Dipole versus wideband magnetic loop performance simulations show that a good active loop will stack up fairly well on the HF ham bands.
I have always wondered how well small loop antennas compare against traditional antennas as a signal transducer. Time to find out.
My idea for an experiment was to feed a 1 μV/m radio wave field strength into both a dipole and an active loop and see how much voltage arrived at the output terminals. For the traditional antenna, I chose a dipole in free space. While this is a theoretical antenna, the math is much simpler than with a physical dipole. (Gain of a physical dipole is slightly higher because of height and reflections.)
For the loop antenna, my choice was the LZ1AQ amplifier connected to my 1 meter diameter aluminum loop. Loop performance was modeled in LTSpice, while the free space dipole was analyzed using an Excel spreadsheet.
Dipole Versus Wideband Magnetic Loop Performance Findings
You can see the results in the above graphic. As expected, I found that the dipole provided much more output voltage than the loop antenna, but the difference was less than anticipated. I took measurements in each of the ham bands between 1.8 MHz and 28 MHz.
We all know that traditional antennas produce less output as frequency increases, which is why you need low noise amplifiers at high HF and beyond. As you can see above, with the dipole, a 1 μV/m radio wave produces antenna output of 26 μV at 1.8 MHz, but less than 2 μV at 28 MHz.
On the other hand, a well designed active loop is a flat transducer. My LZ1AQ model converted the 1 μV/m field strength to around 1-2 μV across the full range of frequencies.
So the difference in efficiency between dipole and active loop transducers is pronounced at lower frequencies, but only nominal at higher HF. You will find that the advantage provided by active loops on lower HF bands comes from improved SNR, not signal conversion.
Lastly, the difference between dipole versus wideband magnetic loop performance is huge at medium waves and below. But who has the space for a dipole at those frequencies?