Tag Archives: shortwave listening

Brilliant hard-core DX with the USB-powered Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

 

Hi there, you might remember my post from last month focussing on the Bonito MegActive MA305 E-field antenna, kindly supplied to me for testing, by Bonito themselves. That post was essentially a report on my experiences travelling to Crete with the MA305, navigating through security at London Gatwick and Heraklion airports (mostly with relative ease), but more importantly, how well it worked with the equally excellent Eton Satellit portable receiver. Whilst in Crete I managed to copy a number of personal firsts, including CRI on 7295 kHz, via their relay in Bamako, Mali, The Voice of Beibu Radio on 5050 kHz, Nanning, XSL ‘Slot Machine’ on 6251 kHz USB, Ichihara, Japan, S32 ‘The Squeaky Wheel’ on 3828 kHz and NHK World Radio Japan, 11910 kHz. I also copied RTM Wai/Limbang FM on 11665 kHz from Kajang, Myanmar Radio on 5985 kHz and AIR Bhopal on 4810 kHz, amongst others – all of which I would certainly consider to be difficult catches in Europe.

 The USB-powered MegActive MA305 is perfect for DXing on the move…

Despite excellent all-round results from the ultra-portable USB powered MA305, there was one signal I copied, which more than any other, demonstrated the DXing credentials of this antenna; Radio Tarma from Peru on 4775 kHz. With a TX power of 1 kW, this is a very difficult station to hear in Western Europe, even with a longwire. To catch this station in Crete, with a 22 cm antenna was incredible and it was at that point during my trip that I realised E-field antennas really can work superbly well for hard-core DXers on the move.

Upon my return to Oxford, I immediately started thinking about a DXpedition to the local woods I use for what I consider serious DXing. For obvious reasons, E-field antennas require an electrically quiet environment to ensure maximum SNR performance. In noisy environments, these types of antennas amplify the signal of interest and the background ‘electro-smog’, thus increasing signal levels but critically, not signal-to-noise. Fortunately, the Oxfordshire wood I have been using for a couple of years is only a 10 minute drive from my QTH as I sort of live in the countryside anyway and the QRM levels there are just about zero. Now, given that this was essentially an experiment to determine the best possible performance from the MA305, I decided to use my best portable radio. It was quite tempting to pack up the Elad FDM DUO which running on a home-brew battery pack has proven itself to be my best (pseudo) portable radio. However, this is supposed to be a real-world test and in this type of scenario, DXpeditions with the Bonito antenna are much more likely to be undertaken with a portable radio. For these reasons I decided to conduct the test with the venerable Sony ICF-2001D. Having proven to be a superb receiver over many, many dxpeditions (check out the evidence on my YouTube Channel Oxford Shortwave Log) and still regarded by DXers as one of the best ever portable radios – possibly the best – it was the obvious choice.

 My portable DXing kit comprising the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna and the Sony ICF-2001D…a bit of a legend in DXing circles…

I ventured out in early June around 23:00 hrs BST (22:00 hrs UTC), parked the car on the edge of the wood and proceeded to set up my cheap camera tripod, slightly modified to accept a 2 metre-long stainless steel tube, into which a slightly thinner 1 metre tube was mounted, topped off with my partially disassembled ‘Selfie Stick’ – which made it back from Crete lol. The antenna was set up in less than 5 minutes and approximately 4 metres above the ground – much quicker and easier than de-spooling 100 metres of wire! With fresh batteries in the Sony and the MA305 powered up using the USB power brick supplied by Bonito, I was ready to start listening. Almost immediately I heard and recorded a personal first; Lao National Radio, Laos, signing on 6130 kHz, with an excellent signal. Hearing them in the UK was only made possible by the annual two week shut down of the PBS Xizang transmitter in Lhasa, Tibet, but hey, I’ll take it. A brilliant start to my listening session.

Over the next two hours I was amazed at what could be heard using this 22 cm amplified antenna. Bearing in mind I have spent many hours at the woods previously, listening via various 100 metre longwires and a 200 metre Beverage, my expectations were, I thought, realistic in that the MA305 coupled to the Sony would catch some very good DX. However, I did believe there might be an absence of at least some of the more exotic low power stations on the Tropical Band – afterall the MA305 is a very short antenna. Clearly I was wrong, because what transpired during the session surpassed anything I thought possible with this set-up. A list of reception videos follows below and further below, a selection of embedded videos. Some of the entries on this list simply stunned me at the time. Rádio Educação Rural for starters is such an incredibly difficult signal to hear in Europe, even with a very large antenna. Thus, to hear them on an ultra-compact set-up felt very special. Radio Mali is another station that is very difficult to catch with any modulation, except on a large antenna and yet there they were – at the first time of trying. Similarly, Rádio Nacional de Angola and Alcaravan Radio are exotics that at best deliver very weak audio – and most of the time no audio. Furthermore, the signals from Emisoras Pio XIIMyanmar Radio and Rádio Clube do Pará were verging on what I would call superb…I’d never heard anything like it previously except via 100 (or more) metres of wire.

 The ICF-2001D and MegActive MA305              Rádio Educação Rural transmitter site in Tefé, Brazil

So what’s next? Well it would certainly be an interesting experiment to compare the performance of the MegActive antenna with the Wellbrook ALA1530 active loop in a similar environment. I have used the Wellbrook on DXpeditions several times, with often excellent results, however, it’s not designed to be portable and if SNR performance could be demonstrated as similar between these two products, given a very favourable price delta, the Bonito antenna would add up to be a very compelling purchase decision. More on that to come. In the meantime, thank you very much for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all excellent DX.

Please click on the links below for the reception videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel.


Selected embedded reception videos from the list above:

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Travelling and DXing with the Bonito MegActive MA305 antenna

 

Ok, so officially it wasn’t a DXpedition; it was a well needed vacation in the sun after several hectic months of work, some of which involved travel to slightly more exotic locations. However, these days, I view any travel, whether it be for business or pleasure as a ‘DXpedition’ opportunity! Some of you might remember that I purchased a Bonito Boni Whip at the beginning of 2017 because (a) I needed another antenna and (b) a second Wellbrook loop felt like too much of an extravagance. They’re excellent antennas for sure, but at around £300, I couldn’t justify buying another. Thus, for about a third of the price I bought the Boni Whip. It proved to be an excellent choice – very compact and so perfect for my regular DXpeditions, quick to set up and capable of really excellent DX. There are many videos on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel that are testament to this. I wrote a couple of articles, published here on the SWLing Post which were seen by Dennis Walter of Bonito, who subsequently contacted me and offered to send over their MegActive MA305 E-field antenna for testing. Dennis made it crystal-clear that I was to ‘do my own thing’…test the antenna in any way I saw fit and publish my findings so DXers/radio enthusiasts could learn more about the capabilities of the antenna – from another DXer. I was happy to agree to this arrangement and the MegActive MA305 duly arrived, complete with two lengths of (bayonet BNC terminated) high quality H-155 coaxial cable.

 My portable Dxing kit with MA305 antenna                 The MA305 power inserter and USB power ‘brick’

The specifications of the MegActive MA305 are very similar to the Boni Whip; they both offer a Gain of +3 dBs, second and third order intercept points of greater than +30 and +50 dB respectively and both tune to 300 MHz. The MA305 is supplied with a longer radiating element and tunes down to 9 KHz (versus the 20 kHz lower limit for the Boni Whip). Obviously this isn’t a specification that is going to concern most radio enthusiasts; both offer fantastically wide operating bandwidths. The way in which these antennas do differ quite significantly however, is in how they are powered. The Boni Whip operates from 12 to 15 V, whilst the MA305 operates from 5 to 15 V. Bonito’s design philosophy regarding this feature is based on the increasing difficulty in procuring reasonably priced analogue external plug-in power supplies (they are no longer allowed to be produced due to power consumption restrictions).

Interestingly, when the power supply for my Wellbrook ALA1530 packed up, I called them to purchase a replacement and was told they only have limited stocks remaining. Thus, a solution for powering active antennas with a suitable low-noise supply is an issue that needs resolving. The guys at Bonito figured a USB power source was suitably quiet and with USB ‘power bricks’ almost ubiquitous these days for charging mobile phones and other portable electronic devices on-the-go, the idea could be applied to their active antennas. The result is the MegActive MA305, designed to operate at 5 Volts with no loss of performance. As a DXer who probably spends more time listening on DXpeditions than I do in my shack at home, the USB power solution was perfect. I myself often carry a cheap Chromebook laptop to use as an additional power source for my camera phone when I’m DXing, so Bonito’s design approach resonated with me completely.

 

Travelling with the MegActive MA305

Ok, so the MA305 is very compact and very light indeed – perfect for a trip to Crete! However, I know from many conversations with my YouTube friends and followers that some of us feel a slight sense of trepidation carrying shortwave radios and antenna systems on board flights, be they national or international. I myself wasn’t really concerned other than if my bag got pulled from the X-ray machine, there’s often quite a long wait whilst the security staff work through the queue of luggage requiring er…human intervention! Predictably, my rucksack did get pulled and I waited patiently until it was my turn to explain the contents! Looking back on this retrospectively, it’s hardly surprising. Other than the usual holiday paraphernalia, my rucksack contained:

  • A 10.0 metre length of H-155 coaxial cable
  • A 1.0 metre length of H-155 coaxial cable
  • Eton Satellit receiver
  • MA305 Coaxial Power Inserter
  • MA305 Antenna Amplifier
  • Bonito USB ‘Power Brick’
  • Bonito USB Power Cable
  • NooElec RTL-SDR dongle
  • NooElect ‘Ham It Up’ upconverter
  • Various screened cables and connectors
  • 10 metres of equipment wire

I explained to the (friendly) security chap that I was a shortwave radio hobbyist and identified the various pieces of equipment for him, as he removed them from my rucksack. He confirmed my X-ray had ‘lit up’ (in blue as it happens) with metallic/electronic items and was even kind enough to swivel his monitor to show me the mess of items strewn across the screen – just as I had thrown them all into my rucksack! However, after quickly swabbing some of the items, he said all was fine and hoped that I enjoyed my holiday and listening. Service with a smile at Gatwick Airport – and I was on my way. My outbound experience got me thinking whether it would be possible to pack my DXing kit in such a way that it wouldn’t alarm airport security. Thus, for the trip home, I packed all of my cables into my (checked-in) suitcase. I figured it would be obvious there was no security risk associated with cables alone. I then packed my RTL-SDR, upconverter and all of the MS305 components very neatly into a single box and put that in my carry-on rucksack. Now, some might argue that security measures at Heraklion International Airport in Crete differ a little from London Gatwick, but I observed staff at the X-ray machine very carefully monitoring every piece of luggage passing through it – including my own and I passed straight through without a problem. All I did was take my laptop out as usual, and put it in a separate tray. Job done.

DXing with the MegActive MA305

                                      My listening post in Crete, with the brilliant Eton Satellit receiver

My apartment in Crete was on the second floor and a large balcony provided a decent outdoor location for DXing. As regards electrical noise, the location was much quieter than my shack at home, but it certainly wasn’t perfect, thus a good test of the MA305 in a real-world pseudo-urban environment. in an attempt to improve SNR, I bought a cheap ‘Selfie Stick’ and some tape and managed to construct a mount for the amplifier, increasing the overall height above ground by about 1.5 metres and displacing the radiating element an additional 2 metres thereabouts from the building. I’m not sure whether it made much difference, but it seemed like the sensible thing to do for less than 10 Euros.

During my week-long stay, I managed to fit in several listening sessions and copied some really excellent DX from this ultra-compact, USB-powered set up. In fact, the MA305 coupled to the Eton Satellit performed so well, I managed to copy a number of personal firsts, including CRI on 7295 kHz, via their relay in Bamako, Mali, The Voice of Beibu Radio on 5050 kHz, Nanning, XSL ‘Slot Machine’ on 6251 kHz USB, Ichihara, Japan, S32 ‘The Squeaky Wheel’ on 3828 kHz and NHK World Radio Japan, 11910 kHz. I also copied RTM Wai/Limbang FM on 11665 kHz from Kajang, Myanmar Radio on 5985 kHz and AIR Bhopal on 4810 kHz, amongst others – all of which I would certainly consider to be difficult catches in Europe. To hear them with an 18 cm antenna felt pretty special. African shortwave stations were also very well represented and I managed to copy a number of them including Radio Hargeysa on 7120 kHz, Voice of Tigray Revolution on 59150 kHz, Radio Oromiya on 6030 kHz, Radio Fana on 6110 kHz, Radio Ethiopia on 7235 kHz, Radio Sonder Grense on 3320 kHz and Radio Guinée on 9650 kHz. I expected to hear all of these stations, except for Radio Guinée, which is farther away from Crete than the UK. So, all-in-all an excellent result.

Despite hearing a lot of excellent DX whilst in Crete, there is one signal I copied, which more than any other, demonstrates the DXing credentials of the MA305 – and Eton Satellit for that matter. In the early hours of the morning (00:59 hrs UTC) I copied and recorded Radio Tarma from Peru on 4775 kHz. With a TX power of 1 kW, this is a very difficult station to hear in Western Europe, even with a longwire. To catch this station in Crete, at all, was incredible on an ultra-compact set-up. It was at this point during the trip that I realised E-field antennas really do work superbly well for hard-core DXers on the move. It inspired me to conduct further tests back home in the Oxfordshire countryside, where electrical noise is absent. This I did a few days ago, with some quite amazing results on the Tropical Band. More on that to come in my next post. In the meantime, please find text links and embedded videos for selected reception recordings, below. Many more recordings are available on the Oxford Shortwave Log YouTube channel and please don’t hesitate to contact me if you require further information on the MA305 or the Eton Satellit. Thanks for reading/watching/listening and I wish you all excellent DX.


Personal firsts

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Radio Tarma, Peru, 4775 kHz

Click here to view on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Other notable catches

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

Click here to watch on Oxford Shortwave Log

 

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

The brilliant little Tecsun PL-310ET: serious DXing on a budget – part 1

tecsun-pl-310etHi there, a good friend of mine Mr Thomas Brogan mentioned to me recently that his little Tecsun PL-310ET was proving to be an excellent receiver and that it would suit my DXpedition activities. Now, as someone who likes to push the envelope of performance with sophisticated portables, usually coupled to very large antennas, a cheap little Tecsun might not have been an abvious choice for my next purchase. However, Mr Brogan (who has an excellent Youtube channel by the same name – check out his wonderful collection of vintage and modern receivers) previously suggested I buy, for similar reasons, the Sony ICF-SW100. That little masterpiece of electronics turned out to be one of the best receivers I’ve ever owned. I felt compelled to take notice because Tom never gets this stuff wrong! A few days later I found myself in Maplins – again – and there it was on the shelf at just under £40, so I bought one.

I got back into shortwave listening about 18 months ago, after many years of inactivity whilst my poor Sangean ATS-803A rotted away in the garden shed and Sony ICF-7600G long-gone via eBay. To start all over again, I bought a Tecsun PL-360.  What a great little portable that turned out to be – there are over 100 reception videos on my YouTube channel demonstrating how it continually performed above and beyond the very modest price tag. I even managed to hear ABC Northern Territories 4835 kHz on it once –  simply amazing for a receiver under £30. Given my extensive experience with the PL-360 and having learned the PL-310ET shared the same DSP chip, I was expecting the same, or at least very similar performance and the only real benefit to upgrading to the PL-310ET was the direct frequency access.  However, I was wrong about that!

pl-360

The brilliant Tecsun PL-360 got me back into shortwave radio for less than £30

About a week after buying the PL-310ET,  I managed to get out on a DXpedition and with 30 metres of wire attached to it via the external antenna socket, I started tuning around the SW bands. Quite simply, I was amazed at the sensitivity and selectivity of this diminutive little portable. With the proven DSP receiver chip and a number of audio bandwidth filter options  from 1 to 6 kHz, coupled with direct frequency access via the keypad, it was a joy to use and listen to. In just over an hour I had  copied signals from North Korea, including their internal service KCBS Pyongyang, Zanzibar BC, ABC Northern Territories (at the first attempt!), Zambia NBC Radio 1, Radio Oromiya and Radio Amhara from Ethiopia, amongst others. Brilliant stuff and clearly demonstrating that the overall hardware/software package with the PL-310ET is a step up in performance over the PL-360 and capable of proper DX for a very modest outlay. Interestingly, in a conversation with Thomas Witherspoon regarding the PL-310ET, he reminded me that it was one of his go-to radios for travelling and confirmed it’s excellent performance.  I would definitely recommend this radio to novices and experts alike.

Reception videos follow below, with more to come in part 2; I hope you enjoy them. Thanks for watching/listening and I wish you all excellent DX!

 

 

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Which is the best? Sony ICF-2001D/2010 or ICF-SW77? Part two

sony-test

Hi there, after the first set of recordings were analysed, the score was 4-3 to the ICF-2001D, demonstrating how similar these two great receivers are in overall performance. There were a copule of notable differences however. The synchronous detection circuit on the ICF-2001D allows the user to effectively tune through a signal in 01. kHz steps, whilst the receiver automatically locks onto either the upper or lower sideband, depending on the frequency offset. The ICF-SW77 synchronous detection system differs in that the user must tune the signal and select the sideband. The results of this test confirmed that whilst the ICF-2001D almost always retained SYNC lock, the ICF-SW77 was very prone to losing lock, which of course affected the audio quality in many cases. The other issue was with the ICF-SW77 in that the narrow audio bandwidth filter often seemed to deliver ‘muddy’ audio. Whilst this feature proved to be excellent in terms of mitigating adjacent channel QRM, it also reduced signal clarity/ audio discernibility a little too much in my opinion. However, overall, sensitivity and selectivity was very similar between both radios – in fact, one recording had to be judged a draw (Radio Bandeirantes, Sao Paolo on 9645.4 kHz) – I simply couldn’t split them. Part two of the reception testing follows, using signals from Canda, DR Congo, Brazil, Cuba and Peru.

I hope you enjoy the recordings – text links and embedded videos follow below:


 

 

 

 

 

 

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.

Which is the best? Sony ICF-2001D/2010 or ICF-SW77? The halfway score

Hi there, here is a summary of the first half of tests comparing the Sony ICF-2001D against it’s replacement the ICF-SW77. Both receivers are widely acknowledged as being amongst the best shortwave portables ever made, but how close are they in performance? Is there a clear winner after the first 8 reception tests? I hope you enjoy the summary video. Links to the first half of reception tests follow again, below, whilst the second half will follow in a separate post. Thanks and good DX to all.


 

Clint Gouveia is the author of this post and a regular contributor to the SWLing Post. Clint actively publishes videos of his shortwave radio excursions on his YouTube channel: Oxford Shortwave Log. Clint is based in Oxfordshire, England.