Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post:
Malahit 2 versus Chinese Clone: Taking the Gloves Off
New DDC (Direct Digital Conversion) Version in Development
by Dan Robinson
It’s been a few weeks since my last commentary on the Malahit/Malachite, which as of this writing remains at the DSP-2 level, though there are continuing hints from the Malahiteam in Russia about future changes, including a DDC version.
All of the observations I made in previous articles are unchanged. As of today in mid-September, the latest test firmware version posted by the Malahiteam remains M2_FW2_10D. This includes a widening of the waterfall bandwidth from 160 kHz to 192 kHz. See my previous articles for more information.
Recently, I obtained a Chinese clone, one which will be familiar to anyone who has taken a dive into the clone market. This one is by HFDY and is immediately recognizable for its front speaker and longer slim rectangular form factor.
The HFDY (Malahit SDR V 3) has two high quality black metal encoder knobs on the right, with a large power button between, and USB-C and a headphone jack on the left side. On the bottom are two OFF/ON slide switches, one marked for 3.3 volts and the other BOOT(O).
I initially saw photos of this SDR some months ago and was curious but cautious. In recent weeks I decided to take the plunge and ordered one from AliExpress. It took just under one month to arrive, well-wrapped in bubble wrap in a plain cardboard box.
But the radio comes with a really nice black carrying case (see photo above) with a long white USB-C cable, a metal stand to prop the radio up on a desktop, and a flexible SMA antenna – really impressive in terms of what you get for $183. In contrast, the Russian-made Malahit comes only with a metal whip antenna.
When I first took the MSDR V3 in hand, I was impressed. This is a really nicely-built receiver – high quality metal construction that conveys an immediate feeling of attention to detail.
Also included is a sheet of paper with handwritten sensitivity and blocking figures – the sheet has the Malahiteam name on it, though I am unsure what the arrangement is between the Chinese maker and the Russia-based team in terms of this kind of information being part of the package.
When I originally ordered the M SDR V3 I assumed incorrectly that I would be getting the equivalent of a DSP-2. This was not the case: the Chinese clone is a DSP-1, and had 1.10b firmware rather than the last 1.10c FW.
This necessitated using STM32Cube PC program to update to 1.10c and I had a bit of a problem doing this since the Chinese maker does not include any specific instructions similar to those provided by Malahiteam for its DSP-1/2 receivers.
After gathering a bit of information from another owner of the Chinese clone, on the Malahit Telegram group, I felt confident enough to proceed and eventually was able to make the upgrade to 1.10c, which in my view brings the Chinese clone up to essentially the same level as a DSP-2 with 2.10D firmware.
HFDY Clone Wins On Quality of Construction
- The front-firing speaker on the HFDY is a home run. The speaker has a beautiful gold color metal grille and audio from it is an improvement over the DSP-2 with its rear firing speaker.
- Where the DSP-2 comes with two plastic encoder knobs, the HDFY has two really nice heavy metal knobs on the right side. Owners of the DSP-2 know that the original plastic knobs on the DSP-2 can be easily replaced by higher quality knobs made by Nikolay in Asha, Russia ([email protected]). But the fact that the China-made clone doesn’t require this is a plus.
- On performance – the fact that the HFDY V3 has two antenna jacks is a major plus. Each of these jacks by the way has a LED next to it that shows whether that particular antenna is being used, either 50 ohm or Hi-Z. So, while the Russia-made DSP-2 requires constantly switching antennas to be able to hear AM, or FM, on the HDFY antennas for both can remain connected simultaneously.
- As seen in the photo (below) of the HFDY, the receiver has some impressive internal shielding, something that is not seen on the Russia-made DSP units.
On battery duration – the HFDY V3 uses a flat Li-Ion cell, rated at 3300 mAh and according to BBW-Tech Store, the seller on AliExpress, the size is 35 × 70 × 80. According to the seller, as high as a 8,000 mAh can be used though I have not confirmed this capacity would be available in the size specified by the seller.
I have not yet opened the cabinet of the HFDY V3 but the China seller that provided my unit sent the photo above showing the flat cell lithium battery.
A side note: according to BBW-Tech Store, the switches at the bottom of the receiver are “used to write firmware from the factory and will not be used in the future” adding that “you do not need to use [these]….” This does not explain the decision to make these switches visible and accessible on the bottom of the receiver cabinet.
1.10c Firmware on Chinese Clone Fully Adequate But Grounding Needed
On performance, in my view the 1.10c firmware gives the HFDY clone most of the features that are important in comparison with the Russia-made DSP-2. Selectable synchronous detection is present as are all of the important features such as the superb noise reduction (NR) and the FCORRECT to correct for frequency variation.
Using the HFDY V3 on a You Loop antenna, I see no major differences with the DSP-2. Unfortunately, this includes the fact that any of these receivers exhibit sensitivity to touch – signal level increases significantly when holding the cabinet in your hand with the telescopic antenna.
The observation about touch sensitivity deserves more attention because in comments I have seen on Facebook and in the Telegram group discussion, many users continue to struggle with an essential fact.
Unless the receiver is grounded, whether by holding it in your hand or with some additional length of wire attached to the cabinet, the Malahit is not going to do much more for you than a portable shortwave receiver such as those in the Tecsun line or older classic portables.
Obviously, for those whose listening is more focused on frequencies above 30 MHz, my apologies – in this case obviously the DSP-2 with range up to 2 GHz is a wonderful tool that provides access to air and other communications in those higher ranges.
A comment in August by a member of the Malahit Facebook group underscored what I have been talking about. A user reported that while using a Tecsun PL-660 he was hearing clearly a LSB signal, though with some noise, on 3,916 kHz:
“I decided to see if the DSP2 could pick up the same signal, in the same room of my house…the DSP2 did not pick up the signal, only noise. It was right next to the PL-660 using a Diamond SRH 789 antenna. Attaching a reel to the antenna did not help, the unit still failed to pickup the same signal (which again, while weak, was clear on the PL-660).”
“I decided to take the DSP2 outside, and eventually was able to pickup the same signal in a very specific location with the antenna pointed in a very specific direction. I’m sure there are factors occurring here I am unaware of, but I was a bit let down [by] this. At first I thought the DSP2 might be off frequency and tried to fCorrect, but it was not the case since my outdoor test was normal. It has not had any issues getting reception on any other bands.”
“Just for the record, I love the DSP2 (other than the decision to not have internal BMS which makes absolutely no sense even though it is a kit radio). It fills a niche, and I realize it won’t be perfect nor compare to established radio hardware perfectly.”
There were 34+ comments, including mine in which I observed that Tecsun and similar portables are actually made for HF reception, though they obviously have FM and in the case of the XHDATA D-808, AIR band.
That really isn’t the case with the DSP-2 and similar units. Again, when using a telescopic antenna it’s often the case that listenable audio is obtained on actual shortwave portables though they lack the superb noise reduction of the Malahit and various other flexibilities.
Taking The Gloves Off
So, let’s take the gloves off, so to speak, when discussing performance of the Malahit receivers, whether the Russia-originated sets or Chinese clones. By this, I mean let’s take a hard look at where things stand. Again, I am talking primarily about performance on HF rather than higher frequencies.
There is not any major difference I can see between a Russia-made DSP-2 and the HFDY Chinese clone I received recently. Add to this the improved cabinet of the HFDY SDR V3 with heavier metal construction, high quality knobs, dual antenna jacks with LEDs, and a really nice front-firing speaker and you have a very impressive package.
The Russia-made DSP-2 is an ongoing work in progress. As seen in the various discussions online, Malahiteam continues to work on key issues such as reducing internally-generated noise and noise entering via the antenna input along with loss of time on the internal clock, the SMA connection to the PCB, and the above-mentioned absence of BMS (internal Battery Management System).
As I write this, Malahiteam is planning further refinements of the DSP-2 to include an apparently imminent additional firmware upgrade beyond the current 2.10d.
The bigger news is development of a DDC version of the receiver, which could be seen placed in a DSP-2 cabinet in this video posted on You Tube and showing its band scope range in this video. An even earlier video (from June) can be seen here.
In further discussion on this, Georgiy of Malahiteam said that this version may be available by the end of 2021. And discussing details on the Telegram group, some additional details were leaked:
- size like [M2 / DSP-2]
- reception from 100kHz to 30MHz, 88-108MHz, 144-148MHz (not ideal)
- MDS for SW with preamp -138dBm, without – 130dBm, on FM with preamp is -130dBm, on 144MHz with preamp is -124dBm
- BDR is 118dB, IMD3 is 90dB
- bandwidth now is 24, 48, 96, 192, 240, 384, 640, 768, 960, 1560, 1920kHz, 19MHz, 38MHz
- for PC is available all from 48 to 1920kHz and 38MHz (only with Quisk)
- planned optional board for VHF reception to 6GHz, not yet [fully designed]
- Cost: about 420 USD for base version, 480 USD with optional board
If something jumped out at you, you are not alone. An estimated cost of $420 is quite a price increase from the $200 or so of the current DSP-2, as many people observed in the Telegram discussion.
As I observed directly to Malahiteam, this kind of price increase may be a challenge for buyers, though perhaps not for those people who absolutely have to have the latest version of the receiver.
In a recent comment on You Tube, Georgiy was asked when the DDC version of the Malahit might be available. He responded that a test batch of the units would be available “in the near future” followed by mass production.
Among requests from Malahit users: inclusion of Bluetooth capability, and optical encoders. There has also been discussion of potential improved battery life in the DDC version.
It remains to be seen what sort of battery arrangement a DDC version of the Russia-made receiver will have. Malahiteam has been putting double 18650 battery trays in some DSP-2 units sent out in recent weeks.
The speed with which new firmware for the current DSP-2 gets integrated into China-manufactured clones remains to be seen. With the Chinese HFDY clone I have here, there appears to have been a considerable lag in 1.10c being put into clones on sale on AliExpress.
So, the major headline from all of this?
A new DDC version of the Russia-made receiver is likely in coming months. How quickly Chinese clone makers will integrate new technology into their receivers is a question.
In my opinion, from a structural design and appearance standpoint, the quality of the HFDY unit exceeds that of the Russia-made DSP-2. Whether we will ever see this in units manufactured in Russia remains to be seen.
Update (22 September, 2021): Click here to read update notes.