Tag Archives: Airspy

Addendum: More Notes on the HF+ SDR on Medium Wave & Long Wave

In my recent post on the AirSpy HF+ vs Elad FDM-S2, I commented on medium wave reception only.

This past weekend I swapped out the Wellbrook ALA1530S+ for another Wellbrook loop, the ALA1530LN Pro. This LN Pro model is less likely to overload receivers at my suburban Tacoma, WA location. Both AirSpy and Elad radios performed admirably with the LN Pro and it was nearly impossible to find any reception differences on medium wave.

Before the antenna swap though I experimented with inline attenuation modules (“bullets”), typically used in cable TV installations. I used the same sample rates on the SDRs as described in the previous article. After some tests with different attenuation levels, I came to the following conclusions during daytime comparisons:

FDM-S2 with ALA1530S+ loop, medium wave: needs a minimum of 6 dB attenuation to avoid overloading. Anything less causes saturation of the spectrum & waterfall, “crunching” overload noises, and minimal or no received signal.

HF+ with ALA1530S+ loop, medium wave: I had to search diligently to find any signs of false signals or overloading, but finally noticed a weak image or spur of a S-9+60 dB (-13.5 dBm) local station on 1560 that was appearing very weakly on 1270 kHz, mixing with the station on that frequency. Sometimes it was there, other times the spur or image would drop down and disappear, leaving the 1270 signal alone. If I added just 3 dB of attenuation in the antenna’s feed line, the interference from the 1560 station was gone for good. The S-9+60 dB station is a very strong signal; it’s impressive that the AirSpy HF+ deals with this and similar powerhouse signals so well.

Long wave: Below are two screen captures from my local long wave reception in the evening, made moments apart with each receiver.

FDM-S2

HF+

As you can tell, there are a half dozen or so additional signals seen on the HF+ below 200 kHz that do not appear on the FDM-S2. These extra spikes are images or spurs from medium wave signals that were missing from the FDM-S2’s reception–bravo Elad! However, the remaining spikes on both radios below 200 kHz seemed to be noise or interference.

Each receiver had roughly equal performance in the bulk of the long wave spectrum, when I did A-B comparisons on the same beacon signals. I’m not a LW or NDB DXer however, so I can’t claim any expertise on these frequencies. In short, though, both radios seem neck-and-neck from about 200 to 500 kHz.

The DXer of LW frequencies may want to look elsewhere for a better performing radio than either the FDM-S2 or HF+. SWLing Post reader Tudor Vedeanu has commented that the SDRPlay RSP1A  and the Eton E1 work very well at long wave.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Brief Medium Wave Tests of the HF+ and FDM-S2 SDRs in a Suburban Location

The AirSpy HF+ is the new SDR on the block, but how does it compare to the Elad FDM-S2 which is more than 2-1/2 times its $199 price? My main interest is finding out how they compare in a very RF-quiet DXpedition setting, but today I compared the two briefly from my home in Puyallup, Washington (near Seattle).

The receivers were connected via a two-way antenna splitter to the output of a Wellbrook ALA1530S+ loop antenna. I monitored during mid-afternoon local time to ensure that all my MW locals in my suburban location would be at full power, for the best test of the radios’ overload performance. The Wellbrook active antenna is rather “hot” and sometimes overloads receivers during the daytime unless attenuation is added to the signal chain.

I noted there were no truly weak medium wave signals available during the session so comparing sensitivity wasn’t appropriate. However, the band was full of strong daytime MW signals.

It became apparent quickly that the upstart HF+ provides strong competition to the Elad SDR. Clearly, the AirSpy’s trade-off is bandwidth for raw performance at lower cost–approx. 660 kHz alias-free coverage versus about 6 MHz maximum for the Elad.

Using the same center L.O. (local oscillator) frequency, short recordings were made with both receivers on the same receive frequency, same bandwidth, AGC setting, etc.  To approximate the 660 kHz coverage of the HF+, I set the FDM-S2 to its 768 kHz sampling rate, the closest available setting to 660 kHz wide coverage.

Here are the results on 1540 kHz, just 10 kHz away from a strong signal on 1550:

AirSpy HF+ – 1540 kHz


Elad FDM-S2 – 1540 kHz

What’s wrong with the above audio picture? The FDM-S2 is clearly overwhelmed by the strong RF on the upper end of the MW band. Visually, the spectrum looked like this with the Elad:

Elad FDM-S2 waterfall/spectrum (1540 kHz)

The noise floor rose by approximately 20 dB due to the overloading. The HF+ showed a normal waterfall and spectrum display while tuning 1540 kHz:

AirSpy HF+ waterfall/spectrum (1540 kHz)

Let’s listen to two more audio clips, this time from 720 kHz which is adjacent to very strong 710 KIRO, the ESPN affiliate in Seattle:

AirSpy HF+ – 720 kHz


Elad FDM-S2 – 720 kHz

This time the difference is subtle, but I think you’ll agree there is a greater amount of “crunchy” background distortion noise on the FDM-S2 recording. I found this to be the case in each instance where I compared receivers on frequencies adjacent to strong locals.

I no longer own a Perseus SDR, but that receiver handles the entire MW band at this location without overload using the same Wellbrook ALA1530S+ loop.

I’d like to emphasize that these were brief, somewhat casual AirSpy HF+ vs. Elad FDM-S2 tests. I expect that in a more forgiving RF environment, both receivers will be equally adept and digging out weak weak and challenging DX signals. I plan to investigate this very scenario in a few weeks at a quiet location on the Oregon coast.

Side note: I have two HF+ units and they can operate concurrently without problems for full medium wave band coverage with HSDSR software, even when both are recording IQ WAV files.

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

The Airspy HF+ SDR: First impressions

Yesterday, I received a package in the mail containing the new Airspy HF+ software defined radio receiver.

It came as a bit of a surprise.

I’ve been busy lately with humanitarian work, the radio spectrum archive,  product evaluations and travels–not to mention an active family life. I had completely forgotten that about a month ago, I received a message from Airspy telling me that they had dispatched their latest SDR to me for evaluation.

This morning, I unpacked the box to find that the HF+ is a very compact, relatively dense little SDR in a metal alloy case/enclosure. I’m simply floored by the size. The case feels incredibly durable and of excellent quality.

The Airspy HF+ under my business card

In terms of footprint, dimensions are nearly identical to a business card. It’s about as thick as the typical USB memory stick.

The HF+ is so thin and compact compared with the Elad FDM-S2 (which is quite a compact SDR!)

Other than my RTL-SDR dongle, it’s by far the smallest SDR I’ve ever tested.

Though compact, it sports two SMA antenna inputs: one for HF, one for VHF.

The HF port is labeled as “H” and the VHF port as “V”

The Airspy HF+ uses a common micro USB for both data and power

The HF+ is the first AirSpy product I’ve ever put on the air.

I read the HF+ product description this morning while downloading SDR Sharp–it claims the HF+ is “plug and play”.

Turns out, that is no exaggeration.

The HF+ on top of the Elad FDM-S2 and WinRadio Excalibur

In fact, the entire SDR Sharp package downloaded in seconds, installed in seconds and the only thing I had to do after opening the SDR Sharp application was select “AirSpy HF+” from the product drop down menu.

I started the application and *boom* signals all over the place!

SDR applications, in general, have become so much easier to install over the years but I believe SDR Sharp may be the  quickest install I’ve ever experienced. About as easy and lightweight as the WinRadio Excalibur application. True plug and play!

I’ve had no time to properly evaluate performance–I just put this little SDR on the air.

Fortunately, propagation is cooperating this morning–I’m hearing both WWV Fort Collins and WWV Hawaii on 10 MHz. I’m really enjoying playing with the Airspy HF+ and re-familiarizing myself with SDR#. I had forgotten how responsive and intuitive the interface is–great user design.

My first impression?  I’m impressed. More to come…

Click here to read about the HF+ on the Airspy website

Airspy HF+ SDR Now Available to Order

As reported recently on the SWLing Post that the Airspy HF+  would be available “really, really, really soon”, the rumor has become reality–this new SDR receiver is for sale on Airspy’s main sale site www.Itead.cc.

The direct link for purchase is: https://www.itead.cc/airspy-hf-plus.html.  The price in US dollars is a very reasonable $199.00, considering the high performance evident by the few test units “in the wild” recently.

There was an initial $50-off coupon code available first come, first served this morning for the first 100 orders. These were snapped up quickly; I was fortunate to make it into that limited group and I saved $50 each off a couple of HF+ units. My intent is to pair them up for full coverage of the medium wave band–while recording I/Q WAV files)–using two receiver “instances” within Studio 1 or SDR-Console software. (The alias-free bandwidth of the HF+ is a modest 660 kHz, a trade-off this receiver makes to deliver high performance at a low price.) I expect a EXTIO DLL file to be available soon for use in EXTIO software like Studio 1 (or the EXTIO version of SDRuno which I also use).

I plan to be comparing the HF+ to my current Elad FDM-S2 SDR; based on specs and early user reports, it should be a tight race.

UPDATE: I’ve learned that the shipping timeframe for the HF+ is the beginning of December (approx. three weeks). There is also a U.S. distributor who is kindly offering a similar $50-off deal: https://v3.airspy.us/product/airspy-hfplus/

Simon Brown, author of the popular SDR-Console software versions, closely compares the Airspy HF+ ($199 USD) against a RFspace NetSDR ($1449 USD w/o options): http://www.sdr-radio.com/Radios/Airspy/AirspyHF

Who else is planning on an Airspy HF+ purchase? What are your monitoring interests you plan to use it for? Please comment below and share your thoughts with other SWLing Post readers!

 

Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington.  He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.

Airspy’s latest: The Airspy HF+ SDR

SDR manufacturer, Airspy, has a new product shipping “really really really soon” (per their website). The Airspy HF+ promises improved frequency agility through the use of high-performance passive mixers with a polyphase harmonic rejection structure. Airspy states that no external band filters are required as they are with many budget SDRs.

There are many other improvements over their previous iterations. Here’s the product information copied from the Airspy HF+ page on Airspy’s website:

(Source: Airspy)

The Software Defined Radio revolution brought great flexibility in VHF and UHF reception. Today we offer the best wide band receivers which address these needs. We also provide a high performance extension for weak-signal wide band reception on HF – something other competing solutions fail to address efficiently.

Airspy HF+ is a paradigm shift in high performance HF radio design. It is a joint effort between Airspy, Itead Studio and a top-tier semiconductor company to build a state of the art SDR for HF and VHF bands.

Like most high-end HF receivers, the HF+ uses very high dynamic range ADC’s and front-ends. But unlike the current offerings in the market, it also brings more frequency agility by using high performance passive mixers with an excellent polyphase harmonic rejection structure. No external band aid filters are required like the lower end HF receivers, which makes it the ideal companion for light portable high performance operation.

Both the architecture and level of integration achieved in this design allow us to bring top performance reception at a very affordable price.

All the major SDR software is supported. Check the download page.

State of the Art SDR streaming technology!

We concentrated state of the art DSP and networking techniques into our SpyServer software to allow multiple users to stream high quality IQ data from the same receiver at the same time. No compromises in the quality were made like it is usually done in Web SDR interfaces. You get actual IQ data you can process with your plugins and extract the last bit of information out of it.
The server software is highly scalable and can run on computers as small as the $7 Orange Pi Zero to top end 64bit servers with multiple cores/cpus, including the popular Raspberry Pi series.

HF Tuner

Airspy HF+ achieves excellent HF performance by means of a low-loss band filterhigh linearity LNAhigh linearity tunable RF filter, a polyphase harmonic rejection (HR) mixer that rejects up to the 21st harmonic and multi-stage analog and digital IF filtering.
The 6 dB-stepped AGC gain is fully controlled by the software running in the DSP which optimizes the gain distribution in real time for optimal sensitivity and linearity. Harmonic rejection is a key issue in wide band HF receivers because of the large input signal bandwidth of the input signal. The output of the IF-filter is then digitalized by a high dynamic range sigma delta IF ADC for further signal processing in the digital domain.

VHF Tuners

Excellent VHF performance is also achieved by using optimized signal paths composed of band filtershigh linearity LNAs with a stepped AGC, a polyphase harmonic rejection mixer and IF filters optimized for their respective bands.
The amplifier gain is switchable in 3 dB-steps and fully controlled by the AGC running in the DSP. The RF signal is converted to baseband by a high linearity passive mixer with a polyphase harmonic rejection structure. The low-IF signal is then converted into the digital domain by the same IF ADC used in the HF chain.

IF Sampling

The IF analog to digital converter (ADC) is a 4th order multi-bit noise shaping topology; it features very high dynamic range and linearity. The IF-ADC sampling rate is determined by a control algorithm running in the embedded DSP. This advanced technique adjusts the sampling rate depending on the tuning frequency with the goal of avoiding the disturbances and spurs generated by the switching discrete-time sections of the IF-ADC.

Digital Down Converter

Once the IF signal is digitalized, the high sample rate I/Q stream is then frequency translated and processed with cascaded CIC and FIR decimation stages. After every stage, the sample rate is reduced and the resolution increased. The final signal at the output has 18bit resolution and an alias rejection performance of 108 dBc. The data is then scaled to 16bit and sent to the Micro-Controller for streaming over USB.

Architectural Advantages

The main advantages over techniques from the legacy super-heterodynes up to the now mainstream direct sampling is that the whole receiver chain is well protected against out of band blockers while still relaxing the RF filtering constraints, making it simple and cost effective.
The natural filtering of the sigma-delta ADC combined with the excellent linearity and sensitivity of the analog chain reaches an unprecedented level of performance and integration.

Use it over the network!

Connect as many SDR applications as needed to the HF+, over the Internet or in your own local network with near zero latency thanks to the new SPY Server software.
This setup basically brings all the flexibility of Web based SDRs while still benefiting from the full power of desktop applications. The IQ data is processed in the server with state of the art DSP and only the required chunk of spectrum is sent over the network. What is sent is the actual IQ signal, not compressed audio. This means you can use all your favorite plugins to process the IF, eliminate noise and perform heavy lifting of the signals as you are used to do with locally connected SDR’s.
We have a tradition of building multi-tools, so we made sure the SPY Server runs on 32/64bit Windows and Linux on Intel and ARM processors without any compromises. Low cost Raspberry Pi 3 and Odroid boards are in the party.

Technical specifications

  • HF coverage between DC .. 31 MHz
  • VHF coverage between 60 .. 260 MHz
  • -140.0 dBm (0.02 µV / 50 ohms at 15MHz) MDS Typ. at 500Hz bandwidth in HF
  • -141.5 dBm MDS Typ. at 500 Hz bandwidth in FM Broadcast Band (60 – 108 MHz)
  • -142.5 dBm MDS Typ. at 500 Hz bandwidth in VHF Aviation Band (118 – 136 MHz)
  • -140.5 dBm MDS Typ. at 500 Hz bandwidth in VHF Commercial Band (136 – 174 MHz)
  • -139.0 dBm MDS Typ. at 500 Hz bandwidth in the upper VHF Band (> 174 MHz)
  • +15 dBm IIP3 on HF at maximum gain
  • +13 dBm IIP3 on VHF at maximum gain
  • 110 dB blocking dynamic range (BDR) in HF
  • 95 dB blocking dynamic range (BDR) in VHF
  • 150+ dB combined selectivity (hardware + software)
  • 120 dB Image Rejection (software)
  • Up to 660 kHz alias and image free output for 768 ksps IQ
  • 18 bit Embedded Digital Down Converter (DDC)
  • 22 bit! Resolution at 3 kHz channel using State of the Art DDC (SDR# and SDR-Console)
  • +10 dBm Maximum RF input
  • 0.5 ppm high precision, low phase noise clock
  • 1 PPB! frequency adjustment capability
  • Very low phase noise PLL (-110 dBc/Hz @ 1kHz separation @ 100 MHz)
  • 2 x High Dynamic Range Sigma Delta ADCs @ up to 36 MSPS
  • No Silicon RF switch to introduce IMD in the HF path
  • Routable RF inputs
  • Wide Band RF filter bank
  • Tracking RF filters
  • Sharp IF filters with 0.1 dB ripple
  • Smart AGC with real time optimization of the gain distribution
  • All RF inputs are matched to 50 ohms
  • 4 x Programmable GPIO’s
  • No drivers required! 100% Plug-and-play on Windows Vista, Seven, 8, 8.1 and 10
  • Industrial Operating Temperature: -45°C to 85°C

Typical Applications

  • High Performance Networked HF/VHF Radio
  • Ham Radio (HF + 2m)
  • Short Wave Listening (SWL)
  • AM DX
  • FM DX
  • VHF-L TV DX
  • Remote Telemetry Radio Receiver
  • Low Bands IoT

Supported Operating Systems

  • Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1 and 10
  • Linux
  • *BSD
  • OSX

Supported Hardware

  • Intel compatible PC
  • Raspberry Pi 2 and 3
  • Odroid C1, C2 and XU4
  • Many other Single Board Computers (SBC)

Minimum hardware requirements

  • 1GHz Pentium or ARM
  • 1GB of RAM (to run your own OS, HF+ barely needs 1MB of memory)
  • High speed USB 2.0 controller

Supported Software

Developer API

  • Open source, multi-platform user mode driver libairspyhf on github

No price point has yet been made public–at least, none that I have discovered. Of course, we’ll post shipping and pricing details when they become available. Follow the tag AirSpy for more. Check out the Airspy website for full details and documentation.