The Airspy HF+ and the KiwiSDR are two HF specialty SDR radios. The HF+ advertises excellent dynamic range and sensitivity, whilst the KiwiSDR has it's strength in it's internet connectivity and 30 MHz wide live bandwidth.
Over on YouTube icholakov has uploaded a video comparing the two SDRs on daytime medium wave and shortwave reception with a W6LVP amplified magnetic loop antenna. It is expected that the two SDRs should be quite similar in easy receiving conditions, but the Airspy HF+ should shine in challenging conditions with strong blocking signals and weak signals being received at the same time. The Airspy HF+ should also be a bit more sensitive in all conditions. It's not clear if there were any strong blocking signals in the tests, but the results appear to confirm the sensitivity expectations.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you to Michael (dg0opk) who wrote in and wanted to share details of his full SDR monitoring system for weak signal HF modes. His setup consists of nine ARM mini PCs (such as Banana Pi's, Raspberry Pi's, and Odroid's), several SDRs including multiple RTL-SDR's, an Airspy Mini, FunCube Dongle and SDR-IQ, as well as some filters and a wideband amp. For software he uses Linrad or GQRX as the receiver, and WSJTx or JTDX as the decoding software, all running on Linux.
Michael also notes that his Bananapi FT8, JT65 and JT9 SDR monitor has been up and stably running continuously for half a year now. Bananapi's are lower cost alternatives to the well known Raspberry Pi single board computers, so it's good to note that a permanent weak signal monitoring system can be set up on a very low budget. Presumably even cheaper Orange Pi's would also work well.
With his setup he is able to continuously monitor FT8, JT65 and JT9 on multiple bands simultaneously without needing to tie up more expensive ham radios. His results can be seen on PSKReporter. A video of his RTL-SDR Raspberry Pi 3 decoding FT8, JT65 and JT9 can be found here.
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