Of course I could save the money for a rainy day, but that didn't sound like much fun and having seen quite a few people around my age pass away over the last couple of years, I decided to make hay while the sun shines. Reckless? Maybe.
So I looked at investing in a radio that would normally be well outside my financial reach - the Expert Electronics MB1 PRIME 2021.
The radio uses EESDR V2 which is a fabulous and incredibly configurable piece of software. Apparently, V3 is in development and early reports show that it makes far better use of the CPU which results in very significant speed improvements for those who only have an i5 cpu (as well as a host of great new features). The developers are unbelievably keen on striving for constant improvement and it's great to see that they listen to their customers and involve them heavily in deciding what's next.
The latest 2021 MB1 PRIME is designed to be used as a PC every bit as much as being a radio, so having much faster components means that you can operate the radio while running demanding software in the background at the same time. Being relatively new to Ham Radio, I'm obviously keen to dabble in all aspects of it, which includes a lot of Digital work such as FT8, etc. Being able to run WSJT-X and Logging Programs directly from the radio itself will be a big plus to me.
This is not a radio for those people who don't like technical challenges. If you already struggle with your old superhet, then forget this thing altogether! Using a high-end SDR like this requires a user who is willing to read manuals and enjoys configuring software. Basically someone who loves tinkering and experimenting.
Having said that, the MB1 is probably the best SDR radio in the world when it comes to integration with third-party software on a computer - everything is so simple because of the TCI support. I remember having an ELAD FDM DUO which was a fabulous SDR radio and the SW2 software was really, really good, but my God, that radio was annoyingly fiddly to connect up to a PC - it required THREE usb connections which is just plain ridiculous!!
On the back of the MB1 are two display ports allowing you to run multiple monitors at FullHD and even 4K. This is great for when you have all four VFO's displayed, each with their own scope and waterfall, on an external monitor. Or you might just want to operate the radio in the traditional way, but have a couple of monitors showing QRZ, WSJT-X, PSK Reporter, SwissLog, Google, etc, etc.
Initial setup was pretty straightforward but you need to be aware that any radio which depends on a computer needs to be protected from unexpected changes. If you update a Windows Driver for example, it might have an impact on the radio software and cause a problem. This is nothing unique to the MB1 of course - it's the same for any computer-driven SDR like a Flex, Elad or Apache, etc. As soon as a problem appears, the SDR manufacturers always release a patch to sort out the issue. It's really quite rare anyway.
I strongly suggest that you create a Restore-Point EVERY time that you are about to add new software to your PC.
Once the radio was running, I had a quick play around (without reading the two spiral bound manuals) and soon ran into trouble. This is a rig that demands you RTFM, so don't be like me!
Connecting an external monitor to the HDMI connector permitted a much more comfortable view of the software. And it's very attractive software too! There's a version designed specifically for the MB1 7" screen which limits the amount of clutter and gives you a gorgeous swinging-needle S-Meter.
If you're going to use an external monitor (or multiple monitors) then you need to go into the Windows10 Display settings and change them so that the screens are "EXTENDED" instead of the default "MIRROR" setting.
The colours of the scope and waterfall can be altered to suit the individual operator - there's virtually no limit to the combinations or colours, shades, gradients, etc.
The MB1 has 6 x USB sockets, making it very easy to setup a wireless keyboard and mouse and any other accessories that you may wish to use. And unlike most other radios, your mouse will work ALL OVER THE SCREEN, allowing you to quickly change settings with the click of a mouse-button.
My MB1 is currently (but not permanently) setup in the corner of the lounge and it is connected to a half-size G5RV which is very poorly sited. The N-Type VHF sockets are connected to a high quality Discone which allows TX on 2M and to an AOR SA7000 receive-only antenna. You can also connect receive-only antennas to the RX-IN ports.
A great feature for those operators with multiple antennas is the ability to choose from a software matrix which antenna to listen on and which to transmit on. These choices can be programmed specifically to different bands. So you may listen to one band on say the SA7000 antenna and listen to another band on your Magnetic Loop, and then transmit to a different antenna altogether.
I'm going to connect the radio to my wonderful EFHW which is very well located and performs amazingly well with my 7300. If only I could get more metal in the air at my home QTH 😢
20M and 40M work pretty well on the G5RV and I managed to make quite a few contacts within minutes of powering up the MB1 using low power. With a decent signal, the RX audio from this rig is ASTONISHING! It sounds awesome and I received some very complimentary audio reports. I can't wait to learn more about the radio and set it up properly.
The built-in recorder is really easy to use and you can re-transmit your recording over the air with the press of a button. Nice! Below is a short video of a chat I had on 40M SSB with a Welsh operator.
Another nice feature is the built-in ATU which has a pretty good matching range, but nowhere near as good as a decent tuner like the MFJ-993B, so 160/80M on the G5RV is a no-no, but most other bands can be tuned.
Well that's as much as I can say about the MB1 at this point. When I learn more about it, I'll write more about it, but in the meantime, take a look at some of the videos available on YouTube...
For a more in-depth walk-through of the radio, take a look at Pascal's (VA2PV) video...
MB1 PRIME Specifications
|16 @ 160|
|2 + 2 SubRX|
|39; 78; 156; 312 @ 24|
|LPF: 65 or 9 x BPF|
|WideRX: 95-155 or SAW filter for 2M: 144-148|
|-20; -10; 0; +10|
|14 @ 640|
|All amateur bands 160-6; 2|
|20 +/- 0.5|
|4HF (SO 239)|
1XVTR, ADC IN, DAC OUT (SMA)
|Windows 10 OS|
IPS 7″ 1280×800 touchscreen display
|32.5 x 28.5 x 15.0/ 12.6 x 9.84 x 5.51|