Tagged: airspy HF+

More Reviews and Discussion on the Airspy HF+

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.

Airspy HF+ vs Elad FDM-S2 Weak Signal Comparisons

In this guest post on the swling.com blog Guy Atkins put up a number of audio samples recorded from the HF+ and FDM-S2. The audio samples were not labelled with the radio they came from and he asked readers to vote on which audio sample sounded better. A week later he released the results which showed that the HF+ and FDM-S2 had mostly 50/50 votes, indicating that one did not really sound better than the other.

Airspy HF+ Review - A Nice SDR Receiver

In his blog post Roi Huberman shows a few examples of the HF+ in action and briefly compares it against his SDRplay noting the better dynamic range.

Airspy HF+ Broadcast FM Selectivity Check

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. 

Overview of the HF+

This YouTube video by Radio-Noticias revista española de radioafición is in Spanish, but can be decently autotranslated using YouTube captions to English. It provides a good overview of the HF+ design and features.

Airspy HF+ MW Overload Problems

All the reviews we've seen so far have praised the HF+ heavily, but it's worth noting that it seems that a few HF+ owners are experiencing significant overloading problems. These are typically users that live very close to powerful MW AM transmitters.

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.

Previous Reviews

In the past we reviewed the HF+ ourselves and that review can be found here. You can also search our previous posts for various other HF+ reviews that we've posted about before.

Some more information about the Airspy HF+ R3 Bypass Modification

At the beginning of this month we posted a review by Bjarne Mjelde who reviewed the MW DXing performance of the Airspy HF+. One thing he found was that by performing a simple capacitor bypass modification, the performance of the HF+ below 15 MHz could be significantly improved. Over on the SWLing blog we've seen a post that gives a bit more information for those wanting to perform the R3 bypass modification on their HF+'s. There Yousseff, head of the Airspy team wrote:

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.

The HF+ Mod (Edited by Bjarne, original photo by Nils Schiffhauer)
The HF+ Mod (Edited by Bjarne, original photo by Nils Schiffhauer)

A MW DXers Review of the Airspy HF+

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.

The HF+ Mod (Edited by Bjarne, original photo by Nils Schiffhauer)
The HF+ Mod (Edited by Bjarne, original photo by Nils Schiffhauer)

OpenWebRX now Supports the Airspy HF+

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.

Airspy HF+ Running on the OpenWebRX Web Browser Interface
Airspy HF+ Running on the OpenWebRX Web Browser Interface

Leif Compares the Airspy HF+ with the Airspy+Spyverter Combo

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+.

Video Comparing the Airspy HF+ and KiwiSDR

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.

Video Comparison of the Airspy HF+, SDRplay RSP1A and ColibriNANO on VLF to MF

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...

Several new Airspy HF+ Reviews

The new Airspy HF+ SDR receiver has now been shipped to multiple customers and reviewers, and new reviews are coming online fast. If you weren't already aware, the Airspy HF+ was a hotly anticipated low cost, but high performance HF speciality SDR receiver. The claims are that it can compete with the high end $500 US+ units. We have our own review of an early model here. Below are some new reviews that we are aware of.

Nils DK8OK's photo of the Airspy HF+.
Nils DK8OK's photo of the Airspy HF+.

Nils Schiffhauer - DK8OK

On his blog Nils presents us with a comprehensive set of audio recordings comparing the $525 US Elad FDM-S2 with the $199 US Airspy HF+. He compares the two receivers on various shortwave broadcast stations, time stations, and an airport VOLMET. The recordings are identical, with the two radios recording the same signals simultaneously via a splitter.

Both receivers produce excellent results so you will probably need headphones and keen ears to be able to tell the difference.

Mile Kokotov

In this review YouTube video Mile Kokotov presents a comparison of the Airspy HF+ vs. the ColibriNANO, a similarly specced SDR dongle. He writes:

In this video I am comparing two high quality SDR Receivers: Airspy HF+ and ColibriNANO. They both have 16 bit Analog-to-Digital Converter. Comparison was made with the same overall conditions.

For example, both receivers was set with equal size spectrum windows, with the same amount of decibels in their scale, and the same high of the spectrum windows.
ColibriNANO has LNA gain slider which was set to maximum SNR.

Airspy HF+, on the other hand, has no LNA gain control.
The SV2HQL/Beacon was chosen as a test signal on 3579.32 kHz (on 80m band)

Antenna is half-wave resonant Dipole (40 meters long) for 80m band.

In the second part of the video I was inserted 27 dB external Attenuator on both receivers. ColibriNANO automatically increased the LNA gain and sets itself to maximum SNR. With this amount of attenuation, The Airspy HF+ noise floor level was at about the same place in spectrum window like ColibriNANO, Unlike in the first part of the video, when no external attenuator was used.

Both SDR-receivers are very good! Which is better? I leave on you to judge...

Mile also does a second test with his HF+ and an active Mini-Whip antenna. He writes:

Airspy HF+ is superb High-Dynamic HF and VHF SDR-receiver and I am impressed with it. In order to minimize possible negative effect on signal path from antenna connector to tuner input, Airspy HF+ has no internal attenuator. Developers takes in account that this SDR-receiver has enough dynamic range that is very difficult to overload it. Actually it is true for most cases. But, if we want to use some type of active antenna (with internal amplification) like Mini-Whip Active Antenna for example, it is good idea to add an external attenuator between antenna and receiver HF-input connector, in order to have opportunity to lower the signal level from the active antenna, and to avoid possible overload issues. In this video I am presented some scenario (receiving MW AM band) when my homemade external step-attenuator is more than welcome! By the way, the external step-attenuator is very easy to made in almost no money. All you need is 9 resistors, three switches and one metal box) I have 5.5 dB switch, 10.5 dB switch and 22 dB switch. It can be set for 8 various combinations: 0, -5.5 dB, -10.5 dB, -16 dB, -22 dB, -27.5 dB, -32.5 dB and -38 dB.

You can see on this video that the AM Broadcast signal from Macedonian Radio on 810 kHz is very strong. The Antenna is about 30 km from my house. It is self standing huge 185 meters high vertical antenna, radiating enormous RF-power, so I have to use my homemade attenuator I mentioned it before.

The SWLing Post Blog

Here Thomas of the SWLing post blog has posted a brief review of his HF+ unit. He notes how the HF+ is very compact, with a durable enclosure and how easy it was to set up with it being completely plug and play. So far Thomas hasn't fully evaluated the performance, but his first impressions are good.

Adam 9A4QV

In his two videos Adam doesn't directly review the Airspy HF+, but he does show some pretty impressive reception with his Skyloop antenna.

RadioHobbyist (Update: 8 Dec 2017)

This review by RadioHobbyist just came online shortly after this post went out. It compares the HF+ against the expensive $1449 US NetSDR using sound samples from both radios. The difference between the two radios is almost undetectable.