Tagged: drm radio


Have your own HAM SWL radio station!

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Gadget of the past? HAM SWL radio station!

In most cases we write posts about unique designs and ides, which are useful for advanced level HAM SWL radios, e.g., this or that posts on software defined radio (SDR) technology. But what about the beginners? Well this post is for them! Ready, steady, HAM SWL Radio!

Some weeks ago I was surfing the internet looking for some new ideas for a special issue of Quadrus SDR. It was easy to find a creative idea for my problem, and to prove to my family that HF broadcasting is alive. We can access high quality radio service there based on new, digital operation mode (i.e., DRM), which has a very useful community for SDR fans. When I started to deal with HAM SWL radio, there were no opportunities such as the internet. It was ooch… 35+ years ago. We – the members of the community – talked to each other only using the radio at the club station or using our self-made radios at home, but it was an amazing experience that I never forget. I had my own HAM radio station at home – built with my own hands from scratch – with CW capability for the 80m ham radio band. Lovely, isn’t it? (and I was 17 years old when I made this…)

front internal top front

I have two sons. They are not interested in making, but they are professional in using gadgets. Like every teenager nowadays. Maybe my father said the same thing about my HAM radio equipment. Gadget.

Do or do not, there is no try

So, what about beginners? I found a very good post about how to start this kind of a hobby. Hobby? No! This is a way of life. I could not summarize this better then Gregory L. Charvat:

“The only way to get started is to build something. Start small, check out the QRP community, try making a single-conversion receiver, and move up to something with a crystal IF filter. Borrow and scale circuits from books such as these:

Or leverage complete ICs and modules like those from Mini-Circuits.  There is nothing like making that first long distance contact (DX) on radio gear you created from scratch.”

You can read the whole article on Hackaday.

But if you are more of a computer geek, you can switch to software implemented radio and start with less complex and less expensive SDRs or a professional one like Quadrus SDR from our webshop. Even I experienced that old fashioned radio moment Gregory mentioned above, when I first received a DRM station from Mubay, which was a very nice feeling for my radio infected heart. You can see the report on this reception here in the Quadrus SDR blog:

Further reading on DRM, the new digital HF broadcast technology:

And don’t forget to share your success stories or questions regarding SDR issues with us on our Facebook pageTwitter page, or G+ community page. Be social; whatever is your preferred platform, we are there !

Bertalan, HA6QU

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Using Quadrus SDR with a laptop

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Why a laptop?

Even until fairly recently, the resources offered by an average laptop were insufficient to run wide-band, multi-channel SDR applications. Thus, the original SDR hardware was designed with more capable desktop computers in mind. However, with increasing laptop performances, it is now finally possible to run even the more challenging applications. The obvious advantages are flexibility and mobility, and by now they are omnipresent in our everyday lives.

Connecting Quadrus SDR to a laptop

The Quadrus SDR platform’s phase-coherent SDR hardware digitizer board is a standard PCI slot card. This form factor does not allow us to connect it directly to a laptop. Fortunately, we have the possibility to use an external PCI slot extender, and place the DRU-244A card into one of the external slots. There are several products in the market, they differ mainly in the number of slots and connections. One of the most well known suppliers is Magma, who offers different solutions, like the one slot PCI extension. They also offer products with different interfaces to the laptop: ExpressCard 34mm and 54mm versions, and CardBus/PCMCIA card with 1 m or 1.5 m cable length.

1slotB_xl_0 1SlotPCI_connection

Beyond this well known and proven supplier, we’ve just found another very cost-effective external PCI solution. Polotek offers a solution based on the ExpressCard interface. It essentially contains one PCIe and one USB interface. Their idea is very simple: use the PCIe connection with a high-speed extender cable and add a PCIe-PCI brige chip on the external slot card. Their other approach is to use a standard USB3 cable manufactured in high volume. However, the connection itself is not following the USB3 protocol, they simply utilize the high-speed differential wire pair within the cable to connect the PCIe slot to the extender card, which has the PCIe-PCI bridge.

polotek2 polotek

Testing the DRU-244A phase-cohernet SDR hardware digitizer with a laptop

You can place low volume orders at several places:
I’ve ordered from Aliexpress, and received the package with the components as shown on the web.

dru ext1 dru ext2

Setting up the hardware and installing the DRU driver was trivial. The single issue, I’ve noticed, is that the Plug-and-Play functionality is somehow not working properly in all cases. Sometimes I’ve lost connection to the card after some sleep or screen saving actions. In these cases, I just removed and reconnected the ExpressCard and re-initiated the Plug-and-Play cycle. I had no chance to test it with any other computer than my Dell power notebook with an i7 processor.

dru driver machine

driver1 driver2 driver3



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Sensitive SDR receiver

Sensitive SDR receiver for sensitive information

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[Sensitive SDR receiver for sensitive information]

Sensitive SDR receiver based on the DRU-244A digitizer SDR hardware platform

The DRU-244A digitizer board was designed and implemented for building radio receivers. It contains a 16 bit resolution low-noise Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC). It has a low-noise input preamplifier and an input attenuator in front of the ADC. The low-noise preamp provides input sensitivity as low as -111 dBm in SSB reception mode with 2.1 kHz bandwidth and 10 dB SNR. With external preamplifier it could be as low as -122 dB. If you would like to see more detailed test results on SDR receiver sensitivity click here:

Practical results for receiving weak signals

I’ve already made some practical tests with my very simple inverted-V shaped wire dipole antenna. It was used in the country side, so there was less human made noise than in the crowded city or urban area.

Sensitive SDR receiver as long range DRM SDR

If you are not a professional radio enthusiast with a vast knowledge of exact broadcasting carrier frequencies, one of the easiest ways to find some DRM radio stations is to just look for its unique spectrum in the HF band. The DRM spectrum is a very typical, noise like, wide band signal. This is exactly what I did; I simply connected the antenna to my receiver through a 30 MHz low-pass input pre-selection filter, and started visually looking for DRM radio signals in the spectrum. I was really surprised when one of the first signal received turned out to be be coming from India and the next one was from South Africa. Not bad. The SDR receiver seems to be real sensitive if I am able to decode these signals in the middle of Europe.

drm01 drm02

If you are interested in how the SDR receiver was connected to the Dream DRM decoder software, please read these posts:



Sensitive SDR receiver for secret transmissions

One of my other favorite signals in the HF spectrum is the UVB-76 Buzzer on 4555KHz.




As the frequency is well known, I could simply dial it in to the SDR receiver software, and immediately see the transmission on my screen and hear the famous “Buzzer” tone on the speaker with very high Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR).

Receiving the UVB-76 Buzzer on 4625KHz with sensitive SDR receiver

There are a lot of mysterious signals in the HF spectrum. The sensitivity of our receiver – especially with an external, low-noise per-amplifier and a good antenna – makes it possible to listen to even the most remote signals.

listener Contact014

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SDR receiver sensitivity test

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Receiver sensitivity specifications

One of the most important features of a radio is its ability to receive low level signals, in other words, its sensitivity. We have lot of different definitions for receiver sensitivity. Some excellent descriptions can be found on radio-electronics.com. For linear modulation formats, like AM, SSB, and CW, the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) or one of its variants, e.g., the signal plus noise to noise ratio ( =(S+N)/N ), are most commonly used.

In the first case, we can measure the signal level and the noise level separately. This may be done with a spectrum analyzer employing a simple sine wave test signal. In the second case, we resort to measuring the signal and the noise together, because can’t separate the noise from the signal. For this we utilize a wide band power meter or a Root Mean Square (RMS) voltmeter.

If the difference between the signal and the noise level is greater than 10 dB, the above defined two ratios are practically equal. When we look at the specs of different receivers, sometimes it is hard to immediately compare the performance of different models, because they are specified differently. For example, the SNR may be defined with different bandwidths in mind. More specifically, 10 dB or 12 dB SNR values represent vastly different receiver sensitivity based on whether it is defined for 500 Hz, 2.1 kHz, or 2.4 kHz bandwidths.

Practical receiver sensitivity test of the DRU-244A-based SDR

Receiver sensitivity test setup

The test setup is very simple. We need to use a calibrated test generator to feed -80 dBm and lower signal levels into the input of the receiver, while we measure the audio output level with an RMS voltmeter.

Receiver sensitivity measurement procedure

Switch on and tune the receiver to the test frequency (F) with a given bandwidth (BW). First, we disconnect the signal source and measure the output noise level. Secondly, we connect the RF signal source, and increase the signal starting from a very low level, until we have an audio output voltage with a given level. The signal level on the generator (P) shows the receiver sensitivity for a given bandwidth and the SNR level. Instead of traditional voltage meter, like the venerable HP-400, you can use a sound card-based scope and audio analyzer. Usually, it has built in SNR measurement capability. For my last measurement, I used the Multi Instrument software by Virtual Instrument Technology.
You can download the 21 day free trail from this page:
Or you can use other similar audio analyzer program from Daqarta where you can download a 30 days trial of the latest version:

We already have digitized samples in the SDR radio, so, it is possible to skip the DAC/ADC sound card conversion, and with the Virtual Audio driver we can send the samples directly from the SDR radio software to the measurement software. I’ve used this audio driver to connect the SDR receiver to the DRM decoder in one of my last post.

SDR receiver sensitivity test results

I’ve tested the DRU-244A at F = 10.1 MHz, BW = 2.1 kHz, and S+N/N = 10 dB with and without a pre-amplifier. During my tests, I’ve used a ZX60-P103 amplifier from MiniCircuits with fixed 23 dB gain and less than 3 dB noise figure. It is specified from 50 MHz, however, it can be used down to 2 MHz.

The following pictures show the different steps of the SDR receiver sensitivity measurement for SSB, CW, AM, and FM signals.

SSB (2.1 kHz) and CW (400 Hz)
sdr receiver sensitivity noise sdr receiver sensitivity noise 2
sdr receiver sensitivity noise o sdr receiver sensitivity noise 2 o
sdr receiver sensitivity signal sdr receiver sensitivity signal 2
sdr receiver sensitivity signal o sdr receiver sensitivity signal 2 o
sdr receiver sensitivity ssb sdr receiver sensitivity cw

AM and FM with signal display on the SDR receiver, noise and signal out, and the generator.
sdr receiver sensitivity signal 3 sdr receiver sensitivity signal 4
sdr receiver sensitivity signal 3a sdr receiver sensitivity signal 4a
sdr receiver sensitivity signal 3c

sdr receiver sensitivity noise 3 sdr receiver sensitivity noise 4
sdr receiver sensitivity signal 3o sdr receiver sensitivity signal 3o
sdr receiver sensitivity AM sdr receiver sensitivity FM

Receiver sensitivity results and conclusion

As you can see from the receiver sensitivity measurement results, the sensitivity is
SSB -111 dBm at 10 dB S+N/N with 2.1 kHz bandwidth
CW  -119 dBm at 10 dB S+N/N with 400 Hz bandwidth
AM -105 dBm at 10 dB S+N/N with 30% modulation
FM -108 dBm at 10 dB S+N/N with 3 kHz deviation

The sensitivity can be improved with some external low noise preamplification and additional external gain to reach -122 dBm sensitivity in SSB operation mode.

sdr receiver sensitivity noise sdr receiver sensitivity signal and noise
sdr receiver sensitivity noise sdr receiver sensitivity signal and noise
sdr receiver sensitivity 2

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