Category Archives: Reviews

Form follows function in the Tom Bihn Travel Tray

If you’ve been reading the SWLing Post for long, you no doubt know that not only am I radio geek, but a pack geek as well.

In a typical year––although, admittedly, this is not one––I do quite a bit of regional travel. I’m an minimalist traveler when I’m on the road, eschewing lots of unnecessary stuff, but I do still carry quite a bit of kit that’s important to me…in the form of radio gear.

Several years ago, I discovered Washington state pack designer and builder, Tom Bihn. Like Red Oxx (another favorite), Tom Bihn manufactures everything in their US factory, treats their employees like gold, and guarantees their gear for life. Breath of fresh air.

Yes, since it’s made on US soil, Tom Bihn gear can be pricey. But, hey, since it’s with you for life, I feel it’s worth the splurge.

I now own numerous Tom Bihn packs, bags, and accessories. But they make one product I use more than any other: the Travel Tray.

The Travel Tray (and don’t be fooled by the name; it’s definitely not for serving tea on a train) is an ingenious travel accessory––more of a pouch, really––that comes in two sizes: small ($22) and large ($25). I find the large size to be ideal.

So, what is it used for––? Let’s start with TB’s description:

Pop the Travel Tray out of your luggage when you arrive at your destination and drop in your keys, coins, wallet, cell phone — all that small stuff you don’t want to have wander off while you sleep.

Think of it as a babysitter for the miscellanea that ends up in your pockets: our Travel Tray keeps an eye on all that until you’re ready to face the world again. Unlike other travel trays, ours pulls shut with a drawstring so it can be used for more than just organizing the top of your bureau.

Need to depart with some degree of alacrity? Simply leave some or all of those little things in the tray, pull the drawstring, and hit the road.

The Travel Tray packs flat–in my GoRuck GR1 backpack, I store it in the inside front panel mesh pocket.

When I arrive at a hotel, B&B, AirBnB, or at a home I’m visiting, the first thing I do is pull the flattened travel tray out of my pack, pop it up (yep, it’s conveniently self-supporting), and throw in my keys, wallet, phone, earphones, passport, and everything else in my pockets. All kinds of little things land in there. If I pull something small from my pack, when not in use, it goes in the travel tray. This way, I’m way less likely to leave a small item in the hotel when I leave.

If you’ve ever been to one of my presentations, you might have even see me use a Travel Tray at the podium to keep track of any items I’ve brought to show. I’ve always carried a Travel Tray in both my EDC pack and my travel backpack.

And you know what? Since I’ve been using Travel Trays, I haven’t left even one small item in a hotel room.

Great! But what does this Travel Tray have to do with radio––???

Not only can it hold a small radio or two…The large TB Travel Tray is ideal for something else:  antenna cables, power cables, and connectors!

In fact, I just discovered that it’s the perfect portable storage for my recently-reviewed Airspy Youloop antenna!

The Youloop rolls up for storage, and it just so happens the diameter of the Travel Tray is nearly identical to that of the poly bag in which the Youloop was shipped.

That little organizer pouch in the middle of the bag? It contains the Youloop cross-over box and tee, along with some small patch cables. Tom Bihn actually sent the small pouch free with my recent order of yet another Travel Tray––they’re currently including one with every order (details here). Sweet!

I could easily fit an SDR and all associated cables in this pack, too. In fact, as you can see, the antenna only takes up a small fraction of the tray’s capacity when it’s popped up.

With the Youloop and all accessories inside, the Travel Tray packs flat

When I’m ready to travel, I just pull the drawstring, and squash the Tray flat! Then I have only to toss it in my pack…couldn’t be easier.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, I’m doing what I can to support small businesses that are important to me, such as this small American company. I purchased the blue travel tray above because…well, you can never have too many, right?

If you’d like to check out the Tom Bihn Travel Tray, here’s a direct link to the product page on the TB website. Note that shipping times vary because the company is taking serious precautions, and also diverting much of their factory work to producing much-needed face masks right now. Go, Tom Bihn!

Again, I prefer the large Travel Tray, but they also make a handy small Travel Tray. These come in a number of other colors, but I go for the bright colors because they stand out, meaning a quick scan of that hotel room or wooded campsite will always reveal just where I left my gear. You can even choose your preferred fabric weight––”halcyon” fabric or a 210 ballistic. I prefer halcyon because it’s lighter weight, yet still incredibly durable (both trays seen above are made with halcyon).

Got this Tom Bihn pouch? What do you use yours for? Feel free to comment below!


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Radio Waves: Digitizing Pakistan, BBC MW Closures, Lowe HF-250 Review, and BBC News suspends 450 job cuts

Radio Waves:  Stories Making Waves in the World of Radio

Because I keep my ear to the waves, as well as receive many tips from others who do the same, I find myself privy to radio-related stories that might interest SWLing Post readers.  To that end: Welcome to the SWLing Post’sRadio Waves, a collection of links to interesting stories making waves in the world of radio. Enjoy!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributors Alan, Mike, and Dave Zantow for the following tips:


Government to fully digitize Radio Pakistan (Radio Pakistan)

The incumbent government, under its vision of introducing modern trends and technology in different sectors, has planned to fully digitize the state-owned Radio Pakistan.

This information has been revealed in official documents during the ongoing week-long national workshop on Digital Radio Migration policy of Radio Pakistan at Pakistan Broadcasting Academy, Islamabad.

The digitization will bring about a revolution in the field of broadcasting in the country, and will capture the audience at home and abroad including South Asia and Central Asia and the Middle East through quality news, current affairs and programs.

Under the plan, the biggest 1000-Kilowatt DRM Medium-wave transmitting station of Radio Pakistan will be set up at Fort Monroe hill station in Dera Ghazi Khan district in South Punjab at an estimated cost of three billion rupees.

It will be the first ever most powerful but digital transmitter of Radio Pakistan that is to be established in center of the country as part of Phase-II of Digital Radio Migration policy and it will help cover the entire population of Pakistan with crystal clear and noise-free waves.

The project has already been approved by the federal cabinet while the Punjab government has been asked to acquire land for the said purpose.

Under Phase-II of DRM plan, five DRM+FM transmitters of 10-kilowatt each will be installed in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Faisalabad and Multan in the existing Radio Stations.

Besides, eight DRM+FM transmitters of five kilowatt each will be installed in Quetta, Peshawar, Gilgit, Skardu, Gwadar, Mirpur (Azad Kashmir), Khairpur and Narowal in the existing radio stations.

The phase-II of the plan would be accomplished in three years with an overall estimated cost of 3,153 million rupees.

And under Phase-III of the plan, four DRM medium wave transmitters of 100-kilowatt each will be installed in Lahore, Skardu, Quetta and Peshawar for strategic purposes.[]

BBC Radio to close more medium wave transmitters (Radio Today)

The BBC says it is closing a further 18 medium wave transmitters across England, Scotland and Wales in the next stage of its plan to cut costs.

Services being closed range from BBC Radio Solent’s two AM frequencies on the South Coast to BBC Radio Scotland’s service in Aberdeen.

Six more BBC Local Radio services will no longer be transmitted on AM – they are Three Counties Radio (630 and 1161 kHz), BBC Radio Merseyside (1485 KHz), BBC Radio Newcastle (1458 KHz), BBC Radio Solent and BBC Radio Solent (for Dorset) 999 and 1359 KHz, BBC Radio Cornwall (630 and 657 kHz) and BBC Radio York (666 and 1260 KHz).

Kieran Clifton, Director, BBC Distribution & Business Development explains: “The majority of radio listening in the UK – including to the BBC – is now digital, and digital listening is continuing to grow.

“This change was planned as long ago as 2011, but we have taken a measured approach to implement it to ensure that as many of you as possible have already moved on to other ways of receiving the services before we make this change. We know that the changes will impact some of you, and that’s why we’re speaking about the plans again now. We want to make sure that people listening to these transmissions will be able to use other methods to hear the same programmes.”[]

Dave’s review of the Lowe HF-250 (N9EWO)

[…]As far as audio quality goes, it’s extremely difficult to beat the Lowe HF-250. Mind you it has it’s share of “bug-a-boos” as well.

In our view it has held up much better in it’s old age vs. the AOR AR7030. Properly operating and in decent condition samples are fairly rare on the used market now (even more so in North America). Most owners know what the receiver is and hang on to them. But once a great while one does show up on the used market. Click here to read the full review.

BBC News suspends 450 job cuts to ensure Covid-19 coverage (BBC News)

BBC News has suspended plans to cut 450 jobs as it faces the demands of covering the coronavirus pandemic.

The job losses were announced in January and were part of a plan to complete a £80m savings target by 2022.

Outlets due to be hit include BBC Two’s Newsnight, BBC Radio 5 Live and the World Service’s World Update programme.

Director general Tony Hall gave staff the news on Wednesday, a week after the broadcaster delayed the end of the free TV licence scheme for all over-75s.

Lord Hall said “we’re suspending the consultation on those saving plans”.

He told staff: “We’ve got to get on with doing the job that you’re doing really brilliantly.

“It would be inappropriate. We haven’t got the resource to plough ahead with those plans at the moment, so we’ll come back to that at some point.

“But for the moment we just want to make sure you are supported and you’ve got the resources to do the job that you and your colleagues are doing amazingly.”[]


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Martin is pleased with the Retekess/Tivdio V-115 (a.k.a. Audiomax SRW-710S)

Thomas takes this little portable on travels to record Shortwave, AM and FM broadcasters. Very handy.

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Martin, who shares the following comment:

Ok, this comment might be a little bit too late, but what the heck, SW radios are way more too old so. I’m 46 and as a little kid, my first “electronic” device was a National or Panasonic (not sure what was it) AM Transistor Portable Radio and I loved it. I spent hours looking for something to hear through all the spectrum. In 1988 (I think) my father bought a Panasonic SW Portable Radio and I “stole” it from him, it took me back to the Radio experience and open me the interest for the SW. 10 years later, or so, it was stolen from me (and eye for an eye).

A couple of years ago I was thinking about getting one but didn’t want to spend too much for an entry-level radio. So after a lot of research (including your post Troy), I decided to go for the Retekess V115, which is the rebranded version of the Audiomax SRW710s, or the Tivdio V115, or… I bought it for around $23.00 USD through our local “eBay” platform “Mercado Libre” in Mexico as they had local stock. I first bought a Retekess V117 for my dad which is an analog version and for the old man will be easier to use. After testing this one before handing it to the old man I was impressed by its performance, so I decided to go for the “digital” version. 2 versions were available as an entry, the V111, and the V115. I went for the V115 as it has a rechargeable iON battery, numerical buttons for presets and entering stations, and last but not less it is an MP3 player.

So far I have used both AM & FM radio with a pleasant experience. I work in a hard concrete building and it gets signal from stations that I couldn’t get with my mobile FM radio app. As for the SW I have gotten signals from CUBA, and I believe some others from Europe. I haven’t spent too much time looking for SW stations though. Sound is amazing for this little thing, it is crisp on radio and it also delivers some bass with music! MP3 player is kind of limited, but it is not an iPod, right? It only plays by folder but also you can look for specific songs surfing the root file.

Anyway, I highly recommend this little thing for an entry level SW radio, even if you don’t want to spend too much and are not looking for the big guys (Tecsun, Grudnig, C. Crane), I can assure you will have a lot of fun with it.

Happy tunings and greetings from Guadalajara, Mexico.

Thank you so much for sharing your review, Martin. You’re right: the audio from this little radio is pretty impressive especially considering the price and size. As I mention in the photo caption above, I often travel with the V-115/SRW-710S because I can so easily make off-air recordings on the internal MicroSD card.

This radio has so many brand names, it’s difficult to track them down. At the moment, it seems Retekess V115 is the most ubiquitous. Also look for AudioMax and Tivdio.

Click here to check Amazon.com (affiliate link supports the SWLing Post)

Search eBay.com

Spread the radio love

A Tale of Two Radios: CommRadio CTX-10 vs. Elecraft KX2

The following review first appeared in the February 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine.


A Tale of Two Radios: CommRadio CTX-10 v Elecraft KX2

As my blog readers often point out: Why focus on low-power (QRP) ham radio activities when propagation is so dismal…even for high power stations?  A logical argument, I’ll admit, and lately it’s become a common theme in QRP discussion.

But I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: despite the current stagnation of the sunspot cycle, we’ve been seeing a very curious uptick in low-power radio innovation. Manufacturers have been churning out QRP transceivers at a rapid rate during this solar lull, and I can assure you, it’s a strategic move that the marketplace rewards.

So, why should this be? I attribute the influx of QRP radios to several factors.

First of all, leveraging innovations in SDR (software defined radio) design, it’s simply become less expensive to produce portable low-power radios with extra features. In other words, manufacturers can now offer more radio bang-for-buck. Similarly, the technology is accessible enough that even smaller manufacturers can produce competitive products.

Secondly, the new-found popularity of field activities––such as Parks On The Air (POTA) and Summits On The Air (SOTA)––fuel the need for field-portable, all-in-one transceivers. Anyone who falls in love with field portable operation, and it’s easy to do, will quickly discover how handy it is to have a dedicated radio for these activities.

However, it’s not always competition that pulls radio operators to the field. With so much QRM (human-generated interference) at home or in built-up areas, many operators and radio enthusiasts now take to the field to escape the noise. Likewise, many operators live in restricted communities that don’t allow for permanent antennas, so it’s in their best interest to make their radio shack…well, portable.

And why not? Weak-signal digital modes like FT-8 have made signal-hopping across the planet with only a few watts of power easier than ever before. I’ve spoken with a number of operators who have––using FT-8––worked DXCC for the first time with stealthy, portable antenna systems, and others who have taken the dare to work DXCC only on individual bands. Such challenges are all in the name of fun.

Finally, in general, QRP transceivers are much less expensive than their 100 watt counterparts. QRP radios gain a competitive edge by omitting pricey amplification in the design, while still offering the operator DX-class features and receiver performance.

Making a choice

With so many new field-portable QRP transceivers on the market, making a choice can be difficult. Still, there are some guidelines that will help you eliminate a number of models.

The Mountain Topper MTR5B

For example, if you only plan to operate CW and don’t need a general coverage transceiver, you can effectively eliminate all of the priciest QRP transceivers. CW-only transceivers like the popular Mountain Topper series are incredibly portable, durable, and half the price of full-featured multi-mode transceivers.

Also, if you use resonant antennas, there may be no need for an internal or external antenna tuner––this can save you upwards of $200. If you prefer using an external battery, there may be no need to purchase a model with an internal battery option.

In this article, however, we’ll be looking specifically at two general coverage QRP transceivers that are very much all-in-one. With an antenna, mic and/or key, these radios will get you on the air in a matter of seconds.

Our competitors

 

Over the past year, I’ve received numerous emails and comments asking for advice choosing between two specific radios: the recently reviewed CommRadio CTX-10 and the Elecraft KX2.

I’m not surprised, because both of these field-portable QRP transceivers sport similar basic features and options, e.g.:

  • Ham band coverage from 80 – 10 meters
  • General coverage receiver
  • Internal batteries
  • Built-in ATU
  • Small and lightweight
  • Designed and built in the USA

Although the CTX-10 and KX2 share the same goal of functioning as an all-in-one, grab-and-go field radio, I believe they have very different appeal. 

Herein lies the key to choosing the right rig for you, and the point I hope to prove in this article: it’s based on your personal operation philosophy.

The Elecraft KX2 is the “Swiss army knife” transceiver. It has an amazing array of capabilities, features, and adjustments, yet is incredibly compact and could easily fit in your jacket pocket. Moreover, the KX2 is backed by Elecraft, one of the most successful amateur radio manufacturers in business.

The CommRadio CTX-10, on the other hand, was designed with a basic feature set in mind, dead-simple operation, and near mil-spec quality inside. The CTX-10 is the transceiver iteration of the popular CR-1 series receiver by CommRadio.

When I’m asked which radio is best, I respond with a series of questions––because I first need to discover what type of operator the potential user is, to give him/her a good recommendation. Below, I’ll break down some of the key questions to help guide you in making a decision between these two transceivers.  Note that these questions are ones that should be asked when purchasing pretty much any transceiver.

Do you plan to engage in more ham radio operation, or broadcast listening?

True, since the CTX-10 and KX2 are both general coverage transceivers, either radio can serve. But if you’re primarily looking for a broadcast listening radio and you might only occasionally hop on the bands to make casual ham radio contacts, then you should give the CTX-10 some consideration.

The CTX-10 is essentially a transceiver version of the excellent CR-1a receiver. It is better equipped for listening to broadcasts than the KX2 because it has three AM filter settings: 5, 7.5, and 15 kHz. In contrast, the KX2 AM filter can only be widened to about 5 kHz. CTX-10 AM audio fidelity is superior to that of the Elecraft KX2.

In addition, the CTX-10’s receiver coverage dips down to 150 kHz and it’s quite capable on the mediumwave band. The KX2’s receiver covers 3 MHz – 32 MHz and  0.5 – 3 MHz with “reduced sensitivity.” In other words, the KX2s receiver architecture is designed for the ham bands, thus mediumwave sensitivity is suppressed on purpose. I’ve certainly listened to mediumwave stations on the KX2, but only to local, strong stations. You could never hop into mediumwave DXing on the KX2 like you can on the CTX-10.

With that said, if you’re primarily looking for a ham radio transceiver for operations in the field, and you might only occasionally do shortwave radio listening, then you should give the KX2 serious consideration. In my opinion, the KX2 is simply a more capable, adaptable ham radio transceiver than the CTX-10. (More details on this point to come.)

The Elecraft KX2 doing a little coastal SWLing.

Now, here’s the irony: Although I had a CTX-10 in my shack for almost a year, I still defaulted to taking the KX2 on trips when I thought SWLing might be my primary activity. Why? The KX2 has a very robust and capable HF receiver. Its only real limitations are a lack of wide AM bandwidths and sub-3 MHz frequency coverage and performance. I find that the KX2’s 5 kHz AM filter sounds pretty good, though; when using headphones, the KX2’s simulated stereo audio effect really makes the audio sound broad and pleasant. I also rarely use ham radio transceivers to do mediumwave or longwave DXing––I use dedicated portables like my Panasonic RF-2200, or an SDR––so mediumwave and longwave reception is never a serious limitation for me.

But, again, if you primarily plan to do broadcast listening, the CTX-10 is the stronger of the two choices.

Are you looking for a feature-packed radio that can be tweaked and adjusted on a granular level?

If so, you’ll definitely want to choose the KX2 over the CTX-10. The CTX-10 has an incredibly basic feature set, while the KX2, like most Elecraft radios, has an abundance of features, functions, and adjustments at your disposal.

If you want a simple, unfussy radio that automatically adjusts most user controls like microphone gain and compression, then the CTX-10 will suit you fine. If you like both automatic and manual control of your radio’s settings, the Elecraft KX2 is your rig.

How important is internal battery operation and ease of recharging?

The CTX-10 has best-in-class internal battery capacity and intelligent charging. You can literally play radio for hours on end without depleting the batteries in the CTX-10. The internal batteries can be charged via the DC power port, or even via USB cable.

The KX2 Battery

The KX2 uses an internal battery pack that must be removed each time to charge. I’ve taken the KX2 to the field more than 100 individual times and find that I can operate at full power for about one hour fifteen minutes (with a heavy amount of transmitting) before the voltage drops, and the output power, as well from about 10 watts to 5 watts. Of course, when in receive, it’ll operate for hours without recharging.

Of course, with a swappable battery pack, you can bring additional pre-charged batteries to the field to eliminate the need to recharge.

I’ve never found recharging or swapping KX2 batteries to be a problem, but internal battery operation via the CTX-10 is certainly its strong suit.

One known issue with some of the CTX-10 units: when charging the internal Li-Ion cells, my initial evaluation unit produced a high-pitched audible whine. I measured the audio frequency with a simple smartphone app and determined that it hovers around 10.5 kHz. It was quite annoying because I can still hear frequencies in that range. The second evaluation unit didn’t have this problem. If your CTX-10 has this problem, contact CommRadio for help.

Are you primarily a CW operator?

If you are a CW enthusiast, chances are great that you’ll prefer the KX2 over the CTX-10.

The CTX-10 has very few settings for CW mode. In fact, it doesn’t even (presently) have a side tone control or support iambic operation. The CTX-10 uses a traditional relay for TX/RX switching, but you can’t presently change the hang/delay time. The CTX-10 cannot do full break-in QSK.

Elecraft transceivers are designed by CW operators and sport true benchmark CW performance. The KX2 allows granular control, thus can be tailored to accommodate any operator. The KX2 has silky-smooth full break-in QSK. If you’re a CW operator, you’ll much prefer the KX2.

Are you primarily a digital mode operator?

The CTX-10 body (left) is essentially a large heat sink.

If so, you’ll want to consider the CTX-10, because it can run high-duty cycle modes like FT-8 in the field without ever overheating. This is also one of the CTX-10’s strongest points.

Both the Elecraft KX2 and KX3 will decrease power output after running FT-8, for an extended period of time, to protect the finals from overheating. Operation time can be significantly extended by adding an optional third-party heat sink.  The CTX-10 does not have this issue, however, as the CTX-10 body itself is essentially a heat sink. In all of my testing, I never came anywhere close to overheating it.

Are you primarily an SSB/phone operator?

If SSB is your game, you’ll prefer the KX2.

The CTX-10 essentially has no microphone controls––in fact, it doesn’t even have an adjustable mic gain. The microphone input is completely auto-controlled by the CTX-10, via a limiting pre-amplifier, built-in compressor, and ambient noise gate. The only ways you can really affect how audio is transmitted, in fact, is by changing the distance from your mouth to the mic, and/or changing how loudly you speak into the mic.

If you have a favorite boom headset (like Inrad or Heil), note that it may not work well with the CTX-10, simply because you have no control of the mic inputs.

The KX2, on the other hand, has robust microphone controls; you can, for example, even change the EQ settings of your transmitted audio.

How important to you is the capability of your rig’s internal ATU?

The CTX-10 sports a nifty internal antenna tuner, but it doesn’t match the performance of the KX2’s internal ATU option. In my field work, I found that I needed antennas that were pretty close to resonant for the CTX-10 to match them. The ATU was certainly a handy feature on the CTX-10, but it didn’t allow me the flexibility to, for example, load up a random wire antenna.

Update (23 Mar 2020): Brian Haren informs us that with firmware update 1334 issued by CommRadio on December 18, 2019 “performance of the internal tuner was vastly improved.” This firmware was issued after my review unit was sent back to CommRadio.

The KX2’s internal ATU, on the other hand, is benchmark, and can tune via nearly any antenna––indeed, it would almost tune a metal chair, if you tried to load it. It’s as good at matching antennas as my Emtech ZM-2 balanced line tuner. In fact, I once loaded a 20-meter hex beam on 40 meters with the KX2 in order to work a rare park activation. No other radio in my arsenal could match that (well, frankly, it was asking a lot), but the KX2 not only matched the antenna, but it got an excellent match:  if memory serves, something like 2:1. (And, yes, I worked my park!)

Note that the ATU comes with the CTX-10 package, while the KX2 internal antenna tuner is a worthwhile $200 option.

Are you on a budget?

Everything included in the CTX-10 box.

When you purchase the CommRadio CTX-10 for $999.99, you’re buying an all-in-one package: a transceiver, internal batteries, and an internal ATU. There are no other options to purchase separately. The CTX-10 doesn’t ship with a microphone, but it does include a USB cable, DC power cord, and CD manual. You simply unbox your CTX-10, make sure it’s been charged, plug in your microphone (requires a modular plug type like the Yaesu MH-31A8J or MFJ-290MY) or key, add your antenna, and boom! You’re ready to hit the air.

Unlike CommRadio, Elecraft started as a kit manufacturer. Their philosophy has always been one of purchasing a basic unit, then adding features when you’re ready. In a sense, this gives the customer a lower starting price point. Here’s how the KX2 pricing breaks down:

  • Elecraft KX2 transceiver: $789.95
  • KXAT2-F internal ATU option: $199.95
  • KXBT2 Internal Lithium Battery option: $59.95
  • KXBC2 Lithium battery fast charger: $29.95
  • KXIO2 Real-Time clock: $79.95

To configure the KX2 to be equivalent to the CTX-10––meaning, with ATU, internal battery, and charger––your total price would be $1,079.80. This is the configuration of my KX2.

If you use just an external battery and resonant antennas, the base KX2 might be the only radio you’ll ever need. At $789.95, that’s $210 less than the CommRadio CTX-10. Fully configured, however, the CTX-10 is about $80 less expensive than the KX2.

Apples to oranges, in radio terms

If you haven’t gathered already, although both the CTX-10 and KX2 are general coverage QRP transceivers, they are completely different––like comparing apples to oranges––in terms of the market they wish to reach.

No doubt, CommRadio designed the CTX-10 to appeal to people who love commercial or military channelized radios. Based on my interaction with CTX-10 owners, many are into preparedness and primarily infrequent simplex SSB operations.

The KX2 will appeal to hams who are active operators and who enjoy full control of their radio’s functions and features. Elecraft has a massive and loyal community of users and fans.

Summary

If I haven’t made it clear yet, there’s much more involved in making a purchase decision than simply looking at the specifications of a radio. Often, it’s a truly personal and subjective choice.

Be honest with yourself about your needs, and base your purchasing decision on those. After all, in this case we’re talking about two capable radio transceivers, either of which should provide years of great operation and listening.

Click here to check out the Elecraft KX2 and here for international distributors.

Click here to check out the CommRadio CTX-10 and here to purchase via Universal Radio.


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Dan’s initial review of the Belka-DSP portable shortwave radio

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


An Initial Review of the Belka-DSP Shortwave Receiver

by Dan Robinson

A few weeks ago, during daily online excursions, I ran across the Belka-DSP receiver.   This is not really a new receiver. Demonstrations have appeared on You Tube going back into 2019.

The Belka has a price of only about $120 U.S. I felt this was a fairly easy purchase, so I went to the website of Alex Buevky (EU1ME).

The receiver has a tuning range of 1.5 – 30 MHz – note that this is a revision from the description on the Belrig site, which still had a range starting at 3.5 mhz as of the time I am writing this.

The Belka is contained in a small heavy duty metal box – the size reminds one of a few boxes of matches put together – 85x50x20 mm with weight of about 100 grams.  Indeed, the diminutive size is quite striking.

 

Viewing videos of the Belka, including several by Fernando Duarte who runs the FENU site, the immediate impression of the receiver is that it has really decent sensitivity and that it is quiet.

While the menu system appears to be a bit confusing, once you start using the receiver you get used to the logic of it.   From the description of the SDR:

“It is possible to adjust the frequency band both from above, from 2.4 to 4.7 kHz, and from below from 50 to 300 Hz.  In telegraph mode, the frequency band is constant, about 300 Hz, and its center is regulated from 500 Hz to 1 kHz.

The settings of the favorite radio stations can be stored in any of 32 memory locations.

The receiver does not have a built-in speaker, but there is a rather powerful VLF bridge that provides sufficient volume when working with an external speaker, speaker or headphones.

The built-in LI-Ion battery lasts for 24 hours of total operating time on the headphones.

In addition to the built-in battery, the receiver can also work from an external DC voltage source of 5 V.”

The Belrig site is English and Russian, which makes ordering easier.  However, be aware that when you hit purchase using a major credit card you may receive a security alert from the card company.   Once I confirmed, the process completed and I received a verification email from Belrig – quite quickly and efficient.

Communications with Alex has been excellent – he is very responsive to suggestions and input.

The SDR arrived in an excellent small heavy cardboard box wrapped with the typical packing tape for the Belarus postal system.  The receiver itself and a telescopic antenna with BNC connector were wrapped in bubble wrap. No paper instructions – those are available directly at the Belrig site [click here to download PDF manual].

The only other item on the Belrig site is a Panoramic Adapter:

“designed for use as part of a radio receiving path of a transceiver/receiver jointly with a personal computer (PC) and SDR software” according to Belrig.  This Pan@SDR “allows you to visually see the RF spectrum in a band up to 200 kHz as well as to receive and decode different modulation types (depending on a software type). . . [and] may be used without a transceiver as SDR-receiver with fixed oscillator (similarly to SoftRock RX), for example, to listen to amateur and broadcasting stations, to decode and to record telegraph stations with CW skimmer, to control signal quality, to calibrate frequency. It may be used as well as a selective millivoltmeter.”

An unboxing video of the Belrig SDR can be seen here:

Initial impressions

My house in Maryland is notorious for high noise levels – located on a corner, we are surrounded by electric wires on four sides.   My attempts to overcome this with my many main premium receivers involve W6LVP, Wellbrook loops and one PAR-FED long wire located outside, with ANC-4 and other noise reduction efforts in my basement radio shack inside.

When I use various portable receivers upstairs in the den of my home, I usually have to keep them well away from incoming Xfinity/Verizon cable TV and Internet lines.

Usually, I am unable to hear much using portables such as SONY SW-55s and Panasonic RF-B65s while sitting on the sofa in the middle of this large family room due to noise from all of these cable lines.

However, interestingly – using the Belka-DSP receiver I was able to get decent reception at this spot.   I attribute this to the metal construction of the receiver, compared to portables with plastic cases.

Certain portables, notably the CountyComm/Tecsun GP5/PL-360-365 are extremely sensitive to being handled, with substantial signal loss once your hand is removed from the cabinet.  The Belka-DSP exhibits sensitivity to touch, but not as much signal loss as there is when you take your hands off a Tecsun PL-365.

I did notice a few frequencies on the Belka where there are digital artifacts – one occurs at or around 11,810 kHz, the BBC frequency.   You can see that in the accompanying video as I tuned up from 11,810.

Others are noticed at various points all the way up through the receiver’s top tuning range of 30 MHz, though thankfully most are not in major SWL bands.

Digital audio artifacts are seen on portable receivers using IC chips, notably the XHDATA D-808 which has several annoying digi-burps on some key frequencies occupied by stations.   On my D-808 for example, 9,650 kHz has a digital artifact that interferes with reception of Guinea.

Tuning on the Belka is simple once you get used to the steps.  The knob on the right serves for tuning, selection of tuning steps, volume, high-low sensitivity, the various audio “cut-off” modes which essentially function as DSP selectivity.   There are 32 memories. Modes are: LSB, USB, CW, NFM, AM1, AM2. For AM mode, AM1 is the most useful, as AM2 seems to be quite harsh in its various DSP audio modes.

The Belka is very sensitive to the type of speaker it is plugged into, assuming you are not using a bluetooth dongle.  Connecting via a 3.5 mm cable to a basic Brookstone speaker that has bluetooth produced audio overloads on the Belka, requiring careful placement of the speaker in proximity to the radio.

Whether this had anything to do with the quality of 3.5 mm cable I was using, I am not sure.  These audio overload issues were not present using the DSP only with a pair of quality SONY studio headphones.  I have not tested the Belka yet with a bluetooth dongle. So be prepared to do some experimenting with speakers and cables.

As mentioned by one person on SWLing Post, the surprise when I received the Belka was that the tuning range is actually 1.5 to 30 MHz rather than 3.5 MHz shown on the Belrig description and in the video there.

This certainly makes the small Belka more attractive, though one wonders why it could not include the full medium wave band.

Also unclear is whether the Belka will have the capability in future for firmware updates, and addition of any new features such as bluetooth though I have to think that adding bluetooth would impact battery duration.

I posed four questions to Alex, including why he made the decision to have the battery soldered in rather than easily user replaceable with battery terminals, whether he is considering adding bluetooth capability, adding capability for firmware updates, and whether he is thinking about extending coverage to include the full medium wave band.

Alex thanked me for my “interesting questions” adding:

“Now  Belka-DSP  is a final  product in this  regard no updates or modifications are planned in the near future.  We do think about the way how to improve this receiver, how to make it even  more user friendly, but I can not say exactly which changes will take place and when.  Looking forward for your future questions.”

Alex says that the Belka receivers ship out with batteries not fully charged to comply with post office regulations.

For me, the battery issue is a bit annoying.  Similar to cellphones with built-in batteries this means that when the Li-Ion cell does deteriorate you are stuck with a bit of soldering to replace it – and I am not good at soldering.

Another example of this practice is the Pocket SDR made by Gerhard Reuter in Germany which uses flat Li-Ion batteries that are soldered in.  If you have no problem using soldering irons, then none of this is a concern.

I can live without on-board Bluetooth, since dongles are available online.  But I would like to see coverage of the full medium wave band and it would certainly be nice to have FM band coverage.   Obviously the ability to update the radio’s firmware would be a welcome addition.

Another suggestion I would make to Alex would be to provide some way to quickly move from band to band, similar to the capability seen on most regular portables.  Having to constantly press the side knob to switch to rapid 50 kHz slewing to move say, from 49 meters to 19 meters, involves too much fiddling.

It would be interesting to see the internals of the Belka radio – four Philips screws are located on the left and right sides of the receiver, so that should not be difficult, though I have chosen not to go exploring inside mine.

Summary

Overall, I am very impressed with the Belka.  This seems to be an amazingly quiet and sensitive little receiver.  It’s obviously similar to the CR-1a in that it has a display, but much smaller and perfect for Dxing on the road, with a BNC connector that enables connection of any amplified antenna, loops or longwires.

I have included a video made outside my house using only the BNC telescopic antenna with the Belka, showing reception at about 1800 to 1830 UTC of some major stations in the SW bands.

This demonstration shows how sensitive the Belka is in broad daylight hours (also shown is my SONY SW-1000T).

A search of YouTube shows at least two other handheld DSP receivers being demonstrated in 2019, both with full scope screens, seemingly experimental units and on Russian YouTube channels.  There is some discussion of availability, but as of early 2020 these units do not seem to be available.

It’s unclear whether any of these units ever made it to production on any scale.  Comparing the features on these to the Belka – including AGC, Noise Reduction, Squelch, etc – it seems there might be quite a bit of space on the open market for SDRs that far exceed the capabilities of the Belka.

On the other hand, inclusion of larger scope displays would clearly have implications for battery life, which is one area where the Belka SDR – with its claimed 24 hour duration – obviously excels.

I will be interested to read other user reviews of the Belka-DSP – for now, it appears to be the only receiver of its kind and size being produced in significant numbers, so I certainly want to thank Alex for bringing it to the market.


Thanks so much, Dan for sharing your review of the Belka-DSP. I agree that likely the reason the Belka-DSP is less prone to the effects of holding and grounding is because it has a metal case and is probably better shielded. I agree that there should be an easy way to move between the various meter bands. Including features like this is always a concern in terms of ergonomics for small radios with simplified controls.

It is a fascinating and unique little receiver. Since it’s designed and produced by a “mom and pop” company, I imagine upgrades won’t happen unless there’s a new version produced at some point. With that said, this engineer obviously has the know-how to make a capable receiver! 

Thanks again, Dan, and we look forward to any/all updates you wish to share!

Click here to check out the BelkaDSP product page.


Do you enjoy the SWLing Post?

Please consider supporting us via Patreon or our Coffee Fund!

Your support makes articles like this one possible. Thank you!

Spread the radio love

Dave updates and adds “light” reviews

The CC Skywave

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dave Zantow (N9EWO), who writes:

Just FYI, for those who may have missed this :

My light reviews on the CCrane Skywave and Retekess TR604 (AM/FM only set), are now posted on my web page. These are the first 2 reviews on this page :

http://n9ewo.angelfire.com/misc.html

Also have updated my V-115 / V115 review. New test sample with the latest 1.4 firmware.

http://n9ewo.angelfire.com/v115.html

Thanks for the update, Dave. In your review you note the virtues of the Tivdio/Retekess V-115 (a.k.a. Audiomax SRW-710S) as an mp3 player. That’s how I’ve been using my unit as of late. It makes for a nice portable player with reasonable audio. The last time I traveled to Quebec for a couple months, I used this rig to make a few off-air recordings of my favorite FM radio program: C’est si bon” with Claude Saucier. I only recently re-discovered these recordings on the MicroSD card in my radio and have been enjoying listening to them since.

Listening to the BBC Midwinter Broadcast, with some limited success, on June 21, 2017 in Québec.

I also recommend the V-115 as a very affordable radio that can record off-air broadcasts. As we’ve also mentioned in past reviews–and as Dave notes–it has some issues with internally-generated noises, etc. but for the price it’s hard to complain. It’s currently $24.99 shipped on Amazon (affiliate link).

Spread the radio love

Doug recommends the RegeMoudal Emergency Solar Hand Crank AM/FM/WX Radio

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Doug Nickle, who writes:

“You once recommended some alternatives to the CCrane Solar Observer. In looking at the RunningSnail you initially recommended, I came across this other upgraded version (with a slightly larger battery bank, 2000 mAh, vs. 1000 mAh).

[…]I did pick up the RegeMoudal Emergency Solar Hand Crank Radio. It looks like it’s made for a couple different companies/brands.

So far I like it a lot, for an emergency radio. Audio is pretty good for a radio in this price range.

[…]I’ve been generally happy with the WX reception. AM and FM are generally clear, if not a bit tinny, but that is dependent on the clarity of the station to begin with as the stronger stations come in smooth and balanced.

The flashlight and reading light are bright and functional LED; the flip up reading light is a really nice addition and would work well in a tent or simply in a power outage.

I haven’t tested it yet, but I bought this unit because of the 2000 mAH battery bank. I’ve got multiple dedicated, higher capacity battery banks, but I figured having one more can’t hurt.

My only wish would be a slightly longer antenna (this one is only nine inches).

I’m currently using rechargable AAA batteries but it comes with a micro USB and has both micro and regular USB inputs for charging, as well as a plug for a headset.

Neat little rig and worth having in the bag for emergencies or power outages. All in all, this is a great emergency radio for under $30 bucks.”

Click here to view on Amazon (note: this affiliate link supports the SWLing Post)

Thank you, Doug.  I agree with you: the increased capacity of the internal battery is actually a major plus. I’m also happy to hear that the LED lighting is functional.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen a model with a pop-up light on top. Thanks for sharing your review.

Spread the radio love