Some time ago I had an Expert Electronics MB1 and it was fabulous. I especially loved the software. But the radio broke and so it went back and was replaced with something else.
I miss the ExpertSDR software very much - it was really very good and so I was looking into ways of getting access to it without spending thousands on another EE radio. They do manufacture a number of options but the only one that is reasonably priced is the one that look like a cheap USB Dongle! Except it's not cheap.
£250 seems like an awful lot of money for a USB receiver, but then again, you can pay much more than that for an ancient secondhand superhet receiver. This baby is brimming with SDR loveliness and high-tech wonders. And then there's the brilliant software. And then there's the REMOTE OPERATION capabilities!
Well the usual thrill of unboxing your latest toy and sifting through all the manuals, cables, bits and bobs is not what you're going to get here. It's a bit of an anti-climax - especially for a £250 product 😂.....
Okay, so what is the ColibriNANO exactly? Well for those who have been hiding under a rock for the past few years, it's an SDR receiver which uses your computer to do a lot of the hard work, such as signal processing. Instead of having a big box of electronic components to handle things, it uses the power of your PC to do a lot of it, via some very clever software. All the usual buttons, knobs and dials of a receiver are laid out onscreen instead and can be accessed by mouse, keyboard or touch.
The Nano is a 14-bit, 0.1~55MHz Direct Sampling, high quality, wideband SDR receiver with 3MHz sample-rate, in a very compact USB Dongle form factor. It's also incredibly tough thanks to its milled-aluminium casing which (apart from the strength benefit) provides fantastic RF Shielding. There's also a high level of ESD protection built into the device.
- Operating modes: LSB / USB / DSB / CW / AM / SAM / NFM / WFM
- Frequency range: 10KHz - 55MHz
- Frequency range in undersampling mode: 10KHz- 500MHz
- Stable local oscillator with +/- 0.5ppm - attenuator / preamplifier in 0.5 dB steps adjustable from
-31.5 to + 6dB - Antenna input with 15 kV ESD protection
- SMA antenna connection
- Dimensions L x W x H: 90х25х17mm
- Operating temperature: +45 ... + 50 ° C
- Weight: 43 grams
Apparently, it can actually operate at much higher frequencies than the specified 55MHz ceiling (up to 500MHz) but I shan't be bothering with that option because I have no interest in it as sensitivity drops significantly. The Nano has a Low Pass RF-filter on 55 MHz to protect from strong FM transmitters, which is very important to me, since I live very close to Winter Hill Transmitting Station which provides TV & Radio signals to over 6,000,000 homes in the North West UK.
The Nano has a clock-rate of 122.88MHz and nine IQ Sample Rates ranging from 48kHz right up to 3MHz. Choosing the right rate can provide you with the perfect frequency span on your bandscope. Frequency stability is quoted as +/-0.5ppm which is pretty good considering that the aluminium USB body temperature can change from very cold on startup, to really hotduring extended use! The USB connector is Type-A and is USB-2. Although the device is very sturdy, I would not like to leave it hanging out of a laptop connector, preferring instead to connect via a short USB lead. I also connect the antenna to the Nano with a short SMA~SO239 pigtail.
In addition to the operating software, the ColibriNANO has some free Client/Server software for download which means that you can setup the device in an electrically-quiet location and access it from anywhere in the world through your PC/LapTop or even Phone. This is a massive feature as far as I'm concerned and more than compensates for the £50 extra cost over some of its competitors.
To operate remotely, you simply need to run the Remote Server software using something as simple as a Raspberry Pi. I'm going to try this on my Pi-3 at my sister's house. She has a 300ft long garden with a large wooded area at the end of it. Hopefully I will be able to create a temporary installation just to prove that it works before working on something more permanent. Needless to say, such an installation needs the radio, an antenna, a Pi/PC and a WiFi connection.
The Nano's software can be demanding on a PC and but it runs well on either my i5 laptop of my i5 Surface Pro. There's no stuttering unless you try to run other demanding software, but that can change if you select the 3MHz sample-rate (but then who wants 3MHz on the scope? Not me). Up to now I've only used ExpertSDR2, but I wonder if V3 can be coaxed into playing with the Nano? I believe that you can also use SDRsharp and HDSDR.
There's a different version of ExpertSDR for each of the radios that EE sell and obviously, some have more options available according to the radio's feature set. There's no point for example, having a wide range of TX options on display for a receive-only unit like the Nano.
Once everything's connected and you have the software running, it's pretty easy to work out how to use it. As soon as you hit the START button, the bandscope and waterfall spring into life and signals are popping up everywhere.
4k Display Option
One thing I like about ExpertSDR is the Attenuator Slider which allows you (in 0.5dB steps) to adjust the incoming signal from -30dB to +5dB instead of the usual On/Off switches. And whenever you do adjust the strength of the attenuator, the S-Meter reading retains its accuracy thanks to built-in compensation algorithms. Neat!
The software includes the EiBi Database, so all the Broadcast Stations across the world are shown as blue spots across the top of the scope and holding your mouse over one of them tells you which station it is. Click a blue-spot and it instantly tunes the Nano to that station. After setting up a DX-Cluster, any spots are displayed (CallSigns) on the scope and clicking one will instantly tune it in. It works amazingly well and regularly surprises me.
Audio quality is pretty good depending on the speakers you use. In the video below, I used a mobile phone to record a QSO on 40M, with the sound coming from the laptop. It’s infinitely better with a separate amplified speaker.
Noisy signals are easily cleaned up with ExpertSDR’s Noise Reduction options and the Noise Blockers (there are two) are just superb! There are a string of BandWidth buttons plus a Custom option. There’s something on my TS-590SG which I wish was on every other radio (including the Nano) and that’s the Beat Cancel function, which works incredibly well with some of the local noise I get.
Operating the Nano is just pleasurable! There’s no other software (that I’ve come across) that just lets you get on with having fun on the radio like ExpertSDR does. There’s no thinking about things, you just do it. This is in contrast to other 3rd party apps - to be honest, I even prefer it to SDR UNO - and that’s great software! The thing with UNO is, it feels very disjointed - some might call it modular, but the truth is, it can sometimes feel like hard work. Having said that, SDRPLAY are working on something altogether new.
UPDATE : EXPERTSDR3
I installed ESDR3 and it worked superbly. I managed to get it synced with my Kenwood TS-5900SG too, using OmniRig. ESDR3 is far more CPU-Efficient than V2. Just need to configure it to suit my personal and operating tastes. And then learn how to configure Remote Operation.
UPDATE > HEATSINK!
The NANO runs very hot in use and although it's designed to use the enclosure as a heatsink and everyone tells you it's perfectly normal, I was worried about longevity if I should choose to keep it running remotely 24/7.
I found some 20x20mm heatsinks on Amazon and thought I'd try them on the NANO. Sure enough, it now feels much cooler! I'm quite pleased with this cheap and simple mod. You can attach the heatsinks using some quality adhesive heat-transfer pads, but to be honest, I simply applied a tiny spot of Gorilla glue to each corner and lightly clamped them. Works a treat.
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