CubicSDR has progressed into a great piece of software

It’s been a while since i wrote on this blog, but that doesn’t mean nothing has happened in the mean time. Things have progressed a lot on the panadapter front.

In my last post i wrote about the SDRPlay only supporting Windows, well that has changed, SDRPlay now also supports OSX. that makes that i can now use CubicSDR on my Mac and specifically CubicSDR has come a long way in it’s development:

  • I wrote about CubicSDR supporting osmosdr, that has changed. CubicSDR has now moved to SoapySDR. SoapySDR is an open-source platform for interfacing with SDR devices and supports the most common SDR devices under which the SDRPlay. More about SoapySDR on https://github.com/pothosware/SoapySDR/wiki

soapy_sdr_info

  • CubicSDR now also supports Hamlib. Hamlib is a library to control radio receivers and transceivers and one of the transceivers supported is my TS-590. More about Hamlib on http://sourceforge.net/p/hamlib/wiki/Hamlib/

Hamlib_design

  • CubicSDR is going to support more modulations, specifically the digital ones. So we will be able to decode digital signals without the need for Windows decoding software. This is not finished yet, but it’s looking good so far.

Screen shot 2016-01-06 at 14.06.16

  • then there are many small new features like multiple SDR support, RTL-TCP, audio device support, automatic and manual gain control, many UI improvements and many, many more enhancements to come. The developer Charles J. Cliffe is really putting a great effort in building a superb SDR program that is going to give HDSDR a run for its money.

So when i add all these new developments up as of now i will use CubicSDR as my panadapter for my TS-590 without the need of having to use Windows. I removed my RTL adapter from my radio and am only using the SDRPlay from now.

Panadapter, the continuing story

So recently i got a new toy in the shack. I wanted to make a small step up from the RTL-SDR adapter and got myself an SDRplay. I first tried out the SDRplay using it as a plain SDR device and i must say that the guys at SDRplay did a great job. The radio is so much more sensitive than the RTL adapters (yes, also more expensive, i know) and this increased sensitivity really makes a difference. Also i can see 8MHz of band where the RTL adapter only (ONLY?) can see 3.2MHz. The SDRplay shows less spikes, less images, etc, etc. All in all simply a better radio.

Next step is to use the SDRplay as a panadapter for my TS-590. Since i have built the RTL-based panadapter described here i have been reading up a lot on where to connect the SDRplay. As you know the RTL adapter is connected to the first IF and that solution has a couple of issues:

  • I can only listen to the adapter on the IF frequency. This is not an issue when using Windows, i can use omni-rig to sync the SDR with the radio, but it is on the Mac. There is no omni-rig on the Mac.
  • I can only listen to the frequency the TS-590 is set to plus or minus 1 Mhz (something around there, i’m not sure how much bandwidth the IF shows).

ts590s-rxmod-2

Reading up on the web and looking at several different panadapter setups i found out that the IF solution i chose is not the most common one. The most common places to pick the signal for the panadapter is at the end of the RX path. CN101 and CN201 are the places where people pick their RX signal from where CN101 is before the BPF and CN201 is after. So i decided to use CN101. I created a jumper cable from an old Wifi antenna cable and hooked it up to an old jumper i had lying around. The shield of the cable i connected to ground exactly as shown on the image here. In fact, i took the idea from the website linked by the image.

Good things i found out:

  • I can really see 8 Mhz of spectrum now.  Quite impressive although for HAM radio use i normally set the SDRplay to 1,5 MHz which usually covers the band i work at that moment.
  • I can use the SDR even with the radio switched off. Basically the SDR is now directly connected to the antenna and the antenna works whether the radio is switched on or not.
  • I can see other bands than the band i am working on. So i can work one band using the RTL adapter and in the mean time monitor the propagation on other bands to see if i need to move.

Bad things: The SDRplay ONLY supports Windows!! And that sucks big time!! On the SDRplay website it’s the longest thread is about Mac support for the SDRplay. There is mention of an API and a library for OsmoSDR, but i haven’t found anyone who got that to work yet. I managed to compile SDRplay support into gr-osmosdr and use the SDRplay in gnuradio and the radio works, but the audio is horrible. I am complaining about this to the SDRplay guys every week hoping that they improve the OsmoSDR library. In the mean time I hope that the developer of CubicSDR, my favourite Mac SDR software, moves away from OsmoSDR support in CubicSDR and builds native support for the SDRplay.

Until then i have a separate Windows laptop with HDSDR running on the SDRplay to see the bands and use CubicSDR with the RTL-SDR on my Mac to do my regular DX-ing.

Homebrew paddles “Serrafusta”

Today i gave it a shot to build my own CW key. I still have the intention to learn CW one day and i thought having a key could be handy.

First step is to find the materials for the paddles. Looking around in my shed i found the almost perfect paddles.

WP_20150421_001Yes, it is what it looks like. I just took a hacksaw blade (serra in catalan) and broke them in two. The advantage of the blades is that they are conductive (at least when you remove the paint, that is) and they are just sturdy enough to bend with a fair resistance. The nuts and bolts at the end will be used to connect the dash and dot wires.

 

WP_20150421_002Next is the base. I created the base out of wood (fusta in catalan). The elevated part is where the paddles will be fixed, the ground connection will be made to a big bolt i screwed in the centre of the base.  On the base of the that elevated part i created a small cable guide.

 

WP_20150421_003The cable i am going to use is an old cable i found in the shed as well. I found out that it’s pretty difficult to find a cable with a stereo jack and some decent wire connected to it. This is a cable with one side a 3,5″ stereo jack and the other side a serial connector. Don’t ask me what this cable was for.

 

WP_20150421_004Here is where i connected the ground connection to the centre bolt. This image also shows the use of the small cable guide i mentioned before.

 

 

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The paddles are now fixed to the base. I use a connecting bridge which puts enough pressure on the paddles to keep the firmly in place. As you can see the gap between the paddles and the nut is pretty small. You can adjust the gap by turning the bolt.

 

WP_20150421_006Here is a view from the back side of the paddles so you can see the bridge more clearly. The dash and dot cables are connected to the paddles now.

 

 

This is the finalised key connected to the radio. You can see that the key is pretty small. I found out that the base is way too light to work with one hand, so eventually the key needs to be fixed to the table with sucking naps, velcro or whatever. But in any case it was a fun thing to build, cost $0 and works fairly well. Now it’s time to start morse lessons!!
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