Category Archives: Equipment

Surprise gem of a find!

In getting sound our of my Zotac Linux PC (see earlier post), I thought I’d just use my Bose Computer Companion Speakers. Plug in the mini-plug to the audio out plug and we’re on to other things! I tried umpteen RCA to mini-plugs from the Zotac audio out to the Bose speakers and all I got was bloops, bleeps, and hissing. OK, so I plug-in my iPod ear plugs and I get great stuff. Plug in the same mini-plug to RCA cable in to my iPod and the Bose does what we expect Bose to do: great sounds! Sometimes problems find a way to just disappear, especially when they don’t make any sense so I just put it aside to run some errands.

While in Walmart, I strolled through the electronics department to gaze at new TVs and my eye caught some very small speakers designed for notebook PCs. The ones by HP, called, not surprisingly, HP Notebook Speakers: USB-Powered Mini Speakers, were only $20! So, I thought, this can’t be a bad purchase. After all, I will have lots of new audio outputs in my new shack….so they left with me.

Big sound, small size! Now, I have a house full of Bose speakers, of one sort or another plus two pair of Bose headphones. I also have a Tivoli Model Two Satellite Radio System in my home office. I didn’t expect much from these 2″ x 1″ (approximately) little guys. I could not have been more wrong!

As I write this, I am monitoring 160 meters via WebSDR de WB4MAK in Atlanta and the clarity is excellent. I have listed to beaucoup podcasts, some of which have considerable bumper music, and other communications traffic via the Internet (scanners, etc.). Incredible value for the price!

The Bose speakers will go back to my Dell Studio PC with the Flex 3000. They will actually input two audio sources so my 2M local repeater channel (W5YD) will probably be the second feed.

The sweet spot on these inexpensive HP Mini Speakers works very well for someone sitting at a desk but not too bad for a “fill the room need”. Perhaps my hearing is going….but these $20 guys are well worth exploring…especially for portable or field ops!

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Parting is, well, just sorrow

NRD-545 in operation in my home office

NRD-545

I’ve been SWLing and BCB DXing for over 50 years now. In reorganizing my amateur radio station, I figured that I would examine my equipment to be more efficient in what I buy in the future, and so forth.

The two receivers that I’ve been using the past few years are both superb: the JRC NRD-545 and the Perseus SDR. Japan Radio Company quit producing the ‘545 a few years ago but I bought one from Rob Sherwood in Colorado, the guy who does the well-respected Rx measurements and rankings. Following the recommendations published by Larry Magne, Editor of the now-defunct Passport to World Band Radio, I had Rob install the “moderate” filters on the ‘545. It’s a Bentley in terms of operating pleasure, beauty, and performance (see picture at left). The Perseus probably out-performs the NRD-545 in some ways but doesn’t have the traditional knob-turning functions that the JRC Rx does. Hmm, what to do?

I couldn’t see selling the Perseus since it’s a wonderful new approach and the future of  DXing. So, I put the NRD-545 up for sale on the Yahoo ‘545 group as well as eHam.net and Qrz.com.

The only query I received from these outlets tried to downgrade the value of the Rx since I didn’t keep the boxes in which Rob Sherwood shipped it to me in. My has been kept pristine and even the “utility kit” of various connectors had never been opened. So, eBay it went. It was sold for the Buy It Now price of $1,600 in three hours! Once the eCheck to Paypal cleared, I carefully packed it using double-boxes, bubble wrap, air pillows, and plastic peanuts. It was shipped via my local UPS Store and, I must say, it was sad to see it go. However, these funds will go to adding a first-class grounding system to my station, a Tmate Plus device from WoodBoxRadio.com for the Flex 3000 (and the Perseus), and some other stuff once they’re identified. The Tmate device is like a Griffin Powermate hot-rodded with definable buttons on a wood-grain box. It gives the “yes, I need a stinkin’ knob” in us some relief.

I’ll deal with my separation anxiety by getting my Wellsrook 1530+ loop installed on some fiberglass poles purchased on eBay for $7 (and shipping). With the rotor and having the loop above the electric noise field of my house, the Perseus should shine brightly. I may get a chance, with everything on my high-speed household LAN now, to use the received bandwidth recording option on the Perseus SDR for later playback and reception. Now, that’s exciting!


SDR, Here I Come!

A couple of days ago, I ordered the Flex 3000, software-defined radio from Flex Radio (www.flex-radio.com). I’ve had a Perseus SDR receiver for a a couple of years now. I’ve also been a chip-head regarding computing for some 30 years now….developing wide-area networks during the early 1980s to scientific data visualization applications during the 1990s, and large-scale database manipulation and business intelligence in the 2000s…so combining analog radio with the digital domain is a natural. The Perseus Rx provides such an improved experience for chasing DX, especially the swatch of frequencies visualized through the pan-adapter, that I’m excited about working HF with this new SDR.

Flex 3000 Front

 

The Firewire connection between the Flex 3000 (and 5000; the newer QRP rig, the 1500, uses USB) is a critical issue. I have a Dell Studio Quad-Core PC with 8GB of RAM that I will pair with it. The 1394a Firewire adapter (I hope) should work fine with the Flex. The pictures of the Flex 2000 show that it is a fairly simple box but comes “alive” with the PowerSDR software that operates it (see www.flex-radio.com/users.aspx?topic=powersdr1_pics).

Flex 3000 Rear Panel

I have a household LAN which combines wired and wireless connections, all fed from a Metrocast 10 mbs cable-modem. My shack is in a small den at one end of the house whereas my office is on the opposite end. I have an ethernet-over-coax (MOCA) from my shack to the office implemented by Netgear. This will hopefully allow me to “remotely” operate my Flex 3000 from my office when I wish—checking on band conditions, checking into a net—-while I’m busy working in my office. Using secure software tools (VNC, Synergy, etc.), this same operation mode can be accomplished from anywhere that I have a high-speed Internet connection. On the other hand, my Ameritron 811 amp won’t be “tunable” remotely and neither will my LDG 600W auto-tuner. OK, I guess there’s always room for progress!

I need to acquire a mic for this new rig. Flex Radio sells the Heil Proset or Traveler headset/mic with the modular plug fitting. I am leaning toward the Yaesu MD-100A8X which has the modular plug with correct pin-outs as well as some on-board controls. However, the “controls” on this mic will likely not be that useful but the reviews on eham.net suggest that the audio characteristics of this desk mic make it an unrecognized gem. The “control” of the PowerSDR software comes from regular mouse control…a pain sometimes.

Tmate from WoodBoxRadio

However, I’ve got my eyes on the WoodBoxRadio Tmate (www.woodboxradio.com/uk/tmate.html)! The Tmate is a USB powered device with a VFO knob and several programmable pushbuttons for often-used “mouse clicks”. It’s a tad expensive from across the Pond: $260-ish USD. See it in action on the WoodBoxRadio website. This company is making some additional tools for the Flex line of SDRs that I am sure that will be on my Ham Wish List! check out their website for details. Now, I’ve got to make preparations for my new arrival!


Way Cool IRLP

Dallas, VK3DJ location in Drysdale, Victoria

It still thrills me even though it’s fairly commonplace in amateur radio. Over the past few weeks, a ham from Australia has periodically connected over the Internet—using IRLP—to the W4DOC 2M repeater in Atlanta. He and a friend are coming to Atlanta for a NASCAR event in a few months. Dallas, Vk3DJ, from Drysdale, Victoria in Aussie-land, about 50 miles south of Melborne, frequently stays up to about 11pm local time to talk with Atlanta Radio Club hams doing their morning drive time commute to work. He’s getting much information about things to see, do, and an opportunity to visit some of us to share a pint while he and his “mate” (friend) come through this area. His small farming community is shown with the red A balloon in the map on the right.

I got to talk with Dallas this morning for about 20 minutes. I was able to share with him the title of a book my friend from the University of Central Florida, James Wright, wrote on NASCAR’s origins: Fixin to Git. He also learned about Don Panoz’s Esperante auto manufacturing operation up a few miles north in Braselton (see http://www.panozcars.com). After chatting with a growing group of other hams, Dallas called it a day. He teaches “trades” (shop) classes by day. It’s still a thrill to talk to previously unknown folks from parts all over, even with the Internet assist!


First Shack

My first ham rado shack

Here is my very cramped first ham radio “shack”: a very small corner of our den. This built-in computer desk houses a Dell PC with a 30″ monitor, a JRC NRD-545 DSP receiver, FT-8900R VHF/UHF transceiver, Icom IC-706 HF/VHF transceiver, and LDG IT-100 autotuner. Underneath are a Perseus SDR, Diamond power supply, back-up hard disk, a Drobo 4TB NAS, a 2nd PC running Linux switched to the monitor and keyboard via a switch beneath the monitor. The shipping box containing the venerable Kenwood TS-830S that I bought off of eBay never “left” my temporarily setting it up to test. It also has the Kenwood AT-230 antenna tuner, SP 230 speaker, and a MFJ 259B antenna analyzer.

Small beginnings….but I hope to have more space in a new QTH in the near future. But there’s nothing like the first one, right?