Category: Airspy

SegDSP: Distributed Cloud Based SDR with SpyServer

Over the last few months Lucas Teske (author of the Open Satellite Project) has been working on a piece of software called "SegDSP". The idea appears to create a web GUI based SDR receiver for SpyServer streams which can be used to create a cloud of channel demodulators, essentially segmenting the DSP computation burden over multiple computers.

SpyServer is a SDR server application that is compatible with Airspy products and RTL-SDRs. It allows you to connect to these SDRs remotely over a network or internet connection. The SDR server computer sends the radio IQ data over the network allowing you to perform processing remotely. A major advantage of SpyServer compared to other SDR server applications is that it only sends the raw IQ data for the portion of the spectrum that you're interested in which can save a lot of bandwidth.

One key application that Lucas envisions for SegDSP is using it with cloud clusters of single board computers (SBC) like the Raspberry Pi 3. The philosophy is that there will be specific roles for each SBC machine. For example you might have some SDR machines running SpyServers, some processing machines for demodulating and decoding multiple channels, and a storage machine for recording data. Then you can dynamically spawn / despawn workers when needed (for example only spawning a machine when a LEO satellite with data to decode passes over).

SegDSP development is still in the early stages, and appears to only have the web GUI set up at the moment with a few demodulators. But keep an eye on his Twitter @lucasteske for updates too. Lucas also did a talk at the last CyberSpectrum meetup. His talk can be found at 1:30:00 in the recording.

SegDSP Screenshot Demodulating WBFM
SegDSP Screenshot Demodulating WBFM

 

Cloned SDRPlay and Airspy Units Now Appearing on Aliexpress/eBay

Recently we've found that there are now cloned units of SDRplay RSP1 and Airspy R2 units appearing on Aliexpress and eBay. (We won't link them here to avoid improving the Google ranking of the clone listings). This post is just a warning and reminder that these are not official products of SDRplay or Airspy, and as such you would not receive any support if something went wrong with them. The performance and long term software support of the clones also isn't known. Buying clones also damages the original developers abilities to bring out exciting new products like we've seen so far constantly with Airspy and SDRplay.

SDRplay

We've been in contact with SDRplay for a statement and they believe that the unit is a clone of the older and now discontinued RSP1, and not the RSP1A, despite the listings advertising RSP1A features such as additional filtering. SDRplay note from the pictures of the circuit board that the cloned unit's circuit board looks like an RSP1, and that the listing description is probably just blindly copied directly from the official RSP1A description.

Currently given that the price of the cloned RSP1 is $139, which is higher than the $109 cost of an original and newer model RSP1A, we don't see many taking up the offer.

Airspy

The Airspy R2 has also recently been cloned and now appears on Aliexpress with the lowest price being US$139 without any metal enclosure. Given that the price of an original Airspy R2 with metal enclosure is US$169, we again don't see many taking up the offer of the clone with such a small price difference.

HackRF

The HackRF is a different story in respect to clones. The HackRF design and circuits are open source, so unlike the closed source designs of the SDRplay and Airspy, in a way HackRF clones are actually encouraged and are legal. For some time now it's been possible to find cloned HackRF's on Aliexpress for only US$120 at the lowest, and from $150 - $200 including antennas and TCXO upgrades. This is quite a saving on the $299+ cost of the original HackRF. Reports from buyers indicate that the HackRF clones are actually decent and work well. The advantage of buying the original version is that you support Michael Ossmann, the creator of the HackRF, and may potentially get a better performing unit.

We've also seen clones of the HackRF Portapack on Aliexpress, which is an add-on for the HackRF that allows you to go portable. The clones go for $139 vs $220 for the original. No word yet on the quality.

RTL-SDR V3

We also note that recently there have been several green color RTL-SDRs released on the market with some being advertised as "RTL-SDR Blog V3" units. These are not our units, and are not even actual clones of the V3. These green units appear to just be standard RTL-SDRs without any real improvements apart from a TCXO. Some listings even advertise the V3's bias tee and HF features, but they are not implemented. Real V3 units come in a silver enclosure branded with RTL-SDR.COM.

Final Words

If you know how China works, you'll understand that it's highly unlikely that there is any legal recourse for SDRplay and Airspy to remove these products from sale. Once a product is popular it is almost a given that it will be cloned. It's possible that the clones might be able to be gimped via blacklisting official software, but that the companies would implement this is a stretch, and would probably be easy to get around. In the end while not ethical in a business fairness sense, these clones may be good for the consumer as they force the original designers to lower their prices and improve added value services.

If readers are interested in a comparison between the clones and original units, please let us know as we may consider an article on it.

Cloned SDRs Roundup
Cloned SDRs Roundup

Testing out the New Airspy HF+ Preselector

The Airspy team have recently been working on a preselector retrofit product for their HF+. The Airspy HF+ already has excellent dynamic range and sensitivity, but by adding a preselector they seek to improve performance enough to claim that the HF+ is as good as or even better than much more pricey SDRs like the Perseus by achieving dynamic range figures of more than 105 dBm.

A preselector is a filter or bank of filters that attenuates out of band signals. This is useful as radios can desensitize if an unwanted signal comes in too strongly. For example, if you are tuned to the 20m band, but there is a very strong MW signal, the SNR of your desired 20m band signal might be reduced. Radios with a natural high dynamic range design like the Airspy HF+ are less affected by this problem, but for the strongest of signals use of a preselector can still help.

The Airspy HF+ preselector needs to be soldered directly onto the HF+'s PCB, and once installed it automatically switches bands using GPIO expansion ports controlled automatically via tuning in SDR#, so no external switching is required.

The expected pricing of the HF+ preselector is US$49, and it will be ready for sale in a few weeks.

Measurements

We received a prototype of the filter a few days ago and have been testing it out. From measurements on a VNA, we found that the preselector features four bands of operation:

  • 0 - 5.2 MHz
  • 5.2 - 10 MHz
  • 10 - 17 MHz
  • 17 - 30 MHz

Airspy have also provided us with a block diagram schematic which we show below.

HF+ Preselector Schematic
HF+ Preselector Schematic

Insertion loss appears to be mostly below 3 dB with fairly steep skirts especially on the lower side. The top three filters do an excellent job at blocking out the broadcast AM band. Below are some VNA plots that show the filter responses.

VNA_180628_175816
VNA_180628_175907
VNA_180628_180008
VNA_180628_180057

Installation

The preselector comes in a small 3.2 x 1.7 cm sized PCB that is fully covered with a metal shielding can. To install it you need to carefully solder it onto the HF+ PCB. This can be a little tricky since the pads are so small, but if you're experienced with soldering it shouldn't be an issue.

  • First you need to open the HF+ and remove R3 from the HF+ PCB, which is a zero ohm resistor.
  • The preselector PCB can then be positioned and the two IN and OUT pads soldered in place.
  • Then you'll also need to connect the power and 2x GPIO lines to the preselector using wires.
  • Now you need to bridge the two shielding CANs with a thick bit of wire. We simply used two cuts of copper solder braid to do this.
  • Finally is also recommended to update the HF+ firmware to the latest version and download the latest version of SDR#.

Once soldered in place the preselector is ready to use, and the HF+ cover can be put back on. It is expected that the commercially sold versions of the preselector will come with detailed installation instructions. 

In the first photo below we removed the shield to see what was inside, and the second photo shows it installed on the HF+ PCB.

hf+presel_PCB
hf+presel_installed2

Using it on a RTL-SDR V3

Whilst the preselector is designed for the Airspy HF+, there's no reason why it couldn't also be retrofitted onto other SDRs, such as our RTL-SDR V3, for use in improving direct sampling mode performance.

The V3 has spare GPIO ports that can be used to control the filter, and 5V for powering the filter could be tapped off the PCB as well. Currently we're considering making a breakout PCB for the filter than might aide with this.

We did a quick test with the preselector connected to the RTL-SDR V3 running in direct sampling mode, and as expected performance is much better, especially above 5 MHz once the second filter kicks in. This is because the second, third and fourth filters all heavily attenuate the MW broadcast AM band, which is the main source of overload issues on HF.

The following screenshots show how much the filter was able to reduce the signal strength of AM broadcast when the second 5.2 - 10 MHz filter was turned on. This reduction was enough to prevent overload on all the higher bands.

Preselector OFF

Preselector OFF

Preselector ON

Preselector ON

Preselector OFF

Preselector OFF

Preselector ON

Preselector ON

HF+ Results

For the HF+ we tested by injecting a strong signal into two HF+ SDRs, one with the filter installed and the other without. The HF+ with the filter was routinely able to withstand much higher signal powers without any signs of overload occurring, and no degradation due to insertion loss was observed.

The screenshots below show an experiment with a weak desired signal injected at 14.2 MHz, and a strong unwanted signal being injected at 1.5 MHz. With the unwanted signal at 5 dBm, the filtered HF+ showed no signs of overload, whilst the unfiltered HF+ had the AGC kick in to increase the front end attenuation, reducing the signal strength by about 20 dB and raising the noise floor.

Filtered HF+

Filtered HF+

Unfiltered HF+

Unfiltered HF+

Other Reviews

Other reviewers have also received the preselector and have been testing it. Fenu radio has uploaded a short review, and plans to write more in the future. He's also made his HF+ with preselector available for public use via SpyServer (details in his post). In the video below Leif SM5BSZ reviews the preselector and runs through several tests while comparing it against the Perseus. His results seem to show that the Persues gets a +25 dBm IP3, whilst the HF+ with the latest firmware and preselector is able to obtain a respectable +10 dBm IP3. 

hfpluspresel2

Conclusion

For most people, the dynamic range of the HF+ is probably already more than enough, but if you are receiving very strong signals, the preselector can help get you get more performance out of the HF+. Of course the preselector cannot help if you have strong signals within the filter bands.

If you're looking to get the most out of your HF+ then the filter at only $49 is a pretty good deal. Just take note that you'll need to open the HF+ and be comfortable with soldering onto the PCB. 

SegDSP: Distributed Cloud Based SDR with SpyServer

Over the last few months Lucas Teske (author of the Open Satellite Project) has been working on a piece of software called "SegDSP". The idea appears to create a web GUI based SDR receiver for SpyServer streams which can be used to create a cloud of channel demodulators, essentially segmenting the DSP computation burden over multiple computers.

SpyServer is a SDR server application that is compatible with Airspy products and RTL-SDRs. It allows you to connect to these SDRs remotely over a network or internet connection. The SDR server computer sends the radio IQ data over the network allowing you to perform processing remotely. A major advantage of SpyServer compared to other SDR server applications is that it only sends the raw IQ data for the portion of the spectrum that you're interested in which can save a lot of bandwidth.

One key application that Lucas envisions for SegDSP is using it with cloud clusters of single board computers (SBC) like the Raspberry Pi 3. The philosophy is that there will be specific roles for each SBC machine. For example you might have some SDR machines running SpyServers, some processing machines for demodulating and decoding multiple channels, and a storage machine for recording data. Then you can dynamically spawn / despawn workers when needed (for example only spawning a machine when a LEO satellite with data to decode passes over).

SegDSP development is still in the early stages, and appears to only have the web GUI set up at the moment with a few demodulators. But keep an eye on his Twitter @lucasteske for updates too. Lucas also did a talk at the last CyberSpectrum meetup. His talk can be found at 1:30:00 in the recording.

SegDSP Screenshot Demodulating WBFM
SegDSP Screenshot Demodulating WBFM

 

Cloned SDRPlay and Airspy Units Now Appearing on Aliexpress/eBay

Recently we've found that there are now cloned units of SDRplay RSP1 and Airspy R2 units appearing on Aliexpress and eBay. (We won't link them here to avoid improving the Google ranking of the clone listings). This post is just a warning and reminder that these are not official products of SDRplay or Airspy, and as such you would not receive any support if something went wrong with them. The performance and long term software support of the clones also isn't known. Buying clones also damages the original developers abilities to bring out exciting new products like we've seen so far constantly with Airspy and SDRplay.

SDRplay

We've been in contact with SDRplay for a statement and they believe that the unit is a clone of the older and now discontinued RSP1, and not the RSP1A, despite the listings advertising RSP1A features such as additional filtering. SDRplay note from the pictures of the circuit board that the cloned unit's circuit board looks like an RSP1, and that the listing description is probably just blindly copied directly from the official RSP1A description.

Currently given that the price of the cloned RSP1 is $139, which is higher than the $109 cost of an original and newer model RSP1A, we don't see many taking up the offer.

Airspy

The Airspy R2 has also recently been cloned and now appears on Aliexpress with the lowest price being US$139 without any metal enclosure. Given that the price of an original Airspy R2 with metal enclosure is US$169, we again don't see many taking up the offer of the clone with such a small price difference.

HackRF

The HackRF is a different story in respect to clones. The HackRF design and circuits are open source, so unlike the closed source designs of the SDRplay and Airspy, in a way HackRF clones are actually encouraged and are legal. For some time now it's been possible to find cloned HackRF's on Aliexpress for only US$120 at the lowest, and from $150 - $200 including antennas and TCXO upgrades. This is quite a saving on the $299+ cost of the original HackRF. Reports from buyers indicate that the HackRF clones are actually decent and work well. The advantage of buying the original version is that you support Michael Ossmann, the creator of the HackRF, and may potentially get a better performing unit.

We've also seen clones of the HackRF Portapack on Aliexpress, which is an add-on for the HackRF that allows you to go portable. The clones go for $139 vs $220 for the original. No word yet on the quality.

RTL-SDR V3

We also note that recently there have been several green color RTL-SDRs released on the market with some being advertised as "RTL-SDR Blog V3" units. These are not our units, and are not even actual clones of the V3. These green units appear to just be standard RTL-SDRs without any real improvements apart from a TCXO. Some listings even advertise the V3's bias tee and HF features, but they are not implemented. Real V3 units come in a silver enclosure branded with RTL-SDR.COM.

Final Words

If you know how China works, you'll understand that it's highly unlikely that there is any legal recourse for SDRplay and Airspy to remove these products from sale. Once a product is popular it is almost a given that it will be cloned. It's possible that the clones might be able to be gimped via blacklisting official software, but that the companies would implement this is a stretch, and would probably be easy to get around. In the end while not ethical in a business fairness sense, these clones may be good for the consumer as they force the original designers to lower their prices and improve added value services.

If readers are interested in a comparison between the clones and original units, please let us know as we may consider an article on it.

Cloned SDRs Roundup
Cloned SDRs Roundup

Testing out the New Airspy HF+ Preselector

The Airspy team have recently been working on a preselector retrofit product for their HF+. The Airspy HF+ already has excellent dynamic range and sensitivity, but by adding a preselector they seek to improve performance enough to claim that the HF+ is as good as or even better than much more pricey SDRs like the Perseus by achieving dynamic range figures of more than 105 dBm.

A preselector is a filter or bank of filters that attenuates out of band signals. This is useful as radios can desensitize if an unwanted signal comes in too strongly. For example, if you are tuned to the 20m band, but there is a very strong MW signal, the SNR of your desired 20m band signal might be reduced. Radios with a natural high dynamic range design like the Airspy HF+ are less affected by this problem, but for the strongest of signals use of a preselector can still help.

The Airspy HF+ preselector needs to be soldered directly onto the HF+'s PCB, and once installed it automatically switches bands using GPIO expansion ports controlled automatically via tuning in SDR#, so no external switching is required.

The expected pricing of the HF+ preselector is US$49, and it will be ready for sale in a few weeks.

Measurements

We received a prototype of the filter a few days ago and have been testing it out. From measurements on a VNA, we found that the preselector features four bands of operation:

  • 0 - 5.2 MHz
  • 5.2 - 10 MHz
  • 10 - 17 MHz
  • 17 - 30 MHz

Airspy have also provided us with a block diagram schematic which we show below.

HF+ Preselector Schematic
HF+ Preselector Schematic

Insertion loss appears to be mostly below 3 dB with fairly steep skirts especially on the lower side. The top three filters do an excellent job at blocking out the broadcast AM band. Below are some VNA plots that show the filter responses.

VNA_180628_175816
VNA_180628_175907
VNA_180628_180008
VNA_180628_180057

Installation

The preselector comes in a small 3.2 x 1.7 cm sized PCB that is fully covered with a metal shielding can. To install it you need to carefully solder it onto the HF+ PCB. This can be a little tricky since the pads are so small, but if you're experienced with soldering it shouldn't be an issue.

  • First you need to open the HF+ and remove R3 from the HF+ PCB, which is a zero ohm resistor.
  • The preselector PCB can then be positioned and the two IN and OUT pads soldered in place.
  • Then you'll also need to connect the power and 2x GPIO lines to the preselector using wires.
  • Now you need to bridge the two shielding CANs with a thick bit of wire. We simply used two cuts of copper solder braid to do this.
  • Finally is also recommended to update the HF+ firmware to the latest version and download the latest version of SDR#.

Once soldered in place the preselector is ready to use, and the HF+ cover can be put back on. It is expected that the commercially sold versions of the preselector will come with detailed installation instructions. 

In the first photo below we removed the shield to see what was inside, and the second photo shows it installed on the HF+ PCB.

hf+presel_PCB
hf+presel_installed2

Using it on a RTL-SDR V3

Whilst the preselector is designed for the Airspy HF+, there's no reason why it couldn't also be retrofitted onto other SDRs, such as our RTL-SDR V3, for use in improving direct sampling mode performance.

The V3 has spare GPIO ports that can be used to control the filter, and 5V for powering the filter could be tapped off the PCB as well. Currently we're considering making a breakout PCB for the filter than might aide with this.

We did a quick test with the preselector connected to the RTL-SDR V3 running in direct sampling mode, and as expected performance is much better, especially above 5 MHz once the second filter kicks in. This is because the second, third and fourth filters all heavily attenuate the MW broadcast AM band, which is the main source of overload issues on HF.

The following screenshots show how much the filter was able to reduce the signal strength of AM broadcast when the second 5.2 - 10 MHz filter was turned on. This reduction was enough to prevent overload on all the higher bands.

Preselector OFF

Preselector OFF

Preselector ON

Preselector ON

Preselector OFF

Preselector OFF

Preselector ON

Preselector ON

HF+ Results

For the HF+ we tested by injecting a strong signal into two HF+ SDRs, one with the filter installed and the other without. The HF+ with the filter was routinely able to withstand much higher signal powers without any signs of overload occurring, and no degradation due to insertion loss was observed.

The screenshots below show an experiment with a weak desired signal injected at 14.2 MHz, and a strong unwanted signal being injected at 1.5 MHz. With the unwanted signal at 5 dBm, the filtered HF+ showed no signs of overload, whilst the unfiltered HF+ had the AGC kick in to increase the front end attenuation, reducing the signal strength by about 20 dB and raising the noise floor.

Filtered HF+

Filtered HF+

Unfiltered HF+

Unfiltered HF+

Other Reviews

Other reviewers have also received the preselector and have been testing it. Fenu radio has uploaded a short review, and plans to write more in the future. He's also made his HF+ with preselector available for public use via SpyServer (details in his post). In the video below Leif SM5BSZ reviews the preselector and runs through several tests while comparing it against the Perseus. His results seem to show that the Persues gets a +25 dBm IP3, whilst the HF+ with the latest firmware and preselector is able to obtain a respectable +10 dBm IP3. 

hfpluspresel2

Conclusion

For most people, the dynamic range of the HF+ is probably already more than enough, but if you are receiving very strong signals, the preselector can help get you get more performance out of the HF+. Of course the preselector cannot help if you have strong signals within the filter bands.

If you're looking to get the most out of your HF+ then the filter at only $49 is a pretty good deal. Just take note that you'll need to open the HF+ and be comfortable with soldering onto the PCB. 

GQRX and gr-osmosdr now with support for SpyServer

Thanks to the work of Lucas Teske, GQRX is now able to connect to SpyServer servers. SpyServer is the IQ streaming server software solution developed by the Airspy SDR developers. It can support Airspy and RTL-SDR devices, and can be used to access these SDRs remotely over a network connection. It is similar to rtl_tcp, but a lot more efficient in terms of network usage, meaning that it performs well over an internet connection. On a previous post we have a tutorial about setting up a SpyServer with an RTL-SDR.

The code modified by Lucas is the gr-osmosdr module, and Lucas' code can be downloaded from his GitHub at github.com/racerxdl/gr-osmosdr. It doesn't yet appear to have been merged into the official osmocom branch. The gr-osmosdr module is a generic block used to access various SDR hardware, so any software that utilizes it (such as GNU Radio) should be able to connect to a SpyServer connection too.

Browsing the UHF Satcom Band via SpyServer

Over on YouTube Corrosive has published a video of him browsing through the UHF Satcom band with a remote Airspy SDR being streamed via SpyServer. The UHF-Satcom band is anywhere between 243 - 270 MHz and contains fairly strong signals from many several US satellites that can be received with a simple antenna. Some of the satellites are simple repeaters without security, and pirates from Mexico and South America often hijack the satellite for their own personal use. So it can be quite interesting to look for pirate conversations and sometimes SSTV images. Reception of these satellites is generally available in Canada, US, Mexico, South America, Europe and Africa.

UHF Satcom Transponders Close Up on the Airspy SDR

Decoding 12 AERO Channels Simultaneously with an Airspy, Outernet Patch Antenna and SDR-Console V3

In a post uploaded last month we noted that Outernet was selling off some of their old L-Band satellite antennas cheaply. Nils Schiffhauser (DK8OK) decided to take advantage of the sale and bought one. Now Nils has created a blog post that shows how he's been able able to decode 12 L-Band AERO channels simultaneously with the Outernet L-band antenna, an Airspy R2 and SDR-Console V3. AERO is the satellite based version of aircraft ACARS, and it's L-band signals contain short ground to air messages like weather reports and flight plans. Multiple channels are often in use at any one time.

To achieve this Nils uses the multi-channel tuning capabilities of SDR-Console V3, which allows him to open up 12-channels, each tuned to a different AERO frequency. He then opens up 12 instances of the AERO decoder known as JAERO, and then uses VB-Cable to pipe the audio from each channel into a JAERO instance. Nils writes that the key to making JAERO run with multiple instances is to install JAERO into different folders on your PC, and give each JAERO.exe a unique file name like JAERO_1.exe.

He collects all the data into a program called Display Launcher and Nils notes that the whole set up has been stable digesting 54,000 messages over the last 24 hours. 

12x JAERO Decoders Running
12x JAERO Decoders Running

QuestaSDR Android App now with Remote Network Streaming: RTL-SDR, Airspy, SDRplay Supported

Back in April we posted about QuestaSDR, which had just released the Android version of its SDR software. Recently QuestaSDR programmer 'hOne' wrote in and noted that a new update has enabled remote streaming in QuestaSDR.

To get set up, just run the Windows version of QuestaSDR on a PC, and open the "SDR Server" app. Once the server is running, you can connect to it via the Android version of QuestaSDR over a network connection. The server supports the RTL-SDR, Airspy and any ExtIO compatible device such as SDRplay units. As far as we're aware, this is the only Android app that currently supports streaming from non rtl_tcp compatible units such as the Airspy and SDRplay.

hOne has been able to run an Airspy at the maximum bandwidth of 10 MSPS through his network connection. He also notes that you can now zoom into the IF spectrum in detail by using the new "IF Spectrum" plugin.

hOne also notes that the streaming feature is currently in beta, and any bugs/suggestions or feedback are welcome.

QuestaSDR Streaming over a network connection with an Airspy
QuestaSDR Streaming over a network connection with an Airspy

AirSpy windows server, android client LAN Remote

Video Comparing the RSP-1A Against the Airspy HF+, and Testing out the Airspy HF+ R3 Mod

Over on YouTube icholakov has uploaded two new comparison videos. The first compares the Airspy HF+ against an RSP-1A on HF signals with a W6LVP receive loop antenna in a noisy suburban backyard in Florida.

Results appear to be quite similar for most signals, although we noted better performance from the HF+ on some particular weak signals surrounded by strong AM stations in the test such as the 810 kHz signal at 3:37, but lower noise on some signals received by the RSP-1A such as at 9:32. The tests were performed with a stock HF+ without any firmware updates applied so it's possible that the updates could improve results further.

In the second video icholakov performs the R3 mod on his Airspy HF+ and compares the results before and after. It appears that shorting R3 improves reception on MW slightly, and has little effect at higher frequencies. We also note that the R3 mod is mostly designed to mostly improve VLF/LF reception which is not tested in the video.

W6LVP receiving loop: Airspy HF+ vs. SDRPlay RSP-1A

Airspy HF+ R3 Modification test