Sunday, August 19, 2018

Comparing Real-Life Noise Levels on Some SDRs

The coming DX season is only a week away here in the frozen north - if in any way a maximum summer temperature of 32.8 degrees Celsius is compatible with the term "frozen".

The 500-metre, 50-degrees Asia/Pacific beverage was set up, or rather "laid out" to avoid complications with remaining reindeer, yesterday. Noise levels seem to be fine, and today I decided to compare three of my 1.5 MHz+ sampling SDRs on a basically signal-free MW band.

I used both the Cloud-IQ and the RSP1A with SDR Console V3.0.2. I didn't want to go through the hassle of setting up Perseus for SDR-C only for this test (I use Jaguar at all times), so I decided to use its native Perseus software instead.

I used a reference signal on 468 kHz, and adjusted gain levels so they read the same signal level, in this case -68 dBm in AM mode, 6 kHz bandwidth. In the case of the RSP1A, this meant RF Gain 9, IF Gain -35, Visual Gain 15. The Perseus however measured -63 dBm. I used the same sample rate on the Cloud-IQ and the RSP1A (1536 kHz alias-free), and the 2000 kHz (1600 kHz alias-free) sample rate of the Perseus. Center frequencies were 1100 kHz.

All SDRs were connected to the 500-metre beverage via a DX-Engineering preamp and a 1:8 Mini-Circuits splitter.

So, how did it go? First off, the Cloud-IQ:
RF Space Cloud-IQ Noise Level, 500-metre beverage antenna
Then, we take a look at the RSP1A:
SDRPlay RSP1A Noise Level, 500-metre beverage antenna
And finally, the Perseus:
Microtelecom Perseus Noise Level, 500-metre beverage antenna
Taking into account the different scale on the Perseus, there isn't much variation. The RSP1A is the most noisy of the three, but not by much.  A few spikes may indicate USB noise. I used ferrite clamps on the USB cable. Although the pics above indicate otherwise on 1224 kHz, the RSP1A's noise level was generally 1-3 dB higher than the Cloud-IQ.

Mind you, this is an empty band, so any sensitive radio with even the most fragile front end would do well. As I experienced last winter, the problem with the RSP1A is with high signal levels. You can always reduce RF Gain, but not when you're doing automated recordings. So, you either risk saturation, or not hearing the weakest signals.

I will have all three SDRs connected to the beverage and do some recordings in the evenings when there are signals in the band. Weak signal readability is what we're after.

And finally, we could take a look at how the KongSDR with a 70-metre longwire compares:
KiwiSDR Noise Level, 70-metre longwire antenna

And I saved the best for last. Too bad the Airspy HF+ has only 660 kHz bandwidth. A performance like this with full MW coverage would be stellar. Roughly 7 dB better than the Cloud-IQ! (Visual Gain reduced to show same signal level as the others on 468 kHz). But the trade-off compared to one SDR covering and recording the entire band is too huge.
Airspy HF+ Noise Level, 500-metre beverage antenna

Friday, August 10, 2018

HDSDR Version 2.80 Public Beta

When July ends, our Arctic nights are not sunlit anymore. A sign that it's time to think about the coming MW DX season. For those who want updated SDR software, it may be worth noting that HDSDR has now come in public beta. As per now, beta no. 9 is available on their website

I have followed the work on version 2.80 with suggestions and alfa- and beta testing, and version 2.80 is indeed an improvement over the latest release version 2.76a. Both visually (see below) and with regards to functions.  I have written a combined changelog (though not guaranteed to cover every change that was made) and a review of the changes.

Version 2.80 (left), vs. 2.76a - Graphical User Interface

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

Remote Control Of My SDR PCs: Another Change

In February, 2016 I moved away from long-time favourite LogMeIn Pro to Teamviewer. LMI was charging more and more, and Teamviewer had a free account for non-commercial customers. For me, it was a no-brainer. You can read more about it here.

I would live well with the regular and rather persisting calls to buy a license, like everytime I closed a session. But then one day, Teamviewer informed me that they had "discovered" that my account was in commercial use. So they stripped my access to one minute per session. "Pay up, or get lost". Well, they didn't put it quite like that, but I got the message. A license covering my PCs would be around USD 800 a year, around the same as LogMeIn Pro. What it was they discovered was "commercial" is beyond me. I suspect that the algorithm was: "Many PCs, surely a business!"

Message of doom from Teamviewer: "Upgrade to a professional licence to continue"

Time to look around for alternatives. I tested a few, and to cut a long evening short, I ended up with Splashtop. It's not free, but control of 10 PCs (I have 8 all in all) is only USD 60 per year. It has good quality audio, contrary to many competitors which have no audio at all! The user interface is good, almost on par with Teamviewer and LMI, and no worries about IP addresses and firewalls. Splashtop offers a 7-day trial with full functionality, so no wasted money should you find out that Splashtop doesn't meet your needs. Regrettably, I spent USD 7 for RemotePC only to find out it was mute.

Initially, Splashtop seems more complicated than their premium-priced competitors, in that you have to install two software packages: First Streamer, which takes care of the server bit in the remote PC, and then Splashtop Business, which is the interface you work with to connect to the remote PC. After installing Streamer you can more or less forget about it after checking and/or selecting some settings.

Streamer. Review and/or edit the parameters, and forget about it.

Splashtop Business is installed in the PCs you use to access remote PCs. This could be a single PC, or all of them, depending on your need. Like LMI and Teamviewer, this interface lists the PCs you have in your account, and the status - offline, available or connected.

The link between you and your remote PCs.

When a PC is selected (like the one above), connection takes a few seconds (a bit more than Teamviewer), and this is what you see:

Some basic controls (far fewer than Teamviewer) are in the red rectangle on top. Audio quality is very good, comparable to sitting in front of it except a little loss in the below 100 Hz spectrum, which is really an advantage. Audio latency is very low, and without the pops and occasional high (up to 2 seconds) audio latency I had with Teamviewer. Video quality is good, but not quite on par with Teamviewer and LMI. However, if the remote PC has a GeForce Nvidia graphics board, Streamer will utilise this to present excellent video, comparable to sitting in front of it! There is a downside here though, because if you are using SDR Console, you need to disable CUDA to prevent Console from freezing. They use the same resources. Alternatively, you can disable GeForce from Streamer.

Splashtop has received mixed ratings, mostly because of limited functionality. However these limitations do not apply for the dedicated DX-er, so for our use I'd say this is as good as it gets for the price tag. I am still on my 7-day trial, but I will buy. Even if Teamviewer accepts my appeal.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

FM DX With the SDRPlay RSP1A, or: My Debut As an FM DX-er

Admittedly, I'm a MW DX-er, and have done very little FM DX in my 47 years as a DX-er. However, when I got my RSP1A with up to 10 MHz sampling rate in late 2017, I decided that I wanted to test its FM capabilities this summer. I had already noticed that it seemed to be quite sensitive on the FM band.

I set up a three-element FM antenna in the attic in my DX HQ in Kongsfjord, pointing south. Now, FM DX is a lot more common on lower latitudes than my 71 degrees north, so to be fair I didn't have hope of receiving much. I monitored the FM band to and from every day from mid-May, but I had forgot to check when FM-DX ace Ole Forr messaged me on the evening of June 25.

When I connected to Kongsfjord via Teamviewer, it was the start of an E-skip stint which would evolve into a super evening!

I had set the RSP1A to 8 MHz sampling because 10 MHz seemed to be to much for the software or hardware to handle. Still, 8 MHz covers quite a bit of the FM band. I used SDR Console to record the IQ stream into an 8 TB hard drive, and changed centre frequencies so I could cover the entire band at one time or another. It soon emerged that every 100 kHz had at least one signal, many had three or four.

At one point, the combined signal levels were so high, I had to throttle back a bit on the RSP1A's gain to avoid overloading.

After reviewing the recordings, I ended up with a log of 200 FM stations. Most of them ID'd by RDS, a few by announcements since the RDS wouldn't lock.  13 countries were logged: Russia, Belarus, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Faroe Islands. Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Lithuania dominated the log. Stations from 908 til 2411 km away were heard, and the lowest powered were 100 watts. The FMLIST map below shows all stations logged. I did hear two unidentified German stations, and one with an Austrian accent, so more countries were there.

The RSP1A performed very well. Of course, I don't know how it would compare to a dedicated FM tuner, but on the face of it, it seems to be a very capable FM receiver.  And no dedicated FM tuner will ever listen to an 8 (or 10) MHz of spectrum at one go! SDR Console also worked well, and RDS data with the all-important PI code showed up with little delay, even for signals not in the clear.
FM e-skip from Arctic Norway on June 25, 2018.

Friday, June 08, 2018

AM Stations in Major Canadian Markets

Numeris, which monitors Canada’s media landscape, recently published their spring ratings in major markets, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Toronto and Montreal. I took a look at the numbers, to see how the AM stations fared. Only commercial and CBC stations are listed, so a religious station like CJCA Edmonton 930 is not there.

AM listening seems to be «alive and well», all things considered, with CBU-690 and CKNW-980 on the top two spots with 16.0 and 11.6 % share respectively. On the bottom though is 50-kW CFTE-1410 with 0.2 %. CKST-1050, CHMJ-1320 and CISL-650 don’t do too well either, 1.8, 1.0 and 1.2 %.

Not much difference from Vancouver. Two AM stations top the list, CHQR-770 with 9.4 % and CBR-1010 with 9 %.  CKMX-1060 is at the bottom of the AM list with 1.8 %.

More FM dominance here. CBX-740 is no. 3 with 7.5 %, CHED-630 no. 4, 7.4 %. CHQT-880 seems to struggle with only 1.3 %.

It seems like the further east, the worse AM performance. CFRB-1010 is no. 5 in the Toronto market with a share of 6.6 %. The high-powered CHUM-1050 can’t make much money with a 0.4 % share.

AM is all but dead among the French-speaking listeners, as even the two English-speaking AM stations CJAD-800 and CKGM-690 have higher ratings than the French-speaking stations! CHRF-980 is the best French-speaking AM station in the French market with 0.3 %, CKAC is 0.1 %. Will they survive? In the English market, CJAD-800 has a stunning 30.6 % market share, while CKGM-690 has only 2.1 %.

The news stations mostly seem to do well in these markets. The sports stations however, is a sad story. But I suppose they may be cheaper to run.

Potential death list, ratings 2 % or lower:
Vancouver: CFTE-1410, CHMJ-1320, CISL-650, CKST-1040.
Calgary: CKMX-1060.
Edmonton: CHQT-880.
Toronto: CHUM-1050.
Montreal: CKAC-730, CHRF-980.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Will We See The RFSpace CloudSDR This Year?

The excellent 0-56 MHz Cloud-IQ has been out for quite some time, and will likely have HDSDR support in not too long, along with the NetSDR. Its "big brother", the CloudSDR, was expected to arrive not much later, but apparently has been delayed. Recent tweets from RFSpace may indicate that it may be on its way. Their web page state Q4-2018 for release.

The CloudSDR uses a 122.88 MHz ADC for the HF part up to 56 MHz, and a silicon tuner above, up to 1000 MHz or more. It may look like the HF is part is just another Cloud-IQ, but its spurious-free dynamic range is 7 dB better, and it has 3 dB better SNR. Sensitivity claims are identical.

The I/Q sampling on the tweet images is 2048000 Hz, a bit more than the Cloud-IQ which stops at 1807058 Hz (1536 kHz alias-free). I guess VHF DX-ers would love to be able to sample a lot more. but there is no indication of that so far.

There are separate antenna inputs for HF and VHF/UHF use. I  have been wondering if the CloudSDR would offer the same dual-antenna, software-selectable input as the Cloud-IQ has. The latest 3D model may suggest such a solution, as an "Aux RF" input has been added. It would be very cool to be able to change antennas via software

There are two other inputs as well, one for 10-MHz reference, and one trigger input, neither found on its smaller brother.

Input voltage will be 5VDC, and preliminary specs suggest that it needs 1.3mA, a little less than the NetSDR. The Cloud-IQ can be powered from a USB 3.0 port (even a good-quality USB 2.0 port), which makes it a perfect SDR for a mobile setup with a PC connected to a 12VDC battery. I hope that the CloudSDR's final design will require a little less current.

The MSRP is USD 999. We'll see if it ends up there.
All images from RFSpace.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

QSL: WLIK Newport TN 1270

"WLIK, The Smokies Oldies!"  This was the surprising announcement mixing with WXYT one morning in early January on Smøla island. A most friendly email response was received today, thanks OJ Sagdahl for v/s info.

Upcoming HDSDR Support For The RFSpace NetSDR

HDSDR has evolved into a flexible and powerful SDR interface, yet easy on your PC's CPU and memory. While I use Jaguar almost exclusively together with my four Perseus SDRs, I tend to want to use HDSDR for my other SDRs. However, the RFSpace range of SDRs have been unsupported. But that is about to change.

During the first days of May, German programmer Hayati Aygüen worked on the ExtIO dll, and I tested the dlls on my NetSDR. After a few versions, it was rated good enough for Hayati to publish the dll on Github. It's not finished yet, but it does work, with 21 different sample rates from 2 MHz to 12.5 kHz. It will likely be fully developed this summer.

Hopefully, it will be possible to make a dll for the Cloud-IQ as well. And maybe for the CloudSDR, when it enters the market.

The picture below shows the NetSDR sampling 1 MHz . The poor signal levels was propagation, not the radio...

Monday, May 07, 2018

QSL: WMCA New York NY 570

WMCA is heard from time to time at Smøla island. An early January log was sent off to the CE, who confirmed my reception this afternoon.

QSL: 2SM Sydney NSW, 1269

This 5-kW station had a great signal one April evening in 2017. It was a bit difficult to find someone who would find interest in my report, but I received a very friendly email response today.

Friday, April 27, 2018

QSL: WRMN Elgin IL 1410

There are some strange radio formats in the US. One is Beatles-only (KJME 890), and then there is the radio shopping format, found on KHSP 1400 (heard in 2013), and also on WRMN. Everything for revenue, I suppose.
WRMN was heard the last day in March, and a brief but friendly email  confirmed my reception today.

QSL: WONE Dayton OH 980

WONE was noted with excellent signal levels one night during our Mount Loran remote stunt last October. Quick and friendly response from their CE last night. #15 on 980.

Monday, April 23, 2018

QSL: WPGR Monroeville PA, 1510

WPGR was heard with "We Are One Body" Catholic programming one evening in early January, while still on daytime power. Friendly response from the Operations Manager this evening. Thanks OJS for info.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

MW DX Season Is Over - Time To Tidy Up!

Mid-April is rarely an exiting time for DX in my latitude. And with the current solar disturbance, there was really no point in doing another week. So, starting this weekend, gear will be packed away, and the beverages removed. What will remain is the 70-metre longwire and of course the KongSDR.
It's been an unusually snowy winter, and the first one where I simply didn't find the starting point of the 310-degrees beverage! Let's hope for a quick thaw.

Propagation has not been outstanding. Especially the first, often exciting part of the season got hammered with corona holes. Still, quite an amount of new stations. I'm especially satisfied with finally hearing a good ID on Solomon Islands Broadcasting Corporation, 1035 kHz, and the new Radio Kiribati outlet on Christmas Islands, 846 kHz.

Where is it???

A few cables & stuff to put away...

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

QSL: KFMO Park Hills, MO 1240

First heard in 2016, but heard again with a better signal today. Very swift email response this evening for my #1300 North American station.

QSL: WWTX Wilmington DE 1290

Late March was a good time for NA DX-ers, at least for those with radios at Smøla island. OJ Sagdahl detected this first, and alerted me to listen to 1290. That was a jaw dropping experience. Another one from Delaware, the most elusive state of all??? The "Fox Sports 1290" ID was indicative but not conclusive, however every internet search pointed towards WWTX. And yes, WWTX confirmed this was their announcement, and that they had been running at night power! 32 watts! Third Delaware verie, the second in 2018. Happy days!

Tuesday, April 03, 2018

QSL: WTPS Petersburg VA 1240

March 31 was an interesting night for NA DX, and WTPS is no common station on 1240. Very good signal on top of the hour though, and I received an email response after just three minutes. My contact mentioned he got one report from Sweden the week before, but "Your reception was clearer however." I can live with that!

Sunday, April 01, 2018

KongSDR Finances - March

As it's only a month and a half until we see the midnight sun, MW gradually loses momentum - although we're still hearing interesting DX from North America and Asia/Pacific.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Revised Sensitivity Measurements Table

I've been measuring MW sensitivity on most of the receivers I've owned - and some I've borrowed. The new document is updated with measurements made by friends of mine many years ago. So now, the list comprises 41 receivers. From the super-affordable to the hyper-expensive, from early 1950's to 2017, and from 110 grams to 55 kg. And quite a few with legendary status!

Apart from extending the list of receivers, I have also sorted them by name and made some minor layout changes.

I hope I have the opportunity to extend the list as time goes. And you can have a look here.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

QSL: 3RN ABC Radio National, Melbourne VIC, 621

Aussie conditions haven't been quite what we had hoped for this season. A couple of weeks ago, 621 was heard, rather briefly, but with the Majestic Fanfare quite clear under the Chinese. Email confirmation today.

Friday, March 23, 2018

QSL: HLKQ KBS-1 Cheongju, 1062

KBS World responds to reception reports, but it's quite a different story when it comes to their domestic stations.  However, this morning, 10 months after a snail mail report, there was a QSL card and one other image (below) in my email inbox, and obviously the sender had taken some time to make a proper QSL for HLKQ!

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

QSL: WLIE Islip NY, 540

This one was obviously running on day power one night in mid-February, and apparently heard several places. Including Smøla island. After a while, OJS (thanks!!) found a valid verie signer, and a friendly email arrived this evening.

QSL: WMFN Peotone IL, 640

OJ Sagdahl detected WMFN with a good signal mixing with CBC in January. A brief email response came today. A Smøla island logging.

Monday, March 12, 2018

WDTK Detroit MI, 1400

First time I heard WDTK was in January 2016, but very weak. I didn't even send a report at the time. Two years later though, an excellent signal for a 1-kW station. Email responses from two of the staff this evening, one commenting: "...amazing that it could travel to you, especially when our nighttime signal isn’t even listenable at my home 20 miles from here."

WDTK is a Salem station, which also runs the far more common WLQV 1500.

QSL: WBOW Paris, IL 1440

WBOW was heard last Christmas. The super dominant Saudi station was holding its breath just before the full hour, and a clear "1440 WBOW Paris" was heard, part of a longer full-hour announcement starting with WIBQ Terre Haute IN 1230. WBOW actually changed call letters to WIBU the day after (which was one hour after I heard them!), so this was likely the last WBOW announcement on 1440.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

QSLs: 6BE ABC Kimberley, Broome 675, 6DB ABC Kimberley, Derby 873

These two stations from Western Australia, 5 and 2 kW respectively, were heard during a good opening to SA and WA in the end of February. Graham confirmed these today, and says he's been inundated with reports from Europe this winter. Australia # 40 (and 41) on MW. Thanks OJ for notifying.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

The Icom IC-7610: Early Impressions

Excellent receiver! But some functionality issues for the broadcast DX-er. Read more here.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Weekend Test: The Icom IC-7610

LA9VFA Olav kindly lent me his new IC-7610 for testing this weekend. I already have one excellent Icom transceiver, the IC-746Pro, modified for optimal MW performance, so I thought it would be a good idea to put them together.

Later on I will measure the 7610's sensitivity and do some comparisons with the 746Pro and my SDRs. However, it took me less than 10 seconds to find out: It has better threshold signal readability than the 746Pro! On MW! I'm looking forward to this...

Thursday, March 08, 2018

KongSDR Finances - February

A bit delayed - here's the current status for the KongSDR. Thanks all, this month especially Kai ;-)

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

QSL: WITK Pittston PA, 1550

WITK was heard at the same time as WSYB 1380 (see below), with a local weather update before the full hour. Friendly response today, for my third Wilkins Radio station. 22 to go! USA # 1100.

QSL: WNRS Herkimer NY, 1420

WNRS was heard at Smøla island late in the morning in mid-February, probably already at their 1000-watt daytime power. A Facebook report to the station was awarded with a short confirmation. WNRS' main market is Utica, which at 60,000 inhabitants is six times the size of Herkimer. They also have a 250-watt FM reflector in Utica.  NY QSL # 60.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

QSL: WSYB Rutland VT, 1380

I heard WSYB in a "daytimer opening" at 22 UTC one evening in January with decent full-hour ID, and also with local announcements after network news. Very friendly response yesterday! Reception from Smøla island.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Revised SDRPlay RSP1A Article

I finally got round to do sensitivity measurements (no surprises), and I have also checked a bit on VHF and UHF. Revised article is here, or look at the "DX-related stuff..."-section to the right.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

QSL: KPRM Park Rapids MN 870

First time I heard KPRM was in the early 2000s, apparently running day power overnight. No response at the time, despite a number of reports. In November 2017 another good signal, and another report was sent. After a couple of follow-ups, a brief response came last night.

Monday, February 26, 2018

QSL: WARR Warrenton, NC 1520

WARR surfaced briefly through WWKB one evening in early January, probably running their Critical Hours power as it was 45 minutes after Warrenton sunset. It took a while for a confirmation to show up, but then I received a brief email today.

Friday, February 23, 2018

QSL: WADO New York, NY 1280

This Spanish-language NYC station is heard from time to time, and I got a nice ID one morning in January, fighting with the Puerto Rican. Friendly response from the CE today, thanks Patrick Willför for v/s.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

QSL: WWMI St. Petersburg FL 1380

WWMI "1380 The Biz" surfaced with a very good signal one morning in mid-February at the Smøla island location. Short but friendly email response today.  Florida # 25.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

QSL: WDOV Dover, DE 1410

January 19 was a good day for east coast US stations at Smøla island. Mixing with other stations on 1410, WDOV surfaced with a legal ID. Delaware is the most elusive of all US states in our area, and it was a great pleasure to have another DE station confirmed (WILM-1450 a few years ago). Thanks OJ Sagdahl for spotting it.

Saturday, February 03, 2018

KongSDR Finances - January

Thanks again to those who support the KongSDR. The reason why the Costs column vary, is that I swap between capacity subscriptions depending on usage.

Friday, February 02, 2018

QSL: WKLQ Whitehall MI 1490

"Thanks again for your email. You made our day!!"
This was the response from WKLQ  "Big Talk 1490" to my reception report. Heard in the end of January with quite a good signal level at the top of the hour ID.

QSL: CBGY Bonavista NL 750

The last of the CBC Newfoundland stations was confirmed today. Heard with local morning programming produced in St. John's, but aired in the Bonavista area roughly 100 km to the north of the province capital.

QSLs: More All India Radio MW stations

Another QSL received today with the following stations confirmed:

AIR South, Vijyayawada 837
AIR West, Indore  648
AIR North, Jalandhar B  873
AIR South, Cuddapah 900

So, that makes eight AIR stations confirmed in two days. Total MW count from India now is 23, up from one at the start of the season (AIR Bhuj 1310, in 1976). 41 years with not a single AIR MW report. I'm catching up quite well.

Thursday, February 01, 2018

QSL: WSTX St. Croix, Virgin Islands 970

It was a long-awaited catch in January, and a much appreciated QSL today! The signal was quite weak, but I got two distinct "WSTX" announcements, and that was enough. I sent along a picture of me at the Smøla island beach, and got a Virgin island beach in return. Guess which is which!