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Thread: SDR - darn it!

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    Default SDR - darn it!

    20 total replies year-to-date, so this section of the forum is apparently not particularly active. Oh well - I was licensed in 2013 for video transmitting purposes and only recently got involved in amateur radio. I bought an entry-level radio (Yaesu 450D) and have experimented with various antenna configurations (apartment limited to short-term put up and take down antennas) and I've experienced some limited success in making HF contacts.

    I've been thinking of an upgrade path and did quite a bit of work in identifying my options in radio choices and in doing so noticed some are tagged with 'SDR' like the ICOM 7610, for example. So I learned what that was all about and then noticed some other rather peculiar units like those offered by Apache labs: no knobs. I ignored them at first but curiosity got the best of me and I now see there's a completely different approach available to doing amateur radio: PC-based SDR's. Antenna connects to it and then ethernet to the PC to do the work via software.

    Well, this turned me upside down! I realize that this method of doing amateur radio wouldn't appeal to everyone, but it unfortunately grabbed me by my inner soul. Now I cannot even think of considering a new radio with knobs on it.

    So I am now consumed with investigating this approach to amateur radio. I have a lot to learn but there are some things that make me wonder about pursing this further. Most of what is for sale in the amateur radio market is associated with the traditional approach (non-PC based). It seems to me that PC-based amateur radio might be the future of the hobby, but I'm not sure.

    Am I missing something? Why isn't there more out there? The major brands (Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom, etc.) don't seem to be doing much with PC-based amateur radio. Anyone know why? Or are they and I'm not looking in the right places?

  2. #2

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    Interesting thread! I'm interested and will follow..

  3. #3

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    I suppose in a way, it's like any different approach - you can implement it very well, as the method of processing in to out, and then design a really good user interface. The Icoms and other big ticket products for example, use SDR approaches inside the box, and while you can do computer screen operation, the prime operation is with buttons and knobs because they are tactile and users find them easy and convenient. Better radios have always had weighted tuning knobs because the feel is important - swiping it hard and have it zoom up the band is great. My current Icon HF radio has a horrible lightweight tuning knob. The big brand names make sure that all the usual specs can be met - in particular sensitivity and selectivity. The typical SDR dongle, for examp-le is a totally different beast to a proper radio, because it's not the SDR principal that makes it good or bad (like super-het and direct conversion before it) it's how it's implemented.

    I don't think I can get excited by anything that goes on inside a box, just what the box does for me, functionally.

    Sometimes SDR designs can make very good ways of getting RF into audio, but like all designs, they're not perfect. Little things that software finds difficult to sort - in and out of band interference is the main downside - you make a wideband receiver but then hate the way that selectivity is dreadful, and how string signals do bizarre things. Clearly, having an SDR receiver controlled by the net is great - dialling up a frequency on a receiver in Germany or America and listening to it is very useful. Reading all the bad things about cheap Chinese radios always makes me wonder why people expect anything cheap to perform like something expensive, but they do. Same with SDR. There are a multitude of dongles, small stand alone receivers, complex ones inside real hardware boxes - but so far, people don't seem to see the differences? I hope that at some point, we stop getting carried away by the concept of SDR, and go back to what each one can actually do!

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    Thanks for the response - it's going to take me a while to digest everything you've said.

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    OK - a while has passed. It would be difficult not to agree that what counts is doing the job well, regardless of the method employed. I suppose what's nagging at me and what I was trying to get to in my op is that it seems like a PC based user interface would be rich in potential in terms of what it has to offer to the user. Clearly the transceiver itself needs to be a capable one so it can allow the software to perform, so I think dongles and the like aren't part of what I'm considering here.

    To get back down to earth, I'm wondering, for example, why Flex and Apache are putting out some substantial hardware to be used with a PC user interface and the Icoms of the world are not? There's got to be a reason (I think).

  6. #6

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    I haven't done much research into SDR, but it seems to me that it's the way of the future. I will retire in 2 years and I will update my shack transceiver at that time. Presently, I use Ham Radio Deluxe to control my radio. I find that I use the software's buttons and sliders a lot more than I use the radio's physical controls. I'm not so lazy that I can't stretch another foot or so either! It just seems faster and easier. Not sure what this all means, but maybe I would be a good fit for SDR.

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    Found this:

    "SDR Radio Transceiver - Flex, Elecraft®, Cube, Softrock

    SDR transceivers have become more popular and the development has been encouraged by many radio amateurs and somewhat surprisingly, not yet shown by the old guys, Kenwood, Icom and Yaesu. The SDR transceivers that have been introduced by other companies, Flex Radio Systems in particular, provide even more technical performance at a lower price than standards rigs. However, they have been depending on PC to be used. So far, the SDR Cube has been the only SDR transceiver without the always need of a PC.

    The circuits that cannot be replaced with software, of course, is for the drive and final amplifier, antenna front end, microphone preamp, speaker amplifier output.

    So, will SDR technology take over the market?

    It will definitely change it but probably not take over."


    OK - that helps put things into perspective for me.

    I think I will get an entry level SDR transceiver just so I can play with it on my PC. I think it will be a good learning experience. It'll be a while but I'll report back.

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    I decided to do something cheap just to be able to stick my toe in the water, so to speak. I figured I don't need to transmit since I can do that on my traditional set up, so I got the SDRplay receiver (made in the UK, not China) and downloaded the SDRuno software for it. I put my tri-band antenna on it from my TH-D74A, brought up the software on my screen and plugged the SDRplay in.

    My PC has a really big screen and when I scrolled to the 70cm band and saw the signal spikes and waterfalls in high resolution I just about lost it. I put the curser on a spike and was listening to this guy on my headset crystal clear. I took the antenna off and put it back on my TH-D74A and dialed in the same channel. Same guy and clear, just not as clear.

    I'm not totally up to speed with the software controls but I will be soon and I'll have more to say. Right now all I can say is that my initial impression is highly favorable.

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    Pan.jpg

    So, I like SDR enough already to alter my planned equipment upgrade path from an ICOM 7610 to an SDR from either FLEXradio or Apache Labs. Meanwhile, I will use the SDRplay along with an MFJ-1708 SDR switch and my laptop as a bandscope (about $250, not counting laptop) for my FT-450D. I don't think I would be able to get a scope on my Yaesu any other way. So this has been a worthwhile quest so far.
    Last edited by Ots; Sat 5th May 2018 at 22:54.

  10. #10

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    I suspect you've fell into the trap of getting excited about something, because it's new to you and we've all done this at some point.

    The reality of buying any product nowadays, is not really down to out and out spec - because as we've said, many SDRs have inferior electronics from. the RF perspective - but that doesn't matter. The real thing now is features and benefits. What gizmos it has, but critically, how much benefit YOU get from them. This means that your enjoyment and satisfaction comes from what the thing does for you personally. I've discovered that when I find new frequencies, the content often now makes me tune away. Quantity of channels vs quality of channels.

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    Quote Originally Posted by paulears View Post
    I suspect you've fell into the trap of getting excited about something, because it's new to you and we've all done this at some point.

    The reality of buying any product nowadays, is not really down to out and out spec - because as we've said, many SDRs have inferior electronics from. the RF perspective - but that doesn't matter. The real thing now is features and benefits. What gizmos it has, but critically, how much benefit YOU get from them. This means that your enjoyment and satisfaction comes from what the thing does for you personally. I've discovered that when I find new frequencies, the content often now makes me tune away. Quantity of channels vs quality of channels.
    Actually I'm new to HF and amateur radio in general, not just SDR. What I'm not new to is PC's - I used to design and build liquid cooled gaming rigs. So combing the PC with amateur radio is very appealing to me. The point you made earlier is still a good one in that what gets the job done best is what really counts and at this point I'm not even close to thinking that the PC/SDR approach is better; it's the combining of the two (PC and SDR) that is really getting me going.

    But it will be a while before I'm ready to follow my upgrade path so for now it's the FT-450D with my laptop providing the band display that I could only dream about having one day (the original dream was the 7610 and a monitor displaying the 7610's DVI out).

    So yes it's new to me and I am excited about it but I don't think it's a trap. I have something I didn't have before: I can look at an entire band on my screen, graphically displayed with all of the signals my feeble antenna systems can detect. And for just $250! In my dream this was going to cost a ton more (I wasn't going to settle for anything less than the 7610. More, maybe but less no).

    Anyway, thanks for the comments. I don't think I'm going to have anything more to add to this.
    Last edited by Ots; Mon 7th May 2018 at 18:18.

  12. #12

    Default Flex SDR

    Hi,

    Only just joined this board and seen your thread so I thought I'd start with my 3p worth.

    I am 71 and have been licensed for more years than I can remember. I have had many of the 'big gun' radios from Icom, Yaesu and Kenwood. Three years ago I fancied a new radio and started to research what was available. I was shown the Icom 7600 at ML&S and thought it looked interesting and researched it, particularly on Youtube. While doing that I saw a mention of Flex radios and started to research them as well. The first thing to realise is that SR radios are really RF computers, once you get your head round that, the rest falls into place. Anyway, the opportunity came up to buy a Flex 6300 at a very good price so I decided to take a punt. Wow, am I glad I did! It out performs very radio I have ever had from a number of points of view.

    1 - Receive - superb - even with just a cobweb copy, I can hear stations that my Icom 775DSP couldn't.

    2 - Transmit - get excellent audio reports using a £25.00 Plantronics headset via the PC even though I only have one vocal cord.

    3 - Ease of use - I am very PC literate (spent 30 years in the business) and I love the fact that everything is on my 27" monitor and controlled with the mouse, I can see a signal in the spectrum, click on it and whiz, I'm there listening. On every band from 160 to 6, I can see the whole band if I want to or I can zoom in to a very small area. All done very quickly with very little effort.

    4 - The Radio - like most curious people I want to see inside the box so I had a look in the Flex - build quality is superb to say the least. 2 SO239 sockets on the back made using two aerials a doddle and it remembers which aerial for which band.
    Should I want to use digital modes, no need for an external box - everything is ready to go as soon as you load the software and assign the correct audio stream to it, Smart SDR, the Flex provided software, has companion programs for audio and com ports provided as part of the main software. Should you want to operate remotely, Version 2 of SSDR does that as well.

    All in all, Flex produce great radios at reasonable prices. You can get in for a small amount - approx £350.00 for secondhand Flex 1500 is the going rate, not as good as the 6X series but a great little, and I mean little, QRP rig.

    I will never go back to a radio with knobs - I have seen the future and it is SDR!

    Good luck with you SDR Play.

    Tim

  13. #13

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    Thanks for the comments!

    I'm still getting my feet wet with the SDR Play but for the reasons you sited I suspect there's a Flex radio in my future.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ots View Post
    20 total replies year-to-date, so this section of the forum is apparently not particularly active. Oh well - I was licensed in 2013 for video transmitting purposes and only recently got involved in amateur radio. I bought an entry-level radio (Yaesu 450D) and have experimented with various antenna configurations (apartment limited to short-term put up and take down antennas) and I've experienced some limited success in making HF contacts.

    I've been thinking of an upgrade path and did quite a bit of work in identifying my options in radio choices and in doing so noticed some are tagged with 'SDR' like the ICOM 7610, for example. So I learned what that was all about and then noticed some other rather peculiar units like those offered by Apache labs: no knobs. I ignored them at first but curiosity got the best of me and I now see there's a completely different approach available to doing amateur radio: PC-based SDR's. Antenna connects to it and then ethernet to the PC to do the work via software.

    Well, this turned me upside down! I realize that this method of doing amateur radio wouldn't appeal to everyone, but it unfortunately grabbed me by my inner soul. Now I cannot even think of considering a new radio with knobs on it.

    So I am now consumed with investigating this approach to amateur radio. I have a lot to learn but there are some things that make me wonder about pursing this further. Most of what is for sale in the amateur radio market is associated with the traditional approach (non-PC based). It seems to me that PC-based amateur radio might be the future of the hobby, but I'm not sure.

    Am I missing something? Why isn't there more out there? The major brands (Kenwood, Yaesu, Icom, etc.) don't seem to be doing much with PC-based amateur radio. Anyone know why? Or are they and I'm not looking in the right places?
    Might I suggest that you find a radio club with a radio room and active amateurs, so you can look at, try out and use their equipment before you spend your money on it.

    Might I also suggest that you find yourself an Elmer and do some work, build a 6m antenna and get on the air..

    6m is the one band that anyone can work anywhere.. The antenna is as small as a television antenna and when the band is open you don't need very much power to make good contacts...

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    Thanks 6m's - I'm not sure you read the rest of the posts though. I actually have some antennas and a 450D and have been on the air and now I really dig having a display to accompany my modest rig. But I'm pretty sure of my path now and it's a no-knob future!

  16. #16

    Default New to SDR, very old to ham radio and computers question

    I am just starting to get back into Ham Radio after a long time out. SDR looks like a perfect place to start playing.
    I like to build my equipment or at least modify it. I am new to this forum, so I might have missed some basics.
    Is there any low cost entry SDR that I could start with that would give me decent results?

  17. #17
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    The RSP1a is very well priced, and quite popular.

    Kind regards,



    Phil

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    RSP1a is just a receiver but it gives a nice presentation of what's happening in a ham band. I display it on my laptop - usually the whole band at a time with waterfall and that's nice to have that is not available from my transceiver. I can see activity on the band without having to hunt for it.

    Unfortunately, a real SDR transceiver (meaning one with no knobs!) isn't cheap. So it's on my target list but that's going to take a while! I like the FLEXradio product offerings. I was going to get a used obsolete model (the 3000) as they are available and cheap, but I'm afraid it won't be money well spent due to it being older technology (firewire and such). So I'm holding out for the real thing.

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    Ots ... I took your approach. Doing actual research before buying something and then asking everyone what I had bought. A bit scarcastic, but it seems to happen a lot.

    I am also a born again ham having been originally licensed 54 years ago. First rcvr was a Hallicrafter or Hammarlund (don't quite remember which), then Drake 2B, Drake R4C and I built my 6146B transmitter. Ham radio launched me into a life of electronics & science. While getting launched and living life, I did very little of anything called ham radio. Mostly vhf.

    About 4 years ago I decided to get back in. I had become a ARRL lifer back in my early 20s, so QST kept me more or less up to date. To the point, what the heck radio do I want? Because of reading QST, I was aware of Elecraft and had become a fan boy. Those radios do have some of the best receivers. But, I had become completely enamored with SDR transceivers.

    In my list of "proper" SDRs defined as just a box with an antenna port(s) and a power switch, are Flex and Apache Labs. I joined any forums that those manufacturers have and read just about every post in every thread. For me, I did not care for the Flex attitudes although there was a unique and very interesting and technical discussion driven by Flex about latency. But, generally it seemed to be too much of an appliance. I also came to my senses & realized that I did not need 8 receivers.

    The Apache Labs support was all thru a yahoo forum. I got to know Ken N9VV who was/is the primary anwer man in that forum. A very nice guy. I placed an order twice and canceled twice. I just could not get my head around the manufacturer was not the software developer. The software/firmware is all so-called open source but there aspects that I could not accept.

    So now what? Internet searches led to a wikipedia page with a list of SDRs. I went thru that list approaching every manufacturer that I had not already learned about. I wanted someone that made feel as if they wanted *my* business. Possibly to no one's surprise I bought the first SunSDR 2 shipped to the US from Expert Electronics in Russia. They responded well. Polite.

    I got the radio that I thought I wanted. No button or knobs. After all, that is all that I had decades earlier and the interface is completely thru a computer screen. I did upgrade my notebook to a 17" touch screen thinking that digging thru a menu all of the time might get old. And it did. Reaching across the desk also became burdensome, so I soon bought their e-coder. The e-coder is a device with several push buttons & knobs that can be programmed via the GUI to the way I used my radio. Just for the fun of it, I also got the foot pedal (very heavily built). It turns out that I am not really foot pedal sort of ham.

    So there you have it. My process for draggin' myself into the 21st century. Given the theme of the day, "I did it my way". My new ham friends in the area all looked at me as if I was nuts. My neighbors joked that Homeland Security would be knocking on their doors asking about me. It was shipped from Russia! LOL EE now has international manufacturing, aka a partner in China.

    Last, I bought,simul, a GPSDO to make sure everything is dead n$ts on ... ditching the need for zero beating or looking for a harmonic of some crystal "standard"..

    -Jeff NE1U
    -Jeff NE1U

  20. #20

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    I recently stumbled across information about the SunSDR 2 and so far it looks really positive. I need to look into it more. Post more about it when you have a chance. Meanwhile, I gave up on trying to buy the SDR I think I really want; sold my Yaesu FT-450D and bought a Kenwood TS-590SG. Haven't used it yet as I'm restructuring my so-called "ham shack" which is the covered patio outside my apartment. There's also the side to this that time will pass before I'm ready to take the SDR plunge and hopefully there will be more offerings. Meanwhile, I will enjoy the band and waterfall display from my SDRplay on my laptop and see what the Kenwood has to offer. But my expectations are not real high due to the severe antenna restrictions I'm faced with.

    Anyway, keep us updated on your experience with the SunSDR 2.

    Bill
    KK6GBY

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