Looking north toward Cape Lookout, Oregon, near the site of my SDR receiver recordings. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. In my original article 10 days ago, I set up a SWLing Post reader poll to let you give your opinion on which shortwave recordings within four pairs of audio files provided the most intelligible result. The recordings were intentionally noisy, low-level signals to help us discover–through critical listening to the files–if there is a clear favorite between the AirSpy HF+ or the Elad FDM-S2 receivers. Of course, there were only four pairs of recordings…not a very large sample size.
However, 34 readers of the original article took the time to listen and respond, so let’s get to the numbers, shown in these graphs:
Interestingly, the responses above seem to point to:
Two recording pairs tied in the results (50% / 50%) or were very close (HF+ 52.9% / FDM-S2 47.1%)
The FDM-S2 led one recording pair by a large margin (67.6% / 32.4%)
The HF+ led another recording pair by an equally large margin (67.6% / 32.4%)
Taken as a whole, no obvious winner emerged, although one might conclude the HF+ has a slight edge due to its lead in the “very close” recording pair of 7.230 MHz.
One thing is clear–the AirSpy HF+ is a surprisingly good performer for its price of $199 USD! For many enthusiasts this will be all the SDR they need.
As a final note, I’ll mention that the AirSpy HF+ used for the tests was totally stock. I have not yet performed the “R3 Bypass” mod nor the firmware update to my HF+ units. The simple R3 Bypass, discussed at length on the AirSpy Groups.io forum, significantly boosts sensitivity of the HF+ from longwave up to about 15 MHz, without any noted overload issues. For more on this modification from a MW DXer’s perspective, read Bjarne Mjelde’s insightful article at his Arctic DX Blog.
Thank you to all the readers who took the time to listen to the SDR recordings in this comparision and register your opinions.
Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington. He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.
I’m currently spending the better part of a week at Cape Lookout State Park on the Oregon coast, with a great view of the ocean through tall evergreen trees. This is one of my favorite parks in the Pacific Northwest, especially when DXing during the blustery winters from one of the nice cabins at Cape Lookout.
The view from the beach near my cabin; the turbulent waves were a precursor to the gale force winds at the park during the night of the 23rd!
Although I’m at the park for trans-Pacific medium wave DXing, I’m also comparing receivers, both SDRs and portables. This morning I sought out a few weak shortwave signals, pitting the Elad FDM-S2 SDR ($529 USD) against the AirSpy HF+ ($199 USD). I have a pair of the HF+ receivers to cover all of medium wave (as the FDM-S2 easily does). Many SWLing Post readers already know that the upstart HF+ trades bandwidth to gain high performance in order to keep the price reasonable.
My antenna used for the following recordings was a small “Flag” antenna using a Wellbrook Communications FLG100LN module and a 2K ohm variable potentiometer for termination. The design uses crossed tent poles in an “X” formation to support the wire loop. This design travels easily in a compact package; I have Dave Aichelman of Grants Pass, Oregon to thank for this very useful “tent pole loop” implementation of the Wellbrook FLG100LN.
The Wellbrook-based antenna functions superbly, and its low-noise design helps hold down QRM from the nearby cabins (which unfortunately have been “upgraded” recently with noisy cold fluorescent [CFL] light bulbs). The area around the Cape Lookout cabins used to be superbly low noise and suitable for radio listening, but now it is more of a challenge than before. The Wellbrook FLG100LN is perfect for the situation though; Wellbrook ALA1530LN Pro and ALA1530S+ 1-meter loop antennas work commendably at the park too.
The Wellbrook FLG100LN module with a home brew RFI choke in-line
A 2K ohm variable potentiometer is protected from the elements in a small plastic bag. The “pot” is adjusted for the best nulling of medium wave stations off the back side of the antenna’s reception pattern.
The “tent pole loop” antenna is strapped to a fence railing with ultra-strong Gorilla Tape to keep the 7-ft. square loop vertical.
On with the recordings…
For the FDM-S2 and HF+ comparisons I used the SDR-Console V3 software. Every parameter was identical for the receivers–sampling bandwidth, filter bandwidth, AGC, mode and so on.
Take a critical listen to the weak signals recorded with the SDR receivers, identified as only “Radio A” and “Radio B”.A link to a poll is at the end of this article;please indicate which recording of each pair has the most intelligible audio in your opinion, and submit your choices when you’ve made up your mind on each audio clip. After a week or so I’ll post the results of the voting, and identify the receivers.
9.615 MHz, LSB, Radio A
9.615 MHz, LSB, Radio B (note: the same male announcer heard in clip “A” begins at 00:14 in this “B” clip)
9.730 MHz, USB, Radio A
9.730 MHz, USB, Radio B
7.230 MHz, S-AM, Radio A
7.230 MHz, S-AM, Radio B
9.860 MHz, S-AM, Radio A
9.860 MHz, S-AM, Radio B
Note on 7.230 MHz recording: this was an interesting frequency, as the signal was tightly surrounded by a very strong local 40m ham radio LSB station as well as a strong China Radio International signal. There were other strong amateur and broadcast stations within 30-50 kHz of 7.230 MHz, also. This A-B test more than the others may indicate receiver performance in a strong RF environment on a crowded band.
Ready for the poll? Register your votes at the Google Docs form below:
In a week to 10 days I’ll post the results in another article. NOTE: I haven’t provided a “both sound the same” choice in the poll to encourage you to ‘dig deep’ into the audio and listen critically–to find something that stands out in one clip versus 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.
Clearing the southern coastline of Maui en route to the Big Island. (Photo by Gary DeBock)
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor and intrepid Ultralight DXer, Gary DeBock, who shares this DXpedition summary with recordings:
Kona, Hawaii DXpedition– Pacific Island Results
by Gary DeBock
From December 17-20 a Mini-DXpedition was conducted in Kona, Hawaii with a 5 inch (13cm) “Frequent Flyer” FSL antenna and a 7.5 inch (19cm) loopstick C.Crane Skywave Ultralight radio.
The FSL antenna was a new type designed to easily pass through TSA security checkpoints at airports, and provide inductive coupling gain roughly similar to that of a 4 foot air core box loop. South Pacific island reception was generally good from 0630-0800 UTC daily, but usually became problematic after that when powerful Asian stations tended to drown out the exotic Pacific island stations as sunset progressed over Japan, Korea and China. By 0900 daily only the most powerful Pacific island stations on 621, 846, 1098 and 1440 had much of a chance of surviving the Asian signal onslaught, and even some of those were drowned out. During a similar visit to Kona, Hawaii with identical gear in April (DXing at the same motel) the Pacific island stations were generally stronger, and had no co-channel competition from the Asians from 0800-1030 UTC. As such the South Pacific results during this trip were slightly down from April, although there were still plenty of strong signals to record.
The new 846-Kiribati on Christmas Island was a star performer as the strongest island DU station, with local-like signals shortly after the Hawaiian sunset each evening. Despite this it had an intermittent transmitter cutout issue, with the signal failing to transmit at odd intervals (including one stretch with six signal dropouts within one minute, as documented in an MP3 linked below). In addition 846-Christmas Island’s programming had a variable time delay with that of distant 1440-Kiribati in Tarawa, with both a 19-second and 35 second time delay noted. This may be related to the transmitter cutout issue, with the time delay changing after a major dropout. DXers looking for a parallel with 1440 should keep this programming quirk in mind. Although both 846 and 1440-Kiribati signed off at the usual 0936 UTC time on the first couple days of the trip, they had both switched to a 1009 UTC sign off on the last couple of days. Whether this is a permanent programming change is unknown, but the loud 1000 Hz audio tone is still being broadcast before power is cut, resulting in a very easy way to distinguish the stations at sign off time (even in heavy domestic QRM).
846 and 1440 weren’t the only exotic DU’s with transmitter issues. 621-Tuvalu came down with distorted audio on December 18th, a problem which got worse and worse on the remaining two days. By the last day it was sounding very garbled, making a bizarre combination with 621-Voice of Korea’s buzzing Japanese service transmitter. Whether 621-Tuvalu has repaired its garbled audio is also unknown.
540-2AP was somewhat weaker than it was in April, while 558-Radio Fiji One was MIA during the entire trip (probably because of Asian QRM). Efforts were made to track down 630-Cook Islands but only a weak UnID was recorded. 801-Guam was possibly received during a Pyongyang BS/ Jammer fade, but 990-Fiji Gold was given a golden knockout by 990-Honolulu. 1017-Tonga showed up for a couple of good recordings, but got slammed by Asian co-channels after 0830. Efforts to track down 1035-Solomons ran into heavy 1040-Honolulu splatter, while 1098-Marshalls became the only Pacific island station to have stronger signals than in April. Its overwhelming signals after 0700 daily were one of the bright spots in Pacific island reception. Finally the new 1611-DWNX in Mindanao, Philippines was received at a strong level at 0855 on December 19th, apparently with a major boost from sunset skip propagation.
540 2AP Apia, Samoa, 5 kW Christian worship music at a good level through the T-storms at 0751 on 12-17, but not nearly as strong as in April:
621 R. Tuvalu Funafuti, Tuvalu, 5 kW This station had very strong signals until around 0800 on most evenings, when it usually began to be pestered by Asian QRM (China, N. Korea and NHK1). It also came down with a garbled audio issue on December 18th, which continued to get progressively worse until I left Hawaii. Sign off time is still around 1006, but by that time it ran the gauntlet of powerful Asian co-channels during the December propagation.
Local employment offers read by the usual lady announcer at an S9 level at 0750 on 12-18. This was the last undistorted audio signal recorded from the station during this trip; after this the audio went “south”:
Full Radio Tuvalu sign off routine at 1003 on 12-18, but with China QRM initially. Tuvalu’s signal prevails during the national anthem, but the audio distortion is quite noticeable. The carrier apparently stays on for over a minute after the audio stops:
630 UnID While trying for the Cook islands (Rarotonga) I came across this weak Christmas music with English speech at 0742 on 12-17, although this could just as easily be a west coast domestic station playing the “exotic” to fool a hopeful DXer. Walt says this station is a notorious underperformer:
846 R. Kiribati Christmas Island, 10 kW This newly rejuvenated station had awesome signals, and was overall the strongest Pacific island station received. Of all the Pacific island DU’s it faded in at the earliest time after sunset, and maintained its strength even during strong Asian propagation — as long as it managed to transmit without its signal dropping out. Unfortunately this seemed to be a pretty common occurrence while I was in Kona. Island-type music at typical S9 strength at 0735 on 12-18:
After a prolonged 846 transmitter dropout it seemed like the programming time delay between the distant 1440-Kiribati on Tarawa Island and the new 846-Kiribati on Christmas Island would change. On December 17th I recorded two different time delays– 19 seconds, as in the following recording (the MP3 starts out on 846 at 0635, switches to 1440 at the 1:02 point, then switches back to 846 at the 1:34 point, with a 19-second time delay evident between the 1440 and 846 programming (846 lags behind):
1098 R. Marshalls (V7AB) Majuro, Marshall Islands, 25 kW This station was very strong in Kona with its island music every night, and rarely had any Asian co-channels.
S9 Island music and native language speech (and possible ID) across the 0700 TOH on 12-17:
1440 R. Kiribati Bairiki, Tarawa, 10 KW Somewhat weaker than its rejuvenated 846-Christmas Island parallel (which has variable programming delay times, as explained above), this home transmitter could hold down the frequency until around 0800 every night, after which it was usually hammered by JOWF in Sapporo. Despite this it often put up a good fight until its new sign off time of 1009, and it continues to use the loud 1000 Hz tone right before the power is cut (an awesome aid for DXers hoping to ID the station through heavy QRM).
Typical island language speech and strength level at 0830 on 12-18, just as it is starting to get jumbled by JOWF (a Japanese female “Sapporo desu” ID is at 25 seconds):
1611 DWNX Naga City, Mindanao, Philippines, 10 kW (Thanks to Hiroyuki Okamura, Satoshi Miyauchi and Mauno Ritola for ID help) Received at 0855 on 12-19, this station was a mystery until the Japanese friends matched the advertising format with that of a new, unlisted station which just came on the air in the Philippines. The propagation apparently got a major boost during sunset at the transmitter:
Thank you for sharing your Hawaiian DXpedition with us, Gary! Your mediumwave DX catches with modest equipment reminds us all that when HF propagation is poor, there is still so much signal hunting below 2 MHz!
The beautiful Capim River in a land of Jaguars, Tarantulas and occasionally, wonderful shortwave DX
Hi there, I returned from my third trip to the Rio Capim area of Pará, Northern Brazil about 5 weeks ago, having been out there for exactly a month. Now, whilst this was strictly a business trip I always make time to tune around the bands, mostly shortwave, in the hope of copying some interesting DX. My previous two trips were reasonably successful; however, I didn’t really hear anything new – just lots of Tropical Band – and tropical stations with much greater signal strength and clarity. Part of the problem is one of which most of us suffer from – the dreaded local QRM. Even in the depths of the rain forest noise is present from building electrical systems (particularly lighting) and other equipment. In my first attempt to escape the noise on this trip I ventured out of my accommodation building (basically a very large hut) to the wire fence that separates us and the larger fauna (although having said that, the monkeys and everything else that lives in the area appears to have no difficulty scaling a 6 foot fence – funny that! ). Anyway, ultimately, you’ve really got to want to hear something special quite badly to venture out. I suppose it could be the definition of hard-core DX! I tried this only once because as I was copying a very nice signal from Radio Guinea on 9650 kHz, I found myself about 2 feet from a Tarantula Hawk Wasp dispatching a very large spider (check out the very brief video on my YouTube channel). That was me done for alfresco DXing in the jungle.
Bonito’s USB-powered MegActive MA305 E-field antenna up a tree…performed superbly in Brazil
Fortunately, I was lent a 4-wheel drive truck for the duration of my visit and so I decided to find a quiet location to park up and listen to the radio – therefore only having to venture outside (at night) to place my antenna. One evening after dinner I got in the truck and drove around the site for a while until I found a location, effectively on the edge of the jungle that was mostly very quiet. Perfect…as long as I didn’t end up as something else’s dinner. I took the super-compact USB-powered Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna with me on this trip because I’d already tested it at home on DXpeditions and in Crete and thus I was confident as to how superbly well it would perform in a quiet location. To supplement my antenna choices, during the first weekend, I made the 90 km drive to the nearest town and bought, amongst other supplies, a 40 metre length of speaker wire and a 3.5 mm jack connector to make a temporary long-wire antenna.
In my experience, there are roughly 3 tiers of Tropical and Tropical Band DX on short wave. There’s the bottom tier of stations which with a decent portable and a few metres of wire can be readily heard in the UK on a Dxpedition – and at home with a magnetic loop antenna, for example and a good quality table-top receiver or SDR. Amongst this group of signals I would include Rádio Clube do Pará, Brazil on 4885 kHz, Radio Difusora Roraima on 4875.3 kHz, Emisoras Pio XII 5952.5 kHz, Radio Santa Cruz, 6134.8 kHz etc. etc. On the next tier are tropical stations that are really difficult to hear in the UK – but can be heard with good propagation and good equipment. This group includes Radio Aparecida on 6135.2 kHz particularly, Rádio Educação Rural on 4925.2 kHz, Radio Tarma Internacional on 4774.9 kHz, Rádio Evangelizar (formerly Radio RB2) on 6040.7 kHz etc. There are many more examples from these two groups I could use, but you get the picture. Lastly, there is a tier of stations that are very rarely or never heard in Europe, irrespective of equipment or propagation. Often these stations operate with low TX power which makes them extremely difficult to copy anyway – and that leads to ambiguity farther as to whether they are even on-air. Furthermore, some of these stations broadcast very irregularly, which makes copying them even more of a lottery.
My mainstay travel receiver, the brilliant Eton Satellit..two-time veteran of South American DXing
In this context, a month in Northern Brazil was a useful timescale for surveying the Tropical Bands and geographically tropical stations for the presence of very rare signals. Fortunately, over many hours of listening in Rio Capim with the Eton Satellit and mostly the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna, I manged to record six signals that are very rarely heard outside of South America. The list of stations follows below, complete with the antenna arrangement. Further below you will find embedded reception videos and text links to the same videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel. Please take the time to watch the videos and note the comments made by some of my subscribers with local knowledge. In particular, Rádio Gaúcha and Rádio Canção Nova on 4825 kHz are very irregular broadcasters and therefore I was fortunate to be in the right place, at the right time to copy their signal. More luck came my way with the reception of Radio Sora de Congonhas on 4775 kHz – made possible because of a total power cut on site, reducing noise effectively to zero (I was indoors at the time). I, personally, never heard anything else other than Radio Tarma, Peru on or around 4775 kHz – itself something of a rarity, except when conditions are very good.
In conclusion, I have to say, once again, the DXing credentials of the Eton Satellit and the Bonito MegActive MA305 USB-powered antenna are clearly demonstrated here. The perfect travelling companions for the serious DXer and broadcast band listener alike, I had no issues getting through security at any of the airports and their combined weight is unnoticeable in a fully loaded backpack. I definitely recommend both products. It’s also worth noting that if you’re travelling to a relatively remote location, even with modest equipment, you might be able to copy rare signals that will provide good information to the rest of us trying to hear those same signals from 1000’s of km away. I will be returning to Rio Capim early in 2018 and I’m seriously considering taking my Perseus SDR with me. A superbly sensitive and selective receiver with noise reduction that actually works, it opens up the possibility of even more exotic DX on that trip.
As always, thanks for watching/listening/reading and I wish you all excellent DX and Season’s Greetings. 73!
The list of exotic catches and antennas utilised:
Radio Apintie 4990 kHz, Suriname – Bonito MegActive MA305
Radio Cançao Nova 9675 kHz Sao Paulo – 20 metre long-wire
Radio Verdes Florestas 4865 kHz, Cruzeiro do Sul – Bonito MegActive MA305
Rádio Gaúcha 11915 kHz, Porto Alegre – Bonito MegActive MA305
Radio Sora de Congonhas 4775 kHz, Congonhas – Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna
Rádio Canção Nova 4825 kHz, Cachoeira Paulista – Bonito MegActive MA305
Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.
Regular readers of the SWLing.com blog will be aware that I am passionate about going portable/mobile with my radio listening hobby. There’s just nothing like communing with both nature and a bunch of electrons whizzing along the wire!
As a follow-up to an article I wrote several years ago, I have now prepared two new YouTube videos entitled Preparing for Your Next DXpedition – Parts 1 and 2.
Part 1 covers:
– why we should even think about bothering to go portable with the radio
– the goals to consider when undertaking a DXpedition
– planning your listening depending on the time of day and time of year
– the all important decisions regarding location
Part 2 discusses:
– choosing the right radio for portable operations
– your options for powering the radio
– the antennas you could consider including on the trip
– handy auxiliary equipment
– references and notes to take along with you
– the importance of operator comforts while away
– developing a checklist…..so that you don’t forget to take something important!
These videos will be of interest to shortwave radio listeners and new amateur radio operators. Hopefully, they may be able to assist you in further enjoying our great hobby. They are embedded in this blog post below. You can also view these and other videos on my YouTube channel at Rob Wagner’s YouTube Channel
As always, thanks for watching and your comments are always welcome. 73 and good DX to you all,
Rob Wagner, VK3BVW, is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. He also blogs at the Mount Evelyn DX Report.