want to have happened. If the feedline is behaving like an antenna, and it passes near a phone line on the way inside, you will probably interfere with the telephone. Since antennas work both ways, if the feedline comes close to a noisy power line, chances are it’ll pick up the noise and bring it inside to the receiver.

That’s not to say antennas won’t work without a balun. Quite the contrary, but it generally will be true you’ll have fewer problems with noise and interference if you take steps to avoid current on the outside of the feedline.

Some baluns have the ability to transform to a higher or lower impedance. This has to do with the ratio of turns contained in the windings of the balun. You’ll see baluns called 1:1 or 4:1, etc. This is the ratio of impedances the balun is intended to connect. For instance, if one wanted to connect a 450-ohm balanced feedline to a 50-ohm unbalanced line, he would select a 9:1 balun. You will learn later this is a convenient way (for instance) to bring a balanced open wire line from a multi-band antenna into the house, using a short length of coax.

In our case, however, since the center of a half-wave dipole is closer to 50 ohms impedance than it is to most other standard feedlines, and since we are using 50-ohm coax, we need to have a 1:1 balun

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