Many thanks to Mike Ladd at SDRplay who notes that he has posted his extensive SDRuno frequency banks on the SDRplay website. If you aren’t a frequent user of SDRuno’s memory banks, I would highly recommend loading Mike’s frequencies as a means of a little radio frequency discovery!
Setting up a Mini Whip antenna
I’ve been fiddling with my “balcony antenna” experiment for quite a while now, and I settled with a Linear Loaded Dipole (LLD, also known as “Cobra”) which, in my case, due to self-imposed limitations was a short one (about 9m total).
Since I mentioned it, here is a pic of the antenna showing its installation:
In the above image you can see the overall setup of the LLD, the modification I did, by adding additional wires to the end of the arms and also the Mini Whip location
The LLD served me well, from LW up to around 200MHz allowing me to listen to broadcasters, hams, aircraft communications, time signals and then more, and it’s definitely a keeper, but I wanted to give a try to the “Mini Whip” antenna, even if a lot of people discard it saying it’s a noisy antenna and not worth it; keep in mind the Utwente SDR uses it and it seems to work fine, so I had to give it a try !
Anyhow, after searching the internet for a suitable whip, I finally found this one:
I bought the antenna on Amazon, but it’s also available on eBay and while the price isn’t the lowest one, I chose it since it uses BNC connectors only (some models use a mix of UHF/BNC or the like). This one had a top wing nut allowing to connect an additional (optional) external whip (may be useful on lower bands) and, last but not least, its color; being gray, it is quite stealth, which may be useful for some people (not my case, luckily). So I went on and ordered the antenna, the delivery took about 10 days and the package contents were exactly as shown above. The supplied coax is thin (RG-174 I believe) and it would be a good idea replacing it with some runs of RG-58, but for the sake of the experiment, I used the original wire.
So, having the antenna, I looked around for informations about the correct installation for the “Mini Whip” and found that in most cases, the reported poor performances of the Mini Whip are due to people installing it the wrong way. For reference and information about how the whip works and about how to properly install it, please refer to the information from PA3FWM found here and here.
Now, if you can place the whip in a garden or yard, using a pole, the correct installation of the whip is the one shown in this pic:
If you carefully look at the image you will notice that the whip sits above the supporting (metallic) pole and that the ground of the connector is electrically connected to the pole (through the clamp). Plus, the pole is then grounded (at the bottom) and the coax (which has chokes) runs away from the metallic pole.
What does the above mean ? Well, the Mini Whip antenna needs a “counterpoise” (ground) to work, and installing it as above, instead of using the coax braid as its counterpoise, the Mini Whip will use the supporting pole, this helps a lot minimizing the noise and it’s one of the tricks for a proper setup, the other one is placing the whip as far away from the “noise cloud” of your home as possible. In my case, I choose the far end of the balcony–also since I had a nice support there, the image below shows the whip installation using a piece of PVC pipe I bought at a nearby home improvement store:
At first, I just installed the antenna without the ground wire and with the coax coming down vertically from the connector. When I compared the whip to my LLD, the results were discouraging: the noise floor was much higher and a lot of signals, which the LLD received without problems, totally disappeared inside the noise floor.
Being the kind of hard-headed guy I am (and having read the documentation about proper setup) I went on and made further modifications.
Let me detail the installation a bit better with this first image (click to enlarge):
As you can see in the above image, the whip is supported by a piece of PVC pipe which keeps it above the metal fencing of the balcony (or a support pole if you’ll use it) and I also connected a short run of insulated wire to the ground of BNC plug at the bottom of the whip. This short run goes to a wire clamp which allows it to connect to the “counterpoise” (ground) wire.
In my case, since the balcony was at 2nd floor, I didn’t have a way to give to the antenna a real ground, so I decided to run a length of wire (AWG #11) down the pipe and then along my balcony fencing (10m total). An alternative, which will also work for roof installations, would be using chicken wire (fencing). In such a case, you may lay as much chicken wire as you can on the floor/roof and connect the wire coming down from the whip ground to it. I haven’t that that (yet!) but I think it may further lower the noise and improve performances.
Notice that in the case of the Utwente Mini Whip, the antenna support pole is connected to metallic roofing so it has plenty of (virtual) ground.
Later on, I improved the setup by raising the antenna a bit more and routing the wire (almost) horizontally from the feedpoint to reduce coupling with the vertical “counterpoise” wire.
The image below shows the final setup:
While not visible in the above image, I also wrapped the coax wire in a loop at the point where it’s held by the fencing and added some snap-on chokes to the coax at the point where it enters the building.
With all the modifications in place, the antenna started performing as it was designed to. The noise floor is still a bit higher than the one of the LLD, but given that it’s an active antenna, that’s to be expected
To give you an idea of the signals and noise floor, here are a couple of images taken from the screen of my laptop while running SDRuno. The first one shows the waterfall for the 40m band
While the second one, below, shows the one for the 80m band:
At any rate, my usual way of testing antenna performance (and modifications effects), aside from some band scanning/listening, is to run an FT8 session for some hours (and optionally repeat it over some days) and then check the received spots.
In the case of the Mini Whip, after all the modification to the setup, I ran an FT8 session using JTDX for some hours and the images below show the received spots. The first image shows the whole map of the received stations:
While the second one below is a zoom into the European region to show the various spots picked up there; the different colors indicate the 20m (yellow), 40m (blue/violet) and 80m (violet) bands:
As you can see, the Mini Whip performed quite well despite the “not exactly good” propagation.
While some time ago I’d have discarded the Mini Whip as a “noise magnet”, as of today, with a proper installation, I think it’s a keeper. While it can’t be compared to bigger antennas, I believe it may be a viable antenna for space-constrained situations. The only thing it needs is a bit of care when setting it up to allow it to work as it has been designed to.
Brilliant job, Grayhat! Thank you so much for sharing your experience setting up the Mini Whip antenna. As you stated, so many SWLs dismiss the Mini Whip as “noisy”–but with a proper ground, it seems to perform rather well. The benchmark example of a Mini Whip’s performance must be the U Twente Web SDR.
Thank you again, Grayhat!
I took delivery of my Tecsun PL-990x yesterday from Anon. I thought this hidden features list might be of interest.
Thank you for sharing this sheet, John! Well done!
After posting a recording of 630 AM WAIZ’s “Wacky Wake-Up Crew” last week, a few readers asked for another recording, so here you go!
I made this recording yesterday morning (Monday, October 19, 2020) with the Icom IC-705 connected to my homebrew NCPL antenna:
Many thanks to a number of SWLing Post readers who’ve noted that Sangean Europe has removed the ATS-909X2 from their website and stopped taking pre-orders.
Dan Robinson received the following response from Sangean Europe after an inquiry:
“The ATS-909X2 is postponed, so we cannot send a product yet. I’m sorry for the inconveniences.”
No doubt, production may be pushed into 2021.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Bill Tilford, who shares the following:
Today is the anniversary of the announcement of the first commercially available transistor radio, the Regency TR1, in 1954. It wasn’t very good, but it started something.
You can tell something about the frequency allocations of the time by how the numbers are spaced.
To put the ad below in context, the median weekly family income in 1954 was about $81.00.
Thank you for sharing this, Bill! If you’d like to read more about the TR1 and view a wide variety of product photos, check out this dedicated TR1 website.
I’m curious if any Post readers own a Regency TR1. Please comment!
Before I had even taken delivery of the new Icom IC-705 transceiver, a number of SWLing Post readers asked me to do a series of blind audio comparison tests like I’ve done in the past (click here for an example).
Last week, I published a series of five audio tests/surveys and asked for your vote and comments. The survey response far exceeded anything I would have anticipated.
We received a total of 931 survey entries/votes which only highlights how much you enjoy this sort of receiver test.
In this challenge, I didn’t even give you the luxury of knowing the other radios I used in each comparison, so let’s take a look…
Since the Icom IC-705 is essentially a tabletop SDR, I compared it with a couple dedicated PC-connected SDRs.
WinRadio Excalibur SDR
I consider the WinRadio Excalibur to be a benchmark sub $1000 HF, mediumwave, and longwave SDR.
It is still my staple receiver for making off-air audio and spectrum recordings, and is always hooked up to an antenna and ready to record.
In the tests where I employed the WinRadio Excalibur, I used its proprietary SDR application to directly make recordings. I used none of its advanced filters, AGC control, or synchronous detection.
Airspy HF+ SDR
I also consider the Airspy HF+ SDR to be one of the finest sub-$200 HF SDRs on the market.
The HF+ is a choice SDR for DXing. Mine has not been modified in any way to increase its performance or sensitivity.
In the test where I employed the HF+ I used Airspy’s own SDR application, SDR#, to directly make recordings. I used none of its advanced filters, AGC control, noise reduction, or synchronous detection.
Belka-DSP portable receiver
I recently acquired a Belka-DSP portable after reading 13dka’s superb review.
I thought it might be fun to include it in a comparison although, in truth, it’s hardly fair to compare a $160 receiver with a $1300 SDR transceiver.
The Belka, to me, is like a Lowe HF-150 in a tiny, pocket package.
Elecraft KX3 QRP transceiver
The KX3 is one of the best transceivers I’ve ever owned. Mine has the CW roofing filter installed (only recently) and is, without a doubt, a benchmark performer.
If you check out Rob Sherwood’s receiver test data table which is sorted by third-order dynamic range narrow spaced, you’ll see that the KX3 is one of the top performers on the list even when compared with radios many times its price. Due to my recording limitations (see below) the KX3 was the only other transceiver used in this comparison.
Herein lies a HUGE caveat:
As I’ve stated in SDR reviews in the past, it is incredibly difficult comparing anything with PC-connected SDRs because they can be configured on such a granular level.
When making a blind audio test with a stand-alone SDR radio like the IC-705–which has less configurability–you’re forced to take one of at least two paths:
- Tweak the PC-connected SDR until you believe you’ve found the best possible reception audio scenario and use that configuration as a point of comparison, or
- Attempt to keep the configuration as basic as possible, setting filters widths, AGC to be comparable and turning off all other optional enhancements (like synchronous detection, noise reduction, and advanced audio filtering to name a few).
I chose the latter path in this comparison which essentially undermines our PC-connected SDRs. Although flawed, I chose this approach to keep the comparison as simple as possible.
While the IC-705 has way more filter and audio adjustments than legacy transceivers, it only has a tiny fraction of those available to PC-connected SDRs. Indeed, the HF+ SDR, for example, can actually be used by multiple SDR applications, all with their own DSP and feature sets.
In short: don’t be fooled into thinking this is an apples-to-apples comparison. It is, at best, a decent attempt at giving future IC-705 owners a chance to hear how it compares in real-word live signals.
Another limiting factor is that I only have one stand-alone digital audio recorder: the Zoom H2N. [Although inspired by Matt’s multi-track comparison reviews, I plan to upgrade my gear soon.]
The IC-705 has built-in digital audio recording and this is what I used in each test.
The WinRadio Excalibur and Airspy HF+ also have native audio recording via their PC-based applications.
With only one stand-alone recorder, I wasn’t able to simultaneously compare the IC-705 with more than one other stand-alone receiver/transceiver at a time.
As I mentioned in each test, the audio levels were not consistent and required the listener to adjust their volume control. Since the IC-705, Excalibur, and HF+ all have native recording features, the audio levels were set by their software. I didn’t post-process them.
Blind Audio Survey Results
With all of those caveats and disclaimers out of the way, let’s take a look at the survey results.
Blind audio test #1: 40 meters SSB
In this first test we listened to the IC-705, WinRadio Excalibur, and Belka-DSP tuned to a weak 40 meter station in lower sideband (LSB) mode. Specifically, this was ham radio operator W3JPH activating Shikellamy State Park in Pennsylvania for the Parks On The Air program. I chose this test because it included a weak station calling CQ and both weak and strong stations replying. There are also adjacent signals which (in some recordings) bleed over into the audio.
Radio A: The Belka-DSP
Radio B: The WinRadio Excalibur
Radio C: The Icom IC-705
The Icom IC-705 was the clear choice here.
Based on your comments, those who chose the IC-705 felt that the weak signal audio was more intelligible and that signals “popped out” a bit more. Many noted, however, that the audio sounded “tinny.”
A number of you felt it was a toss-up between The IC-705 and the Belka-DSP. And those who chose the WinRadio Excalibur were adamant that is was the best choice.
The WinRadio audio was popping in the recording, but it was how the application recorded it natively, so I didn’t attempt to change it.
Test #2: 40 meters CW
In this second test we listened to the Icom IC-705 and the Elecraft KX3 tuned to a 40 meter CW station.
Radio A: Icom IC-705
Radio B: Elecraft KX3
The Elecraft KX3 was preferred by more than half of you.
Based on your comments, those who chose the KX3 felt the audio was clearer and signals had more “punch.” They felt the audio was easier on the ears as well, thus ideal for long contests.
Those who chose the IC-705, though, preferred the narrower sounding audio and felt the KX3 was too bass heavy.
Test #3: Shannon Volmet SSB
In this third test we listened to the Icom IC-705 and WinRadio Excalibur, tuned to Shannon Volmet on 8,957 kHz.
Radio A: WinRadio Excalibur
Radio B: Icom IC-705
The Icom-705 audio was preferred by a healthy margin. I believe, again, this was influenced by the audio pops heard in the WinRadio recording (based on your comments).
The IC-705 audio was very pleasant and smooth according to respondents and they felt the signal-to-noise ratio was better.
However, a number of comments noted that the female voice in the recording was actually stronger on the WinRadio Excalibur and more intelligible during moments of fading.
Test #4: Voice of Greece 9,420 kHz
In this fourth test we listen to the Icom IC-705, and the WinRadio Excalibur again, tuned to the Voice of Greece on 9,420 kHz.
Radio A: Icom IC-705
Radio B: WinRadio Excalibur
While the preference was for the IC-705’s audio (Radio A), this test was very interesting because those who chose the Excalibur had quite a strong preference for it, saying that it would be the best for DXing and had a more stable AGC response. In the end, 62.6% of 131 people felt the IC-705’s audio had slightly less background noise.
Test #5: Radio Exterior de España 9,690 kHz
In this fifth test we listened to the Icom IC-705, and AirSpy HF+, tuned to Radio Exterior de España on 9,690 kHz. I picked REE, in this case, because it is a blowtorch station and I could take advantage of the IC-705’s maximum AM filter width of 10 kHz.
Radio A: Icom IC-705
Radio B: Airspy HF+
The IC-705 was preferred by 79% of you in this test.
Again, very interesting comments, though. Those who preferred the IC-705 felt the audio simply sounded better and had “punch.” Those who preferred B felt it was more sensitive and could hear more nuances in the broadcaster voices.
So what’s the point of these blind audio tests?
Notice I never called any radio a “winner.”
The test here is flawed in that audio levels and EQ aren’t the same, the settings aren’t identical, and even the filters have slightly different shapes and characteristics.
In other words, these aren’t lab conditions.
I felt the most accurate comparison, in terms of performance, was the 40M CW test with the KX3 because both employed similar narrow filters and both, being QRP transceivers, are truly designed to perform well here.
I essentially crippled the WinRadio Excalibur and Airspy HF+ by turning off all all but the most basic filter and AGC settings. If I tweaked both of those SDRs for optimal performance and signal intelligibility, I’m positive they would have been the preferred choices (indeed, I might just do another blind audio test to prove my point here).
With that said, I think we can agree that the IC-705 has brilliant audio characteristics.
I’ve noticed this in the field as well. I’m incredibly pleased with the IC-705’s performance and versatility. I’ll be very interested to see how it soon rates among the other transceivers in Rob Sherwood’s test data.
The IC-705 can actually be tailored much further by adjusting filter shapes/skirts, employing twin passband tuning and even using its noise reduction feature.
If anything, my hope is that these blind audio tests give those who are considering the Icom IC-705 a good idea of how its audio and receiver performs in real-word listening conditions.
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