Screening Mods for the Airspy

The programmer of Linrad, Leif (sm5bsz) has recently been experimenting with some modifications to the Airspy metal case. He discovered that the USB and RF input connections on the Airspy were not making good electrical connections to the metal case because of the paint on the case. These bad connections caused interfering broadcast FM to be received by the Airspy through the USB cable even when the antenna input was terminated with a dummy load. By sanding down the paint on the metal box to improve the connection he was able to significantly reduce the interference. He writes:

It is a good idea to make sure that both the SMA connector and the USB screen have a good electrical contact with the box. Grounding only the USB screen causes a severe degradation of the NF.

The findings here may also be useful for improving shielded RTL-SDR dongles.

Airspy screening

PortableSDR now on Kickstarter

Back in November, 2014 we posted about the PortableSDR, a 0 – 35 MHz portable software defined radio transceiver that was the third place winner in the Hackaday Prize competition. The PortableSDR project is gaining traction and now has a Kickstarter campaign. They write:

The Portable Software Defined Radio, or PSDR, is an Open Source, Fully stand-alone HF/Shortwave Software Defined Transceiver. It includes a Vector Network Analyzer and Antenna Analyzer as well as GPS. It’s built for rugged portable use. It is designed to be a flexible platform for development, a learning aid, and and a useful instrument for electronics enthusiasts.

Features:

  • Coverage from 0 to 35MHz
  • Waterfall display that lets you see radio signals
  • Receives AM, USB (Upper Side Band), LSB (Lower Side Band), and Morse code (CW)
  • Modulates USB and LSB signals
  • Variable bandpass filter

The campaign hopes to raise $60,000 USD to aid in the development of the hardware and software and with the manufacturing process. The kickstarter is offering kits at various stages of completion from $250 to $475 and a fully assembled kit at $499. They note that the current PSDR2 that you will receive from the Kickstarter is still a development version, not the final product. The PSDR2 is missing some key features that will be in the final version like filters and output amplifiers.

The PSDR v.1
The PSDR v.1
PortableSDR – 2014 Hackaday Prize Judge Recap

Measuring Frequency Deviation of an FM Transmitter with an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user KP4MD has uploaded a video showing how she uses an RTL-SDR together with SDR#, a program called Visual Analyzer and an AEA PK-232 Terminal Node Controller to measure the frequency deviation of a Yaesu FT-8800R Transceiver. She writes:

The SDR# receiver is tuned to 145.050 MHz and the bandwidth set to 20 kHz.

The deviation level of the 1200 Hz tone is increased until a null appeared on the carrier frequency.

This is called a Bessel Zero and occurs at various predicted modulation indices (2.4, 5.52, 8.66, etc).

The Modulation Index is defined as the peak frequency deviation divided by the modulation frequency.

This Bessel Zero occurred at a modulation index of 2.4 corresponding to a frequency deviation of ±2.88 kHz (2.4 x 1.2 kHz).

The oscilloscope indicates that a peak to peak amplitude of 54.3% corresponds to ±2.88 kHz deviation.

The 1200 Hz tone modulation is increased to yield a peak to peak amplitude of 66%.

This corresponds to the desired ±3.5 kHz frequency deviation.

Frequency Deviation Measurement with an RTL-SDR Dongle

We now sell RTL-SDR’s with the R820T2 Tuner and 2x Telescopic Antenna + R820T2 Tests

We now sell R820T2 RTL-SDRs on Amazon.com (currently for US customers only sorry!) and are currently running a $2 off promotional sale which will expire January 31, or until the first batch of stock runs out. Compared to the other choices our RTL-SDR Blog branded units come with several improvements which we list below.

  • Use of the R820T2 tuner which has been shown to have slightly better noise performance and give better SNR compared to the standard R820T chip.
  • Use of improved component tolerances which help the circuit to operate at its optimum.
  • Use of a surface mount 28.8 MHz oscillator instead of the “can” type. We believe this will reduce the PPM offsets to below 30 in most dongles, but note we can not guarantee this.
  • Improved “full braid” coax cable on the antenna base which has significantly lower loss compared to the coax used on other brand RTL-SDR stock antennas.
  • Comes with 2 x telescopic antennas. 1 x 9.5 cm to 31.5 cm telescopic antenna and 1 x 20 cm to 1.5 m telescopic antenna. Great for beginners to receive a wider range of frequencies without buying extra antennas.
  • No IR LED. The IR LED is useless for SDR operation and the long legs on the LED may pick up interference.

We currently have two options for sale that are shown below. The dongle only unit is perfect as a replacement dongle or for those who just want to try out the R820T2 chip. The unit with the two telescopic antennas is great for beginners who don’t have any good antennas already.

We also have limited quantities of some MCX male to various female adapter sets for sale which work out to be much cheaper than when buying them individually. Buying a set will have you ready for almost any antenna connection you need. The pigtail adapters come with 20cm of RG316 cable and the straight adapters don’t use any cabling.

Pigtail Adapters SetMCX -> Various Female Pigtail Adapter Set – $19.99

Straight MCX Adapters SetClick here to buy a MCX -> Various Female Straight Adapter Set - $16.99

Currently because of the way Amazon works, we can only ship to US customers, but we may ship overseas in the future. Shipping from Amazon is fast and free if you spend over $35 or are a Prime member. Returns from faults are also easy and welcome. If you are overseas and can’t buy from us, the alternatives for R820T2’s are the Nooelec R820T2 (US shipper), the Cosycave R820T2 (ships from Channel Islands, UK) and there are also some Chinese R820T2 (Chinese shipper) models available on ebay.

We also offer unofficial support over on our forums. If you do buy from us we hope that you will consider leaving a product review on the Amazon page as that will really help us out as small time Amazon sellers.

As an added bonus, we will also have our e-book on sale from January 16 to January 23 at $6.99 USD, reduced from $9.99 USD.

We also performed some simple performance tests on the R820T2 which we show below.

R820T2 Tests

The first test was a noise floor test. We used rtl_power and ran a noise test with maximum gain and a 50 Ohm terminator connected for 15 minutes over the entire receivable frequency band. We averaged the results over three different R820T dongles and three R820T2 dongles to remove dongle to dongle variances. The results show that noise floor on the R820T2 is around 2-3 dB lower at most frequencies.

R820T2_NoiseFloor

Next we tested the SNR with the gain set to zero using a HackRF as the signal source. The results show that the R820T2 is about 2-5 dB more sensitive depending on the frequency. Also, compared to the R820T, the sensitivity seems to be significantly better at 1.5 GHz to 1.8 GHz as all tested R820T units could not even detect the test signal above 1.5 GHz without increasing the gain.

R820T2_SNR

Oliver Jowett HF Driver Test

The R820T2 should have better performance at HF frequencies when using the experimental Oliver Jowett drivers. We tested an R820T and R820T2 on broadcast AM reception. At broadcast AM frequencies the R820T starts with a very high noise floor after starting it for the first time, but after about 5 minutes seems to settle down to a lower noise floor shown in the right image below. In comparison the R820T2 starts at a low noise floor almost immediately. We are unsure why there is a settling time in the first place. Even after the settling time the R820T2 had better reception and SNR as shown in the comparison image below. Both dongles were set to the second highest gain setting.

R820T2vR820T_BAM

At 15 MHz international broadcast AM can be clearly heard with Oliver’s drivers. The R820T2 gets clear reception with a very low gain setting, whilst the R820T can obtain similar SNR with a higher gain setting. Though with a higher gain setting used on the R820T more noise seems to appear as can be seen in the comparison image below.
R820T2vsR820T_14MHz

Low Loss Coax

We also tested the low loss coax cable used in our RTL-SDR Blog branded antenna bases and found that it had approximately 3 dB less loss compared to the standard cable when used at most frequencies above 100 MHz. The test used a 1M length of each coax, with the HackRF as the signal generator. The direct connection test used a straight MCX->SMA Male adapter to directly connect the HackRF and RTL-SDR together.

Low_Loss_Coax

Measuring Power Line Noise in the Neighbourhood with the RTL-SDR “Driveby” System

Over the last few months Tim Havens has been developing a portable RTL-SDR based scanner that he intends to use for geo-tagged noise floor readings. He hopes to use such a system to map sources of RF noise related to power lines so that he can contact his power company to resolve them.

Tim’s system uses a powerful Odroid XU3 which is a Linux based mini embedded computer that sells for $179 USD. The Odroid XU3 has dual quad core ARM CPUs which is enough power to run rtl_power with 5 RTL-SDR dongles simultaneously. Rtl_power is an RTL-SDR tool which allows you to scan and record the power levels in the frequency spectrum. By using 5 dongles he is able to scan the 49 MHz, 50 MHz, 144 MHz, 222 MHz and 432 MHz bands simultaneously.

From a previous post Tim writes:

The idea behind this project is to be able to MAP real-world Geo-tagged noise floor readings.  This can be used for the primary purpose I intended for this application (mapping of problematic sources of RF Noise related to power lines in the area so that I can approach the local power company to resolve them) or any other sort of RF signal MAPPING.  Such as cellphone/cellsite coverage or FM broadcast coverage (and dead spots) among other things.

RTL dongles are CHEAP, and reliable, although not 100% stable (they drift a bit for the first 5 minutes of warm up) they can be used to measure changes in the RF Noise Floor (once warmed up).  While they don’t really seem to be able to be calibrated to anything less than -87db all we’re really looking for are relative changes to the noise floor while driving around a particular location (there is probably some complex math that could applied to these measurements that could be calibrated).  So for this project these inexpensive receivers are really just fine.

While rtl_power is scanning, the Odroid uses a GPS receiver to tag the timestamped noise readings with GPS coordinates. Then by driving around with the system and combining the GPS coordinates with the noise floor readings from rtl_power he is able to create a heatmap showing exactly where in his neighbourhood noise levels peak, indicating a power line RF noise problem to be fixed by the power company.

Some more information about the hardware build of his system can be found on a previous post.

Powerline Noise Mapped with RTL-SDRs and GPS
Powerline Noise Heat Mapped with RTL-SDRs and GPS Logging
The Insides of the Driveby System
The insides of the driveby system

Tim also has uploaded a video to YouTube showing his system running a stationary test demonstrating the hardware and some of his custom software before everything was boxed up.

Driveby App stationary test

TCP Enabled version of librtlsdr

Recently RTL-SDR.com reader Fabien wrote in to let us know that he has created a new version of the librtlsdr RTL-SDR drivers which have built in TCP support.

Fabien built a remote SDR using a BeagleBone Black mini embedded computer and put it outside for better reception and to be closer to the antenna. When trying to remotely access the dongle he discovered some problems. He writes:

I then access the dongle over TCP from an indoor PC. One issue is that some existing tools such as rtl_fm, rtlizer or rtlsdr_waterfall lacks TCP/IP connectivity.

To solve this problem, I added TCP support to the rtlsdr library. When a tool communicates with the now physically distant dongle, this new implementation transparently forwards the data using TCP instead of USB. It allows one to use existing tools without modifying them. Also, it allows a developer to use the same librtlsdr, no matter whether the dongle is local or distant.

The implementation is located here: https://github.com/texane/librtlsdr
branch: rpc

To use it, one must compile and install the library. Then, a server (called rtl_rpcd) must be run on the remote location (in my case, the beagle bone black at address 192.168.0.43): RTLSDR_RPC_SERV_ADDR=192.168.0.43 \ rtl_rpcd

Then, the existing tool (for instance rtlizer) can be run using:
RTLSDR_RPC_IS_ENABLED=1 RTLSDR_RPC_SERV_ADDR=192.168.0.43 \
rtlizer

Outdoor RTL-SDR Receiver Running on a BeagleBone Black
Outdoor RTL-SDR Receiver Running on a BeagleBone Black
Outdoor RTL-SDR Receiver Running on a BeagleBone Black
Outdoor RTL-SDR Receiver Running on a BeagleBone Black

Comparison of several SDRs on degradation from nearby strong signals at broadcast FM frequencies

The programmer of Linrad (aka Leif sm5bsz) has uploaded a video to YouTube that compares several software defined radios on dynamic range and compression performance in the presence of strong nearby signals. In the video Leif tests the Airspy, BladeRF with B200, FDM-S1, Funcube Pro+, rtlsdr/E4000, rtlsdr/FC0013, rtlsdr/R820T, SDR-14 and SDRplay.

The main test works by tuning to a broadcast band FM frequency and then injecting a strong carrier signal at distances of 500 kHz, 1 MHz, 2 MHz and 5 MHz from the center frequency. The carrier signal strength is slowly increased until the SDR shows signs of complete degradation of reception of the FM signal. Better SDRs will tolerate stronger nearby signals without degradation.

The results are summarized at 34:20, 1:21:38 and 1:48:30. We have also taken screencaps of the results at 1:21:38 and 1:48:30 and they are shown below. The first column is when a higher gain is used, and the second column is when a lower but still barely copyable gain level is used. In the Levels for loss of performance columns smaller numbers are better and in the Dynamic range columns larger numbers are better. Finally, at the end of the video starting at 1:45:55 Leif also tests the spur performance of the SDRs.

Results at 500 kHz and 1 MHz Seperation
Results at 500 kHz and 1 MHz Seperation
results_3
Results at 2 MHz and 5 MHz Seperation
SDR on 88-108 FM part1

New Oregon Scientific Temperature/Humidity Data Receiver Software for MacOS and RTL-SDR

Recently programmer Erik Larsen wrote in to us to let us know about a MacOS application he has been developing to receive temperature and humidity data from Oregon Scientific v2.1 sensors. Oregon Scientific manufactures popular electronic weather stations that transmit data from remote sensors wirelessly. Using an RTL-SDR and Eriks software it is possible to receive the weather station data on a Mac computer and display the data on a GUI. The software can be downloaded from the releases section on its GitHub page.

Note that there are also several Linux based Oregon Scientific decoders available including rtl-433m-sensor, rtl_osv21, and rtl-wx.

Oregon Weather Decoder
Oregon Weather Decoder

Receiving VOR Radio Navigation with an RTL-SDR and GNU Radio

Over on YouTube user hpux735 has uploaded a video where he explores the feasibility of receiving VOR radio navigation signals using GNU Radio and an RTL-SDR. VOR is an acronym for VHF Omni Directional Radio Range and is an older method of navigation used by aircraft which is quickly being made redundant due to GPS navigation. VOR uses two signals, one master omnidirectional signal and one rotating directional signal. By doing some calculations on the received phase of these two signals it is possible to determine the angle of the aircraft from the transmitter.

In the video hpux735 explains and discusses the VOR signal and also shows how to use these signals for navigation with an RTL-SDR and GNU Radio flowchart. To receive the VOR signal he uses an RTL-SDR to record the VOR signal while he drives around with a car. Then later he uses his GNU Radio program to generate a plot that shows when he is moving and in which direction.

hpux735 has also uploaded some supplemental material over on his blog. In the future he hopes to correlate his VOR results with GPS coordinates that he will take whilst actually flying around.

VORs and SDRs part 1: Playing with angles

Analyzing Radar Pulses with Baudline and an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user Albert Schäferle has uploaded a short video showing his reception of some radar pulses and their corresponding echoes. He uses rtl_fm and pipes the output into Baudline which is used to display the radar waveform. On the video description he writes:

Receiving direct and (supposedly) reflected pulses from an L-band radar in Učka, HR (Lockheed Martin AN/FPS-117). The receiving station was 83 km away, with clear LOS.
Center frequency is 1258 MHz (one out of four that this frequency-agile radar head is using).
The receiver is a RTL-SDR dongle (R820T tuner IC) with a 2-dipole collinear array (tuned for 403 MHz) and approx 7 m of Belden 1694A RG-6 coax.

rtl_fm output was piped to baudline, which is the software shown in the video. The IQ sampling rate is 2 MHz; the transform is a complex STFT (size=2048 samples, Blackman window).
This is a 0.008x speed playback of 15 ms of recording.
The (again, supposedly) reflected pulses are obviously more time-local with a shorter transform window size, e.g. 512 samples http://i.imgur.com/sAHWhwD.png

The effect of pulse compression is quite evident http://www.radartutorial.eu/08.transm…
The direct-reflected delay is approx 278 µs (~42 km from receiver, in a simple 2D, along beam, normal incidence model). I should add that this “reflection delay” effect does not usually show up.
There’s another fainter echo closer to the pulse, but I suspect that it could be a time-sidelobe of the main pulse: a side effect of pulse compression. Anyway, I must state that I have no formal knowledge on radar topics. So you’d better take all this with a grain of salt ;)

Link to recording: https://db.tt/Lxe67Ig3 (save destination as…)

Video recorded with VLC, audio piped to stdout and saved, then synced in Blender.

Radar WGS84 coordinates: 45.286757,14.202732 http://www.panoramio.com/photo/26952908

Analyzing radar pulses with Baudline and RTL-SDR.