Posts Tagged ‘VX-8’

Handheld receiver blocking shootout

Ever since my outing on to Ling Fell yesterday I have been bugged by not knowing for sure whether the problems I experienced with the VX-8GR were really caused by receiver overload or blocking. I like the construction and features of the Yaesu. But a radio that makes you miss some of the contacts you have laboriously sweated up a summit to make is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. I wondered if I could devise a test to give me an idea of the relative strengths of the different 2m radios. I did, and the candidates are lined up in order of merit below, the worst on the left and the best on the right.

The test methodology was crude. I connected each radio to my dual band vertical and tuned in a weakish station: the GB3AS repeater on 145.600MHz, which is normally an S3 signal – fully readable but with some background noise on the audio. I then transmitted a carrier on 144.025MHz using another radio on a helical antenna a few metres from the vertical. I tried two power levels of the interfering signal, 3.5W (“high power”) and 0.5W (“low power”), these being the available power levels of the test radio. This 8dB difference in the interfering signal level had different effects on the ability to receive the repeater signal.

I am well aware of the limitations of the test I carried out. In real life SOTA or WOTA use a radio may be subjected to strong in-band signals from activators on other summits but they will not be as strong as the signal from a radio a few metres away from the antenna. A radio is likely to be subjected to strong signals from outside the amateur band such as pagers and other commercial signals, which the bandpass filters in modern radios due to the marketing-driven necessity of providing wideband receive coverage will do nothing to attenuate. Many strong signals may mix together to cause intermodulation effects if not blocking. However, a receiver that can handle a strong in-band interfering signal is likely also to be better at coping with many strong signals being received over a range of frequencies. So I think my test results have some validity.

Beginning with the worst receiver, the results are as follows.

  • VX-8GR. This receiver was the worst affected by blocking. Noticeable desensing of the repeater signal occurred when the in-band carrier was on low power, while a weak noisy “4 by 1” signal was killed completely. The repeater signal cut out completely when the in-band carrier was keyed on high power. Engaging the RX ATT (menu option 1) caused the repeater signal to drop below the squelch threshold so it was not much help though it did reduce the desensing effect on stronger signals.
  • JMT-228. The VX-8 was slightly worse than the Jin Ma Tong JT-228, a £30 Chinese handheld bought on eBay. In fairness, the JT-228 is slightly less sensitive than the Japanese ham radios (judging by the signal to noise ratio on weak signals) which may have helped it a bit. Desensing was noticed when the in-band carrier was on low power, and the repeater signal cut out when it was on high power.
  • TH-D72. The Kenwood TH-D72 may only be third worst (or third best) but in fact it was a whole lot better. No detectable desensing occurred when the in-band carrier was on low power. Some desensing occurred, in the form of a drop in S-meter reading and increased noise on the audio, when the carrier was on high power.
  • GP-300. Excellent performance was given by the Motorola GP-300. No desensing was noticed when the in-band carrier was on low power. There was a very slight but hardly noticeable increase in background noise level when the carrier was keyed on high power.
  • TH-205E. I bought this old boat anchor as a “spares or repair” radio for £6 on eBay for the fun of seeing if I could get it going. With the high capacity battery pack it is about the weight and bulk of an FT-817 and not something I would particularly want to haul up a summit. But no desensing of the repeater signal was observed even when the in-band carrier was keyed on high power, making this the best performing receiver of all.

Out of interest I also carried out the test on my FT-817ND and the Kenwood TM-D710 I use as my 2m base station. The FT-817ND was slightly better than the TH-D72: there was no effect with the low power carrier but the high power one brought a noticeable background hiss on the signal. The TM-D710 performed close to the TH-205E. There was barely any noticeable effect from the high power in-band carrier.

I think the results of these tests, crude though they are, are interesting. The bigger the radio, the more likely it is to have a receiver able to handle adjacent strong signals. Paying lots of money for the latest technology is no guarantee of getting a better receiver. In fact, just the opposite. An ex-commercial handheld or a ham band one from the days when wide band receive coverage was not considered important will work better than the latest marvels.

Were it not that I find the full APRS functionality of the VX-8GR and TH-D72 useful, I’d be tempted to sell both those radios and just use a dumb tracker plugged into the mic socket of one of the others tuned to 144.800. Either I use the VX-8GR for APRS only and carry another radio for making contacts or I must try harder to love the TH-D72. Decisions, decisions. But at least I now have a bit more information to base them on.

Handheld receiver blocking shootout

Ever since my outing on to Ling Fell yesterday I have been bugged by not knowing for sure whether the problems I experienced with the VX-8GR were really caused by receiver overload or blocking. I like the construction and features of the Yaesu. But a radio that makes you miss some of the contacts you have laboriously sweated up a summit to make is about as much use as a chocolate teapot. I wondered if I could devise a test to give me an idea of the relative strengths of the different 2m radios. I did, and the candidates are lined up in order of merit below, the worst on the left and the best on the right.

The test methodology was crude. I connected each radio to my dual band vertical and tuned in a weakish station: the GB3AS repeater on 145.600MHz, which is normally an S3 signal – fully readable but with some background noise on the audio. I then transmitted a carrier on 144.025MHz using another radio on a helical antenna a few metres from the vertical. I tried two power levels of the interfering signal, 3.5W (“high power”) and 0.5W (“low power”), these being the available power levels of the test radio. This 8dB difference in the interfering signal level had different effects on the ability to receive the repeater signal.

I am well aware of the limitations of the test I carried out. In real life SOTA or WOTA use a radio may be subjected to strong in-band signals from activators on other summits but they will not be as strong as the signal from a radio a few metres away from the antenna. A radio is likely to be subjected to strong signals from outside the amateur band such as pagers and other commercial signals, which the bandpass filters in modern radios due to the marketing-driven necessity of providing wideband receive coverage will do nothing to attenuate. Many strong signals may mix together to cause intermodulation effects if not blocking. However, a receiver that can handle a strong in-band interfering signal is likely also to be better at coping with many strong signals being received over a range of frequencies. So I think my test results have some validity.

Beginning with the worst receiver, the results are as follows.

  • VX-8GR. This receiver was the worst affected by blocking. Noticeable desensing of the repeater signal occurred when the in-band carrier was on low power, while a weak noisy “4 by 1” signal was killed completely. The repeater signal cut out completely when the in-band carrier was keyed on high power. Engaging the RX ATT (menu option 1) caused the repeater signal to drop below the squelch threshold so it was not much help though it did reduce the desensing effect on stronger signals.
  • JMT-228. The VX-8 was slightly worse than the Jin Ma Tong JT-228, a £30 Chinese handheld bought on eBay. In fairness, the JT-228 is slightly less sensitive than the Japanese ham radios (judging by the signal to noise ratio on weak signals) which may have helped it a bit. Desensing was noticed when the in-band carrier was on low power, and the repeater signal cut out when it was on high power.
  • TH-D72. The Kenwood TH-D72 may only be third worst (or third best) but in fact it was a whole lot better. No detectable desensing occurred when the in-band carrier was on low power. Some desensing occurred, in the form of a drop in S-meter reading and increased noise on the audio, when the carrier was on high power.
  • GP-300. Excellent performance was given by the Motorola GP-300. No desensing was noticed when the in-band carrier was on low power. There was a very slight but hardly noticeable increase in background noise level when the carrier was keyed on high power.
  • TH-205E. I bought this old boat anchor as a “spares or repair” radio for £6 on eBay for the fun of seeing if I could get it going. With the high capacity battery pack it is about the weight and bulk of an FT-817 and not something I would particularly want to haul up a summit. But no desensing of the repeater signal was observed even when the in-band carrier was keyed on high power, making this the best performing receiver of all.

Out of interest I also carried out the test on my FT-817ND and the Kenwood TM-D710 I use as my 2m base station. The FT-817ND was slightly better than the TH-D72: there was no effect with the low power carrier but the high power one brought a noticeable background hiss on the signal. The TM-D710 performed close to the TH-205E. There was barely any noticeable effect from the high power in-band carrier.

I think the results of these tests, crude though they are, are interesting. The bigger the radio, the more likely it is to have a receiver able to handle adjacent strong signals. Paying lots of money for the latest technology is no guarantee of getting a better receiver. In fact, just the opposite. An ex-commercial handheld or a ham band one from the days when wide band receive coverage was not considered important will work better than the latest marvels.

Were it not that I find the full APRS functionality of the VX-8GR and TH-D72 useful, I’d be tempted to sell both those radios and just use a dumb tracker plugged into the mic socket of one of the others tuned to 144.800. Either I use the VX-8GR for APRS only and carry another radio for making contacts or I must try harder to love the TH-D72. Decisions, decisions. But at least I now have a bit more information to base them on.

VX-8GR receiver overload

This afternoon I went for a stroll up Ling Fell, LDW-205. It was a fine afternoon and I wanted a bit of exercise. I took the VX-8GR so I could test the new QRU feature of Lynn KJ4ERJ’s APRSISCE/32 software that allows an APRS user to receive information about nearby objects on request. I have created a QRU server for Wainwright summits so that an APRS user in the fells could receive information about the nearest summits, to aid identification or navigation.

I put a 2m helical antenna on the rucksack support for the walk up, so the VX-8GR could send my position. The other channel was monitoring 145.500MHz (S20) the FM calling channel. As I gained height I started to hear some loud bursts of interference, a combination of a whine and a buzz, on S20. When I got to the top I switched antennas to the RH-770 dual band telescopic. My first call was answered by Colin, 2E0XSD. His signal was moving the meter on the VX-8GR to an S3 or 4 but there was intermittently a lot of crackly interference over his audio. I tried engaging the RX Attenuator option in the VX-8GR menu and it did seem to improve things a bit, but not completely.

A bit later, when I was testing the QRU server, I could hear the APRS packets coming back from my gateway (which is line of sight from Ling Fell, just behind me in the distance in the picture) but they sounded distorted and the VX-8GR didn’t decode them.

I wondered if there was a fault with the cable to the rucksack mount so I put the antenna directly on the radio. My next call was answered by Geoff G4WHA from his car in the car park in Penrith. He was 5 by 1 but his signal was cutting out intermittently. I got the feeling the problem wasn’t Geoff’s, but was my receiver cutting out due to overload from some nearby transmitter. There is a commercial mast a couple of miles away on the other side of the valley, though I have no idea what is on it.

I am starting to get a feeling that the receiver in the VX-8GR is not much good on summits when connected to a decent antenna. I first noticed odd things with the original VX-8R I had when I tried it out with a SOTA Beams MFD. There have also been several occasions when other people using VX-8 series rigs on summits have failed to hear me, even though I could hear them clearly and in some cases was running much more power than they were. This is quite disappointing. I really like the VX-8GR and much prefer it over the Kenwood TH-D72 which I have been thinking about selling. But perhaps it would be better to keep the Kenwood.

I wish that I had the test equipment to try to compare the strong signal performance of my various hand held radios. HF radios have their receiver performance exhaustively tested and the results of tests by the likes of Sherwood Labs are endlessly debated on various reflectors despite the fact that the only difference it is likely to make is whether you can copy a very weak station right next door to an extremely strong one. But the reviews of VHF radios focus only on matters like the ease of use of the menu system, how many memories it has or how the scanning works.

I think the receive performance of VHF/UHF hand helds is just as important as for HF receivers. If a receiver can’t cope on a hilltop on the middle of nowhere how will it fare with the signal levels in a busy urban environment? Heck, you might be missing vital emcomms messages and not know it! It’s about time the ham radio magazines started publishing blocking dynamic range and cross-mod figures for hand held radios.

VX-8GR receiver overload

This afternoon I went for a stroll up Ling Fell, LDW-205. It was a fine afternoon and I wanted a bit of exercise. I took the VX-8GR so I could test the new QRU feature of Lynn KJ4ERJ’s APRSISCE/32 software that allows an APRS user to receive information about nearby objects on request. I have created a QRU server for Wainwright summits so that an APRS user in the fells could receive information about the nearest summits, to aid identification or navigation.

I put a 2m helical antenna on the rucksack support for the walk up, so the VX-8GR could send my position. The other channel was monitoring 145.500MHz (S20) the FM calling channel. As I gained height I started to hear some loud bursts of interference, a combination of a whine and a buzz, on S20. When I got to the top I switched antennas to the RH-770 dual band telescopic. My first call was answered by Colin, 2E0XSD. His signal was moving the meter on the VX-8GR to an S3 or 4 but there was intermittently a lot of crackly interference over his audio. I tried engaging the RX Attenuator option in the VX-8GR menu and it did seem to improve things a bit, but not completely.

A bit later, when I was testing the QRU server, I could hear the APRS packets coming back from my gateway (which is line of sight from Ling Fell, just behind me in the distance in the picture) but they sounded distorted and the VX-8GR didn’t decode them.

I wondered if there was a fault with the cable to the rucksack mount so I put the antenna directly on the radio. My next call was answered by Geoff G4WHA from his car in the car park in Penrith. He was 5 by 1 but his signal was cutting out intermittently. I got the feeling the problem wasn’t Geoff’s, but was my receiver cutting out due to overload from some nearby transmitter. There is a commercial mast a couple of miles away on the other side of the valley, though I have no idea what is on it.

I am starting to get a feeling that the receiver in the VX-8GR is not much good on summits when connected to a decent antenna. I first noticed odd things with the original VX-8R I had when I tried it out with a SOTA Beams MFD. There have also been several occasions when other people using VX-8 series rigs on summits have failed to hear me, even though I could hear them clearly and in some cases was running much more power than they were. This is quite disappointing. I really like the VX-8GR and much prefer it over the Kenwood TH-D72 which I have been thinking about selling. But perhaps it would be better to keep the Kenwood.

I wish that I had the test equipment to try to compare the strong signal performance of my various hand held radios. HF radios have their receiver performance exhaustively tested and the results of tests by the likes of Sherwood Labs are endlessly debated on various reflectors despite the fact that the only difference it is likely to make is whether you can copy a very weak station right next door to an extremely strong one. But the reviews of VHF radios focus only on matters like the ease of use of the menu system, how many memories it has or how the scanning works.

I think the receive performance of VHF/UHF hand helds is just as important as for HF receivers. If a receiver can’t cope on a hilltop on the middle of nowhere how will it fare with the signal levels in a busy urban environment? Heck, you might be missing vital emcomms messages and not know it! It’s about time the ham radio magazines started publishing blocking dynamic range and cross-mod figures for hand held radios.

Coffee and cakes on Latrigg

For Easter Sunday, Bassenthwaite Rotary Club of which fellow WOTA enthusiast Phil M0AYB is a member put on, in aid of charity, a Felltop Café on the summit of Latrigg, a very minor but frequently visited Wainwright summit just to the north of Keswick. Phil planned to activate the summit while he was there. The opportunity to have coffee and cakes while activating a summit was too good to resist so I decided to pay Phil a visit and do my own activation. The weather played fair and was glorious, too.

Latrigg is an easy summit – really a foothill of Skiddaw – and so it was not too much of a problem for my back which is better but still not fully recovered. The views on the way up are glorious, which is why Latrigg is a popular target for visitors to the area.

From the summit you look down to the town of Keswick, with its lake, Derwentwater, beyond.

Soon after we arrived I heard Richard G1JTD/P on Yoke in the Eastern Fells, and worked him for a summit to summit. Yoke was not a summit I’d have much hope of working from home so that was a bonus.

Olga and I went and got some coffee and Cumberland sausages in a bap from the café. The coffee was excellent. There was quite a queue for refreshments and I hope the enterprise made a lot of money for Bassenthwaite Rotary Club’s charity.

Phil had brought up a 9 element Tonna on a short mast which he was using with an FT-817 running 2.5W. I was using the Nagoya NA-767 mentioned in my previous post on comparing handheld antennas with the Kenwood TH-D72 and 5W output (though not in the picture.) I worked most of the same stations Phil had, and some of them commented that my signal was similar or close to as strong as Phil’s, which was quite gratifying.

This was the first activation I have done with the TH-D72. I have been hoping that in time I would grow to like this radio but I’m afraid it has not won me over. It’s too big and bulky and the case feels plasticky and not rugged enough to stand the knocks and bumps experienced on a summit. I still prefer the VX-8GR, though as noted in previous posts the receiver of that gets easily de-sensed in the presence of the strong signals experienced on a hilltop with a good antenna.

Coffee and cakes on Latrigg

For Easter Sunday, Bassenthwaite Rotary Club of which fellow WOTA enthusiast Phil M0AYB is a member put on, in aid of charity, a Felltop Café on the summit of Latrigg, a very minor but frequently visited Wainwright summit just to the north of Keswick. Phil planned to activate the summit while he was there. The opportunity to have coffee and cakes while activating a summit was too good to resist so I decided to pay Phil a visit and do my own activation. The weather played fair and was glorious, too.

Latrigg is an easy summit – really a foothill of Skiddaw – and so it was not too much of a problem for my back which is better but still not fully recovered. The views on the way up are glorious, which is why Latrigg is a popular target for visitors to the area.

From the summit you look down to the town of Keswick, with its lake, Derwentwater, beyond.

Soon after we arrived I heard Richard G1JTD/P on Yoke in the Eastern Fells, and worked him for a summit to summit. Yoke was not a summit I’d have much hope of working from home so that was a bonus.

Olga and I went and got some coffee and Cumberland sausages in a bap from the café. The coffee was excellent. There was quite a queue for refreshments and I hope the enterprise made a lot of money for Bassenthwaite Rotary Club’s charity.

Phil had brought up a 9 element Tonna on a short mast which he was using with an FT-817 running 2.5W. I was using the Nagoya NA-767 mentioned in my previous post on comparing handheld antennas with the Kenwood TH-D72 and 5W output (though not in the picture.) I worked most of the same stations Phil had, and some of them commented that my signal was similar or close to as strong as Phil’s, which was quite gratifying.

This was the first activation I have done with the TH-D72. I have been hoping that in time I would grow to like this radio but I’m afraid it has not won me over. It’s too big and bulky and the case feels plasticky and not rugged enough to stand the knocks and bumps experienced on a summit. I still prefer the VX-8GR, though as noted in previous posts the receiver of that gets easily de-sensed in the presence of the strong signals experienced on a hilltop with a good antenna.

Chirp, chirp

I discovered some free radio memory management software this morning. Called CHIRP, which is presumably an acronym that ends with “Radio Programming”, it is a free, cross-platform, cross-radio programming tool that is being developed by Dan Smith, KK7DS. CHIRP works on Windows and Linux (and MacOSX with a little work, according to Dan). It supports a whole list of radios from manufacturers such as Alinco, Icom, Kenwood, Yaesu and Wouxun.

As the VX-8R is listed, I thought I’d give it a try with my VX-8GR. Unlike the excellent but non-free FTBVX8 software from G4HFQ, CHIRP doesn’t prompt you with the steps you need to perform on the radio. If you just connect the radio, load the software and start the download nothing will happen. With the VX-8R you must begin with the radio turned off, then after starting the download press and hold the F/W button on the side while turning the radio on. When CLONE appears on the display, press BAND. The download will then start and the program will display its progress. With other radios different steps will no doubt be needed. Hopefully at some point prompts will be incorporated into the software.

My first download attempt did not complete. Instead an error message appeared near the end. But I tried again. This time the memories were downloaded successfully and displayed in the program as you can see. The “cross-radio” part of the specification means, presumably, that memories are saved in a unified format so you can download them from one radio and upload them to a different one.

I didn’t try uploading to the radio. I have heard of people bricking radios by using software that wrote unexpected stuff and I’d already seen one error message. Besides, I have the FTBVX8 software and I didn’t have any changes I wanted to make anyway. But if you don’t want to pay for memory management software, you want to maintain one memory file and upload it to multiple different radios or you want a program that will run on Linux or Mac OS, CHIRP is a development that’s worth keeping an eye on.


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