I bought the RPi to use it as a Spyserver for my Airspy HF+ SDR.
My main radio listening location is a small house located on a hill outside the city and there is no power grid there (it’s a radio heaven!), so everything has to run on batteries and consume as little power as possible.
My first tests showed that the Raspberry Pi works very well as a Spyserver: the CPU usage stays below 40% and the power consumption is low enough to allow it to run for several hours on a regular USB power bank. If I add a 4G internet connection there I could leave the Spyserver running and connect to it remotely from home.
Then I wondered if the Raspberry Pi would be powerful enough to run a SDR client app. All I needed was a portable screen so I bought the official 7” touchscreen for the RPi.
I installed Gqrx, which offers support for the Airspy HF+. I’m happy to say it works better than I expected, even though Gqrx wasn’t designed to work on such a small screen. The CPU usage is higher than in Spyserver mode (70-80%) but the performance is good. Using a 13000 mAh power bank I get about 3.5 hours of radio listening.
On the swling blog post comments Tudor explains some of his challenges including finding a battery that could supply enough current, finding a low voltage drop micro-USB cable, and reducing the noise emanating from the Raspberry USB bus. Check out the post comments for his full notes.
Recently a few more reviews of the HF+ have been released and we list some of them below for those thinking about purchasing one.
SDRPlay RSP-1A vs. Airspy HF+ on Shortwave and Medium Wave
In this video icholakov compares the RSP-1A with the HF+ on shortwave and medium wave reception. He writes:
Comparing reception of two popular SDR Receivers using the same antenna at 5 PM local time. Short wave and medium wave frequencies. Using the same SDR Console 3 software for both. I have not ced enough variances using different usb cables and different host laptops to say that in this case the two are pretty much on par. The laptop running RSP-1A happened to have a better audio profile but that's the laptop not the sdr. I only see a noticeable difference when receiving the low power 10 Watt Travel Information radio from the Florida Turnpike on 1640 kHz. I assume that it is coming via ground wave.
SDRPlay RSP-1A vs. Airspy HF+ on Shortwave and Medium Wave
In this video by YouTube user stereo11 the selectivity of the HF+ is tested by attempting to receive weak far away stations that are very close to a powerful local station on the frequency spectrum. The HF+ and the SDR# software is able to easily reject the strong station once the IF is adjusted.
However, the good news is that it seems that a recent firmware patch fixes this issues. The firmware update with instructions can be found at the bottom of the HF+ page on the Airspy site. The firmware update involves opening the case and briefly shorting two pads so it is only really something to do if you are experiencing problems in the first place. It also appears that performing a simple hardware mod helps too.
During the early phases of the design R3 was a place holder for a 0 ohms resistor that allows experimenters to customize the input impedance. For example:
A 300 pF capacitor will naturally filter the LW/MW bands for better performance in the HAM bands
A 10µH inductor would allow the use of electrically short antennas (E-Field probes) for MW and LW
A short (or high value capacitor) would get you the nominal 50 ohms impedance over the entire band, but then it’s the responsibility of the user to make sure his antenna has the right gain at the right band
A custom filter can also be inserted between the SMA and the tuner block if so desired.
R3 and the nearby resistors have been intentionally left outside of the RF shield, and their size was picked to be big enough to allow anyone to play with them. You will notice the size difference with the rest of the components.
In general, unless one knows what he’s doing, it’s not recommended to alter a working system. “If it’s working, don’t fix it”. But, we are hobbyists, and not doing so leaves an uncomfortable feeling of something unachieved. Most brands addressing the hobby market leave some tweaks and even label them in the PCB.
The main purpose of the HF+ is the best possible performance on HF at an affordable price. This is to incite HAMs to get started with this wonderful technology while using an SDR that isn’t worse than their existing analog rig.
The MW/LW/VLF crowd may have slightly different requirements, but that can be addressed by shorting a resistor.
Medium Wave DXer Bjarne Mjelde has recently written up his experiences with the new Airspy HF+ software defined radio. If you weren't already aware, MW DXing is the art of attempting to receive extremely weak and distant broadcast AM stations which may be close to powerful local stations. Generally a radio with high end dynamic range specifications is required for this task. The HF+ is a new low cost SDR that aims to meet those very needs.
In his review Bjarne noted that the MW band sensitivity of the HF+ was good, but not quite as good as the more expensive Perseus and Cloud-IQ SDRs. He also noted that the LW band was more attenuated than expected. However, he discovered that there is an optional hardware modification for the HF+ that involves simply bypassing a capacitor on the PCB with a short circuit. After performing this mod Bjarne found that the sensitivity was significantly improved on the MW and LW bands. Also although sensitivity above 15 MHz was expected to be reduced, Bjarne found no noticeable detrimental effects.
Bjarne concludes that the HF+ is a very capable receiver that after modding satisfies the needs of a demanding MW DXer, although he does note the drawback of the limited 660 kHz of bandwidth. In other previous reviews of low cost SDRs on his blog, Bjarne reviewed the SDRplay RSP1A, ColibiriNano and the Airspy R2 + SpyVerter. Basically he found that none really satisfied his MW DXing needs, with the RSP1A being suprisingly good but failing with strong signals, the Airspy R2 + SpyVerter having too high of a noise floor, and the ColibriNANO being okay, but with a high internal noise level.
Thanks to Stefan Dambeck for letting us know that there is now a fork of libairspyhf made by DL9RDZ which contains an adapted version of airspyhf_rx (the raw IQ generator). This enables the Airspy HF+ to be easily integrated into OpenWebRX.
If you weren't aware, OpenWebRX is a browser based SDR interface and server software that allows an SDR to be used by multiple people at the same time over the internet. It performs audio demodulation and compression on the server side allowing for very low and efficient network usage. In this way it is different to Airspy official server solution SpyServer which sends the IQ data over the network. So an OpenWebRX server uses significantly less network bandwidth and might be more suitable for those on slower or capped internet connections.
At the moment we're not seeing any public HF+ servers available on the OpenWebRX database at sdr.hu, but this may change in the future.
Over on YouTube Leif (sm5bsz) has uploaded a video where he compares the Airspy HF+ with the Airspy+Spyverter combination. In the test he compares the two radios at 7 MHz. The signals come in from an antenna, are amplified and then passed into a notch filter which notches at 7.198 MHz. The antenna signal is then passed into an attenuator, and then through a directional coupler and then split into the two radios. A signal generator is used to inject a signal via the directional coupler at the notch frequency, and this signal is used to compare the two radios. This method stops antenna noise from appearing at the notch frequency and so any non-linearities appearing in the notch must be a problem with the radio.
The results that Leif finds are quoted below. They show that although the Airspy HF+ has good linearity, it can still be significantly improved in tough environments by adding a front end filter for the band of interest.
The Airspy HF+ and the Airspy+Spyverter are compared on 7 MHz with and without a band pass filter on the input. Without the filter the HF+ is a little better than the Airspy+Spyverter combo, but when the filter is inserted, the HF+ is MUCH better than the combo.
In an earlier video Leif also compares the two Airspy units on FM broadcast and the 2 meter band. Again he shows that the Airspy HF+ is better than the standard Airspy, but adding a filter to block out the broadcast FM can still help fairly significantly when trying to listen to the 2M band on the HF+.
Over on YouTube user icholakov has uploaded a video comparing the Airspy HF+ with the KiwiSDR. The Airspy HF+ and KiwiSDR are both high performance yet low cost SDR platforms. The differences are that the Airspy HF+ is normally connected directly to a PC (but can be run remotely too) whereas the KiwiSDR is designed to be run remotely only, and so can only be accessed through a browser platform. In addition the HF+ only has maximum live bandwidth of 660 kHz whereas the KiwiSDR samples the entire 30 MHz of the HF band. Both are very sensitive and fairly resistant to overloading, but the HF+ should be better in both regards.
In his video icholakov does side by side comparisons with each radio. He writes
Comparing short wave and medium wave reception from Airspy HF+ SDR Console 3 and KiwiSDR with its built in web server. Using the same 80m dipole antenna. No special noise cancelling on the Airspy HF Plus.
Over on his YouTube Channel Mile Kokotov has uploaded a video that compares three mid priced SDRs: the Airspy HF+, the SDRplay RSP1A and the ColibriNANO. Each SDR is compared on several ALPHA and NBD morse code stations which exist in his tests from between 14 kHz to 474 kHz. He writes:
In this video I am comparing three SDR-Receivers. I have made few recordings with every receiver with the same antenna and choose the best one (one with the best SNR = signal-to-noise ratio). My intention was to ensure the same conditions for all three SDR`s in order to make as fair as possible comparison. For example, I was set the frequency span displayed on the window to be as same as possible for all three receivers. The vertical axis for the signal stregth, was set to be equal (in decibels) too.Airspy HF+ and ColibriNANO was set to their minimum sample rate (48 kHz). RSP1A was set to minimum sample rate (2 MHz and 8 decimation).
No DSP enhancing on the SDR`s was used except APF (Audio peak filter) on ColibriNANO (I forgot to swith off).
The differences between each receiver as very difficult to detect as only really challenging signal conditions will really set them apart. Mile also added in a comment:
You should not expect the difference to be very obvious! If you compare one average transceiver (which cost about $ 1000 USD) and top class transceiver which cost ten times more, the difference in the receiving the average signals will be very small too. Almost negligible! But when you have difficult conditions, the very weak signal between many strong signals, than the better receiver will receive the weak signal readable enough, but cheaper receiver will not. Today it is not a problem to design and produce the sensitive receiver, but it is very difficult to design and produce high dynamic receiver for reasonable price! The Airspy HF+ and RSP1A are very very good SDR-receivers. They have different customers target and have strong and weak sides. For example Airspy HF+ has better dynamics in frequency range where it is designed for, but RSP1A, on the other hand, has broadband coverage...