Category Archives: Software Defined Radio

Hamvention Highlights: The QRP Labs QSX 10 watt, general coverage, low-cost HF transceiver kit

Hans (G0UPL) of QRP Labs holding a QSX transceiver prototype at the 2019 Hamvention

Each year at the Dayton Hamvention I enjoy checking out the latest radio products and services. This year (2019) I found an exceptional number of innovations and will share these in Hamvention Highlights posts. If you would like to check out 2019 Hamvention Highlights as I publish them, bookmark this tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights

The QRP Labs QSX Transceiver

Hans (G0UPL) of QRP Labs was, without a doubt, one of the most popular guys at the 2019 Hamvention — especially within the QRP community. In fact, at the Four Days In May (FDIM) vendors’ night his table was so busy I didn’t bother trying to force my way through the crowd to speak with him.

As luck would have it, our own table for ETOW was directly across from QRP Labs table at the the Greene County Fairgrounds so, in the end, I spent some quality time with Hans over the course of the Hamvention.

I’ll also make prediction: if the 10 band QSX transceiver delivers what it promises, it will be a serious disruptor in the ham radio transceiver world! This is a good thing. Why?

The QSX is a feature-packed, all-mode, high-performance, affordable, QRP transceiver.

The QSX will have a 24-bit Analog to Digital Converter (ADC) and a 24-bit Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). It will be a fully stand-alone unit and, since it’s an SDR and sports robust DSP, when connected to your PC, it will be recognized as a high-performance sound card. This equates to nearly native digital mode integration without the need for an external sound card interface.

The QSX Prototype Back Panel

The QSX Transceiver will be a through-hole kit with the surface-mounted components pre-installed on the circuit boards. This means the kit should be accessible to anyone with soldering skills.

Hans has even managed to include a mini spectrum display on the front backlit LCD panel.

The price? Around $150 US in total for the transceiver kit, 10 band filter module and enclosure. Unbelievable!

If Hans can pull this off — and I feel pretty confident he can — the QSX will set a new bar for QRP transceiver pricing and performance.

If you’d like more details about the QSX transceiver, check out the following resources sent to me by SWLing Post contributor, Pete Eaton:

The 10 band QSX will sport a general coverage receiver and although though the modes supported currently don’t include AM, Hans plans to add AM for at least reception purposes. This could make for a high-performance stand-alone SDR field radio for HF broadcast listening.

Of course, I also see the QSX transceiver as an accessible entry radio for new ham radio operators who are nervous about forking out $800+ for a new HF transceiver.

I will certainly grab the 10 band QSX transceiver kit when it becomes available and review it here on the SWLing Post. Stay tuned!

If you would like to follow other Hamvention Highlights, bookmark the tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights


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Hamvention Highlights: Affordable diversity reception with the SDRplay RSPduo

Each year at the Dayton Hamvention I enjoy checking out the latest radio products and services. This year (2019) I found an exceptional number of innovations and will share these in Hamvention Highlights posts. If you would like to check out 2019 Hamvention Highlights as I publish them, bookmark this tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights

Diversity reception with the SDRplay RSPduo

Last year, during the 2018 Hamvention, SDRplay announced the RSPduo, a 14bit dual-tuner SDR. We posted a review of the RSPduo on the SWLing Post.

At the time, SDRplay mentioned that the RSPduo could eventually be used for diversity reception.

Diversity reception is the ability to combine or select two signals, from two (or more) antenna sources, that have been modulated with identical information-bearing signals, but which may vary in their fading/noise characteristics at any given instant.

In short, diversity reception gives one a powerful tool to mitigate fading and noise, and to improve a signal’s overall integrity.

Andy and Mike with SDRplay demonstrated SDRuno’s diversity reception functionality and noted that it will soon roll out as a free upgrade to SDRuno, SDRplay’s open SDR application.

I should note here that the SDRplay booth at the 2019 Hamvention was incredibly busy—no doubt, because the RSPduo must be one of the least expensive, most accessible, ways to experiment with diversity reception. Case in point: the new Elecraft K4D transceiver will support diversity reception, but the price is about $4,700 US; the RSPduo can be purchased for $280 US.

Based on the demonstration, this feature will be quite easy to use and I love how it has been implemented in the SDRuno GUI (graphical user interface).

To learn more about the RSPduo, check out SDRplay’s website or read our review. Of course, when SDRplay releases the diversity reception upgrade to SDRuno, we will make an announcement!

If you would like to follow other Hamvention Highlights, bookmark the tag: 2019 Hamvention Highlights

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The Airspy HF+ Discovery: A new high-performance SDR

At the 2019 Hamvention, I stopped by the Airspy.US booth and checked out the specifications of Airspy’s latest SDR: the Airspy HF+ Discovery.

At first glance, the Discovery looks a lot like the Airspy HF+ but even smaller and sporting performance upgrades. Keep in mind, I consider the Airspy HF+ (the Discovery’s predecessor) to be one of the best HF SDR receivers on the market–certainly the best sub $200 HF SDR–so of course the Discovery has piqued my interest.

I wanted to get the scoop directly from the source, so I contacted Youssef Touil with Airspy and asked for more insight. What follows is Youssef’s reply:

This new release of the HF+ aims to improve the overall performance in highly demanding situations while fully automating the gain and filtering control. This frees the operator from the RF front-end details and keeps the focus on the actual signals.

The new filters are implemented using a combination of static LC filter banks and other RC filters implemented in silicon. This considerably improves the overall behavior in a crowded band, while still giving a very low noise floor. Also, the very nature of the Polyphase Harmonic Rejection mixer combined with the integrated IF filtering and the high dynamic range Sigma-Delta ADC act like a roofing filter in a heterodyne system. This architecture is quite original with still very few commercial implementations attempted.

A lot of attention went to improve the far-range IIP2 and IIP3 in practical receive scenarios. Other radios just opt to increase the noise figure of the radio to hide the IMD problem, but this also reduces the sensitivity. We opted not to go this way and fix the problem at its root and preserve the maximum sensitivity benefit. The new intercept points protect the front-end from images originating from various IMD scenarios while still using the maximum gain. The LF and VLF bands also benefited from these improvements.

The PCB layout was also improved to get rid of most of the digital noise. The new PCB has 6 layers filled with ground plans and a metal shield can soldered on top of the RF section. This might look overkill for a HF/VHF radio, but given the MDS we are aiming at, it’s really necessary. The older PCB was 4 layers only.

The radio weighs less than 30 grams and fits inside a 45 x 60 x 10 mm volume (ex. The SMA connector). Given the achieved performance and the form factor, we expect it to interest a lot of our SIGINT partners who are already using the first HF+ design.

As you know, when it comes to high performance, the big players still opt for heterodyne systems in the actual RX path and only use direct sampling for the “eye candy” panoramic view. This was confirmed by Yaesu (FTDX101D) and Elecraft (K4). The reason is evident: Good mixers are still better (and scale better) than state of the art ADCs. I think our Polyphase Harmonic Rejection mixer-based SDR architecture is a step in the right direction, where both goals are achieved without compromises, and in the most economical way. The first version was kind of a revolution for us, but the “Discovery” is the consolidation of a lot of polishing opportunities we discovered since the first release.

Thank you for the details, Youssef–it sounds like a lot of innovation and iterative upgrades have gone into the Discovery receiver design.

Of course, I will plan to grab the HF+ Discovery and review it here on the SWLing Post. In the meantime, check out the excellent RTL-SDR website where Carl has posted a short preliminary review of a pre-production HF+ Discovery.

Click here to check out the HF+ Discovery at Airspy and place a pre-order ($169 US). 

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RSGB 2018 Convention Lecture: DC to Microwaves on your smartphone

(Source: Southgate ARC)

The presentation by Noel Matthews G8GTZ on the Farnham WebSDR given to the 2018 RSGB Convention is now available on YouTube:

Click here to view on YouTube.

This presentation gives an overview of the Farnham WebSDR, available at http://farnham-sdr.com/ which currently covers the LF bands through to 10GHz.

The presentation describes the system architecture and antennas currently used on each band and how the team has used RTL dongle receivers, available for under £10, to give good RF performance on all bands from DC to 10GHz. There is a demonstration of the SDR in use on both PC and smartphone.

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Elecraft introduces the K4 high-performance direct-sampling SDR

Click to enlarge (Source: K4 Product Brochure)

Today we learned about the latest addition to the Elecraft product line, the Elecraft K4.

This fills a niche in the Elecraft product line and is certain to directly compete with the likes of the Icom IC-7610 and a number of Flex Radio transceivers, among others.

Elecraft describes the K4 as having a “modular hybrid architecture”. Below, I’ve pulled the text and images from the Elecraft product brochure.

Wayne Burdick (N6KR) of Elecraft notes that tomorrow (Friday, May 17, 2019) the Elecraft site will (re)launch a K4 product page with pre-order/reservation page.

I plan to learn more about the K4 and report back during Hamvention this week. Stay tuned by bookmarking the tag Elecraft K4:

Elecraft K4 Product Information

(Source: Elecraft K4 Product Information Sheet via Lutz Electronics, Switzerland)

Click to enlarge (Source: K4 Product Brochure)

A direct-sampling SDR you’ll love to use

Our new K4 harnesses the latest in signal processing while retaining the best
aspects of the K3S and P3. The resulting user interface makes the technology
transparent, allowing you to focus on working the world.

160-6 meter, all-mode coverage & dual RX

The K4 includes dual receive over 100 kHz to 54 MHz. Since it utilizes direct
sampling, there’s no need for crystal filters in the K4 or K4D (see Models, back
page). For extreme-signal environments, we offer a dual superhet module
(standard in the K4HD). An internal VHF/UHF module is also planned.

High-resolution mini-pan for each receiver

Our advanced fine-tuning aid, with its resampled bandwidth as narrow as +/- 1
kHz, is displayed separately from the main panadapter. You can turn it on by
tapping either receiver’s S-meter or by tapping on a signal of interest.

Simple operation and setup

The K4 features a large, full-color touch display, combined with a rich set of real
controls. Per-VFO transmit metering makes split mode completely foolproof.
Band-stacking switches and per-receiver controls are both intuitive and versatile,
adapting to operating context. Usage information on these and other features
is just one tap away, thanks to our built-in help system.

Click to enlarge (Source: K4 Product Brochure)

Rich I/O complement

The rear panel includes all the RF, analog and digital I/O you’ll need to complete
your station. All K-line accessories are supported, including amps, ATUs, and our
K-Pod station controller. The HDMI video output supports an external display
with its own user-specified format.

Full remote control from multiple devices

The K4 can be 100% remote controlled, via Ethernet, from a second K4 as well as
a PC, notebook, or tablet. Panadapter data is included on all remote displays.

Modular hybrid architecture

The K4 adapts to your needs, with three models to choose from:

  • Basic K4 with wide-range dual receive
  • K4D with diversity receive
  • K4HD with a dual superhet module for exceptional dynamic range

You can upgrade or add options as desired, or as new technology becomes
available. This extensibility applies to software as well. The K4’s powerful, fast-starting CPU provides unlimited expansion opportunities.

Fast signal processing

The RF signal chain in the K4 incorporates parallel hardware processing of data
streams, including a dedicated DSP subsystem. This, combined with silent,
PIN-diode T/R switching, ensures fast CW break-in. Data and speech-processing
delays are also minimized.
Standard DSP features include easy-to-adjust, per-mode RX/TX EQ; clean,
punchy RF speech processing; full DVR capabilities; and several built-in data
decode/encode modes. Direct-sampling technology results in an ultra-flat
passband response for clean RX and TX audio. Since the signal chain is softwaredefined, the DSP can be field upgraded to add new algorithms and operating
modes.

KAT4 ATU

The KAT4 ATU has a nominally 10:1 matching range. It includes 3 antenna jacks,
any one of which can be selected as an input for one or both receivers.

Internal VHF/UHF module (future option)

An expansion slot is reserved for a high-performance VHF/UHF module, with
output of approximately 15 W. This module will support all modes.

Kit version

A no-soldering kit version of the K4 is planned for later release. Builders will learn
about advanced radio technology as they proceed. All modules are pre-aligned
and tested.

K4 Key Specs and Features

  • Size: 4.5”Hx13.5”W,10”D
  • Weight: Approx.10lbs
  • SupplyVoltage: 12-15VDC
  • Current: ~2ARX,~18-23ATX
  • FrequencyRange: 100kHz-54MHz(VHF/UHFrangetobe determined*)
  • Stablility: +/-0.25ppm(TCXO) Modes: CW, SSB, AM, FM, Data
  • LCD: 7”color;touch&mousecontrol Text modes: CW, PSK31/63, RTTY KAT4ATU:
  • 10:1+range;3ant.jacks RXantennasources: Upto5
  • A-to-D Converter(s): 16 bits
  • I/O: USB-Ax3,USB-B(twovirtualcomports+audio),RS232(DE9), Ethernet, HDMI. front/rear mic, front/rear phones, LINE in/out, speakers,PTTin,KEYout,paddle,key, ACC,12Vout.
  • CWQSK: Silent,PIN-diodeswitched
  • Other: RX/TX EQ, real-time clock,100% remote control including panadapter data, remote antenna switch control*, custom in-box software apps*

Models (K4 & K4D upgradeable by the user at any time)

  • K4: Basic K4 transceiver provides 160-6 m, all-mode coverage; 100 W output; five receive RF sources; and wideband dual watch, allowing the main and sub receivers to be set for the same or different bands.
  • K4D: Adds KDIV4 option, with a second set of band-pass filters and additional direct- sampling ADC module. This allows the two receivers to use different antennas – a requirement for diversity receive. Having two sets of band-pass filters also optimizes signal handling when the receivers are on different bands and/or antennas.
  • K4HD: Includes all of the above, plus our dual superhet module, the KHDR4. Ideal for competitive field day, contesting, and DXpedition stations. Each superhet receive section includes two crystal filters: one SSB/data bandwidth, one CW bandwidth. The superhet’s 8 MHz IF has excellent dynamic range, so additional crystal filters are not required.

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