Starting with PSK31

This morning i made my first QSO in PSK31 mode. For me this is a step into the new world of digital communication.

What is PSK31?
PSK31 is the first new mode to find popularity on HF bands since many years. It combines the advantages of a simple variable length text code with a narrow bandwidth phase-shift keying (PSK) signal using DSP techniques. This mode is designed for “real time” keyboard operation and at a 31 baud rate is only fast enough to keep up with the typical amateur typist. PSK31 enjoys great popularity on the HF bands today and is presently the standard for live keyboard communications.

Nah, you don’t need all this…

What do i need to use PSK31 on the HAM bands?

  • A radio with audio-in and audio-out capability. This can be a dedicated interface or just the Mic and speaker connectors of the radio
  • A PC with PSK software on it. There are many programs out there, many of them are freeware and are very capable and full of features. My preference is WinWarbler from the DX Lab Suite, but Ham Radio Deluxe also does a great job.
Then what do i do?
Simply connect the audio out from your PC to the audio in of your radio. You will have to find a way to connect, for example, your speaker, line or headphones connector to your data-in or microphone connector on the radio and connect the headphones or data-out connector of the radio to the microphone or line-in connector of the PC.
You really don’t need more. There are many hardware solutions on the market, which are more and better isolated, have better filters, etc, etc, but at the end what they do is transfer the audio from the radio to the PC and from the PC to the radio. 
More important than WHAT you use is HOW you use your setup. You have to control your audio levels for in- and output and control your PTT well. And here is where the real fun starts.

PSK in DM780

DM780 vs. WinWarbler

I had quite a few issues getting WinWarbler to work with my TS-480. Not because the software is bad, but because i had no clue what i was doing. And my frustration was that HAM Radio Deluxe DM780 everything worked correctly from the beginning.
There is a big difference between the HRD Suite and the DXLab Suite. Compare HRD to a Mercedes and DXLab to a Formula 1 race car. In HRD you get in, everything works and you start driving. DXLAb has many more buttons, you have to know what you are doing and get everything straight before it works. But once it works you have a race car instead of a road car.
My issues with DXLab was that i had my PTT settings correct, but i was not transmitting. I have my PC audio in and out connected to a special DATA port on the TS-480, but i didn’t really realized it. This sounds strange, but here is what happened:
I was sure i was using the right ports on my PC and that those ports were correctly configured in Windows. When i took out the headphones cable from the PC (audio IN for the radio), i could hear the signal and the radio was sending signal. So to me that meant that my Windows setup was correct, after all HRD worked, and that the radio setup was correct. Something must have been wrong in my WinWarbler setup.
Dave AA6YQ asked me several times if i was using the Mic input or the DATA input and i kept insisting i was using the Mic input. And yes, i was, but i was using the Mic input of the PC, not of the radio!! On the radio i was using the DATA input.
Then Dave pointed me to a checkbox on the radio setup in Commander where you can select whether you use the Mic or the ANI input for data. I looked ANI up in the radio manual and that’s when my coin dropped. I was using ANI and not Mic. And that’s when everything started to work.

PSK in WinWarbler

A couple of hints for setting up the radio and software for PSK

1. Set sound card sampling rate to 8000Hz This must be at least a 16 bit sound card. 
2. No Signal observed? Check WAVE slider is not zero and check if you are using the right ports. 
3. Set Rx and Tx frequencies to 1000Hz. This value will get you up and running but if you plan on using a filter change it to the center frequency. I currently use 2400Hz with a center of 1500Hz.
4. For PSK set your radio to USB.
5. If you get too much noise, consider using a narrow filter. My TS-480 has special filters for data use. Check if your radio has those as well and use those. If not, consider using a CW filter. 
6. Your sound card output must NOT overdrive your Mic Input. Do not overdrive the sound card input from the Radio. 
7. Do not use your Speech Processor.
8. Always check your ALC meter. MANDATORY that the ALC meter stays on 0!!! 
9. ALC on 0.
10. ALC has to be on 0.
11. Read 8, 9 and 10 again.
10. Use to the Waterfall/Phase indicators for tuning. PSK works with channels. Channels are very small frequency ranges that all fall inside your filter, so you can hear them all. Make sure you know who you are talking to.
PSK Macro examples


Many PSK software allow you to use macros. Macros let you switch your PTT on and off, send your text, log your QSL and many many things more.
A good (read: smart) set of macros can fully automate your QSO’s. If you want to, that is. I see those fully automated QSO’s and really, for me this is only useful for contesting.
Personally I use macros ONLY for calling, standard responses and closing the call. I DON’T use macros for regular QSO. I think it makes you look like a robot and makes (at least for me) the QSO completely impersonal. If someone asks you what the weather is like at your QTH or how long you have been a HAM, which function key to you press?
Where can i find PSK?
In priciple you can find PSK all over the assigned digital mode frequencies. PSK operators sort of made an agreement to use the following frequencies:
PSK31 Frequencies
160m 1838.15
80m 3580.15
40m 7035.15 (Region 1&3, 7080.15 – Region 2)
30m 10142.150
20m 14070.15
17m 18100.15
15m 21080.15  (or 21070.15)
12m 24920.15
10m 28120.15

And last but not least: Be patient, learn and have fun while doing it.
If this is new for you like it is for me, take your time to understand everything step by step. It’s way different from making a phone QSO, there are many more variables and it’s a lot more technical. It will probably not work perfectly from the beginning. Approach the learning process step-by-step and everything will come. 
Enjoy the ride of learning a new thing.

Surely they didn’t have any digital modes yet