Over on YouTube the Scanner and Sdr Radio channel has uploaded a video comparing four different brands of HF wideband loop antennas using an SDRplay RSPduo. The loops he tested include the cheap Chinese MLA-30 (~$40), the Cross Country Wireless (CCW) loop ($70), Bonito ML200 (~$442) and the Wellbrook 1530LN (~$305).
The MLA-30 was slightly modified with the cheap coax removed and a BNC connector added. Each of the antennas used a wire loop with diameter of approximately 1.6m, except for the Wellbrook which has a fixed size solid loop of 1m.
The tests compare each loop against the Wellbrook which is used as the reference antenna. In each test he checks each HF band with real signals on the RSPduo and compares SNR between the two antennas.
The results show that the two expensive antennas, the Bonito and Wellbrook, do generally perform the best with the lowest noise floors, but surprisingly the MLA-30 actually performs very well for it's price point, even outperforming the Wellbrook reference on SNR in some bands. We note that some of the improvement may be due to the larger 1.6m loop size used on the MLA-30, compared to the 1m loop on the Wellbrook.
Also we note that it can be hard to compare antennas in single tests, because the differences in antenna radiation patterns could be favorable for some signals, and less so for others, depending on the location.
SDRplay recently released news about their upcoming RSPdx software defined radio, which replaces the RSP2 as the top of the line unit in the SDRplay lineup. The RSPdx is not yet on sale, but a few YouTube reviewers have already received their units. The first review comes from Mile Kokotov who is known to have reviewed several SDRs in the past. Mile's impressions are that the receiver works very well. He writes on his video blurb:
Today i have received the new SDR receiver from SDRplay, the RSPdx and was eager to turn it on and do some tests receiving on HF and VLF. Although at the moment my mini-whip antenna is not operational, I have connected some 20 meters wire as an antenna and start listening on VLF, LW, MW and HF...
I have to say that SDRplay team did a good job with this SDR-receiver, putting better filters and redesigning front-end to improve dynamic range and enhance overall performance in relation to its predecessors RSP2 and RSP2pro. The new RSPdx is very good indeed. Especially on HF and below.
The RSPdx has new features like HDR (High Dynamic range) mode for reception within selected bands below 2 MHz. HDR mode delivers improved intermodulation performance and less spurious responses for those challenging bands.
The New SDRplay RSPdx receiver - First Impression: Excellent!
The second review is by SevenFortyOne who runs through the various features of the SDRplay and also tests it on various HF signals.
SDRplay RSPdx Overview and SDRuno V1.33 Demo
The third video isn't exactly a review, but here TechMinds shows us how to run the RSPdx as a panadapter on his FTDX-3000.
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.
SDRplay have just released their new SDR that they're calling the RSPdx. This is their new top end product which replaces the older RSP2/pro line. The RSPdx is designed for high performance DX reception and they write that it achieves this with additional filtering, improved intermodulation performance, a DAB notch filter, additional attenuation steps, and a new high dynamic range for frequencies under 2 MHz.
Pricing is £159 GBP or $199 USD (excluding taxes). It doesn't yet appear to be for purchase, but they note that it will be fully released within the next few weeks.
The RSPdx is a replacement for the highly successful RSP2 and RSP2pro SDR receivers, which have been extensively redesigned to provide enhanced performance with additional and improved pre-selection filters, improved intermodulation performance, the addition of a user selectable DAB notch filter and more software selectable attenuation steps .
The RSPdx , when used in conjunction with SDRplay’s own SDRuno software, introduces a special HDR (High Dynamic Range) mode for reception within selected bands below 2MHz. HDR mode delivers improved intermodulation performance and fewer spurious responses for those challenging bands.
The SDRplay RSPdx is a single-tuner wideband full featured 14-bit SDR which covers the entire RF spectrum from 1kHz to 2GHz giving up to 10MHz of spectrum visibility. It contains three antenna ports, two of which use SMA connectors and operate across the full 1 kHz to 2 GHz range and the third uses a BNC connector which operates up to 200MHz.
The RSPdx also features a 24 MHz ‘plug and play’ reference clock input which allows the unit to be synchronised to an external reference clock such as a GPS disciplined oscillator (GPSDO)
SDRplay is a UK company. The RSP SDR receivers are made in the UK and can be purchased for worldwide delivery directly from http://www.sdrplay.com/ (click on purchase and select your country to view shipping costs) or you can buy from any of our worldwide resellers listed here: http://www.sdrplay.com/distributors/ Many of the resellers offer local free shipping and/or local language technical support.
Mike Ladd (KD2KOG) who works for SDRplay Technical services has provided the following demonstration video.
Major Announcement... The RSPdx from SDRplay.
Independent reviewer TechMinds has also uploaded a new hardware and software overview and unboxing video as well.
Over on YouTube Mike Ladd (KD2KOG) from the SDRplay technical support team has uploaded a YouTube video showing him running our recently released RTL-SDR Blog L-Band Active Patch antenna on an SDRplay RSP1a. In the video he receives and decodes AERO signals from his car with his RSP1a powering the active patch antenna via the built in bias tee.
If you didn't already hear, we recently released an active (amplified + filtered) high performance patch antenna designed for receiving L-Band satellites such as Inmarsat, Iridium and GPS. The patch is designed to be easily mountable outside on a window, surface, stick, tree branch etc as it comes with easy to use mounting solutions and extension coax, and is enclosed in a fully weather proof plastic cover. If you're interested the product is available over on our store for US$39.95 with free shipping.
You also might want to keep an eye on Mike's YouTube channel, as he notes that in the yet to be released part 2 video he will be giving away the antenna in a competition.
Cross Country Wireless is a UK based company that has created an active HF loop antenna for only $70 USD including international shipping. The loop appears to have already been for sale for a while now, but recently they've created a new version that can be easily powered by a 5V bias tee with at least a 67 mA current capacity. This makes it very easy to use with radios that have built in bias tee's such as our RTL-SDR Blog V3 and SDRplay and Airspy units. The page reads:
The Loop Antenna Amplifier contains all the electronics needed for home DIY construction of an active loop (magnetic loop) low noise receiving antenna.
The amplifier consists of two units, a weatherproofed outdoor unit for connection to a suitable loop and a base unit to further amplify the signal and to provide DC power up the coaxial cable to the outdoor unit.
The outdoor unit is housed in a polycarbonate box with stainless steel antenna connections and a BNC socket. The indoor unit is a PCB with two BNC connectors and a USB socket to take 5V from a USB socket on a PC or phone charger.
Like our other active antenna products it has RF overload protection to allow it to be used very close to transmit antennas without damaging the amplifier or the attached receiver.
The loop depends on what the user has available. We have tested it with simple wire loops or deltas, coax loops and an alloy loop made from a bicycle wheel rim. We supply a 3m (10 ft) length of wire as a simple loop to make a first loop for testing.
The photograph on the right shows the prototype with a 1m diameter loop of LDF4-50 coax cable as a test loop.
With a simple wire loop or delta and a small USB powerbank it makes a very compact and portable receiving antenna for holiday listening or covert use.
The latest version can now have the head unit powered directly from receivers with a 5V bias-tee such as the SDRplay receivers or some RTL-SDR dongle receivers with a bias-tee option.
Frequency range: 10 kHz to 30 MHz
Loop amplifier input impedance: 0.3 ohms
Output impedance: 50 ohms
Supply voltage: 5 V from USB socket or charger
Supply current (head and base unit): 112 mA
Supply current (head unit fed with 5V bias-tee): 67 mA
Loop antenna outdoor unit connectors: Two M6 stainless steel threaded studs and BNC female (RF out 50 ohms)
There is no comparison yet that we've seen on how this loop compares against the cheaper US$45 Chinese made MLA-30 loop. In a previous post Martin (G8JNJ) reviewed the MLA-30 and noted several design flaws after reverse engineering the circuit. He has let us know that he will also be reviewing the Cross Country Wireless Active Loop and will let us know his thoughts in the future.
Cross Country Wireless Loop Antenna Amplifier VLF test with 1m diameter coax loop
GNU radio is a popular environment for teachers and developers involved in Digital Signal Processing and exploring new radio architectures. For receiver applications, the low cost dongle is a popular hardware choice, but if you need reliable, clean, continuous radio signal reception from 1kHz to 2 GHz (without the need for block converters or external filters) then an SDRplay RSP is a useful alternative.
With help from the GNU radio foundation, SDRplay has now made available a workflow for windows for all its RSP radios: www.sdrplay.com/docs/gr-sdrplay-workflow.pdf
Special thanks goes to Frank Werner-Krippendorf (HB9FXQ) who did the original SDRplay source block development, and to Geof Nieboer who has developed the Powershell scripts which enable operation on Windows.
Last month we posted a collection of reviews about the MLA-30 which is a budget magnetic loop antenna designed for receiving HF signals. The overall consensus from the reviews was that it worked decently for the price, but of course could never live up to the high end loops that cost hundreds of dollars.
Of interest, he explains that the creator of this loop has designed it poorly as the impedance match of the loop to low pass filter is very wrong, resulting in a very poor amplitude/frequency response. He shows how the response can be improved with a few termination resistors, but is still not great.
If you're interested in a cheap magnetic loop antenna, Martin suggests DIYing the M0AYF design which he says works a lot better.
We note that the "YouLoop" design is also in the works as a product that will apparently sell at close to manufacturing cost. The YouLoop is a passive loop idea by the creator of the Airspy that consists only of a simple 1:1 transformer and coax cable as the loop. It works best with high sensitivity radios like the HF+ Discovery.