Sunday, May 27, 2012

The Afedri SDR-net - Second Looks

I had some time this weekend to check into the Afedri SDR-net further. My beverages and the QDFA are all down, so I used one of the QDFA loops (7 m high and 20 m wide) as a temporary ALA-100 loop. It has quite a bit of gain especially on the SW bands.

The Afedri SDR-net sports a 12-bit, 80 MHz ADC, in contrast to the Perseus and SDR-IQ which use 14-bit ADCs, and the QS1R, NetSDR and Excalibur series which use 16-bit ADCs. Apart from a 30 MHz low pass filter, there is no band pass filtering. All the SDRs above except the Excalibur G31DDC have band pass filtering. If you buy an Afedri SDR-net you will accept some compromises, and you will need to do some mitigation measures. The question is of course: Is it worth it.

The Afedri SDR-net is only the second amateur-grade SDR I know which can be connected to the PC via Ethernet, the other being the RF Space NetSDR which sells for USD 1400 (I consider the SDR-IP a commercial-grade SDR). Unlike the NetSDR though, the Afedri SDR-net can also use the more common USB connection. However, the USB connection limits the spectrum to 230 kHz (250 ksamples/s) while the Ethernet connection gives access to 1225 kHz (1333.33 ksamples/s). If you opt for the Ethernet connection (highly recommended), be sure to use a crossover Ethernet cable when you connect the SDR to the PC. A standard Ethernet cable should be used if you go via a router or a switch.

There are two ways to power the SDR. There is a 12.6 VDC input in front (and a DC jack is included), however the DC voltage can be anywhere from 7.5 to 15 V. The problem with the DC input is that another compromise – a switching DC/DC converter working on 930 kHz – will reduce MW performance. My recommendation is to use the micro-USB input for DC power. If so, you can choose to use one of the PC’s USB ports, or you can modify the USB cable to power the SDR from an external, linear 5VDC supply. The USB connection draws 470 mA. This is close to the 500 mA limit of a USB port, so you may want to keep the cable as short as possible. Some laptops are reported to deliver less than 500 mA.

As mentioned by Alex in a comment to this post, a root hub connector will deliver 500 mA, while other hub connectors may be limited in current. Hence, if you're unable to power up the Afedri SDR-net from one USB connector, it may help to try another.

Sensitivity is an important issue for MW DX-ers in quiet areas. I measured around -91 dBm on AM, 6 kHz bandwidth with a 400 Hz tone modulated by 30 %. Internal gain from its Variable Gain Amplifier was set at 14 dB (see below). This is around 10 dB lower sensitivity than the NetSDR. Although sufficient for many purposes, the Afedri SDR-net will not resolve the weakest signals. A Norton push-pull preamplifier, from Kiwa or other manufacturers, will be helpful in many instances if signal levels are low.

Another vital question related to sensitivity is: When does the ADC go into clipping? You can adjust the VGA gain of the Afedri from -10 dB to 35 dB. It is possible to tailor-suit the gain with the use of a small app inside the HDSDR program (which comes with the Afedri). Pushing it all the way up to 35 dB may not be a good idea unless you are certain that there are no strong signals around. In this setting, I got ADC overload by feeding one signal generator signal at -28 dBm signal outside of the received spectrum. Reducing the gain to 26 dB raised the overload threshold to -23 dBm, while at 14 dB the threshold came within a more acceptable -12 dBm. The G31DDC, also without bandpass filters, did not overload within the -8 dBm limit of my signal generator. Of course, one signal does not reflect "real life".

The -91 dBm sensitivity was measured at 14 dB VGA gain. In theory, sensitivity could be higher, but rarely in practical terms (at 35 dB VGA, sensitivity was measured to -106 dBm, at 26 dB it was -104 dBm).

Hence, external filtering will be necessary in most instances. A SW listener near strong MW stations will want a high pass filter to eliminate overload from MW. As for me, in many instances I can probably live with a 26 dB VGA setting, but I will invest in a low pass filter to eliminate the strongest SW station around here, Murmansk-5930. It is sometimes heard with signals above -10 dBm.

It’s a bit too early to make conclusions about the Afedri SDR-net. The Arctic nights are light, and signal levels low, making it difficult to judge how it will perform in real DX situations. My impression however, is that for the price it’s a very capable SDR, able to run with a variety of software. You should however buy or make high pass and/or low pass filters to avoid overloading the ADC. And you may need to use an external preamplifier if sensitivity becomes an issue. So, if you are willing to compromise: Yes, it's worth it.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Afedri SDR - First Looks

I thought the RF Space SDR-IQ was small, but that was until I saw the Afedri. The latter's footprint is actually smaller than the SDR-IQ's. For comparison, in the picture below it is sitting on top of the Perseus, itself not a mammoth radio.

I haven't had time to much more than getting it up and going, so details will have to wait. It was very much plug and play, actually. I opted for powering it through its 5V USB connection, thus minimizing RFI. And I chose the ethernet connection rather than the bandwidth-restricted USB interface.

Not only is it smaller than the SDR-IQ, it sells for half the price but still offers a 1250 kHz bandwidth compared to the SDR-IQ's 192 kHz. However, the USD 249 price tag suggests that the creator, Alex Trushkin, has had to make some compromises. Like a 12-bit ADC while other SDR makers use 14-bit or 16-bit, no bandpass filters, and somewhat restricted sensitivity.

Still, my first impression is that it's a very cabable SDR, and basically unbeatable at this price level. You can buy a Norton push-pull preamplifier and lowpass and/or highpass filters and still have cash left compared to an SDR-IQ. And the SDR-IQ will not record 1250 kHz, and will not connect to the ethernet.

The Afedri will run with many SDR programs, such as Winrad, Linrad and SDR-Radio.

More as it happens.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Another SDR To Meet The Arctic Challenge

Many hobbyists design SDRs these days. The most promising I've seen so far is the AFEDRI SDR-Net, designed by 4Z5LV Alexander Trushkin. The latest version is not only able to cover the MW spectrum (1250 kHz bandwidth), but even has an ethernet connection! In other words, you can connect it to your router/switch, and access it with whatever PC is connected to your LAN. Just like the RF Space NetSDR.
Photo: 4Z5LV Alex
The specs aren't out of this world, but neither is the price tag. It will be interesting to see how well it fares compared to my other SDRs, Perseus, NetSDR, Excalibur and Excalibur Pro.

I've just ordered one, and I hope to do some preliminary tests by the end of May. Thanks Tracey Gardner for alerting me.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

G39DDC Software For G31/G33 Files Playback

A good thing about Winradio's software is that you don't need the actual receiver. They load into a "Demo mode" if no receiver is connected. It is fully functional, and allows you to play back files without the receiver connected if you wish.

I never seriously considered purchasing the G39DDC Excelsior, but I was keen to check out the software, since it would likely have some improvements over the G31 and G33 software packages. It was a mixed bag.
G39 in Waterfall mode playing back a G33 LF recording
The G39 software has many functions not found on the G31 and G33 software, mainly because it's supposed to support a scanner going up to 3.5 GHz. I had hoped to see a better designed playback function than those found on the G31 (mediocre) and G33 (improved). Indeed I did! The playback bar works very much like those found on the Perseus, Spectravue and SDR-Radio; you can click anywhere inside the bar and the recording will move to that spot instantly. Playing back a recording appears to be easier if you use the G39 software than if you use the G33 (and particularly the G31) software. However, there is still no way to make a small selection of the recording, and loop it. Both Perseus and SDR-Radio feature this very useful tool.
G33 recording/playback controls

G39 recording/playback controls
The last four lines on the G39 control box expands/subtracts by use of the tool box to the right of the file path.

Winradio G3x software has never been the easiest to use for those who want to check offsets from the nominal frequency. The G33 Demod window can be zoomed in to a width of 240 Hz. Maximizing the window enables the user to move in 1 Hz steps. However, the resolution is rather low so doing exact offset measurements isn't very easy. The G39 DDC2 window can only be zoomed to 500 Hz, but the resolution is better, so it is still possible to move in 1 Hz steps. Vertical lines on the display help a lot.
G39 DDC2 window

It would be nice though if there was a way to change the MHz labeling to kHz...