Category Archives: Reviews

HFDY vs. Fire Brothers: Dan compares two Chinese Malahit SDR clones

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post and review:


Two Chinese Clones:   A Look at Noise Levels

Arriving recently here in the radio shack, were a Chinese clone under the name of “Fire Brothers” and another under the name HFDY.  I thought it would be constructive to note the key differences between these two clones, both of which are running Malahit 1.10c firmware, and post some video of a brief comparison.

A note in advance of any comments – I am primarily a HF listener so these comparisons do not cover frequencies above 30 MHz.  For those whose focus is on higher frequencies I recommend looking through the many comments on the Malahit Facebook group and Telegram by those who use these receivers in those ranges.

HFDY

  • Constructed of metal-like material (a correction from my previous articles that this is fiberglass of the kind used in printed circuit boards – thanks to Georgiy of Malahiteam for pointing this out)
  • Front speaker grille is gold color and appears to be metal but may be fiberglass as well – audio is quite good
  • Two top-mounted antenna jacks, one 50 ohm, the other Hi-Z (makes switching between HF and FM/VHF reception easier) with in-use LED indicators
  • Two high quality right side mounted black metal encoder knobs with large power button (clear printed Frequency/STDBY/Volume printed on panel)
  • Cabinet held together with TORX screws
  • 1.10c firmware
  • Receiver is elongated left to right to accommodate left side front-firing speaker, but is thinner overall and could be easily placed in a pocket though not recommended to prevent damage
  • Like every one of these SDRs, suffers from body sensitivity to touch which reduces signal levels unless some sort of additional ground is attached to cabinet
  • Internal flat-type Lithium battery of 3300 mAh though apparently capable of fitting up to 8000 mAh

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Guest Post: A “Horizontal DXer” explores the CC Skywave SSB and PL-880

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


Confessions of a horizontal DXer and some initial impressions of the Tecsun PL-880

by Jock Elliott

Back in the day when I wrote for Passport To World Band Radio, one of my favorite things to do, while my better half drifted off to sleep, was to clamp on a pair of headphones, lean back against the pillows, and mess around with a Sony 6800W shortwave receiver.

It wasn’t a radio that was built for band scanning: you had to rotate a dial to select the megahertz segment of the bands that you wanted, tune a built-in preselector to the appropriate area, and then dial in the frequency with a tuning knob. And memories? Ha! You want memories?!! There were no stinking memories . . . you had to remember what frequencies you wanted or at least what portions of the bands you wanted to tune. The memories were between your ears.

But it was a receiver with an extraordinarily low noise floor, and many a happy evening I enjoyed programming from half a world away. Drifting off to sleep with headphones piping in a signal from a distant land was not without its dangers, though. One night I fell asleep listening to the news from Radio Australia beamed, in English, to Papua, New Guinea. I woke a while later to the same newscast beamed to Papua, New Guinea, but this time in Pidgin English. I heard some English words, but the rest did not make sense. I panicked, thinking some neurologic event had scrambled my brain, but a crisp voice rescued me: “This has been the news in Pidgin English, from Radio Australia.” Thank God!

When Passport ceased publication, I neglected shortwave radio for over a decade, busy with freelance writing and running the Commuter Assistance Net on two meter ham radio.

Earlier this year, the SWLing bug bit me again, and I fired up a long-neglected Grundig Satellit 800 and started cruising around the HF frequencies. Many of the big-gun shortwave stations were gone, or they weren’t aiming programming at North America, but there was plenty to listen to, including shortwave stations, HF ham bands, and some utility stations.

Gee, I thought, it might be great to have a radio for a little horizontal in-bed DXing before shutting off the lights for the night . . . something I could hold in my lap, turn the tuning knob, and discover hidden treasures. The Satellit 800, emphatically, was not the answer. It is a large radio, roughly the size of the vaunted Zenith Transoceanic radios, and definitely not suited for laps.

So, based on a great reputation and excellent reviews, I bought a CCrane Skywave SSB. The Skywave SSB is a powerhouse, offering AM, FM, Weather, Air, SW, and SSB in a package roughly the size of a deck of cards and perhaps twice as thick. And it delivers the goods, offering worthy performance on every band, although SW performance is greatly enhanced by attaching the wire antenna that is included with the Skywave SSB.

Two factors, I discovered, reduced the suitability of the Skywave SSB for bedside DXing. First, the tuning knob is really small, so you can’t just twirl your finger to traverse the bands. It also has click-detents on the tuning knob and muting between tuning steps, so the tuning is non-continuous, which diminishes the pleasure for me. So the drill becomes: use the automatic tuning system (ATS) to search the bands and store stations in memory and then use the keypad buttons to jump from stored station to stored station. Further, each keypad key makes a distinct “click” sound when properly depressed. And that brings us to the second factor: one night, I am attempting to explore the stations stored by the ATS when my bride, who was trying to doze off, taps me. “What?” I say. “Too much clicky-clicky,” she says. Oh, I thought; now I need to find a radio that is quiet, so long as I am wearing headphones.

Now, just to be clear: I would highly recommend the CCrane Skywave SSB (except for use next to a spouse who is attempting to sleep), particularly for traveling because it is so small and performs so well. To underscore the value of a shortwave-capable travel radio, some years ago, I spoke with a journalist who was in Russia when the Chernobyl nuclear disaster took place. Russian media were not reporting on it at all; he found out about Chernobyl by listening to the BBC on a shortwave radio he had tucked into his luggage, and he rapidly made plans to leave Russia.

A bunch of research eventually led me to the Tecsun PL-880, which is about the size of a trade paperback book. According to some reviewers (including Dan Robinson), the 880 is a bit more sensitive and shortwave than the PL-990. The 880 offers a bunch of bandwidths on both AM and SSB, and the tuning is butter smooth with no muting or detents. The smallish tuning knob has a bit of knurling on the edge, which make it possible to twirl the knob with one finger; you can fine-tune SSB with another knob, and, with one button-press, use the tuning knob to select filter bandwidths or memory channels. In short, if you avoid the keypad, this is a radio that can be operated in near silence next to a better half who wishes to snooze.

The performance, so far, is exemplary; using the PL-880 whip antenna, I could readily hear Gander, Newfoundland, broadcasting aeronautical weather as well as Shannon, Ireland, air traffic controllers directing aircraft crossing the Atlantic Ocean. Yes! I haven’t yet begun to explore all that the PL-880 can do, but it promises to be a lot of fun.


Click here to read more posts by Jock Elliott.

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Malahit DSP-2 versus Chinese Clone: Taking the Gloves Off

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).

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The Radioddity Raddy WF-100C wireless weather station

There are a few hobbies and activities that always seem to tie radio enthusiasts together: topics like aviation, astronomy, trains, languages/travel, and the weather.

The weather is a big one for amateur radio operators because it’s often one of the ice-breakers used while connecting with a fellow operator over the air. I suppose it’s for this reason, I can’t remember a single Hamvention that didn’t include at least one vendor exclusively selling personal weather stations.

A few weeks ago, SWLing Post sponsor Radioddity reached out and asked if I would be interested in reviewing and evaluating a new weather station they’ve started selling.

My how times have changed…

I’ve always wanted a proper personal weather station with built-in automatic rain gauge and an anemometer to measure wind speed in real-time. Many years ago, we purchased a commercial-grade Davis weather station for my brother-in-law who is a complete meteorology/weather geek. If memory serves, the entire system cost well over $500, but the Davis is a station that’s robust enough that scientists purchase these for remote monitoring, and research.

My brother-in-law used this station for many years until he moved to a ground floor apartment where he simply had no way to install it. He gave it to me, but I never installed it at our house because doing so with wires would have been challenging and, frankly, not terribly neat–black wires would have been running along our our exterior walls.

I considered purchasing a wireless station, but many were either too expensive or I didn’t know the company well so questioned the quality.

Enter the Raddy WF-100C

I get a lot [understatement alert!] of requests to review products from various companies and decline almost all of them. The reason is, I’m not persuaded by free products and my time to actually do reviews is very limited and precious to me. I stick with reviews directly related to the radio world and products I feel might be useful to our community.

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Malahit DSP-2 Review Update 3: Dan evaluates the latest hardware version

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post:


UPDATE NO 3: Malahit DSP-2 (August 18, 2021)

A few weeks ago, I wrote about my experiences with the Russia-made Malahit DSP-2 receiver, and made a recommendation that potential purchasers of the receiver hold off until the design team in Russia made some changes.

Weak points included the SMA antenna connector – specifically the short cable going from the antenna to the PCB board, and sharp noise spikes seen at numerous locations throughout the spectrum from mediumwave up to 30 MHz.

My particular DSP-2 unit went dead after an update to an early version of the 2.10TEST firmware.  At the time, I had spoken via Skype with Georgiy on the Malahit team and kept up a string of communications on the Malahit Telegram channel.

It was not clear to me whether the problem with the first DSP-2 was primarily due to SMA antenna issues or also due to a problem with the firmware update I had applied at the time (it was an early version of 2.10TEST).

My appreciation goes to Georgiy who decided to send a new DSP-2 to me.  This took about 3 weeks from the end of July until just recently when the receiver arrived (though the U.S. Postal Service made the end of that journey quite interesting).

Here are some observations that I hope will help current and prospective owners of the DSP-2: Continue reading

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C.Crane CC Skywave SSB: Jock adds a correction/addendum to his guest post about ATS tuning

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott (KB2GOM), who shares the following guest post:


I made a mistake, but it’s good news for CCrane Skywave SSB owners.

Recently, I published a guest post for the SWLing Post in which I wrote enthusiastically about the ATS feature on the CCrane Skywave SSB. Everything I wrote was true, except for one small detail. And that, it turns out, is a nice bonus for Skywave SSB owners.

We’ll get to that in just a moment, but first, let’s take a look at what the Skywave SSB manual says about memory:

“Memory Preset Buttons 0-9. Save your favorite stations to memory buttons. To save a station, press and hold any memory button for 2 seconds while the station is playing. To play a saved station, press the same button once quickly. Note: The CC Skywave SSB is a ‘smart’ radio and will remember current settings when a station is preset into memory. The current settings that will be saved with your stations are: 1. Stereo or Mono selection on FM. 2. Bandwidth selection on AM, Shortwave, or Air Bands. 3. Tone settings.”

Further, the manual says this about the Page Button:

“Each memory page allows you to save 10 additional stations per band. To change to a different page, press the PAGE button once quickly, then press any memory button 0-9 to select the Page you desire.”

So, do the math: there are 10 pages. Each page can store 10 memories. 10 x 10 = 100, right?

So imagine my surprise when I visited the C.Crane website early this AM, and the first thing that pops up is the Skywave SSB, and, prominently displayed, it says: “400 memories.”

Whaaaat?!

I check; the manual says nothing about 400 memories, no hint that by pressing some secret combination of buttons you can access memories beyond the 100 obvious ones.

Then it begins to dawn on me: what if each band – SW, AM, FM, AIR – has its own bank of 100 memories? That would account for C.Crane’s claim of 400 memories. Hmmm. Further, what if the ATS (Automatic Tuning System) function – which “programs all receivable stations in the AM, FM, Air and Shortwave bands to memory buttons” – automatically stores the frequencies in the appropriate memory bank for that band? That would be pretty neat.

So I grab the Skywave SSB and run a quick ATS search on the SW band. Sure enough, it stores some SW stations, starting at Page 1, Memory 1, overwriting whatever had been stored there. Then I select the AIR band and access memories, starting at Page 1, Memory 1. There are only AIR frequencies stored there. I select the FM band and access the memories; nothing but FM stations stored there. Same thing with AM. Clearly, there are separate memory banks for each band.

So here’s the good news: the Skywave SSB does, indeed, have 400 memories, a 100-memory bank for each band: SW, AM, FM, AIR. Further, when you do an ATS search, the frequency “hits” are stored, starting at page 1 for that band. Therefore, if you do an ATS search on the SW band, the hits are stored in the memories for SW, and the memories that are stored for, say, AIR, are not overwritten. (And that is where I got it wrong.)

So, if you are traveling, you can do a search on local AM stations, local FM stations, SW stations, and local AIR stations, each will be stored in its own memory bank, starting at page 1, memory 1, for that band. Pretty neat.

In addition, I need to offer a clarification. I wrote:

“if you put the Skywave SSB in single sideband mode, it will scan the ham bands, automatically changing sidebands appropriately as it hops from ham band to ham band. Note: when you check the memories stored during an ATS ham band search, you may not find anything there, simply because ham transmissions come and go much more often than international broadcasters.”

All of that is true, but the Skywave does not store whether the frequency is USB or LSB. My bad; I should have noticed that.

Cheers, Jock

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Malahit DSP-2 Review Update: Dan recommends holding off until issues resolved

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post:


UPDATE: Malahit DSP-2 (July 24, 2021)

RECOMMENDATION: Hold Off Until Issues Are Resolved

I thought it important enough to write this update to my earlier extensive review of the Malahit DSP-2, the second version of the Russia-made receiver. Earlier incremental updates can be seen on the main article.

In concluding my main review, I spoke about being on the Malahit “train” and “roller coaster” – and my experiences since have shown that to be true.

As noted in one the updates, further testing confirmed the observations of Malahit users that when voltage of a 18650B battery drops below 3.7 v the receiver did indeed shut down. And the battery icon was still showing 50%.

Georgiy at the Malahit team confirmed this as a software bug, and in a test firmware update, the voltage issue was, according to him, corrected. The result, in a test firmware upgrade (2.10) could be seen with remaining voltage displayed in the battery icon itself. But I was unable to confirm that this actually resolved the issue of inaccurate voltage displayed before yet another problem emerged.

After performing the update from 2.0 to 2.10 Test firmware (more on that a bit later)
I thought things were fine until I noticed that all signals had vanished from the Malahit. This applied to the strongest signals from U.S. religious broadcasters, and down through FM.

In a combination of Telegram and Skype chats, Georgiy was extremely helpful – we went over seemingly every possible cause for this problem and focused on the SMA cable which from observing conversations online appears to be an issue in some units.

We went to the point of disconnecting the SMA from the PCB to test if anything brought back any level of signal, which it did not. With my basic knowledge of electronics, I believe that some problem may have developed on the PCB – whether that is directly related to the firmware upgrade process remains unknown.

On the firmware, the Malahit-recommended PC app is SMT32CubeProgrammer, which is easily downloadable, and instructions for the firmware update are on the Malahit You Tube channel. The process and app look difficult at first.

But things get interesting, as they always do, in using these Bootloader apps as I have found on several occasions in trying to upgrade my AFEDRI LAN-IQ.

Instructions on the Malahit You Tube channel direct you to power off the radio, then plug in a micro-USB cable to the receiver and to your PC. The rough Russian translation says push in and hold both main and smaller encoder knobs, and then press power either once or 3 times, and then watch for the LED to go off. The LED actually doesn’t really go off– in the process of the firmware update, flashes on and off.

I managed to get through the process of upgrading – it was quite smooth. The test 2.10 firmware according to Georgiy is supposed to correct the issue with voltage readings, though again I was unable to test this fully because my DSP-2 quite literally went quiet over its entire range.

As of now, and despite the best efforts of Georgiy which I appreciate, I have a dead DSP-2. Whether signal loss was due to some issue with the SMA connector, or whether the firmware process (I reverted back to 2.0 after noticing the signal loss) itself caused something on the PCB to fail, remains unknown.

Given all of this new information, and though I had made no BUY recommendation on my original review, I would have to advise anyone considering a DSP-2 to hold off for a while until the Malahit team is able to thoroughly iron out all the hiccups with the receiver, whether in firmware or hardware. This includes the question of the SMA connector, and the issue of voltage monitoring.

Based on the conversations that were taking place on Telegram, I would also be urging Malahit team to quickly come up with a clear English translation of the Malahit manual, and to review instructions contained in You Tube videos showing the firmware upgrade process.

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