Starting with DXLab Suite
In this article i want to talk about another beauty i have found on the Internet, the DX Lab Suite.
Basically it started all when i was in the shack of PA5MW where he had a software program running that alerted him whenever a wanted station was spotted on a cluster. I became interested in finding the same functionality in Ham Radio Deluxe, the software i was using at that moment.
Unfortunately HRD doesn’t have this possibility. On the HRD mailing list, Dave AA6YQ pointed me to a suite of programs that did have this possibility and much much more. Soon i found out that Dave is the author and maintainer of large portions of the suite, great work, Dave!
So i went to the DXLabSuite website and started reading.
What is the DX Lab Suite?
The suite consists of 8 applications, each with it’s own functionality, purpose and strengths. Once you install those individual programs together they start to interact.
Launcher is what the name suggests, it launches the suite. But not only that, it also launches any other software you want to run while running the suite, it takes care of the suites software and database installation and updates. Launcher makes maintaining a suite of 8 programs and 6 databases a piece of cake.
Commander is your rigs CAT control. Commander supports up to 4 transceivers of the most common brands. Commander is in no way as good looking as HRD, but it does what it needs to do. Furthermore, Commander is one of the key pieces of the suite and interacts as the interface between the other pieces of the suite and your radio.
What i use a lot is Commanders Bandspread. Bandspread takes the spots from Spotcollector and displays them in a vertical window as shown in the image. Like this you have a clear overview which station is where, the colors of the callsigns tell you if you already worked this station, if you have it confirmed, if he’s using eQSL, LotW, etc and a double-click in the callsign makes your radio tune in on the frequency, mode, split mode or not.
Bandspread follows your radios VFO’s whether you operate your radio manually or through the software.
Spotcollector is the software you use to send and receive spots. Spotcollector is able to follow up to 4 telnet clusters, one IRC cluster, one web cluster and one packet cluster. Spotcollector takes all the information from its spot sources and aggregates the information and stores it in its internal database. The data in the database can be filtered and displayed according to your needs.
What i like a lot is that you can filter spots by band, which most software can do, but because Spotcollector interacts with Commander, it can follow and display only the spots on which your radio is tuned.
Of course you can filter by mode and a click on a spot sets your radio up for that particular mode the station is working in and tunes your radio to that station, taking in account frequency, mode, offset, etc, etc.
Now that we have found a spot we might want to work, we can check DXView for all the details of the spot. Two things i like about DXView: On the main view (image left) you can see if you already worked that DXCC and on which bands. Like this you know immediately if it’s an interesting one for you or not.
On World Map you can see where you point your antenna, where the station is in greyline. You can pick the station you want to work and click it. Again, also from World View Commander picks up the frequency and mode and tunes your radio, turns your antenna and DXKeeper will filter your QSO display for this callsign so you can see if you worked this station before or not.
DXKeeper is your QSO logging program. DXKeeper keeps track of your awards progress, uploads your log to eQSL, ClubLog and/or LotW, keeps track of your electronic QSL confirmations.
When making QSO’s you typically want to collect all the stations details from different callbook resources and put this information in your log. DXKeeper supports all this and more.
DXKeeper can collect this information directly from the callbook source, or can use Pathfinder to collect that information.
Pathfinder can connect connects to various callbook sources like QRZ.COM, Buckmaster, DailyDX, etc. but also to Google, the FCC database or any other service you would like to use.
You can easily reconfigure the services already configured in Pathfinder although i never felt the need to do this.
After all, most of use use QRZ.COM although a new service called HamQTH.com is becoming more and more popular.
QRZ.COM is changing its policies for querying the callsign database regularly, driving operators to a subscription-based service.
HamQTH.com promises to be free forever. Let’s see if that is true when traffic picks up and the HamQTH.com hosting infrastructure start having problems coping with the traffic.
Then there is PropView. PropView uses VOACAP, ICEPAC, and IONCAP to predict your minimum and maximum usable frequencies between you and the station you want to work and presents that information in a graphical way.
Also you can analyse propagation by monitoring propagation beacons yourself. PropView will use Commander to tune your radio on certain time intervals to check propagation between you and the beacon.
Then, last but not least, there is WinWarbler. This program is used for digital operations like PSK and RTTY. WinWarbler also supports CW and Phone.
For me, WinWarbler is still a bit of a green field. Mainly because i don’t have any experience with digital modes and/or CW.
Talking to people on the DX Lab Suite mailing list i understand that the quality level of WinWarbler is as high as the rest of the suite. It does everything you want from a HAM Radio software program for digital modes. Some people even use it to send voice macros on Phone bands when in pile-ups. So no microphone anymore. This is completely new for me and i don’t know if i’m ready for this. I mean, i am learning CW using a paddle instead of sending with PC…
Ah, that reminds me, WinWarbler doesn’t decode CW. Dave says that it’s against HAM radio best practices. 😉
The DX Lab Suite is a suite you love or you hate. It’s not so good-looking as HRD, but it’s much more configurable and feature rich. Some say that DXLab is over-engineered and has a steep learning curve. My opinion is that this this only true if you want to use the complete suite on the first day. If you start step-by-step, read the manuals (which can be improved, btw), ask the mailing list (Dave is very dedicated to his software and has a lot of patience) you will get there.
For me, as a beginner HAM, DX Lab Suite has everything i need and more. Every time i think: “I wonder if it does this or that” it turns out that the software is able to do it.
This, the perfect support and unlimited possibilities, and the fact that HRD is now going commercial made me install the DX Lab Suite and never look back.