Saturday, 3 July 2021

EXPERT ELECTRONICS MB1 PRIME

FIRST APPEARANCES!


After receiving a bit of a windfall, I was all but ready to buy a 1970's Honda classic bike, but then I realised that I already have a great bike in the garage and adding another would simply double my ongoing motoring costs and I don't really have that much riding-time anyway.

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.  


I bit the bullet and got one - It's the very latest 2021 spec with the built-in ATU, manufactured in March this year.

The MB1 is a 160-2M transceiver and a PC in a single package. It has a classic design, developed over several decades, with the most advanced DUC/DDC SDR technologies available today.

The computer within the radio chassis is a fully loaded Windows 10 PC with 16Gb DDR4 RAM, a superfast Samsung EVO970 SSD and an Intel i7-9700 CPU (same processor as my gaming pc).

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. 

Expert SDR V2 Single VFO Screen
 
Expert SDR V2 Quad VFO Screen

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.

 
The screen built into the radio itself is a 7" high-res unit which is pin-sharp and it is, of course, a touch-screen. And virtually everything on-screen can be clicked, altered, moved and stretched by hand or with a wireless mouse! It's all incredibly intuitive and it's the first non-Icom system that I've really enjoyed. BUT BEWARE - you'll have to have good eyesight to use this screen - you could almost call it too high-res. 

I've heard Flex owners say similar things about the 6400M/6600M screens. It helps massively if you're able to locate the radio on a shelf at eye-level. Needless to say, most owners will take advantage of the external monitor options.

 
The 2021 MB1 PRIME transceiver covers HF, 6M and 2M (all modes) with 100W available on HF, 80W on 6M and 50W on 2M. Apparently, there's a mod to get 4M Tx/Rx.  Only UHF is missing. That pretty much makes it a high-end Shack-In-A-Box!

When the radio first arrived, I was a little surprised at how compact it was and soon discovered it could benefit from being about 1 inch wider just to provide better spacing between the four concentric rotary encoders in the top right corner. Build quality is superb!! The whole thing just oozes quality and all the buttons and rotaries feel great. The only concern I might have for the future is how well the screen printing on the buttons can stand up to thousands of key-presses 😕

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. 

MB1 GUI for 7" screen

With the click of a button, you can use the more comprehensive DESKTOP layout shown below, which provides a lot more onscreen-control but requires an external monitor. Trying to use this GUI on a 7" screen will make your eyes bleed 👀

DESKTOP GUI for external monitors

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 😢


Customised Screen
  
When I first played with 2M on this radio, I was very disappointed and stupidly complained on the EE Forum. Needless to say, there was nothing wrong other than the settings were incorrect. Being an ex-demo, someone must have been messing around with all the different knobs, buttons, sliders and dials, resulting in a dreadful VHF response. It's all fine now. Great even!

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.


SAMPLE OF MB1 AUDIO QUALITY
If video doesn't play, CLICK HERE

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...

If video doesn't play, click HERE


For a more in-depth walk-through of the radio, take a look at Pascal's (VA2PV) video...

If video doesn't play, click HERE


SPECIFICATIONS :

  • Independent RX path based on DDC (Direct Down-Conversion) architecture
  • Independent TX path based on DUC (Direct Up-Conversion) architecture
  • 2 software RXs + SubRX for each of them (4 slices total) + independent wideband Bandscope up to 80 MHz
  • ExpertSDR2 software in two styles: Desktop style and MB1 display (for integrated GUI)
  • Remote control operation, using it, you connect PTT and CW-key to the E-Coder panel. Microphone and E-Coder are connected to the remotely set up PC
  • TCI interface for seamless connection with third-party software like SDC (with its own Skimmer), LogHXSWISSLOG and RUMlog, more are coming
  • Professional TX processing module provides the most advanced tuning capability for voice operation
  • High-quality IPS 7″ touchscreen display with a 1280×800 resolution
  • Supports any software applicable for Windows 10 OS
  • ExtCtrl connector to control external devices with 8 powerful keys with open collector
  • COM-port for connection of external devices, like PA, antenna switches etc.
  • ALC connector for external power amplifiers*
  • Has a special XVTR connector for VHF transverters** (SMA connector)
  • 4 separate programmable PTT outputs for external power amplifiers
  • An opportunity to use the transceiver as a signal generator via DAC OUT connector (SMA connector)
  • An opportunity to use external filters in the middle of the RF path, using RX IN and RX OUT (SMA connector)
  • Input for external 10 MHz reference oscillator
  • An opportunity to use the transceiver in SO2V mode
  • Full duplex or half duplex modes***
  • 4 HF (UHF (SO-239) connector) and 2 VHF (N-type connector) antenna connectors
  • Internal power-meter for HF and VHF bands and SWR-meter for HF band
  • Record and play on air fragments (IQ files) with a bandwidth of up to 312 kHz
  • Internal ATU (Automatic Tuner Unit)
  • The embedded power supply unit
     

MB1 PC capabilities 

  • Installation of digital modes software
  • Installation of HAM and Contest logs
  • Two CW Skimmers may be used on different bands
  • The transceiver can connect to the LAN and the Internet
  • Use of Internet applications (e.g. e-mail, Skype, ICQ, TV, etc.)
  • Play video and audio files
  • Watch TV via USB-receivers
  • An opportunity to connect two external displays, keyboard, mouse
  • An opportunity to connect external speakers to the PHONES jack on the front panel

MB1 Applications

  • Full-function radio amateur transceiver
  • Mobile contest-station
  • Remote receipt point for the contests and other applications
  • Spectrum analyser with the bandwidth up to 80MHz
  • Work with the external programs of digital connection types, CW Skimmer, etc.

MB1 Block Diagram

ExpertSDR2 Software

A version of ExpertSDR2 software with adapted GUI for 7″ display was specially developed for the MB1 transceiver. At the present time software works in RX/TX mode and supports two independent receiving channels with the bandwidth up to 312 kHz. A DSP library developed by company Expert Electronics allowed improvement of receiving quality and higher the stability of the software.

MB1 PRIME Specifications

RF ADC, bit @ MHz16 @ 160
ADC typeLTC2209
RX Frequency range, MHz0.1…65; 95…155
Independent software receivers2 + 2 SubRX
Sample rate, kHz @ bit39; 78; 156; 312 @ 24
Bandscope, MHz80
RX HF filters, MHzLPF: 65 or 9 x BPF
RX VHF filters, MHzWideRX: 95-155 or SAW filter for 2M: 144-148
BDR on HF, dB130
BDR on VHF, dB114
Sensitivity, uV0.2
DR IMD3, not less dB98
RMDR, dB110
ATT/Preamp, dB-20; -10; 0; +10
VHF LNA, dB+22
RF DAC, bit @ MHz14 @ 640
TX Frequency range, MAll amateur bands 160-6; 2
Output power on HF, W100
Output power on 6M, W80
Output power on VHF, W50
TX IMD3, dB25-37 on HF/VHF
Local oscillator TCXO, MHz +/- ppm20 +/- 0.5
External 10 MHz oscillator input+
Built-in audio codec, bit24
RF input/output4HF (SO 239)
2VHF (N-type)
1XVTR, ADC IN, DAC OUT (SMA)
Built-in PC (Prime 2021 version)Windows 10 OS
Motherboard – GA-IMB310TN
CPU: i7-9700T
RAM: 16 GB DDR4
SSD: Samsung 970 EVO 500 GB
IPS 7″ 1280×800 touchscreen display
AC voltage range, V, Hz~100…240; 50…60
Power consumption RX/TX, W320
Operating temperature, °C/°F0…+50/ +32…+122
Dimensions L x W x H, cm/inches32.5 x 28.5 x 15.0/ 12.6 x 9.84 x 5.51
Weight, kg/lbs9.3/ 22


In the Box

  • PTT-microphone MD15
  • Power Supply Cable to connect the transceiver to an AC mains network
  • Backup fuse 5A

Optional Accessories




MORE SOON........

Thanks for visiting - please take a minute to leave a comment below 

73, Tom, M7MCQ.

2 comments:

  1. Very nice radio Tom. And like always a nice review. I guess this kind of SDR is unreachable for most HAMradio operators. At least if I look at the price.....even my car is not that expensive. 73, Bas

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hi Bas, thanks for the visit again. Yes, it's a crazy price but there's even crazier ones out there, LOL.

    The way I look at it, I can enjoy these things while the sun is shining and sell them when the rain clouds start to form.

    73, Tom, M7MCQ

    ReplyDelete