Saturday, 22 February 2020

MY FIRST QSL CARD

IT'S BEEN A YEAR, BUT...

After a year as a licensed Amateur Radio operator, I received my very first postal QSL CARD today and I don't mind admitting, I'm well pleased! 😀

K3LR

Friday, 21 February 2020

TECSUN PL-680 QUICK REVIEW

COMPACT WONDER

I got this wonderful radio as a birthday gift a couple of years ago from my wife (after pestering her) and I've loved it ever since. It reminds me in some way of the FT-818 - it's not the best in the world, but you just bond with it. 

I liked how it looked from the get-go and I liked how it came as a complete kit with leather carry case, wire antenna, telescopic and even an earplug. The whole tidy package cost me £149 from Martin Lynch & Sons. The radio oozes quality and you'll never feel like you've bought something cheap. 


Apart from covering the ShortWave band, MediumWave and LongWave, the radio also receives FM VHF and even the AirBand (something that I often monitor in the background). Additionally it has SSB and automatically switches between USB & LSB.

The radio's sensitivity is extremely good for a radio at this price point and the only criticism I can aim at it is that it can, at certain frequencies, be TOO sensitive when connected to an outdoor antenna - it gets overloaded. But that brings me to the main feature of this radio - it works superbly on its telescopic antenna - even in an electrically noisy household.

 

Broadcast radio from stations on the other side of the world are pulled in easily and with very little fading. The AGC seems a little eager when you first tune into a signal, but it very quickly stablises.  The SSB functions really well and there's been many a time when I've comfortably listened to the HAM bands on the telescopic antenna, indoors. Outdoors with the supplied wire connected, it's amazingly good!



FM VHF is also good but not perfect as far as I'm concerned. The quality of the audio is just missing something, but I'm always quite critical when listening to FM. Airband on the other hand is spot on! The radio isn't too good on batteries, but then I've only used rechargeables - it's probably much better on quality Lithium AA's (4). 

The PL-680 has two very nifty stands - a small pull-out stand at the bottom to stop it being easily tipped over, and a larger one on the back which allows you to have the radio on a desktop at a 45 degree incline. Nice!

2000 Memories make it easy to store your frequencies allowing good spacing. The display is large enough to read easily and has a good signal meter. There's a built-in clock with two timers and a SLEEP function (which drives me potty because I keep inadvertently switching it on). There's also a nice LOCK feature to keep it from being accidentally activated in your rucksack.

So there you have it. A fabulous little radio for around the house or in your rucksack when you're out having a picnic. To finish off, I thought I show how it performs with its telescopic antenna against a £3000 radio connected to a 52ft G5RV dipole.

M7MCQ

I'm no video-editor, lol.




FEATURES

FM-stereo/MW/LW/SW/SW SSB/AIR band with high sensitivity,
selectivity and user-friendliness
FM band coverage: 76 – 108 MHz
Shortware Single Side Band (SSB) with upper sideband (USB)
and lower sideband (LSB)
Equipped with Synchronous Detector and Dual Conversion
technology for MW band; this greatly enhances the receiver’s
sensitivity, selectivity, image rejection, and interference from
adjacent stations
FM/SW external antenna jack sensitivity selector: DX/Normal/
Local antenna gain
Multiple tuning methods
Store up to 2000 stations (manually, semi-automatic and fully
automatic)
Equipped with a high-sensitivity acoustic speaker with treble/bass
tone control switch (FM-stereo via earphone)
Auto Alarm-Off Timer: when the alarm goes off, the preset radio
station will play for 1-90 minutes
Sleep timer (1-120 minutes) to turn off the radio automatically
User-friendly interface
Built-in charging function
Powered by 4 x AA (R6) size batteries, DC 6V
Luxury carrying case
Dimensions: 188 x 116 x 31 mm

OV1CDX

I only just realised that I never put a QSL Card on here from Frank, OV1CDX. That's because I never received one, lol. I first worked Frank in August 2019 when I was sat in my garden with the Yaesu FT-818 and tried connecting the little Elecraft AX-1 telecopic antenna to the BNC connector.

To my utter amazement, I got a contact straight away, deep into Denmark on just 2.5W and had a good chat with Frank. I didn't know at that time that Frank had become blind and didn't get involved with Eqsl but was willing to exchange paper QSL cards (which I didn't do at the time).

So anyway, I'm going to send one off in the post to Frank and thought I'd include his card here.


OV1CDX

Monday, 17 February 2020

SHACK PIC - IC-7610


I spent my weekend putting the shack back together, having removed the ELAD, replacing it with the ICOM. The shack was a mess on Saturday morning and to be honest, I wasn't really in the mood for it, but after a lengthy amount of procrastinating, I got off my backside and started the work.

First decision was what to put where! In the end, I decided that the IC-7100 was not going to be installed - I was going to leave it on the top-shelf disconnected so that I could just grab it and throw it in the truck for mobile/portable work. That decision made the shack-rebuild a little easier.

I had originally thought of installing it permanently in the truck but I just can't be bothered - after all, I don't do much radio work while travelling - in fact, I don't do much travelling at all unless I'm specifically travelling somewhere to play radio from the side of the truck.

Joining the 7100 on the "storage" shelf is the Yaesu FT-818 with its matching tuner. I love this little rig and will never, ever sell it - not even if I bought a 705. It's just an absolute gem!

In the background you can see the lovely TECSUN PL-680, another fine little toy. I like to take this with me if I can't play TX for whatever reason. It's a fabulous portable, with full HF coverage, (SSB), Broadcast and AirBand.

I then found a spot for the HandHelds and their chargers. Both of these run from HotSpots because there are no Repeaters nearby. The Kenwood D74 uses a DVAP Dongle and the Yaeasu FT3D uses an OpenSpot2. When I find time, I'm gonna run both radios from the OpenSpot (more than likely).

So, back to the main event - the 7610. Unlike the DX3000, there isn't a simple "RF OUT" to feed my SDRPLAY RSP1A.   I thought that I'd be able to connect to the RX OUT BNC connector, but using that results in the Main VFO going quiet. The only way around it is to connect a loop through to the RX IN BNC using a splitter like the MINI CIRCUITS ZSC -2-2+ which is quite expensive and not easy to get here in the UK.

So I decided to share the G5RV antenna between the RSP1A and IC-7610 using an MFJ-1708B which I already had in the shack. You can rely on the MFJ's "RF Sensing" or you can feed it a line from your radio's PTT Out. I chose the latter.

So that meant that I had to run coax cables from the G5RV Switch, to the MFJ-1708B, then to the MFJ-993B ATU, then to the NISSEI DG-503 Meter and finally to the IC-7610. What a pain!

With the horrible bit out of the way, I could focus on connecting the other cables to the 7610 and pushing the radio into its resting place on my worktop, directly beneath the bottom shelf. Perfect fit!! In front of it I placed a Logitech K400 Wireless Keyboard with TrackPad. This worked perfectly as soon as I pushed the little wireless dongle into the 7610. Excellent!

With everything connected, I fired up the radio, pressed the TUNE button and the MFJ-993B almost instantly provided a perfect match and an SWR of 1.1:1 on 20M. I tuned around and found OE17AAW, a special callsign for the 17th Antarctic Activity Week 2020. I made contact and enjoyed a very comfortable QSO with a 59 report each way.

Then I spoke with Fred in Austria (OE8NDR) and couldn't believe how good the signal was. Fred told me that I was a beautiful signal back to him and thankfully, I recorded it (below). What I didn't realise at the time, was that my Mic Gain (the physical adjuster underneath the SM-50) was WAY too high!

> VIDEO <


Unfortunately, Fred had some operating difficulties and went off-air, so I carried on and worked CT1BOL in Portugal (57/57) and DJ0AJ in Germany (59/59) on 40M before switching to 80M to have my first contact on that band with G0ORG in England (58/57).


So I was quite happy with that start, but I now needed to get the rig connected to the PC. I thought it was going well - I installed the Silicon Labs USB Drivers and installed RS-BA1 software (V2). The radio connected to the software no problem and all the 'virtual' knobs and dials activated the same on the rig.

BUT the audio and mic was still in the hands of the radio and NOT the computer. It's obviously some settings in the radio's menus, but I just ran out of time and didn't manage to fix it yet. I also need to get HDSDR working with the USB-3 cable.

Something for another weekend :-) 






.



Friday, 14 February 2020

NICE TO HEAR FROM YOU!

IT'S ALWAYS NICE WHEN.....

...someone reaches out to say hi. Apart from the on-air contacts one makes in HAM radio, it's always nice to receive an email now and again from someone across the globe to say that they've enjoyed reading my odd ramblings 😃😃😃


….started with reading about your cheat sheet (AZ silent key originated, God bless him) and have been reading your blog like crazy..
It’s now 10:30 at night here in Miami Florida and I have been reading your blog since 7pm LOL.  Thanks for all the info- especially about batteries, I don’t know enough but your blog has helped me out.  THANKS for all your work Tom its guys like you in this hobby that make it great!!!!!!!!!!!

73,  Todd    K9TWM

USB MICROPHONES???

I KNOW NOTHING!!!

Hey, let's start by me admitting that I'm a newbie and I know nothing! I'm just thinking out aloud here, nothing else.

My new-fangled SDR radio (IC-7610) has 4 USB sockets and you can do allsorts of things with them. So I'm sat here thinking - "why can't modern radios use USB sockets/plugs for their microphones"??

The reason I asked myself that question is that when you connect to your radio remotely using RS-BA1 software, you end up using your laptop's crummy built-in microphone which sounds pretty rubbish (yes, I know you could plug a computer headset in).

But wouldn't it be nice if you could plug that beautiful £200 SM-50 into one of the laptop's USB ports (or even the supplied fist-mic)?

Maybe there's a reason why it's not possible, I don't know. But it sounds like a good idea to me to adopt a common connector on all radios. It might mean adding a little interface-board inside the radios, but boy, it would be amazing to be able to swap microphones from radio to radio to PC, etc.



I'm probably talking rubbish :-D






Wednesday, 12 February 2020

IC-7300 vs IC-7610

"YOU COULD BUY THREE 7300's!!"

Hmm, I've not had the radio two minutes and I've already been told a few times that I could have bought three 7300's for the price of the 7610. Well yes, I could, but then all I'd have is three 7300's and where's the sense in that??

There is no denying that the 7610 is an expensive radio, but there's no point in comparing it with the fact that it's 3X the price of Icom's entry-level SDR transceiver. The 7300 is a Icom's entry-level SDR transceiver and as fabulous as it is, it's still entry-level. That's fine for many people - it does everything they want and more. I'm happy for them. I just wish they were happy for me too :-)

Some lucky people drive around in £75k Range Rover 4WD. Happy days - I'm pleased for them. I don't go around explaining to the owners that they could have had 3 KIA Sportage 4WD for the same money!

The fact is, the 7610 is a different radio to the 7300. For a start it has 2 INDEPENDENT RECEIVERS. It has 2 HF Antenna Ports, it has 4 BNC ports for RX-Out, RX-In, REF-In and TRANSVERTER. 

The 7610 screen is almost 2x the size, It has a DVI-D socket to feed an external monitor to expand the display. It has 2 ACC sockets, 2 USB sockets on the rear panel, 2 external speaker jacks, a socket for external meter and a socket for external keypad, plus a remote socket.

The 7610 also has 2 USB sockets on the front panel which can be used for a variety of things including memory-sticks, an RC-28 VFO, a mouse, a keyboard, etc. The USB-2 socket on the rear panel is split into 2 Virtual Com ports which is useful for RTTY (FSK) using just one cable.

Additionally, the 7610 has a built-in Timer function, Dual Clocks (Local & UTC) and Solid State T/R Switching.

Finally, the 7610 has a built-in Server and a LAN port which makes it perfect for remote control operation without the need to have an active PC connected to the radio!

The radio has a very "top drawer" feel to it and doesn't give you the impression that it was built to a price. It's a good size, without being overly large. The extra real-estate means that it can accommodate some useful physical buttons that the 7300 cannot - such as the BAND buttons and handy RECORD & PLAY buttons.

The 7300 and 7610 are both fabulous radios and considering that I'm relatively new to the hobby, it may appear that I've gone for the wrong radio, but I invested in the 7610 because I am new and because I'm constantly learning. I don't want to be restricted by a radio a year or two down the line.

Someone else suggested that I should have spent my money 'more wisely' and bought the 7300 and the matching 9700. Well if those two radios were the same price, that suggestion might have had some merit, but the 9700 is a staggering £1,800 and I'd rather put the big bucks into the HF side. I don't want to pay £1,800 to talk to "Johnny in Wigan". Anyway, I have my IC-7100 and DR-735 for VHF/UHF (not to mention an FT3 and D74).

So back to the 7610. I love it. It has absolutely everything I want and need. Hopefully, it will give me many years of service and entertainment. I can experiment with all the HF bands, all the different modes including Digital, run FT-8 on one receiver whilst running SSB on the other, etc, etc. With my limited capacity to erect antennas, I need the best possible receiver performance and the quietest floor level to help me to get the best performance from my dipoles and end-feds.

The remote operation (full licence required) is a really nice feature and I've already got the RC-28 plug-in VFO and the RS-BA1 software (V2). This adds a whole new element to operating.

This isn't a dig at 7300 Owners! This, I guess, is a dig at those people who see fit to criticise someone else for investing in a radio which they don't deem to be worth buying. Well hey, you aren't buying it, so don't worry about it, LOL.

I acknowledge that the 7300 is one of the most important radios to have ever been launched! It was (and remains) ground-breaking in terms of what it offers at its particular price point. It's so good that it has seriously impacted the Secondhand Radio Market - why would someone pay over-inflated prices for legacy radios when that price is so close to the cost a a used (or even new) 7300? They won't! As a result, the price of used radios is falling to more realistic levels and will continue to fall as people move to SDR technology.