Tagged: HF

Video Tutorial on Decoding FT-8 and RTTY with an SDRplay RSP1A

Over on YouTube radio content creator Techminds has recently started a series that shows how to decode various signals using an SDR such as the SDRplay RSP1A. The first video explains what FT-8 is and shows how to decode it using the WSJT-X software. FT-8 is a modern digital HF ham mode that is designed to be receivable even in weak signal reception. However, the amount of information sent in a FT-8 message is small, so it is not possible to have a full conversation, and you can only make contacts.

In his second video Tech Minds explains RTTY and also shows how to decode it. RTTY is another much older mode that is used by the military as well as hams. To decode it he uses Digital Master 780 which is a program included in the Ham Radio Deluxe software.

Listening to SELCAL and the HF Air Band with an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube content creator Tech Minds continues to upload informative RTL-SDR based videos, this time discussing SELCAL and the HF Air Band. For international flights it is common for aircraft to communicate with ground controllers and the parent company via the HF bands.

As radio communications are sparse, and the pilots obviously don't want to monitor noisy HF static for the entirely journey a system is required for signalling pilots when a ground station wishes to communicate with them. The system in use today is SELCAL which simply consists of transmitting a set of tones unique to an aircraft. When a correct SELCAL tone is received the aircraft system alerts the pilots that a radio voice communication is about to come through, allowing them time to get the radio in operation. 

Tech Minds' video explains this in a bit more detail, and shows some examples of HF air comms with SELCAL tones played.

Identifying Noise Sources in the Shack using an SDR and an Active Receive Loop

Over on YouTube user SignalSearch has uploaded a video showing how he uses an active magnetic loop antenna indoors to identify local noise sources. Magnetic loop antennas are directional, meaning that they receive best when pointing towards a signal. This means that they also receive noise better when pointed at a noise source.  In the video SignalSearch uses a W6LVP receive loop antenna and demonstrates noise being emitted from his lightbulb, and from a plug in Ethernet over powerline adapter, which are known to be huge sources of HF noise.

If you are interested in the noise produced by these Ethernet over powerline adapters then we did a previous post on this problem over here.

Antennas for Receiving Shortwave Indoors with an SDR

Over on the swling.com blog admin Thomas has been exploring various indoor antenna options for pairing with an HF capable software defined radio. He notes that unless you happen to live in isolation, you're highly likely to experience RFI problems with standard wire antennas. Instead he recommends looking into magnetic loop antennas which are significantly more resistant to urban electric field based RFI noise, and they can also be rotated to null out any other local noise sources. Thomas then goes on to highlight some of the best commercial magnetic loop options for sale. There is also some good advice in the comments section.

We note that magnetic loop antenna seem to work fairly well with the RTL-SDR in V3 in direct sampling mode, but you may need to filter out the broadcast AM band to avoid overload if the loop doesn't do this already.

An example small PK-Loop antenna for receiving shortwave with an SDR.
An example small PK-Loop antenna for receiving shortwave with an SDR.

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.

The K9AY Loop Antenna: A Directional E-H Antenna for HF

Thank you to Frank Sessink (PA0FSB) for submitting to us his document describing the K9AY loop antenna (pdf), which is the antenna that he successfully uses with his RTL-SDR for HF reception. The antenna combines magnetic (H) and electric (E) field reception in order to create a directive radiation pattern. Frank extends the idea by showing a method that can adjust the directivity electrically with some simple resistor switching.

The antenna that I use is for medium wave DX, specially to receive MW from USA here in Europe/The Netherlands. The antenna is a combination of a magnetic loop and a sense antenna for the E-field. The magnetic loop is directive, but has no front-rear ratio. The E-field antenna has omnidirectional sensitivity. The combination, in correct phase and amplitude, results in a front-rear ratio of more than 25 dB over the frequency range from 500 kHz to around 3 MHz. Higher frequency makes no sense, since skywave signals distort the ground wave directivity pattern.

A simple modification is used as directional antenna with remote control: two orthogonal loops that combine E and H-field in a simple way. I can make 8 selectable directions.

The full document is available here in PDF format.

The K9AY E-H HF Antenna
The K9AY E-H HF Antenna

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)

A Homemade Magnetic Loop Antenna used with RTL-SDR Direct Sampling

Over on our forums user "SandB"  has submitted his designs for a homemade magnetic loop antenna with preamp that he uses together with his RTL-SDR in direct sampling mode. The antenna looks like an interesting build so we are resharing it here. He writes:

So, antenna itself represents as handmade on-PCB winding made of two-side-foiled fiberglass size of 30x40 cm. Both 'windings' connected in the middle and thus winded to 'continue' each other.

Preamp located in metal box attached to antenna and connected via 1.5m S/FTP cable to another box with RTL stick. Note that some transistors soldered on PCB in upside-down - dot on layout means base.

Electrically preamp made as 3-stages balanced signal amplifier with low-input impedance and low-pass filter before input with cut-off at 15MHz. Such complications were required to reduce interferences and intermodulations. Antenna itself is more effective on long-medium waves, so preamp has higher gain on short waves (gain varies from 45db at 200KHz to 68 db at 10MHz - see attached freq responce pic). Getting more flat responce at lower frequencies is possible by increasing C10/C11/C12 to 22nF.

My implementation has some additional elements to make possible to adjust preamp's gain in few db's. But seems its quite useless so that details not included in this post. Anyway, its possible to reduce gain by increasing R6 to 500K.

Box with RTL SDR: I put both signal wires as 3 windings via ferrite ring with high permeability just before RTL chip. This noticeable reduced stray interference, that induced in that cable but doesn't affect differential signal.

ant_preparing
rtl-box
on-the-wall
preamp_n_antenna
ant_preparing2
board-front
board-back
principal
freq_responce_modeled

Video Tutorial on Decoding FT-8 and RTTY with an SDRplay RSP1A

Over on YouTube radio content creator Techminds has recently started a series that shows how to decode various signals using an SDR such as the SDRplay RSP1A. The first video explains what FT-8 is and shows how to decode it using the WSJT-X software. FT-8 is a modern digital HF ham mode that is designed to be receivable even in weak signal reception. However, the amount of information sent in a FT-8 message is small, so it is not possible to have a full conversation, and you can only make contacts.

In his second video Tech Minds explains RTTY and also shows how to decode it. RTTY is another much older mode that is used by the military as well as hams. To decode it he uses Digital Master 780 which is a program included in the Ham Radio Deluxe software.

Listening to SELCAL and the HF Air Band with an RTL-SDR

Over on YouTube content creator Tech Minds continues to upload informative RTL-SDR based videos, this time discussing SELCAL and the HF Air Band. For international flights it is common for aircraft to communicate with ground controllers and the parent company via the HF bands.

As radio communications are sparse, and the pilots obviously don't want to monitor noisy HF static for the entirely journey a system is required for signalling pilots when a ground station wishes to communicate with them. The system in use today is SELCAL which simply consists of transmitting a set of tones unique to an aircraft. When a correct SELCAL tone is received the aircraft system alerts the pilots that a radio voice communication is about to come through, allowing them time to get the radio in operation. 

Tech Minds' video explains this in a bit more detail, and shows some examples of HF air comms with SELCAL tones played.

Identifying Noise Sources in the Shack using an SDR and an Active Receive Loop

Over on YouTube user SignalSearch has uploaded a video showing how he uses an active magnetic loop antenna indoors to identify local noise sources. Magnetic loop antennas are directional, meaning that they receive best when pointing towards a signal. This means that they also receive noise better when pointed at a noise source.  In the video SignalSearch uses a W6LVP receive loop antenna and demonstrates noise being emitted from his lightbulb, and from a plug in Ethernet over powerline adapter, which are known to be huge sources of HF noise.

If you are interested in the noise produced by these Ethernet over powerline adapters then we did a previous post on this problem over here.

Antennas for Receiving Shortwave Indoors with an SDR

Over on the swling.com blog admin Thomas has been exploring various indoor antenna options for pairing with an HF capable software defined radio. He notes that unless you happen to live in isolation, you're highly likely to experience RFI problems with standard wire antennas. Instead he recommends looking into magnetic loop antennas which are significantly more resistant to urban electric field based RFI noise, and they can also be rotated to null out any other local noise sources. Thomas then goes on to highlight some of the best commercial magnetic loop options for sale. There is also some good advice in the comments section.

We note that magnetic loop antenna seem to work fairly well with the RTL-SDR in V3 in direct sampling mode, but you may need to filter out the broadcast AM band to avoid overload if the loop doesn't do this already.

An example small PK-Loop antenna for receiving shortwave with an SDR.
An example small PK-Loop antenna for receiving shortwave with an SDR.

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.

The K9AY Loop Antenna: A Directional E-H Antenna for HF

Thank you to Frank Sessink (PA0FSB) for submitting to us his document describing the K9AY loop antenna (pdf), which is the antenna that he successfully uses with his RTL-SDR for HF reception. The antenna combines magnetic (H) and electric (E) field reception in order to create a directive radiation pattern. Frank extends the idea by showing a method that can adjust the directivity electrically with some simple resistor switching.

The antenna that I use is for medium wave DX, specially to receive MW from USA here in Europe/The Netherlands. The antenna is a combination of a magnetic loop and a sense antenna for the E-field. The magnetic loop is directive, but has no front-rear ratio. The E-field antenna has omnidirectional sensitivity. The combination, in correct phase and amplitude, results in a front-rear ratio of more than 25 dB over the frequency range from 500 kHz to around 3 MHz. Higher frequency makes no sense, since skywave signals distort the ground wave directivity pattern.

A simple modification is used as directional antenna with remote control: two orthogonal loops that combine E and H-field in a simple way. I can make 8 selectable directions.

The full document is available here in PDF format.

The K9AY E-H HF Antenna
The K9AY E-H HF Antenna

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)

A Homemade Magnetic Loop Antenna used with RTL-SDR Direct Sampling

Over on our forums user "SandB"  has submitted his designs for a homemade magnetic loop antenna with preamp that he uses together with his RTL-SDR in direct sampling mode. The antenna looks like an interesting build so we are resharing it here. He writes:

So, antenna itself represents as handmade on-PCB winding made of two-side-foiled fiberglass size of 30x40 cm. Both 'windings' connected in the middle and thus winded to 'continue' each other.

Preamp located in metal box attached to antenna and connected via 1.5m S/FTP cable to another box with RTL stick. Note that some transistors soldered on PCB in upside-down - dot on layout means base.

Electrically preamp made as 3-stages balanced signal amplifier with low-input impedance and low-pass filter before input with cut-off at 15MHz. Such complications were required to reduce interferences and intermodulations. Antenna itself is more effective on long-medium waves, so preamp has higher gain on short waves (gain varies from 45db at 200KHz to 68 db at 10MHz - see attached freq responce pic). Getting more flat responce at lower frequencies is possible by increasing C10/C11/C12 to 22nF.

My implementation has some additional elements to make possible to adjust preamp's gain in few db's. But seems its quite useless so that details not included in this post. Anyway, its possible to reduce gain by increasing R6 to 500K.

Box with RTL SDR: I put both signal wires as 3 windings via ferrite ring with high permeability just before RTL chip. This noticeable reduced stray interference, that induced in that cable but doesn't affect differential signal.

ant_preparing
rtl-box
on-the-wall
preamp_n_antenna
ant_preparing2
board-front
board-back
principal
freq_responce_modeled