The World Radio TV Handbook (WRTH) is a directory book (or CD) of world radio stations on LW, MW, SW and VHF broadcast FM which is released yearly. Along with the directory, the WRTH authors often review the latest shortwave listening hardware including SDRs and give out awards to the best units.
Last year the Airspy HF+ won the WRTH 2019 award for best value HF SDR, and this year the Airspy HF+ Discovery wins the 2020 award. The award comes with a glowing review in the magazine (the review is freely accessible) noting the HF+ Discoveries' "spectacular combination of performance and versatility" as well as it's affordable price point.
PiSDR is a Raspberry Pi distribution that is pre-loaded with multiple programs for various software defined radios. It currently supports RTL-SDR, LimeSDR, PlutoSDR, Airspy, and as of the most recent update the Airspy HF+. The currently pre-installed software packages include SDR Angel, Soapy Remote, GQRX, GNURadio, LimeUtil, and LimeVNA.
Recently version 3.0 was released, and this new version adds a few new features like Desktop shortcuts, Raspberry Pi 4 support, Airspy HF+ support and documentation.
The latest image can be downloaded from the PiSDR website at https://pisdr.luigifreitas.me. It can be burned to an SD card in the same way that you would with a standard Raspbian installation. This is a great image to start from if you're experimenting with RTL-SDRs on a Raspberry Pi, as it means that you don't need to go through all the steps of installing the drivers and software like GQRX and GNU Radio which can take a long time to install.
Over on YouTube Tech Minds has uploaded a video of him demonstrating Iridium Live plotting Iridium satellite tracks in real time. We just posted about Iridium Live yesterday. It is a new program by microp11, who is also the author of Scytale-C, a useful Inmarsat STD-C decoder. The software works with gr-iridium to visualize Iridium satellite tracks as they pass overhead.
In the video Tech Minds runs the software on a Raspberry Pi with an Airspy. The current video is only a demonstration, but in the near future he promises to upload a full tutorial
IridiumLIVE - Real Time Visualization Of Iridium Satellites - Raspberry Pi
Airspy have recently announced on Twitter that they are holding a 30% off Black Friday sale that runs from November 26 to December 2. The coupon is apparently valid from all their distributors which can be found on their purchase page.
Airspy sell a range of software defined radios. The HF+ Discovery is one of the best low cost HF SDRs we've tested, and the Airspy Mini and R2 are good wide band VHF/UHF radios that are a step up from RTL-SDRs. The SpyVerter is a good upconverter that is also compatible with RTL-SDRs, and can be used with the bias tee on the RTL-SDR Blog V3.
The sale brings the pricing down to the following prices in USD (plus shipping costs):
This is probably the cheapest pricing we'll see all year, and last years Black Friday sale was only 15% off, so now's a good time to purchase if you were interested in these products as this is the cheapest pricing we've seen yet.
Recently three new reviews of the Airspy HF+ Discovery have come out in various radio enthusiast magazines from around the world. All three reviews have been released for free in PDF form over on the Airspy reviews page. Unsurprisingly each review praises the HF+ Discovery as it's clearly a great radio.
” Most the low-priced SDRs have never been preselected, mostly for cost reasons, and will suffer strong signal overload especially in high RF areas (urban/metro areas). Without exception, these devices usually have major problems with the antennas that radio hobbyist use. They overload very quickly, which makes serious reception on long, medium and shortwaves rather difficult. The HF+ Discovery is the big exception. Based on our testing, the Airspy HF+ Discovery has no equal at its price point. You will find world-class performance and an amazing piece of hardware wrapped up in a package smaller than a matchbox. The Airspy line has a very fine reputation in the radio hobby. In reviews published in Gayle Van Horn’s 2018 Global Radio Guide and the 2019 World Radio TV Handbook, the Airspy HF+ received high marks by the testers and a “Best Value” rating. ”
The second review is by Nils Schiffhauer (DK8OK) which was published in the October 2019 edition of "Radio User". For German readers, Nils also published a similar review written in German for the December edition of "Radio-Kurier".
Just another SDR? Wait, this beast is different – not only in size and price but also in terms of its concept and performance. In common with some former models of AirSpy SDRs, the new AirSpy HF+ Discovery model (henceforth: ‘Discovery’) is a joint venture of Youssef Touil and his team at the Chinese ITEAD studio and ST Microelectronics. This smart team has already developed, for example, the ground-breaking AirSpy HF+, which is widely considered to be the top performer in its class. The Discovery continues this success story.
The Discovery shines with less noise, and, astonishingly, less crackle. In at least 80% of these diffi cult cases, intelligibility with the Discovery is clearly better. With very few stations, this receiver will even make the difference between understanding the identification of a station and not copying it. In August, I also tested the Discovery with the most ‘demanding’ band, the Very Low Frequency range (VLF). Here most SDRs – and certainly the majority of budget SDRs – reach their limits, lacking sensitivity and filling up the band with internally-generated signals. Thanks to a newly developed input section to start at even 500Hz, this receiver shows outstanding strong and clean signals from as far as the US Navy in Australia.
Over on YouTube the TechMinds YouTube channel has uploaded a review of our RTL-SDR Blog L-Band patch antenna which we recently released. TechMinds tests the antenna on a STD-C Inmarsat channel with the Scytale-C decoder, and on various AERO ACARS transmissions with JAERO. Later in the video he also tests the patch antenna on Iridium reception using the Iridium Toolkit software. In all tests the patch is able to suitably receive the signal with either an RTL-SDR or Airspy SDR.
We also wanted to make a note about an additional tip regarding polarization that many people using the antenna seem to have missed. As Inmarsat signals are LHCP polarized, it is important to not only point the antenna towards the satellite, but also to rotate the antenna to match the polarization until maximum SNR is achieved. The rotation can make the difference between strong signals and nothing received at all.
RTL-SDR Active L-Band Patch Antenna For Inmarsat / Iridium / GPS
We've also recently seen a user 'Bert' who has needed to boost the signal strength as he was running the patch inside and at a location in northern Europe with poor reception of Inmarsat. To boost it he simply added a metal horn over the patch made from an old aluminum box, and also a back plate reflector. He notes that this improved his SNR on AERO 10500 from 8 - 9 dB, up to 12 - 14 dB. He also tested using the patch on a dish antenna, and found very good results too.
Over on Aliexpress and eBay there are now multiple USB2.0 extenders that work using Ethernet cable. These extenders advertise that is is possible to use up to 100m of Ethernet cable. Extending the USB connection rather than using coax cable is desirable as coax cable introduces signal losses the longer it is. Extending the digital side of the SDR (the USB cable) results in no signal being lost.
However, the USB2.0 specification notes that the maximum limit of the length of an extension cable is only 5 meters. We can go beyond 5 meters by using active repeater cables, but even this has limits of up to 30 meters maximum only.
So how can these USB2.0 Ethernet extenders advertise a length of up to 100m? These devices essentially convert the USB signal into an Ethernet network signal. Ethernet cable for network connections has a limit of 100 meters. Using this Ethernet extender is quite similar to using a Raspberry Pi and running the RTL_TCP software over an Ethernet cable, except that the network connection is handled entirely by the hardware.
We purchased a $45 USB2.0 extender from Aliexpress to test (there is also a cheaper $32 unit that we saw recently that should work too). The extender comes with a 1.5m USB Male to Male cable, a transmit box, a receive box and a 5V plug pack. The transmit side plugs into the PC via the USB Male to Male cable. The receiver end is placed up to 100m away, and this side must be powered by the 5V plug pack. In between you can run up to 100m of Ethernet CAT cabling.
In our testing we purchased a 50m CAT6 cable and tested to see if the extender would work with an RTL-SDR Blog V3, Airspy and SDRplay. Initially we had trouble getting SDR# to connect to the RTL-SDR. Eventually we found out that the provided USB Male to Male cable provided was of poor quality. After replacing it with a higher quality cable the extender began working properly. We also found that some USB ports on our PC wouldn't run the unit. The USB3.0 ports on the back of the PC connected directly to the motherboard worked best.
Using SDR# the RTL-SDR Blog V3 worked exactly like it was connected directly to the PC. There was no lag noticed at all, with tuning being instant. Sample rates up to 3.2 MSPS worked fine, although of course 2.56 MSPS was the limit without drops. As the receiver box is powered by a 5V plug pack, there was plenty of power available to power a 100 mA LNA via the V3's bias tee as well.
Reliability was a bit of an issue. Sometimes we'd need to replug the USB port several times before it would connect to the RTL-SDR. But once running everything appeared to be stable, and we left it running overnight at 2.56 MSPS without any problems.
Unfortunately the lower bit rate and sample rate of the RTL-SDR appears to be the limit of what the extender can handle. The Airspy with it's higher data transfer requirements due to it's 12-bit ADC didn't work properly, with audio stuttering from dropped packets (even at the lower 3 MSPS sample rate with packing enabled). The SDRplay also wouldn't work, with the SDRUno software being unable to detect the RSP1A. Even using a shorter 2M Ethernet cable did not help for these SDRs. In theory it should work since Ethernet can support a much higher data rate, but perhaps the converter chipset used in the cheap extender unit that we have isn't fast enough.
If you want to try this out, be very careful of what you purchase on Aliexpress/eBay/Amazon. There are some very very cheap USB to Ethernet extenders out there that are advertised as USB2.0, but not all of them are truly USB2.0. The very cheap ones under $5 won't work. Those cheap units actually degrade USB2.0 down to USB1.1 which will not work for an RTL-SDR or any other common SDR. The extender units that will probably work properly are all priced over $30.
It's also possible that some of the more expensive units available on Amazon (e.g. ) may be implemented better and might work with the Airspy and SDRplay. If you've tried one of the pricier units please let us know in the comments if it works. In particular this $156 KVM unit which claims a high data rate and also supports PoE may work (although PoE may cause switching noise). For extreme extensions of up to 250m, USB2.0 fiber optic extenders such as this $359 unit, or this $459 fiber optic unit which can go up to 5km (3.1 miles) might also work. If you've tried any of these please let us know in the comments.
Marcus Leech from ccera.ca is a pioneer in using low cost software defined radios for observing the sky with amateur radio telescopes. In the past he's shown us how to receive things like the hydrogen line, detect meteors and observe solar transits using an RTL-SDR. He's also given a good overview and introduction to amateur radio astronomy in this slide show.
His recent project has managed to create a full Hydrogen sky map of the northern Canadian sky. In his project memo PDF document Marcus explains what a sky map shows:
A [sky map] shows the brightness distribution over the sky for a given set of observing wavelengths. In the case of the 21cm hydrogen line wavelength, maps show the distribution of hydrogen over the sky. For amateur observers, such maps generally show the distribution within our own galaxy, since extra-galactic hydrogen is considerably more faint, and significantly red/blue shifted relative to the rest frequency of 1420.40575 MHz, due to relative motion between the observer and the target extra-galactic hydrogen.
He was able to make this observation using his radio telescope made from a 1.8m dish antenna, a NooElec 1420 MHz SAWBird LNA + Filter, a 15dB line amplifier, another filter and two Airspy R2 software defined radios locked to an external GPSDO. The system runs his custom odroid_ra software on an Odroid XU4 single board computer, which provides spectral data to an x86 host PC over an Ethernet connection.
Over 5 months of observations have resulted in the Hydrogen sky map shown at the end of this post. Be sure to check out his project memo PDF file for more information on the project and how the image was produced. Marcus' blog post over on ccera.ca also notes that more data and different maps will be produced soon too.