Category Archives: Reviews

Stephan notes a few issues with his first production run Sangean ATS-909X2

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Stefan, who recently shared two descriptive comments about issues his new Sangean ATS-909X2 is exhibiting. I’ve edited both comments together below:

I purchased [my Sangean ATS-909X2] from Sangean Europe and I am totally disappointed. I know that my radio is from the first production batch and I really hope that Sangean will address the following issues:

1. When I switch from FM to MW/LW/SW, I lose reception completely on these bands. However, FM works as expected, regardless from which band I switch back to it. To restore reception on the affected bands, I have to turn off the radio for a few seconds.

[Stefan then provided the following update:] Note [in this audio clip example the] first time I had to restart the radio two times to restore reception.

2. Lots of tones across all the bands, except FM. In fact, every receivable station has at least a minor tone. I can’t judge if these tones are interferences coming from internal components, such as the display, or there are oscillators related. If you are interested I can record some audio samples. Video is not possible because I’m visually impaired.

[Stefan shared the following update:] I am pretty confident to say that most tones across the bands are not generated by internal components. There are some birdies here and there, especially when I touch the screen, but these are acceptable. I suspect that it is something wrong with signal demodulation. I can get that tone even on strong local stations, while the sensitivity is set to minimum.

[…]The environment where I made these recordings is very noisy, but I tried the radio outside and, even if reception is much better, that tone on the affected bands is always present.

Below [is an audio sample] demonstrating that annoying tone on MW (LW, SW and air band are also affected):

3. The following one is not so important: The upper part of the LW is totally deaf. I can’t receive anything above 300 kHz. Tried some non-directional beacons from the nearest airport, but no luck. I also tried to induce some interference from my mobile phone, but I can’t generate any noise. Very interesting…

4. Frequency calibration is off by 2 kHz. For example a station on 540 kHz sounds centered at 542.

5. I noticed a huge sensitivity drop on MW/LW (SW not tested yet) when the batteries reach the half of their capacity. I suspected that it was bad propagation, but tested this with another radio I have and turns out I was wrong. When batteries are full, the sensitivity is ok. When the batteries are a bit discharged, sensitivity on MW/LW begins to drop. I can admit that the sensitivity is correlated with battery voltage, but on this radio the dropping curve is unusually aggressive.

That’s all for now. This is not a review. These are my first personal observations on the new ATS 909×2. I think I should return the radio for a product exchange and try another unit after a few months or maybe even for a refund, I still have not decided yet.

Thanks so much, Stefan, for taking the time to share these notes with us.

I’ll admit that this is discouraging if these issues are present in all of the ATS-909X2 units from this production run. Your points 1 and 2 are big ones. I would not enjoy hearing those het-like tones in my received audio. It sounds like it’s ever-present in AM mode regardless of frequency. The drop-off in sensitivity when toggling FM? That’s also unacceptable. These bugs should have been discovered and addressed during Alpha/Beta testing which leads me to believe it could very well be an issue with the first production run (and lack of QC check before shipping).

Issue number 5 on your list is actually a criticism of the original ATS-909X as well.

Please keep us informed, Stefan, and thanks again. I know our contributor, Dan, has an ATS-909X2 on order in North America and I’m sure we’ll hear from him once he receives his unit.

Any other ATS-909X2 owners out there? Please feel free to comment.

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My initial review of the new Mat-Tuner mAT-705Plus on QRPer.com

If you’re an Icom IC-705 owner and have been waiting for Mat-Tuner to address the design shortcomings of their original mAT-705, you might want to check out my initial review of the new mAT-705Plus ATU posted over on QRPer.com. It includes a video of the new ATU in action.

In short, this upgraded model looks very promising. Not only does it address my concerns with the original model, but it also seems to tune very effectively and efficiently.

Click here to read the full review.

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A comprehensive review of the Mission RGO One general coverage 50 watt transceiver

The following review was first published in the November 2020 issue of The Spectrum Monitor magazine:


A review of the Mission RGO One ham radio transceiver

by Thomas (K4SWL / M0CYI)

Wow…I love this!

If I am perfectly frank, that would sum up my initial impression of the Mission RGO One.

It was the 2018 Hamvention in Dayton, Ohio, and I had just met up with radio engineer Boris Sapundzhiev (LZ2JR) who was debuting the prototype of his 50-watt transceiver kit, the Mission RGO One. With its clean, functional design and simple front face, large weighted encoder, and enough tactile buttons and multi-function knobs to keep one’s most needed features within reach, the kit was certainly pushing all the right buttons for me.  Without a doubt, I was impressed from the start.

Boris (LZ2JR) the designer and engineer of the Mission RGO One.

To my mind, the RGO One smacks of classic 1990s-era transceivers:  a traditional tabletop front-facing panel, a large fold-out bail, and a unfussy backlit LCD display that’s large enough to read in the field and viewable at any angle.

Perhaps it’s only because I can’t turn off the innate radio reviewer, that I was rapidly checking mental boxes in this first encounter with the RGO One.  Indeed, when I first set eyes on any new radio, I do skim through my mental “operations checklist” to see how difficult the rig might be to use at home and/or in the field. Specifically, I’m looking for the following controls:

  • Encoder
  • AF Gain
  • RF Gain
  • Mode switch
  • Power output adjustment
  • Tune/Xmit button
  • Preamp/Attenuator
  • VFO A/B
  • Split and A=B
  • Mic gain and keyer speed
  • RIT
  • Filters
  • Band switching and direct frequency entry
  • Key and encoder lock

Of course, these days it’s fairly rare that radios actually contain all of these functions without the user having to dig into layers of menus, multi-function controls, or touch-screen options to access them.

Remarkably enough, the Mission RGO One, despite simple design, manages to include all of these features on the front panel without the need of embedded menus. In contrast with some of the radios I’ve tested and evaluated over the past several years, I could tell by the layout alone that the Mission RGO One was developed by an active ham radio operator and DXer: the controls are that intuitive.

Alas, the tantalizing prototype on Boris’ table in the 2018 Hamvention flea market was for show only.

Boris promised that he’d have fully-functional models available at the 2019 Hamvention. Because of this, following that first meeting in 2018, I kept in touch with Boris; we arranged to meet again at the 2019 Hamvention so I could take a second, much closer look at the RGO One––especially since he intended to start shipping the first very limited, early-production-run rigs shortly afterward.

So…did Boris deliver?  And more importantly: did the RGO deliver––?  Let’s find out.

On The Air

Within hours of taking delivery of the prototype radio, I had it in the field activating parks.

It was May 2019 when Boris delivered on his promise, handing me a loaner prototype RGO One. He did so with the understanding that the prototype was still a little rough around the edges. I acknowledged this, thinking in terms of a late Beta-test model since he welcomed reports of any bugs or anomalies I encountered and was fully prepared to address them.

After taking the initial RGO One to the field, I did note a few bugs, but nothing major.  All of my field notes were then sent to Boris and turned into action items.

Then, in July of 2020, Boris sent me a fully-upgraded Mission RGO One with the new internal ATU and optional adjustable filter. This radio represented the “fully-grown” production model, and in preparation to put it through its paces, I returned the prototype.

Although there are planned hardware upgrade options and, of course, firmware upgrades, the RGO One has now reached full maturity as a transceiver.

However, it was one thing to have ham-friendly ergonomic controls. The real question was, how did the RGO One stack up against the competition? It was time to find out.  After all, this is the danger of a “love at first sight” radio encounter––it often leaves the door open for disappointment, and of this I was well aware.

What follows is my full review of this 2020 Mission RGO One transceiver. Let’s take a deep dive into this rig…

Features and specifications

 

What follows are some of the RGO One features and highlights as written in the product manual (PDF):

  • QRP/QRO output 5 – 50W [can actually be lowered to 0 watts out in 1 watt increments]
  • All-mode shortwave operation – coverage of all HAM HF bands (160m/60m optional)
  • High dynamic range receiver design, including high IP3 monolithic linear amplifiers in the front end, and diode ring RX mixer or H-mode first mixer (option)
  • Low-phase noise first LO – SI570 XO/VCXO chip
  • Full/semi (delay) QSK on CW; PTT/VOX operation on SSB. Strict RX/TX sequencing scheme with no “click” sounds
  • Down conversion superhet topology with popular 9MHz IF
  • Custom-made crystal filters for SSB and CW and variable crystal 4 pole filter – Johnson type 200…2000Hz
  • Fast-acting AGC (fast and slow) with 134kHz dedicated IF
  • Compact and lightweight body, only 5 lbs
  • Custom-made multicolor backlit FSTN LCD
  • Custom-molded front panel with ergonomic controls
  • Silent operation with no clicking relays inside – solid state GaAs PHEMT SPDT switches on RX (BPF and TX to RX switching) and ultrafast rectifying diodes (LPF)
  • Modular construction – Main board serves as a “chassis” also fits all the external connectors, daughter boards, plus inter-connections, and acts as a cable harness
  • Optional modules – Noise Blanker (NB), Audio Filter (AF), ATU, XVRTER, PC control via CAT protocol; USB UART – FTDI chipset
  • Double CPU circuitry control for front panel and main board – both field programmable via USB interface
  • Memory morse code keyer (Curtis A, CMOS B); 4 Memory locations 128 bytes each

Build quality

First impressions proved accurate in terms of construction.  I’m very pleased with the build quality of the Mission RGO One. Keep in mind, however, you might note from the photos that some items––like the volume and multifunction knobs––are 3D printed, and I’m not certain if they’ll ever have custom knobs manufactured.  But I really don’t even think this is necessary, as the 3D printed ones are very nice, indeed––moreover, should a replacement ever be needed, I love the idea I could simply print one myself!

The RGO One main optical encoder/tuning knob is just brilliant. It’s weighted properly for the right amount of “heft” while tuning. I’m very pleased with the overall feeling and quality. It’s substantial, yet silky-smooth in operation, just what I look for in a tuning knob.

On the back of the unit, there is an externally-mounted heat sink with two small fans. These fans are quiet and efficient.

The chassis and bail are both top-shelf quality and should withstand years of field use. Just do keep in mind that like almost every other amateur transceiver currently on the market (save the recently reviewed lab599 Discovery TX-500), the chassis is neither water-proof nor weather-proof, so will require common-sense care to protect it from the elements.

Portability

The Mission RGO is relatively compact, lightweight (only 5 lbs without the ATU), and has a power output of up to 55 watts, even though the specs list just 50 watts. As a point of comparison, most other rigs in this class have a maximum output of 10 to 20 watts, and require an external amplifier for anything higher. The form factor is very similar to the Elecraft K2.

The light weight of the rig and the extra power makes the RGO One a capable and versatile field radio. Although the RGO One is configured like a desktop radio (with a front-facing panel), it’s still relatively compact and can easily be set up on a portable table, chair, or on the ground. Unlike field-portable rigs with top-mounted controls (think the Elecraft KX3 or KX2), obviously, it would be tough to do handheld or laptop operation.

The RGO One should also play for a long time on battery power as the receive current drain is a respectable 0.65A with the receiver preamp on. It’s not as efficient as, say, an Elecraft KX3 or the new Icom IC-705, but keep in mind the RGO One can provide 50 watts of output power and has a proper, internally-mounted, amplified speaker. The popular 100 watt Yaesu FT-891, in comparison, has a current drain closer to 1.75 to 2.0 amps [update: actually the specifications indicate 2 Amps in receive, but user reports are less than half that amount].  I pair the RGO One with my larger 15 aH Bioenno LiFePo battery. When fully-charged, I can operate actively for hours upon hours without needing to recharge.

Mission RGO One Bioenno LiFePo

The Bioenno 15aH battery powers the Mission RGO One for hours at a time in the field.

If it’s any indication of how much I wanted to take this rig to the field, when Boris handed me the prototype RGO One on Saturday at the 2019 Hamvention, I had it on the air that same day doing a Parks On The Air activation at an Ohio State Park.

Since then, I’ve easily taken the Mission RGO One on 30 or more park activations.

Performance

What’s most striking and obvious about the Mission RGO One’s receiver from the moment you turn it on is the low noise floor. It’s incredibly quiet. So much so that more than once, I’ve double checked to make sure RF gain hadn’t been accidentally altered as I started a field activation. I’d call CQ a few times, though, and when stations return they literally pop out of the ether. The RGO One currently has no digital noise reduction (DNR) but frankly, I don’t miss it like I might in other transceivers. Indeed, the RGO One is a radio I’ve reached for when the bands are noisy because the AGC and receiver seem to handle rough atmospheric conditions very well.

The RGO One’s built-in, top-mounted speaker provides ample audio levels for the shack, but in a noisy field environment, I wish it had a little more amplification. I’ve also used my Heil Pro headset and even inexpensive in-ear earphones connected to the front panel headphones jack in the field. The audio via headphones is excellent.

Let’s take a look at how well the RGO One performs by mode:

CW

First and foremost, CW operators will appreciate the RGO One’s silky-smooth full break-in QSK. The  RGO One employs clickless and quiet pin diode switching–a design feature I’ve become particularly fond of as traditional T/R relays can be noisy and distracting when not using headphones.

The RGO One also has a full compliment of adjustments for the CW operator including adjustable delay (default is 100ms), iambic mode, weight ratio, hand key/paddle, adjustable pitch, and sidetone volume.

The key jack is a standard three conductor 1/8” jack found on most modern transceivers. It’s located on the back of the radio.

My review unit has the optional variable width narrow filter which I highly recommend if operating in crowded conditions. I’ve used the RGO One on ARRL Field Day and found that it easily coped with crowded band conditions. Even after a few hours on the air, I had very little listener fatigue.

I also find that, as I mentioned earlier, CW signals just seem to “pop” out of the ether due to the low noise floor and excellent sensitivity/selectivity.

The RGO one also sports four CW keying memories where you can record your CQ, callsign, or even contest exchange. I’ve become incredibly reliant on memory keying to help facilitate my workflow in the field—while the radio is automatically sending my CQ or my regards and callsign to an station I’ve just worked, my hands are free to log the contact, adjust the radio, or even eat lunch!

Memory keying does require one long-press of the “6” button followed by either the “1,” “2,” “3,” or “4” button to play a message. Occasionally I won’t hold the 6 button long enough and accidentally move my frequency down one meter band since the 6 button is also the band “down” button. While it doesn’t happen often, it’s frustrating when it does but I think it could easily be fixed in the firmware as it’s really a timing issue.

SSB

Likewise, phone operators will be very pleased with the Mission RGO One. During all of my testing, I’ve only used the microphone supplied with the radio mainly because I don’t currently own another radio with an RJ-45 type microphone connector.

I do love the fact the microphone port is on the front panel of the radio—it’s very easy to connect and disconnect (in contract to the recently released Icom IC-705, for example). I’ve gotten excellent audio reports with the RGO One in SSB mode and have even monitored my own tests and QSOs via the KiwiSDR network.

Compression, gain, and VOX controls are easily accessible. One missing feature at present is a voice memory keyer. For field operators activating sites for the POTA, WWFF, or SOTA program, voice memory keying is huge as it saves your voice from calling “CQ” over the course of a few hours. I understand Boris does plan to implement voice memory keying in a future speech processor board.

AM Mode

Since the RGO One has general coverage receive and since I’m a shortwave broadcast listener, I was disappointed to find that there is presently no AM mode. Boris told me he does plan to add AM mode, “to be implemented in future versions of the IF/AF board only on RX.”

With that said, I can always zero-beat a broadcaster and use a wide SSB filter to listen to broadcasts which is more than I could do, for example, with my (ham band only) Elecraft K2.

At the end of the day, the RGO One is a high-performance, purpose-built ham radio transceiver, so the current lack of AM mode isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but I would love a wide AM filter on this rig.

ATU

The 2020 review model I received has the internal automatic antenna tuner which I feel is a worthy upgrade/addition. In the field, I’ve paired the RGO One with my Chameleon CHA Emcomm III Portable random wire antenna which requires an ATU in order to find matches across the bands. The pairing has been a very successful one because the Emcomm III can handle up to 50 watts power output in CW and covers the entire HF band when emptying the RGO One ATU.

 

Even though it’s a minor thing, I also like the fact that the RGO One ATU operates so quietly, even though with the present firmware it takes longer than some of my other ATUs to find a match.

Power

One thing I’ve found very useful in the field and, no doubt others will as well is the power output. In many ways, the RGO feels like a larger QRP radio (think Ten-Tec Argonaut V or VI) but it’s actually able to pump out 55 watts (often five watts more than specified). In single sideband mode, this is a meaningful amount of power output compared to, say, 5 or 10 watts. When I activate a rare park, or an ATNO (All Time New One), I’ve been taking the RGO One more times than not in order to get the best signal possible and maximum amount of contacts. Running full power, the rig never feels warm—heat dissipation is superb—and the fans on the back of the heat sink are super quiet.

I actually feel like the 50 watts of output power gives the RGO One a market niche since it sports top-shelf performance as you might expect in the venerable Elecraft K2, for example, but  not being a 10 watt or 100 watt radio, rather something in between which saves a little weight and also the need for heftier heat dissipation.

Other unique features

The RGO One has some interesting features not found in similar radios.

For one, there are no less than ten color options for the custom backlit LCD display, along with adjustable contrast and backlighting intensity.

The RGO One team also documents how to access hidden admin menus for granular adjustments to transceiver parameters, but of course you’d want to adjust those with caution and note values prior to changing them. When you receive your RGO One, Boris includes a sheet with all default values to make stepping back much easier.

Hands-on philosophy

At the end of the day, the Mission RGO One is a kit that can eventually be purchased in kit form, or as a fully assembled transceiver. It’s modular: you can add and upgrade features as you wish. Some field operators, for example, may wish to omit the ATU to save a little extra weight or cost. I actually love this philosophy and I think it’s one that’s made Elecraft such a successful manufacturer.

The process of upgrading firmware is slightly more involved than you might find with, say, an Elecraft, Icom, or Yaesu product. It’s a two stage process where one upgrades both the front panel and the main board separately. I completed a firmware update only a few weeks prior to publication. It took me perhaps 15 minutes with my PC as I followed Boris’ step-by-step instructions (http://lz2jr.com/blog/index.php/rgo-one-firmware-update-procedure/).

There is also an active email discussion group for the Mission RGO One (https://groups.io/g/RGO-ONE/) where participants share experiences, modifications, and even any glitches or bugs that are discovered. This group is closely monitored by the RGO One team, so items are addressed very quickly. I highly recommend joining this discussion group if you see an RGO One in your future.

Also, I’ve gotten great customer support from Boris (LZ2JR) and have heard the same from group members. He’s very much open to critical customer feedback.

Summary

Mission RGO One POTA

Every radio has its pros and cons. When I begin a review of a radio, I take notes from the very beginning so that I don’t forget some of my initial impressions. Here is the list I formed over the time I’ve spent evaluating the 2020 production model Mission RGO One.

Pros:

  • Excellent sensitivity and selectivity
  • Very low noise floor
  • Excellent, clean audio (see con)
  • Silky-smooth QSK
  • Full compliment of CW and SSB features and adjustments
  • CW memory keyer
  • Superb ergonomics with no need to access embedded menus for common features
  • 50 watts output power with effective quiet heat dissipation
  • Lighter weight compared with comparable transceivers
  • Direct frequency entry
  • Standard Anderson Powerpole power port on rear panel

Cons:

  • No voice keyer memory (at time of posting, but is planned in upgrade)
  • No notch or auto notch filter (at time of posting, but is planned)
  • No 6 meter option
  • No AM mode (at time of posting, but is planned)
  • Firmware updates are a two stage process
  • Would like slightly more audio amplification while using internal speaker in noisy outdoor environments

Conclusion

If you can’t tell, I’m impressed with the Mission RGO One because it does exactly what it sets out to do.  The RGO One is designed for an operator who appreciates rock-solid performance with simple, intuitive ergonomics.

While teaching an amateur radio course to our homeschool cooperative high school students last year, I picked the RGO One as the best field radio for HF demonstrations.

I’ll never forget setting the (prototype) RGO One for the first time on a folding table outside the classroom under a large tree. I had the students erect both an end-fed resonant antenna and a simple 20 meter vertical. I picked the RGO one because all of the adjustments we had talked about in the classroom—AGC, Filters, A/B VFOs, Direct Frequency Entry, Pre Amp, Attenuation—are on the front panel and one button press away.

We hopped on the air with one of my students calling CQ single sideband on the 20 meter band.  Her very first contact was with a station in Slovenia—and she simply beamed with excitement. All of my female students that term passed their Technician exam by the end of the term.

The RGO One is a very inviting radio.

I’ve had the luxury of testing, evaluating, and working with everything from one of the first prototypes to the latest updated version of the RGO One. It’s rare that I’m able to evaluate a radio over such a long period of time.

Even with the very early, bare-bones prototype, I was impressed with this transceiver’s performance characteristics. I’m not the only one either. It’s almost become routine new discussion group members join prior to receiving their radio, then announces how blown away they are with its performance. Check out eHam reviews, too—at time of posting, it’s a solid five stars at time of posting.

The RGO One reminds me of simple, classic radios of the 1980s and 90s, but underneath, it’s packing state-of-the-art performance.

Is it perfect? No radio is perfect, but I must say that for what it offers, it really hits the sweet spot for this radio operator.  It’s a joy to use.

There are still features in the works that will either be implemented with future firmware updates, or with future boards. In terms of performance and appearance, it reminds me of the Ten-Tec Eagle and Elecraft K2—both benchmark rigs in my world. And like the Eagle and K2, the RGO One is happy in the field, at home, or even on a DXpedition. It’s a simple radio that beckons to be on the air.

If you’re interested in the Mission RGO One, check the following web page for the pre-order form and pricing list. The RGO One is produced in batches, so you’ll need to reserve your model.

Click here to view the Mission RGO One order page.

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Review Notes: Xiegu GSOC Firmware updated to version 1.1–still a number of issues

For those of you who have been asking about the new Xiegu GSOC controller, I just updated my unit with the latest firmware (version 1.1).

Firmware notes show that it addresses the following items:

Xiegu GSOC FW V1.1
1. Solved the CW sidetone delay problem
2. Solved the problem of unstable system and occasional crash
3. Added RTTY modem
4. Added CW decoder
5. Added SWR scanner
6. Added FFT/Waterfall level adjustment
7. Added FFT line/fill color mixer

The list above was copied directly from the version notes.

I’m currently evaluating the GSOC/G90 pair which were kindly sent to me on loan by Radioddity. I upgraded the GSOC firmware to v1.1 this weekend.

What follows are some of my evaluation notes an observations after performing the upgrade.

Updating firmware

Updating the GSOC firmware is a pretty straight-forward process.

First you must download the GSOC firmware package (about 330 MB!) which includes a disk image and application to flash the image to a MicroSD card.

Yes, you’ll need a dedicated MicroSD card to upgrade the GSOC firmware–meaning, you can’t simply use a MicroSD card with data on it you’d like to keep because the process of flashing the ISO file also includes a full format with multiple partitions.

You’ll also need an SD Card reader/writer if your Windows PC doesn’t include one.

The included firmware application/tool makes it quite easy to flash a disk image on the MicroSD card.

After the MicroSD card has been prepared, simply turn off the GSOC, insert the MicroSD card on the left side of the GSOC, turn it back on and the GSOC will automatically boot from the MicroSD card and install the new OS/firmware.

Once the upgrade has completed, the GSOC will turn itself off and you must remove the MicroSD card.

If you want to restore the MicroSD card to one partition, you’ll need to perform another format and shrink the volumes.

CW sidetone latency (still issues)

After performing the upgrade, I hopped on the air and tried to make a few CW contacts since I noted in the version notes that the CW sidetone latency had been addressed. So far, my evaluation has pretty much been on hold because I’m unable to use CW mode with any sense of sending accuracy.

Unfortunately, I’m still finding that there’s still a bit of sidetone latency or keyer timing interfering with my ability to correctly send words and letters.

To my ear, it sounds like there’s much less latency in the sidetone audio now (compared with v1.0 which was a little insane) but I still struggle sending characters that end in a string of dits or dashes. For example, when I try to send a “D” the radio will often produce a “B” by adding one extra dit. Or if I try to send a “W” it might produce a “J”. I know something is a little bit off because I botched up two CW contacts with POTA stations yesterday as I tried to send my own callsign correctly.  And “73” was even problematic.

I’m guessing that there may still be a bit of audio lag between the G90 body (where the CW key is plugged in) and the GSOC (where the sidetone audio comes out). At the end of the day, the keying information must be sent to the GSOC from the G90 transceiver body and I assume the processor on the G90 is causing a bit of audio latency. Hopefully, Xiegu can sort this out. It’s a serious issue for anyone who wants to operate CW with the GSOC.

If you own the GSOC and operate CW, I’d love your comments and feedback.

Other updates

I tried using the CW decoder yesterday via the “Modem” menu and had limited success decoding a CW rag chew.

My markup in red: You can see at the very end of this conversation, it decoded the call sign, but interpreted “TU” as “TEA”

The decoder seemed to adjust the WPM rate automatically at one point, but as you can see in the image above, almost every dit was interpreted as an “E” and every dash a “T”. I must assume I don’t have it configured properly, but I don’t have an operator’s manual for reference and instruction.  I’ve also tried RTTY decoding, but haven’t been successful so far–I’m pretty sure this is also because I haven’t configured it properly.

SWR Scanner

I tested the new SWR scanner and it seems to work quite well, plotting SWR across a given frequency range. I did note, however, that it doesn’t seem to confine itself to the ham bands at all. It does inject a signal as it scans (I read 1.5 to 2 watts on my CN-801 meter).

I discovered out-of-band scanning when I took the photo above while trying to do a scan of the 30 meter band. It started around 9.6 MHz–well into the 31M broadcast band where it shouldn’t be transmitting. Xiegu needs to limit transmitted signal to the ham bands.

Memory Keying

I had hoped Voice Memory Keying would be added along with TX/RX recording. I do believe this will eventually be included in a future update. It appears via the “Modem” menu that CW Memory Keying has been added, but I can’t sort out how to make it work (again, a operation manual would be quite handy).

Audio recording

I had hoped transmit and received audio recording would be added in this firmware update; I understand this will eventually be added.

Combined current drain

As I mentioned in a previous GSOC update, the GSOC controller and G90 transceiver both need a 12V power source–indeed, each has a dedicated power port. The GSOC does not derive power from the G90.

I was originally told that the G90 and GSOC both pull about .60 amps in receive which would total 1.2 amps combined. My Hardened Power Systems QRP Ranger battery pack displays voltage and current; it’s not a lab-grade measurement device, but it’s pretty accurate. When I operate the GSOC and G90 at a moderate volume levels in receive, it appears to draw 0.95 to 0.97 amps–basically, 1 amp.

At home on a power supply, this is inconsequential, but in the field you’d need to keep this in mind when choosing a battery. It’s on par with a number of 100 watt transceivers.

Spectrum display images

I’m still finding images on the GSOC display that are not present in the received audio. I mentioned this in my initial overview and it doesn’t seem the firmware update addressed this.

I can only assume the spectrum imaging might be due to the I/Q input being too “hot” coming from the G90 via the shielded audio patchcord. Perhaps there’s a function to manually lower the I/Q gain, but I haven’t found that yet.

Spectrum images are most noticeable on the 31 meter band, but found them on the 20 meter ham band as well.

Here are two screen shots that show how images appear when a nearby signal overwhelms the GSOC:

Images are not present all of the time, only when a strong signal intrudes.

Ever-present noise and spurs in portions of spectrum

Perhaps this is related to the issue above, but there are some spurs on the spectrum display that seem to be present whether the G90/GSOC is hooked up to an antenna or dummy load.

Here’s a photo of the GSOC hooked up to an antenna:

And to a dummy load:

I’ve highlighted the spurs in red and as you can see, the intensity is stronger without an antenna thus I’m guessing this is internally-generated. The spurs do not move on the display as you change frequency.

Other notes

Again, I feel like the GSOC firmware isn’t mature and I can’t yet recommend purchasing it. I feel like Xiegu have rushed this unit to market.

I know that, over time, more features will be added and Xiegu certainly has a track record of following up.

When I evaluate a product, I keep a list of notes that I send to the manufacturer and to keep for my own reference. In Alpha and/or Beta testing, I’d share this info only with the manufacturer. Since the GSOC is a product that’s in production and widely available, however, I thought I’d share them here publicly:

  • GSOC volume control scale is 0 to 28. The difference between 0 (muted) to 1 seems to be the biggest increment. Volume 1 is actually a low to moderate volume level (i.e. a bit high).
  • Boot up time for the GSOC is 30 seconds
  • A keyboard and mouse or capacitive stylus are almost required for accurate operation. Many of the touch screen buttons are quite small and difficult to accurately engage with fingertip. The pointer seems to fall slightly below where fingertip makes contact on the screen.
  • Notch Filter seems to have no effect even after the v1.1 upgrade. There is no Auto Notch feature either.
  • I can’t seem to engage split operation even though there are A/B switchable VFOs and a “Split” button above the spectrum display. Using a keyboard and mouse doesn’t engage it either.
  • There are a number of announced features that I haven’t discovered including some WiFi and Bluetooth wireless functionality.
  • For field use, you must pack quite a bit of kit: the transceiver, the controller, CW key cable, microphone, serial cable, I/Q cable, G90 Power cable, and GSOC power cable. It would also be advisable to take a wireless keyboard and mouse especially if you plan to use any advanced functions like CW memory keying.
  • It doesn’t appear that you have CAT control of the GSOC which complicates digital operation. I believe many of us hoped the GSOC would make digital mode operation easier with the G90, but it hasn’t. Indeed, I assumed the GSOC would have an internal sound card for digi modes much like the Icom IC-7300 and IC-705. Use of VOX control is still  the best way to control transmit. I hope this can be upgraded else this would be a missed opportunity.
  • Since the v1.1 upgrade, the GSOC hasn’t crashed (it did frequently with the v1.0 firmware).
  • Not a pro or con, but I wish the AF Gain/Squelch was AF Gain/RF Gain like most HF transceivers. I’ve accidently engaged squelch twice which essentially muted audio. Pressing and holding the PO (Power Output) button opens the RG Gain control function).

The GSOC Universal Controller is an interesting accessory for the G90 and I’ve read comments from users that love the interface and added functionality.

If I’m being honest, I feel like I’m Beta testing the GSOC. I’ve yet to find a GSOC operation manual–this makes it very difficult to know if one has correctly configured the controller and engaged features/functions correctly. A quick start guide is included with the product, but it really only helps with connections and starting up the GSOC the first time. If you’re a GSOC early adopter, just be aware of this. Again, I’m pretty confident Xiegu will make refinements and include promised features in future firmware updates. I understand their software engineer closely monitors the GSOC discussion group as well. If you’re considering the purchase of a GSOC, I’d encourage you to join the GSOC group.

Questions? Comments?

As I said, I can’t recommend purchasing the GSOC controller yet. So much can change with firmware updates, however, I would encourage you to bookmark the tag GSOC to follow our updates here on the SWLing Post. I will update the GSOC controller each time a new firmware version is issued and until Radioddity asks for the loaner units to be returned. Again, many thanks to Radioddity for making this GSOC and G90 evaluation possible.

Feel free to comment with any questions you might have and I’ll do my best to answer them!

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Matt’s Monster Mediumwave Radio Selectivity Shootout!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Matt Blaze (WB2SRI), for sharing another brilliant audio comparison featuring benchmark portable radios:


Medium wave selectivity shootout

by Matt Blaze

I did another monster medium wave portable receiver comparison, this time with the aim of comparing receivers’ ability to deal with weak signals in the presence of strong adjacent channels.

Once again, I went up to the roof with eight MW portables with built-in antennas and recorded them simultaneously along with my “reference signal”, from an Icom R-9500 with an active loop on the roof. As before, I recorded a narrated stereo mix with the Icom on the left and the rotation of radios for a minute or two each on the right, but have “solo” tracks available for the full time for each radio. The nine receivers in the lineup this time included:

  • Icom R-9500 (with amplified Wellbrook loop antenna on roof)
  • Potomac Instruments FIM-41 Field Intensity Meter (my personal favorite)
  • Panasonic RF-2200
  • Sony IC-EX5MK2
  • C.Crane Radio 2E
  • Sangean PR-D4W
  • Sangean ATS-909X
  • Tecsun PL-990X
  • XHDATA D-808

I recorded two signals, one at night and one during the day.

Nighttime Signals

The first was at night: WWL New Orleans on 870 KHz. This signal is usually weak to medium strength here, but is a challenge for two reasons: first, it shares the frequency with Cuba’s Radio Reloj, and it is squeezed between two much higher strength signals: Toronto’s CJBC on 860, and NYC’s WCBS on 880. So you need a decent receiver and careful antenna orientation to receive it well here. That said, everything did pretty well, though you can see that some radios did better than others.

The mix

Solo tracks

Icom IC-R9500

Potomac Instruments FIM-41 Field Intensity Meter

Panasonic RF-2200

Sony IC-EX5MK2

C.Crane Radio 2E

Sangean PR-D4W

Sangean ATS-909X

Tecsun PL-990X

XHDATA D-808

Daytime Signals

The second signal was during the day and was MUCH more marginal: WRJR Claremont, VA on 670 KHz. This was real challenge for any receiver and antenna. The signal was weak, and overshadowed by WCBM Baltimore on 680, a 50KW daytimer that is very strong here. (I’m not 100% sure that we were actually listening to WRJR – I never got an ID, but the station format and signal bearing was right). We can really hear some differences between the radios here.

The mix

Solo tracks

Icom IC-R9500

Potomac Instruments FIM-41 Field Intensity Meter

Panasonic RF-2200

Sony IC-EX5MK2

C.Crane Radio 2E

Sangean PR-D4W

Sangean ATS-909X

Tecsun PL-990X

XHDATA D-808

Everything (except the Icom) was powered by batteries and used the internal MW wave antenna, oriented for best reception by ear (not just maximizing signal strength, but also nulling any interference). The loop for the Icom was similarly oriented for best intelligibility.

For audio nerds: The recording setup involved a lot of gear, but made it fairly easy to manage capturing so many inputs at once. The portable radios were all connected to a Sound Devices 788T recorder, with levels controlled by a CL-9 linear mixing board control surface. This both recorded the solo tracks for the portables as well as providing a rotating mix signal for each receiver that was sent to the next recorder in the chain, a Sound Devices 833. The 833 received the mix audio from the 788T, which went directly to the right channel. The left channel on the 833 got audio from a Lectrosonics 822 digital wireless receiver, which had the feed from the Icom R-9500 in the shack (via a Lectrosonics DBu transmitter). The center channel on the 833 for narration of the mix, which I did with a Coles 4104B noise-canceling ribbon mic. This let me record fairly clean audio in spite of a fairly noisy environment with some wind.

All the radio tracks were recorded directly off the radios’ audio line outputs, or, if no line out was available, from the speaker/headphone jack through a “direct box” interface. I tried to make the levels as close to equal as I could, but varied band conditions and different receiver AGC characteristics made it difficult to be completely consistent.

Making the recordings was pretty easy once it was set up, but it did involve a turning a lot of knobs and moving faders in real time. I must have looked like some kind of mad scientist DJ to my neighbors, some of whom looked at me oddly from their own roofs.

Happy Thanksgiving weekend!


Thank you, Matt, for another brilliant audio comparison! I appreciate the attention and care you put into setting up and performing these comparisons–not an easy task to say the least. That Potomac Instruments FIM-41 is an impressive machine!

By the way, I consider it a badge of honor when the neighbors look at me as if I’m a mad scientist. I’m willing to bet this wasn’t your first time! 🙂

Post readers: If you like this audio comparison, please check out Matt’s previous posts as well:

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“QSL: How I Traveled the World and Never Left Home” by Ronald W. Kenyon

A few weeks ago, I was contacted by author Ronald W. Kenyon who has written non-fiction books covering a variety of subjects, but primarily collections of essays and albums of photography.

He was very proud to announce that his latest book, QSL: How I Traveled the World and Never Left Home, focuses on his pursuit of DX during his youth.

Kenyon is a radio archivist at heart.  He has carefully preserved QSL cards that he received between 1956 and 1961–a time period many of us consider the zenith of international broadcasting and DXing.

From Ronald W. Kenyon’s collection

Kenyon’s book presents color reproductions of over 100 vintage QSL cards—most displaying both front and back—issued by 89 shortwave stations in 75 countries. For the uninitiated, he includes an introduction that acquaints with shortwave radio listening, submitting listener reports, and obtaining QSL cards. Radio enthusiasts will be familiar with these topics, but this addition is an important one since we often forget that we’ve a niche pursuit and for many of his readers, this will be their first introduction.

From Ronald W. Kenyon’s collection

Kenyon sent me a pre-sales sample of his book. It’s what I’d call a “coffee table” paperback. The format is 8.5 x 8.5 inches which gives each QSL image proper page space to be presented. The color reproduction and print in this publication is excellent.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed taking in Kenyon’s book at a very leisurely pace. It’s divided into three main sections:

  • Section One of his book is a gallery of 107 vintage QSL cards from radio stations in 78 countries.
  • Section Two features SWL and ham radio cards.
  • Section Three features seasonal greeting cards sent to listeners by radio broadcasters from nine countries.

There’s even an appendix featuring, “A Letter from Antarctica,” which recounts how Kenyon was linked to a British meteorologist at a base in Antarctica via a radio station in Montevideo, Uruguay of all places. A fabulous example of how radio–especially in the late 50s and early 60s–was a fabulous medium for connecting listeners across vast distances.

I’m a nostalgic fellow–especially during the Thanksgiving and Holiday season. I’ll admit: this wonderful, simple bit of radio nostalgia is just what the doctor ordered as we celebrate the season. We all can relate to and enjoy Kenyon’s gallery of radio nostalgia and history. Indeed, my hope is that his book will encourage others to document their radio journey as well.

Being a limited print, full-color, 150 page book, the price will be $35 US. However, the author has offered 10% off his book if ordered before December 31, 2020. That will lower the price to $31.50 US via Amazon.com or £23.95 via Amazon.co.uk.

If you enjoy browsing QSL cards like I do, you’ll love QSL: How I Traveled the World and Never Left Home. Certainly, a fabulous gift idea for the radio enthusiast in your world.

Amazon purchase links

(Please note that some of these are affiliate links that also support the SWLing Post)

Note that this book will appear on other regional Amazon sites over time. Simply search Amazon for “QSL: How I Traveled the World and Never Left Home” or the author, Ronald W. Kenyon.

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Comparing the Icom IC-705 and Icom IC-7300 with the Xiegu GSOC G90 combo

I was recently asked to make a table comparing the basic features and specifications of the new Xiegu GSOC/G90 combo,  and comparing it with the Icom IC-7300 and IC-705.

This is by no means a comprehensive list, and I plan to add to it as I test the GSOC. It doesn’t include some of the digital mode encoding/decoding features yet. I’m currently waiting for the next GSOC firmware upgrade (scheduled for November 20, 2020) before I proceed as it should add mode decoding, audio recording, fix CW mode latency, and add/fix a number of other items/issues.

Comparison table

Click to enlarge

Quick summary of comparison

At the end of the day, these radios are quite different from each other. Here’s a quick list of obvious pros and cons with this comparison in mind:

Xiegu GSOC G90 combo ($975 US)

Pros:

  • The GSOC’s 7″ capacitive touch screen is the biggest of the bunch
  • The GSOC can be paired with the G90 or X5101 transceivers (see cons)
  • The GSOC controller is connected to the transceiver body via a cable, thus giving more options to mount/display in the shack
  • The G90 transceiver (read review) is a good value and solid basic transceiver
  • Upgradability over time (pro) though incomplete at time of posting (con)
  • GSOC can be detached, left at home, and G90 control head replaced on G90 body to keep field kit more simple (see con)

Cons:

  • The GSCO is not stand-alone and must be paired with a Xiegu transceiver like the Xiegu G90 or X5105. The X5105 currently has has limited functionality with the GSOC but I understand this is being addressed. (see pro)
  • I don’t believe the GSOC can act as a sound card interface if directly connected with a computer (I will correct this if I discover otherwise). This means, for digital modes, you may still require an external sound card interface
  • No six meter coverage like the IC-7300 and IC-705
  • Quite a lot of needed cables and connections if operating multiple modes; both GSOC and G90 require separate power connections
  • At time of posting, a number of announced features missing in early units, but this should be addressed with a Nov 20, 2020 firmware upgrade
  • Replacing and removing G90 control head requires replacing four screws to hold in side panels and secure head to transceiver body (see pro)

Icom IC-7300 ($1040 US)

Pros:

  • Built-in sound card interface for for easy digital mode operation
  • Excellent receiver specifications (click here to view via Rob Sherwood’s table)
  • Possibly the most popular transceiver Icom has ever made (thus a massive user base)
  • Well thought-through ergonomics
  • Includes six meter operation and expanded RX frequencies (compared with G90/GSOC); high frequency stability

Cons: 

  • The heaviest of this group (con), but it is a 100 watt transceiver (pro)
  • Smaller display than the GSOC
  • Touch sensitive display (not capacitive like the GSOC)
  • Faceplate not detachable like the G90

Icom IC-705 ($1300 US)

Pros:

  • Built-in sound card interface for for easy digital mode operation
  • Excellent receiver specifications (click here to view via Rob Sherwood’s table)
  • Can use swappable Icom HT battery packs
  • Well thought-through ergonomics, but on that of the IC-7300
  • Includes six meters and VHF/UHF multi-mode operation with high frequency stability
  • Includes D-Star mode
  • Includes wireless LAN, Bluetooth, and built-in GPS
  • Weighs 2.4 lbs/1.1 kg (lightest and most portable of the bunch)

Cons:

  • No internal ATU option
  • Maximum of 10 watts of output power
  • The priciest of this bunch at $1300 US

In short, I’d advise those looking for a 100 watt radio, to grab the Icom IC-7300 without hesitation. It’s a solid choice.

If you’re looking for the most portable of these options, are okay with 10 watts of maximum output power, and don’t mind dropping $1300 on a transceiver, the Icom IC-705 is for you. You might also consider the Elecraft KX3, Elecraft KX2, and lab599 Discovery TX-500 as field-portable radios. None of them, however, sport the IC-705 display, nor do they have native VHF/UHF multimode operation (although there is a limited KX3 2M option). The IC-705 is the only HF QRP radio at present that also has LAN, Bluetooth, and built-in GPS. And, oh yes, even D-star.

If you’re a fan of the Xiegu G90 or already own one, give the GSOC controller some consideration. It offers a more “modular” package than any of the transceivers mentioned above in that the controller and G90 faceplace can be swapped on the G90 body. The GSOC screen is also a pleasure since there are two USB ports that can connect a mouse and keyboard (driver for mine were instantly recognized by the OS).  The GSOC/G90 combo is a bit “awkward” in that a number of cables and connections are needed when configured to operate both SSB and CW: a CW key cable, Microphone cable, I/Q cable, serial control cable, power cable for the GSOC, and a power cable for the G90.  This doesn’t include the cables that might be needed for digital operation. I dislike the fact that the CW cable can only be plugged into the transceiver body instead of the GSOC controller like the microphone. Still: this controller adds functionality to the G90 (including FM mode eventually) that may be worth the investment for some.

Did I miss something?

I’ll update this list with any obvious pros/cons I may have missed–please feel free to comment if you see a glaring omission! Again, these notes are made with a comparison of these three models in mind, not a comprehensive review of each. I hope this might help others make a purchase decision.

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