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13dka Reviews: The new 2022 “Belka” (generation 3) general coverage receiver

The new 2022 “Belka” (generation 3) general coverage receiver

by 13dka

Since its introduction in 2019, the super-tiny Belka (back then called “Belka DSP”) shortwave receiver sure gained an enthusiastic followership among SWLs and hams. The main reason for this is certainly the way how the Belka is incredibly small yet playing in a different league than the various consumer grade, Chinese mass-production radios, particularly the DSP-based ultraportables: The Belka is an all-mode shortwave communications receiver with a completely different (direct conversion SDR) architecture, developed and produced by a radio enthusiast (Alex, EU1ME) in a small mom&pop shop in Belarus.

In case you’ve never heard about it amidst all the buzz about more popular brands, here’s the skinny:

The Belka offers true allmode (including NFM and CW) reception with a proper 400 Hz CW filter and individual settings for the low and high filter slopes for AM, FM and SSB. It has an AM sync detector and comes with a 0.5ppm TCXO-controlled local oscillator for absolutely spot-on, calibration-free frequency precision and stability, which makes SSB or ECSS reception of broadcast stations a pure joy. The second iteration “Belka DX” brought a slightly extended coverage down to 1.5 MHz and an I/Q output for panadapter display and/or processing via your favorite SDR software.

All Belkas are quiet and very sensitive radios with a surprisingly robust front end, the filters are better and its AGC works like you’d expect it from a communications receiver, without the artifacts and distortion the DSP radios are infamous for, and of course smooth, non-“muting” tuning in variable steps down to 10Hz.

The Belkas have no built-in speaker (available as option tho) but really excellent audio on headphones and external speakers and they actually give my Icom IC-705 a run for its money in terms of reception quality, and they do that for up to 24 hours on a single charge of the internal Li-Ion battery. This stunning feature set is crowned by the best performance on a telescopic whip antenna ever – the Belkas have a high-impedance (>10 kOhm) antenna input optimized for this whip and taking it on a walk is (really!) like having a big rig with a big antenna in tow…

Despite all this goodness setting the Belka(s) quite fundamentally apart from most (if not all) current and former, even much higher priced portables and simultaneously putting it solidly into pricey tabletop territory, it hasn’t put Tecsun et al out of business for a couple of reasons: One reason is that it can only be obtained from Alex in Belarus, which is now often assumed to be impossible (it isn’t, more on that later). Another reason is that it doesn’t try to compete with aforementioned multiband radios from China, so there is no FM broadcast band and – until now – no AM BC band, but most owners and potential buyers particularly in the US really wished it had at least the latter. Well, Alex obviously heard us! After the Belka DSP and the Belka DX, the new Belka is just called “Belka”, so in order to avoid any ambiguity I’m going to refer to this model as “Belka 2022”.

What’s new?

The most prominent addition to the Belka 2022 is the extended 0.1-31 MHz coverage, the previous version only started receiving at 1.5 MHz. With LW and MW included, its “pseudosynchronous” detector (as featured in venerable radios from Harris, Racal or Drake), the great filtering and the great frequency precision for hassle-free ECSS reception are promising that the “squirrel” is now an ultra-ultraportable companion for MW DXers as well.

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Alex shares details about the latest Belka portable and upgrades

After posting information about the new Belka upgrades yesterday, Belka designer, Aleksandr Buevskiy, reached out to me and shared the following details and clarification about the latest design: 

I would like to share some more details/photos about Belka so that there is clear understanding of what features the new version has.

First, regarding its name. Now there’s no “DX”, “DSP” or something else. Belka is just named “Belka”. As simple as that 🙂

Second, frequency range was extended with the same parameters and performance. It’s now 0,1-31 MHz.

In previous versions there were 32 memory cells, we’ve now added a few more – 36 is exact number now to be precise.

One more thing about memory cells is that now there is a possibility to listen to memory cells before loading. See attached how it looks like (I’ve added video illustrating memory cells listening just because there were questions).

I also attach several photos of new version and add block diagram. You’ll find attached also PCB photo of new version:

Cheers,
Alex
EU1ME

Thank you for sharing all of this detail, Alex. I believe your new Belka will be a hit! I’m sure readers reach out with their reviews and we will share them here on the SWLing Post!

Click here to check out the new Belka.

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Egil is pleased with his new Belka-DX and Tecsun ICR-100 cases

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Egil (LA2PJ), who writes:

Hi Thomas,

In the middle of march, Steve Allen (KZ4TN) posted this article showing a case for the BELKA-DX.

I found his idea so good that I ordered two of the small boxes, using the Amazon link given in his article.

The boxes arrived here in Norway just twelve days after ordering, and was delivered to my door by a local transporter.

Never before have I experienced that kind of service on any purchase via Amazon!

 

Tecsun ICR-100

While packing the BELKA-DX in one of the boxes, I discovered that my Tecsun ICR-100 speaker/audio recorder fit snugly in the other box. The two boxes also contains a six meters long wire antenna, charging cables for both units, earphones, and even an USB charger, just in case I get the opportunity to recharge the batteries.

Belka-DX and accessories

The attached pictures show my new setup. Two items are not shown in that picture: a wire antenna plus a 20Ah powerbank from Anderson. We are going to an off grid cabin for the Easter holidays, and hope that when leaving home with everything fully charged, the powerbank will keep this setup plus my smartphone happy for a whole week.

73s Egil – LA2PJ

Thank you so much for sharing this, Egil!  It’s absolutely amazing that the shipping service to Norway was so efficient. 

I think you’ll have no problem at all enjoying hours upon hours of DXing with the Belka-DX in your off-grid cabin.  No doubt you’ll be escaping the RFI and enjoying much lower noise floors while on vacation–this will give you an opportunity to truly take advantage of the Belka-DX receiver. You’ll have to report back with your experience and photos (hint, hint!).

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A case for the Belka-DX and cautionary tale!

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Steve Allen (KZ4TN), who shares the following guest post:


My Belka-DX: A Cautionary Tale

One of the most amazing SW radios I have ever owned and listened to is the Belka-DX. Its size to performance ratio is without equal, IMHO.

Late last year I dropped it on the floor and was emotionally traumatized when I picked it up and found the LCD to be broken (see photo above). It still received but most of the display was damaged and not readable. I tried to open it up with the intent of replacing the LCD myself (if I could source one) but I could not figure out how to remove the circuit board.

I contacted Boris at MobiMax in Bulgaria from whom I purchased the little squirrel. It took a few weeks of back and forth as he worked to get pricing for the replacement LCD. Eventually he had a very reasonable quote put together and I mailed the Belka-DX off to Bulgaria. Now the wait began. It took almost four weeks for it to finally arrive at MobiMax. Boris had the repair turned around in about a week and I made payment via PayPal. Just like before it took about four weeks transit time and I worried that it would disappear somewhere on the way.

It arrived safe and sound and I am very glad to have it back. I’ve been missing my bedtime SWLing.

So…moving forward I will now always store the radio in a hard case. After digging around in my box of assorted cases I found nothing that was the right size.

After twenty minutes on Amazon I found a hard case that was originally for a small point and shoot digital camera. It was a bit larger than the Belka-DX and it also had room for earbuds, the charging cable and power adaptor, and a small wire antenna.

I glued some foam in the case to hold the radio in place and it’s now nice and snug.

Click here to check out the case on Amazonm.com (affiliate link).

Now I can safely carry it in my daypack or other travel luggage without fear of damage.

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Greg’s Uniden stand works perfectly with the Belka-DX

Belka-DX StandMany thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Greg Hathaway, who writes:

Hi there –

I bought a Belka-DX recently and am really enjoying it! The stand from my Uniden Home Patrol 1 scanner works great with it. The stand is sold separately by Uniden for those who may be interested.

Best,
Greg Hathaway

Thank you for sharing this, Greg. You’re right: that little Uniden stand fits the Belka perfectly!

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Belka-DX: Installing the new speaker and battery pack from Mobimax

Last month, Mobimax announced a new speaker option for the Belka-DX DSP receiver. This speaker is slightly different from the original Belka-DX speaker in that it has a full-size battery pack and fold-out legs to prop up this pocket-sized receiver.

Mobimax sent one of these speakers to me to install and evaluate at no cost to me–I received it last week and installed it yesterday.

Installation

The installation couldn’t have been more simple: the only tool needed is a small Phillips-Head screwdriver. Note that my Belka-DX already had the original speaker option installed.

All I needed to do was remove the lower two screws on both sides of the Belka chassis.

After doing this, the bottom section of the chassis simply pulls out (do this slowly since there are both battery and speaker jumpers).

Next, I unplugged the speaker and battery jumpers from the original speaker option.

Installing the new speaker section was simply a matter of plugging in the speaker and battery jumpers (each plug is a different size so they can’t be confused), then attaching the new pack to the back of the Belka-DX using the same four screws that had been removed.

The whole process might have taken four or five minutes (mainly because I took photos!).

How does it play?

Since I can’t really do a side-by-side comparison with the original speaker and this one, I simply listened to the original speaker tuned to WWV, WRMI, and the Voice of Greece for a while before installing the new speaker.

Both speakers are obviously very small as the Belka-DX is the most compact shortwave portable I’ve ever laid hands on.

Audio quality

I believe the original speaker has better audio fidelity, likely due to the fact it uses the body of the Belka-DX as an enclosure or resonance chamber. The new speaker has a dedicated enclosure, but it’s maybe 40% the size of the Belka-DX body.

In the end, though? Neither speaker will give you the audio fidelity of a traditional portable. The original speaker is just slightly better than the new one. With the Belka-DX, I see the speaker as a wonderful convenience, but frankly, I reach for earphones or headphones if I want to do DXing or proper broadcast listening.

Battery

The new speaker option allows for a full size battery pack in the Belka-DX. This is probably the biggest selling point of the new speaker. The original speaker option fits both the speaker and a smaller LiIon battery pack on the bottom plate of the radio.

The original speaker and smaller battery pack (top section of this photo)

Since the new speaker option adds a dedicated speaker section, it opens up the full real estate of the bottom plate for a full size battery again.

 

I should also add that the new speaker section matches the original Belka-DX enclosure and speaker in that it’s incredibly durable. Frankly, it feels military-grade and over-engineered. I love it.

Fold-out legs

I really like the fold-out legs on the new speaker. They actually have two indented sections that click into place as you fold them out. This allows for two different stable viewing angles. I prefer having them folded out all the way.

Size

The new speaker option adds a bit of weight and bulk to the Belka-DX.

Again: we’re talking about a wee little radio here, so I can’t imagine someone complaining about the size or weight. The new speaker makes the radio slightly deeper or thicker if you look at it from the side or profile. Frankly, it’s a negligible amount, but worth noting.

Should you buy it?

In my opinion, the main reasons to buy the new speaker option are to take advantage of the longer play time from the full size internal battery and to gain the two fold-out feet.  The Belka-DX is so efficient that even the smaller battery pack in the original speaker option will power this radio for many hours without recharge.

Still, if these two factors are important to you, this is a no-brainer.

I would simply pick the speaker option that best suits your needs.

I must say again that it’s a real pleasure evaluating products that are engineered to the degree of the Belka-DX (and Belka-DSP) and both speaker options. These feel like they’re built to last a lifetime and could really take a beating in my various radio packs and kits.

Many thanks again to Mobimax for dispatching one of these for my evaluation.

Click here to check out the new speaker option from Mobimax.

Click here to read about the original speaker option and its installation.

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Fenu’s assessment of the Belka-DX

I recently noticed that Fenu (at Fenu-Radio.ch) has added a review of the Belka-DX on his excellent website.

He agrees that the Belka-DX is a brilliant little portable that delivers a lot of performance and features for the modest price.

As with my Belka-DX, Fenu’s unit includes the built-in speaker option.

In a video he posted on YouTube, Fenu demonstrates reception, speaker quality (including a small issue with button vibration at high volume), and how you can connect IQ out to an SDR application like SDR#:

Click here to check out Fenu’s full review.

More on the Belka-DX and Belka-DSP:

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