Please mention you saw it in Monitoring Times!
CCRADIO plus / Delphi’s SKYFi XM Satellite Radio System / FRS in Perspective ((Midland G-225) / GAP “Hear It” DSP Speaker / The Grundig Classic 960: Instant Antique Radio / K-40 RD850-M Radar Detector / Kenwood Here2Anywhere Sirius System Kit / PAR End Fed Z EF-SWL Antenna / Print Screen Plus /
Ramsey Radio Direction Finding Kits / Talon Magnetic-Antenna Mast Adaptor / Ten-Tec RX 320 and Front-End Software / Wavecom W40PC / WiNRADiO WR303i Shortwave Receiver
2002 MT Reviews / 2001 MT Reviews / 2000 MT Reviews / 1999 MT Reviews / 1998 MT Reviews
Index to all scanner reviews by Bob Parnass
Index to all Reviews 1994-2002
By Larry Van Horn, N5FPW
This is a moment of true confession for me. I have to admit that I love using wire antennas for my HF monitoring. And among the many types of wire antennas, I really like using longwire style of antenna. These antennas are very economical, easy to install and provide a lot of bang for the buck. Those that know me best know that I value economy (i.e., I'm cheap), simplicity and performance. The random length longwire antennas meet all of these parameters.
But the simple longwire does have one major drawback. Due to the higher impedance at the feedpoint (random length longwire antennas are end fed), coax is not normally used. Most often you will see longwire antennas fed with single conductor insulated wire to the high impedance input of HF receivers. But this can be a problem in noisy RF environments.
If we can get that feed point impedance of a longwire down to 50 or 75 ohms, then we can use low loss coax in our installation. By doing so we can reduce, and in some instances even eliminate, man-made noise that is picked up by the feedline. If only someone would develop an inexpensive longwire antenna that can deliver 50 or 75 ohms impedance to the receiver so I can use low loss coax!
Well, we do not have to wait any more. Dale Parfitt, W4OP, has developed an end fed longwire that can use a 50 or 75 ohm coax feed -- the PAR Z EF-SWL antenna.
The EF-SWL is optimally designed for 1-30 MHz reception. The heart of the EF-SWL is the UV resistant ABS matchbox that houses a wideband 9:1 transformer wound on a binocular core. This transformers has external stainless studs on the matchbox that allow the user to configure the primary and secondary grounds for best noise reduction at the receiving location. The antenna's output to the receiver is via a silver/Teflon SO-239 UHF connector that can accept a standard PL-259 coaxial connector. Lead-in coax cable is not provided by the manufacturer and will have to be purchased separately.
The basic configuration out of the box is a radiator that uses 45-feet of virtually-indestructible #14 black polyethylene coated Flex-Weave wire. The wire itself consists of 168 strands of #36 gauge woven copper. This material is very strong, yet it can be as easily coiled as a rope for portable work.
The radiator also attaches via a stainless stud (#3) on the matchbox that allows it to be removed or replaced. You can attach any length of wire you want to the matchbox. This allows you the opportunity to experiment with different lengths for the radiator. If you need a shorter antenna for your particular installation or a longer run if you have the space, the EF-SWL matchbox can accommodate it.
The manual that comes with this unit shows typical radiation patterns for selected frequencies throughout the HF spectrum in the two primary mounting configurations -- as a horizontal or sloper end fed longwire. Please note that this is a receive-only antenna.
This antenna has a lot of the same characteristics as the monoband versions of the popular Cushcraft and HyGain half-wave or no-ground vertical antennas. The big difference between the no-ground verticals and this antenna is that the EF-SWL does not need any base radial wires.
My first impression after I opened the box was the quality of the antenna and its individual components -- simply superb.
Since the radiator uses polyethylene coated Flex-Weave wire, environmental corrosion problems normally associated with using uninsulated copper wire will not be an issue. Another major failure location in most longwire installations is at the point were the user attaches the antenna’s lead-in wire to the uninsulated radiator wire. If care is not taken to properly seal this connection, dissimilar metal corrosion will eventually cause a break where the two wires are connected. Fortunately that will not be an issue with the EF-SWL, thanks to the polyethylene coated wire used as a radiator. To further protect our outdoor test installation of this antenna we used rubber tape to seal the PL-259 connector to the SO-259 matchbox connection.
Bottom line -- once you get this antenna up, mother nature will be hard pressed to take it back down through corrosion.
The antenna comes assembled right out of the box. The user does have two decisions to make, however. The instructions that come with the antenna fully discuss the pros and cons so that the user can make a logical decision which will best work at the his location.
First, you have several options on how to hang the antenna. Choices range from horizontal, sloper, inverted-L, inverted vee, or even as a vertical.
Next, you have to decide how you are going to configure the ground, and this will vary from installation to installation. We were able to use the factory default configuration -- connectors #1 (SO-259 shield) and #2 (ground lead of the antenna side of the 9:1 transformer) shorted. Basically, this leaves the connection to the antenna ungrounded and the user should ground the receiver in the shack.
Even though we did not observe it during our test, this installation may pick up man-made noise. If this is the case, you can also take the short between connections #1 and #2 out and ground one or both of these connections (#2 direct to ground and #1 grounded back to the receiver). This installation works very well in noisy environments from man-made sources.
Installation of the EF-SWL is very easy to perform. My son Loyd Van Horn assisted in the installation and it actually took us longer to get the ladder set up so we could climb on the roof than it did to put the antenna up. We ran our test EF-SWL antenna configured horizontally at 35 feet above ground level, and we oriented the axis of the radiator north-south.
Well Does it Perform?
In a word -- fantastic!
We put the EF-SWL head-to-head with some of the antennas on the N5FPW two-acre antenna farm. We compared the PAR longwire with two 102-foot G5RV antennas, two end-fed (insulated wire lead-ins) longwire antennas that were 150 and 250 feet long, a full-size Grove Skywire sealed in the roof of my radio shack, and an MFJ amateur radio ten-band vertical antenna.
While some of these antennas outperformed the EF-SWL over the entire tuning range we tested (1-30 MHz), there were some nice surprises.
In the AM broadcast band, the G5RV antennas with their 102-foot capture areas had a distinct advantage over both the EF-SWL and the Grove Skywire. We did notice that the PAR antenna seemed to come alive in the upper portions of the AM band when compared to the Skywire as we tuned higher in frequency.
On shortwave frequencies below 10 MHz, the PAR antenna was equal to, or in some cases consistently better, than our Grove Skywire on signals from selected shortwave stations we used for measurement. One notable exception was around 40 and 15-meters. Since the Skywire is cut for 40-meters, there was a noticeable difference between the two antennas in these two frequency ranges. Above 10 MHz, EF-SWL really shined. Signal levels were comparable on selected shortwave bands to our longer G5RV antennas.
Our final test was a head-to-head comparison of the EF-SWL to our 150 foot north-south end fed longwire. Since both antennas were oriented in the same direction, we felt this test would give us a realistic idea of how good the PAR EF-SWL really was. I must point out that the height above ground for our 150-foot longwire antenna was not optimized, whereas the EF-SWL was.
Consistently across the entire 1-30 MHz tuning range the EF-SWL delivered a 5dB to 20dB signal over my 150-footer. But the real surprise was how quiet the EF-SWL was. In fact, at one point during the test, my wife Gayle Van Horn, who helped with this portion of the testing, questioned whether the PAR end fed was even connected to the receiver. It was that quiet!
If you are looking for a good broadband, passive shortwave wire antenna for use in restricted space (i.e. attic, small city lot, etc.), then the PAR EF-SWL is your ticket. This antenna is especially ideal for portable operations, since it is compact, easy to install, and does not take up a lot of real estate.
You can purchase the PAR EF-SWL from Grove Enterprises (7540 Hwy 64 West,
Brasstown, NC 28902; 800-438-8155; email@example.com).
It sells for $59.95 plus shipping and handling. PAR also makes several versions
of the EF-SWL for amateur radio operators. These are monoband end-fed antennas.
You can get more information at http://www.parelectronics.com
or contact Par
Electronics, Inc., P.O. Box 645, Glenville, NC 28736; Voice: 828-743-1338, Fax:
Review excerpted from August "Computers & Radios" column by John Catalano
How many times would you have liked to print out a Window’s screen exactly as it was displayed on your monitor? Print Screen Plus does that and much more with just a touch of a key. And for those of you who don’t like math but need to make electronic calculations such as antenna dimensions, the latest version of an old favoriet, HamCalc, might just be what you're looking for. Finally, we’ll revisit the free spyware program, Ad-Aware 5.62, and see how the latest version, 6, works. As promised, no cables in sight, so let’s go.
Take a good look at your PC keyboard and you will probably find a key that reads “Print Screen.” This key is a vestige from the days when DOS (Disk Operating System) ruled the earth and PCs. But the Print Screen key has not worked since the dawn of Windows.
Under DOS, the key was very useful and allowed the user to send what was on the monitor to a printer or save it as a file. You can imagine that report writers used the key quite a bit, including this writer. Under the Windows operating system it all ended.
The solution is just a click away. Just like the line from the movie Terminator says the power is back. A program called Print Screen Plus makes the key come alive once more for all Windows users including 95, 98, ME, 2000, XP and NT. The small 828K program is downloaded with ease. Installation is very quick and is a one-click operation. For convenience, a shortcut icon is placed on the desktop. Once the program is started it opens an icon on the start tray at the lower right of the desktop screen.
Figure 1 shows the Print Screen Plus version 8.1.0 Option screen where you can set the keys for full screen, active window or a user specified capture area. It’s that simple and easy to use. You can print or store the image as a PDF file, or in an image file format such as jpg.
If the user wants more control it’s theirs with just a few more clicks. This includes selection of saved image format and location, addition of time and date to image, image size, and many other parameters. As their website proclaims, “Save, Crop an image, Encrypt, Zoom and Email the Image with Print Screen Plus.”
But for those of us that just want to use the Print Screen key again, we can ignore all the extras. Print Screen Plus also includes a simple image viewer and more features for a special price of $19.95 at the time of writing (May 20th); the regular price is $29.95. You can find out more and download a free 15-day evaluation version at their website www.printscreenplus.com.
Personally, I blame Antiques
Roadshow, the popular PBS weekly TV program which has made collecting a
national passion and has increased public awareness about commonplace items of
days gone by. Over the past several years some radio related companies have
tried to cash in on the nostalgia craze by rolling out what look like a series
of old time radios. The Radio Shack catalog has one page of these surprisingly
pricey items. Of course, to anyone who has actually seen an antique radio, most
are shameless cons.
Among the exceptions is Grundig’s Classic 960. In the late 90's Grundig,
the venerable radio manufacturer from Germany, wanted to celebrate its 50th
anniversary by releasing a replica radio representative of the era when, at
least in Europe, shortwave was king and post war consumers were looking for
quality and innovation.
Starting out in post war Germany, 1945, Max Grundig made a good living
producing tube and circuit testers. But, since the occupying Allied forces had
rules about Germans producing complete radios, he was barred from doing so until
1948 when he introduced the Weltklang, a four tube radio with wood cabinet and
front mounted speaker. The radios were extremely popular. By 1950 Grundig had a
thousand people working for him in a new factory and already had two new hit
radios on the European market: the 186 B/GW and the Grundig Boy.
His next radio, the Grundig 380W, was a superhetrodyne receiver which
tuned the AM and FM bands. It, too, featured a front mounted speaker and for
the first time band switching was done with pushbuttons. By 1954 the 5050W/3D
was brought out which introduced Europeans to the world of high fidelity radio
broadcasting. There was no stereo yet, so the “3D” sound was achieved using
five speakers, including two which were side mounted. This masterpiece cost
twice as much as the 380 (695 marks) and tuned in VHF-FM, AM, LW and shortwave
The ensuing years brought prosperity and a growing reputation for product
reliability and high fidelity sound to the company . Even today Grundig
continues to enjoy that reputation for quality and innovation with the
current models on offer. Their Yacht Boy series are legendary and they’ve
recently scored another huge hit with their hand-crank powered FR-200 shortwave
Hit and Miss Celebration
With such a storied history as Grundig’s who could fault them for
wanting to celebrate their 50th
anniversary in style? To do so they crafted a replica radio of extraordinary
detail. The Classic 960 features a heavy wooden cabinet with a beautiful finish,
trimmed in hand-painted gold. The grill cloth is a special weave which
duplicates the cloth used on their models of half a century ago. The knobs are
heavy plastic with brass trim rings typical of the period. Even the logos
studded onto the grill are brass.
The front panel features the innovative pushbutton band
switching, and the “3D” sound is replicated with a 4-inch front mounted
speaker and two 3-inch side-mounted speakers. The Classic 960 tunes AM, FM
stereo and shortwave from 4.5 MHz to 22.0 MHz in two bands.
The rear, complete with genuine Masonite back panel with drilled air
holes, features the AC power cord (which doubles as an FM antenna), mini
external FM/SW antenna jack (the 960 comes with the 20-ft. Grundig AN-03 roll-up
antenna for shortwave) additional external terminals for antenna and ground, and
auxiliary stereo RCA-type inputs for a CD player – a nice modern touch.
The tuner features a heavy steel flywheel for smooth, old-fashioned
analog tuning, separate tone controls for treble and bass, and the tuning
indicator has a bright LED which gives off an authentic looking yellow glow. In
fact, if you look through the holes in the Masonite on the back while the radio
is on, you'll have to do a double take. You'll see what appears to be tube
filaments glowing inside. The tuner is, of course, solid state.
I first ran into the Classic 960 a year and a half ago and was
disappointed with several aspects of the actual tuner part of the radio. There
was a noticeable hum in the audio and the tuner had little to recommend it. Last
fall, while working on a review of the FR-200, I decided to take another look at
the Classic 960 which, a Grundig technician told me, had been revamped in March
The 960 is a single conversion superhet receiver and exhibits all the
problems inherent in such radios. There’s a good reason we’re all listening
to triple conversion, phase locked loop, digitally tuned receivers! The most
annoying problem is that the tuning scale is not quite working. You have to be
pretty familiar with frequency locations by ear when you tune in a station on
this radio. Don’t look to the slide-rule dial for help. It’s also not a
serious radio for DX. It tunes in the standard international broadcasters well
enough and, if you enjoy trolling up and down the two shortwave bands just to
hear what you can hear, you’ll be happy with this radio.
While there may be little anyone can to do with the tuning problems, they
did improve the audio. The hum was gone and, I believe, the tone fairly
represents the audio found in the old tabletop shortwave sets. There was plenty
of audio in the amplifier and the speakers did a good job filling the room with
Down Memory Lane
The Grundig Classic 960 has a mellow sound on the shortwave bands with
notable fidelity typically missing in today's little shortwave portables with
their tinny little speakers. It's a good thing Grundig includes the roll-up
antenna because tuning the shortwave bands, especially during the day, is not
possible without it. Even so, I found that hooking up the Grove Tunerless
All-Band antenna (a homebrew design discussed frequently in this column)
improved reception so well that tuning the bands was actually enjoyable. All the
big International Broadcasters came booming in with a fidelity I've not heard on
my Kenwood general coverage ham transceiver.
It was a treat to tune in the AM ham operators on 40 meters who all
sounded great. Incidently, the tuning dial is properly labeled in KC and MC.
FM tuning outside the suburbs will require an external antenna as well.
While there is no terminal for a 75 ohm coax connection, the manual shows how to
hook up a 75 ohm cable by stripping the coax and attaching the center conductor
to the antenna terminal and the shield to the ground. I like testing FM tuners
down in the Public Broadcasting portion of the band because this is where weak
stations mix in with strong stations and the programming is unpredictable.
Separation was actually better than on my Kenwood stereo receiver. And while the
960 is no Kloss or Bose the audio was acceptable and the stereo separation at
least noticeable. I would like to have had a stereo indicator light or other
I found the built-in AM ferrite antenna inadequate for nighttime AM DX
listening, but it was greatly enhanced with the Radio Shack tunable AM loop
antenna. I have to say that I enjoyed tuning the AM band the most. Knowing the
band so well, it didn't matter that the tuning calibration was off. With the
loop, for instance, I could tune
every frequency from 650 (WSM, Nashville) to 810 (WGY Schenectedy) which
included Chicago (three stations), Raleigh, Quebec, Cincinnati, Toronto,
Atlanta, Detroit, NY (three stations), and
Ontario. The audio was great and there was plenty of bandspread in
The most fun was tuning CHWO, 740 Toronto when they were playing vintage
Big Band tunes. I had to crank up the volume and, while the music played, the
Classic 960 transported me to the early '50s and what it might have been like.
If band conditions had been better I might have been able to snag some
When the Classic 960 was first introduced it was outrageously priced and
I imagine the combination of price and poor reviews has led to the apparently
abundant supply of these radios which have now surfaced in the discount catalogs
at a reasonable price. The improved version of this radio typically sells for
$169 in various catalogs and on-line. Universal Radio has it in their catalog
for $149.95. I've also found factory refurbished units at Heartland America for
Of all the radios I have in the house this is the one that consistently
gets the most comments, even from people who are not radio enthusiasts.
"Oh, that's a great old radio," they'll say, "does it work?"
When I turn it on and they start tuning around they usually say, "Oo,
look it's got shortwave bands!" I wouldn't be surprised to see these radios
turning up at Antiques Roadshow.
power: 7.3 watts 10 % harmonic distortion
1 4" 8 Ohm 5W and 2 3" 4 Ohm 5W
ranges: FM 88-108 MHz
AM 530-1710 kHz
SW 4.5-22 MHz in two bands
Built-in ferrite bar antenna (AM)
Two external antennas (FM/SW)
Antenna switch (rear)
15.25"L x 11.25" H x 6.5" D
out-of-box weight: 12.5 pounds
may be German-engineered, but this product is made in China for American-owned
Radio 6830 Americana Pkwy. Reynoldsburg, OH 800-431-3939 http://
America 8085 Century Bvd. Chaska, MN 55318 800-229-2901 http://
By Bob Grove
A number of digital signal processors (DSP) have been introduced to the market, some with speakers and some without. Quality of the delivered sound when used with receivers and scanners varies from harsh and distorted to silky clean. The new “Hear It” external speaker, manufactured in England for GAP Antenna Products, is a welcome addition to the latter category.
A tiny accessory, the “Hear It” measures a mere 4-1/3”W x 2-1/2” H x 2-1/2”D, and weighs only 7 ounces. It is designed to be used in compact mobile installations; a mounting bracket, 8-foot input cord with 1/8-inch (3.5 mm.) mini plug, and fused DC power cord are included along with an instruction booklet. The unit’s 2.1 mm. power jack will accept 12-28 VDC at approximately 500 mA, making it more universally applicable to fixed, mobile, and even aeronautical configurations.
Typical applications include amateur radio, scanner monitoring, maritime mobile, CB, mobile shortwave listening, and other uses where a variety of interference affects clarity of received signals.
The small internal speaker is ideally suited to voice frequencies, but for more demanding sound requirements, an external speaker or headphones may be plugged into the 1/8” jack provided.
A simple on/off switch selects DSP (“Noise Cancellation”) or normal (unfiltered) mode; a front-panel LED glows red when power is applied and normal audio is being passed, and red when the DSP is switched on. A rear-panel DIP switch allows any of 8 noise cancellation levels to be selected by the user. A volume control shaft is also accessible for setting audio levels to suit the listening environment.
The input circuitry will tolerate up to 5 watts of audio; output from the unit’s own amplifier is 2.5 watts maximum.
How well does it work?
We decided to put the new “Hear It” through its paces on the shortwave bands where the racket is truly raucous! I left the DSP selector at maximum, the way it came from the factory, because that’s where distortion would show up – if it had any. The specs indicate that noise can be attenuated by as much as 20 dB, typically. That’s a sizeable reduction.
Canada’s time signal at 7335 kHz seemed like a good bet; it was weak, fluttery, and filled with background hiss. Switching on the noise reduction switch provided an astounding elimination of the hiss and resultant flutter, and the tones were crisp and clean. The voice announcement was as if the announcer were in the room.
Just to be sure conditions hadn’t changed, I switched the DSP circuit off; sure enough, the noisy hiss and flutter were back, and the voices harder to understand. Quite a demonstration! Similar improvement was noted on 5 MHz WWV as well as virtually any AM international broadcaster accompanied by hiss or other noise.
On other modes as well, such as CW and SSB, the little signal scrubber polished signals clean as a whistle. It doesn’t remove heterodyne tones since it has no notch function, and it won’t remove other audio signals which share the same pass band of the desired signal; this is the job the receiver’s IF filters are supposed to perform.
It’s hard to fault a product that works so well, but I’d like to have seen a more accessible method than a DIP switch to select the DSP depth; it’s tiny, and a fine tool must be used to move the contacts. Its rear-panel location makes it inaccessible to change when it's mobile-bracket mounted.
The volume control can only be turned by a screwdriver or fingernail, and it’s counter-intuitive to operate, becoming quieter when turned clockwise. But you get used to it; after all, if the sound gets lower, you reverse what you’re doing!
Admittedly, the accessory is designed for set-and-go applications where constant adjustment is not anticipated.
The bottom line
The performance of the “Hear It” is impressive, indeed. No squirrelly artifacts from the processor dancing in the background, yet virtually total elimination of annoying hiss without annoying distortion of the processed audio. What more can you ask of a DSP speaker?
The GAP Hear It Speaker is available for $158.95 from Grove Enterprises (7540 Hwy 64 West, Brasstown, NC 28902; 1-800-438-8155; http://www.grove-ent.com)
By Bob Grove W8JHD
This clever new antenna-mounting accessory is one of the handiest we’ve seen for experimenters (like me!) who constantly switch antennas around on masts and towers. Its secret lies in a patented (U.S. Patent 6,348,899 B1) cross-arm brace ("boom") with secure steel pads to hold magnetic mounts.
Available in a choice of sizes, the two units we sampled for review are 70” and 49” long, respectively, and are shown in the photo. The rugged braces are moderately webbed to reduce wind loading without sacrificing strength.
The longer boom is fabricated from 304 non-magnetic stainless steel, fitted with 17-4 stainless magnetic pads to accommodate magnetic-base antennas. The shorter boom is made from 1018 zinc-galvanized carbon steel; since it’s magnetic, end pads are unnecessary.
The cross-arms are provided pre-drilled for U-bolts; one pair required per brace. The U-bolts hold the impressive booms either on a pipe mast or vertical corner pipe of a tower.
Up to four magnetic-base antennas may be mounted on either of these braces. For example, an avid experimenter might choose to mount a CB whip, VHF/UHF ham whip antenna, external cellular phone antenna, and a scanner antenna all on one cross-arm.
Choice of boom length is dependent upon wavelength separation required for any two antennas co-located at the same height. Antenna elements in the same plane must be mounted no closer than 1/4 wavelength at the lowest frequency of intended use to prevent pattern distortion. This includes the intervening metal mast or tower as an “element.”
Additional booms may be mounted above or below one another, provided the antennas from each don’t overlap. Configurations can include multi-frequency arrays with separate coax feed lines, gain arrays using common feed lines, and even an Adcock RDF array. In the case of a directional pattern, the boom may be mounted on a rotator.
The fact that the two underside antennas are mounted “upside down” has no bearing on performance, unless the radiation pattern is not at right angles to the whip. In that case, the pattern will rise or fall from the horizon in the opposite manner from when the whip was pointed upward.
With our endless collection of magnetic-base whips, I was eager to test the Talon cross-arm braces. Mounting them was simplicity itself since no assembly is required; simply unpack the brace and mount it to your vertical support with U-bolts. The magnetic bases of the whips locked securely into place on the steel pads, and the cables were run over to the mast and down.
It’s a good idea to tape the cables to the mast at least at one point to keep them from flapping in the wind. Since cables on mobile mag-mounts are only 12-16 feet in length, it will be necessary to extend the cables with a barrel connector and additional cable with mating connectors. Weatherproof the coupling joint with waterproof tape or coax sealant covered with PVC electrical tape.
Special needs for meteorological sensors, maritime shipboard environments, solar arrays, wind-powered generators, video surveillance platforms, non-magnetic military requirements, and other applications can be custom-ordered with titanium, carbon fiber, Plexiglass, or other materials.
For further information, pricing and availability, contact the manufacturer: Talon Creative, Inc., PO Box 1111, Chino Valley, AZ 86323; phone/fax (928) 777-8839.
the name “WiNRADiO” to any radio enthusiast as well as government, military
and institutional radio communications professional, and the image of a
highly-flexible, computer-hosted receiving system immediately comes to mind.
Terms like “cutting edge technology” and “non-traditional design” may
also fit the lexicon.
prominent, Australian-based company has just released their latest product, the
WR303i, a versatile, 9 kHz-30 MHz, multimode receiver on a PCI card, designed
for modern computer platforms. Intended for hobby and experimental applications,
this world’s first dedicated shortwave receiver on a PC card lists for
important distinction between computer-hosted radios and the new WR303i is that
the entire final intermediate frequency stage and an all-mode demodulator are
executed in software; this “software defined receiver” (SDR) offers
extensive applications opportunities unavailable in traditional receivers:
1. It makes it possible to
quickly change the characteristics of a receiver, such as adding new detection
modes, by a simple software change.
2. Improvements may be made
without changing a single component merely by enhancing the software algorithms.
Advanced features, such as continuously-variable IF bandwidths, may be
offered without any additional hardware.
4. Higher performance can be
achieved at lower cost than using traditional hardware designs.
5. Unit-to-unit performance is
more uniform in software than in hardware production, which depends on component
6. And in the case of the
new-generation WiNRADiO products, the user’s own computer sound card provides
all the processing power needed for these advanced features rather than having
to depend upon a fixed DSP circuit on a receiver card.
G303i is the world’s first commercial receiver using a computer sound card for
its DSP, not only a clever concept and more consumer-affordable, but often more
powerful than receiver-integrated DSP circuitry.
It also allows for user experimentation and custom refinement. Receiver
self-tests and spectrum analysis, available only on more expensive competitive
receivers, are readily provided on this model (see What
about those two demodulators? below).
modes include AM, AMN, AMS, LSB, USB, CW, FM3, FM6, FMN. An upgrade
“Professional Demodulator” offers the addition of DSB and ISB. Other upgrade
modes, including DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale), are expected shortly.
1 Hz tuning resolution is provided, making exact signal selection a reality. The
factory claims a dynamic range of a husky 93 dB, with a third-order intercept
point (IP3) of a laudable +5 dBm at 20 kHz spacing. The on-air performance of
this receiver would seem to verify their claims.
the fine tuning is impressive, as are the dynamic range and overload immunity;
let’s take a look at the selectivity specs (-6 dB BW):
6 kHz; AMN, AMS, 4 kHz; LSB, USB, 2.3 kHz; CW, 0.5 kHz; FM3,
3 kHz; FM6, 6 kHz; FMN, 12 kHz. The Professional Demodulator
option offers continuous 1 Hz to 15 kHz slide-adjustable bandwidth – an
astounding feature to hear when invoked!
sensitivity specs are equally impressive (10 dB S/N on HF, 30% modulation on
AM): AM, 0.9 uV; LSB, USB, 0.3 uV; CW, 0.1 uV; FM,
0.2 uV. Such sensitivity assures narrow-band signals like CW to be clearly
receivable at –135 dBm MDS (minimum detectable signal). With a sharp filter
selection using the Professional Demodulator, signals as weak as 30 nV (0.03 uV)
of this sensitivity is contributed by the low phase noise of the oscillator,
typically –148dBc/Hz @ 100 kHz. Clearly this radio meets or exceeds the
competition head-on, and other published reviews from leading radio journals are
noting the same superiority.
the factory reminds us that these specifications are subject to change, our
experience with WiNRADiO is that the product only gets better. The manual, on
the other hand, does need (and is in the process of) augmentation. The basic
features of the WR303i are intuitive to access, but there are many hidden
functions and virtues that need an explanation.
factory is aware of this, adding the missing directions as they are discovered,
and placing them on their web site. They will be printed in future revisions of
the manual, but users are well advised to visit WiNRADiO’s web site often to
learn more about their new receiver!
try it out
the WR303i operational software to your computer is simple by following the
defaults in the automated sequence. System requirements specify a 500 MHz
processor to control the filter lengths in real time. In practice, 250 MHz will
probably work, but a slow processor will result in slower response time. An SMA
connector (along with a BNC adaptor) is provided to link the receiver to an
clever CPU load meter on the panel reveals just how much of your computer’s
CPU resources are being used at any one time – most revealing! Don’t run
other memory-intense applications while using the G303i; too much taxation on
your computer’s CPU will slow the receiver’s real-time responses, initiating
fractional-second delays in both reception and functional activation (roughly
100 milliseconds in our test on an overburdened 600 MHz processor running
additional hint: Any receiving antenna in the vicinity of a computer, especially
one with a CRT monitor, is inviting disaster. Radiated noise is severe, and no
receiver can make things better. WiNRADiO engineers favor well-shielded,
low-emission computers like the IBM NetVista M series, especially when used with
a flat-screen (non-CRT) monitor. And don’t forget to move the receiving
antenna, fed by good-quality coax, as far as practical from the host computer.
the program properly installed, the next item on the agenda is to adjust the
audio levels between the WR303i and the computer’s sound card input. WiNRADiO
has provided two on-screen slider controls for this task because of the large
differences among sound cards. The user simply tunes in a clear signal and
slides the controls for best, undistorted intelligibility.
with all WiNRADiO receivers, a center-panel tuning dial is activated by your
computer mouse. It can be rotated slowly by pressing either the left or right
mouse button to tune the receiver lower or higher in frequency, respectively.
Alternatively, a wheeled mouse makes tuning feel even more natural.
increments may be user-selected to match standard band plans, or refined all the
way down to 1 Hz, adequate for the most demanding applications. And frequency
stability is superb on LSB/SSB because of the DSP processing -- no additional
oscillators are present to contribute frequency drift.
keys address the multitude of modes available on this receiver. Filter-default
filter selections are good, and the ability to user-define these settings is
are two expected functions that are absent: sideband-selectable synchronous AM
detection and some type of noise reduction. Admittedly, the absence of SSB AM
synch is adequately compensated by simply using USB or LSB on AM signals
suffering fade or adjacent-channel interference. Just tune in the signal, hit
the appropriate sideband key, and trim the tuning knob for natural-sounding
the absence of noise reduction in our modern electronic environment can be a
problem in electrically-noisy areas. WiNRADiO spokesmen pointed out that their
existing Advanced Digital Suite software, which provides the noise blanking
function in addition to many other signal enhancement and processing facilities,
will be soon available for the G303i. There are also accessory DSP speaker
systems available at reasonable cost that can substantially reduce electrical
frequency entry is easy: Type in the appropriate frequency, tagged by “M”
(MHz) or “k” (kHz) and the radio will instantly lock on to that frequency.
But those of us familiar with the long-accepted convention of expressing
frequencies below 30 MHz in kHz may not appreciate the receiver’s insistence
that all frequencies be displayed as MHz. If you type in 11565 kHz, the readout
will show 11.565 MHz.
about those two demodulators?
listed above, the standard (supplied) demodulator software is adequate for the
vast majority of conventional shortwave listening needs. Beyond the detection of
audible signals, and the selection of audio AGC (normal receiver AGC stages are
defaulted), it also offers a drop-down spectrum scope, revealing signal activity
in real time on user-selected swaths of spectrum.
optional Professional Demodulator allows considerably-expanded functions,
including DSB and ISB modes, additional audio AGC adjustments, a continuous IF
bandwidth slide from 1 Hz to 15 kHz, user-defined IF bandwidth presets,
increased receiver sensitivity (as much as 2 to 9 dB, the result of optimized
filter settings), filter shaping, dual spectrum analyzers assignable to various
points in the on-screen block circuit diagram to optimize reception, a vector
voltmeter showing amplitude and phase differences between the two selected
points, and metering of total harmonic distortion (THD) and SINAD as well.
the user wishes to revert to factory defaults, it can be done at the press of a
This receiver is a gadget-lover’s dream! But it isn’t fantasy; for the first time in consumer technology, the shortwave listener can tailor his receiver to his own requirements, independent of factory-set parameters. If we were reviewing the new WiNRADiO for a film, we’d give it two thumbs up!
G303i is available from Grove Enterprises for $499.95 with the standard
demodulator. Professional Demodulator $99.95 if ordered with the receiver,
$199.95 if ordered separately.
the evolution of satellite television, it took 15 years to see the dish size
drop from 10-ft in diameter to 18-in and for receivers to go from stacked table
top behemoths to laptop sized boxes. But, direct broadcast satellite radio
needed no such evolution. Since its introduction two years ago, satellite radio
has jumped directly into the future.
years ago, two companies began broadcasting in the newly formed Digital Audio
Radio Service (DARS) in the 2 GHz band. XM Satellite Radio and Sirius Satellite
Radio use proprietary and incompatible technology and have been in a struggle
for market share and consumer acceptance. With the introduction of the SKYFi XM
satellite radio receiver system, XM's system may have shot ahead, because, now,
satellite radio is no longer just for the road.
SKYFi XM satellite radio receiver system, introduced late last fall, nearly
defies description. It’s hard to believe you can tune in 100 channels of “CD
quality” audio services on a receiver which measures just over 4-1/2 x 3 x
1-1/4 inches deep and weighs just ounces. On top of that, it does so with the
help of an antenna just 2-1/2 x 3-1/2 inches. It is nothing short of amazing.
by the Delphi Corp, a long-time maker of in-vehicle electronics, the SKYFi
“plug & play” satellite radio is incredibly easy to install. After
opening the box I had the system up and running in just minutes. It couldn’t
have been easier. The receiver slips onto the base, the AC adaptor plug, antenna
plug and a mini-stereo-to-RCA patch cord also plug into the base. The antenna
which pivots from flat to perpendicular on its own base is positioned so that it
pressing the “power” button the 2-1/2 x 1-3/8 inch, amber-colored LCD screen
comes to life to display a range of information. The top line indicates the
music category on the left and there’s a three-bar signal meter on the right.
The next line shows the specific channel and its XM number while the third and
fourth lines show the artist and the name of the tune or program playing. The
signal meter stays on at all times regardless of what channel is viewed.
initial installation a 5-segment signal meter – which displays satellite as
well as terrestrial reception – can be brought to the screen by pressing
“menu” and rotating the “tuning” knob to highlight the “antenna
position” setting. Pressing the lighted XM button in the center of the tuning
knob activates the display. In my area there was no terrestrial reception.
accessing the various categories and their channels can be done by pressing the
two category buttons above the tuning knob and scrolling through the offerings.
Pressing the XM button brings up the highlighted channel.
audio output from the SKYFi can be plugged into your stereo system and played
through your speakers or it can be plugged into the AUX jack of any radio. In
testing the unit I first set it up in a bedroom on a Bose Wave radio and enjoyed
superb audio. The line output of the receiver can be increased to accommodate
different line inputs. But, if it’s up too high it could distort the audio.
You might have to adjust the line out, depending on what you plug the audio
into. The factory preset will work for most stereo inputs.
display can be enlarged via the remote control or front panel so that it can be
easily read from 15 feet away. Accessing channels and menu items with the very
small and ergonomically curved remote is easy. Direct channel entry is done only
through the remote and, until you’ve memorized the channel line-up, you’ll
need the handy XM Channel Guide nearby. I recommend laminating it, as it will
see a lot of wear in the first month or so.
channels start with #4 “The '40s” (Big Band/ Swing/ '40s) to #171 Open Road
(Trucker’s Channel). In between are a wide variety of music, news, talk,
sports, comedy and even old time radio. There are quite a few gaps in the
numbers, which will allow for future expansion.
offers 18 channel categories starting with the decades (music from the '40s to
the '90s with a different channel for each decade); six country, bluegrass, and
folk related channels; 31 rock, hits and urban music channels; 11 Jazz, blues,
and dance channels; 10 Latin and “World” beat channels; 29
news/sports/comedy/advice channels; three classical, two children and two
Christian music channels.
of the 29 news/sports/talk channels are audio feeds of familiar cable-TV fare
such as Fox News, CNN, Headline News, CNBC, C-SPAN, etc. Others are feeds from
familiar AM radio networks such as ABC News & Talk, Bloomberg Radio, CNN en
Espanol, ESPN Radio, etc.
does not censor any of their channels, and as a result there are a few which
some listeners might find offensive. XM has tagged those channels in the guide
and they can be locked out of the line-up using the remote control. There is one
other category called “Premium” for which additional fees will be charged if
you wish to subscribe. Right now there’s only one channel in this category:
can group your favorites in the “preset” mode on the remote so that, using
the “up/down” buttons you can scroll through only the channels you like. For
the most part XM’s announcers are unobtrusive and, as in the example of Ngoma
(the African channel), add real value to the experience. How would I know who
these artists are and where they came from, if not for the expertise of XM’s
announcers? You may also recognize some of these announcers, because XM scoured
the nation for the top people in each genre.
SKYFi Ups and Downs
the introduction of SKYFi, XM listeners weren’t getting the full value out of
their subscription. Imagine paying for a 24 hour/day audio service but using it
only for the one or two-hour commute most people have. Now, subscribers can pop
the SKYFi out of their car and bring it into the house to enjoy for the rest of
The antenna comes with a 20-ft cable which should be all most people will
need. If you do need more they sell extensions (see below). They advise against
making up your own cable. But, before you order an extension, do a little
experimenting with locations. My stereo is on the north side of the house nearly
30-ft away from the nearest south facing window. So I tried the antenna in the
attic and it worked just fine. “Seeing” through 5/8" roof decking,
rolled felt and asphalt shingles was no problem for this antenna. I got a
your reception might not be as good if the building in which you live is built
of concrete and glass, has a very tall building directly to the south of yours,
or is an older metal covered mobile home. Remember,
we’re dealing with line of sight microwaves and the satellite signal doesn’t
penetrate metal (aluminum blinds could block the signal) or water, though I had
no problems receiving through curtains, thermal shades and a heavy rain.
In fact, the receiver and
antenna are so sensitive and the satellite transmission is so powerful that I
just set the antenna on top of the shelf where the stereo is and it was able to
pick up through the additional 1/2-in sheetrock, 15-in insulation, 5/8-in attic
floor decking and the rest of the roof with no loss in signal. I really only
needed a 5-ft antenna lead!
remote control uses a lithium CR2032 battery to keep down the size and weight.
Radio Shack sells replacements for $2.50. Other than the “mute” function,
the remote cannot control program volume, so you’ll have to use two remotes
for that convenience. There’s no “back” or “last” channel button to
quickly go back to the previous channel you were listening to. In my remote
control test, I found I could bounce the IR signal around a 90 degree corner to
access the receiver.
LCD screen allows only 16 characters to be displayed on a line. This will leave
you guessing on some songs and groups whose names and titles are unceremoniously
hacked off the display. Still, it’s better than some XM car radio displays
which allow considerably less to be seen. The display does not indicate the
composer, album title, or album number.
SKYFi receiver is designed to be used in your car with the car adapter kit or at
home with the home adapter kit (also below). And, by the time you read this,
Delphi will have released its ultimate portable: the Delphi XM Audio System (see
picture). This is essentially a boombox into which you slip the Delphi XM
receiver. It’s designed as a stand-alone unit which can be used anywhere in
the house independent of any other audio source (see sidebar for price).
audio compares favorably with most stereo equipment. And, it will be a pleasure
for most MT readers to hear the BBC World Service in high fidelity
without the crashing and fading of the old shortwave bands. The old time radio
programs come alive again with good fidelity sound as does “Sonic Theater,”
the book and drama channel.
XM channels have announcers and 64 channels have commercials. Listeners should
be prepared for changes in channel line up and the addition of commercials to
other channels in the future.
original debut date was 9-12-01. Needless to say, it was postponed. The rocky
start signaled the rough road ahead for the fledgling satellite radio industry.
Since then, the wobbly economy and collapse of the high tech boom have left
XM’s own fiscal future shaky. However, worries about XM’s early demise were
set aside in January with a massive infusion of capital which should allow the
company to sail smoothly into the first quarter of 2004.
market watchers are cautious about this company’s future, because in addition
to a sinking share price, XM’s subscriber rolls have been slow to develop.
However, the company is hoping to gain big numbers this year as new General
Motors cars come equipped with XM radios built-in. GM has a big stake in Hughes,
XM’s parent company.
still too early to guess how the future will treat XM, but right now it provides
a real service to areas of the country under-served by terrestrial radio. To the
rest of the country it brings welcome competition to the shrinking choices
offered by most monopoly dominated local radio stations.
Includes receiver with remote control.
Adaptor Kit $69.99
Includes vehicle cradle, magnetic roof mount antenna, cassette adapter,
cigarette lighter power adaptor and mounting brackets.
Adaptor Kit $69.99
Includes home stand, AC power adaptor, home antenna, and connecting
Self-contained music system requires SKYFi receiver. Powered by AC
adapter or 6 “D” cells (not included). Complete Delphi BoomBox SKYFi
receiver system: $229.99
50-ft home antenna extension kit $39.99
Auto FM modulator kit $49.99
Monthly service: $9.99
Service Activation Fee: $14.99
Other fees as well as state and local taxes may also apply.
SKYFi is available nationwide at all major electronics outlets including
Best Buy, Circuit City and Crutchfield.
readers are familiar with the product-packed catalog and web site (http://www.ccrane.com) of the C. Crane company from Fortuna, CA. In recent years
the company began selling its own brand of multi-band radio, the “CCRadio,”
which, according to their web site, was designed by a team of engineers from C.
Crane and Sangean, the giant radio maker from Korea. The CCRadioplus
represents the second generation of engineering from the two companies and
promises to offer listeners “...unparalleled AM reception....” and believes
it’s “...the best radio for
long range AM reception.” It also features the FM band, all NOAA weather radio
frequencies and the audio from the VHF-TV band (channels 2-13).
avid radio listener would be hard pressed to find a portable radio packed with
more features. It’s clear that every inch of this 11" x 6.5" x
4" receiver has been designed with the radio listener in mind. When was the
last time you saw a portable radio boxed up with a 26 page instructional manual
that actually had useful information, including a blank station log you can
number of features on this radio and options available are considerable, and
I’ve listed them for quick reference in the sidebar. So, let’s get right to
the fun part: spanning the airwaves with the CCRadio plus.
this time of satellite-delivered car radio programming, personal CD and MP3
players in the hands of every kid over the age of two, and with digital
broadcasting looming on the horizon, it takes some courage to design, build and
market a radio almost primarily for listening to the AM band. Marconi, Armstrong
and DeForest would be proud. But, is it necessary? Well, just ask the millions
of American sports fans and AM band talk radio fanatics who tie up radio station
phone lines night and day!
seemingly more lives than an alley cat, AM radio has survived the advent of the
45 rpm record, the LP, FM radio, cable TV, VCRs, CDS, and MP3. Feasting on a
carbohydrate blow-out diet of sports, shock jocks, all news all the time, and
(gasp!) occasionally music, the AM band has actually prospered. In fact, it’s
the wallets of the loyal talk show and sports nuts in America at which the
CCRadioplus is aimed.
the interesting thing about this radio is that, since it’s basically just an
AM portable, they could have cheaped-out on the whole design and gone the way of
every other cheap portable AM radio you’ve ever seen. But, they didn’t. In
fact, they went to the other extreme. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen
a portable radio of any description built this well. Let’s take a close look
at the features.
the AM and FM bands, this radio tunes VHF-TV audio channels 2-13 and all seven
frequencies used by NOAA weather radio stations in the U.S. and Canada. Only the
left side panel of this radio is not put to complete use (the bottom panel hosts
the four rubber supports and the master reset button!). Each side is packed with
useful and well thought out features.
start with the front. A clean metal grill takes up 2/3 of the front panel
protecting the 5-inch speaker behind it. A large, easy to read LCD display panel
dominates the other third of the panel. The digital tuning readout can be read
even in moderate light from 15 feet away. There are no fewer than 14 icons or
symbols which can appear on the display, including a 14 segment “S” meter,
yet it seems uncluttered and easy to read. Printed at the top of the panel are
the bands and frequencies covered by the radio. There’s also a small
“light” button which when pressed gives the screen a green glow which the
manual says will last about 100,000 hours and uses little energy. When the radio
is plugged into an AC source the display is always on.
the tuning panel are two flat buttons that tune up or down the frequency
displayed. Holding either button momentarily activates the rapid tune mode and
the radio will “seek” until it hits a strong signal. To the left of those
two buttons are four smaller buttons which set the clock and timer. The timer
can sound an alarm or turn on the radio at a set time. The sleep timer will
allow the radio to play for up to 120 minutes after being set. There’s also a
“snooze” feature. Tired of staying up all night to hear a favorite talk
show? When used with a tape recorder which is equipped with a Timer Activation
Switch, the timer will turn the recorder and the radio on and tune to the
frequency you’ve programmed. Now you can get a good night’s sleep, listen to
the show at your leisure, and zip through the commercials, news, or boring
guests! The other two knobs on the front panel are for separate bass and treble
the right side panel is the rotary tuning knob, which features a finger tip
indentation and very smooth operation. The tuning display changes 1 kHz on the
AM band and 50 kHz on the FM band as it’s rotated. Below the tuning knob is
the volume control and between the two is a frequency lock switch. At the bottom
of the panel is a 3.5 mm headphone jack that supplies a stereo signal when tuned
to the FM band.
the top right of the back panel is the recessed telescoping antenna used for
FM/TV/WX. The carrying handle is recessed into the back panel with a rubberized
strip to grip with your fingers for secure carrying. The extreme left of the
panel has AUX input for your portable CD player or other device, the
aforementioned Timer Activation Switch plug and below that the line out which
you can feed to any recorder to make tapes of your favorite programs. Antenna
terminals for an external AM antenna are just to the right of the line out plug.
On the other side of the back panel is a plug for the optional 4 volt LED lamp
and a 6 volt DC charger. Access to the battery compartment is on the lower back
side. The radio takes four “D” cells and will operate about 48 hours on a
fresh set. The removable AC plug is on the far right side of the back panel.
top panel features five station recall buttons, the main power on/off switch,
the band switch, and weather alert button which allows the radio to be tuned to
any other band until a NOAA weather alert is issued, at which time it switches
the audio to the appropriate NOAA channel and flashes a red LED on the top of
the front panel. It can be set up so that only the LED flashes. A third mode
activates a siren which turns on for up to 1 minute. If headphones are plugged
in during an alert, the headphone audio will be cut off and the siren will sound
through the speaker.
tested this unit over several days and nights during early December when AM band
conditions were moderate. Using only the built-in antennas, I found daytime
reception satisfactory on all bands. Nighttime reception was excellent on the AM
band. By swiveling the radio as I tuned I was able to hear the big powerhouses
from New York, Chicago, St. Louis, New Orleans, Nashville, Atlanta and Detroit.
Signals were greatly improved when I connected it to a short (350-ft)
unterminated Beverage antenna. Many regional stations rose above the RF din to a
useful audio level. Frequency separation was excellent thanks to the 1 kHz
tuning resolution on the tuning knob.
is a peculiar glitch in the receive circuitry of this radio which allows short
wave broadcasters to show up at various points along the AM band at night. I
heard a strong Russian language station at 520 kHz, what sounds like Japanese at
1386 kHz, and in between positive IDs on Catholic Radio EWTN at 625, Deutsche
Welle at 689, a strong RTTY signal on 542, more German, Russian and Spanish
language transmissions throughout. Now, you could look at this as a plus if
you’re interested in receiving shortwave on the AM band, but most serious AM
band DXers will find this annoying at best and a serious problem at worst. I
understand that the original CCRadio had a similar tuning problem and I’m at a
loss to imagine why efforts weren’t made to correct it.
for FM, I found I had to hook into a roof-top antenna to help reception on that
band. I used a short jumper with alligator clips attached to go from the
coax’s conductor to the whip. Reception was vastly improved, as I was able to
tune in a good FM DX target over 150 miles away. But separation on this band
proved to be a disappointment when trying to tune two closely positioned
stations. It wasn’t up to the capabilities of a good FM stereo receiver.
Reception on the weather and VHF-TV bands were adequate.
brings me to my short list of improvements. At the very least, I’d like the AM
tuning problem resolved. I’d like to see more memory presets. Five is just not
enough, especially on the AM band where, as a sports fan, I’d like to punch in
my favorite teams and be able to scroll through the AM presets and check in on
all the action. I’d also like to see a 75 ohm “F” connector on the back
panel to help improve and extend FM coverage. And, finally, I’d like to see
the UHF-TV band audio added. With so many sports and syndicated talk shows being
carried on UHF channels it would really boost this radio’s value.
is a physically well designed, well executed, feature packed portable radio,
which sports fans and talk show listeners will really enjoy. But, for AM DXers
it just doesn’t live up to its web billing as “...the best AM radio
available.” In Black Mica or Platinum, the CCRadioplus is made in China
and retails for $159.95.
Crane Company 1001 Main Street
Band: 520-1710 kHz
Band: 87.5-108 MHZ (Stereo signal available at the side-mounted headphone jack)
(VHF): Channels 2-13 Audio
Band: 162.400, 162.425, 162.450, 162.475, 162.500, 162.525, 162.550 MHZ
Mounted digital tuning knob and front mounted up/down buttons. Side knob tunes 1
kHz (AM), 50 kHz (FM) or by channel (TV/WX) and acts as a “fine tuning”
knob. There is no direct frequency entry. There are five top-mounted memory
presets which can be set for each band.
FM, TV and Weather Band use a telescoping whip antenna which swivels 360 degrees
and extends to a maximum of 20.5". AM uses a built-in Ferrite Bar
(7/16" diameter 8" long). There is an external AM connection via two
screw terminals (labeled antenna and ground) which puts the signal directly
through the filter network and into the front end.
four “D” size batteries which adds over one pound to the total weight of the
radio (5.5 pounds with batteries). Power consumption is stated as 40-50 mA DC or
8 watts via the detachable heavy duty power cord which automatically disconnects
the batteries. Estimated battery time with heavy duty NiCad batteries: 48 hours.
Time to charge NiCads with AC adapter: 27 hours. Time to charge NiCad batteries
with Solar Panel (see Options): 67 hours. Solar panel will run the radio in full
sunlight without batteries installed.
Crane makes the following accessories available. Prices current as of this
V Charging Adapter: $10.95
4 Watt Solar Panel: $59.95
1/8" Stereo Patchcord 40" long: $14.95
dual speed tape recorder: $99.95
carrying case: $29.95
pillow speaker: $19.95
By Lee Reynolds
The brotherhood of radio hobbyists covers a wide selection of enthusiasms and people. They range from those who like to listen only to the powerhouse broadcasters on the shortwave bands to those who experiment with cutting-edge DSP modes down in the 183 kHz range…
…then, you have those who, when asked by other hobbyists what aspect of the hobby they’re interested in, are looked at nervously and edged away from. These are the people who describe themselves as “digital ute monitors” -- those who like to monitor digital utility transmissions. This review is for them!
The device reviewed here is made by Wavecom AG (http://www.wavecom.ch) -- a Swiss company located in Buelach, Switzerland. Privately held, they have been manufacturing digital signal decoders since 1985. Their approach has been that of creating DSP boards and software that is designed specifically for the task at hand rather than adapting PC hardware that already exists or using low-end external hardware interfaces (such as zero-crossing comparators -- that’s “dongles” to you and me)! Wavecom’s customers range from governmental alphabet entities down to the high-end digital utility hobbyist.
The W40PC is their lowest-end decoder. Don’t confuse “low-end” with “shoddy” -- the W40PC is a well-designed and laid-out DSP device designed for use in the 16-bit ISA slot of a personal computer running Windows 95 or later. A Pentium 200 or better is able to properly support the card and its software. The device is designed to decode over 106 modes (subject to change) encountered on the air and provides a well-equipped software toolbox to aid in identifying those modes. Other decoder models available include the remotely controllable W41PC, the USB-connected W41USB and the new PCI-based W51PC.
Installation of the card is simple and requires nothing more than setting the address jumpers on the W40PC card to an unused hardware address in your PC (if needed), plugging the card into the PC and installing the software. Hook up the line out of your receiver to the ‘AF IN’ BNC connector or the W40PC, configure the software to match your board’s address setting and you’re ready to go! A real nicety is the provision of additional signal inputs for a receiver’s discriminator output and an IF-level input that can be set to any frequency between 16 kHz and 1.5 MHz.
The first thing that struck your reviewer about the user interface presented by the software was the care and thought that had obviously gone into its design. All tools and modes are readily accessible with just a few mouse clicks, it’s clearly a package designed to function within a multi-tasking operating system -- there’s no messing about with DOS boxes trying to get something to work with this package! (One item under the heading of “eye candy” that I really liked is the ability to select different palettes for the tool displays -- it makes interpreting things like waterfall displays much easier when various attributes are properly color-coded).
For test beds I used the W40PC in both a PIII/500 box with Windows 98SE and a dual CPU PII/333 system running Windows 2000. (Past experience suggests that if a hardware device is going to have problems, the most expedient way to cause it to do so is to run it under Windows 2000. Everybody writes for Windows 98, far fewer tackle Windows 2000!) Signal sources ranged from an ICOM R-75, Radio Shack Pro-2006, and JRC NRD-525 to the Klingenfuss and Wavecom digital signal libraries on CD-ROM. Testing of AF, Discriminator and IF-level inputs was also undertaken.
I did a little rummaging around in the W40PC signal analysis toolbox first of all and came up with a respectable selection of goodies. Autocorrelation, Bit Correlation, Bit Length, MFSK Signal Analysis, PSK Signal Symbol Rate and Phase Plane Analysis, FSK Analysis, FSK Code Check (an automated signal identification tool), Real Time FFT, Sonogram, Waterfall, Oscilloscope and combined FFT/Sonogram all go to make up a very usable “Swiss Army Knife” toolkit for the monitor. An additional SELCAL Analysis mode is available for certain VHF/UHF modes.
Initial testing of the analysis tools was undertaken by feeding the W40PC with known signal types from the CD-ROM sources and then comparing W40PC indicated signal characteristics with what the known characteristics of the signal should have been. (For example, Autocorrelation was quite usable for determining if a signal was encrypted/randomly masked or not by revealing the presence or absence of any recognizable bit patterns.) All tools performed as expected with the exception of the FSK Code Check module, which sometimes seemed to take an excessively long time to suggest a mode. (Note: Any signal identification system on hardware that even the high end utility monitor can afford is a “good guess” at best -- a knowledgeable operator is far and away the best way to identify a mystery signal).
Feeding known signals from a digital source to the card again, began testing of the W40PC’s ability to receive various modes. Older, lesser-used and known modes (such as CIS-11 and HNG-FEC) were used as well as systems currently in wider use (PACTOR II, PSK31, ACARS, ARQ-E3). All were received with equal facility. Baud Rate, Shift and Center determination buttons all worked as they should, yielding quick identification of the basic parameters of a signal prior to actual decoding.
Testing of the VHF/UHF modes (PACKET, ACARS and others) worked well, I had the unusual pleasure of feeding a high-speed data signal into the W40PC via the tapped 455 kHz IF output from one of my Pro-2006 scanners. Discriminator, AF and IF input methods all worked well where applicable. All modes worked well except for one (with an effective signaling rate of 6400 bps), which missed approximately half the traffic cycles due to a decoding module that still needs a little tweaking. Wavecom are aware of this defect and are working to fix it.
A rare ability of interest to the fanatical trunked system monitor is the W40PC’s ability to decode MPT-1327 systems (of which there are a few in the USA). On HF performance was excellent, signal characteristics analysis being fast and accurate more than 85% of the time. Automatic mode identification was less certain, identifying the simpler modes with good speed and accuracy but the more complex the mode the slower the process. Wandering around the amateur, maritime and other band segments was an enjoyable task; putting the card through its paces was a pleasure.
One strength of the W40PC, when it comes to displaying foreign text transmission, is the very wide range of foreign alphabets it can handle. Multiple flavors of ITA, Cyrillic, Greek, Arabic, Hebraic and Scandinavian alphabets can be selected and displayed. This puts a nice tidy end to the old practice of having to use third-shift display of some non-Latin alphabets in order to decode what you’re seeing. One problem noted is that ALE (MIL-188) decoding is broken in the current software version. Again, Wavecom are aware of this fact and are working to fix it.
As a matter of personal interest I then took the radio down into the LF portion of the spectrum to see what it could do with DGPS signals. (In the last few years a great many non-directional beacons between 280-325 kHz have been converted to the transmission of DGPS data (for fine corrections to GPS signals where a user is so equipped) and they’ve effectively been lost to the LF enthusiast as a source of identifiable loggings.) The W40PC did a fine job of decoding even the weaker DGPS signals. I’m happy to say that what had become a source of annoyance to me is now a source of interest (and loggings) once again.
Another signal type to be found on LF is that of NAVTEX on 518 kHz. No problem!
As you can tell, I like this device. I liked it well enough to have purchased one some months ago. I have a reasonably wide experience of digital transmission decoding hardware (Hoka, Universal, et al) and the Wavecom is my firm favorite, because it offers an excellent compromise between quality, features and cost.
One big plus for this device, in my opinion, is that software updates are reasonably regular and, importantly, free! Wavecom exhibit a mentality that takes into account the low-end purchaser, not just the corporate/governmental buyer. This compares extremely favorably with a competitor’s offering of a 3.5” diskette with the latest software upgrade for their hardware for a mere $US 400. I may be crazy enough to be a digital utility monitor but I’m not crazy enough to pay that kind of money for a (merely) incremental software upgrade as well!
The only real disappointment encountered with the W40PC is the fact that there are no plans to implement an HFDL decoding module for any of their product line apart from the newest product -- the W51PC. (Not to worry, Charles Brain’s fine software decoder will fill that gap for me!) Documentation is fairly good, but you also need to download and print the W41PC user’s guide as well, because it covers additional relevant topics lacking in the W40PC manual.
If you’re in the market for a high-end decoder, I can definitely recommend the Wavecom line of products. Not only are they well designed, they’re well supported and Wavecom honestly admit to any problems you may encounter, happily working with you to resolve the matter. Feature set and cost is only half the value here -- a manufacturer that acknowledges the hobbyist’s existence is the other.
Now, if I could only afford the W51PC………
Note: The Wavecom W40PC and W51PC are available from Grove Enterprises
1-800-438-8155. Unfortunately, because the units decode certain paging modes,
they are not legal for consumer sales, but can only be sold to qualifying
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