NT1K – Welcome

My FT-950 Now Has SDR!

by on Jan.01, 2013, under HF, Projects, SDR

NT1K SDR Intro

When I first saw the FLEX3000 in action while I was at W1AW, I was suddenly interested in Software Defined Radio (SDR) and didn’t really have much idea about it. After playing around with it, I was amazed that you can see 96Khz of bandwidth. That means I can potentially see up to at least 24 SSB QSOs all at the same time.  After leaving W1AW, I wanted  to buy a flex but the problem is that I just spent a lot of money not to long ago on my FT-950. So I put the FLEX radio in the bin of dreams with the rest of the toys I wanted.  When I was looking up the FT-950, I notice the DMU-2000 which provides a “Band Scope” which is like SDR. However the $1000 price tag and multiple negative reviews  made that decision quick to make.  Now I’m certain that I wouldn’t be using SDR.

Then one day I was looking around Youtube and saw a video of someone tuning around a FT-950 with SDR. I got excited thinking that I can finally have a SDR. After doing some more reasearch, I found that there is a company that makes a board that installs where the DMU-2000 would be installed at and it will provide an IF out signal. For $200 I was thinking that it would be well worth the money.  What I didn’t know is that I still need another piece of  hardware that takes the IF Signal from the radio converts it and sends it to the computer for processing. The same company (RFSpace) sells that hardware (SDR-IQ) for $524.00…. WOWZAS!!!  It has great reviews and nothing but praise but it’s too rich for my wallet. That’s $724 to look at signals on a screen (it does more than that, I’ll explain later).  The DMU-2000 is starting to look promising again.

There must be a cheaper way. I have to live up to one of the stereotypes of an amateur radio operator and find a cheaper way. Well… There is… Sort of. I already know that In order for me to play with SDR and my FT-950, I would have to buy the RF-Space IF-2000 card. But there was no way in hell that I am going to get the SDR-IQ.  So I went ahead and purchased the IF-2000 as it’s a must. The next best thing that kept coming up was the LP-Pan. For $225 (Now $250) I thought wow, I can do the same thing for half the cost. YES!!! Then I kept reading… You should always keep reading! I found that in order to get full use of the LP-Pan, I would have to purchase a Sound Card.  Not just any ol’ sound card but one that has 192KHz of bandwidth on the input. Those can get expensive so now you have to tack on another $100 and more cables to run back and fourth. Unless you already have a 192kHz card, you can get away with the one built into your computer. However you’ll only get 96 or most likey 48kHz of bandwidth.

CHEAPER!!! CHEAPER!!! CHEAPER!!!

If I were to get the LP-PAN, I would get the costs down from $724 to $550.  I’m also sacrificing features as the price goes down. Is there anything out there that is cheaper? Is there? Yes there is and it’s called SoftRock. You can purchase the Softrock Lite II (For 30M, Just tell him what you’re doing and ask  for the correct crystal) for around $20. There are many SDR receiver options out there now. As long as it can receive a 10.55MHz signal then it can be used with the IF-2000 card. I ended up using a Softrock Ensemble II as I had one at the shack.  With my computers built in sound card, softrock rcvr and IF-2000 board, I was able to add SDR to my FT-950 for around $220. THAT’S CHEAP!… Well is it? It’s cheap but you get what you pay for. Most of the money is spent just getting the IF signal out of the FT-950. You can use the softrock indepently.  Since I didn’t invest in a decent sound card, I am stuck only receiving 48kHz of bandwidth. That means if the radio is on 14.160MHz, I can see anything going on from  14.112Mhz thru 14.208Mhz. If you were to get the proper sound card, you would be able to see from 13.968Mhz thru 14.352MHz which is the entire 20M US amateur band.

IF-2000 Installation

For the FT-950, the IF-2000 is a must. At this point in time, there are no other mass produced boards that can hook into the FT-950 (or FT-2000) that will give you an IF out.  Here is the installation of the IF-2000 into the FT-950

All Hail RFSpace

 

IF-2000 In box form…. Whoopie dooo. Well, it’s not just going to sit there

All Hail RF Space
Insides of the box. Doesn’t look like much for $200. But at least you get a serial cable to hook up the FT-950 to either the computer or SDR-IQ. This is if you didn’t hook up the radio to the computer for control (CAT)

FT-950 Bottom cover off

 

To get at where you have to install the IF-2000 in the FT-950, remove all the many screws (except the feet) that hold on the bottom cover on.  Once removed you will see this void with the taped wire. That is where the DMU would go. Bah! We’re putting the IF-2000 there instead.

IF-2000 Installed

Look at that pretty board installed. Not even 5 minutes of work.

Softrock ready

Cable from the IF Out of the IF-2000 is hooked directly into the Softrock. You also can’t go wrong with the gold plated Radio Shack patch cable. Gold plated cables is what keeps Radio shack in business (Sense my sarcasm?) What you see is the USB cable that controls the Softrock, Audio cable that is hooked up the the Line input of the sound card, Power cable and the BNC cable from the IF-2000.

I am not going into detail about getting the SoftRock going as it’s a project by itself and not the point of this article.  There are so many different SDR related software, it’s very hard to give you a how-to on each software. Please refer to other sites that provide help with getting the Softrock going.

Now that I have the Softrock hooked up to the computer and I have the IF-2000 hooked up to the softrock, time to have some fun!

SDR Softrock FT-950

I’m using SDR# as a panadapter. As you see (above image in green),  I tuned the Softrock to 10.55Mhz which is tuned to the converted signal that the IF-2000 is putting out. So now if I spin the dial, I can see 24Khz of activity on each side of the center frequency which is giving me 48Khz of bandwidth (see above image in red). This is now just a basic panadapterY. If you have a decent sound card, you can display 96kHz or even 192kHz of bandwidth which is possibly all you need.  The software (SDR#) doesn’t have rig control so it’s pretty difficult to link your transceiver to the software. Other software like SDR-RADIO, HDSDR, SpectraVue, Power SDR-IF and some others will allow you to link your rig and allow complete control so when you click around on the waterfall, the radio will be in sync for TX

As I mentioned before, you get what you pay for! Even though the softrock is a great and cheap way into SDR, it has it’s problems. If you look at the above picture, you will notice that in the center of the waterfall there is a big line (or sets of lines). The big line is the result of the SoftRock picking up groundloops.  If you were to “Listen” to the hump you will get instant feedback which is very annoying. There are ways to combat this (using batteries instead of wall-warts amoung other things) to where it’s more manageable. Most operators offset the signal away from the DC offset.

 

I WANT MORE!

 

At this point all I have is a Panadapter that can see 48KHz. An extra $100 on a sound card would get me 96kHz or 192kHz which would be great. Just having the Panadapter capabilities allows me  to find and tune into signals much faster. I can also find “Holes” in a packed band where I can setup shop and talk (or contest) much faster. I tried it in a contest and it made search and pouncing much more faster. It improved my Q rate by almost half. Well worth the money just having it as a panadapter. But depending on the software and your computer, you can do a lot more with SDR than just displaying signals. The software is now doing most of the filtering. You can adjust the filters really quickly to grab that SSB or CW signal. I am not saying  in any way that the FT-950 w/ SDR is better than Flex-3000 or Flex-5000 but you now have similar features. A really good feature that I like compared to a Flex radio is that I still not dependent on having a computer hooked up to the radio. I can simply disconnect the IF out cable and will be able to still use my radio out in the field or during emergency power situations. I would lose SDR but I can still have a usable radio.

I am satisfied with that setup but I WANT MORE!

I hate having 48kHz of bandwidth and I hate having that DC Hump in the middle of the screen. I also want the software to control my rig and allow me to know exactly where  that signal is.  So I want more bandwidth.  Well I could spend around $100 for a sound card to get 192kHz of bandwidth but I’m still stuck with the DC Hump in the middle of my screen. I could add toroids and use a battery pack to power the softrock which would dampen the DC hump. It would be okay if I were just using as a stand-alone receiver but when combining it with a radio, it makes it difficult to know what frequency your listening to than what is displayed on your VFO for TX.

That means I have to upgrade to a new SDR unit. As mentioned before, If it can tune to 10.55MHz then I can use it. I could get the LP-Pan or the SDR-IQ which was designed for my situation but that was a couple years ago. There are now other products out there that will give you similar or better results for a cheaper price and possibly while your reading this article, someone somewhere is making even something better. I ended up buying the AFEDRI SDR-NET.

AFEDRI SDR

 

Here it is! Awww so sweet. I lived up to the cheap ham stereotype and purchased the unit without a case to save $50. If you happen to buy one, I strongly suggest to buy it with the case. The case is made out of extruded aluminum and is well worth the the $50. Let me repeat, I strongly urge you to buy it with the case.

The AFEDRI SDR-Net costs around $250 (with the case). That is the same price as a LP-Pan. Why didn’t I just get the LP-Pan? Because the AFEDRI has much more to offer for the same price. With the AFEDRI, there is no need for a sound card which saves me an extra $100. It also samples at 1.2MHz!!! That means if I’m centered on 14.200MHz, I can see from 13.600Mhz to 14.800MHz!! I Can see activity on the entire 20M band and more!  I can see almost 6X more bandwidth compared to the LP-Pan and SDR-IQ. The AFEDRI is compared to some of the more expensive SDR units and it can hold it’s ground.

 

Running SDR

Hooked up and ready to rock.

Getting the AFEDRI to run could be a little difficult. If it wasn’t for a fellow ham that owned one walking me through it, I would’ve had a hard time even though there are instructions sent over from the person selling these boards. To get full use (1.2Mhz bandwidth) you want to use the AFEDRI on your network (that is if you have one) or hooked directly to your LAN port on your computer. You can use USB but your limited to around 200KHz of bandwidth. That’s like buying a HF/VHF/UHF multimode base rig just to talk on a repeater. I have the AFEDRI hooked up to my switch/hub located in my office. When you first program the AFEDRI, you will need to also have it hooked up the USB on the computer. After it’s programmed and working (through the network), you can disconnect the USB. If you can make or get your hands on a 7.5V LINEAR power supply, that would work great on powering the AFEDRI (It does come with a DC plug). DO NOT FEED THE AFEDRI WITH 12V !!! I got lazy and had a bunch of cell phone chargers that had the Mini USB plug and 5V . I powered the AFEDRI through the USB port. It works but the problem is that it’s a switching power supply that creates noise. It is noticeable but not as bad as the softrock.

The AFEDRI is great but it does lack one thing… On board filtering.  Due to the lack of filtering and being near (within 2mi) of 3 AM broadcast transmitters, The front end is overloaded when using the AFEDRI SDR-Net stand alone (without the FT-950)

AFEDRI Stand alone

YIKES! The Image above shows exactly what my problem is. What your seeing is 1.2Mhz of bandwidth showing the same 3 AM broadcast stations that are near my QTH. That almost makes the SDR useless unless I add filtering to get rid of the AM BCB signals. But when I hook it up to the FT-950, it shows something different.

SDRFTIF

Much Much Better… This is showing the 80/75m band even though the display says 10.56 (should be 10.55). At this point I am still using the software as a panadapter tuned the converted IF output frequency of the IF-2000 . I’m assuming it’s better because the signal is passing through the FT-950′s bandpass filters before the signal is sampled. I am assuming this because If I made adjustments to the Attenuator and pre-amp on the front of the rig, I can see instant changes on the screen. If you are going to use the AFEDRI by itself. Don’t be alarmed. You can purchase or even make your own high pass filters that will solve a lot of the issues.

You will also notice that I am sampling at 1.2MHz even though I am using the FT-950 w/ the IF-2000. The reason why I brought this up is that RF Space claims on their website that the IF-2000 adds a 190KHz of display. That was my biggest fear when I was purchasing the AFEDRI that when I hooked it up to the FT-950 and IF-2000, I was only going to get 190KHz of bandwidth due to any limitations on the IF-2000. When I hooked it up, I was glad to see that I am taking full advantage of the AFEDRI.

The only issue I have at this time is calibration. If you spin the dial to a known frequency and listen it to it on SDR, you will notice compared to your radio that the signal is off. This can be fixed partially by calibrating the AFEDRI using the supplied software. I am now within 1-3Hz of a signal on LSB. However when I switch it to USB, I am off by .500KHz. Depending on the software, you can make a different correction (offset) for each mode.

Now I have a pretty Panadapter that allows me to view the entire band for most of the HF bands. It makes it easier to see if the band is “alive” and it allows me to dial in a station faster but what if I could just “CLICK” on a signal and have my radio automatically tune the VFO to that frequency so I can talk?

 

TRANSMIT TIME!

The AFEDRI by itself is a receiver. You can hook up your antenna to it and away you go! But I have it hooked up to my transceiver which adds a whole new element to having an SDR rig. by having it as a panadapter, I can just spin the dial to the signal on the screen and talk. But what if the signal is 100Khz away? I would have to spin the dial pretty quick. Depending on your rig and SDR software being used, it’s possible just to click on a signal that you see on the screen and the radio will automatically put will put it’s VFO right on or near the frequency you want to talk on. During contesting, that would allow me just to click on signals instead of spining the knob during search and pounce.

The ability to “Click And Tune” all has to do with the software. The software has to have a CAT control option. I ended using a slightly older version SpectraVue because of it’s ease of use but I also successfully used HDSDR and SDR-RADIO to where both the FT-950 and AFEDRI work together in RX and TX.

Here is a video of the FT-950 and AFEDRI in action

I find that SpectaVue is the easiest to use but lacks features found in both HDSDR and SDR-RADIO.

LOOSING A COM PORT

I like to use software such as N1MM, HRD and DX Labs Suite for logging, contesting and working “Digital” stations. However I won’t be able to use my SDR software because the port is being used by the logging/CAT control software and vise versa.  For me, logging software is just as important as having SDR in my book. Have no fear but yet another piece of software to use to “Emulate” the com port allowing multiple applications to share the same com port. One such software I has success with is “Virtual Serial Ports Emulator”.  If you happen to use the same software. “Create a new device” as a “Splittler”. Choose the regular comport that was normally used with the FT-950 and then choose the “Virtual” port. You will have to reconfigure all the software to communicate with the “Virtual” port. Another tip is to make sure the settings in VSPE are the exact same as what is used in the other programs used with your rig.

SO FAR SO GOOD

I’ve been messing around with this setup for about a week now and I am impressed. SpectraVue doesn’t allow custom offsets per mode (just has one main offset) but I fixed that by using the “Shift” feature on the FT-950.  There are a couple issues that I see but don’t annoy me enough to get rid of SDR and I am sure it’s going to improve as more people get into SDR. The biggest annoyance is that when I TX, the software doesn’t catch on for a bit and I can hear my TX audio for a second. There is also a slight delay (as expected) between hearing the signal on the radio and the computer. I am not sure how it’s going to fair in a contest but the worst case is that I’ll use the SDR as a controllable panadapter and use the audio from the radio instead of the SDR.

Now I have to make a case!

Thanks for reading,
Jeff – NT1K

Resources:

IF-2000 from RF Space – Allows the FT-950 to become a whole different beast
Softrock Lite – A simple means of SDR with the FT-950 and IF-2000
AFEDRI SDR-NET – My personal choice for SDR. Alex is a great guy and is very helpful
SpectraVue – SDR software that I use. It’s also on RF Spaces website. I suggest getting a version previous to 3.25 if your using the AFEDRI.
HDSDR - Another SDR software that I use. A modified version that works with the AFEDRI is included on a CD that comes with the AFEDRI.
Virtual Serial Ports Emulator – Allows the FT-950 to be used with both logging/CAT control software and the SDR software at the same time

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8 Comments for this entry

  • Jim/KK1W

    Nice writeup Jeff!

    I’ve been messing around with this stuff too, here’s a few other things I’ve run across that can help.

    1. Getting rid of the ground loop can also be done with a ‘galvanic isolator’. There’s all kinds of them available, from $6 to over $50. I’ve had good luck with this one available from an eBay seller:

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/MINI-3-5MM-NOISE-FILTER-GROUND-LOOP-ISOLATOR-CAR-AUDIO-Ships-from-USA-/110951520870?pt=US_Car_Audio_Video_Interconnect_Cables&hash=item19d539da66

    2. Another piece of software allowing use of rig control and logging software is LPB2 from N8LP. It is freeware and flexible. For the price ($0.00!) it is worth a try and ‘may’ be easier to setup.

    http://www.telepostinc.com/LPB2.html

    It would be interesting to try a contest un-assisted with a pan-adapter. Especially an SSB test, where skimmer spots are non-existent anyway. Let us know how it works out if you try it in one of the upcoming tests.

    Jim/KK1W

  • Dave/N1MFL

    Jeff, I read most of that, I’ve been thinking of Toying with SDR, why go this route when you can just add the ensemble kit which is a reciever and transciver ? What does ading it to the 950 get you exactly?

    • NT1K

      Not sure what you mean. If I were to add just the ensemble II to the FT-950, I have to depend on my sound card of the computer which is not the best. With my setup I would only get 48KHz of bandwidth. I went with the AFEDRI because there is no need for a sound card and I have much more bandwidth compared to SDR-IQ and LP-Pan and it’s way better than the Softrock.

      The ensemble RXTX only transmits at 1 watt and a computer is a must in order to use it. 1 Watt is not for me and by adding it to the FT-950, it will limit me just like the softrock. With the FT-950 attached to SDR I can transmit at 100W (or more with the amplifier) without having to change my station at all. The radio is also not dependent on a computer. If I had the use the radio with battery power, I can turn off the computer and still use the radio. I wouldn’t have SDR but at least I would be able to transmit. The benefits are that I can see the entire band or a major portion of it. I can glance at my screen and tell if its dead. If I want to call CQ or whatever, I can find “Holes” in the band much easier. I am writing a article on my recent contest experience so you can read that too.

      If you’re getting into SDR, You don’t have to go the way I did. You can get an ensemble II and use it as a standalone receiver which will work out great. If you decide later on that you want to hook it up to your HF Rig (if it’s possible, not sure what you have), then you can have the best of both worlds.

  • Bob/K6RWM

    Great information — thanks. I have a FT-950, IF-2000, the LP-PAN 100, and the outboard EMU-USB 0204. It works good but not great. I have had some problems with the waterfall display with most of the ham Windoze software apps. I recently started in with PSK-31 and got a Signalink USB, which I use exclusively. The waterfall works fine and of course handles the receive and transmit duties on PSK.

    Speaking of the Signalink, I also read your comments on setting up the FT-950 and made a few adjustments in the menu, hoping it will solve a driver problem on the microphone side of the unit; “Soundcard I/O failed at 48KHz and 8KHz”.

    73- Bob

  • Michael F. Trombley Jr., KB1VHS

    Hi Jeff.
    Nice write-up.
    If you want to add a COM port to your PC all you need is a add-on board. Tigerdirect.com sells them. You can get them in either PCI or PCI-express versions. The boards have 1 to 4 COM ports on them, depending on the model you get. Just be sure to order the correct board for the slot in your PC.

    • NT1K

      Thanks for reading mike. I think you misread. I am running two pieces of software that want control of the same com port. When one software establishes communications with FT-950, It locks out any other software from accessing it. What a virtual com port does is allow multiple software to access the same comport. Now I can run logging software that needs the frequency from the radio and I can also run the SDR software to control the VFO

  • Michael Trombley Jr., KB1VHS

    Hi again Jeff.
    Sorry I misread your post. I thought because you were using a COM port that you needed another one for something else. 73 and talk to you soon! Mike, KB1VHS.

  • oh2fxd

    Cheapest method to start playing with FT-950 and panadapter +SDR is to buy 10usd dvb-t card (rtlsdr project), an TMP to mcx(or whatever dvb-card uses for antenna connector) cable, tune sdr software (ie. HDSDR, sdrsharp) to 69.450MHz (first IF OUTPUT) and have a blast :) You can read about it on my site if anyone is interested. (pictures provided)

    73 de OH2FXD, Finland & Merry Xmas waiting :-)

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