Category: Airspy

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
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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
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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

Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image...

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+

Loading image... Loading image...

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. 

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
Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image...

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
Loading image... Loading image...

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

Loading image... Loading image... Loading image... Loading image...

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+

Loading image... Loading image...

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

Using the Airspy HF+ as a Power Meter By Calibrating it with a Resistor

Over on YouTube, Leif (SM5BSZ) has uploaded a video where he shows how the Airspy HF+ can be used as an accurate power meter for RF signals. Leif notes that if the noise figure (NF) or minimum discernible signal (MDS) of an SDR is known, then it is possible to use that SDR as a power meter by calibrating it with a resistor (dummy load) at room temperature. To determine power levels Leif uses the signal diagnostics plugin which is built into SDR#. He writes in the video description:

When the noise figure (NF) or minimum discernible signal (MDS) of a software defined radio (SDR) is known we can use that radio as a power meter just by calibrating it on a room temperature resistor. Here the Airspy HF+ is used to demonstrate the principles. Note that MDS depends on the temperature. Manufacturer data is for a warmed up unit. Cold units have significantly lower MDS. Note the observations on bad adapters and attenuators towards the end of the video. One conclusion is that the HF+ is EXCELLENT in keeping common mode currents on the USB as well as on the antenna cable outside. They do not enter the receiver provided that the nut holding the SMA connector is firmly tightened.

hfpluspowermeter

In another video Leif also tests out a pre-production version of a HF+ preselector currently being designed by Youssef (designer of the HF+) by measuring the filter responses.

hfpluspreselector

Thomas N1SPY Demonstrates Receiving SSTV Images from the ISS

Earlier in the month the International Space Station (ISS) was transmitting SSTV images down to the earth for anyone to receive an decode. The ISS does this several times a year to commemorate special space related events, such as the day Yuri Gagarin (first man in space) was launched.

In the video Thomas explains why the ISS does this, how to track the ISS, and then he demonstrates actually receiving and decoding the signal. Thomas uses an Airspy HF+ to receive the signal on 145.8 MHz, however an RTL-SDR could do the same job. For decoding he uses the MMSSTV software.

For new on when the ISS might transmit SSTV again, keep at eye on the ARISS Blog, and the ISS Ham Twitter page.

Thomas N1SPY receives SSTV signals from the ISS