Category Archives: New Products

The AAA-1C: An affordable loop antenna amplifier kit

Active-Antenna-the-kit-product-7

I recently stumbled upon the Active Antenna Amplifier (model AAA-1C) by LZ1AQ. At 87.00 EUR, it’s a pretty affordable and flexible solution for those who would like to design or use a loop antenna.

According to the website, it packs a lot of features:

  • 4 remotely switched modes (Loop A, Loop B, crossed parallel loops A&B and dipole)
  • Each mode can be switched immediately
  • Good sensitivity and a flat frequency response
  • High dynamic range
  • Protected input from strong signals
  • High immunity to local noise with balanced amplifiers and balanced feed line
  • Balun transformer coupling for common mode noise reduction
  • Extensive documentation manuals with detailed description how to build your own small antennas

The amplifier is described as a kit because you must mount the board, wire up the antenna and set up remote switching yourself. It appears the SMT board comes pre-populated, though so I’m not sure if any actually soldering is required (perhaps someone can verify).

AAA-1B kit components

AAA-1C kit components

Click here to download the mounting instructions (PDF).

I’m tempted to purchase one this winter for use on mediumwave.

Click here for more info about the AAA-1C at LZ1AQ’s website.

Have any SWLing Post readers built and used this amplifier? Please comment!

The ONEMI Radio

ONEMIRadio

Chile is one of the most seismically-active countries in the world. The ONEMI (Oficina Nacional de Emergencia del Ministerio del Interior)–Chile’s emergency management office–recently added a a new tool to Earthquake kits Chilean families keep at hand.

It’s a foldable, flat-packed, solar-powered cardboard FM radio called the ONEMI Radio. It has a very simple design and interface: a volume control and tuning button that auto-tunes local FM stations.

It’s a cheap, portable and efficient solution that can enable Chilean emergency management to communicate advice during state of emergencies. Clever!

Check out the following video:

Click here to view on YouTube.

A review of the BST-1 car shortwave radio

BST1 FM1

The following article originally appeared in the June 2016 issue of The Spectrum Monitor Magazine.


The BST-1 receiver.

The BST-1 receiver.

Last year, I was approached by die-hard shortwave radio listener Fred Studenberg, who had an idea that at first seemed outmoded, but soon had me intrigued: he wanted to design and build a car radio. Well, a car shortwave radio.

Studenberg described his ideal car receiver. It seems he’d abandoned the idea of making a radio along the lines of a Sony, for example, that takes the place of an existing car radio. Rather, Studenberg, with singular purpose, envisioned something quite unique: a little black box shortwave that could be easily installed in the back of a vehicle, transmitting audio from the shortwave receiver to the car’s system via an FM transmitter link. One would tune the car radio to an FM frequency––say, to 88.5––and listen to the shortwave receiver which would be located at a convenient location, near the mobile antenna, somewhere in the car (in the trunk, under a seat, etc.).

I was doubtful…and for good reason. To begin with, I’ve never used an effective audio FM transmitter link in a vehicle. They’re all rather mediocre, and usually inject noise––or, are simply too weak to be effective. Secondly, I imagined it would be frustrating to remotely operate a little black box stashed in the trunk of your car without some form of display feedback at hand, showing frequencies and so forth. Plus, I concluded, wouldn’t it be a pain to install? And how would you control such a shortwave receiver? To top it off, I just couldn’t imagine such a system coping with the RF-noisy environment of an car. The more I thought about it, the less feasible it seemed. I hated to disappoint Fred with my concerns.

I needn’t have worried. Thing was, Studenberg had already developed said car shortwave radio, and even had a video of it being used in his own car:

And this video silenced my concerns: remarkably, it appeared Studenberg had managed to overcome each of my doubts. I was impressed, and interested.

All Studenberg wanted to know was, might any other SWLs benefit from such a device?

I thought of all the commuters and frequent travelers out there, with a penchant for shortwave and a shortage of time in which to enjoy it. Are you kidding? I thought. What SWLers wouldn’t give to turn a tedious traffic jam into a shortwave jam session?

Fast-forward to this year, when Studenberg put his BST-1 on the open market. And in late February, he kindly sent me a loaner BST-1 to evaluate.

Installation

As many regular readers know, this has been a particularly busy winter and spring for me, so I had to delay installing the BST-1 in my car. I was sure it would require dedicated time and likely a bit of troubleshooting to get the shortwave working as intended.

But recently I finally had a moment to install the BST-1. And I quickly I realized that, yet again, I had been fretting over nothing. My Toyota minivan was actually well-suited to installation of the BST-1, since it has a hinged hatchback door, a dedicated 12VDC plug in the rear, and even a small niche in which to tuck the BST-1.

The BST-1 is also supplied with a 12VDC cigarette lighter plug. If you have a minivan or SUV with an auxiliary DC port, powering the BST-1 will require no tools.

The BST-1 is also supplied with a 12VDC cigarette lighter plug. If you have a minivan or SUV with an auxiliary DC port, powering the BST-1 will require no tools.

The radio’s proud papa also sent a Model CBST-1 mobile shortwave whip antenna with the BST-1. The antenna came with the steel whip and base, a trunk lip mount, and antenna feed line terminated with the appropriate connector. [Note: this whip is surprisingly short!]

The supplied shortwave radio steel antenna whip is short and effective. It should mount on most vehicles with little problem.

The supplied shortwave radio steel antenna whip is short and effective. It should mount on most vehicles with little problem.

Admittedly, my minivan’s hinged door doesn’t work perfectly with lip-mounted brackets—but after some trial and error, I found just the place to mount it where the door wouldn’t damage the base of the antenna. The feed line was easily long enough to cover the span from the top of the door to the receiver.

As for the receiver, it really was a cinch to install: I simply connected the antenna feed line, plugged in the supplied 12 VDC power cord (note that, alternately, there are also twelve VDC pigtails that can also be used) and placed the BST-1 in the back pocket compartment of the minivan.

I’m sure some vehicles will lend themselves to an easy installation like mine, while some may actually be a bit more difficult. Regardless, I do think the installation process is very easy compared with, for example, installing a mobile ham radio transceiver.

I turned on my car’s power, tuned the radio to the default FM frequency, and after a brief spot of tuning, recognized the unmistakable vociferations of Brother Stair—a sure sign that we’re (a) in North America, and (b) on the shortwaves!

Operating the BST-1

If, like me, you’re the type of person that likes to dive into a new product without referencing a manual, you may need to dial down your impulsivity a little to experiment with the BST-1. While the remote control—a two-button key fob—is extremely simple to use, it’s important to learn how it interacts with the BST-1 receiver.

Key fob

Studenberg’s tuning system is amazingly multifunctional, permitting the tuner to keep his/her hands on the wheel––and car on the road!––while simultaneously pursuing the SWL hobby.

Studenberg unlocked a total of twelve functions on a two-button key fob by employing a clever system of short or long presses.

The BST-1 Key Fob

The BST-1 key fob includes a handy quick reference tag

With a short press of the top or bottom button of the key fob—essentially a quick “click,” like you would use to unlock a car door, and which can readily be done while driving—you can single-step tune in 5 kHz steps, or cycle through preset memories.

Long presses, though, are where you unlock the bulk of the BST-1’s functionality. This was a little confusing to me at first, so I’ll explain how the long presses work:

After pressing and holding the top or bottom button, you’ll hear an audible feedback beep. As you hold the button down, you cycle through one, two, three, and four selections, each marked, again, by an audible beep, thus: beep, beep-beep, beep-beep-beep, and finally beep-beep-beep-beep. Each sequence has a slightly different tone to enable you to better distinguish them.

For example, if I want to toggle the AM filter between narrow (voice) or wide (music), I press and hold the bottom button until I hear one beep, then two beeps, then three beeps: as soon at the three-beep sequence is heard, I let go of the button, and the filter will toggle.

As another example, if I want to store a frequency in memory, I’d press and hold the top button until I heard a sequence of four beeps, then let go.

The commands are logically arranged, in that the most common functions are associated with the shortest key presses. Here’s the complete list of remote functions, courtesy of the BST-1 Owner’s Manual (PDF):

Top Button

Short press (click) – Single step PRESET channels or tune in 5 KHz steps in TUNE mode

1 Beep Toggles sensitivity between HIGH and LOW sensitivity

2 Beeps Sends frequency in Morse code and toggles S-Meter update on/off and toggles squelch on/off

3 Beeps Quick to tune Preset Channel 50, WWV at 5 MHz.

4 Beeps If in TUNE mode, stores currently tuned frequency (Morse code “S”). If in PRESET mode, it will delete the channel. To prevent accidental deletions, this delete function must be executed twice. The first activation will display the message “R U SURE” and send the Morse code “?”. The second activation will delete the channel and then display the message “DELETED”.

Bottom Button

Short Press (click) – Starts scanning up or down in PRESET and TUNE mode

1 Beep Toggles tuning direction up or down

2 Beeps Toggles between PRESET or TUNE Mode

3 Beeps Toggles receiver bandwidth between SPEECH (3 KHz) and MUSIC (5 KHz)

4 Beeps Starts scanning of FM transmitter among 4 frequencies : 88.3, 88.5, 88.7, 88.9 MHz.

It took a couple of days to get used to the commands I used the most (tuning by steps, scanning, memory scans, and changing the filters/sensitivity) mainly because I was driving while using the BST-1.

Several models of shortwave portables, like my Grundig G3, have RDS which allows me to easily set BST-1 station memories. Note that RDS is a standard feature on most vehicles sold today--sadly, my 2008 model minivan lacks RDS.

Several models of shortwave portables, like my Grundig G3, have RDS which allows me to easily set BST-1 station memories. Note that RDS is a standard feature on most vehicles sold today–sadly, my 2008 model minivan lacks RDS.

While driving alone, obviously I couldn’t divert my attention from the road to read the included reference guide attached to the key fob, so I had to simply take a bit of time off the road to review the manual.

Performance

Studenberg’s tuning system is amazingly multifunctional, permitting the tuner to keep his/her hands on the wheel––and car on the road!––while simultaneously pursuing the SWL hobby. My very first day on the road with the BST-1, I was pretty impressed with its performance.

The BST-1 has the same form-factor of most SDRs: a black box. The small size and light weight make it ideal for stashing under a seat or in your vehicle's trunk.

The BST-1 has the same form-factor of most SDRs: a black box. The small size and light weight make it ideal for stashing under a seat or in your vehicle’s trunk.

Of course, “mileage may vary” depending on your particular vehicle and receiver installation, but in my case the BST-1 proved to be a fairly quiet receiver on the road. I heard no significant RF noise due to the car’s ignition or engine, and the FM transmitter audio link worked very effectively. I live in a relatively rural area with only a few broadcasters in the BST-1’s 88.3 – 88.9 MHz transmitter range. There is, however, a fairly strong broadcaster on 88.9, but surprisingly the BST-1’s FM transmitter is strong enough that my car’s FM receiver blocks it. Not bad!

Additionally, the shortwave audio is unexpectedly good through my car’s audio system. The 5 kHz/3kHz bandwidth selections are appropriate for decent audio fidelity; indeed, the 5 kHz filter actually sounds more like a 7 kHz filter to my ears.

In terms of sensitivity, the BST-1 exceeds my expectations. The sensitivity is ample enough to receive almost every domestic shortwave broadcaster, strong international broadcasters, and time stations like WWV and CHU Canada. To be fair, I’m sure the sensitivity is being hampered somewhat by the fact the receiver must operate in a mobile environment with the accompanying local interference, but it’s still quite capable.

In the time I’ve been using the BST-1, I’ve logged the following stations here in eastern North America while mobile:

  • WRMI
  • Radio Australia
  • Radio Havana Cuba
  • HM01 (Numbers Station)
  • WWCR
  • WTWW
  • China Radio International
  • All India Radio
  • WBCQ

Of course, here in North America (during the daytime especially), you’ll hear a lot of the Overcomer Ministries via various private/religious broadcasters. Most of the time, these broadcasts are received as clearly as a local AM broadcaster.

In terms of selectivity, the BST-1 is effective. For about ninety percent of my listening, it rejects adjacent signal interference. In extreme cases—like that of Radio Australia (9,580 kHz), which experiences regular interference from China Radio International (9,570 kHz)—it struggles. But in truth, only the very best of my receivers—typically ones with selectable sync detection—can mitigate most of CRI’s spurious emissions. In other words, I’m pleased I’m able to listen to Radio Australia with the BST-1 despite the noise from CRI.

Click here to view a video I made listening to Radio Australia while waiting 20 minutes in construction traffic.

The BST-1 is unlike any other receiver I’ve reviewed here on the SWLing Post. So let’s get to the point: is it worth the purchase?

What the BST-1 isn’t

If you’re looking for a receiver to snag rare and weak DX while mobile, you will be disappointed. Expectations should be kept in line on this point. Especially while your car is running, the BST-1 simply doesn’t have the characteristics of a DX receiver (low noise floor combined with excellent sensitivity and a super stable AGC, for example).

And frankly, the process of band-scanning in 5 kHz steps seeking an elusive weak-signal station would not be fun.

What the BST-1 is

Simply put: the BST-1 is a lot of fun! Without breaking the bank, the BST-1 can bring many of your favorite broadcasters, and the SWL experience, to your vehicle. Once memories are loaded, it’s a simple process to scan them manually or automatically. And at night? You may very well snag serious DX here and there—especially if parked in an area far away from urban radio interference.

In short, the BST-1 is simple to use, unobtrusive, and, frankly, does what it’s designed to do: permit you to SWL in your car.

BSTFM2

If your vehicle’s radio has RDS, you’ll have full access to the BST-1 display information.

Summary

Invariably, all radios have strengths and weaknesses; here’s a list of my notes from the moment I put the BST-1 on the air:

Pros:

  • Simple installation for a mobile radio
  • Ample sensitivity & selectivity
  • Little ignition/alternator noise in tested installation
  • Surprisingly good audio via FM transmitter link
  • Remote control/key fob (see cons)
    • Non-distracting while driving
    • Easily-to-learn common commands
    • Responsive beeps and “click” sounds to aid tuning
  • Two ways to connect to a DC source: 12V plug or traditional two-wire
  • Two AM bandwidths
  • Two sensitivity settings
  • Appropriate 5 kHz steps for broadcasting tuning
  • RDS tags work amazingly well (see con)

Cons:

  • Remote control/key fob (see pros)
    • Learning curve for infrequently used functions
    • Audio feedback only (no visual feedback) if your car’s radio doesn’t have RDS capability
    • Only two buttons control twelve functions
  • Limited tuning functionality (5 kHz steps up/down with band scan and memory scan)
  • No SSB
  • No sync detection

BST-1-Receiver-Label-Alt

In conclusion, I’m so glad I finally installed the BST-1. If your vehicle has a RDS capabilities, the BST-1 will feel like a fully-integrated part of your mobile audio system. Even without RDS–like my situation–it still packs a lot of punch and is impressively engineered for distraction-free operation..

I must admit, it’s awfully magical to be driving down the highway here in the States, listening to, for example, Radio Australia, some 15,700 km away… So if you travel or commute regularly, and you love SWL, this little mobile shortwave receiver might be just made-to-order for you, too.

At $179.50 plus shipping, the BST-1 costs about the same as a decent portable shortwave receiver–a good value in my book!

Click here for BST-1 ordering information.

SDRuno: SDRplay introduces a free native app for the RSP

(Source: SDRplay Press Release)

SDRplay-Logo

SDRplay is pleased to announce the official release of SDRuno for the RSP. SDRuno is the new name for the RSP compatible version of Studio1, the rights to which we obtained and announced on 28th April. SDRuno contains native support for the SDRplay RSP and no extra plugins are required. Third party hardware can also be supported via the ExtIO interface, but with reduced functionality.

SDRuno provides a rugged and flexible, high performance SDR receiver capability and boasts some excellent features:

  • Multiple ‘Virtual Receivers’ which allow for simultaneous reception and demodulation of different types of signals within the same receiver bandwidth.
  • A selectivity filter with an ultimate rejection greater than 140 dB.
  • A unique distortion-free double stage AGC with fully adjustable parameters.
  • Multiple notch filters with BW adjustable down to 1 Hz, Notch Lock feature.
  • A unique synchronous AM mode with selectable/adjustable sidebands, dedicated PLL input filter, and selectable PLL time constants.
  • SNR (stereo noise reduction), featuring a proprietary noise reduction algorithm for stereo broadcast.
  • AFC for FM signals.
  • Calibration for receiver frequency errors.

Over time, we plan to add many more features to SDRuno to enhance the user’s experience of this very powerful piece of software. This software runs on Windows and we don’t yet know how easy it will be to migrate it to other platforms but this is something we will be investigating.

SDRuno will be made freely available to all current and future users of the RSP – to download a copy – simply go to http://www.sdrplay.com/windows.html

Our support for SDRuno in no way lessens our commitment to support HDSDR, SDR Console, Cubic SDR or ANY other software solution where the authors are willing to work with us. We fully recognise that many people have strong preferences for particular pieces of software and we do not want to do anything to undermine the options that people have to use their favoured software packages. Indeed, our view is quite the opposite. Our objective remains aim to have our hardware platforms support any and every SDR package out there. This of course may not be possible, but it is our philosophy and part of the ethos of our company.

About Studio 1:

Studio1 was developed in Italy by SDR Applications S.a.s. and has hundreds of happy customers around the world. Studio 1 is known for its user friendly stylish GUI, CPU efficiency and advanced DSP capabilities, including features not available on other SDR software packages.

www.sdrapplications.it

About SDRplay:

SDRplay limited is a UK company and consists of a small group of engineers with strong connections to the UK Wireless semiconductor industry. SDRplay announced its first product, the RSP1 in August 2014

www.sdrplay.com
Email: admin@sdrplay.com

Version 2.0? Julio’s positive review of the Degen DE1103

IMG_20151126_165751594_HDR

[Correction: Julio’s version of the DE1103 is the first, non-DSP (current) version.]

Many thanks to SWLing Post reader, Julio Cesar Pereira, who comments with his mostly positive impression of the DSP version of the Degen DE1103 receiver:

I’ve got a DE1103 and haven’t noticed any AM bleeding on SWL so far. I sometimes stay at one of my family’s properties located at the center of a city with lots of stations. There I use the balcony on the 9th floor and I get a lot of spurious interference from FM stations, which is normal once you’re surrounded by buildings. However, I already tuned some images on SW. I used an old SW7600G to check it out and it didn’t get any.

I kind of started to dislike DSP, for it can be annoying to hear it engage and disengage when a signal constantly drops down and recovers. It is fantastic when a signal is strong and constant for it improves audio quality whether it is MW, SW or FM.

At one time, I even thought it would be perfect for the DE1103 to have this [DSP] feature, but you know what? I’m very happy with the way mine is right now. I find this receiver to have the best FM reception compared to the others of my little collection of tabletop and portable receivers, which includes scanners ICOM IC-R20 and R5, receivers PL-660, SW7600GR, ICF-2010, etc. The DE1103 is by far the most sensitive and selective one, it even beats my old Realistic DX-440.

As for SW, I like the combination of its very good AGC and very low floor, which allows me to do DXing with the RF attenuator on and does not have any annoying filter like the PL-660. I also enjoy its audio quality, especially on the headphones, for it is more natural, not processed like the PL-660’s or over-processed like the SW7600GR’s.

You can tell I’m a big fan of this little radio. It has its flaws, but I can live with them.

Thank you for sharing your experience with the DE1103 DSP, Julio!

Degen DE1103 DSP Version 2.0?

Julio, I’m now very curious if your receiver is the “Version 2.0 Model” mentioned by this seller on eBay. [ Julio has now confirmed that it is not the DSP version.]

DegenDE1103-2.0

If you’ve read my DE1103 DSP review, you’ll note that I haven’t been the biggest fan of the new DSP version of the DE1103. I did review a very early model and wonder if Degen has tweaked the DE1103 DSP to provide better performance? Can any other readers comment?

I’ll search through the various models of the DE1103 on eBay and see if there are any specifics about the new 2.0 version in product descriptions. I’ll also attempt to contact sellers for details.

Please comment if you have any information.

Update: Several readers pointed out that the “Version 2.0” might simply be a way sellers are using to indicate that this is the DSP-based DE1103–rather than this being an improved version of the original DSP receiver I tested.