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Author Topic: Gear required to take the step  (Read 6294 times)

Offline Rhypht

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Gear required to take the step
« on: June 17, 2014, 1618 UTC »
Hello, all. I'm new to these forums, so apologies if this isn't the correct place to post this.

I am heavily interested in getting into shortwave listening, specifically for pirate and numbers stations around the globe. I'm a licensed General class amateur radio operator, but I have only done local communications since I've got my license. While it's kept me busy and learning, the bands in my area aren't exactly 'exciting'.

I've always had a huge interest in radio, specifically the oddities and other things you can find on the shortwave, HF areas, which is how I found this forum.

My question is, what are some good pieces of equipment to get me into shortwave listening all over the world? Is it a very expensive investment to get up and running, and what all is required/recommended? Keep in mind that I really only have background with local (VHF and UHF) communications.
A simple $50 HT with a rubber ducky ant will suffice in listening and talking on many of those bands, but obviously not for what I am looking for here. I have heard people getting a basic station for listening up for $100 or less, but I am just wondering what the limitations are to a setup like that, or if that is actually a plausible thing for someone in my position.

Offline BoomboxDX

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2014, 1852 UTC »
Like anything, it depends on how much you're willing to spend.

A good digital portable will get you a lot of signals and -- depending on the signal strengths in your area, or whether there are any high power AM stations real close -- you can usually add some wire to the external antenna jack, or clip to the radio's whip, and hear SW broadcasts and HF ham transmissions without too much effort.

I'm not into the brand (never used one), but the Tecsun brand of digital portables is popular right now, and some people swear by them. If you're just interested in listening to SW, AM-modulated broadcasts, Radio Shack's digital World Receiver does a good job for that, and goes for about $80.

If you have the money to spend, and really want to get seriously into SW and HF listening, there are SDR's and tabletop receivers, some which cost a bit -- but people swear by those, also.

A lot of the guys here use SDR's and different brands of tabletop receivers, and say they're the way to go. A more expensive, higher technology radio like one of those will probably bring in a lot more signals, but then you also need to consider an antenna. Even a fantastic radio won't bring in a lot if you don't have a decent antenna.

I use a Realistic (Radio Shack) digital portable from the 1990's and about 20 ft. of wire for an antenna. I hear a lot of stuff with just that. It may not be the preferable way to go for some, but it works for me.
« Last Edit: June 17, 2014, 1854 UTC by BoomboxDX »
An AM radio Boombox DXer.
+ GE SRIII, PR-D5 & TRF on MW.
The usual Realistic culprits on SW (and a Panasonic).

Offline Duffer

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Re:
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2014, 1906 UTC »
The Ultra wide-band SDR receiver from www.dxpatrol.pt looks great if you can stretch to ~$110.

Offline ChrisSmolinski

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Re:
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2014, 1945 UTC »
The Ultra wide-band SDR receiver from www.dxpatrol.pt looks great if you can stretch to ~$110.

That looks like an RTL dongle with an HF converter?
Chris Smolinski
Westminster, MD
eQSLs appreciated! csmolinski@blackcatsystems.com
NRD 545 / netSDR / AFE822x / AirSpy HF+ / KiwiSDR / 670 ft horizontal loop / 500 ft northeast beverage / 270 ft west-south-west beverage / 300 ft south beverage / 43m / 20m / 10m  dipoles / Crossed Parallel Loop

Offline Tom S

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2014, 2146 UTC »
Whatever radio you get, don't skimp on the antenna.  Right now I'm using a 140 ft. random wire fed through a 9:1 balun and it's one of the best antennas I've ever used.  If the trees on my property were situated differently, I'd convert it into a horizontal loop.

The antenna is the most important part of your listening setup, because without a good antenna that fancy radio will be little more than a paperweight.  And generally speaking, the more wire you can get up high outside, the better.  It doesn't have to be expensive, either.  Just spend a few bucks on a roll of wire and get it up high between a couple trees and you'll be in business.
Happiness is a good antenna system.

Live audio from my shack:  http://n2uhc.radiostream123.com

Offline OMCS

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2014, 1344 UTC »
Make sure your radio has the ability to receive sideband. Many radios that are sold as SW/AM/FM do not have a BFO. Many pirates will use USB or LSB for broadcasting. It is a more narrow signal but maximizes power output.
« Last Edit: June 18, 2014, 1347 UTC by OMCS »

Offline Rhypht

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2014, 2222 UTC »
Thanks for the help everyone. Will the Ultra wide-band SDR receiver receive sideband? It may be a common sense answer but it didn't say on the page.

Whatever radio you get, don't skimp on the antenna.  Right now I'm using a 140 ft. random wire fed through a 9:1 balun and it's one of the best antennas I've ever used.  If the trees on my property were situated differently, I'd convert it into a horizontal loop.

The antenna is the most important part of your listening setup, because without a good antenna that fancy radio will be little more than a paperweight.  And generally speaking, the more wire you can get up high outside, the better.  It doesn't have to be expensive, either.  Just spend a few bucks on a roll of wire and get it up high between a couple trees and you'll be in business.

This is one thing I was wondering about. I certainly am not as educated on the ins and outs of antenna systems as I'd like to be. You mentioned a 9:1 balun, what exactly are you referring to? And what kind of wire works best for this situation?

Offline ChrisSmolinski

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #7 on: June 19, 2014, 1536 UTC »
If that "ultra wide band SDR" really is just an RTL dongle with an HF converter, I'd personally avoid it. For about the same money, or maybe a little more, look into a used communications receiver?

Chris Smolinski
Westminster, MD
eQSLs appreciated! csmolinski@blackcatsystems.com
NRD 545 / netSDR / AFE822x / AirSpy HF+ / KiwiSDR / 670 ft horizontal loop / 500 ft northeast beverage / 270 ft west-south-west beverage / 300 ft south beverage / 43m / 20m / 10m  dipoles / Crossed Parallel Loop

Offline Tom S

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2014, 1619 UTC »
This is one thing I was wondering about. I certainly am not as educated on the ins and outs of antenna systems as I'd like to be. You mentioned a 9:1 balun, what exactly are you referring to? And what kind of wire works best for this situation?

A 9:1 balun is simply a transformer which helps bring the high impedance of an end-fed wire antenna down closer to the 50 Ohm impedance of most communications receivers.  It also allows static charges on my 140' wire to bleed off to ground instead of into the radio.

More information here:  http://www.abcelectronique.com/annuaire/montages/cache/1790/antenne-mf-et-hf.html  Scroll down to "9:1 UNUN."  An unun is basically the same thing as a balun, only both sides are unbalanced.  I built mine just like in that picture, using 30 turns on the primary (antenna side) and 10 turns on the secondary (radio side).  Then one leg of each side is connected directly to ground.

The wire I used was just standard magnet wire, since this was for a receiving antenna only and I wasn't going to be transmitting with it.  If I were to transmit on it I'd have used some heavier wire.
Happiness is a good antenna system.

Live audio from my shack:  http://n2uhc.radiostream123.com

Offline Tom S

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2014, 1622 UTC »
If that "ultra wide band SDR" really is just an RTL dongle with an HF converter, I'd personally avoid it. For about the same money, or maybe a little more, look into a used communications receiver?

Nothing wrong with an RTL dongle and HF converter, but I don't know that I'd recommend one for a newbie.  Mine does take a bit of frequency tweaking until the crystal oscillator in the converter settles down.  But "for the money," I have roughly $25 involved in my SDR setup.  I'd love to find a decent communications receiver for that price.
Happiness is a good antenna system.

Live audio from my shack:  http://n2uhc.radiostream123.com

Offline Rhypht

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2014, 1323 UTC »
So the antenna is probably the most important part then. I've seen a lot of videos and reviews on HF receivers starting at $50. From what I understand, as long as you have an antenna setup that is high enough to receive, it doesn't matter as much about the receiver. How accurate is that? What makes one receiver better than another besides antenna?

Basically I just want to make sure that the receiver I get will be able to receive from very long distances, with the proper antenna setup of course.

Offline Tom S

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2014, 1504 UTC »
As far as receiving signals from far distances, your antenna is more important.  The receiver can only work with what signals are fed to it from the antenna system, and if you're not getting signals down the coax cable then your receiver won't have much to hear.

That being said, you probably don't want to skimp too much on the receiver, either.  Make sure you get one which has SSB coverage.  A lot of SW receivers, especially portables but also some table tops, are AM-only.  You'll be missing out on a lot of signals, and an AM-only receiver is useless for utility DX'ing since just about all signals are either SSB or digital.  I'm willing to bet that most $50 SW receivers are AM-only.

Other things to look at receiver-wise are sensitivity and selectivity.  Sensitivity means how well the receiver can hear signals, and selectivity means being able to tune out the signals you don't want to hear in favor of the one you want to hear.  It's annoying trying to listen to a weak station while having nearby interference blocking it out, or trying to listen under images from the AB broadcast band.
Happiness is a good antenna system.

Live audio from my shack:  http://n2uhc.radiostream123.com

Offline ff

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2014, 1647 UTC »
If you decide to go the portable receiver route, let me say that I am a VERY satisfied owner of a Tecsun PL660 - I'm one of those Tecsun weirdos Boombox DX was talking about ;D.  I have only had experience with the 660.  I have no clue about the other models.  You can get the 660 through Kaito via Amazon for about $125.

http://www.amazon.com/Tecsun-PL-660-Portable-Shortwave-Single/dp/B004H9C4JK/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403281424&sr=8-1&keywords=tecsun+pl+660

Although I concur with the consensus here about antennas, the Tecsun will perform well with nothing more than a few feet of outside wire brought in through a window and attached to the radio's antenna with an alligator clip.  That's probably as much signal as any portable should be subjected to anyway.  You can get familiar with the shortwave spectrum while you plan for your better antenna and save $$$ for a desktop receiver.  Whatever way you decide to go... welcome!
Hailing from the upstate boondocks region of the progressive paradise which once was New York State

Offline Tom S

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #13 on: June 20, 2014, 1717 UTC »
If you do go the portable route, make sure you get one which covers the entire 3-30 MHZ HF spectrum.  I think there are some out there which leave out big chunks.  And a digital frequency readout is a must.

Nothing wrong with getting started that way.  I started with a Sony ICF7600 back in 1990, then graduated to a Sony 2010 which I still have and use while DXing away from home.
Happiness is a good antenna system.

Live audio from my shack:  http://n2uhc.radiostream123.com

Offline Muskrat

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Re: Gear required to take the step
« Reply #14 on: June 20, 2014, 2227 UTC »
You can find used radios on eBay for good prices. For example, Radio Shack DX 440, Sangean 803a, Grundig Satellit  800, Sangean 909x, realistic DX 302, ICOM R70, ICOM R71, Yaesu FRG 7700, and more. Prices range from $40-$300.  Also check the Afedri SDR.  This is an excellent SDR that rivals many much more expensive desktop receivers.  It costs only $260 fully assembled and tested.  Any of these choices will give you an excellent start in this hobby.  Another option is hamfests or ham clubs.  Also since you have a general ticket, a HF transceiver would be a viable option,  I saw a Kenwood TS 440 recently go for $250 in good condition.  This, along with a good antenna, would give you a complete HF station
« Last Edit: June 21, 2014, 0145 UTC by Muskrat »
Grundig Satellit 800, Grundig 450DLX, DX 440, Icom R70, 55ft random wire, built-in telescoping antennas, home-brew Slinky dipole. Central Indiana.
Please send QSLs to muskrat39@hotmail.com