Vertex Standard FT-2800M Specifications

www.rv3apm.com/rxdx.html
PRODUCT REVIEW
Yaesu FT-2900R 2 Meter FM Transceiver
Key Measurements
Summary
SINAD 0.25
0.2
0.1
Receiver Sensitivity (12dB SINAD, µV)
,
89@10 MHz 90
Rx 60
Receiver 3rd-Order Dynamic Range (dB)
,
67@20 kHz* 70
Rx 40
Receiver 3rd-Order Dynamic Range (dB)
Reviewed by Howard Robins, W1HSR
ARRL Contributing Editor
The FT-2900R is very similar to the FT2800M and replaces it in the Yaesu Amateur
Radio product lineup.1 At first glance the
most significant difference is increased high
power from 65 to 75 W. On the front panel,
the positions of the POWER and WIRES buttons have been swapped, the stenciling on
some of the other buttons has changed and
the front panel lines are a bit smoother. When
I compared the manuals for both radios, however, I discovered that the FT-2900R manual
had 30 more pages. So, there is a bit more to
the new rig that is not so obvious and some
neat features have been added.
Physical Description
As with other Yaesu mobile transceivers,
the FT-2900R is built on a massive cast aluminum heat sink and does not use a cooling fan.
There is nothing dainty about this radio, and
I would bet that it could be driven over and
never skip a beat. Normally, I would be cautious not to drop a delicate instrument for fear
of damaging it. If I dropped the FT-2900R on
my ceramic tile floor, I think the floor would
1J.
Carcia, NJ1Q, “Yaesu FT-2800M 2-Meter
FM Transceiver,” Product Review, QST,
Jun 2003, pp 63-65. Past QST reviews
are available to ARRL members at
www.arrl.org/product-review.
be the loser. I have been using an FT-2800M to
send APRS weather beacons every 10 minutes
for more than two years and it keeps on going.
These are very rugged radios.
The front panel has a large six digit liquid crystal display (LCD) with controllable
backlighting. There are three knobs — VOLUME and SQUELCH on the left and the MAIN
TUNING dial on the right. Six push buttons
— POWER, WIRES/LOCK, SET/MHz, DW/
REVERSE, A/N/LOW and MW/D/MR are below
the display. It’s obvious what several of these
controls are used for. I will explain the less
obvious ones in this review by example. I
have used radios with more cryptic labeling.
The rear panel SO-239 RF connector is
recessed and partly shrouded by an extended
part of the cast aluminum body. The external
speaker jack is recessed in the lower left corner next to the power pigtail. Note that there
is no data port on this radio. You would need
to use the external speaker and mic jacks to
interface with your TNC or other data device
and adjust the squelch and volume levels
accordingly.
There is a bottom-firing internal speaker
that sounds crisp and loud enough to me.
Lab testing showed plenty of audio output
— nearly 4 W. The mic is the MH-48 with
keypad that comes packed with most new
Yaesu VHF radios. This mic permits users
to safely control many of the FT-2900R’s
features and functions and uses an RJ-45
connector.
Mark J. Wilson, K1RO  Product Review Editor  ChRej 50
67
IF 60
Img 60
Snd 1
T-R 250
pr050
90
Adjacent Channel Rejection (dB)
101
135
IF Rejection (dB)
76
120
Image Rejection (dB)
Audio Output (W)
3.8 4
116
50
Tx-Rx Turnaround Time (ms)
Key: * Measurement noise limited
at value shown.
Bottom Line
Sturdy and powerful, the FT-2900R
has all of the features we’ve come to
expect in a 2 meter transceiver and
adds some useful new ones.
k1ro@arrl.org
September 2010 39
Programming
Yaesu offers an optional USB cable and
Windows software for programming channels and settings on this radio (part number
ADMS-2900). I did not use this software,
but if you plan to load up the radio’s 200
memory channels or change them frequently,
you might consider it.
I found that after about five minutes of
self training, manual programming is fairly
simple. It took about 10 minutes to program
10 channels with repeater parameters —
receive frequency (split is automatic), tone
frequency, tone type and channel name.
Step one is to repeatedly press the MW/D/
MR button until VFO is displayed on the
LCD. Then turn the frequency knob or use
the microphone keypad to enter the receive
frequency.
Next, pressing the SET/MHz button
for a second brings up an alphabetically
ordered and numbered menu of settings
(menu mode). Use the large knob to scroll
through the menu items until TN FRQ (tone
frequency) is displayed. Press the SET/MHz
button to select this item, turn the large knob
to scroll to the appropriate subaudible tone
and press the SET/MHz button again to set
the selection. The tone frequency is now set.
To set the tone type, while still in the menu
mode turn the large knob to SQL.TYP. Press
SET/MHz, select TONE from among TONE/
TSQL/DCS/RV TN/OFF and press SET/MHz
again. This last action displays a T on the
LCD, indicating that TONE is on. Pressing and
holding SET/MHz again exits the menu mode.
At this point, all the repeater parameters
are set in the VFO buffer. Press and hold the
MW/D/MR button to get into the memory storage mode. The next available channel number
blinks on the LCD. Press and hold the MW/D/
MR button again to write the contents of the
VFO buffer into the memory channel. You
could select a different channel to write to by
turning the large knob.
Next, enter a name for the memory channel. Repeatedly press the MW/D/MR button
until MR is displayed on the LCD, indicating
that the radio is in memory read mode. While
in this mode, press the SET/MHz button, and
scroll to NM SET, press the SET/MHz button
again to enter a channel name one letter at a
time. Turn the large knob to scroll through
the character set. Press the SET/MHz button
to set each character. Press and hold SET/
MHz again to exit the menu mode. Although
this procedure may sound tedious, it’s easier
to do than describe — and easier yet with the
optional software.
This example should give you a good sense
of what’s required to set up the many features
in this radio. Menu mode operation is fundamentally consistent, and the method to turn on
and customize features is the same. However,
some buttons on the FT-2900R are used differ40 September 2010 Table 1
Yaesu FT-2900R, serial number 9I041737
Manufacturer’s Specifications
Measured in ARRL Lab
Frequency coverage: Receive, 136-174 MHz; transmit, 144-148 MHz.
Receive and transmit, as specified.
Modes: FM, NFM.
As specified.
Power requirements: Receive: <700 mA,
<300 mA (standby); transmit, 15, 9, 5, 4 A
(high, low 3, low 2, low 1)
at 13.8 V dc ±15%.
Receive, 760 mA (max volume, max
lights, no signal); standby, 160 mA
(no lights). Transmit, 14, 8.9, 5.5,
4.3 A (high, low 3, low 2, low 1).
Receiver
FM sensitivity: 12 dB SINAD, <0.4 µV.
Receiver Dynamic Testing
For 12 dB SINAD, 0.2 µV; 0.2 µV
at 138 MHz, 0.21 µV at 162 MHz.
FM two-tone, third-order IMD dynamic range:
Not specified.
20 kHz offset: 67 dB*;
10 MHz offset: 89 dB.
FM two-tone, second-order IMD dynamic range: 146 MHz, 92 dB.
Not specified.
Adjacent-channel rejection: Not specified.
20 kHz offset: 67 dB.
Spurious response: Not specified.
IF rejection, 101 dB;
image rejection, 76 dB.
Squelch sensitivity: Not specified.
At threshold, 0.07 µV; 0.27 µV max.
S meter sensitivity: Not specified.
4.2 µV at full scale.
Audio output: 3 W at 10% THD into 4 W.
3.8 W at 10% THD into 4 W;
THD at 1 V RMS, 1.5 %.
Transmitter
Power output: 75, 30, 10, 5 W (high, low 3, low 2, low 1) at 13.8 V dc ±15%.
Transmitter Dynamic Testing
71.4, 27.4, 7.7, 3.8 W (high, low 3,
low 2, low 1); 69.7 W at 11.4 V dc.
Spurious signal and harmonic suppression:
>60 dB.
>70 dB, meets FCC requirements.
Transmit-receive turnaround time (PTT release
to 50% of full audio output): Not specified.
Squelch on, S9 signal, 116 ms.
Receive-transmit turnaround time (“tx delay”):
Not specified.
132 ms.
Size (height, width, depth): 1.6 × 5.5 × 5.7 inches; weight, 2.6 pounds.
Price: FT-2900R, $160; ADMS-2900 programming software/cable, $50.
*Measurement was noise limited.
ently depending upon feature, so the owner’s
manual may become your best friend.
New Features
The FT-2900R includes several new
features shared with the latest generation of
Yaesu VHF/UHF FM transceivers. A few are
proprietary to Yaesu, which may make them
useful only if your friends have compatible
radios.
Enhanced Paging and
Code Squelch (EPCS)
EPCS uses a dedicated microprocessor and paging memory to provide paging
and selective calling features. Two CTCSS
(continuous tone coded squelch system)
tone pairs are used — one pair for sending
and another for receiving. A tone pair is sent
to the receiving station when paging. If the
tone pair matches those stored in the receiving
radio, its squelch will open. You could use
the same tones in several radios for closed
group calling or unique tone pairs to page
individual radios. This coded squelch system
could be used to keep your radio quiet until
calls directed only to you are received. While
the radio is squelched, you cannot hear activity on frequency. So, before initiating a page,
listen to make sure the frequency is not in use.
This feature can be used to make a bell ringing
sound when your tone pair is decoded. The
number of rings is settable.
EPCS settings can be saved to individual
memory channels, so once programmed, it
is pretty simple to use this feature when you
want to. For public service activities you
could have different transmit tone pairs on
different channels (with all other settings the
same) to page different groups or individuals
participating in your activity.
Memory Bank Operation
This feature lets you group channels that
are not necessarily sequential. For example,
I have my programmed channels 5, 11 and
13 assigned to bank 1. There are eight banks
available, and the same channels can be as-
signed to as many banks as you need. With
200 channels this feature could come in
handy, especially if you are on the road and
want to group your channels by areas that you
travel. You can use this feature to manually
select channels within the bank or to scan
just the selected bank channels. Banks can
be selectively linked for scanning. This is a
pretty flexible radio.
displayed. After the radios are back in range,
normal beeps return and IN RNG is again
displayed. You can even set this radio up to
send your call sign in CW every 10 minutes
to assure compliance with identification
requirements. While the ARTS feature is
active, other functions are locked to prevent
inadvertent changes and loss of contact.
Automatic Range Transponder
System (ARTS)
The weather alert scan monitors for
NOAA’s 1050 Hz tone alert — this can be
optioned on or off. After turning this feature on, the weather broadcast channels are
checked for activity every five seconds. I can
set the FT-2900R to scan a memory bank to
monitor those frequencies, while also having
the weather broadcast bank scanned every
five seconds. All scanning can be observed
on the LCD, including the excursions to the
weather memory bank. I observed that even
though there may be activity on a weather
channel — indicated by a full scale S-meter
reading — without the alert tone, scanning
does not stop.
The FT-2900R also includes password
protection, busy channel lock-out, a CW
training feature and WiRES (Wide-Coverage
The ARTS feature uses DCS (digital
coded squelch) signaling to alert parties
with this capability that they are within
simplex communication range of each other.
When activated, a DCS code is transmitted for 1 second every 25 seconds (or optionally, ­every 15 seconds), or when the
PTT is pushed. Other radios with this
­feature activated and within range can sound
an audible beep (if enabled) and display
IN RNG on the LCD.
If out of range, OUT RNG will be displayed and polling signals will continue
until the ARTS feature is deactivated. Three
beeps will sound if you go out of range for
more than one minute and OUT RNG will be
Weather Band/Weather Alert
Internet Repeater Enhancement System)
capability. These features were described
in the May 2010 review of the FT-1900R.2
The Owner’s Manual
I own radios from most of the manufacturers and have reviewed a few others, so I
have read through many different manuals.
The FT-2900R has some typical and not so
typical capabilities, and I found its manual to
be very well written and illustrated. It does a
great job of explaining how the features could
be used, and how to activate and deactivate
and set options for them.
The FT-2900R is a fine heavy duty
2 meter radio with lots of power and some very
nice features. I particularly like the memory
bank, password protection and weather alert
features and would use them routinely. Some
of the features, EPCS and ARTS for example,
would be useful in specialized applications.
Manufacturer: Vertex Standard, 10900
Walker St, Cypress, CA 90630; tel 714-8277600; www.yaesu.com.
2S.
Ford, WB8IMY, “Yaesu FT-1900R 2 Meter
FM Transceiver,” Product Review, QST, May
2010, pp 47-49.
www.rv3apm.com/qs1r.html
SRL QS1R Software Defined Receiver
Reviewed by Martin S. Ewing, AA6E
ARRL Laboratory
Small software defined radio (SDR) receivers are developing into an Amateur Radio
industry category. The QS1R “Quicksilver”
radio (Revision D); from Phillip Covington,
N8VB, of Software Radio Laboratory, is
one of the latest and most powerful. QST
has previously reviewed the Microtelecom
Perseus, the RFSpace SDR-IQ, and the more
specialized Telepost LP-PAN Panadapter.1-3
If you combine most of these SDR radios
with a personal computer and the right software, you have a complete general coverage
communications receiver with “panoramic”
spectrum display.
The QS1R supports a wide range of applications, from amateur and SWL listening,
to interference diagnosis and laboratory
measurements. It features wide instanta-
neous bandwidth and a very flexible signal
processing scheme built around a large field
programmable gate array (FPGA).
Hardware
When you purchase the QS1R, you
receive a small black box, a USB cable, an
1S.
Ford, WB8IMY, “Microtelecom Perseus
Software Defined Receiver,” Product Review,
QST, Dec 2008, pp 40-44. QST Product
Reviews are available to ARRL members at
www.arrl.org/product-review.
2S. Ford, WB8IMY, “RFSpace SDR-IQ Software Defined Receiver,” Product Review,
QST, Feb 2010, pp 49-51.
3J. Hallas, W1ZR, “TelePost LP-PAN Software
Defined IQ Panadapter,” Product Review,
QST, Feb 2009, pp 45-47.
Bottom Line
The Quicksilver QS1R software
defined receiver offers a number of
interesting advanced possibilities in
addition to use as a flexible general
coverage receiver.
optional 5 V wall mount supply, a short list
of instructions and that’s it for your hefty investment. The picture improves if you look at
the product Web site (qs1r.wikispaces.com)
and Internet support group (groups.yahoo.
com/group/qs1r/). Download the software
(QS1RServer and SDRMAX-II, discussed below), load up your PC and you’re in business.
The instructions are a bit minimal, but if you
have middling computer or SDR experience,
there should be no trouble. If you are SDR
challenged, you will get a lot of patient help
through the Internet support group. Still,
more complete new user documentation
would be welcome.
Inside the box, the QS1R is a single PC
September 2010 41
Table 2
Software Radio Laboratory QS1R, Rev D,
serial number 100027
dard internal clock, a software adjustment
allows you to precisely zero beat WWV or
other frequency standard.
Manufacturer’s Specifications
Measured in the ARRL Lab
Frequency coverage: 10 kHz-62.5 MHz
As specified.
Frequency Aliasing
Power requirement: 5-6 V dc, 1A.
At 6 V dc, 900 mA (minimum volume);
910 mA (maximum volume).*
Modes of operation: SSB, DSB, CW, AM,
SAM, FM, WFM.
As specified.
Receiver
Sensitivity: 0.63 μV SSB at 10 dB (S+N)/N. Receiver Dynamic Testing
Noise floor (MDS), 500 Hz filter:
0.137 MHz –114 dBm
0.505 MHz –117 dBm
1.0 MHz
–117 dBm
3.5 MHz
–118 dBm
14 MHz
–118 dBm
50 MHz
–118 dBm
Noise figure: Not specified.
14 MHz, 29 dB
AM sensitivity: Not specified.
10 dB (S+N)/N, 1 kHz tone,
30% modulation, 6 kHz bandwidth:
1.0 MHz
8.13 µV
3.8 MHz
7.08 µV
50 MHz
8.80 μV
FM sensitivity: Not specified. For 12 dB SINAD:
29 MHz
2.51 µV
52 MHz
3.09 µV
Spectral display sensitivity Not specified. –123 dBm.
Blocking gain compression: Not specified.
Gain compression, 500 Hz bandwidth:**
20 kHz offset 5/2 kHz offset
3.5 MHz 122 dB
122/122 dB
14 MHz 122 dB
122/122 dB
50 MHz 122 dB
122/122 dB
Reciprocal mixing (500 Hz BW): Not specified. 20/5/2 kHz offset: better than 122 dBc.†
FM two-tone, third-order IMD dynamic range:
Not specified.
20 kHz offset: 29 MHz, 56 dB;
52 MHz, 57 dB.
Spurious free dynamic range: 112 dB. 100 dB.
S-meter sensitivity: Not specified.
S9 signal at 14.2 MHz: 50.1 µV.
Squelch sensitivity: Not specified.
29 and 52 MHz, 0.6 µV.
IF/audio response: Not specified.
Range at –6 dB points (bandwidth):‡
CW (500 Hz filter): 302-800 Hz (498 Hz).
Equivalent Rectangular BW: 481 Hz.
USB (2.4 kHz filter): 73-2384, 2311 Hz.
LSB (2.4 kHz filter): 73-2383, 2310 Hz.
AM: (6 kHz): 72-2809 (one sideband;
5474 Hz for both sidebands).
Size (height, width, depth): 2.0 × 4.1 × 6.4 inches; weight, 14.1 ounces.
Price: QS1R receiver, $999.99; power supply, $19.99.
*Depends on amount of processing in use; 1.5 A when used with Skimmer Server software.
**Blocking level exceeds the threshold of ADC clipping.
†No reciprocal mixing occurred up to ADC clipping (+4 dBm).
‡Adjustable with DSP.
board as shown in the lead photo. The external connections include a BNC antenna
jack, an SMA jack for optional external
clock, a USB jack, audio output and a 5 V
power jack. An 8-pin DIN jack provides I/O
connections for planned additional devices,
to include a front end amplifier/pre-selector
and a transmitter module.
The QS1R board has only three major
ICs — a 16-bit 130 megasample per second
(MSPS) analog to digital converter (ADC),
a Cyclone III FPGA and a microcontroller.
42 September 2010 The controller and FPGA are initialized at
power up by the QS1RServer program running on your PC.
At the board level, the QS1R has several
interesting features you can use to go beyond
basic ham applications. With a minor board
modification, you can clock the ADC, which
normally runs at 125 MHz, from an external
source at any frequency between 1 and
130 MHz. This lets you sync the receiver to
an external frequency standard if you need
high accuracy or stability. Even with the stan-
When an SDR samples the input at
125 MHz, you would want a low pass filter
at the radio’s input to reject any signal above
about 62.5 MHz, the Nyquist frequency.4
Without the filter, any signal above
62.5 MHz will be aliased into the 062.5 MHz “baseband.” The ADC operates
like a mixer with a local oscillator (LO) at
125 MHz and harmonics of 125 MHz.
The QS1R’s input low pass filter is relatively flat up to 62 MHz and falls off by 20 dB
at about 75 MHz. The good news is that you
can receive signals up to 62.5 MHz with full
sensitivity. The bad news is that signals (and
noise) at a frequency, f, between 62.5 MHz
and 125 MHz, may be visible at an apparent
frequency 125 – f MHz. For example, the
FM broadcast band limits 88 and 108 MHz
alias to 37 and 17 MHz, respectively. At the
ARRL Lab, we verified that many strong
local FM stations were clearly received in
the 17 to 37 MHz range when we connected
to a GAP Titan vertical antenna. They were
attenuated but might cause you problems
above 18 MHz.
Frequency aliasing can be used to your
advantage, but you may have to provide your
own bandpass filter. You can make a small
board modification that bypasses the input
filter and lets you receive up to 300 MHz
or higher in segments of 62.5 MHz. The
SDRMAX-II software supports this “undersampling” mode and provides the right
frequency scale readings.
This receiver provides the demodulated
audio on a stereo phone jack, suitable for
headphone listening or passing to your PC’s
soundcard input. Getting your audio this way
(instead of over the USB connection to your
PC) gives you flexibility and minimal time
delay, but it complicates the picture if you
want to use the receiver remotely over a LAN.
You would have to find a way to transmit the
audio separately from the data channel.
The QS1R always samples the entire band
from 10 kHz to 62 MHz, and you can display
a chunk of spectrum as small as 40 kHz or as
wide as 20 MHz. After filtering in the FPGA,
a digital output stream of up to 4 MSPS is
output from the receiver to your PC.
Software
Two separate programs run on your
PC to support the receiver. QS1RServer
talks with the receiver hardware, and loads
the receiver’s microcontroller and FPGA
4The
Nyquist frequency (half the sampling rate)
is the highest signal frequency that can be
accepted without aliasing. See en.wikipedia.
org/wiki/Nyquist_frequency.
The QS1R, Contesters and Skimmer Server
Pete Smith, N4ZR
I suppose there may still be some
active Amateur Radio operators
who haven’t heard of CW Skimmer, the amazing, somewhat controversial software written by Alex
Shovkoplyas,VE3NEA (www.dxatlas.
com). It decodes all the CW signals
across a wide slice of a band, decides
which ones are CQing and which are
answering CQs, and can, if asked, offer “spots” via Telnet and the Internet.
DXers use it to find DX on a band,
and to figure out where to call in big
pile-ups by tracking the successful
callers. Contesters use it like traditional “packet clusters” to find people
to work and to catch band openings.
The QS1R, with its open software
architecture, offered Alex a tempting challenge. Instead of listening to
one band at a time, could the radio
be reprogrammed to listen to many
bands simultaneously? Well, it could,
and he did. The result was Skimmer
Server, software that offers Skimmerstyle decoding on up to seven bands
at once, and up to 192 kHz per band.
As a result, the QS1R/Skimmer
Server combination has captured the
attention of contesters and DXers
worldwide.
Reverse Beacon Network
I use my Skimmer Server/QS1R
combination both as a stand-alone
Telnet server, open to anyone who
wishes to log on, and also to contribute to the Reverse Beacon Network
(RBN), a worldwide network of Skimmer and Skimmer Server receiving
stations (reversebeacon.net). The
RBN collects Telnet spots from each
connected receiver and passes
them to the server, where they are
displayed on a constantly changing world map and also archived for
future analysis. The amount of information collected is quite spectacular
— for example, in the 24 hours of the
Russian DX Contest, the RBN collected over 545,000 spots from 34
“reverse beacons” on four continents.
So what? To begin with, you can
find out what stations or countries
have been spotted by the network,
when and on what frequencies —
like a constantly revised real-time
DX bulletin. Thanks to Rick Walker,
K4TD, spots from the RBN are also
available at telnet.reversebeacon.
net, port 7000. You can filter the spot
Figure A — The Skimmer Server provides a wealth of information about
received stations. Information about software and computer parameters is
displayed on the right.
stream you receive, just as with a
DX Cluster node — only there are
many more spots.
In addition, a group led by ­Felipe
Ceglia, PY1NB, is hard at work
developing other new ways to use
the RBN’’s prodigious spot database. The first of these is an online
Spot Analysis Tool, written by Nick
Sinanis, F5VIH/SV3SJ. Tell it a date,
the call signs of several stations to
compare and a reverse beacon’s call
sign, and it will quickly display comparative graphs of the stations’ signal strength (relative to local noise)
on every band. Although fading and
interference can invalidate any single comparison, the graphs clearly
portray comparative performance
— you can use the data for bragging
rights, or to plan improvements for
“the next time.”
Using the Software
Back to Skimmer Server. In
Figure A, the left hand “pane” is the
aggregator, displaying the spots that
my station heard and reported (on
a simple vertical) in the few minutes
before the screen shot was taken.
The right-hand “pane” is the Skimmer
Server control panel, which I usually
keep on the STATUS tab, to tell me
how it’s doing in real time. In order to
reduce load on the host computer,
the Skimmer Server normally operates almost invisibly, as a simple icon
in the Windows System Tray, but you
can pop this window up to keep track
of what it is doing and to change settings if you wish.
You’ll note that the control panel
tells me that both the Telnet server
and the link to the QS1R are working
normally, and also how many decoders are currently operating on each
band. It reports how much computer
power is being used (this was on a
relatively quiet Monday morning at
96 kHz bandwidth on seven bands),
and other parameters of interest. By
the way, the computer on which I’m
running Skimmer Server is a relatively basic dual-core Pentium, much
slower than the cheapest computers
currently on the market from major
manufacturers. A quad-core Godzilla
is not required.
Why are contesters so interested?
Well, Skimmer Server spots have
some unique advantages over spots
from traditional DX clusters. If you
connect to a Skimmer Server relatively close to you, you will be able to
hear everything it can. It spots everything, not just rare stations, which
makes it ideal for contesting, though it
can occasionally get confused about
which stations are CQing (running
in contest parlance). The frequency
calibration is consistent, so that all
stations are heard at roughly the
same pitch as you jump up or down
the bandmap, and copy accuracy is
at least as good as the DX cluster
average. And finally, connecting to a
Skimmer Server off-site is an ideal
solution for multioperator stations,
avoiding the complex engineering
required if a CW Skimmer were used
in that RF-loaded environment.
The Skimmer Server software is
part of the CW Skimmer package,
available for download from Afreet
Software (www.dxatlas.com). The
package can be tried free for 30 days
and costs $75 to register for continued use thereafter.
September 2010 43
Figure 1 — The SDRMAX-II software with QS1RServer behind.
c­ onfiguration. It also detects the desired
audio channel. The SDRMAX-II program is
the one you work with directly with through
its complex graphical interface. The two
programs talk to each other using TCP/IP
protocols. You normally run both of them in
the same PC, but you can place them in separate computers on a LAN — and across the
Internet, if your connection is fast enough.
(I measured a typical data rate of 333 kbit/s
between the programs.)
While currently the Windows-only
SDRMAX-II is the recommended software,
you do have (free) alternatives. They include
a “cross-platform” SDRMAX-III that works
with Linux, MacOS X, or Windows, and independent software such as Winrad (www.
winrad.org) and WinradHD (www.hdsdr.
de). Naturally, each program has its strong
points. I am a Linux fan, and I appreciate that
I can run SDRMAX-III on my Ubuntu system,
even if I have to compile it from source. However, I found that SDRMAX-II for Windows
was more mature and easier to use. I think it
looks better too, but that’s a matter of taste.
A major update called SDRMAX-IV is in
development.
Because SDR is CPU intensive, I wanted
to explore how it worked on a small computer. I was able to run SDRMAX-II on my Celeron M (1.5 GHz) laptop, using 40 to 60% of
its CPU power. Operation was fairly smooth
even on this small machine, especially after
I reduced the spectrum update rate. SRL
specifies the minimum configuration as a
1.6 GHz Atom 330 CPU with 512 MB RAM
(2.5 GHz Dual Core recommended).
All the QS1R code from SRL is open
source, so if you have the desire and expertise, you can make modifications or even roll
your own software. That’s important, even for
non-programmers, because developers are
likely to provide new capabilities over time.
44 September 2010 Skimmer Server (see the sidebar) is an
elegant product developed on the QS1R
platform. It takes complete control of the
QS1R, bypassing the SRL software. Because
this program uses much more of the FPGA’s
capability, up to 7 receivers with 192 kHz
bandwidth running in parallel, it needs a
beefy power supply. Even if you aren’t going
to use Skimmer Server, I recommend using a
supply with at least 2 A capacity — it leaves
your options open for future applications.
Learner’s Permit
Any advanced radio takes some time to
learn, and the QS1R is no exception. The
hardware connections are simple, but the
SDRMAX-II software definitely has a learning curve to climb. The operating screen is
complex, and it is not immediately clear how
to do even the basic functions such as tuning.
There is no built-in help system, except that
tooltips are displayed if your cursor hovers
over a particular control. The support Web
site offers an online help manual that helps,
but it is incomplete. The site’s FAQ list fills
in some of the gaps, but you’re going to
face a certain amount of trial and error and
e-mail consultation! A training video would
go a long way toward getting new users up
to speed.
Joy of the Open Road
I enjoyed learning to drive this radio, but
the real fun begins when you take it out on
the highway. Hooked to my antenna farm
(dipoles for 80 and 40 meters plus a three
element SteppIR Yagi), its receive performance on the amateur bands was comparable
to my Ten-Tec Orion, except for reduced
sensitivity on the higher bands. My home
location is relatively quiet — no high power
transmitters in the area — and the bands were
not crowded.
For me, the major plus of the SDR is
the spectrum display and the waterfall. You
can monitor a band segment, a whole band,
or even multiple bands (up to 20 MHz of
spectrum) to monitor propagation using HF
broadcast or amateur stations. The waterfall
shows a time history. You can find some
very interesting modulation modes, swept
frequency radios and ionosondes. You can
even do radioscience — watch interference
patterns (selective fading) drifting across
the sidebands of a distant HF broadcast
signal, telling you how ionospheric clouds
are moving!
There are many other ways you can use
the QS1R. You can find a signal with an
unknown frequency, such as parasitic oscillations, very quickly. You can diagnose
obscure interference issues. Many interference sources have broad spectra that can be a
little hard to understand with a narrowband
receiver. I discovered that a problem I had
been seeing on 10 meters was actually spread
out over several MHz, putting me on the
track to find some arc-like source. The QS1R
would serve as a fine panadapter attached
to another receiver’s first IF, but it would
be overkill for this relatively narrowband
application.
You can connect the audio output to your
computer’s audio input jack and use any audio analysis program you like. For example,
DRM or other digital voice decoders, PSK31,
RTTY and other digital data modes should
be simple to decode. With its synchronous
AM detection, the QS1R makes an excellent
AM broadcast receiver.
Conclusions
There are a few rough edges with this
product, which I’ve touched on above. The
documentation is incomplete, although
the e-mail and Web based help ecosystem
is very useful. The receiver sensitivity is
relatively low, limiting performance in the
higher bands, and the input low-pass filter is
not sufficient to prevent aliasing of signals
above 62.5 MHz. If all you want is a good
general-coverage receiver, there are less expensive products on the market with better
specifications.
The compelling features of the QS1R
SDR have to do with its ability to quickly
survey the entire spectrum from 10 kHz to
62 MHz and to provide a very flexible display
with point and click signal tuning and setting
of bandpass filters. As a panoramic display of
one or more entire amateur bands, it can add
a lot of capability to your station. It is also a
useful piece of test equipment for your bench.
On top of that, the QS1R has a lot of untapped
horsepower for special applications, as the
Skimmer Server product shows.
Manufacturer: Software Radio Laboratory,
8776 Shillington Dr, Powell, OH 43065-9001;
tel 614-339-4324; www.srl-llc.com.
SHORT TAKES
CC User DX Cluster Client
When someone gushes about a piece
of Amateur Radio software and ends the
excited tale by saying, “And it’s free, too!”
I am instantly skeptical. Throughout my life
to date, the ancient axiom “You get what you
pay for” has usually proven to be accurate.
If something is said to be free, I lower my
expectations quite a bit.
But axioms aren’t blessed with universal
veracity, otherwise they’d become scientific
truths like Maxwell’s equations. In the case
of VE7CC’s CC User software, the axiom is
entirely wrong!
What is a DX Cluster Client?
A DX Cluster is a network devoted to
monitoring on-the-air activity throughout
the world. Hundreds of hams are connected
at any given time, posting spots with information about signals they’ve discovered on
bands from 160 meters through microwave.
DX Clusters are an outgrowth of the original
DX PacketClusters that performed the same
tasks using radio data networks on 2 meters
and 70 cm. Some of these PacketClusters still
exist, but most Cluster networking has since
shifted to the Internet.
DX Clusters are popular among contest
enthusiasts, DX hunters or anyone else who
is interested in keeping their fingers on the
pulse of Amateur Radio activity. But many
of us, myself included, are often too busy to
sit before the computer and sample the action. That’s where the Cluster client comes
into play.
Cluster clients are software applications
that do much of the monitoring for you. They
connect to the Cluster of your choice, get the
most recent spots, periodically download
propagation information and so on. Best of
all (at least for me), these clients can filter the
torrent of information. For example, if you
don’t have the ability to get on 160 meters,
you may not be interested in seeing spots
for 160 meter activity. Not a problem. The
Cluster client can be configured to ignore
160 meter spots. Or, if you are looking for a
particular station (such as a DXpedition operation) or a station from a particular DXCC
entity, the Cluster client can “watch” for these
and alert you if they are spotted.
VE7CC’s CC User
A number of Amateur Radio logging and
The CC User main page.
contest applications have Cluster clients built
in, but CC User by Lee Sawkins, VE7CC, is
a stand-alone program for Windows. It is rich
with features, yet surprisingly easy to use.
CC User can “talk” to a packet TNC if you
prefer to connect via radio, or it can make
Internet Telnet connections to your favorite
online DX Cluster.
For this review I used a Telnet connection, which was simple to set up. CC User
includes a list of Telnet Clusters, or you can
enter another of your choice. There is a User
Info screen that allows you to enter your call
sign, Cluster password (if needed), your
location, etc.
CC User’s filtering features are impressive. Since I tend to operate CW and digital,
I set my filter to ignore spots in the phone
portions of the bands. I also configured it
to only show spots from hams who were in
my area of the country (seeing spots from
stations on the other side of the continent
wasn’t as useful since I may not be able to
hear what they are hearing).
If a particular spot catches my eye, I can
click my mouse cursor on the call sign and
look up the station on QRZ. Holding the
CONTROL key while clicking my mouse
opens a window showing the sunrise and
sunset times for that station.
CC User keeps an eye on space weather,
too. One day I glanced at the screen to find
Steve Ford, WB8IMY 50 September 2010  QST Editor  a glowing red box announcing Minor Radio
Blackouts. No wonder I wasn’t hearing much
on HF that afternoon!
If you are interested in working stations
who participate in ARRL’s Logbook of
The World, CC User will request this information and flag these stations in the list. It
reminds you to refresh the LoTW database
with the appearance of a red highlighted
button.
The alarm function is excellent. I turn up
my computer speakers for a welcome blast
of audio whenever a desired station appears.
I can even tell CC User to shoot an e-mail
message to my cell phone. Use this function
with care, though. You don’t want to find
yourself interrupting a business meeting to
declare that you have to rush home because
6 meters is open.
Great Software; Great Price
Lee has done an outstanding job with
CC User. The layout is clean and direct.
He has even built in an auto updater that
“phones home” via the Internet and alerts
you to download the latest version (Lee is
constantly making improvements). The fact
that all this functionality comes free of charge
is just ­icing on the cake. You can download
the latest version of CC User at www.ve7cc.
net. Scroll about 3⁄4 of the way down the page
to find the download link.
sford@arrl.org