Many thanks, Ivan, for sharing these comparison tests! I agree with you that it’s most helpful to look closely at the peak to valley ratios on the spectrum display rather than using the audio levels as a measure.
Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Tudor Vedeanu, who has kindly shared details about his portable Raspberry Pi system which now can run the AirSpy HF+ SDR.
I bought the RPi to use it as a Spyserver for my Airspy HF+ SDR.
My main radio listening location is a small house located on a hill outside the city and there is no power grid there (it’s a radio heaven!), so everything has to run on batteries and consume as little power as possible.
My first tests showed that the Raspberry Pi works very well as a Spyserver: the CPU usage stays below 40% and the power consumption is low enough to allow it to run for several hours on a regular USB power bank. If I add a 4G internet connection there I could leave the Spyserver running and connect to it remotely from home.
Then I wondered if the Raspberry Pi would be powerful enough to run a SDR client app. All I needed was a portable screen so I bought the official 7” touchscreen for the RPi.
I installed Gqrx, which offers support for the Airspy HF+. I’m happy to say it works better than I expected, even though Gqrx wasn’t designed to work on such a small screen. The CPU usage is higher than in Spyserver mode (70-80%) but the performance is good. Using a 13000 mAh power bank I get about 3.5 hours of radio listening.
This is fantastic, Tudor. Thanks for taking the time to put together a video for us. I’ve just ordered the latest Raspberry Pi 3 (Model B+). It has slightly more horsepower than the previous Pi3. Tudor, you’ve inspired me to grab the 7″ touch display as well and try my hand at running the AirSpy HF+ portable.
I’m not sure if the Raspberry Pi 3 will be able to record spectrum without hiccups, but it’s certainly worth a try.
As you tweak your system, please keep us in the loop!
Guy has not yet performed the modification on his HF+–neither have I–but he points out that others have noted it: “significantly boosts sensitivity of the HF+ from longwave up to about 15 MHz, without any noted overload issues.”
I reached out to AirSpy president, Youssef Touil, for a little more insight about this modification. Youssef replied:
During the early phases of the design R3 was a place holder for a 0 ohms resistor that allows experimenters to customize the input impedance. For example:
A 300 pF capacitor will naturally filter the LW/MW bands for better performance in the HAM bands
A 10µH inductor would allow the use of electrically short antennas (E-Field probes) for MW and LW
A short (or high value capacitor) would get you the nominal 50 ohms impedance over the entire band, but then it’s the responsibility of the user to make sure his antenna has the right gain at the right band
A custom filter can also be inserted between the SMA and the tuner block if so desired.
Click to enlarge. (Photo source: RTL-S1DR.com)
R3 and the nearby resistors have been intentionally left outside of the RF shield, and their size was picked to be big enough to allow anyone to play with them. You will notice the size difference with the rest of the components.
In general, unless one knows what he’s doing, it’s not recommended to alter a working system. “If it’s working, don’t fix it”. But, we are hobbyists, and not doing so leaves an uncomfortable feeling of something unachieved. Most brands addressing the hobby market leave some tweaks and even label them in the PCB.
The main purpose of the HF+ is the best possible performance on HF at an affordable price. This is to incite HAMs to get started with this wonderful technology while using an SDR that isn’t worse than their existing analog rig.
The MW/LW/VLF crowd may have slightly different requirements, but that can be addressed by shorting a resistor.
Thank you, Youssef, for replying to my inquiry so quickly and thoroughly.
No doubt, I too will eventually modify R3–it’s very difficult not to experiment, especially when a product was designed with the experimenter in mind.
I really feel like AirSpy has knocked it out of the ballpark with the HF+. For those of us primarily concerned with HF performance, this SDR is very hard to beat–especially at its $199 price point!
Looking north toward Cape Lookout, Oregon, near the site of my SDR receiver recordings. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. In my original article 10 days ago, I set up a SWLing Post reader poll to let you give your opinion on which shortwave recordings within four pairs of audio files provided the most intelligible result. The recordings were intentionally noisy, low-level signals to help us discover–through critical listening to the files–if there is a clear favorite between the AirSpy HF+ or the Elad FDM-S2 receivers. Of course, there were only four pairs of recordings…not a very large sample size.
However, 34 readers of the original article took the time to listen and respond, so let’s get to the numbers, shown in these graphs:
Interestingly, the responses above seem to point to:
Two recording pairs tied in the results (50% / 50%) or were very close (HF+ 52.9% / FDM-S2 47.1%)
The FDM-S2 led one recording pair by a large margin (67.6% / 32.4%)
The HF+ led another recording pair by an equally large margin (67.6% / 32.4%)
Taken as a whole, no obvious winner emerged, although one might conclude the HF+ has a slight edge due to its lead in the “very close” recording pair of 7.230 MHz.
One thing is clear–the AirSpy HF+ is a surprisingly good performer for its price of $199 USD! For many enthusiasts this will be all the SDR they need.
As a final note, I’ll mention that the AirSpy HF+ used for the tests was totally stock. I have not yet performed the “R3 Bypass” mod nor the firmware update to my HF+ units. The simple R3 Bypass, discussed at length on the AirSpy Groups.io forum, significantly boosts sensitivity of the HF+ from longwave up to about 15 MHz, without any noted overload issues. For more on this modification from a MW DXer’s perspective, read Bjarne Mjelde’s insightful article at his Arctic DX Blog.
Thank you to all the readers who took the time to listen to the SDR recordings in this comparision and register your opinions.
Guy Atkins is a Sr. Graphic Designer for T-Mobile and lives near Seattle, Washington. He’s a regular contributor to the SWLing Post.