A review of the new Avion receiver and a few thoughts about DRM

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Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Mike Barraclough, for sharing a link to this review of the new Avion DRM receiver by DRM Radio Forum user PhilipOneL. I’ve pasted his evaluation of the Avion below–you can read this, along with the full discussion thread, on the DRM Radio Forum:

I received my Avion AV-DR-1401 this afternoon and have had it up and running for a couple of hours. There is no instruction booklet with it so I am puzzling over the 41-button remote. It is not as user-friendly as I hoped.

First impression: somewhat cheap feel to it. I have put a small bend already in the thin but long aerial. But that is just the outside (handle, volume control, master power switch, and aerial); I hope it works well anyway. But that cheapness hurts when the price of the radio was fairly high to begin with and I paid more than I wanted for a private company to ship it (Fedex).

The radio arrived with its battery fully charged: nice. (But I need to get an adaptor for the AC adaptor’s mains plug which has tubular prongs rather than the North American blade prongs.) I like a lot the fact that it runs normally with its internal battery rather than plugged into mains. This means I can carry it away from noise sources. And it is very carryable — it reminds me of a small 1965-era beach radio in size.

Turned on, it scanned the local FM spectrum well and registered all the local stations. But I cannot get the Scan function to operate on MW and SW, nor in DRM mode. With an outside antenna (8 metre wire) attached, it was able to get the AIR DRM broadcast on 7550 kHz and decode it. It didn’t seem to be able to get enough signal with just the extending aerial.

I have not figured out yet how to make it register a medium-wave, shortwave, or DRM station in its memory; it does not happen when the button labelled “Delete / Store” is pushed. Among the 41 buttons, there is no other likely candidate for that function.

Shortwave sensitivity in AM mode seems to be poor. I was listening, for instance, to ERT Greece on 9420 on the three receivers now on my desk: Satellit 750, MorphyRichards 27024, and the Avion DR-1401, each in turn connected to the same outdoor antenna. The MR27024 produces the best sound and greatest s/n ratio. It seems far more sensitive than the Avion. But who knows? I may discover I am doing something wrong with the set.

Tuning can be done by inputting a frequency on the remote. Alternatively, the volume wheel can be pushed (this takes two hands) to convert it to a tuning knob. Two problems are apparent. One is that the signal is muted as you tune until you wait on a frequency for four or five seconds. Thus it is a slow and aggravating experience to try to tune across a band looking for signals. Secondly, as soon as a station is tuned and producing audio, the knob goes back to being a volume control. Grrrr. (I think there is a professor at all the design schools who seems to be telling all her/his students to be visually minimalist in design and to give every knob multiple functions. That professor should be publicly shamed until she/he recants and causes all the students to go back to multiple knobs each of which does one thing well.) When the radio gets itself ready to produce audio it seems to ramp itself up to full audio in a series of four steps, each a half-second or so after the last — it is an odd-sounding process. It is like a faulty AGC circuit; perhaps it is.

Sound quality is mediocre at best on AM (both mw and sw). I didn’t listen long enough to the DRM signal from AIR before it signed off to get a good idea of DRM audio quality; I was busy cooking supper. FM audio is mediocre too on the internal speakers but, piped out through the headphone jack to external speakers, it is quite good. When I piped the AM audio out it still seemed mediocre.

Why the AM sound is mediocre seems to be related to two things: the tiny speakers (about 8 cm or 3.3 inches) and the bandwidth at the radio stage. Even comparatively strong (and clean) signals like RHC on 6000 kHz have what may be adjacent signals mixing in — perhaps even internal mixing products? I heard a splash of a local FM station at one point while listening to a shortwave band.

I have written my contact at Avion (Ankit) asking for an instruction booklet, or a pdf of one. I hope I’ll get that early next week (if indeed they have one).

I hope over the next week I will get some chances to check out more DRM signals. I am also hoping that my gradual love affair with the MorphyRichards radio will be replicated here. When I first got the MR27024 I was very cranky about its weird ways of doing things. But once I got a good antenna on it, and got used to its ways, I prefer it to all my other radios as a table-top radio (that is, one useful for listening to specific regular stations). The MR’s radio-stage DSP is quite lovely and makes for good sound. I doubt the Avion will seduce me to quite the same extent, but it may grow on me in other ways.

I understand the problems with DRM but I am still a fan of of the system. I bought this Avion set partly in hopes that I would encourage the manufacturer in some small way. I will use it but I suspect that the minimalist design features (which were also a part of the MorphyRichards design) will turn off users of the Avion.

I’m not terribly surprised by this reviewer’s assessment. Just looking at some of the preliminary info on the Avion receiver last year made me think of previous DRM portables like the Newstar DR111 and the Uniwave Di-Wave 100.

The UniWave Di-Wave/Di-Wave 100.

The UniWave Di-Wave/Di-Wave 100.

I have a hunch all of these designs were fleshed out by engineers and entrepreneurs who had not gotten customer input in advance.

It’s sad, too. While I know DRM (via the shortwaves) was a “cart before the horse” innovation–meaning, broadcasters adopted the technology well before consumer receivers were on the market.

I really wish the medium would’ve gained traction.

While I prefer the rich sonic texture of amplitude modulation, I love listening to DRM broadcasts well. Last year, during my presentation at PARI, I played a recording of a piano concerto I heard on one of Radio New Zealand International’s DRM broadcasts. If memory serves, the audio clip was taken from this recording I made on June 21, 2104:

Through the presentation room’s hi-fi system, the music sounded absolutely brilliant.

To put what this audience was hearing in perspective, I told them:

“We’re listening to a radio station some 8,300 miles away without the use of the Internet, mobile phones, satellites, or any sort of subscription service. We’re hearing FM-quality audio, streamed wirelessly and originating from the other side of our planet.”

I then received a number of questions like: “How is this technology possible?” and “Do they make car radios that can receive these broadcasts?”

There’s magic in DRM. Sadly, I feel its deployment was awkward and its window of opportunity may have already passed. An affordable, effective, and simple DRM receiver (combined with serious, viral publicity) could turn the tide somewhat–but it doesn’t seem like this will happen anytime soon. Each new DRM portable is only a slightly improved iteration of its predecessor and the price tag continues to be too high for effective market penetration.

I want to be proven wrong, though.

VOA Radiogram 128 on a cheap Tesco shortwave radio

VOA-Radiogram

SWLing Post reader, Christopher, lives on the north coast of Labrador, Canada. He recently contacted me regarding the purchase of a new receiver–he’s currently stuck with a very inexpensive analog portable he purchased at the UK grocery store, Tesco: the Tesco RAD-108.

While the RAD-108 has poor sensitivity and selectivity, it’s still (evidently) more than capable of receiving the VOA Radiogram. Many thanks to Christopher for sharing this video he found on YouTube:

SPROUT SSTV and Digitalker Every Sunday

SPROUT SSTV and Digitalker active every Sunday

SPROUT SSTV and Digitalker Active Every Sunday – AMSAT-UK

AMSAT-UK Announces SSTV Activity Every Sunday

Slow Scan TV (SSTV) images in Scottie 1 format will be transmitted from the SPROUT satellite every Sunday (Japanese Standard Time) on 437.600 MHz FM (+/- 9 kHz Doppler shift). The Digitalker will also be active.

SPROUT, a 20 x 20 x 22 cm amateur radio nano-satellite with a mass of 7.1 kg, launched successfully with the L-band (1236.5 MHz/1257.5 MHz/1278.5 MHz) Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR) satellite ALOS-2 on May 24, 2014 at 0305 UT. SPROUT is in a 654 km, 97.9 degree inclination Sun Synchronous Orbit (SSO).

SPROUT (Space Research On Unique Technology) was built by students from Nihon University

— A FM Digitalker will enable the satellite to speak to amateurs around the world.

— The Voice Message Box will record transmissions from radio amateurs and play them back.

— Pre-loaded images from the Message Gallery can be transmitted using Slow Scan TV (SSTV).

— Pictures of the Earth can be transmitted by SSTV and radio amateurs can receive it using free software such as MMSSTV. As part of the Earth mapping project the team ask radio amateurs to contribute pictures they have received from the satellite for display on the SPROUT website.

Callsign: JQ1ZJQ

Size: 214x210x220 mm

Weight: 7.1 kg

Mode: 1200bps AFSK, 9600bps GMSK

CW downlink 437.525 MHz

FM packet downlink 437.525 MHz

Digipeater uplink 437.600 MHz

Digitalker downlink 437.600 MHz

SSTV downlink 437.600 MHz

Many FM radios can be switched been wide and narrow deviation FM filters. For best results you should select the wider filter designed for 5 kHz deviation FM.

— SPROUT English website http://sat.aero.cst.nihon-u.ac.jp/sprout-e/

— SPROUT Japanese website http://sat.aero.cst.nihon-u.ac.jp/sprout/

— Nihon-Univ. Miyazaki Laboratory on Facebook

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Nihon-Univ-Miyazaki-Laboratory/406566642818860

— Telemetry Software http://sat.aero.cst.nihon-u.ac.jp/sprout-e/2-Software-e.html

— Telemetry format http://sat.aero.cst.nihon-u.ac.jp/sprout-e/2-Formats%20of%20telemetry-e.html

SPROUT launch data page

http://sat.aero.cst.nihon-u.ac.jp/sprout-e/2-Launch%20data-e.htmlTLE’s from the North American Aerospace Defence Command (NORAD) are also available at http://celestrak.com/NORAD/elements/tle-new.txt

Free Slow Scan TV (SSTV) software MMSSTV http://hamsoft.ca/pages/mmsstv.php

The JE9PEL website has information on other satellites on this launch

http://www.ne.jp/asahi/hamradio/je9pel/jaxalos2.htm

(Full details and links may be found here.)

Robert Gulley, AK3Q, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Robert also blogs at All Things Radio.

Avion DRM Receiver now shipping via Amazon India

Avion

The Avion portable DRM receiver is now available on Amazon India (click here to view). It’s being sold for 14,999.00 INR (roughly $230 US).

At time of posting, The Avion DRM receiver only has one review by someone who has (obviously) never used the radio. They give one star then state: “price is very high. so i hate this product.

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While I dismiss reviews like this, I must believe that this price is, indeed, high for most Indian consumers; especially when compared with alternate forms of media consumption (smart phones, analog radio, FTA satellite TV, etc.). It would be high for me, too.

I hope, at least, that the Avion performs well. I have no plans to review the Avion DRM receiver at this point simply because it’s challenging for me to find and decode DRM here in North America with my SDRs hooked up to large external antennas. Don’t get me wrong–occasionally, I do get amazing copy–but it’s typically when conditions are favorable. Listeners in Europe, Asia, and Oceana would have better results, no doubt.

Has anyone seen an objective review of the Avion DRM receiver? Please comment.

Click here to view the new Avion DRM receiver on Amazon.in.

Hearing Ghadir: Iran’s Sepehr Phased Radar System

Mehdi-Waterfall

In response to Andrea’s UVB-76 recording, SWLing Post contributor, Mehdi, comments:

Thomas, another signal which may sound mysterious:

Iran’s OTH Radar, named “Ghadir”; part of Iran’s Sepehr Phased Radar System.

They’d polluted the 10-meter band [in the past]; now they transmit on 26MHZ. (See spectrum in screen capture above.)

Sound: https://clyp.it/ldpxab2a

By the way, here’s my recording of UVB-76:
https://clyp.it/knvubeur

Many thanks for sharing those audio clips, Mehdi! Now I’ll know what Ghadir sounds like, should I hear it on the bands.

The Avion AV-DR -1401 DRM receiver to ship in October

DRM-Avion

Many thanks to several SWLing Post readers who shared this RadioWorld article about the new Avion AV-DR -1401 portable DRM receiver. According to RadioWorld, the AV-1401 will be sold through Amazon India as of October 2015 for approximately $175 US.

Click here to read the full article.

Special VOA Radiogram broadcast for European Researchers’ Night

Fullscreen capture 9232015 13931 PM(Source: VOA Radiogram via Richard Langley)

VOA Radiogram will participate in European Researchers’ Night 2015, specifically to the Notte europea dei ricercatori at Frascati, near Rome. There will be a special broadcast of VOA Radiogram Friday, 25 September, at 1830-1900 UTC, on 17880 kHz, via the Edward R. Murrow Transmitting Station in North Carolina.

This broadcast is in addition to regular VOA Radiogram schedule:

(days/times UTC):
Sat 0930-1000 5745 kHz
Sat 1600-1630 17870 kHz
Sun 0230-0300 5745 kHz
Sun 1930-2000 15670 kHz
All via North Carolina

More information:

http://voaradiogram.net

http://ec.europa.eu/research/researchersnight

http://www.frascatiscienza.it/pagine/notte-europea-dei-ricercatori-2015