Tag Archives: Guest Posts

Malahit DSP-2 Review Update: Dan recommends holding off until issues resolved

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post:


UPDATE: Malahit DSP-2 (July 24, 2021)

RECOMMENDATION: Hold Off Until Issues Are Resolved

I thought it important enough to write this update to my earlier extensive review of the Malahit DSP-2, the second version of the Russia-made receiver. Earlier incremental updates can be seen on the main article.

In concluding my main review, I spoke about being on the Malahit “train” and “roller coaster” – and my experiences since have shown that to be true.

As noted in one the updates, further testing confirmed the observations of Malahit users that when voltage of a 18650B battery drops below 3.7 v the receiver did indeed shut down. And the battery icon was still showing 50%.

Georgiy at the Malahit team confirmed this as a software bug, and in a test firmware update, the voltage issue was, according to him, corrected. The result, in a test firmware upgrade (2.10) could be seen with remaining voltage displayed in the battery icon itself. But I was unable to confirm that this actually resolved the issue of inaccurate voltage displayed before yet another problem emerged.

After performing the update from 2.0 to 2.10 Test firmware (more on that a bit later)
I thought things were fine until I noticed that all signals had vanished from the Malahit. This applied to the strongest signals from U.S. religious broadcasters, and down through FM.

In a combination of Telegram and Skype chats, Georgiy was extremely helpful – we went over seemingly every possible cause for this problem and focused on the SMA cable which from observing conversations online appears to be an issue in some units.

We went to the point of disconnecting the SMA from the PCB to test if anything brought back any level of signal, which it did not. With my basic knowledge of electronics, I believe that some problem may have developed on the PCB – whether that is directly related to the firmware upgrade process remains unknown.

On the firmware, the Malahit-recommended PC app is SMT32CubeProgrammer, which is easily downloadable, and instructions for the firmware update are on the Malahit You Tube channel. The process and app look difficult at first.

But things get interesting, as they always do, in using these Bootloader apps as I have found on several occasions in trying to upgrade my AFEDRI LAN-IQ.

Instructions on the Malahit You Tube channel direct you to power off the radio, then plug in a micro-USB cable to the receiver and to your PC. The rough Russian translation says push in and hold both main and smaller encoder knobs, and then press power either once or 3 times, and then watch for the LED to go off. The LED actually doesn’t really go off– in the process of the firmware update, flashes on and off.

I managed to get through the process of upgrading – it was quite smooth. The test 2.10 firmware according to Georgiy is supposed to correct the issue with voltage readings, though again I was unable to test this fully because my DSP-2 quite literally went quiet over its entire range.

As of now, and despite the best efforts of Georgiy which I appreciate, I have a dead DSP-2. Whether signal loss was due to some issue with the SMA connector, or whether the firmware process (I reverted back to 2.0 after noticing the signal loss) itself caused something on the PCB to fail, remains unknown.

Given all of this new information, and though I had made no BUY recommendation on my original review, I would have to advise anyone considering a DSP-2 to hold off for a while until the Malahit team is able to thoroughly iron out all the hiccups with the receiver, whether in firmware or hardware. This includes the question of the SMA connector, and the issue of voltage monitoring.

Based on the conversations that were taking place on Telegram, I would also be urging Malahit team to quickly come up with a clear English translation of the Malahit manual, and to review instructions contained in You Tube videos showing the firmware upgrade process.

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Guest Post & Review: Test Driving the Russia-Made Malahit DSP-2

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, for the following guest post:


 

Test Driving The Russia-Made Malahit DSP-2

Poised on Edge of Greatness?  (Some Challenges To Overcome)

by Dan Robinson

By now, the Malahit SDR is well known in listening hobby circles.  We have the made-in-Russia original, and those manufactured in China with various firmware and some physical differences such as location of the tuning encoders.

News about the Malahit began to spread in 2019, with articles here on the SWLing Post, including two in February and April of 2020 (https://swling.com/blog/2020/02/the-malahit-dsp-a-potential-holy-grail-portable-sdr/ and one in which the Malahit was put up against an Afedri LAN-IQ SDR (https://swling.com/blog/2020/04/fenu-posts-a-malahit-dsp-afedri-lan-iq-head-to-head-comparison/ ).

At the same time, we saw the development and appearance of the Belarusian Belka SDR.  I consider the latest Belka DX to be the ideal portable – a sensitive diminutive miracle that has become a must-have device for many of us.

As for the Afedri LAN-IQ, I held off on purchasing one until the “Standalone” version was available.  It is made in Israel by a Russian developer who supports the receiver with fairly frequent firmware revisions (though upgrading remains a bit of a challenge involving some obscure boot-loading software).

I waited and observed reviews of the original versions of the Malahit.  When its designer, Georgiy (RX9CIM), announced availability of the new DSP-2 version of the receiver, with expanded coverage to 2 GHz and a claim of improved performance, I finally purchased one.

As was observed in one of the early SWLing Post articles “It seem[ed] the project is open source, the schematic, PCB and software are available to download. . . we hope [these] receivers become popular and available world wide [and that] this new project “shakes” a bit the industry of shortwave receivers.”

Malahit project authors RX9CIM George, R6DAN Vladimir, and R6DCY Vadim, had the apparent objective of “designing a low-cost portable SDR radio, using only easily obtainable components and to become the natural successor of the popular Degen and Tecsun radios.”

At the time, the price for a finished Malahit, with an ARM chip at its center was about $195 US.  Coverage was to 1 GHz – this has since been extended to 2 GHz.  Synchronous AM mode was added, and the DSP-2 also comes with an internal battery tray for a single 18650 Li-on battery.

This is a change from the original flat Li-on cell, and in my opinion a welcome one  since 18650s are easily obtainable.  Being able to easily change out a battery is important, rather than messing around with soldering (the famous Reuter Pocket receiver made in Germany should take a hint).

In this age of the SDR, we’re all familiar with the SDRplay series and various AirSpy receivers, along with other SDRs such as the RX666/888.  Before that, we had the famous Perseus, which still has a strong following, and numerous WinRadio receivers.

See the articles here on the SWLing Post assessing the performance of these, as well as reviews at eHam.net, and numerous SDR dongles all over eBay, coming from China.  There is also an SDR group on Groups.io.

Of course, receivers and transceivers with panoramic displays began to appear some years ago – the ICOM IC-R8600 and IC-7300 are examples of how this technology was integrated into the listening and amateur radio markets.

What we had not seen was integration of this kind of technology into portables.  Even in its latest iteration, the Belka DX has a small screen without any PAN display.  So, the advent of the Malahit has made this kind of advanced display widely available.

The price, by the way, for my DSP-2 as of July 2021 was 19,500 Russian rubles, with an extra 2,000 rubles for express delivery via Russian Post (though due to COVID Georgiy stressed that no guarantees could be made as to timing).  That’s $263 – not a small investment and rivaling the cost of a Tecsun ATS-909x and H-501x.

According to the description I received when ordering, the Malahit DSP-2 was improved over the previous version with the following differences:

  • Frequency range – from 50 kHz to 380 MHz, and 400 MHz to 2 GHz
  • Improved RF shielding and hardware improvements to reduce interference
  • Changes in software functions
  • Dimensions changed to 140x 88x 39mm
  • 18650 battery

The DSP-2 is in a thin black metal cabinet with dimensions 5 x ½ by 3 x ½ by 1 x ½.

A power button and headphone jack are on the right along with a power LED.  On the top, we find the SMA antenna input, and a small telescopic whip is included.

The speaker, capable of some decent audio, is located on the inside rear of the receiver – audio level exceeds that of the Belka DX with its very small speaker, but the Belka has a clarity that often exceeds the Malahit.

My first testing of the DSP-2 was indoors, in a far corner on the top floor of my home, using just the included whip antenna.   For comparisons, I used a Tecsun PL-368 with its whip antenna and a Belka DX in the same location.  I find that indoor testing tends to identify some issues that would not be apparent outdoors.

In this, the Tecsun PL-368 and other Tecsun portables consistently performed best, followed by the Belka DX and the Malahit.  This may be surprising, but shows that radios specifically designed for shortwave reception, often provide better reception because they are matched better with their internal telescopic antennas.

Now, when I say “best” I mean best basic audio quality, using auto-memory and ETM functions on the PL-368 and 990x.  But what those radios can do with the signal after that point is pretty limited – there is no NR (noise reduction), you’re limited to a handful of set bandwidth selections, and SYNC mode leaves much to be desired.

Which is where the Malahit comes in with its numerous levels of flexibility, accessed through MENU icons on the lower part of the screen:  HARD, AUDIO, VISUAL, NR, MODE, and BAND.  I refer the reader to the Malahitteam site links showing the user manual (this is still a bit in the rough, with translation from Russian) and another link with a Quick Start guide written by John Pitz (KD8CIV).

KEY HIGH POINTS ON MALAHIT

SUPERIOR COLOR DISPLAY

The color display, also seen on numerous China-made clones, is the best on any handheld SDR.  Where the Belka LCD is a basic utilitarian tool that performs well for that receiver, the Malahit display is an invitation to the wonderland of what this receiver offers.

At the top are small icons for:  SQ, NB, NR, AGC, ANT, PRE, MODE.  Right of center, and controlled with pushes of the small volume encoder knob, are ATT, VOL, FILTER, and the battery icon.  Below those are headphone and speaker icons and an excellent, if small, frequency window.  Pushing the small encoder knob selects/controls volume, attenuation, and main filters.  The large tuning knob, with a press, selects step increments.

EXCELLENT NOISE REDUCTION

Noise reduction on the Malahit is superb, as many users have observed.  It’s activated directly with a front panel icon and Threshold is adjustable with an icon under AUDIO, with 0 to 30 increments.  NR is so good that I compare it with the latest firmware version on the ICOM IC-R8600 – it’s actually probably better than the ICOM even near and at the highest 30 level.

EXCELLENT FILTERING

Whereas the Belka DX offers fixed audio filtering values accessible via its front panel, the Malahit DSP-2 offers continually variable LOW FREQUENCY adjustment from 0 Hz to 2350 Hz, and HIGH FREQUENCY adjustment from 100 Hz all the way up to 150,000 Hz.   This is in addition to standard NARROW, NORMAL, and WIDE filter options selectable with the volume encoder knob.  This is nothing short of extraordinary for a handheld portable receiver.

The latest (and possibly last) Tecsun receivers offer set value multiple bandwidths, which is excellent but is a throwback to radio design from years ago.  So, the DSP-2 capabilities can be compared to the kind of filtering that a Watkins Johnson or Cubic receiver have, but in the palm of your hand.

As I often observe, what we would have given in gold to have this kind of capability in consumer receivers during the glory days of international broadcasting!

AGC / MGC FLEXIBILITY

The Malahit allows the listener to use AGC, with choices of SLOW, MEDIUM, and FAST.  But it also allows, again through the AUDIO settings menu, control of AGC GAIN 0 to 60, and AGC LIMITER 40 to 90 db.  Wow – priceless!  So even if you prefer, as I do, to listen to shortwave using AGC, you still have amazing flexibility.  You can still switch to MGC with 0 to 60 range.

NOISE BLANKER FLEXIBILITY

Just as the Malahit delivers on AGC, so does it deliver with its regular noise blanker function.  With NB activated, there are 3 configurations with a separate THRESHOLD icon adjustable for each of these.  Amazing.

RF GAIN FLEXIBILITY

RF GAIN is adjustable from 0 to 59, and there is a separate icon for adjusting gain for the PRE-AMPLIFIER.  Where the PREAMP comes in very handy is when one has the Malahit indoors – it provides a more sensitivity in situations where one is using the telescopic whip antenna, though care must still be taken not to overload the receiver and distort signals.

FCORRECT FUNCTION MAKES FOR EASY RE-CALIBRATION

The Fcorrect function located under the HARD settings menu enables one to re-calibrate the receiver to correct for error.  This is similar to the capability that Tecsun added to its 330, 909x and 501x receivers (there are indications Tecsun has or will enable this ability also in the PL-368) but seems, based on my testing of the Malahit to be more effective.  After I corrected my DSP-2 to about +57, calibration was pretty much on the money up and down the HF bands.

SQUELCH FLEXIBLITY

The Malahit not only has SQUELCH, but SQUELCH THRESHOLD control, another example of the tremendous flexibility in this receiver’s firmware.  Since I do not do much listening outside of the HF bands, or have the antenna for it, I have not extensively tested the Squelch above 30 MHz and up to the maximum range at 2 GHz.

There is yet another feature described as adaptive noise canceling that allows the user to significantly improve the intelligibility of the received station under conditions noise and interference.

[From the manual]:  The squelch uses different algorithms [depending] on filter bandwidth.  With a bandwidth of more than 1 kHz, a squelch of more than suitable for speech type signal.  With bandwidth less than or equal to 1 kHz, the squelch is suitable for tone type signals.  Choice of algorithm is carried out automatically, depending on bandwidth.  Meanwhile, squelch for speech signals can be used with NR (see further details on this in the manual).

FM RECEPTION WITH RDS

What the Belka DX lacks, namely reception of the FM range, the Malahit delivers in droves.  FM sounds excellent to me, on the same level perhaps of the Afedri LAN-IQ Standalone receiver.

RDS is enabled by touching the waterfall area of the display which brings up the RDS information.  The speed with which station information appears varies depends on position of your antenna and signal level.

As one user (Harold Hermanns) on the Facebook Malahit group observed:  “ I don’t think it works very well. I just checked mine, and went to about 25 stations. The RDS or station name came up on only 5 stations. Letters I get are PS, PT, and PTY. When you tune a strong station, give it a minute or so, that’s what I did, and the RDS feature does work, but again, it’s not 100%.  Maybe will be improved with firmware?”

The RDS information could be better organized – currently the name of the station, and name of the program scrolls on different lines.  Another touch of the screen brings up an old style FM scale – this is nice, but I prefer the PAN display.  Yet another touch returns the screen to the PAN display and waterfall.  Mode options include NFM and WFM, and another option provides FM-STEREO.  Also in FM, there is an auto-search function and station labeling

MISCELLANEOUS FEATURES

There are some other features in the mind-boggling list of options in various menus:

  • In FM (WFM) there is an eight position EQUALIZER function with SOFT, LIVE, CLUB, ROCK, BASS, JAZZ, POP, and VOICE positions.
  • A voltage monitoring function allows the user to turn off the receiver when voltage drops lower than 3.3 volts.  As explained in the manual this is intended to preserve battery life and avoid full discharge.
  • Antenna selection can be 50 ohms or Hi-Z (preferred for telescopic antenna use).
  • As the Malahit manual details, internal gain of the receiving chip can be adjusted.  Accessed from the HARD menu, this is too much for me to go into here, but it’s another example of the detail that went into designing the Malahit.
  • Brightness of the display backlight is adjustable as well as time after which backlight level is reduced to minimum and turned off completely.  Rate of change of the display spectrum is adjustable as is spectrum display range, color, ratio of waterfall and speed and brightness of waterfall.  Spectrum scale and view are adjustable.
  • There is a 5 page memory system, with M1 to M10 in each, so a total of 50 storable memories.

LOW POINTS OF THE MALAHIT

NOISE FROM THE DISPLAY

Example of noise on 1,000 kHz

As I was testing my Malahit DSP-2 it quickly became clear that there is one major low point, and thus a challenge for Georgiy and other members of the design team.

There’s no other way to say this:  internally-generated noise remains the major issue keeping the Malahit from achieving greatness.

 

The developers of the Russian version receiver have not attempted to hide this, and users noticed it from the beginning, with one writer identifying “internally generated noise, which peaks at various frequencies” as one of the key drawbacks of the Malahit.

I had hopes that the DSP-2 version of the Russian-originated Malahit might have less of this problem.  There are numerous internally-generated noise/buzzing spikes, some stronger than others, by my estimation at intervals between 125 and 200 kHz throughout the HF bands.

Example of noise on 6,000 kHz (RHC)

In the case of one huge noise spike appearing at or around 6,000 kHz – right over Radio Havana – it ruins any chance of hearing clear signals at, below and above that point.  As you can see in my video, the Belka DX does not have this problem (note: apologies for mis-spelling Malahit as Malachit).

VIDEO: Malahit With Display Generated Noise

Click here to view on YouTube.

Via Telegram, Georgiy asserted to me that when using an external antenna, noise is not as serious, and notes differences between the Malahit and Belka.  The Belka, he says, is a simpler device that concentrates only on shortwave, while Malahit is a wide band receiver with more complex DSP and user functions.

“When Belka cannot receive something, Malahit can.  And where Belka does not have noise, Malahit has it.  These devices are in different classes.”

The result is that a major workaround is often necessary – to disable the VIEW PAN&WTF option, a key feature that is a major highlight of the radio.

Georgiy says that this problem is mainly linked to telescopic antenna antenna operation because of the antenna’s proximity to the display.  But as you can see in my video, when testing the Malahit and Belka on 6,000 kHz it’s a night and day situation.

A quick push of the power button blanks out the display completely – and seems to completely resolve the noise issue.  But you don’t buy a radio to see a dark display, and it’s depressing to think that turning off a major feature, namely panoramic display, has to be part of standard operating procedure.

When testing the Malahit from its bottom frequency of 50 kHz, even with the PAN & WTF off, huge buzzing noise spikes are heard.  In mediumwave/AM, they are seen at  615 kHz, 790 kHz, 965 kHz, 1140 kHz and so on.

If a radio had emerged from a known large manufacturer with this issue, such as Tecsun or Sangean, it would have been roundly condemned by users and reviewers and sent back to the drawing board.

Georgiy does say that in the new firmware interference from the display was decreased, with a “step of about 2.5 MHz, from 1MHz (i.e. 1MHz, 3.5MHz, 6MHz).  After correction it will be with a step [of] 4 MHz”.  I’m not quite sure what he’s saying with this, due to language issues, but the overall indication is that he is aware of  this issue and will continue trying to tackle it in future revisions.

CW DECODING

In the MODE section of the Malahit there is no confirmation that the receiver is actually in CW.  Decoding is enabled with an icon, but again no confirming icon at the top of the display.  This is a bit odd.

Going to the Telegram app discussion group for the Malahit, and re-reading the translated Russian manual, I discovered that confirmation of CW appears as a white bar under the SPEAKER/HEADPHONE icon on the right.  There is also a MINIMUM SNR option in decoding, with a 0 to 70 range.

A You Tube video (the Gerry DX channel) shows the decoding process and notes that it’s important to keep the filter setting at NARROW when attempting to use the decoding feature on the Malahit and also important to set the SNR at the right level.

One would think that this could be easily rectified, but adding a CW indicator to the top row of small icons on the front display might not be as easy as one thinks, unless the display can be modified to also display “CW” in the icon spaces for AM, LSB, or USB.

It turns out that CW decoding on the Malahit works quite well, at least in my attempts.  I was able to decode fairly strong CW signals in 40 meters.

LCD/TOUCH SENSITIVITY

When I first got the Malahit, I was puzzled by what seemed to be a serious lack of sensitivity on the display when trying to use the touch icons to change configurations and modes.

This was so bothersome that I raised it with Georgiy who responded that this is by design.  The present capacitive touch method, he says, is preferable and more comfortable for users.   “If [we were to] change the touch [enable faster response] then [some] people will demand to decrease it.”

With benefit of some time, I have concluded that a slightly firmer and longer press of about half a second to a second almost always brings up the menu selected.  But this is definitely a characteristic of the DSP-2, so potential owners should be aware of it.

ISSUE WITH CLOCK

Another issue that prospective purchasers should be aware of involves instances where the internal clock of the receiver does not retain the time, and the solution for this directly from Georgiy is not necessarily satisfactory.

“Yes, they need to be removed from the PCB” he says, a reference to two capacitors on the main PCB, C29 and C30 which are next to each other below a larger M7 device on the PCB.

These are SMDs so anyone without good soldering skills will be hard pressed to want to mess around with that PCB.  This is not a confidence-builder, nor a solution – clearly these receivers should come from the supplier without such an issue.

This was upsetting enough for some users that the Malahit team faced some sharp criticisms.  One user said the clock on his DSP-2 was working perfectly.  Another said: “Unless I power off the unit the date stays good but the time is always 2 hrs and 10 minutes behind. As soon as I power off the unit the date defaults back to 15:08:2062.”

One user said:  “Problem is voltage is very inaccurate causing the clock settings to be lost. I have tried several 18650 batteries (good Panasonics) and fully charged they are 4.2v, but the DSP-2 indicates 4.6v. When the battery runs down to 4.0v the clock settings are lost. Also, the battery indicator continues to show FULL. I think there is an internal problem with the DSP2. Perhaps the new design, or new internal parts are causing this. This is very disconcerting.”

In exchanges on Telegram, Georgiy said he personally checks each outgoing Malahit for sensitivity on each band, and clock operation, among other things.  In a later comment just before this article went to press, Georgiy said that C29/C30 should be replaced only if there is a problem with the clock.

There is no mention by the Malahit team of any official return policy – which of course would be quite challenging and costly involving an additional round trip for a receiver back to Russia and then back again to the user.

On my DSP-2, which I have used with an Anker 26800 USB battery, so far my clock/date settings have maintained accuracy with no reset, even after the USB cable is unplugged from the receiver.  I have not yet tested longer times to see if the clock/date is reset when voltage drops below a certain point.

[UPDATE: 22 July 2021]

In a message sent after publication, Georgiy says that the C29 and C30 capacitors will be deleted from the next series of the Malahit, and for now they are being removed from receivers that have not been sold yet.

[UPDATE 23 July 2021]

Further testing revealed that the observations of Malahit users are accurate. When voltage of a 18650B battery in my Malahit dropped below 3.7 v the receiver did indeed shut down — this is with the battery icon still showing 50%. So this is definitely an issue that needs to be addressed in future updates. That said, I got hours of operating time before the full 18650 dropped to the cutoff level — but obviously an inaccurate battery icon is something that the Malahit team will have to correct.

THE BATTERY GAME

Example of 18650 rechargeable batteries

The Malahit DSP-2 uses a 18650 Li-on battery.  Unfamiliar to many people, these are actually well known among professional-grade flashlight collectors/users (flashlight collecting is another of my vices).

One of the first things I realized when my Malahit arrived was that my existing button top 18650 cells were too long to comfortably fit in the battery tray.  A bit of research on the Facebook Malahit group page revealed that some users have modified the receiver to take two 18650 cells, with a double tray replacing the single tray.

The original Malahit tray requires shorter “unprotected” flat top 18650 cells.  At the time I write this, there is a shortage of these cells at the major battery / flashlight suppliers (Battery Junction is one).  DO NOT try to force a slightly larger 18650 in the stock Malahit battery tray!

So, one recommendation I would make to the Malahit Team in Russia would be to make it possible for the receiver to use regular protected button top 18650s, of the type one would easily use in a Tecsun receiver such as the 909x and H-501x.

However, in a message to me just before this article went to press, Georgiy said that the Malahit team has used “typical holders” available to them and that they had been unable to obtain a sufficient number of alternative trays for protected 18650 button top batteries.  So, for now at least the Malahit will require unprotected flat tops.

My 18650B flat top batteries arrived just as I was completing this review – easily charged up in my Littokala charger, each then fit easily in the single battery tray and power the Malahit perfectly.

ENCODER KNOBS

Higher quality replacement knobs

The original encoder knobs on the Malahit can be replaced by higher quality, metal construction ones for the small and larger knobs.  I got mine from Nikolay, a member in Russia of the Malahit Facebook group (he says he sources them from Switzerland, but I have not confirmed this).

I am, however, not sure that the new knobs can simply be installed on the Malahit – there are no set screws on the original plastic Malahit knobs and I chose not to mess around to see whether the metal knobs can easily be installed, at least for now.  Price for the higher quality metal knobs:  $17

[UPDATE 23 July 2021]

Nikolay Vedeneev in Russia produces high quality encoder knobs for the Malahit, Afedri, and Belka SDR receivers. He can be reached at: nickstrannik@gmail.com and received a very positive review from Fernando Duarte who is known for his reviews of numerous receivers. Both of his knobs fit perfectly on the shafts of my Malahit DSP-2 and have a much better feel than the originals (NOTE: I used a 1.5 mm hex key to tighten the set screws) https://fenuradio.blogspot.com/2020/07/custom-tuning-knopfe-fur-jedes-gerat.html

VIDEO

Click here to view on YouTube.

POISED ON THE EDGE OF GREATNESS

The subtitle of this article asks whether the Malahit is poised on the edge of greatness.  I believe it is, but anyone’s choice to join the Malahit user/fan club comes with some headaches.

We can only hope that the Malahit team can work on the problem of noise spikes that permeate the lower frequency ranges from mediumwave on up.  There’s no way to minimize this:  at $263 (the price of a DSP-2 as of July 2021) buyers should not have to be shutting off the display to eliminate noise.

As for the question of the clock on the DSP-2 not maintaining time/date, etc it’s clear that Georgiy and the Malahit team are aware of this issue and one hopes this could be checked off the list of concerns that users have raised.

Whether one needs all the bells and whistles that a Malahit offers is the major question, especially when the Belka DX offers excellent stepped (not continuously adjustable) audio filtering and a form of synchronous AM detection in what has to be the smallest high performance receiver ever available to the listener.

More than a few Malahit owners have observed that between 1.5 MHz and 30 MHz the Belka DX seems to be the better shortwave receiver, with no display noise issues, superb battery life and an amazing small size that makes it the ultimate ultra-portable.

In short, if you choose to step aboard the Malahit train you enter a world where there will be constant improvements in software and hardware, and bugs along the way, of which noise spikes issue is a perfect example.  But if you’re someone who gets enjoyment from being on the leading edge of technology in radio development, the Malahit may be for you.

It’s impressive that the Malahit originated in Russia, not generally been known for innovations at this level.  In recent years, Asia was the main source of advances from the likes of ICOM, Yaesu, AOR etc in the amateur radio area, and from Tecsun, Sangean, and Eton in the area of portable receivers for HF listeners.

Finally, one has to wonder about the potential that the Malahit design holds for integration into the kind of portables seen over the past two years.  Some observers have asked why the LCD display and other features on the Malahit could not be part of a future receiver that looks like a Tecsun 990x or Sangean 909×2 with additional advances such as off-air microSD recording, and DRM.

FINAL ASSESSMENT:  I boarded the Malahit bus fairly late, but I am definitely a fan.  Owning one of these receivers is indeed a roller coaster – anyone climbing on should become a member of the Facebook and other discussion groups where users exchange views, suggestions, and their own experiences.

For ultimate portability in 2021, the Belka DX wins the race.  But the Malahit wins on the sheer number of advanced signal processing and other features it contains, though it is hobbled to an extent by the problem of display interference.

If Georgiy and the Malahit team can continue to make steady progress in confronting the noise issue and fine tune the already amazing array of features, the Russia-made Malahit has a bright future ahead.

[UPDATE 24 July 2021]

In the latest firmware update to the Malahit DSP-2, Georgiy provides this
changelog. Note that this is still described as “TEST” firmware, so it’s still unclear
whether he intends to put out a non-TEST version of this particular upgrade:

Firmware 2.10 TEST:

  • fixed battery voltage indication
  • fixed behavior of encoder buttons at low supply voltage
  • protection against false switching has been made – for switching on by three, set switch 2 to the On position.
  • added test function – increased display frequency. This reduces noise and increases the number of frames per second; To enable this function, set switch 3 to On. The function may not work correctly, if so, please let me know
  • the level of interference from the display is slightly reduced
  • changed the distribution of frequencies to which the input high-pass filters are turned on
  • when HiZ is turned on, the power supply of the external active antenna is automatically turned off;
  • added indication of external antenna power on – now the ANT indicator is highlighted in red if this function is enabled
  • the algorithm for displaying the picture on the display, slightly reduces the level of interference
  • changed the panorama display mode from “Pan & WTF Disabled / Enabled” to “Pan & WTF Single / Always”, while the panorama image is now always present, but it is updated once (when the settings are changed) or always.
  • fixed attenuators bugs

[UPDATE 2, 24 July 2021 ]

Please read this updated post explaining why I believe you should hold off on making the DSP-2 purchase until software and hardware issues have been resolved.

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Giuseppe’s improved read-to-go case for the Tecsun S-8800

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Giuseppe Morlè (IZ0GZW), who writes:

Dear Thomas,

I want to share my latest version of my case / antenna for Tecsun S-8800 to make it immediately operational: simply open and listen.

In addition to the loop inside the case with a 3-meter wire at one of the ends that join two telescoping style whips of one meter each short-circuited to take advantage of the entire length. At the other end of the loop, a cable that goes to the ground of the variable capacitor.

I can tune the whole range from 3 to 16 MHz with truly amazing results.

You can see the video from my Youtube channel at the link:

Thanks to you and all the friends of SWLing Post.
Regards.
73. Giuseppe Morlè iz0gzw.

This is incredibly clever, Giuseppe! AS I mentioned before, I love how self-contained this makes the entire listening station and I especially love the built-in antenna options! This is truly a shack-in-a-case!

Thank you for sharing this.

Click here to read Giuseppe’s other contributions here on the SWLing Post!

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Jock designs a Horizontal Room Loop to cope with reception issues

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Jock Elliott, who shares the following guest post:


There’s a 50-foot antenna in this room. Can you spot it?

Got reception issues? An idea worth considering: the “Horizontal Room Loop.”

by Jock Elliott (KB2GOM)

When my radio room was in the front of the house (on the east side), it was easy to run a feedline to a large RF-hungry SWL dipole with various stubs and feeders.

Now, however, with my “shack” moved to the SW corner of the house, any attempt to mount an outdoor antenna of any significant length raised potential safety issues because of nearby electrical lines.

Monitoring VHF/UHF is no big deal because of high-performance scanner antennas. HF, however, presents challenges.

My main SWL receiver is a Satellit 800, which has the guts of a Drake R8 and also has a large telescoping vertical antenna. It works okay, but I wanted more signal. I had been looking at small loops and got some great recommendations on Radio Reference, but then I had a thought: what if I turned the 8′ x 12′ room into a giant horizontal passive loop?

Here’s a hint.

So I called a ham friend and ran the idea by him. “Sure,” he said, “give it a try.” He gave me 25 feet of 4-conductor phone wire. Before I could use it, I had to strip off the outer insulation so I could get at the four separate insulated wires inside. The better half helped. Once I had the four wires, I connected two of them together and ran the resultant 50-foot strand around the perimeter of the room by taping the wire to the top of window frames and hiding the wire on the top shelves of book cases. As a result, the horizontal room loop is near the ceiling, about 7 feet in the air, and the room itself is on the first floor.

With the loop in place, I hooked the ends to the clip-in terminals on the back of the Satellit 800.

There’s a switch on the back of the 800 that allows me to quickly compare the loop with the radio’s built-in vertical antenna. And . . . it works! It pulls in more signal than the vertical (as measured on the signal strength meter), but I have not noticed a dramatic reduction in noise. On some stations, the horizontal room loop brings the signal up to full scale, and then the sound is very agreeable indeed.

In all, I am pleased with the results.

For anyone who wants squeeze more performance out of their shortwave receiver, I can recommend giving the horizontal room loop a try. It’s not expensive; it’s relatively easy to do (and undo if you don’t like the results), and just might improve your shortwave reception.

If you are not blessed with a bunch of window frames on which you could tape the wire for your room loop, you’ll have to get creative, but with lightweight wire, you don’t need a massive support structure. Tape, map tacks, or even self-adhesive Velcro segments might work for putting your room loop in place.

I don’t claim that this is the “ultimate” SWL DX antenna, but it certainly improved my situation. Perhaps others have suggestions for improving it.

— Jock Elliott, KB2GOM

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Guest Post: Dikeside Icom IC-705 RX action

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, who shares the following guest post:


The IC-705 in action at the dike

by 13dka

When I got the IC-705 in late October 2020, I didn’t get that much chance to enjoy it at the dike: After a couple of initial tests and 2 nightly “FYBO” MW DX sessions in November, a way too long and wet winter struck the German North Sea coast, with nighttime temperatures recovering to 2-digit Celsius figures only in the past few weeks. I took the opportunity to do more experiments with loops, preamps and a phasing unit to improve the RFI-stricken reception at home, so I could at least listen to European hams on 80 and 40m raving about their new 705s and start to write my own musings about that lovely little radio, recently posted here.

SSB DX

June 1st, 202

Finally, acceptable temperatures at night! But they come with a downside: When I connected the vertical around 8:00pm (local time), it was still almost 2 hours before sunset and a lot of thunderstorms in Europe made even 14 MHz very noisy, my hopes for some nice catches were immediately taking a dive. A short scan of the bands brought up nothing special, the only notable thing being the CB and 10m bands being moderately open. I should’ve known better: As soon as the sun splashed into the ocean, grayline propagation worked its magic!

Grayline while receiving Japan, June 1st

As the image probably hints, a couple of Japanese “big guns” produced some nice, comfy signals on the monopole, in addition to the South American and Carribbean stations usually booming in here!

Video: A short collection of ham stations heard around midnight

After midnight I noticed a residue signal of WWV on 20 MHz and still a few EU beacons on 10m. Both incredibly weak with QSB making them disappear but that’s where the 705 really shines – it’s not only picking up these grassroots signals just fine, it shows me that they’re there, or that they were there – a waterfall display keeps on proving that a perceived lack of activity on a band is often pure bad luck – you can tune across an entire band without hearing anything because on each frequency with some activity there’s the other (inaudible to you) station speaking right now, QSB is dipping the signal just when you tune past it…

June 5/6, 2021

That evening the Japanese stations were missing on 20m, I thought I picked one up on 17m, and like so often, the one odd Australian station came in on 20m. After midnight I noticed the 10m beacons again, there were even a few more of them. This time I brought my Belka DSP to the dike so I could compare it with the IC-705, after all the Belka proved to be my most sensitive portable before! The devastating result is likely owed to the fact that the Belka is pretty picky about passive antennas not being matched very well to its input (which is much optimized for the whip) but it picked up diddly squat. If it isn’t a testimony for the sensitivity of the IC-705, it might be one for its aptitude to cope with all sorts of antennas.

Then I tuned into the 10m SSB range and I was veeeery surprised to hear VO1FOG from St. Johns, Canada! This is the first time I heard a transatlantic signal on 10m in a solar minimum ever, but it was with condx only elevated enough for some daytime DX within the EU…and literally in the middle of the night! The signal was very unstable though, he later switched to the 12m band which worked better. Back to what I said about the waterfall display above: Without it, I could’ve missed this station with a pretty high probability simply because I didn’t expect any activity up there, so I wouldn’t have tuned across that band for very long, and without seeing the signal while the VFO is already somewhere else…

I also heard another new country (Ecuador) in SSB, the usual collection of Carribbean islands and some participants of the “Museum Ships Weekend Event” including NI6IW, which is the vanity call of the history-charged USS Midway in San Diego. The “Japanese” station JW4GUA turned out to be on Svalbard island, with the main town Longyearbyen being the northernmost town in the world, only 650 miles from the north pole, and I don’t hear stations from there very often!

Video: June 5th

June 10/11

The past days saw the SFI passing 80 and 11/10m becoming quite busy. By the time I parked the car at the dike, SFI had dropped to 73. That evening the grayline confined itself to colorizing the horizon. 10m and 11m were still full of signals, I could still hear 2 British chaps chatting on 27 MHz at 3:00 in the morning, but nothing really “extraordinary” was coming in – the one odd VK, more Carribbean islands, one Argentinian but not much from other parts of South America, it never gets boring how this all defies predictability. But as always I heard most of the North American continent, not booming in much that night but I followed 2 POTA activations for a while, which are usually at most 100W stations working a lot of other “barefoot” stations and I heard almost all of them. In the morning grayline window for the west coast I finally got one solid signal from Oregon. All my radio life, the US west coast has been a tough target for some reason.

The signal had that typical “over the pole” sound, a relatively quick phasing imprinted into the signal by the charged particles converging over the pole, causing northern lights in the region and that exiting feeling when observing really big, planetary scale physics in realtime, over here at my listening post. The magic of shortwave. 🙂

Broadcast bands

After the post touting the IC-705 as a SWL/BCL receiver, demonstrating it on the broadcast bands seems mandatory to me. However, capturing cool BC DX is a very different business than waiting on the ham bands for interesting stations coming and going and collecting spectacular (-ish) results in a single night this way. Broadcast schedules have to be studied, current “hardcore” DX targets identified… and I have to admit that I’m out of that loop currently. Just turning the knob and recording whatever is populating the bands, and doing that between 21-22:00 UTC, when all programs are directed towards anywhere except Europe turned out to yield pretty boring results. Here it goes anyway:

Video: Browsing the most important BC bands

CONDX and antenna:

The antenna I was using in these videos was a simple wire running up a 10m/33′ fiberglass pole, forming a very archetypical “monopole” or “Marconi” antenna, just a vertical wire, no counterpoise, no matching network, no un-un, transformer or flux capacitor. I planned on using this to make some experiments about the practical benefits (for reception) of all the components it’s now lacking, but it already demonstrates that the beauty of receive-only antennas is that they often don’t require crazy efforts: On the conductive soil at the dike it works pretty well (good signals all over the bands and sufficiently low takeoff angle) as it is.

The evening and the 2 full nights at the dike once again had condx that nobody would phone home about:

SFI, A and 3-hourly K-indices while I was at the dike.

It’s not that these numbers always fully explain actual and current condx but decreasing SFI and rising A/K-indices mean low expectations. Despite the condx still characterized by the solar minimum that way, the location is always delivering proper DX for my radios. Unless stormy or severely unsettled geomagnetic conditions give DX a day off, there’s almost always something to take home, be it a new country, a rare island, unexpectedly loud signals from the other end of the planet at unusual times and/or on unusual bands or other ionospheric mysteries.

Speaking of location: These videos demonstrate the properties of that listening post as much as the capability of the IC-705 to harvest them, and they don’t put that into relation to other radios, so you have to rely on my word on this: Compared to what I brought to that place so far it’s jaw-droppingly good, but a big contributor to that is that only few of my other radios can really cope with the antennas I like to use out there in first place. A radio like the IC-705 is sure making the most out of location and antenna, but it’s not the key component because a low-noise location is everything, it always was and it is today more than ever. Without it, radios and antennas can’t really play their jokers.

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Dan reviews latest firmware version of the Tecsun PL-368 and shares list of hidden features

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, Dan Robinson, who shares the following guest post:


Revisiting the Tecsun PL-368:  Assessing a Later Firmware Unit

by Dan Robinson

This past April, I reviewed Tecsun’s PL-368, the update of the PL-365 (also sold by CountyComm as the GP5).  There were some major changes:  Tecsun shifted from AA batteries to a flat BL-5C cellphone type battery, and of course the marquee design change was the addition of a keypad.

The keypad is a night and day change – whereas before the PL-365 was a handy receiver but hobbled by archaic tuning limited to memory access and the side thumb wheel, the 368 provides easy instant frequency selection.

In my previous review, I mentioned the well-known characteristic of the 360 and 365 models which exhibited over-sensitivity to the touch.  When removing your hand, signal levels plummeted – usually, a full grip was necessary and any variation caused reduced sensitivity – noticed mostly in shortwave mode.

The PL-368 I reviewed was from among the first versions of the receiver.  It had a firmware of 3681, from a 2020 production run.  Recently, I received from Anon-Co – the most reliable supplier of Tecsun receivers – an updated unit, with firmware 3684.

Please see my previous review for comments on various aspects of the 368: the longer but less robust telescopic antenna, addition of detents on the volume wheel, and the welcome addition of adjustable bandwidths, synchronous detection, and ability to tune in 10 hz increments, and other changes.

PROBLEMS

SYNCHRONOUS DETECTION:  As with the 909x and H-501, the upgraded 368 now has Synchronous Detection.  I did not expect any change in the 3684 firmware – SYNC still has some distortion and loss of lock.

As with the 330, 990x, and 501x successful use of this mode requires a delicate dance involving careful selection of various bandwidths while in SYNC mode and fine tuning.

However, whereas on the previous 3681 unit there was significant “warbling” when in SSB and SYNC, and phonics when touching the keypad, the 3684 unit has little to no such warbling and the phonics appear to be gone, or minimized.

It’s not known what Tecsun may have done to address these issues – my review of a previous 3681 firmware unit was published in April, so it’s hard to think that Tecsun made any major physical changes to the PCB/keypad and radio body.  But there does seem to be some improvement.

I had no expectation that a firmware change would result in any improvement in the other major issue common to the 360 series – reduction of sensitivity when the receiver is not being held in the hand.

The 368 still shows a noticeable reduction in signal strength, visible on the display, when left standing on its own versus being fully gripped.  But the problem does not seem to be as serious as it was with the PL-360/365.

And since my first review of the 368, I have done some additional comparisons with older portables which were constructed with more robust cabinets.  Some of those also exhibited reduced sensitivity when not being held.

For the PL-368 with firmware 3684, the headline really has to be the apparent disappearance of the “phonics” when tapping the keypad and cabinet top surface.  This was the elephant in the room on the first very early sample of the PL-368.

While there is still distortion using SYNC mode, this issue seems to have been slightly reduced with the latest firmware.  Without confirmation by Tecsun, there is no way to know what specifically may have been done to impact the SYNC issue in a positive direction.

A major disappointment is confirmation from Anon-Co via Tecsun that the re-calibration function seen in the PL-330, 990x and H-501x is absent from the PL-368.

That leaves a user with only the fine tuning option in SSB.  This is a real puzzler, since surely Tecsun could have enabled re-calibration on the 368 in the same way it did with the other receivers.

SUMMARY

I stated in my first review of the 368 that this receiver would be an automatic must-buy in my book, were it not for the earlier issues of cabinet phonics and signal level reduction when the radio isn’t being fully gripped in hand.

One hopes that the phonics issue has been fully addressed by Tecsun.  It’s possible that my initial early unit of the 368 had some weakness in the PCB for the keypad, and LCD display that has been recognized and corrected.

Without confirmation from Tecsun, it’s also difficult to declare that the 3684 firmware has truly brought about a measurable improvement in SYNC and SSB.  But based on my testing of this particular 3684 firmware unit, the radio is more usable and tolerable in SYNC and SSB.

And of course, addition of the keypad along with multi-bandwidth options moves the 368 firmly into the same zone as Tecsun’s other portables, albeit perhaps more in the “prepper” category.

There are so many offerings now from Tecsun in portables that it’s hard for me to place the PL-368 in the “must-buy” category, especially since the PL-330, 990x and H-501x bring so many superb features to the game.

But the PL-368 has a certain appeal – its walkie-talkie style design makes it an easy quick-grab for trips, similar to the PL-330, though the 368 can not really be safely balanced on a flat surface and is best used with some kind of stand.

In terms of raw performance, one has to observe that the wonderful Belka DX has to be considered as a top choice and major competition when it comes to extreme portability and top performance, especially with the available speaker/battery backs.

And the PL-368 still has major competition from the XHDATA D-808 (now appearing under the RADIWOW SIHUADON label) with excellent AIR band capability and multiple bandwidths, though no synchronous detection.

To “save” the PL-36xx series, Tecsun will have to ensure steady QC (quality control) in manufacturing and when possible, further firmware updates of the 368, as with all Tecsun receivers.


Preliminary List of Hidden Features for PL-368

Source: Anna at Anon-Co

Switch between internal ferrite rod and whip on AM (MW & LW)

1. Select the MW or LW band.
2. Press and hold key ‘3’ for about 2 seconds.

When the display briefly shows “CH-5” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the telescopic antenna. The display shows MW (or LW) and SW on the left side of the screen.

When the display briefly shows “CH-A” this means that the device is set to MW/LW reception using the internal ferrite antenna. The display shows only MW (or LW) on the left side of the screen.

Adjusting the maximum volume level

Select the frequency band, then press and hold key ‘7’ for 2 seconds until a number is displayed. At this moment, rotate the [ TUNING ] knob to adjust and press the key ‘7’ again to save and exit.

Firmware Version

In power-off mode, press and hold [ VF/VM ] for 0.5 seconds until all characters on the display are shown, then wait a few seconds until the firmware version is briefly displayed at upper right of the display.

Extend SW-range for European setting (1621-29999 kHz)

1. In power-off mode, press and hold the [ 3 ] key to set the MW tuning steps to 9kHz.
2. Select the SW band, and then press and hold the [ 5 ] key for 10 seconds to enable/disable the SW frequency extension.

The starting point of the SW frequency range will become 1621 or 1711 kHz.

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The Icom IC-705: Is this really a new holy grail SWL/BCL receiver?

Many thanks to SWLing Post contributor, 13dka, who shares the following guest post:


The Icom IC-705: Is this really a new holy grail SWL/BCL receiver?

by 13dka

When Thomas got wind of its development in 2019 he immediately asked “could the Icom IC-705 be a shortwave listeners holy grail receiver?”. I usually wince a little when I hear “holy grail” because it means very different things to different people, it’s also a moving target with many people aiming at the spot where it was decades ago. But Thomas certainly had a very level-headed assembly of technical performance, quality and practicality requirements in mind when he used that term, and I thought he might be onto something!

There are some excellent, trustworthy reviews of the IC-705 out there. The following is not one of them, I just want to share an opinionated breakdown on why I think this is an interesting radio for SWLs/BCLs indeed, also deliberately ignoring that it’s actually a transceiver.

Jumping shop

While the era of superhet/DSP-supported tabletop holy grails ended with the discontinuation and sell-off of the last survivors more than a decade ago, powerful PC-based SDR black boxes were taking over the mid-range segment and it became very slim pickings for standalone SWL receivers: Thomas just recently summed up the remaining options here.

Between the steady supply of inexpensive yet serviceable Chinese portables, upgraded with a least-cost version of DSP technology, and the remnants of the high end sector there’s very little left to put on the wish list for Santa – that doesn’t need to be paired with a computer that is.

No surprise that SWLs/BCLs in search of new quality toys with tangible controls are taking a squint over the fence to the ham transceiver market: Hams are still being served the best and the latest in radio technology in all shapes and sizes, and even entry-level rigs usually come with feature-rich general coverage receivers. But transceivers never had SWLs much in their focus in the past decades, and particularly not BCLs: Frontend adaptation, additional AM filters, switches and functions would’ve meant increasing costs and so transceivers were never perfected for that purpose. DSP and SDR technology allowed for improvements on that without actually adding (much) hardware and so some interesting alternatives surfaced in the past years, but most of them still come with little downers, at least for BCLs.

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