Spektrum SV Mod: RTL-SDR Spectrum Analyzer Software Now with Improved UI

Spektrum is a popular spectrum analyzer program that is used with RTL-SDR dongles. It is based on the command line rtl_power software and is compatible with both Windows and Linux. Thanks to it's easy to use GUI it is an excellent piece of software for scanning and determining where active signals exist, or for measuring filters and antenna SWR with a noise source.

Recently SV8ARJ (George) and SV1SGK (Nick) have been working on extending the original open source Spektrum code. Their improvements focus around the UI and making it more functional and easier to use. Currently the updated branch is in alpha, and they are hoping that any testers could help report bugs, issues and wishes to them. The code is available on their GitHub and the latest Windows test build can be downloaded from their DropBox.

The changelog reads:

  • 2 Cursors for Frequency axis.
  • 2 Cursors for Amplitude axis.
  • Absolute and differential measurements with cursors.
  • Zoom functionality of the cursors's defined area (gain + frequency).
  • Mouse Wheel Gain adjustment on graph (Top area for upper, low area for lower).
  • Mouse Wheel Frequency adjustment on graph (left area for lower frequency, right for upper).
  • Mouse Wheel in the centrer of the graph performs symetric zoom in/out.
  • View/settings store/recall (elementary "back" operation, nice for quick zoomed in graph inspection).
  • Right click positions primary cursors.
  • Right Double Click positions primary cursors and moves secondary out of the way.
  • Left Double Click zooms area defined by cursors (Amplitude + frequency).
  • Left Mouse Click and Drag on a cursor moves the cursor.
  • Middle (mouse wheel) Double Click resets full scale for Amplitude and Frequency.
  • Middle (mouse wheel) Click and Drag, moves the graph recalculating limits accordingly.
  • Reset buttons to Min/Max range next to Start and Stop frequency text boxes.
  • Cursor on/off checkbox now operate on all 4 cursors.
  • ZOOM and BACK buttons.
  • Filled-in graph option (line or area).
  • Display of frequency, Amplitude and differences for all cursors.
  • Modified: Button layout.
  • Fixed: Save/Reload settings on exit/start. IMPORTANT : delete the "data" folder from the installation location if you have it.
  • Filling in graph option (line or area).
Spektrum UI Updates
Spektrum UI Updates

GammaRF: Distributed Radio Signal Collection and Analysis with RTL-SDR and HackRF

Thank you to Josh for submitting news about his project called GammaRF. GammaRF is an client-server program that is used to aggregate signal information via the internet from distributed SDRs. Currently the RTL-SDR and HackRF SDRs are supported.

ΓRF (“GammaRF”, or “GRF”) is a radio signal collection, storage, and analysis system based on inexpensive distributed nodes and a central server. Put another way, it is a distributed system for aggregating information about signals, and a back-end infrastructure for processing this collected information into coherent “products”.

Nodes utilize inexpensive hardware such as RTL-SDR and HackRF radios, and computers as small and inexpensive as Intel NUCs. Each node runs modules which provide various radio monitoring functionality, such as monitoring frequencies for “hits”, watching power levels, keeping track of aircraft (through ADS-B), and more. Nodes are distributed geographically and their data is combined on the server for hybrid analysis.

A web-based system allows users to view information from and about each station in its area. Below shows the server landing page. Markers are placed at each station’s last known location (stations can be mobile or stationary.)

GammaRF Server Landing Page
GammaRF Server Landing Page

From the currently implemented modules it appears that you can monitor ADS-B, scan and monitor the power of a set of frequencies, forward the output from trunk-recorder (a P25 call recorder), scan the spectrum and monitor power levels, monitor a single frequency for activity, take a picture of a swath of RF spectrum, and collect 433 MHz ISM data. Some example applications might include:

  • Monitoring ham radio activity on repeaters in a city
  • Creating timelines of emergency services activity in an area
  • Distributed tracking of satellites and other mobile emitters
  • Monitoring power at a frequency, for example as a mobile node traverses an area (e.g. signal source location)
  • Building direction finding networks (e.g. for fox hunts)
  • Spectrum enumeration (finding channels and guessing modulation) [under development]
Monitoring Activity of an Amateur Radio Repeater
Monitoring Activity of an Amateur Radio Repeater via the 'scanner' Module

Listening to the Sound of Molecules via Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube user aonomus has uploaded a video showing how he's used an RTL-SDR to observe and listen to the radio signal generated via a chemistry lab's nuclear magnetic resonance machine. To do this he simply taps the RF output of the NMR machine which allows the RTL-SDR to listen to the signal and play it as audio. In the video he shows the sound of a sample of chloroform in acetone-d6. The demo has no real scientific purpose other than to hear the sound of the molecule. Normally the RF output goes straight into a spectrum analyzer for visual analysis.

Nuclear magnetic resonance is a technique used in chemistry for the analysis of chemicals, as well as in MRI medical imaging machines. Very basically, it works by applying a chemical sample to a strong magnetic field, exciting it with a strong pulse of RF, and listening to the echo. An echo will only occur when the radio waves are transmitted at the chemicals resonant frequency. The frequencies used are typically between 60 to 800 MHz.

A few years ago I came up with a demonstration for some high school students interested in chemistry. This demo is a modern take on a classic NMR experiment, using a low cost software defined radio to observe the FID signal as audio. In short, this demo allows you to hear the proton FID echo from the liquid sample inside the NMR magnet.

Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Demonstration Using Software Defined Radio

A Step by Step Tutorial to Receiving GOES-16 Images with an RTL-SDR, Raspberry Pi and Goestools

Aleksey Smolenchuk (lxe) has recently uploaded a step-by-step guide to setting up a GOES weather satellite receiver with an RTL-SDR dongle, Raspberry Pi and the goestools software.  GOES 15/16/17 are geosynchronous weather satellites that beam high resolution weather  images and data. In particular they send beautiful 'full disk' images which show one side of the entire earth. Compared to the more familiar and easier to receive low earth orbit satellites such as NOAA APT and Meteor M2 LRPT, the geosynchronous GOES satellites require slightly more effort as you need to set up a dish antenna, use a special LNA, and install Linux software.

Aleksey's tutorial first shows where to purchase the required hardware and notes that the total cost of the system is around $185. Next he goes on to show the hardware connection order, and then how to install and configure the goestools decoding software onto a Raspberry Pi.

Aleksey's RTL-SDR Based GOES Receiver setup
Aleksey's RTL-SDR Based GOES Receiver setup

Russian RTL-SDR USB Filter Video Review

Over on YouTube, Alexander from the Russian channel РАДИОБЛОГ с Александром Никитенко has uploaded a video review of a Russian USB filter product, designed for USB SDR dongles. The video is narrated in Russian, however you can use the YouTube auto-translate feature to get somewhat understandable subtitles. The actions he takes in the video are also easy to understand.

The USB filter is designed by Maxim who runs a small company called ExpElectroLab. Back in August we posted about another ExpElectroLab product which was the SDR# tuning knob. Since then we've seen that a few people outside of Russia have been able to order the product by contacting him at [email protected], and have been happy with it.

When using USB SDR dongles, the USB cable can pick up lots of interference from the PC and monitors, providing a direct path for this interference to enter the RTL-SDR. A USB filter can be used to remove this interference. There are several USB filters on the market designed for improving USB audio devices, but this is the first one we've seen designed for SDRs in particular. 

In the video Alexander tests an RTL-SDR with and without the USB filter connected. With the USB filter not connected, the SDR# display shows several spikes of interference in the spectrum, and once the filter is connected these spikes disappear. He also tests it on a USB powered shortwave radio, and the filter appears to remove the hiss caused by the power supply.

Note: Non-Russians can order this product by contacting Maxim at [email protected]

Фильтр для SDR-приёмника и не только.

RadioForEveryone: RTL-SDR Max USB Cable Length, Dongles Image Gallery, Ham-it-up Plus Review

Recently Akos has uploaded three new posts on his RadioForEveryone blog. The first post is a review of the "Ham-It-Up Plus", which is a US$65 upconverter that allows you to listen to HF on RTL-SDR dongles without direct sampling. Compared to the non-plus Ham-It-Up, the plus version includes a TCXO and the noise source circuit is populated. In his post Akos reviews the history of the Ham It Up generations and discusses the connectors and power options. He also reviews the performance and finds that the Plus seems to have better SNR.

In the second post Akos has uploaded his collection of various images of different RTL-SDR dongle brands. The images include circuit board photos so you can easily compare the differences in design between brands.

Finally the third post is an experiment to determine the maximum USB cable length that can be used with RTL-SDRs. His results show that the maximum is 9 meters which is actually more than the USB2.0 spec which states 5m as the maximum. We note that longer than 9m cable runs can also be achieved by using active repeater USB cables or USB hubs.

Testing RTL-SDR max coax length
Testing RTL-SDR max coax length

Measuring the SWR of FPV Antennas with an RTL-SDR

FPV stands for 'First Person View', and is a term used to describe the hobby of flying remote controlled aircraft entirely via the view from a wireless camera that transmits live video to the pilots screen or video goggles.

Part of the FPV hobby is to not only enjoy flying, but also to tweak the wireless video equipment for maximum range and reliability. This involves measuring the SWR characteristics of FPV antennas. SWR is a metric that describes how well the impedance of an antenna is matched with the receiver at a certain frequency. Poor SWR results in additional signal loss on top of cable and connector loss. We note that SWR is only one antenna metric, and doesn't take into account radiation pattern and antenna gain which is often more important, but it is the easiest metric to measure and control, and should give you some idea as to if an antenna was designed and tuned properly.

As FPV hobbyists are often not hams or radio professionals, most don't have access to the equipment required to measure SWR. So over on his YouTube channel bonafidepirate shows how he's been using a cheap RTL-SDR, noise source and RF Bridge to measure the SWR of his FPV antennas. The process is similar to the one shown in our tutorial, but he uses the Spektrum software which allows you to measure SWR entirely within the software itself.

In the video bonafidepirate goes over the required hardware, software and the setup, and then demonstrates several SWR scans of different FPV antennas.

DIY VSWR Meter for FPV, Lets test some antennas!

Connecting an RTL-SDR Panadapter to a uBITX Transceiver

The uBITX is a US$129 HF SSB/CW QRP transceiver kit that works from 3 MHz to 30 MHz with up to 10W TX power. It's a fully analogue radio, but it can be combined with an RTL-SDR to create a panadapter display thanks to a tutorial released by KD8CEC.

The method requires that you use the custom CEC firmware, or modify other firmware,  as this appears to change the output frequency at the tap point. The tap point is made accessible by soldering on an extra SMA connector for the RTL-SDR to connect to. The rest of the work is entirely performed in the uBITX software manager, Omni-Rig and SDR-Console V3.

uBITX with RTL-SDR Panadapter
uBITX with RTL-SDR Panadapter