A review of the SDRplay RSPdx wideband SDR receiver

SDRplay recently announced the latest product in their line of affordable 14 bit wideband SDRs: the SDRplay RSPdx.

For over two weeks now, I’ve had an early production model of the RSPdx here in the shack operating on a beta version of the SDRuno application.

In the spirit of full disclosure, SDRplay is a long-time supporter of the SWLing Post and I have alpha- and beta-tested a number of their products in the past. This early production RSPdx was sent to me at no cost for a frank evaluation, and that’s exactly what I’ll offer here. To be clear, while I am using beta software, this is not a beta SDR, but one from a first limited production run.

And thus far, I must say, I’m impressed with the RSPdx. 

Upgrades

The RSPdx has been introduced as a replacement for the RSP2 and the RSP2pro receivers. It has been updated and upgraded, with a completely new front-end design.

Here are the highlighted improvements and changes:

  • Performance below 30 MHz has been enhanced when compared to the RSP2/RSP2pro.
  • Performance below 2 MHz has been substantially upgraded. Through the use of the new HDR mode, both dynamic range and selectivity have been considerably improved.
  • There is now a BNC antenna connector on antenna C position instead of a HiZ port. Both A and B antenna ports are SMA like other RSP models.

Let’s face it:  those of us interested in low-cost SDRs are spoiled for choice these days. The market is chock-full of sub-$200 SDRs, especially if you include all of the various RTL-SDR-based SDRs and knock-off brands/models one can find on eBay.

Personally, I invest in companies that support radio enthusiasts for the long haul…those that do their own designs, innovations, and production. SDRplay is one of those companies.

SDRplay’s market niche has been providing customers with affordable, high-performance wideband receivers that cover an impressive 1 kHz to 2 GHz.

Wideband coverage can come at a cost. Unless you pay big money for a commercial-grade wideband receiver, you’re going to find there’s a performance compromise somewhere across the spectrum.  On the RSP2 series, those compromises would have been most apparent on frequencies below 30 MHz.

That’s not to say HF, MW, and LW performance was poor on the RSP2 series–indeed, it was quite impressive and well-balanced; it just didn’t stack up to the likes of the similarly-priced AirSpy HF+ and HF+ Discovery, in my humble opinion. Both little Airspy SDRs have wooed DXers with their impressive dynamic range and overall ability to work weak signals in the HF portion of the spectrum.

Neither of the AirSpy HF+ models are wideband receivers, but still offer a generous range:  9 kHz to 31 MHz and from 60 to 260 MHz––about 11.5% of the frequency coverage of RSP models. (Note that the Airspy R2 and Mini do cover 24 – 1700 MHz.) For shortwave radio listeners that also want to venture into the UHF and SHF regions, a wideband SDR is still required.

It’s obvious SDRplay’s goal is to make the wideband RSPdx into a choice receiver for HF and, especially, for MW/LW DXers. But have they succeeded? Let’s dive in…

Performance

As I say in most of my SDR reviews: doing comparisons with receivers that have so many features and adjustments is never easy. In other words, we want an apples-to-apples comparison, but it can be difficult to achieve, especially with new products.

I compared the SDRplay RSPdx with the WinRadio Excalibur and Airspy HF+ Discovery. Here’s how I set up my comparisons:

The RSPdx, Excalibur, and HF+ Discovery all used the same antenna in my tests––a large, horizontal delta loop antenna, via my ELAD ASA15 amplified antenna splitter. I’ve used this antenna splitter for years and can vouch for its equitable, lab-grade distribution of signal.

The RSPdx is not in full production at time of posting, thus application options are limited. Typically, I’d load comparison SDRs in SDR Console or HDSDR and test them with identical settings as well. At present, the RSPdx is only compatible with a beta version of SDRplay’s own application, SDRuno (which will come out of beta rior to the first major production run). The benefit of using SDRuno is that you unlock the full potential of the RSPdx, plus signal and noise numbers are incredibly accurate.

For each SDR in this comparison, I used their native/OEM application to give them the best possible performance.

I also matched filter settings and made an effort to match AGC and volume settings as closely as I could.

Additionally, I resisted the temptation of comparing my RSP2 with the new RSPdx because I didn’t want to run two simultaneous instances of SDRuno on the same computer––especially considering one was in beta.

Is this comparison perfect?  Probably not, but I did the best with the time I had available. I do intend to make further comparisons in the future.

Longwave performance

Via the RSPdx’s new “HDR” mode, both dynamic range and selectivity have been considerably improved with frequencies below 2 MHz. While I’ll fully admit that I’m not much of a longwave DXer, my very first listening session with the RSPdx started in this region of the spectrum.

In fact, the first evening I put the RSPdx on the air and confirmed that I was, indeed, in HDR mode, I noticed a small carrier via the spectrum display on 171 kHz. I clicked on it and quickly discovered it was Medi 1. The signal was faint, but I could clearly ID at least one song. This truly impressed me because I believe this was the first time I had logged Medi 1 on longwave from the shack.

I didn’t connect the Excalibur at that point to see if it could also receive the faint Medi 1 signal, but I imagine it could have. I’m pretty sure this would have been outside the reach of the RSP2, however.

I tried to explore more of the longwave band, but due to local RFI (I suspect an appliance in my home), most of the LW band was inundated with noise. With that said, I did grab three of my benchmark non-directional beacons.

Obviously, the RSPdx is a capable LW receiver.  I would like to spend more time on this band once I’ve tracked down the source of my local RFI.

Mediumwave/AM performance

In the past two weeks, I’ve spent many hours with the RSPdx on mediumwave.

We’re heading into the winter months in the northern hemisphere, and that’s normally when my listening habits head south on the bands.

In short: I find the RSPdx to be quite sensitive and selective on the mediumwave bands while the HDR mode is engaged. A major improvement over its predecessor.

I primarily compared the RSPdx with my WinRadio Excalibur on mediumwave since I consider the Excalibur to be a benchmark MW receiver. And, as you’ll hear in the screencasts below, the RSPdx truly gives the Excalibur a run for its money:

740 AM – RSPdx vs. Excalibur:

860 AM – RSPdx vs. Excalibur:

Note that my horizontal delta loop antenna is omni-directional, hence the tug-of-war you hear between stations in the clips above.

In truth, I could have done more to stabilize the signal on both of these fine SDRs, but I wanted to keep the comparison as fair as possible.

You might have noticed that both were running AM sync mode. It seems the sync lock on the RSPdx may have also improved––though I would need to do a direct comparison with the RSP2 to know for sure––but in terms of stability, I still found that the WinRadio Excalibur was superior. Mind you, the Excalibur is a $900 – $1,000 receiver and has the strongest synchronous detector of any radio I’ve ever owned.

Shortwave/HF

SDRplay notes on the preliminary specifications sheet that the RSPdx has been “enhanced” when compared with the RSP2 series.

And, after having spent two weeks with the RSPdx on the shortwave bands, I would say this is a bit of an understatement. For although I haven’t compared the RSPdx directly with the RSP2 yet, I do feel HF performance is substantially better than its predecessor. Indeed, in my comparisons, I often found it gave the Excalibur some serious competition. Overall, the Excalibur had an edge on the RSPdx, but the gap has closed substantially. That’s saying something.

For the comparison videos below, I also included the excellent AirSpy HF+ Discovery.

40M LSB – RSPdx vs. HF+ Discovery:

80M USB – RSPdx vs. Excalibur:

31M Broadcast – RSPdx vs. HF+ Discovery:

As you can see and hear, the RSPdx is now in the league of some of the finest HF receivers in my arsenal.

But I’m curious to know what you think after listening to these comparisons. Please comment!

Notch Filters

For those of you living in areas with DAB/DAB+ broadcasters nearby, you’ll be happy to note that the RSPdx has a DAB filter to help mitigate any potential overloading.

Also, if you live near a blowtorch mediumwave station, you’ll be quite pleased with the MW notch filter. It’s so effective at filtering out the mediumwave band, my local blowtorch on 1010 kHz is barely visible on the spectrum once the notch filter is engaged. (Note: I should add that neither the DAB nor the mediumwave notch filter was engaged during any of my previous comparisons above.) Check out the screen shots below showing the mediumwave band before and after the MW notch filter is engaged:

Before:

After:

Summary

For those of you looking for a budget wideband SDR with solid performance below 30MHz, look no further.

For $199 US, you’re getting a quality UK-designed and manufactured SDR in a proper metal housing.  The OEM application, SDRuno, is one of my favorite SDR applications and can fully take advantage of the RSPdx’s new HDR mode. No doubt, with a little more time, most third-party SDR applications will also support the RSPdx.

Frankly, I was expecting classy mediumwave and longwave performance as this was the most touted upgrade of the RSPdx. SDRplay certainly delivered.

In my experience, SDRplay doesn’t oversell their products. Their preliminary product sheet mentioned improved performance on HF, but their press release didn’t even mention the HF upgrades. And this is where I, in particular, noticed significant improvement. Perhaps this is because I am primarily an SWLer, thus spend a larger portion of my time in the HF region.

SDRplay products also have a mature, robust SDR application via SDRuno. Day to day, I tend to use Simon Brown’s SDR Console as my primary SDR application, since it’s compatible with so many of my SDRs and also offers some of the best recording functionality for those of us who do audio and spectrum archiving. Each time I beta test or review an SDRplay SDR, however, I’m more and more impressed with SDRuno. It’s evolved from being a rather cluttered application to one with a thoughtful, cohesive user interface that’s a joy to use––a product of true iterative agility.

Indeed, after having used SDRuno exclusively these past two weeks, I believe I would consider it as my primary SDR application…if only it had audio recording in addition to spectrum recording, and could run multiple instances with multiple SDRs. Again, given a little time, I wouldn’t be surprised if some of this functionality is eventually integrated.

Questions?

Since many SWLing Post readers already own an SDR, I’m sure some of you will have questions. Let’s address a few of those right now.

Question: “I have an RSP2/RSP2pro. Should I upgrade to the RSPdx?”

My recommendation: If you are a shortwave, mediumwave, or longwave DXer, I would indeed recommend upgrading to the RSPdx. If you primarily use your RSP2 series SDR on frequencies above 30 MHz and only occasionally venture below for casual listening, then I’d keep the RSP2.

Question: “I have an RSP1a. Should I upgrade to the RSPdx?”

My recommendation: If you’ve been enjoying your RSP1a and would like to take your listening/monitoring to the next level, then, yes, I would upgrade. Not only can you take advantage of the RSPdx’s enhanced performance, but the RSPdx affords you three antenna ports, and has a more robust front end.

Question: “I have an RSPduo. Should I buy the RSPdx?”

My recommendation: I’m a big fan of the RSPduo. Unless you’re a dedicated mediumwave/longwave DXer, or you’d just like to add another separate SDR to your radio arsenal, I wouldn’t rush out to buy the RSPdx.

And while I’m offering advice, I’d like to offer my standard two cents on the subject of performance optimization: a radio is only as good as its antenna! If you have a compromised antenna, invest in your antenna before upgrading your radio. You’ll be glad you did.

Conclusion

Happily, I can  recommend the SDRplay RSPdx without hesitation. This latest iteration of the RSP series SDR is a proper step forward in terms of performance and functionality––obviously implementing years of customer feedback.

SDRplay also has a proven track record of innovation and customer support. Their documentation, video tutorials, and community are among the best in the industry. Purchase with confidence.

Click here to check out the RSPdx at SDRplay.


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

FTIOM & UBMP, November 24-30

From the Isle of Music, November 24-30:
This week our special guest is Mayquel González, whose Jazz album Tiempos de Paz won the Opera Prima (Best New Artist) category of
Cubadisco 2019.
The broadcasts take place:
1. For Eastern Europe but audible well beyond the target area in most of the Eastern Hemisphere (including parts of East Asia and Oceania) with 100Kw, Sunday 1500-1600 UTC on SpaceLine, 9400 KHz, from Sofia, Bulgaria (1800-1900 MSK)
If you don’t have a shortwave radio or are out of range, you can listen live to an uplink from a listening radio in the Netherlands during the broadcast at
http://websdr.ewi.utwente.nl:8901/?tune=9400am
2. For the Americas and parts of Europe, Tuesday 0100-0200 UTC (New UTC) on WBCQ, 7490 KHz from Monticello, ME, USA (Monday 8-9PM EST in the US).
If you don’t have a shortwave or are out of range, you can listen to a live stream from the WBCQ website here (choose 7490) http://www.wbcq.com/?page_id=7
3 & 4. For Europe and sometimes beyond, Tuesday 1900-2000 UTC and Saturday 1200-1300 UTC on Channel 292, 6070 KHz from Rohrbach, Germany.
If you don’t have a shortwave radio or are out of range, you can listen live to an uplink from a listening radio in Europe.
Visit our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/fromtheisleofmusic

Uncle Bill’s Melting Pot, November 24 and 26:
Episode 139 features music from Uganda.
The transmissions take place:
1.Sundays 2300-2330 UTC (6:00PM -6:30PM Eastern US) on WBCQ The Planet 7490 KHz from the US to the Americas and parts of Europe
If you don’t have a shortwave or are out of range, you can listen to a live stream from the WBCQ website here (choose 7490) http://www.wbcq.com/?page_id=7
2. Tuesdays 2000-2030 UTC on Channel 292, 6070 KHz from Rohrbach, Germany for Europe.
If you don’t have a shortwave radio or are out of range, you can listen live to an uplink from different web SDRs in Europe.
Visit our Facebook Page at https://www.facebook.com/UncleBillsMeltingPot

Spread the radio love

Behind-the-scenes film of BBC Rampisham Down site circa 1961

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Porter, who shares a link to the following BBC Archive video of BBC RMP circa 1961. The BBC posted this video in light of the recent demolition of all but one of the original Rampisham Down towers.

Click here to watch the video on Facebook.

Spread the radio love

Guest Post: ZIPWALL10 poles as antenna supports

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mario Filippi (N2HUN), who shares the following guest post:


ZIPWALL10 poles

Recently we had a remodeling job performed at the home QTH and the workers used telescoping poles to form a dust barrier.  When the job ended, they said I could have the telescoping poles, a product called ZIPWALL10, which when collapsed are four feet long but extend to ten feet.  This got me pondering about how handy these could be in the radio shack, especially for indoor impromptu antennas.

Close up of the ZIPWALL telescopic pole.

Indoor antennas, especially wire antennas usually have to be secured to a wall somehow, and should be as high as possible in the room.  That requires using adhesive tape to attach the wire and a ladder (most ceilings are eight feet), but using the ZIPWALL10 poles it’s easier and safer.  Below is a temporary random wire antenna in my shack using 26 gauge insulated wire strung between the two poles.

Random wire in shack room is a bit hard to see but it is strung between the two poles.

What’s nice about these poles is they have rubber feet to grip the floor and plastic pads on top to avoid damage to the ceiling. The top section is spring loaded to assure a tight fit.  The ZIPWALL10 model extends to ten feet in three telescopic sections. No tools are needed to set these up, and they conveniently collapse for storage.

ZIPWALL10 pair along with roll of 26 gauge wire for temporary indoor antenna installation.

These poles just happened my way due to a remodeling job, but surely other types are available on the market for those wanting to experiment with indoor antennas.  The price for a ZIPWALL10 pair on Amazon is around eighty dollars. Thanks for reading.


What a great use for ZipWall poles, Mario! I’ve spent the past few days at an ocean front condo and could have used two of those supports to suspend a small, lightweight passive loop antenna safely on the balcony. That’s fantastic your contractors simply gave you those poles! 

Thanks for the tip!

As you mention, Amazon sells a full line of ZipWall options (links below support the SWLing Post) but these can also be found at most home improvement stores. 

Spread the radio love

Coast Guard considers dropping radio-based NAVTEX system

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tracy Wood, who shares the following article from Alaska Public Media:

For decades, the Coast Guard’s NAVTEX towers have broadcast from Cape Cod to Kodiak Island. The global system broadcasts weather and safety information to boats large and small.

The International Maritime Organization developed the NAVTEX system decades ago as a means to get weather and urgent information to ships on the water. It’s low-tech. Receivers spit out basic telex-type messages onto paper or on a screen.

“The most common thing that you would see is a weather message, but you will also get public safety information messages,” said Derrick Croinex, the Coast Guard chief of spectrum management and telecommunications.

“We need to replace it because the infrastructure is old and it’s failing,” Croinex said.

But before the federal government commits to an expensive upgrade, Croinex said it wants to gauge how vital the service really is.

Right now, the International Maritime Organization is working on upgrading the text-only NAVTEX system to something called NAVDAT. The new system will include images and graphics. And when that system is ready, larger vessels will be required to upgrade to it.

But not if the Coast Guard phases out these radio-based systems completely.

“Our view is, it may be better and more reliable for people to actually switch to satellite,” Croinex said.

But some mariners are urging the Coast Guard to keep the free, low-tech service rather than switch over to subscription-based satellites.[…]

Click here to read the full article at Alaska Public Media.

As Tracy also noted, NAVTEX is great because with a simple soundcard, SSB radio and text decoder you can grab the service reliably.

Thanks for sharing, Tracy!

Spread the radio love

The new HanRongDa K-603 portable radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Mei Tao, who writes:

Yesterday, I received a new radio: the HanRongDa K-603, which was sent to me by the manufacture.They want me to test this prototype machine in order to find any bugs. If there is nothing to fix, I believe this radio will hit the market in this or next month.

K-603 is a small portable radio which also has some great functions. Its major features include:

  • FM, AM, and SW bands
  • Bluetooth 5.0 connection
  • TF Card Player
  • Recording function
  • Line in
  • LCD can display three different languages,English?Chinese and another foreign language.
  • Powered by the BL-5C Li battery
  • MW channnel space can be switched between 9KHz adn 10KHz.
  • Tuning methods: Scan, ATS, and direct key entry

The designer told me that this K-603’s fm coverage is from 87MHz to 108MHz, but they will extend it to 64MHz in the next version. That’s really good news.

In a few days, I will test it carefully. If necessary, I will make side-by-side comparisons with my own Tecsun, Sangean, Radiwow, and Degen radios. Then i will present some text and video reviews.

I would like to share some pictures of this new radio with you and other BCLers

Best wishes to you!

Photos

Thank you, Mei Tao! We look forward to your review of the HanRongDa K-603. Yes, please let us know how it compares to your other receivers. We also look forward to any update regarding price and availability. Thanks for sharing those photos!

Spread the radio love

RTÉ to continue longwave radio service into 2022

(Source: Southgate ARC)

RTÉ is going to spend €250,000 per year transmitting its Radio One station to the Irish diaspora in Britain – while closing down all its digital stations.

The station is shutting down RTÉ Gold, RTE Junior, RTÉ 2XM, RTÉ Pulse and RTÉ Radio 1 Extra, but would not specify how much this will save.

However, it has confirmed that it is going to continue its Longwave radio service to the Irish diaspora in Britain up to 2022.

Read the full story at
https://www.businesspost
.ie/news/rte-continue-spending-e250k-year-longwave-radio-service-axed-457245

Spread the radio love