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Utility Listening Discussions regarding monitoring government, military, aircraft, ship, and other misc communications in the HF/MW/LF bands.

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Old 04-05-2012, 10:20 AM
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Question To invest or not invest in a shortwave radio?

I used to be an avid SWL Dxer. My first rig was a Kenwood R-5000. Its been about 20 years since I have spun the dial on the SWL bands and I find myself yearning to come back. I'm considering buying an Eton E1 portatop. My question is simple. Is there still a lot of utility stations to be heard? I dont have any interest in listening to hams, nor do I listen to many AM broadcasts. What are your thoughts? I live in Arizona.
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Old 04-05-2012, 11:01 AM
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Originally Posted by APSN556 View Post
I used to be an avid SWL Dxer. My first rig was a Kenwood R-5000. Its been about 20 years since I have spun the dial on the SWL bands and I find myself yearning to come back. I'm considering buying an Eton E1 portatop. My question is simple. Is there still a lot of utility stations to be heard? I dont have any interest in listening to hams, nor do I listen to many AM broadcasts. What are your thoughts? I live in Arizona.
I guess I will be biased, because I am primarily a utilities listener. So, are there still a lot of utility stations to be heard? Yes.

Now, the caveats.

Compared to 20 years ago there are fewer voice utility stations. Many of them have gone digital. Some of these digital signals can be decoded with software, and some can not. But, voice utility stations still exist in usable numbers.

Every day you can hear aviation stations. Every day you can hear maritime stations. Every day you can hear military stations. From your location and if you speak Spanish you can hear a huge quantity of both official and unofficial communications out of Mexico and the Gulf, including police, military, drug ops (both sides of it), etc.

I am not sure I would look at a portable, even a very good one like the E1, for Ute listening. I would look more at the table tops because they tend to be better optimized for SSB operations, and most voice Utes are SSB. Personally, and I am fully aware I am biased on this part, I think the SDR is THE way to go for Utes, the waterfall makes catching those short duration infrequent, more interesting, conversations more likely. Also remember you are going to want an external antenna, Utes tend to be low power compared to broadcast stations.

If you want to play around with listening before buying a radio you could try one of the several remote receiver online systems out there. Both Globaltuners.com and SDR-Radio.com are excellent for getting your feet wet. Just be aware, not everyone that provides sources for those services have decent HF setups. Particularly on GT many of the setups seem to be tailored to VHF and up scanner type monitoring.

There is a real time IRC channel dedicated to utilities monitoring, the #wunclub channel on the Starchat server. People share in real time frequencies and what is being heard there, might be worth your time to pop your head in and get some pointers on where to look. Keep in mind that just because you see people in there does not mean they are active, so if nothing is being discussed when you pop in maybe everyone is at dinner or something. And being international some people will be asleep, but left themselves connected so they could see the freqs others are reporting.

T!
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Old 04-05-2012, 12:19 PM
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Well darn! I hadn't even considered an SDR...until you mentioned it. Looking at a few websites about them has certainly sparked my curiosity. The SDR world is completely new to me. My budget would only be around $1200 if I went the SDR route. Any suggestions on a particular model? Thanks for helping me out T!
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Old 04-05-2012, 2:07 PM
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We have links to a small sample of reviews here (anything blue is a link)

Software Defined Radios - The RadioReference Wiki

HTH...Mike
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Old 04-05-2012, 5:07 PM
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Hey there Chad, there is plenty about You mention your 1st rig was a R-5000 and thats what I am using now. I had set up a portable station here 12 months ago after digging out the old girl which I have owned over 20years now, and ordered a Loop antenna so I can stay in the comfort of my shack and really enjoy HF utes again.

I really wish I had the funds for a SDR, like Token mentioned its the way to go and to upgrade a SDR its only a download away
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Old 04-05-2012, 5:42 PM
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Well darn! I hadn't even considered an SDR...until you mentioned it. Looking at a few websites about them has certainly sparked my curiosity. The SDR world is completely new to me. My budget would only be around $1200 if I went the SDR route. Any suggestions on a particular model? Thanks for helping me out T!
Unfortunately it is hard to talk about such things without, again, getting opinionated.

I own many of the sub $1200 SDRs on the market. I have tried out even more of them. There are many SDRs on the market in that range, but I will only talk about the "main stream" units, not the limited production or building block experimenters units.

At the low end of the spectrum are the sound card based SDRs. They run from $25 to about $300. They all have problems and performance issues, mostly associated with the sound card based operation (that is a multi-page write-up to cover all by itself). However, something like the SoftRock Ensemble II is hard to beat for $85 assembled and sub $60 in kit form. This is an SDR at cheap portable pricing that has fair to good performance. But, I do not recommend them as an only radio, maybe as a play around or a backup radio. I use mine just to play around most of the time.

Around the $500 price point is the RFSpace SDR-IQ. This is the lowest cost mainstream DDC SDR that I am aware of. It combines good performance with moderate cost. In several raw performance areas it is similar to the SoftRock Ensemble II, but without the soundcard limitations, with better dynamic range, and better filter performance. While its display/record bandwidth is not large (190 kHz max display width) I consider it a good starter SDR. I have two of them here and use them every day, although they are mostly secondary to my main SDRs. I have one of them on SDR-Radio.com so that others can use it when I am not. This SDR is well supported by third party software providers, I believe it might be the best supported SDR on the market.

At about $800 is the Bonito RadioJet. It is a new SDR that I have no experience with. Its performance specifications are very good, and if it meets them it is definitely an upper tier (but not best) radio. But, as an SDR it comes up a little short as it has very, very, narrow displayed bandwidth, only 24 kHz maximum. So, while it might be a very good radio, as an SDR and in several features that make an SDR optimal for Ute listening, it frankly looks not good. Also, I have not heard of any third party software that is planning, at this time, to support it.

Up around the $900 to $1000 range the selection gets pretty good, and the performance gets very good.

The Quicksilver QS-1R comes in at about $900. It has probably the most potential performance of any SDR in this price range, but in order to meet that performance potential auxiliary equipment needs to be added that pushes the cost up well over $1100,probably into the $1300+ range for the good pieces. Without the add-ons, just as it comes out of the box, the sensitivity of this unit is the worst in the price bracket. Think of this as the Hot Rod, lots of potential cool in it, but it will take some work and money from you to get there.

The WinRadio G31DDC comes in at $850 to $900. It has the second widest DDC display bandwidth, at 2 MHz, behind the QS-1R. Its sensitivity is outstanding, the best in the sub $1200 category. It is the only radio that includes the ability to have two waterfalls at the same time, one showing the “narrow” DDC bandwidth (from 20 kHz up to 2 MHz, user selectable) and the second “wideband” showing the full 0 to 30 MHz HF range, or 0 to 50 MHz if you have that option selected in the pull down menu. This wideband display gives you the ability to look (visually only, not to receive the signal) back in time up to 18 minutes, so you can check activity of signals that happened when you were concentrating on other things. The disadvantage to this radio is that there is only one third party software vendor supporting it, so if you do not like the interface WinRadio supplies you might be out of luck. It is one of the newer SDRs on the market, so maybe just no one has started supporting it yet, or maybe they never will, just can’t tell at this time. WinRadio has made the SDK for this avalable so anyone who wants to write software can, but so far no takers. Fortunately, I personally like the WinRadio GUI, finding it the most adaptable among the GUIs shipped with radios. But, because it does so much it also has one of the steeper learning curves. Also, it is minus a couple of features that other SDR GUIs have, and you have to ask yourself why in the world WinRadio left those out? There are work arounds for all of them except the lack of remote internet capability.

The Microtelecom Perseus comes in at $1000 to $1200. Until the Excalibur came out it was the best SDR for a hobby listener right out of the box in this price range. It now lags behind the Excalibur in almost every technical specification although it does, in my opinion, have a more robust front end that accepts high level signals better. I still consider it very good and I would rate it a close second best of the sub $1200 SDRs. It is supported by multiple third party softwares, almost as many as the SDR-IQ is.

Of all of these I mentioned I own all of them (plus a couple more outside the $1200 price range) except the QS-1R and the RadioJet. And I have used the QS-1R a bit. If I could only have one SDR today in this price range it would be the WinRadio G31DDC Excalibur.

So, there is my answer to your question of any suggestions, the G31DDC, hands down. However, make sure you are comfortable with the interface, because that might be the only one that ever works with that hardware. Or maybe a third party will pick up support for it, who knows.

T!

Last edited by Token; 04-05-2012 at 5:50 PM..
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Old 04-05-2012, 8:25 PM
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I second the Winradio Excalibur...its a great SDR and easy to operate...but dont forget the antenna!

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Old 04-05-2012, 10:30 PM
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Hi Chad,

Welcome back to SWL. SDR's have made the hobby new again and (IMHO) it's much more interesting to "see" the HF spectrum than to spin the dial hoping to catch something that you may literally miss by a few seconds. It also makes the digital modes a bit more exciting as well.

The SDR lets you see the spectrum in ways you can't imagine. It's a great tool for SWL and being that you don't need to spend thousands of dollars on a HF receiver, it's a great device. The higher end SDRs (Perseus and Excalibur) rival the receiver performance of a $4,000 shortwave receiver. The SDR-IQ is still very good however.

What you'll first discover is that a SDR experience comes down to the software. You may like one version over another.

Before buying a specific SDR, I highly recommend downloading the Perseus application software. It has a 30-day trial mode that will let you play with it.

The sexy feature of the Perseus is that it has an internet mode that lets you listen to Perseus SDR remotes all over the world. You can try this FREE for 30-days. This will let you play (in real time) with the Perseus SDR on-line.

IMHO, the Perseus application is easier to use and less technical than the Excalibur software.

You can also download the Excalibur software and "demo" it. You'll need to download a chunky recording to be able to play with it however -- as the Excalibur doesn't have any internet connectivity.

Perseus App --> http://microtelecom.it/perseus/Perseusv40b.zip

**Open up Port 8014 on your internet router to allow the internet connectivity

Excalibur App --> http://www.winradio.com/software/g31ddc-155.zip

**Let me know if you download the Excalibur and I can provide you with a recording to download.

Cheers,
-Nick
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