A few weeks ago the tinySA Ultra was released. This is a spectrum analyzer capable of operating between 0.1 - 800 MHz, or 0.1 MHz - 6 GHz with the 'Ultra' mode enabled. A spectrum analyzer is a tool that allows users to visualize signals on the radio spectrum.
Previously the standard tinySA was released back in 2020. The Ultra version brings enhancements to the frequency range, signal generator range, bandpass filter range as well as an optional 20dB LNA, and a larger 4 inch color display.
In the latest video on the Signals Everywhere YouTube channel, Sarah investigates how a PlutoSDR can be used as a Spectrum Analyzer with the SATSAGEN software. The SATSAGEN software is able to work as a spectrum analyzer by rapidly sweeping over multiple frequencies and stitching the spectrum slices together. It support SDRs like the HackRF, PlutoSDR and RTL-SDR (in receive mode only). The PlutoSDR can transmit, so it is able to work as a full spectrum analyzer with tracking generator, allowing users to measure RF devices such as filters, tune antennas, and work as a frequency generator.
In the video Sarah demonstrates how to use the PlutoSDR and SATSAGEN to measure our RTL-SDR Blog Broadcast FM filter, and to tune our multipurpose dipole antenna.
Spectrum Analyzer and Tracking Generator with Pluto SDR
This week on the SignalsEverywhere YouTube channel Sarah shows how to install the "Retrogram" software. This is a command line 'retro' styled spectrum analyzer designed to be used with the PlutoSDR. The software makes use of ASCII art to display the spectrum, meaning that a spectrum can be viewed directly in an SSH terminal, without any GUI.
In the video Sarah goes through the steps to install the software before demonstrating it in action.
Retrogram - A Command Line Spectrum Analyzer For The PlutoSDR
Back in March last year we first posted about the release of SATSAGEN, and program by Alberto (IU1KVL) that allowed the PlutoSDR to work as a spectrum analyzer. SATSAGEN has recently been updated to version 0.5, and it now supports the RTL-SDR, HackRF and Simple Spectrum Analyzer hardware as well.
Spectrum analyzer software allows you to monitor spectrum activity over a bandwidth much larger than what your SDR supports. It works by rapidly sweeping over multiple frequencies and stitching the spectrum slices together.
Some highlights of the new features include:
Simple Spectrum Analyzer series like NWT4000, D6 JTGP-1033, Simple Spectrum Analyzer, and so on.
Video trigger, real-time trigger, and fast-cycle feature
ADALM-PLUTO custom gain table and Extended linearization table for all devices
Thank you to a few readers for suggesting a post about the "tinySA". The tinySA is a low cost standalone spectrum analyzer which was made recently available from Chinese manufacturer "Hugen" who was the manufacturer that popularized the original NanoVNA. It can be found on Aliexpress for about $49 shipped worldwide. R&L also have US based stock available. The official specs from tinysa.org/wiki read:
Spectrum Analyzer with two inputs, high quality MF/HF/VHF input for 0.1MHZ-350MHz, lesser quality UHF input for 240MHz-960MHz.
Switchable resolution bandpass filters for both ranges between 2.6kHz and 640kHz
Color display showing 290 scan points covering up to the full low or high frequency range.
Input Step attenuator from 0dB to 31dB for the MF/HF/VHF input.
When not used as Spectrum Analyzer it can be used as Signal Generator, MF/HF/VHF sinus output between 0.1MHZ-350MHz, UHF square wave output between 240MHz-960MHz.
A built-in calibration signal generator that is used for automatic self test and low input calibration.
Connected to a PC via USB it becomes a PC controlled Spectrum Analyzer
Rechargeable battery allowing a minimum of at least 2 hours portable use
A spectrum analyzer allows you to view a defined slice of the frequency spectrum on a graph. It does not allow for demodulation of signals. We note that SDRs like the RTL-SDR could be used as a spectrum analyzer too with software like QSpectrumAnalzyer and Spektrum, however the advantage of the tinySA is that it is a standalone package with it's own screen that can easily be used in the field. Unlike an SDR extra computing devices like a computer or smartphone are not required.
Over on YouTube IMSAI Guy has been uploading a few videos reviewing the tinySA. From his videos he found a few issues including a slow update rate, harmonics and high phase noise. However, later he finds that most of the harmonic issues disappear as long as the input signal level is kept below -30dBm. In some more recent videos he also finds a fault with the attenuator chip on one of his tinySA units and repairs it by replacing the chip.
Thank you to Frank, HB9FXQ for submitting news about a new Windows program called SATSAGEN which allows you to use a PlutoSDR as a wideband spectrum analyzer. SATSAGEN was created by Alberto IU1KVL and is entirely free to use. This makes it possible to get wideband scans of RF components like filters and attenuators. Together with a directional coupler it could also be used to measure the SWR of antennas as HB9FXQ demonstrates in his Twitter post.
The PlutoSDR is a low cost RX/TX capable SDR with up to 56 MHz of bandwidth and 70 MHz to 6 GHz frequency range. It is typically priced anywhere between US$99 - US$149 depending on sales.
In the video below Alberto demonstrates SATSAGEN performing some wideband scans, and he shows the various features of the software. He writes that the system has a scan range from 70 MHz to 6 GHz and can show results in dBm. The spectrum analyzer works with the TX part of the PlutoSDR to provide a tracking generator with resolution of up to 1024 points. The software can also use the PlutoSDR as a frequency generator with 1 kHz of resolution.
Steve Andrew, the author of the SDRplay Spectrum Analyzer software has recently released an update which enables several new features. This software allows you to use SDRplay SDRs to scan a wide swath of bandwidth by rapidly scanning in 10 MHz (or less) chunks over the SDRplay's frequency range. The SDRplay team write:
We are pleased to announce the availability of V1.0a of the Spectrum Analyser software developed by Steve Andrew specifically for the RSP line of products. This is a very-much upgraded version of the original alpha release and includes many new features as well as removing the limitations imposed on the previous version. New features include multiple traces, a versatile marker system with maths, peak find and display functions, Zero or non-Zero IF options and an upgraded tracking generator system. Currently support are:
Over on GitHub, Rakesh Peter (r4d10n) has uploaded a new terminal/ssh based console application called "retrogram~rtlsdr". This program uses an RTL-SDR and terminal window to display a spectrum analyzer drawn in ASCII art. Because it is terminal based, it is even possible to view the spectrum of a remote device over an SSH connection. The program is based on software designed for Ettus USRP SDRs, and has been adapted for RTL-SDR.