Thursday, 21 September 2023



I've always fancied learning morse code but felt too darned busy to learn a new language, so instead, I bought a CW Decoder/Encoder from Preppcomm. That works pretty well and I kind of stumble along with it, but feel that other operators can detect the 'machine code' and prefer not to engage with it.

Then last week I went to a presentation at our local Radio Club where Lynda G6QA encouraged people to take up morse and demonstrated how one might learn the code. I was too shy to participate in the 'have a go' sessions, but I was suitably inspired to make an effort once I was back home.

The first step was to buy a key and having once tried an iambic paddle on a KX2, I thought that might be the best one to learn on (some might say it makes more sense to start with a single straight-key, but I just had a liking for the paddles).

Looking around I spotted some cheap keys from an American company called CWMORSE and they were available here in the UK at Martin Lynch & Sons, so I ordered a DOUBLE PADDLE from them....

When it arrived, I could immediately tell that there was something amiss. For a start, it just didn't feel like a double paddle key, because when you pressed one of the paddles, the other moved with it 😮  I removed the top casing and saw that it was indeed a single paddle fitted with two wings.

This was very disappointing and so I wrote to ML&S and explained that I'd ordered a 'double paddle key' from their website and instead received this "pseudo" double key!  The box had a label on it which covered up another label clearly showing that it was actually a single key...

There was a great deal of misunderstanding went on between me and ML&S before the correct key was despatched and it ended up with me having to go into town to take the wrong key to the Post Office and then being told by ML&S that I’d have to pay more for the correct key because it was £63.95!  All very frustrating and no hint of apology for the incorrect descriptions on their website and the inconvenience. Worse still, the new key arrived with a price sticker on it of £59.95 😮😡😮  So all in all, with the initial postage and the return postage, I have paid a total of £85.90 😡🤬😡

Anyway, all that aside, the key is here and seems to be working fine. Initially it needs some adjustment to center the keys and make sure that there's equal amounts of travel in each key. I like the keys to have little movement, but it's obviously a personal preference. Making adjustments is a very simple and self-explanatory procedure.


The key is 3D-Printed and the quality of materials and construction seems quite good. The internals are very simple, which gives you the comfort of knowing that if something goes wrong after years of use, you'll probably be able to fix it yourself with hexhead bolts and springs, etc. It comes with a heavy steel base so that it doesn't move around on the table, but you can always remove the base if you're taking the key on a SOTA outing and want to lose the weight.

The unit is fitted with a 3.5mm stereo jack socket but no cable is included. You will have to buy or make up a lead yourself, configuring the wiring of the stereo plug to determine which paddle is a dah and which is a dit.

Initial inspection of the key reveals a very slight sloppiness in the vertical plane which I don't particularly like, but I don’t think it will have any affect the performance anyway. I'm obviously an out and out beginner, but common sense tells me that any off-plane movement is not a good thing  (but you have to bear in mind the low price of these keys (starting at £39 without a base (if you’re lucky enough to get what you order)).

I had already learned to key CQ CQ TEST M7MCQ with ease when I had a KX2 so I started with that - it went well. I feel that I can confidently go forward in the (long) journey toward learning Morse.

So there you have it - a cheap and cheerful double paddle key which is super lightweight for SOTA/POTA use, but perfectly planted on the shack desk when used with the heavy base.

The key worked well with my IC-7610, IC-705, FT-818 and (tr)uSDX - no bother at all. A good purchase I'd say. Now the learning begins! 😂

OOOPS!!! Something went wrong!

I started to notice that my practise work was not consistent even on the short string of letters that I am very familiar with. I lifted the cover off the paddle and saw that one of the upright posts was loose - it had no doubt failed during the actual 3D-Printing process.

As a result, the post was only held on at one side and could fail at anytime. I took a video of the problem and returned the item for replacement 😭😭😭

Click HERE if video doesn't load

FINGERS CROSSED for a happy and positive ending!!

IAN G0CTO said : Ha ha I had a similar one with MLS, ordered an iambic Kent paddle - they sent a single lever rang them and the clown at the other end tried to get me to keep it. I made them collect it and send the correct key. Keys are personal things but engineering is everything - the two paddles I have now are a Chevron AGA and a Begali Sculpture. The one I use most is the Begali as it’s more compact. The two keys are very different as one uses magnets in attraction and is very snappy the other uses them in repulsion and behaves more like a spring. Both keys can be adjusted very finely to such an extent that temperature can cause keying with metal expansion.

Someone I know (G0CTO) just posted these words on Social Media, which is very appropriate to my new quest...

In a world dominated by instant messaging, video calls, and high-tech communication methods, there exists a hidden treasure among radio enthusiasts. It's a language that transcends time and technology, weaving a symphony of dots and dashes through the airwaves, captivating the hearts and minds of amateur radio operators. It's the thrilling art of listening to Morse Code as a conversation, an experience that transcends mere communication and becomes a passionate pursuit of connection and skill.
Amateur radio has been a bastion of communication for hobbyists and enthusiasts for over a century. While it encompasses a vast range of modes and frequencies, Morse Code, or CW (Continuous Wave), remains a timeless and enthralling aspect of this diverse community.
Imagine tuning your radio to a quiet frequency, and suddenly, there are a series of distinct tones, some long and some short, and to those that cannot read it, that is what it will sound like.

To the uninitiated, it might seem like random beeping, but to those in the know, it's a series of different conversations. It's like being in a large hall with people involved in conversations. You can understand those but not those in Morse Code. That changes when you can read the Code.
Listening to Morse Code as a conversation is akin to eavesdropping on a secret code between two friends. Each "dit" (.) and "dah" (-) carries significance, forming letters, words, and sentences. It's like deciphering a cryptic puzzle, one that engages both your ears and your intellect. The anticipation builds as you try to piece together the message being transmitted, and when you decode a word or phrase, a sense of accomplishment washes over you.

What makes Morse Code conversations so exhilarating is the sheer efficiency and range of this communication mode. With minimal equipment and power, radio operators can connect over vast distances, often when all other modes fail due to interference or poor conditions. It's a testament to human ingenuity, enabling communication in the most challenging of circumstances. Yes, it IS ancient technology but one that will be with the amateur community for as long as we have those that learn the Code.

But it's not just the utility of Morse Code that makes it exciting; it's the culture surrounding it. CW operators are part of a global fraternity that appreciates the beauty of this art form. They exchange stories, knowledge, and camaraderie through the rhythmic pulses of dots and dashes. It's a tradition that has persisted through generations, handed down like an heirloom.

There's a certain romance in listening to Morse Code, too. It's a language that connects you not just to the person transmitting the message but also to the rich history of radio communication. It conjures images of intrepid explorers, wartime heroes, and adventurers who relied on these signals to bridge the gap between worlds. Take Bletchley Park for example. The operators there during the war, mostly women, shortened the war with their efforts. There are still a couple that are licensed amateurs actually.

In a world that often seems inundated with noise, Morse Code stands as a beacon of simplicity, an oasis of calm. It reminds us that communication can be both an art and a science, a pursuit that challenges our intellect and enriches our souls. It reminds us that in the digital age, there's still room for the beauty of analog communication.

So, the next time you hear those rhythmic dots and dashes emanating from your radio, take a moment to savor the magic. Revel in the excitement of deciphering messages hidden in plain sight. Embrace the timelessness of Morse Code, and you'll discover a world where conversation becomes an art form, and each transmission is a symphony in dots and dashes.

Saturday, 2 September 2023



My ShortWave Listening hobby began as a young child and it stayed with me for decades (apart from the usual periodic lapses when life serves you lemons). When I started to go to Airshows and Airports in my 20's, it was only natural that I became interested in the on-air chatter between pilots and ground stations. Of course back then, the AM airband receivers (that I could afford) were extremely basic and not particularly sensitive, but they were good enough to maintain an interest.  As I got into my 30's, things had got significantly better and I could afford equipment from Yupitera, Alinco and AOR. Their scanning receivers had huge frequency ranges, multiple modes, memories and blisteringly fast scanning speeds!!

Rather than just scan the airband for local traffic, I soon became curious about how it all worked and searched outside the AM sector for signals of a more DX nature. I was never going to become obsessed with it, because I had other hobbies too, but I did at least want to go further than the average spotter at the runway apron.

So, here's my understanding of it. I'm no expert - far from it - but learning just a little more about how it all works, can greatly enhance your enjoyment.

The world's airspace is split up into regions called Flight Information Regions (FIR). Some countries may only have one FIR due to their small size, while others need multiple FIRs because their country is physically huge.

As aircraft pass through our airspace, you may hear them on the approach seeking permission to enter, for example, the LONDON FIR and then soon after being told to contact the SHANWICK FIR to continue their journey over the Atlantic to their final destination.

Apart from horizontal splits across land, vertical splits also exist. You can (and usually do) have an upper and lower FIR (the lower one being referred to simply as FIR and the upper one being called UIR). Upper Airspace is normally regarded as being the space above 24,500ft (FL245).

Here in the UK we have 3 FIRs with the callsigns LONDON, SCOTTISH and SHANWICK OCEANIC. The London FIR covers England and Wales. The Scottish FIR covers Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Shanwick FIR covers the North East Atlantic.


Because of the size and the amount of traffic, LONDON FIR uses additional resources at Manchester Airport to aid control of the vast number of flights passing through England and Wales.

Around 6,000 aircraft fly through our airspace every day and all that traffic is controlled by the Civil Aviation Authority and split into sectors classified as A, C, D, E or G and our airspace (broadly speaking) is either controlled or uncontrolled. 

Uncontrolled airspace (Classified as G) has no restrictions on which aircraft can enter it or the routes aircraft can take. Class G is basically any airspace which doesn't have one of the other classifications. And it's not just a horizontal space from A to B, it's also a vertical space from ground to a certain height (usually expressed in feet). Class G's ceiling-height will be Class E's floor-height. Pilots flying in Class G airspace are responsible for their own navigation, separation from other aircraft, obstructions, etc, but a pilot can ask for help.

All other airspace is Controlled - rigidly controlled! Different classifications exist in order to provide safe movement across the skies of the UK. Here's what the different classes mean in real terms...

CLASS-A requires a pilot(s) to be certified to fly on Instruments Only (IFR) and not rely on what he sees outside the window. This is the most strictly regulated airspace of all and pilots must observe and follow every instruction given by the local air-traffic-controller (ATC). Aircraft which operate in Class-A airspace are kept well away from other traffic and are usually comprised of large commercial airliners.

CLASS-C is an airspace (in the UK at least) which is at a flight-level between 19,500ft (known as FL195) and 66,000ft (FL660). In Class-C airspace, pilots can operate IFR (Instrument Flight Rules) or VFR (Visual Flight Rules), but they must request permission to enter the airspace and must comply with ATC instructions.

CLASS-D is like Class-C in that pilots can work to IFR or VFR but Class-D is typically assigned to the areas around airports and aerodromes and have a speed limit of 250kts when the aircraft is below 10,000ft. Again, pilots must obtain permission to enter Class-D airspace and must comply with ATC.

CLASS-E permits either IFR or VFR. IFR traffic need to request permission to enter this airspace and comply with all ATC instructions, where VFR traffic does not.


Air Traffic Controllers can only control a limited amount of aircraft at any one time, so the country is split into sectors and the number of sectors can vary according to the time of day and even the time of year - the more traffic, the more sectors. When it's less busy (such as night time), some sectors will be grouped together with fewer controllers managing a larger area. A bit like a superstore opening more tills on a Saturday morning, but closing many of them down on a Sunday afternoon 😅

Responsibility for Transatlantic traffic is shared between the UK, Portugal, USA, Canada and Iceland. Aircraft stick to predetermined routes which are published every 12 hours and these routes are generated according to weather conditions and in particular, tailwinds which can help traffic make enormous savings in fuel. Approximately 80% of all Transatlantic traffic goes through Shanwick Oceanic - it's the gateway to Europe!


It's worth noting that while radar is useful for determining the position, heading and speed of aircraft, it only has a range of around 250 miles due to the curvature of the earth, so aircraft "squawk" their unique ID and positional data electronically (by satellite or radio) every so often in a data-burst and this information is gathered by ATC's across the world to form a picture of what's going on.

It's possible for you to play an active part in monitoring air traffic in your area by using a simple bit of hardware and software with a tiny antenna mounted (ideally) outdoors above your roofline. It's called Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast (ADS-B). We'll talk about this later.


You need to be aware that it is ILLEGAL to monitor the Airband in the UK!  You're okay to purchase an Airband receiver or even purchase a Transceiver like I did, but you are not allowed to listen to it.  Crazy, I know, but that's how it is.

Needless to say, you are extremely unlikely to be prosecuted for listening in, but just be aware that the authorities do have the right to confiscate your radio, but you only have to walk around the airport perimeters and viewing parks to see scores of people watching aircraft traffic while listening to pilot/control chatter on their radios with no objections from airport staff or authorities. 



Most people simply tune into their own local airport Approach & Tower frequencies and listen to the two-way comms relating to take-offs and landings. That in itself can be quite interesting, especially as a background fill-in while you're doing something else. You'll occasionally get a bit of excitement in the way of a Go-Around or reports of someone kicking off on a plane 😂

If you are reasonably close to an airport, you should also be able to pick up GroundCrew transmissions. These can be quite mundane but occasionally turn up some interesting situations. If you are too far from an airport, you will only hear the aircraft above you (up to around 200 miles away on VHF).

You can also listen to ATIS transmissions where messages are repeated continuously, relaying information on local weather conditions and other important information. There are also VOLMETS which perform a similar function but with information relating to a much wider area. Bit boring but sometimes useful as a measure of conditions.

Hand gliders, Balloonists and Gliders use a specific frequency, so if you're visiting a local event, you can always listen in to what's going on.

If you program your radio to monitor the Distress Frequency (121.5MHz Civil, 243.0MHz Military), you will very occasionally hear a bit of drama which, thankfully, is usually nothing too bad.

Airport Fire Services have a fixed frequency, so if you see any movement of fire engines while at an airport, you can always tune in and see what's happening (might just be a drill).

Finally, you will very occasionally hear a bit of an argument between ATC and Pilots. They're very rare, so keep your recorder going!



The vast majority of civil-aviation chatter occurs on VHF frequencies using AM. Occasionally you may find some Military action on VHF too - usually at an airshow.

Military flights usually use UHF frequencies between 225MHz and 400MHz. Obviously, you will find it much easier to monitor Military Flight activity if you live close to a Military AirBase or on a route to one.

 For long-distance transmissions, pilots may use HF and there's a number of common frequencies between 2MHz and 23MHz where you'll find activity. Needless to say, it's nowhere near as busy as your local VHF chatter.

With regard to specific frequencies, you can easily Google the airport frequencies local to you or visit a website such as the UK AIRPORT & AIRFIELD site or the MILITARY AIRSHOWS UK site and obtain them from there.


Alternatively (or in addition) you can buy an Airport Frequency Reference Book. These books don't age as quickly as you might expect and they always contain additional information. Just bear in mind that books contain very comprehensive lists of frequencies, but most of them will relate to activity way outside your area and therefore of little interest (unless you travel around a lot).


If you're not convinced that Airband Listening is for you, then you'd be ill-advised to spend too much on radio equipment at this stage. You're probably better off buying the cheapest scanner available so that you can sell it if things don't work out for you. You'll probably not lose any money - especially if you buy something used on eBay.  Just bear in mind that the really cheap stuff only works well if you're at an airport spectator park or live closeby,  so don't expect too much.

If you are already convinced that the AirBand is for you, then it all depends on your budget and whether or not you want your new radio to receive other stuff in addition to AirBand signals. There's a lot of cheap scanners out there which will cover a very wide frequency range, but they should be considered as Jack Of All Trades and Master of None.

Personally, I would recommend the YAESU FTA-550 Airband Transceiver over a scanner like the UNIDEN UBC-125XLT. The Yaseu is dedicated to the AirBand and is superbly well built. Needless to say, you need to disable the TRANSMIT function by changing a menu option.

If you think most of your listening will be done solely from home, you might want to consider an excellent (and cheap) RSP1A from SDRPLAY. These cover an extremely wide range of frequencies and provide you with a plethora of amazing functions and features BUT you need to connect it to a PC to work. 


One of my favourite handhelds for AirBand and other bands is my 20yr old ALINCO DJ-X2000. It cost a fortune back in the day and was probably the most advanced scanner in the world upon launch. It still works very well to this day, although the HF tuning is out a couple of kc. I just love this radio and will never sell it.

My 30yr old AOR AR-3000A is another great bit of kit to monitor with. It covers everything from the lowest to the highest and is super sensitive. There's plenty around on eBay still (although some people are a bit deluded when it comes to pricing them).

Being a licensed ham, I do, of course, have other radios which are capable of monitoring the AirBand and I use them regularly. My Kenwood TH-D74 is one such radio and it performs magnificently but it's a very expensive bit of kit and I wouldn't take it to an Airport Spectator Park because I'd be terrified of losing it or dropping it, lol. Not only can it monitor AirBand, but it also covers HF and has SSB.

My YAESU FT-3D covers the AirBand and is quite sensitive at those frequencies but it has no SSB capability. 

Most VHF/UHF ham radios include access to the AirBand and some do it better than others, so if you already have such a rig, there's no point in spending more. And don't forget that your Shack-In-A-Box will almost certainly have Airband receive capability as well as HF SSB. Things like the IC-7100, FT-991A, FT-818, etc.

Another favourite radio of mine is the TECSUN PL-680 which has a very useful form factor. It covers the AirBand and also HF with SSB. It has lots of memories in which you can store frequencies. Super portable and very flexible around the home for general domestic use too. Its bigger brother the S-2000 performs pretty well but is quite cumbersome. Both Tecsuns have external antenna options.

Sometime in the hopefully not too distant future, AOR will get round to releasing their flagship AirBand receiver - the AR-7400. It will no doubt be quite expensive, but will hopefully set the gold standard for AirBand Scanning Receivers.

There are a LOT of other options out there and I would suggest you spend some time looking at the radios available online. Martin Lynch are a very good source for both new and used equipment and might be a good starting point, but there are other stores you available in the UK, including Moonraker. You can pay anything from a few pounds to a few thousand pounds.I'd recommend that you see if you can borrow a radio from a friend or club before spending big bucks on something.


If you have a mind to, you can setup a low-cost station which will gather all the information which aircraft broadcast using a system called Automatic Dependent Surveillance Broadcast (ADS-B). This information includes all the data relating to the aircraft's ID, its position, heading and speed.

As you can see from the diagram below, the aircraft obtains its positional data from the GNSS satellites and then transmits it to Ground Stations and other aircraft around it.

Anybody can gather this data and by doing so, you can actually be part of the system by uploading your gathered data 'on the fly' to interested parties. In order to build your own Ground Station, you'll need the following...

  • A computer (Raspberry Pi with SDCARD)
  • A connection to the internet
  • A FlightAware USB stick
  • A Tiny 1090MHz antenna
  • A FlightAware Account

You can see from the photo above that I chose a Raspberry Pi Zero 2W which are very cheap, very small and perfectly capable of running the software. I bought one with the optional aluminium case which doubles up as a heatsink. 

There are a number of ADS-B RECEIVER dongles on the market, but the very best is the FlightAware Pro Plus because it has a built-in preamp and built-in filter. It's therefore far more reliable at decoding than others and will give you superior results, for just a small premium.

As a contributor to the ADS-B data system (ie, you're uploading all the aircraft data gathered from your Ground Station), you can obtain a FREE Enterprise account which would normally cost you around £90 per month, giving you full access to the system.


Traffic over Europe with Weather

Click on the image below to read the full installation guide. It's all very straightforward and you'll be up and running in no time at all...

If you have anything to add to this post, please make a comment in the COMMENTS SECTION below and don't forget to add your name (and callsign if you have one).

Thanks for visiting the blog.

Tom, M7MCQ.

Thursday, 27 July 2023



I have a bit of a thing for SDR radios and I’ve had the good fortune to be able to try some of the best out there including world-class equipment from Expert Electronics, Elad, Icom, Flex and others. I’ve got a special liking for QRP SDR and I’m always amazed at how much one can achieve with tiny, cheap 5W offerings - even from kit manufacturers like QRP-Labs (the outstanding digital QDX being a great example).

As usual I need to make it clear that this review is written by someone who has a basic license and virtually no knowledge or understanding of electronics. I have no specialist test-equipment and can only discuss things from an enthusiastic beginner's point of view. 

I became aware of the Hermes Lite about three years ago, but the chip shortage meant that it was extremely difficult to get hold of one, so I did my usual thing of saving a search on eBay and then forgot all about it until one day, I received an email notification telling me that there was one up for grabs.

Before it received a bid, I contacted the seller in Bristol and blagged him into selling it to me directly and paid £250 for the full unbuilt kit which was made up of the LITE-2, the N2ADR Filter Board and an Aluminium case. I believe they cost considerably more when imported (plus Delivery and Customs Charges).

When the package arrived, it was basically untouched. The boxes had been opened and the inner packaging too, but the kit hadn’t been put together. I didn’t bother asking why.

I’d already read about assembling it and had bought a 1/8 drill bit and some thermal paste for the heatsinks. I’d also downloaded the latest firmware and all the available software including SDR CONSOLE and THETIS (the latter being the one I was most interested in).

The “kit” is really nothing more than a couple of PCB’s, a connector-block, heatsinks and a 4-piece case. It goes together very quickly and easily and before you know it, it's ready to go.

When it came to fitting the heat sink shim for the PA, I sanded off the paint inside the case with rough grade Wet&Dry and then finished it off to a smooth finish with a fine grade. I did the same to the mating surfaces of the actual heat-transfer shim. I applied small amounts of non-conductive thermal paste to the mating surfaces and also along the channel which the PCB slides into, since that acts as a path for dissipating heat too.

Before going any further, let's talk about the Hermes Lite 2 and what it is.

Well basically, it's a network-connected direct-sampling (DDC/DUC) SDR HF transceiver  covering 130kHz to 30MHz with 5W transmit capability. It's based on the opensource HPSDR/Hermes SDR project, which means that there's a wealth of software available! The Hermes Lite 2 is not a standalone radio - it must be connected to an internet-router and accessed remotely by computer (although I believe you can also connect directly to a PC too (but why would you?)). Either a 100Mbs or a 1000Mbs ethernet connection can be used and the speed is automatically sensed.

It will run on a variety of platforms including Windows, Linux, macIOS and on a variety of devices including Raspberry Pi's and iPads, although the software features may vary from device to device.

To use the transmit capability of the Hermes Lite 2, you need to add a Low Pass Filter board (N2ADR) to supress any unwanted harmonics. It's easy to add one and it costs around $50. You will also need to connect a PSU capable of at least 2A. A linear supply is recommended but I use a switched power supply that was designed for a KX3 and it's perfectly fine.

The main attraction to this radio is that it's incredibly cheap considering just how good it is. People have compared it to much, much more expensive SDR receivers (like ANAN) but of course it only has a 5W TX output, so that, for many, is a huge negative. Even adding a cheap 100W amplifier to it, you're talking about another £560 for something like the Xiegu XPA125B, so your total outlay for a new HL2 with a new amp would be close to £1000.

I guess you'd still be hard pressed to find such a good 100W SDR package for a grand. Anyway, that's a dilemma for someone else - because I love QRP and its challenges.

I should point out that if you are more of a Fred Flintstone than an Inspector Gadget, this is probably not a radio for you! It's more of an experimenter's radio and you can expect to have some config issues during initial setup. You need to be fairly computer literate and not the kind to give up easily. Personally, I'd be the first to admit that I'm as thick as two short planks, but the Hermes Project has a sizeable online community, so when you do get stuck, you should be able to get a helping hand. 

So, back to playing radio! I got the HL2 over a month ago, but I've been a bit poorly these last few weeks and have only just felt good enough to start tinkering with it. Once it was fed with an antenna, power and broadband, it was time to download some software to my PC and get stuck into the config. As much as I wanted to play with Thetis and PowerSDR, I thought I'd try to make things easy by getting the radio to work with SDRconsole before moving onto other software. 

IMPORTANT NOTE : When connecting an antenna make sure you use an SMA pigtail instead of connecting a big heavy piece of coax with an adapter on. The antenna connector sits on the very edge of the PCB and I seriously doubt that it would cope with much stress at all before breaking off and potentially causing damage to the tracks on the board.

Getting the radio working remotely (locally) on my MicroSoft Surface Pro6 with SDRC, was an absolute doddle. I simply selected the HERMES LITE from the software's list of radios and it worked straight away.  It couldn't possibly be easier!!

Rather than have open holes in the back of the radio,
I fitted a DB9 connector and a Ground Screw.

Being a Foundation License holder, I am currently unable to operate remotely away from home, so I’m stuck with operating over the local wi-fi. That’s still  very convenient because it means I can sit wherever I want in the house or garden - and that’s a lifesaver during the summer when the shack temperatures are just unbearable!

The tricky bit with these remotely-controlled radios comes when you try to access them from outside your own wi-fi network. I'll leave that task for another time when OFCOM decide to allow me to do so. There's been a recent consultation at OFCOM and one of the proposals is to permit FL's to operate remotely from anywhere. Happy days!

I have a high quality 3-way antenna switch which I could use to switch between the Hermes Lite 2, an Expert Electronics ColibriNANO receiver and my beautiful Icom IC-7610 (unfair I know). Each one of these devices can be operated remotely. The Icom software offers nothing other than control of the radio - there’s no additional filtering or any other enhancements, whereas the EE software is rather special.

Icom's RS-BA1
Expert Electronics ExpertSDR2

The full test had to wait for the bands to open up - there’s nothing worse than trying to do a comparison when there’s sporadic activity. It’s much better when you can find operators who’ve got  pile-ups going on, so you’ve got time to listen to the same signal on each receiver.

20M and 40M were the busiest bands, with a good mix of signal strengths, so I switched the antenna to the HL2 and ran SDRconsole. The panadapter lit up with signals across the screen and everything looked great.


Now I've got to admit I'm not overly familiar with SDRconsole, so apart from the basics of tuning, changing modes and bandwidths, etc, I was floundering a bit. The panadapter was way too hot and the colours a little on the gawdy side as you can see above, lol. But it was working!!

If video doesn't display, CLICK HERE

I was well aware that operators held this software in high regard and so I had to spend quite some time to really get familiar with it. But it was worth it - I really like it now! My only criticism would be that it's a bit cramped on the screen of my Surface Pro and looks massively better on my 2K desktop (and even more so at 4K).

Straight from the get-go I could tell that the Hermes Lite 2 was a superb receiver! It was a little more sensitive than my EE ColibriNano and the quality of audio seemed better too. Flicking between the two resulted in me feeling ever so slightly disappointed in my little Russian receiver - something which surprised me because I'd previously held it in high regard.

The HL2 had a marginally lower noise floor and (in basic parlance) was easier on the ear! With big incoming signals, there wasn't much between them in all fairness, but when it came to weaker signals, the HL2 won hands down. And don't forget - this was using the basics of SDRconsole which is all new to me - I'm sure that the HL2's performance will shine even brighter once I invest more time in it and other available software such as Thetis.

I still love the ColibriNano and take my hat off to its incredibly small format. The software too is just a delight to use, with excellent filtering and noise reduction facilities, but, at £250 I would probably opt for the HL2 unless you are desperately short of space, where the tiny EE device would win hands down - especially if you're a frequent traveller and want to have a HF receiver with you.

So what about the big boy - the IC7610? Well that's a mighty unfair comparison isn't it? The Icom costs £3,300 and the HL2 can't possibly compare - can it?     

Well this is where you start to be effected by the laws of diminishing returns. When 'upgrading' radios (just like upgrading hi-fi), you have to spend an awful lot more money to achieve relatively small improvements and that's how products like the HL2 succeed. The Hermes receiver is really quite excellent, but not as good as the Icom. Can you live with that? For the difference in money - hell yeah!

Needless to say, the glorious 7610 has infinitely more capability than the HL2 and a comparison is just plain silly, but it does give you some real life appreciation of this remarkably cheap SDR and you would have to be equally silly to ignore it. 

So what's not to like about the HL2? For me, just daft little things like those pathetically flimsy end-plates on the case. I've seen stronger yoghurt tops! And how the SMA connectors are left floating instead of being secured to the chassis. And having the power and network connectors at the front. Yes, I said they were daft things.

Everything else is just amazing! If you are a QRP fan on a budget, this is the HF SDR for you. If you are a QRO fan who already owns a linear amp, then bingo!! The HL2 will suit a lot of people (who are happy to play radio through a computer). And if you have a remote location with a fantastic take-off, this little radio could be the answer to your prayers!

If OFCOM change the regulations, allowing me to operate remotely from any location, I can leave the HL2 running at home on my base antenna and access it from my holiday home instead of putting up with my compromised vertical which is installed there.  Yes, I could do the same with my IC-7610, but honestly, I don't fancy putting that at risk when I'm so far from home. It's easier to repair/replace a HL2 than an IC-7610 :-)

So what now? Next step is to try out the other software that's available - I'll update this page accordingly.  I also need to sort out some sort of low-cost ATU that I can leave connected to the HL2. Not sure which one yet - I'll have to look into it. But with that sorted, it will be a force to be reckoned with.

If you have any comments, tips, advice, please add something to the comments section below. Be kind, lol.

And thanks for visiting the blog!

73, Tom, M7MCQ.


UPDATE : 27-07-23 : A friend from the Bolton Wireless Club (Ian) pointed out that I hadn't covered the PURE SIGNAL feature of the radio and the truth is, I haven't even explored that far yet. He has offered to go through it with me. I'll report back :-)

UPDATE : 27-07-23 :  I found a very interesting little BLOG where some ingenious soul (Larry, WR9R) managed to squeeze an ATU inside the HL2 case!! He had to have new endcaps made, but other than that, it looked pretty straightforward. Very clever!

 UPDATE : 27-07-23 :  I managed to get THETIS working...

UPDATE : 30-07-23 :  I got around to trying to transmit today and sadly, I have to report that I have a problem :-(  There appears to be no output from the HL2 so I'm going to have to investigate and update later. AS USUAL time is against me due to other things going on around me right now.

It might well be a setting that I've not got right, but even using the TUNE function does nothing.

I'll be back! 😂

UPDATE : 31-07-23 :  I managed to get it to TX tonight and made my first contact on the HL2 - almost 1,000km into southern Spain. That'll do!

I used SparkSDR first of all to keep things simple and once it was working on there I switched to SDRC and messed around with the audio settings. Bingo! I was using a bluetooth headset with my PC and found that I had to  increase the mic-gain and PROC settings in order to get 4W out on USB. I could do with trying a few different headsets I guess. 


SDR Console

UPDATE : 3-08-23 :  Don't laugh - I sold it!! Although it worked superbly on my local wi-fi network, I quickly realised that this was going to be a bit of a nightmare to setup for distance remoting.

A friend from the local radio club benefitted from the sale of this cheap HL2 find and he has LOTS of technical expertise and is far more capable of overcoming the IP Routing issues that would plague me - especially considering I have a BT Router which (I believe) are a pain in the ass. 

The fact is, if I can't use it for distant-remoting, then there's no point in pursuing it further (especially as I already own a 7610 and a 705). Please don't think I want everything to be a piece of cake, handed to me on a plate, - I don't!  I quite enjoy challenges and rarely 'give up', but IP routing is way outside my area of interest - I know absolutely nothing about it at all. And quite simply, I just don't have time right now to spend learning something new with no one to guide me.

Anyway, I made a little money from the sale and gained a bit of experience of the Hermes Project. A fabulous SDR transceiver but my own knowledge/skills very much limited its actual value. No regrets :-)