Author Archives: Guy Atkins

XHDATA D-808: A Shortwave Comparison Against Four Other Portables

When the clouds part and the sun shines during the winter in the Seattle, Washington area, it’s time for a celebration! I decided to take advantage of the mild weather and compare the XDATA D-808 (a real upstart in the marketplace, and a value leader in portables) against a few other radios on a nice daytime signal from Radio New Zealand International, 15720 kHz.

Besides the D-808, receivers compared to each other were: the C. Crane Skywave SSB (complete with stray cat’s whisker on the LCD :^) , the Eton Executive Satellit, the Grundig G3, and a beautiful example of the rare Sony ICF-SW1000T (sometimes called the Sony Shortwave Walkman due to the built-in cassette recorder). My apologies for the lower audio setting on the G3.

The antenna used with each radio was a PK Loops “Ham Loop” antenna, which is advertised as covering 3.5 – 14.5 MHz, but my loop actually tunes approximately 3.2 MHz to 15.8 MHz. I also briefly received RNZI on each radio’s own whip antenna.

I used the 3.0 kHz bandwidth on all the SiLabs DSP radios, and the narrow filter on the G3. The ICF-SW1000T has a single filter, so it cannot be adjusted.

Since the G3 and the ICF-SW1000T have the option of synchronous-AM detection, in the video I cycle through those modes on these receivers.

RNZI on their 15720 kHz frequency is often at a good, program listening level in my local afternoons. Next week I plan to seek out and share videos of the D-808 with weak DX signals from an RF-quiet location on the Oregon coast.

Which receiver sounds the best to you with the external antenna, and which one shines with its own whip aerial? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

SSB Reception Examples with the XHDATA D-808 Portable Receiver

In my earlier article on this receiver, I shared reception videos of three weak medium wave stations and a single shortwave outlet, all demonstrated in AM mode.

These two videos are of reception in SSB. The first example is true SSB reception–in lower side band on the 40m amateur band, while tuning a local on-the-air ham radio classifieds broadcast:


The next video demonstrates “ECSS” reception
(tuning an AM mode signal in SSB). In this example I use a strong station so the audio quality and fine tuning accuracy of the XHDATA receiver can be clearly heard. Typically, ECSS is used by SWLs and DXers for AM mode stations that suffer from adjacent channel interference on one side or the other.


Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Short Videos: the XHDATA D-808 Portable SSB Receiver on MW and SW

I recently received a new XHDATA D-808 SSB portable receiver, after AliExpress had a $69 USD introductory sale. I’m intrigued by this new model, as it uses the SiLabs Si4735 DSP chip, the same “brains” that powers the Eton Satellit (and Executive version), and C. Crane Skywave SSB. I believe the same Si4735 is found in Tecsun’s PL-880 and the CountyComm GP-5/SSB. A key feature found in all of these radios is USB/LSB modes and 10-Hz tuning step in SSB.


It would be a mistake to assume that all portable DSP receivers with the same SiLabs chip will perform equally; quite the opposite! They all have reception differences that owners will notice. I certainly noticed differences in sensitivity, AGC action, audio quality, and (to some extent) variations in adjacent channel (splatter) rejection between receivers using the same bandwidth. I made these observations when I owned the PL-880 and GP-5/SSB radios. Differences in the circuitry surrounding the SiLabs chip, as well the sizes of MW ferrite loopstick antennas and SW/FM whip antennas contribute to each receiver’s personality.

Below are four videos showing the D-808’s reception of three weaker daytime medium wave stations from indoors at my suburban Seattle-Tacoma (WA) home, plus one video of a shortwave reception in the 41 meter band. The XHDATA D-808 is compared to C. Crane’s newest Skywave radio, the SSB model, and the Eton Executive Satellit. Although brief, these tests show how the new XHDATA portable is a welcome competitor to the field of modern, compact SSB-capable radios:

What about single sideband? These four videos show reception in AM mode only, but rest assured the D-808 is very capable on the SSB modes of LSB and USB! A separate fine tuning rotary wheel on the right side of the radio’s case offers adjustment in 10 Hertz increments. The effect feels very similar to tuning CountyComm’s GP-5/SSB “walkie-talkie” style receiver. The plus or minus (+/-) offset is displayed in multiples of 10 Hz steps as “-1”, “-2”, “-3”, and so on.

I hope to post some future videos showing SSB usage of the D-808.

Soft mute. The dreaded soft mute is present in AM and SSB mode to some degree, but I do not feel it is excessive. Like most radio hobbyists I’m not a fan of soft muting and prefer uninterrupted tuning with no sign of “chuffing” or lowering of noise or audio.  The amount of soft mute on this radio seems the same as the Eton Executive Satellit in my opinion.

What else to like? My take–

Audio. I find the D-808’s audio quality to be slightly more mellow or warmer…I like that, especially on FM! Audio on the MW and SW bands still has a crispness that aids in DXing on those bands, however.

18650 Li-Ion battery. Not all may agree, but I like this style of battery. The D-808’s internal circuit shuts off when the battery is fully charged, or after 10 hours of charging. The radio comes with a 18650 battery and a USB cable; the owner supplies a common 5V USB charger.

RDS on FM. This is a feature lacking on the Skywave SSB, but it is present and performs as expected with the D-808. The XHDATA radio lacks the Skywave SSB’s NOAA weather presets, however.

AM filter bandwidths. Interestingly, this receiver supplies two additional narrow AM mode bandwidths lacking in the Executive Satellit: 1.8 kHz and 1.0 kHz. It’s good to have options, although such narrow filters in AM mode sound a little muffled (offset tuning helps). The Skywave SSB does offer 1.0 kHz in AM mode, but has a 2.0 bandwidth in place of 1.8 kHz.

Backlighting. If desired, the D-808’s easy-on-the-eyes white backlight for the display can remain illuminated continually. Bravo, XHDATA! Now, if we could persuade more manufacturers to add backlighting to the keys themselves (a la the Degen DE1103/Kaito KA1103/Eton E5), we’d have more choices use in low light conditions like camping or bedside use.

Handy size. Probably a third larger than the diminutive Skywave SSB, the D-808 is still a very handy size that will fit most coat pockets, and is a smaller receiver than the Eton Executive Satellit. As you can tell from my videos, reception doesn’t suffer due to the smaller size.

Design. OK, this one’s very personal! As a graphic designer I have a real soft spot for any receiver that looks as good as it sounds, no matter what the technology or vintage. The D-808’s look really appeals to me and adds to my enjoyment while operating it. There are no unnecessary protrusions, ridges, or visual do-dads on this XHDATA model. In fact, I seem some design clues from the stylish Tecsun PL-880 in the D-808. The radio also has a quality feel to the plastic case and buttons, giving it a more “upper class” impression during use.

Antenna jack. The D-808 has the standard 3.5mm antenna port on the left side of the receiver. This is an addition I appreciate, and wish that C. Crane had included one on their Skywave SSB model. I tried this external antenna jack with an amplified PK Loops’ shortwave antenna and the combination performs excellently.

Minor annoyances

So far, the list is short! As a sacrifice to style, the manufacturer has kept all front panel buttons almost flush with the case. The effect looks great, but they are almost too low and close to the front panel. Those with larger fingers may find operation awkward or frustrating. Also, entering a shortwave frequency with less than five digits (i.e., below 10,000 kHz) requires a trailing push of the Frequency (FREQ) button.

I encourage other new owners of XHDATA’s D-808 to leave their comments below. Where does this portable rate among other radios you may own?

 

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Addendum: More Notes on the HF+ SDR on Medium Wave & Long Wave

In my recent post on the AirSpy HF+ vs Elad FDM-S2, I commented on medium wave reception only.

This past weekend I swapped out the Wellbrook ALA1530S+ for another Wellbrook loop, the ALA1530LN Pro. This LN Pro model is less likely to overload receivers at my suburban Tacoma, WA location. Both AirSpy and Elad radios performed admirably with the LN Pro and it was nearly impossible to find any reception differences on medium wave.

Before the antenna swap though I experimented with inline attenuation modules (“bullets”), typically used in cable TV installations. I used the same sample rates on the SDRs as described in the previous article. After some tests with different attenuation levels, I came to the following conclusions during daytime comparisons:

FDM-S2 with ALA1530S+ loop, medium wave: needs a minimum of 6 dB attenuation to avoid overloading. Anything less causes saturation of the spectrum & waterfall, “crunching” overload noises, and minimal or no received signal.

HF+ with ALA1530S+ loop, medium wave: I had to search diligently to find any signs of false signals or overloading, but finally noticed a weak image or spur of a S-9+60 dB (-13.5 dBm) local station on 1560 that was appearing very weakly on 1270 kHz, mixing with the station on that frequency. Sometimes it was there, other times the spur or image would drop down and disappear, leaving the 1270 signal alone. If I added just 3 dB of attenuation in the antenna’s feed line, the interference from the 1560 station was gone for good. The S-9+60 dB station is a very strong signal; it’s impressive that the AirSpy HF+ deals with this and similar powerhouse signals so well.

Long wave: Below are two screen captures from my local long wave reception in the evening, made moments apart with each receiver.

FDM-S2

HF+

As you can tell, there are a half dozen or so additional signals seen on the HF+ below 200 kHz that do not appear on the FDM-S2. These extra spikes are images or spurs from medium wave signals that were missing from the FDM-S2’s reception–bravo Elad! However, the remaining spikes on both radios below 200 kHz seemed to be noise or interference.

Each receiver had roughly equal performance in the bulk of the long wave spectrum, when I did A-B comparisons on the same beacon signals. I’m not a LW or NDB DXer however, so I can’t claim any expertise on these frequencies. In short, though, both radios seem neck-and-neck from about 200 to 500 kHz.

The DXer of LW frequencies may want to look elsewhere for a better performing radio than either the FDM-S2 or HF+. SWLing Post reader Tudor Vedeanu has commented that the SDRPlay RSP1A  and the Eton E1 work very well at long wave.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Brief Medium Wave Tests of the HF+ and FDM-S2 SDRs in a Suburban Location

The AirSpy HF+ is the new SDR on the block, but how does it compare to the Elad FDM-S2 which is more than 2-1/2 times its $199 price? My main interest is finding out how they compare in a very RF-quiet DXpedition setting, but today I compared the two briefly from my home in Puyallup, Washington (near Seattle).

The receivers were connected via a two-way antenna splitter to the output of a Wellbrook ALA1530S+ loop antenna. I monitored during mid-afternoon local time to ensure that all my MW locals in my suburban location would be at full power, for the best test of the radios’ overload performance. The Wellbrook active antenna is rather “hot” and sometimes overloads receivers during the daytime unless attenuation is added to the signal chain.

I noted there were no truly weak medium wave signals available during the session so comparing sensitivity wasn’t appropriate. However, the band was full of strong daytime MW signals.

It became apparent quickly that the upstart HF+ provides strong competition to the Elad SDR. Clearly, the AirSpy’s trade-off is bandwidth for raw performance at lower cost–approx. 660 kHz alias-free coverage versus about 6 MHz maximum for the Elad.

Using the same center L.O. (local oscillator) frequency, short recordings were made with both receivers on the same receive frequency, same bandwidth, AGC setting, etc.  To approximate the 660 kHz coverage of the HF+, I set the FDM-S2 to its 768 kHz sampling rate, the closest available setting to 660 kHz wide coverage.

Here are the results on 1540 kHz, just 10 kHz away from a strong signal on 1550:

AirSpy HF+ – 1540 kHz


Elad FDM-S2 – 1540 kHz

What’s wrong with the above audio picture? The FDM-S2 is clearly overwhelmed by the strong RF on the upper end of the MW band. Visually, the spectrum looked like this with the Elad:

Elad FDM-S2 waterfall/spectrum (1540 kHz)

The noise floor rose by approximately 20 dB due to the overloading. The HF+ showed a normal waterfall and spectrum display while tuning 1540 kHz:

AirSpy HF+ waterfall/spectrum (1540 kHz)

Let’s listen to two more audio clips, this time from 720 kHz which is adjacent to very strong 710 KIRO, the ESPN affiliate in Seattle:

AirSpy HF+ – 720 kHz


Elad FDM-S2 – 720 kHz

This time the difference is subtle, but I think you’ll agree there is a greater amount of “crunchy” background distortion noise on the FDM-S2 recording. I found this to be the case in each instance where I compared receivers on frequencies adjacent to strong locals.

I no longer own a Perseus SDR, but that receiver handles the entire MW band at this location without overload using the same Wellbrook ALA1530S+ loop.

I’d like to emphasize that these were brief, somewhat casual AirSpy HF+ vs. Elad FDM-S2 tests. I expect that in a more forgiving RF environment, both receivers will be equally adept and digging out weak weak and challenging DX signals. I plan to investigate this very scenario in a few weeks at a quiet location on the Oregon coast.

Side note: I have two HF+ units and they can operate concurrently without problems for full medium wave band coverage with HSDSR software, even when both are recording IQ WAV files.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.