Airspy HF+: What you hear, is what you get

 

 

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It has been dubbed “game changer” and indeed, the Airspy HF+ is a completely other animal of software-defined radio, or SDR. Developed by Youssef Touil plus team and produced by ITEAD, it sells for just US-$ 199 right from factory at Shenzhen, China. This is considered the middle class of SDRs, starting with cheap USB sticks under 10 US-$ and scratching the mark of nearly US-$ 5.000 with Winradio’s WR-G39DDC. This one also marks the transition zone from what even an engaged hobbyist allows himself to spend to the truly professional receivers of e.g. Rohde & Schwarz and Plath. To make it clear: You may achieve professional results at each price tag, even from an RTL & its clones, as Carl Laufer’s excellent blog shows almost daily.

The Serious HF-DXers in mind

Airspy HF+ has been developed with the serious HF (shortwave) listener in mind. In this field it sets new standards regarding sensitivity, dynamic range and noise. Its stunning performance is achieved by a revolutionary approach and a careful layout of the hardware, housed in a sturdy metal case.

I don’t want to add another explanation of this concept (my test report will appear in 1Q/2018 in “Funkamateur“) but just offering the pure stuff. Some first twelve audio examples should give you a truly hands-on impression to answer the one and only question: How loud does this animal roar?
Therefore, I compared about 100 often vastly different situations on HF between Elad’s FDM-S2 (US-$ 525) and Airspy HF+. From this collection, I carefully selected some first twelve examples to cover the needs of the casual listener as well as the hard-core DXer.

All audio clips were recorded in parallel with a 20 m quad loop as antenna, feeding a professional 1:2 HF splitter by Heros. Software used was free SDR-Console V3 by Simon Brown – thanks.

Dare to make use of your own understanding

First, you read a description of the case, followed by a recording with FSM-S2 and then by Airspy HF+. Each of both examples has been recorded with exactly the same bandwidth, mode, AGC etc. which had been optimized for that situation. You must listen to these audio clips with headphones to scrutinize the mostly very small differences. Aim you ear towards fading, noise and intelligibility.
This is not a traditional test, where the master of ceremonies masticates the results for you. It’s for the truly demanding DXer, “to make use of your own understanding” (Kant, 1784). Just a hint: weak stations make the difference!

Fasten your Headphones: The Examples

The audio examples are roughly sorted from easy to difficult signals. They were made in the first week of December, 2017.

Radio Sultanate of Oman, Seeb/Oman
15.140 kHz, 100 kW, AM, 5.350 km, 14:10 UTC, strong/free channel, SAM, 10 kHz bandwidth. Keep an ear on noise and slight fading!

 

Xinjiang People Broadcasting Station, ÜrümqiChina
4.500 kHz, 50 kW, AM, 5.500 km, 14:24 UTC, fair to good/free channel, SAM, 9 kHz bandwidth.

 

Bangla Desh Betar, Savar/Bangladesh
4.750 kHz, 100 kW, AM, 7.300 km, 14:29 UTC, fair/free channel, SAM, 9 kHz bandwidth.

 

Xizang People’s Broadcasting Station, “Holy Tibet”, Lhasa/China
6.025 kHz, 100 kW, AM, 6.850 km, 16:00 UTC, fair/strong broadcaster 5 kHz up, ECSS-L, 2,8 kHz.

 

Bangkok VOLMET, Bangkok/Thailand
6.676 kHz, 10 kW, USB, 8.800 km, 16:10 UTC, fair/free channel, USB, 3 kHz bandwidth.

 

Gander VOLMET, Gander/Newfoundland Canada
10.051 kHz, 10 kW [?], USB, 4.400 km, 15:20 UTC, weak to fair at fade-in/free channel, USB, 2,8 kHz bandwidth.

 

Myanma Radio, Yangoon/Myanmar
5.985 kHz, 50 kW, AM, 8.250 km, 01:00 UTC, weak to fair/interference from upper channel, ECSS-L, 5,5 kHz bandwidth.

 

Radio Aparecida, Aparecida/Brazil
6.135 kHz, 10 kW, AM, 9.900 km, 00:30 UTC, fair/free channel, SAM, 3,5 kHz bandwidth.

 

Time Signal Station CHU, Barrhaven/Ontario Canada
3.330 kHz, 3 kW, USB with carrier, 5.900 km, 06:00 UTC, fair/fsome interference from digital station above, USB, 3 kHz bandwidth.

 

Time Signal Station BPM, Shaanxi/China
15.000 kHz, 20 kW, AM, 7.750 km, 09:00 UTC, weak/free channel, SAM, 5 kHz bandwidth. Occasionally echo from mixing short/long path, some CW echo (long path) is running into the next via short path.

 

China Radio International, Ürümqi/China
1.521 kHz, 500 kW, AM, 5.500 km, 13:00 UTC, weak at fade-in/free channel, SAM, 6 kHz bandwidth.

 

Auckland VOLMET, Auckland/New Zealand
6.679 kHz, 5 kW, USB, 25.800 km (long path!), 07:20 UTC, very weak/free channel, USB, 3,6 kHz bandwidth. Here headphones are a must!

 

 

Offset/SNR: Some Ideas for Medium Wave DXing

Offset_5

Offset-DXing “on the fly” shows four different stations (spectrogram) on one nominal channel, namely 801 kHz. The window is baout 30 Hz wide and shows the carrier on HF level.

Although I use Simon Brown’s excellent software SDR Console V3 for years, I only now discovered a feature, being most valuable for medium wave DX.

Nearly each medium wave channel is populated by a couple of stations which mostly have a slight difference from each other, called offset. This often is specific to specific stations. It even reveals stations too weak to be heard. Software V3 will show these carriers of HF level during normal listening, being live or from an HF recording.

Read MW-Notes, to get some information on “how-to” on 6 pages, with 12 screenshots. There you will find also a hint for a method with even much more resolution (but: not “on the fly”) plus some information on how to measure signal strength and estimate/calculate the SNR of speech/music, rather than that of just the carrier.

You have to distinguish between absolute and relative frequency accuracy; the first is best achieved with a GPS-disciplined oscillator, the letter the normal case.

P.S. I started with these things back in 1997 with an evaluation board from Motorola, followed by sound card & software on audio level (“Soundtechnology zeigt Signale: Sieh’, wie es klingt!”, funk magazine 6/1998), to be continued on HF level from 2006, first with RFSpace’s groundbreaking SDR-14. Three years later, I published a survey of each and every 9- and 10-kHz-channel on medium wave by this method. After Apple closed their web service, these pages had gone astray, and the information is now not up-to-date anymore. State-of-the-Art now is the method described in the paper.

Medium Wave: Ex oriente DX

Medium wave saison has started, and am I trying to make the best out of it. Conditions are fascinating different from day to day, and even from minute to minute. With mainly focusing on “East of Suez”, with some other in between, please find some 50+ audio logs below. Click “Read More” button at the end, to expand the list to full length.
I am very much indebted to Christoph, OE2CRM, who with his very special mixture of charme and nuisance more or less forced me to explore a bit more of this frequency range 😉 First of all, I was and still am attracted by his outstanding logs which had been held impossible in Mid-Europe in the last decades.
I am using an Elad FDM-S2 at a wire loop of 20 m circumference with Wellbrook’s Large Aperture Loop Amplifier ALA100LN plus 7th order elliptic low-pass filter (1,5 MHz) by Heros to avoid any spilling over from HF (mainly that of: Radio Romania International); software used V3 from Simon Brown.

BEL3_Fishery_FRS_1143kHz

Part of the QSL from “Fishery Radio Station” (Taiwan Chü Yuyeh Kuangpo Tientai), BEL3, 100 kW, 1143 kHz, received September 25, 2017, 19:00 UTC. 謝謝, Station Manager Jin Mey Ju!

1700 kHz USA-Florida  WJCC Radio Mega in French, Miami Springs, 10 kW, 10-OCT-2017, 02:00 UTC.  Several IDs (e.g. in French) of this multi-cultural broadcaster.

 

1584 kHz G  Punjab Radio, in Hindi/English, London, 2 kW, 15-AUG-2017, 20:00 UTC. ID.

 

1566 kHz KOR  HLAZ FEBC in Korean, Jeju, 250 kW, 26-SEP-2017, 17:00 UTC

 

1566 kHz HOL  Vahon Hindustani Radio in Hindi, Den Haag, 1 kW, 23-AUG-2017, 22:00 UTC. ID in Hindi.

 

1557 kHz TWN  RTI iLoveMusic in Chinese, Kouhu, 300 kW, 20-SEP-2017, 16:55 UTC.

 

1550 kHz ALG  Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic National Radio in Arabic, Tindouf, 50 kW, 27-SEP-2017, 21:01 UTC. ID: “RASD punto [?] info …” & in Arabic

Read more

GRAVES: Reflections out of the blue

A GRAVES reflection from a meteor trail, August 21st, 2017 at 10:51 UTC. Received with FDM-S2 from Elad, a discone antenna and software V3 from Simon Brown

Undoubtly, a Graves is a fine French wine from the Bordeaux region in western France. So it is so surprise that also GRAVES is an extraordinary Radar station. It was built to detect and follow satellites and their debris. They sequentially cover from 90° to 270° azimut in five big sectors A to D, and change from sector to sector each 19,2 seconds. Each of this sector is further divided into 6 segments of 7,5° width, covered for 3,2 seconds each.

They are transmitting on 143,050 MHz. If you are in Europe and tune into 143.049,0 kHz USB, you probably will hear/see some reflections of meteors, airplanes and even spacecraft. The distance between the transmitter and my location is about 630 km, and for their southly directed transmissions, there most of the time is no direct reception.

So, if you tune into 143.049,0 kHz, you will see just a blue spectrogram: noise. If you wait for a while, some signals will appear out of this blue; see screenshot on the top. With Simon Brown’s free software Version 3 you may also take a level diagram in smallest time steps of just 50 milliseconds:

A level diagram of the meteor trail reflection from the spectrogram at the top, visualized qith QtiPlot.

This level diagram shows the big advantage of SDRs, working on the signals on HF level, rather than of audio level as with legacy radios. The latter additionally introduce e.g. noise and phase errors. Of course, you may also listen to this signal:

From this audio, in turn, you may do an audio spectrogram, possibly revealing further details of e.g. of the trilling sound like that from a ricocheting bullet: The Searchers (the 1956’er Western film by John Ford, not the British boy group from 1960 …) on VHF.

Audio spectrogram of the sound, revealing “packets” of sound which result in the trilling audio. At start, these packet show a width of about 42 milliseconds to be reduced to 37 milliseconds.

P.S. If you want to donate: my favourite Graves is from Domaine de Chevalier, blanc …

2,5+ million of Field Strength Data from ITU

Tehran-Norddeich_1983-1989_15K1MHz_3D1

Seven years of hourly field strength data of a transmitter in Tehran/Iran, received at Norddeich/Northern Germany. You clearly see the influence of time, day, season and solar activity.

 

The International Telecommunications Union recently published many information for free, which had been locked for years behind an often impressive cash house or had been available just for a few blessed.

Among these information is a bonanza of 2,5+ million of normalized field strength data from the years 1969 to 1993. This time covers two solar cycles and by far doesn’t provide insights of only historical interest: You e.g. may visualize some circuits to see the influence of day, time and solar activity at a glance. And you may use this data to analyze some dependence between field strength and solar/geomagnetic activity.

As these data so far hasn’t attracted any interest of ham radio magazines, we are just at the beginning to make use of it. Join in!

The diagram at the top has been made with QtiPlot software. The same software has been used to visualize solar and geomagnetic WDC data, obtained from GFZ Potsdam – see diagram at the bottom.

Kp_vs-Flux_2

Solar flux (F10,7) vs. geomagnetic activity (Kp index), 1969-1993.

 

SDR-Transceiver-Netz des DARC e.V.?

Weiter gibt es Ungereimtheiten beim seit einigen Jahren groß angekündigten Remote-Transceiver-Netz des DARC e.V., das seine Fördermitglieder schon mit jeder Menge Geld vorfinanziert haben. Offenbar wird es nur von zwei Personen getragen, wobei man für die komplette Software sogar auf ein Nicht-Mitglied des “Bundesverbandes für den Amateurfunkdienst” zurückgreifen musste – der somit einem Kreis entstammt, der das Netz nach dem Willen des Vorstandes nicht einmal wird nutzen dürfen …

Den Stand der Dinge habe ich nach öffentlich zugänglichen Informationen in der Juli-Ausgabe der Fachzeitschrift “Funktelegramm” zusammengefasst. DARC-Noch-Mitglied DL7AG hat diesen Text mit Erlaubnis von Joachim Kraft, Herausgeber und Chefredakteur des “Funktelegramm”, auf seine Website gestellt.

Wie inzwischen weiter bekannt wurde, hat allein das DARC-Mitglied des Entwickler-Duos, Helmut Goebkes, für das Projekt 25.382,70 Euro erhalten. Der Auftrag wurde ihm freihändig und ohne Ausschreibung vom DARC-Vorstand zugeschoben. Der Software-Entwickler Stefan Görg – kein DARC-Mitglied – ging hingegen leer aus. Er hatte auch niemals Geld verlangt.

Überdies nehmen die Ungereimtheiten innerhalb des DARC darüber zu, wer dieses Netz eines Tages überhaupt wird benutzen dürfen: nur DARC-Mitglieder oder jeder Funkamateur? Der DARC-Vorstand möchte es exklusiv seinen zahlenden Mitgliedern zur Verfügung stellen – wobei der Zutritt zum Verein nicht diskriminierungsfrei ist. Viele andere Funkamateure – darunter sogar Betreiber des Netzes! – teilen jedoch diese restriktive Sicht des DARC-Vorstandes nicht und setzen sich für einen wahren Ham Spirit ein: „Die Ausbreitungsbedingungen sowie die eigene Aussendung können mit der neuen Technologie von Funkamateuren aus der ganzen Welt beobachtet werden. Die intensive, ja wissenschaftliche Auseinandersetzung mit einem großen Frequenzspektrum ist damit jedermann möglich“, heißt es etwa von den Betreibern aus Bad Honnef, die sich im Gegensatz zu ihrem Vereinsvorstand ein für alle Funkamateure weltweit offenes System wünschen.

Noch aber ist es nicht so weit. Denn, so Hardware-Mann Helmut Goebkes: “Der Aufbau der Infrastruktur eines solchen Vorhabens erfordert schon noch ein bisserl mehr als nur irgendwo eine Hardware ins Netz zu stellen.”

Beispielsweise erfordert es eine Klärung der amateurfunk-genehmlichen Rechtslage, die der DARC auch im vierten Projektjahr immer noch nicht erreichen konnte. Der erhoffte sich übrigens für seinen Verlagsableger ein Geschäft mit der Hardware und warb mit großer Tröte dafür, dass die Transceiver über die DARC GmbH beziehbar sein werden. Auch das hat sich trotz vollmundiger Ankündigungen noch nicht materialisiert.

Haken soll die Inbetriebnahme des Transceiver-Netzes zudem noch daran, so DARC-Mann Goebkes, dass “entsprechende sendefähige Breitbandantennen (!) am Aufstellort vorhanden sein” müssten. Aber nur schwer vorstellbar, dass dem nach einer langen Bewerbungsphase für die 15, 18 oder 19 Standorte nicht ist. Denn, so der DARC, diese mussten sich ja in einem Bewerbungsverfahren unter den mehr als 1.000 Ortsvereinen “durchsetzen”. Und selbstverständlich wird eine der Bedingungen für den ersehnten Zuschlag gewesen sein, für die entsprechende Infrastruktur zu sorgen – wie sie im übrigen schon an vielen Standorten vorhanden ist.

 

SDR Console V3: Signal History and six RX Panes!

KPL

NEW: The Receivers’ Pane on top covers spectrum and spectrogram of up to six demodulators – look at different modes and bandwidths. Also new: “Signal History” at the bottom.

Simon Brown, G4ELI, has further developed his software SDR Console which has become THE platform for a real bunch of very different SDRs. The new public preview has two more exciting features:

  • “Signal History” takes the signal strength of the given bandwidth each 50 milliseconds, which can be saved in a CSV file. It is also shown in three different speeds on a display.
  • “Receivers’ Pane” shows up to six combos of spectrum/spectrogram of the complete up to 24 parallel demodulators (they additionally can be shown in the Matrix, as in former versions).

See screenshot on at the top.

“Signal History” offers many applications, to name just three:

  • analyze fading and its structure with an unsurpassed time resolution of 50 ms
  • document fade-in and fade out
  • measure signal-to-noise ratio of signals

As an First Aid, I have written a PDF of 19 pages with 36 instructive Figures. There you find a step-by-step introduction plus numerous example on how to use this valuable tool in practice. Please download it here. (Another tab opens, where you have to double-click “SDR_COM_Marker” to start download.)

Surely, I will come back to these most welcomed features in more detail. For now only some screenshot examples regarding “Signal History”, which have been realized by analyzing the CSV files with QtiPlot:

With some statistics applied on the CSV file of Signal History, you’ll get a deep inisght into fading structures. Top: original data (black), averaged (yellow), median (read line). Bottom: box diagram, histogram, 3D-band. See following screenshots for some examples.

 

… and this is just the beginning! [Receiver: Elad FDM-S2 & AirSpy with SpyVerter]

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