Posts Tagged ‘SignaLink USB’

More of a Shout than a Whisper…..

The key to converting your treasured and incredibly versatile FT-817 or similar into a digital powerhouse seems to be an A. computer and B. a sound card interface.

So, armed with a tidy little Signalink USB interface, I’ve been attacking digital modes with vigour, starting with WSPR (Weak Signal Propagation Reporting). The Signalink USB is basically a remote sound card in a box, powered by your computer’s USB. This solution allows controlled audio isolation between your rig and transceiver. Level adjustment is available on the front panel too which means you don’t have to navigate clumsily through several windows on your PC and adjust sliders with your mouse to optimise levels.

FT-817 and Signalink USB Interface
The interface connects directly to the data port of my FT-817 and provides a PTT function, if required. However, I’m also using a CAT interface which provides PTT (Push To Talk) as well as frequency configuration from the WSPR program that I’ve started with.

So, straightforward then? Nearly but not quite. There are a few small pitfalls to be aware of. Firstly, the ‘817 needs to be put into DIG mode as opposed to USB mode. This routes the input and output signal to the data port on the rear panel. The data port is inactive in SSB modes. Secondly, the correct data mode needs to be selected in the second-level menu, namely USER-U. This means that it will be operating in USB mode and the passband will be adequate. If this were to be set to RTTY or PSK, then the filtering for WSPR would be too narrow. WSPR signals are individually narrow, but several occupy the given passband. Finally you need to follow the instructions on Windows setup that comes with the Signalink box to the letter. One unchecked box or misplaced slider will drive you to madness.

WSPR Control Software
Apart from that, it seems to be ‘plug and play’! My first play on 40m with a random wire of some 20m in the back garden pulled in a VK straight away. I was heard up in the Norwegian Arctic Circle with 1W. Elation. Simply tuning to 472kHz pulled in a Dutch station with absolutely no special equipment.

For one whole day I exercised near-military discipline. I stayed on the 30m band all day long without jumping to other bands. 1W into my rear-garden wire antenna reached Israel and the Arctic Circle again. East Coast US stations starting to come in at 20.00 GMT and I was reaching the Mid-West by late evening. Within ten minutes this morning on 17m I was heard in New South Wales and Iceland.

10 mins on 17m!
10 mins on 20m!

I finally unleashed my single Watt on the 20m band for the first time this afternoon, immediately yielding a nice path to the Philippines as well as Europe and the East US.

No wonder this aspect of the hobby is so absorbing. I’m absolutely addicted. Did the developer, Joe Taylor, K1JT, realise what he was unleashing on us? A ‘big shout’ goes out to the man who invented WSPR!

Old dog (very old!), new tricks

I’ve been slow to adopt digital communications for a very practical reason: between the day job and writing books, I spend ten to twelve hours a day on a computer keyboard. When I get on the air, I prefer my keyer paddle or microphone when I reach out and touch. But friends kept evangelizing about the wonderment of PSK31, and I kept seeing rare DX entities that I covet being spotted on PSK31 and RTTY, so I finally bit the bullet. Well, sir, I have seen the light! I am officially converted!

I was on the verge of doing a quick and dirty hookup just to get a feel for the stuff but I had an order I was submitting to DX Engineering anyway so I included a SignaLink USB in the shopping cart. Of course, I managed to order the wrong interface cable for my Kenwood TS-2000…it would have worked but I would have had to plug and unplug the microphone…but DXE handled the swap seamlessly. And in no time, I was PSKing with the best of ’em. Downloading and setting up my software
of choice took most of the time. The SignaLink only required setting some jumpers internally for my radio. The manual and an extra sheet were well-written, though I did have to go to the Internet to get some tips on working with Microsoft Vista. That should make it into the standard manual soon, I would hope.

I confess I did quite a bit of RTTY back in the ’70s, when we used old, noisy, oil-and-sprocket-slinging surplus teletype machines and boxes of fan-fold paper. I recall that back then, unless you were blessed with pretty decent power, and with constant duty that required a hefty amp and power supply, the mode was susceptible to QRM as well as drifting, and more. I did enjoy it, despite these drawbacks.

But I’ve quickly learned there is no comparison with PSK31. I have not even tried RTTY yet due to my fascination with this narrow, narrow mode. Friends told me, but I didn’t believe them. When I was ready to go and tuned the receiver to 14.070 and heard that caterwauling bunch of cats in heat, I smirked and said to myself, “Self, there is no way you can pull any intelligence out of all that screeching!”

But there on the waterfall (I use Ham Radio Deluxe Digital Master 780 software) were a good dozen clearly defined traces. I could copy any one of them. I tried a couple of them so dim I could hardly see them in the clutter and got almost solid print on them, too. Finally, I clicked on one and saw it was a UA9. When he finished his QSO and called CQ, I answered, making sure to keep the power level low…about 20 watts…as advised. He came right back and we proceeded to have a nice chat. I’ve had a bunch since, all over Europe, the US, and South and Central America, mostly on 20 and 17.

Just the other night, I gave UX1IW a call and, as I have grown accustomed to, he came right back. We were chatting away (he gave me an RSQ of 599) when I noticed each of my wattmeters were barely moving off the peg. Huh? Oh. I had been using the amp on CW earlier in the evening and had left the RF out on the TS-2000 on 35 watts. With the audio out from my sound card set as usual, I was barely running 5 watts!

So, I’m evangelized. I do wish there was a little less reliance on the canned macros, one of the other things I did not like so much in the old RTTY days. But all in all, I am darned impressed with this PSK31 stuff.

Moral of the story is that we can always learn something new. And it is always surprising how something as simple as trying a new band or mode can reinvigorate our interest in this wonderful hobby.

As if I need reinvigorating!


Don Keith N4KC

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