Posts Tagged ‘Equipment’
Many of us hams, SWLs, and makers buy inexpensive electronics from China. It’s become a bonanza for small, cheap and surprisingly good radio-related gadgets and parts on eBay and other vendors. I buy a fair amount, most recently a recommended project box for a set of HF bandpass filters I purchased from a small company in Australia. It finally arrived and is superb for a very cheap price!
But there’s a dark side. I love a bargain more than most. But when it’s an illegitimate clone of another genuine manufacturer’s product, that’s no fair. Yep, there’s ways to legitimately copy another design with various hardware licenses and beaucoup software licenses (if that’s relevant to the product). One of the ongoing issues in the Pacific Rim to the rest of the world has been the taking of the intellectual property from others, making a cheaper product offered for sale, and using the trade naming and hardware/software designs of the originating manufacturer. In short, stealing for profit.
So be careful. The fake copies may not work with the latest SDRplay software including SDRuno. There will be no technical support even if you get some limited functionality using out of date software.Jon Hudson SDRPlay.com
For those in or interested in the SDR receivers available, there are a number of prominent names. I’ve had an Italian Perseus SDR for over a decade. Paid the asking price (a lot by today’s standards). It’s a terrific product although aging in the technology of the design. The SDRPlay company in England has risen to the top in terms of performance, continued innovation and the software they purchased for a free download to their legitimate customers. SDRUno is a terrific software package which they continue to update. They have an API so other software makers (like Simon Brown with SDR Console) can drive the SDR car, too. Their price points are very good and appropriate for the various receiver models they have on the market. A third-party individual has written code for a continually updated package that implements a Spectrum Analyser for most of the SDRPlay receivers. I’ve used an old (no longer in production) RSP1 with it and it’s very cool! And don’t get me started on their tech support and education. Mike Ladd KD2KOG is the Dude on social media for SDRPlay and related products. Mike creates new markets for SDRPlay products by educating hams and listeners on creative new ways to use them.
Individual preferences for one SDR product or another aside, SDRPlay is a legitimate company that plays more than fair in the marketplace. They do a lot to support the various elements of the radio hobby that we all enjoy. We should return that favor so that they can continue without the eroding effects of illegal clones undercutting their market, n’est-ce pas?
In Episode 344 of the ICQ Podcast, we covered a news story about illegal fakes of the RSP-line of SDRPlay receivers being sold through various online sales venues. I made the suggestion that there’s a means for honest members of the amateur radio and SWLing community to help. On both eBay and Amazon (Ed DD5LP pointed out Amazon), there is a simple quick procedure to report fake or illegal clones or deceptive use of trademark identification on items for auction. I actually reported six (6) during the recording of the podcast!
Here’s what you do. I’ll pattern it after Jon Hudson’s blog post at SDRPlay.com that he published after I sent him a note of my statements on the podcast that drops today. It only takes one minute to do.
If you search eBay for the term “sdrplay,” you can get a string of hits returned, some of which are completely legitimate. For instance, SDR-Kits in the UK is a bona fide reseller of SDRPlay receivers (and another really good international seller of VNA and related test equipment!). Some might be individuals offering personal units for sale. But many are effectively selling fake clones. Here’s the first hit I got when I just did this search on eBay. Heck, it’s even a SPONSORED auction!
Clearly, it’s labeled as an SDRplay RSP1A but real owners who have looked at the SDRPlay website will recognize that it is a “black box” clone. Here’s the next step:
Once you find the Report Item tab, here are the options you should select to report it as a fake clone in violation of eBay’s stated terms of sale. I’ve added a brief narrative in the Brief Description that gives eBay your claim and the website through which to validate that it’s a clone:
Don’t think that just repeatedly filing a claim on the SAME clone auction is doing even more good. It won’t. It will just slow down the process.
After you click the Submit Report button, your submission will be greeted with the following response:
While this action on your part might appear to be vindictive, it’s not in light of what the nefarious seller is doing to the legitimate amateur radio and SWL marketplace of legitimate products. IF enough of us engage in this public service, it will greatly help eBay and companies like SDRPlay continue to provide legitimate products to the marketplace. It only takes a minute!
Charlie/NJ7V and Gaston/KT1RUN did a comparison of VHF antennas during a SOTA activation. Specifically, they compared a rubber duck antenna, a J-pole antenna on a tall mast, and a 3-element Yagi antenna. Spoiler Alert: the rubber duck sucks (they all do) but the Yagi and J-pole performed about the same.
Joyce/K0JJW and I use the Arrow 3-element Yagi antenna for most of our SOTA activations, so I am very familiar with that one. We also have a rollup J-pole that we use once in a while.
Charlie used the Yagi the same way we do: handheld at ground level. The J-pole was on a mast, maybe 12 feet (?) in the air. Although they were on a summit, there is some performance improvement getting the antenna higher than the surrounding terrain. The gain of the Arrow 3-element Yagi has been measured at about 6 dBd. The gain of a J-pole, being a halfwave radiator, is 0 dBd. The additional height of the J-pole has to make up this 6 dB of gain difference to be roughly equivalent.
A big difference, though, is that the Yagi antenna has to be held and pointed. The J-pole is always pointing in the right direction so you can just focus on operating and logging. We may have to consider using a omni antenna instead of the Yagi.
73 Bob K0NR
Once again, I was asked by a new ham “which handheld transceiver should I get?” This is a frequent and valid question that comes up. Often the question gets framed as “Baofeng or something better?” I say “something better.” I am not writing to bash Baofeng radios or the people that use them. The radios are an incredible value on the low end of the market…amazing what they can do for $30 or so. Besides, I own several of them. I just think that if you have a few more $$ to spend, you can get a much better radio. What’s wrong with these low-end Chinese radios? Out of spec harmonics on transmit and poor adjacent channel rejection on receive.
Digital? Probably Not
The other question that usually surfaces is “should I get a digital radio?” Here “digital radio” means D-STAR, Yaesu Fusion or DMR. My answer to that is “No,” unless you have a specific reason for going digital. Adding digital to a radio results in two things: 1) a higher price and 2) a more complex radio. Actually, the price difference may not be that significant, especially for a DMR radio. However, the complexity factor is always there.
What is a specific reason for going digital? You already know that there are digital repeaters in your area that you want to use, you have ham radio friends already using digital or you are technically-oriented and have researched the topic to know that it is something you want to try. If one of these things is true, then go for it.
Oh, you do need to know which digital format to get. No radio does them all and the industry is fragmented between D-STAR, Fusion and DMR. I find this very disappointing but life is sometimes like that.
Narrowing It Down
So narrowing the topic down, we are looking for an affordable (under $100) dual-band handheld that is not a cheap Chinese radio (Baofeng, etc.) and is not a fancy digital radio. My opinion is the quality ham radio manufacturers are pretty much Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, and Yaesu. The price points on basic handheld transceivers keep changing, so be sure to check the date on this post and do a little price shopping.
The Alinco DJ-VX50 is about $100, so not too expensive, but I am not seeing any eham.net product reviews on it. Also, it seems to be out of stock at several vendors, so I am not sure of its production status. Icom and Kenwood have exited the low-end handheld market, so nothing to consider there. This leaves Yaesu as the only “brand name” player in this space. I have been recommending the Yaesu FT-4XR as a good alternative: see What About the Yaesu FT-4XR? at about $80. I recently noticed that the Yaesu FT-65R has come down in price to about $85. With this price difference, it probably makes sense to go with the FT-65R. (I really wonder about Yaesu’s product line strategy at this point. Why are there two similar radios priced so close together?)
Here is a quick comparison of the two radios: Yaesu FT-4XR vs FT-65R, which is right for you? Conclusion: FT-65R is probably better for most people. Also, check out the HamRadioSchool.com article: Yaesu FT-65R Product Review. The eham.net product reviews are generally positive on the FT-65R, but there are a few negative themes that surface. Some people are reporting radio failures that may indicate a manufacturing issue with the product. (It is made in China.)
The Good Old FT-60
The other theme that surfaces is that the FT-65R is not a complete replacement for the venerable FT-60R. Joyce/K0JJW and I have a couple of FT-60Rs that we really like and frequently use. Yaesu still sells this older model because it is so popular and, frankly, it is a really solid radio. The HamRadioSchool.com review of the FT-65R mentions several things that people tend to like on the FT-60R that were left out of the FT-65R (e.g., dedicated VFO and Squelch knobs.) The biggest complaint I hear about the FT-60R is that it has an old-school NiMH battery (the FT-65R has lithium-ion).
My conclusion is to recommend the FT-65R to newcomers to the hobby. At ~$85, it fits most people’s budgets. There is some risk that you will outgrow it down the road and want a more capable handheld for digital or APRS or whatnot. In that scenario, the FT-65R will still be a good second/backup radio. (Ya gotta have more than one, right?)
That’s my opinion. What y’all think?
73 Bob K0NR
Some folks are criticizing the ARRL for not modifying the Field Day rules in response to the Wuhan virus epidemic. Most of them are looking for a way to operate Field Day from home but still have a club score of some kind. I posted my thoughts here: Don’t Mess With The Field Day Rules.
The Field Day (FD) rules allow for a home station with commercial power to participate in FD as a Class D station. However, Class D stations cannot work other Class D stations for points. If the home station has emergency power (batteries, gasoline generator, etc.), then it is a Class E station that can work all FD stations for point credit.
Emergency Power: Too Difficult?
I’ve heard some hams argue that it is too difficult to set up emergency power for their home station. In many cases, the argument is actually that it is too expensive to do this. I can see this point if you run out and buy a name brand gasoline generator…a Honda EU1000i costs about $950.
This raises the question of what is the lowest-cost way to equip a home station for emergency power? Let’s consider the case of a typical 100W HF transceiver such as an IC-7300 or FT-991A. These radios require a 12 V power supply at 22 A maximum on transmit. Receive current is much lower, typically 1 to 2 A. Under FD rules, we don’t need to power our computer or other accessories from emergency power, just the radio. If we assume a 50% duty cycle, this class of radio consumes about (22+2)/2 = 12 A average current. (Yes, you could choose to operate QRP and really stretch the battery but let’s stay with the 100 W scenario.)
Get A Battery
So what is the cheapest way to get this done? Let’s take a look at using a deep-cycle battery. Walmart has an RV/Marine battery for $75, rated at 101 AH. Assuming 12 A of current, this battery would support about 8 hours of radio operating. This is going to be way short of the 24 hour operating period of FD but it might be enough to support a less intense operation. We could also do some things to stretch out the battery life, such as reducing our transmit power. Dropping to 50 W would roughly double the operating time to 16 hours, which should be enough for a single-operator station.
Of course, another option is to double the battery capacity by using two batteries. These amp-hour ratings on batteries are always a bit idealistic and our transmit duty cycle might be more than 50%. Let’s assume we buy two batteries to give extra margin and allow us to run 100W. We will also need a simple charger, which costs about $25. So there you have it, 2 x $75 plus $25 = $175 for a decent emergency power source. (If we decide to use only one battery, the cost drops to $100.)
Now $175 is a significant investment and only you can judge how well your ham radio budget can support this. For many people, this is affordable and the real question becomes is this how you want to spend my hard-earned cash.
This is my best shot at a low-cost emergency power source. Do you have a better idea?
73 Bob K0NR
I recently encountered a problem when using my Yaesu FT-950. Sometime during the CQ WW WPX Contest, I noticed an annoying tone (“a birdie”) in my receiver. I’ve had this radio for many years, used it quite a bit and this was the first time I encountered this problem. It struck me as very odd because it did not go away when I disconnected the antenna and it did not change frequency when I tuned around.
I immediately had visions of needing to tear the radio apart or send it back to Yaesu for repair. Instead, this happened…
When it comes to troubleshooting problems, it usually pays to fiddle around with it and see what happens.
Normally, I avoid posting items of a nostalgic nature, preferring to keep moving forward and not getting stuck in the past. I am going to make an exception today because I stumbled across some photos of my first radio receiver that went beyond the standard AM/FM broadcast bands.
Aiwa AR-158 Radio
As a kid, I remember saving up my money and buying this radio from the local “dime store” about 3 miles away from my house. It was a 6-band radio made by Aiwa, not a very common brand. I am not sure of the exact model number but it was probably the AR-158.
Of course, the radio had the standard AM and FM broadcast bands, but the real fun came from the other bands. The “Marine Band”, 1.6 to 4 MHz, picked up some shortwave broadcast stations. The “Shortwave Band” covered 4 to 12 MHz, allowing me to listen to broadcast stations from around the world. The VHF1 band covered the aircraft band from 110 to 136 MHz. I probably did not realize it at the time but the radio must have selected AM for that band. The VHF2 band provided FM reception from 148 to 174 MHz.
This receiver gave me my first experience with the wonderful world of radio. My best buddy, Denny/KB9DPF, bought a similar radio about the same time, so we were always comparing notes on what we heard: Radio Netherlands, Deutsches Welle, BBC London, Voice of America, Radio Moscow, Radio Havana, Radio Johannesburg and more. Sometimes I would hear SSB ham stations but they just sounded like Donald Duck on the AM receiver. I remember stumbling upon the signal from WWV and wondering what this ticking clock signal was all about. Whatever it was, it was really cool. (Yes, I listened to it for hours. Just because.)
The VHF Bands
The VHF aircraft band was fun to listen to, although the transmissions were short. I don’t remember if I could hear the control tower from the local airport (probably not) but I could receive aircraft transmissions. The VHF2 band was very interesting and probably planted the seeds for my interest in VHF. I could listen to the local police and fire radio calls. Tuning was a bit tedious because the receiver had an old-school analog VFO. No digital synthesis on this radio.
The radio picked up the 2-meter ham band, so the actual tuning must have been a bit lower than 148 MHz. Hearing hams chat on the local 2m repeaters got me thinking about getting an amateur license. This receiver did not have a squelch, so listening to two-way FM signals was filled with lots of receiver noise!
Even back then (in the 1960s), this was not a great radio receiver… imprecise tuning, no squelch, limited shortwave coverage. By today’s standards, it’s even worse. But I had a boatload of fun playing around with it and exploring the radio spectrum. So maybe that’s the thing to be learned from this story:
Whatever radio equipment you have, use it.
You can probably have a lot of fun.
73 Bob K0NR
We recently completed a Technician License class that produced a herd of new ham radio licensees. This always leads to a discussion of what radio should I get? Often, this is centered on the idea of getting a handheld VHF/UHF radio to get started. That is a good first move. However, for many new hams it is worth looking ahead a bit to potential future purchases.
Handheld Transceiver (HT)
Let’s start with an HT. Even if your ham radio future is going to be on the high-frequency bands, an HT is a useful tool to have. After all, FM VHF is the Utility Mode for ham radio. Many new hams opt for an inexpensive Chinese radio such as the Baofeng UV-5R. Recently, I’ve been steering them toward the slightly more expensive Yaesu FT-4XR (around $70).
It is a significantly better radio than the UV-5R but still affordable. Some new hams decide to spend more on an HT, which is also a good option. There are many radios to choose from in the $150 to $350 range.
For hams just interested in local (perhaps emergency) communications, this might be the only radio they get. If it meets your needs, that’s just fine.
FM VHF/UHF Base Station
Another option to consider is to set up a more capable station at your home, focused on FM VHF/UHF operating. This is probably going to be a dual-band radio that covers 2 meters and 70 centimeters, FM only. One way to do this is to use a mobile transceiver powered by a DC power supply and connected to an external antenna on the roof.
With higher power (50W typical) and a good antenna mounted in a high location, this type of station has better range than an HT. See A VHF FM Station at Home and Considering a VHF/UHF Antenna For Your Home. This could be your first radio but why not have an HT in your toolkit?
The All-Band Base Station
Many new hams have their eyes on working distant stations via the high-frequency bands. For many people, this is what ham radio is all about. (Honestly, you’re going to need your General license to really participate on these bands.)
The equipment manufacturers have developed the Do Everything Transceiver that covers 160m though 70 centimeters in one box. (Well, they do leave out the 1.25m band which is lightly used in North America.) The leader in this category is arguably the Yaesu FT-991A. This type of rig has the advantage of providing all modes on all bands, including SSB on 2 m and 70 cm. While most VHF/UHF activity is FM, SSB (and CW) can be a lot of fun.
Setting up operations on multiple bands will require some additional antennas. This can be a deep topic so take a look at this introductory article to understand it better: Antennas…How Many Do I Need?
Two-Radio Base Station
Another approach that many hams adopt is to build their home station around two radios: a 2m/70cm radio to cover local communications and a high frequency (HF) radio for the lower bands.
The 2m/70cm radio is the same idea as the FM VHF/UHF Base Station mentioned previously. It is really handy to be able to leave this radio on your favorite 2m frequency while still having another radio available to operate HF. Compare this to the All Band Transceiver approach which can normally only receive one frequency at a time.
A very popular HF radio these days is the ICOM IC-7300. Like many HF rigs, it covers the HF bands of 160m through 10m AND tosses in the 6m band, too. Recall that 6 meters is actually a VHF band but the general trend is to include this band in HF rigs.
The Mobile Station
Another popular operating style is to have a transceiver in your vehicle. Because our society is so mobile, this approach can be very compelling. This might just be an HT that you take with you when mobile. The rubber duck antenna might be sufficient but an external (magnetic mount?) antenna can really improve your signal.
Many hams install a VHF/UHF FM transceiver in their car. This provides a more capable station (more power, better antenna) when mobile and it’s always there for use. Again, this will probably be a 2m / 70cm radio that operates only FM, the most common mobile ham station.
Some folks set up their mobile station to include HF operating. This is one way to sidestep HF antenna restrictions at home and it fits into our mobile society. There are Do Everything Transceivers that come in a mobile-type form factor. The Yaesu FT-857D is a popular mobile radio that covers HF, 6m, 2m and 70cm in one rig.
You can see that there are some paths that hams tend to follow in terms of equipment. What you decide to do is going to depend on your interests and budget. Of course, when you are first starting out you may not know what part of ham radio is going to be your favorite and your approach may evolve as you gain experience.
A good first, affordable step is getting an HT. This puts you in touch on the air with the local amateur radio community. It is clearly a VHF/UHF FM play which aligns well with your Technician operating privileges. You can choose to expand on this general direction by adding in an FM VHF/UHF Base Station, an All-Band Base Station, or a Mobile Station.
If you are interested in using the HF bands, then think about either the All-Band Base Station or the Two-Radio Base Station. Again, obtaining a General class (or Extra class) license is going to be important for HF.
I’ve tried to keep this discussion focused on newly licensed hams. As you gain experience, you’ll find all kinds of other operating activities that are available to you. Sometimes these can be supported by the equipment described above…sometimes you’ll need to purchase additional gear. I’ve mentioned specific radio models that I have experience with but there are many others to choose from. Take a look at the eham.net product reviews to see how well other people like a particular radio.
73 Bob K0NR