More Kool-Aid Please! New Rig In The Shack



Along with recent antenna improvements I felt I needed to improve my rig. I had the Yaesu FT-950 that provided me thousands of contacts, countless hours of entertainment and awards such as DXCC and WAS.  It was an excellent radio but it also had its issues. The most annoying thing for me was the menu driven system that Yaesu loves to use. In order to adjust some of the DSP settings or even the power level, you had to dive into the menu system. To make things worse, Yaesu decided to abbreviate the menu items which makes it almost impossible to adjust without memorization or referring to the manual. However the FT-950 was a good radio, I never had a problem with it and received many reports about how good and clean my audio is. It just worked. The IF output option from RF-Space was a big plus. I could have kept using it but I felt I just need a new radio and sell the FT-950 while it still has value.

What to get?

I wanted a new radio but I wasn’t sure what to get. My budget was a little over $2,000USD. I had to sell most of my station off to obtain the funds needed for a new radio. This left me with a decent amount of choices. I can choose either the Yaesu FTdx-3000, Kenwood TS-590SG (The new version), Flex 6300, ICOM IC-7600 or the Elecraft K3.

FTdx-3000 – Didn’t want to get another Yaesu rig. Looked more menu driven than ever and wanted to stay away from having to constantly dive into menus. Not saying it’s a bad rig, I just want something other than Yaesu.

TS-590SG – Great radio and really great price. Obtaining IF output is very difficult. If they were able to have an IF output, I would have purchased the TS-590SG

Flex 6300 – Very tempting.  I love SDR and love being able to scan an entire band in one shot. Point and click tuner with one heck of a receiver and filtering is a plus. However it’s not a proven contest rig, it’s dependent on a computer for operating and I am not a fan of having to pay for software upgrades. Still very tempting.

Icom IC-7600 – Excellent radio but the price is too much for me.  I also think for the price they would have a better receiver compared to my other choices. I’ve used the 7700 multiple times and really love the radio. It’s more fitting for 756-Pro users

Elecraft K3 – Even though I am not a fan of the ergonomics and the cheap looking aesthetics, it’s a proven contest and DXpedition radio. People often compare their radios to the K3 which means a lot. It has a very excellent receiver and you can basically make the radio work for what you need it for. It can be a $1700 radio or a $7000 radio depending on what you’re willing to spend.

As you may have already guessed, I’ve decided on getting a K3. It seems to be the best for what I’m willing to spend. Even though I wanted something that was new on the market, The K3 still met my requirements even though it’s already a 7 year old radio. The amount of available options and excellent receiver is what won me over. The K3 also allows me to build up the radio over time. When one of the big 3 discontinues a radio, they often discontinue options/upgrades for that particular radio making it much harder to upgrade the older it gets. By going to Elecraft’s website, you’ll see they’re still offering previous radios as well as their options/upgrades. That means I won’t have to worry about the K4 (if there is a K4) coming out and losing out on possible upgrades for the K3 over time.

You already have a KX3. Why not purchase the KXPA100?

I purchased the KX3 as a portable rig to use for things like Summits on the Air (SOTA), Parks on the air (POTA), camping and other portable operations. Even though the KX3 has an excellent receiver, It couldn’t compete with the possible options the K3 has to offer and I honestly didn’t want a mess of cables on my desk in plain sight.

If someone from elecraft reads this, I would suggest to add a docking port on the KX4.


Have a slide cover on the rear that would expose an MCX connector and a pin header that could be used to plug into a dock or cradle that is attached to the KX4PA100 to make it look like a base rig.  That would avoid having a bunch of cables coming out the side of the KX4 when it’s “at home”. Maybe put a better speaker into the docking bay. If this was available then I would have got the docking amp over a K3. Having a Dual purpose radio without the mess would be nice.

Okay, out of fantasy land.

Getting The Radio

Being the cheap Ham I am, I had to come up with the funds to purchase the K3. I sold my FT-950, FT-736R and almost everything that I didn’t need in my shack that I’ve purchased over time. I was able to get enough saved up for just a basic K3 in kit form with no options other than the 100 watt PA. I ordered it Christmas week and figured it would be awhile before it would show. Elecraft did a really good job getting me the radio quick. I’ve learned USPS from CA to MA is much faster than UPS.

A Little Overwhelming



I was very excited when the packaged arrived and I wanted to tear into it. However I knew I should carefully read everything to avoid having a $2000 brick on my table.  I opened up each box and was overwhelmed by the amount of bags and envelopes containing just nuts and bolts. I couldn’t imagine if this were to be full-on solder kit.


The first hour was spent making sure every single nut, knob, board and panel was accounted for. Thankfully everything was accounted for and even had extra parts. I didn’t have to jump into the “Spare Parts” bag.


My only suggestion is to keep the parts and fasteners in their respective bags and envelopes. Don’t dump everything into one big sorting case because you will be working in stages and some require special sized screws.


I also had an organizer box with little post-it notes stating what is in each slot. That helped quite a bit

It’s Assembly Time

Now that everything is there and counted for. It’s time to assemble. I decided to stream my assembly which gave people some insight as to how one is assembled. I managed to record 1/3 of the build.

You could watch the video but I admit it’s real boring. I was even bored. There are a ton of assembly videos and there are a ton of website/blog postings about the assembly of the K3 so I won’t bother going into great detail.

The build went quite smoothly and only had two moments of stupidity. The first was that I missed some masking left on from their metal fabricator/powder coater on the front panel and noticed After the front panel was sub assembled. A razor type blade and a pair of needle nose pliers took care of it. My other moment was that I plugged the synth board into the wrong spot. However I caught that before it could cause any trouble.

Overall it took around 5 hours to build. I don’t know how long it normally takes but I wasn’t trying to win any time trial. I wanted a working radio and I didn’t want to hear screws bouncing around the case a month or two down the road.

Is it worth getting the kit version over the assembled version? That depends on how much you value your time. I value my time but knowing I could apply the savings to options, I’d  much prefer the kit. Plus I get to get hands on with my radio and see what part does what.

It’s alive… It’s alive… IT’S ALIVE!!! 


Once the radio was on and calibrated I wanted to get on the air. Thankfully a couple of people were watching my stream and hopped on the air willing to make contact with me. I scrambled to get on the air but had much trouble because I installed the filter in a different spot. I’ve read the assembly manual over and over but failed to read the operation manual which made getting on the air a little tricky. For some reason the speaker wasn’t working and couldn’t get the filters to default to the spot I put them in. After a couple minutes I was on the air and made my first contact with a local. It’s was really nice to know it actually works. After making a couple contacts, I went back to work and installed the 100W PA.

Initial Thoughts

After messing around with it for a couple hours I started to get buyers remorse. It felt small and it felt cheap. The main VFO didn’t have that smooth action that I am used to. It felt like I was turning a sanding disk. Nothing was impressing me which started to make my stomach turn as if I just wasted all the time, effort any money for something that was less than what I had before. It felt like my dream rig was being crushed right in front of my eyes.

But then I tried making a voice contact with someone in the noise on 80M with a strong signal nearby. I narrowed the filter and shifted the IF and that took a lot of the nearby signal out. Not bad considering all I have is a 2.7Khz stock roofing filter. I then applied noise reduction and that weak station that I could barely catch a couple words is now coming in much clearer. I can now fully understand the DX and managed to make contact. The adjustment took just a couple seconds and that knot in my stomach started to fade away the more I dived into the K3. I am now satisfied and I now feel I’ve made a wise purchase.

Let’s Compare the K3 to the FT-950

After playing around with the K3, I started comparing the mental notes I had about the FT-950 against the K3.  The K3 pretty much beat my FT-950 in almost every aspect… almost. The FT-950 looked better and felt better than the K3 but that doesn’t really matter in a contest on an extremely packed band. The FT-950 has an excellent receiver but it shadows in comparison to the K3 with even just the stock 2.7Khz 5-pole filter installed. I guess I traded an aesthetically pleasing radio for one with better performance.

The K3 even does things right out of the box that I wish the FT-950 could do. With the K3 I am able to switch from a desktop microphone to a pair of headsets quite easily because the headsets could be plugged into the back. I could get away without using an soundcard interface since there is  audio line in/out ports. I could use the headphones and have the internal speaker working at the same time which is good for field day. I have two custom buttons that I could program macros in that would allow me to do many things.

What makes the K3 really stick out in comparison is that I rarely have to dive into the menu system to make adjusts to the DSP or even the RF power level. When I do have to dive into the K3 menus. It’s much easier to navigate. I flat out hated having to dive into the FT-950’s menu system. It wasn’t in really any order and it was abbreviated or numbered. If I haven’t been in the menu for awhile, I would have a real hard time trying to adjust simple things like DNR/DNF and even my TX bandwidth. It’s much easier in the K3

What’s next with the K3?

I purchased the bare minimum when it comes to the K3 with the exception of the 100W PA. Now that I’ve played with the K3, there are some much needed options that I am starting to save for. Of course I would like a completley decked out K3 with EVERYTHING but that isn’t going to happen.  So here is my list of options I would like in order of importance starting with what I feel is the most needed with a short reason why

KXV3A – RX Ant, IF out, Xverter Interface – I love SDR and want a Panadapter
KFL3A – 1.8K – 1.8 kHz, 8-pole filer – For SSB contesting and packed bands
KDVR3 – Digital Voice Recorder – For SSB contesting, Can control with N1MM. No more WAV files
KFL3A-250 – 250 Hz, 8-pole CW Filter – For when I get into CW.
KFL3A-6K – 6 kHz AM / ESSB, 8-pole Filter – I like ESSB at times and would need this
KBPF3 – General Coverage RX Bandpass Module – I listen to more than just hams. I have SDR rig for now
K3EXREF – External Reference Input – I am bit of a time nut. I would love to use either a GPSDO or Rb Atomic Clock.

That is my “wanted” list. Of course I won’t be purchasing it all at once but I would like to have at least the 1.8Khz filter and DVR options before field day. You won’t see the 2nd receiver option unless I win the lottery. I am interested in SO2V and even SO2R operation but I would rather go all out on SO2R. I never felt a need for a sun receiver so I’ll save my pennies for something else.

Overall thoughts

It was a fun build, dealing with elecraft was great (because i didn’t), assembly went great and I don’t have buyers remorse (anymore). It’s an “American” radio and it’s a damn good one. Hopefully I don’t drown in the kool-aid

Thanks for reading!
– Jeff (NT1K)


Elecraft KX3 – What Did I Just Do?

I’ll be honest and say that I laughed when I saw the Yaesu FT-817 for the first time when it was released in 2001. “You’re not going to make any contact with that! It’s small and only 5 watts! No one is going to hear you!” I recall saying a lot. I like to note that I was brand new to amateur radio and had no HF experience. I thought it was silly to “talk” around the world with the same amount of power that my handheld VHF puts out. Well… 12 years later and they are still being produced and sold. I’ve seen the error of my ways and accept that QRP (low power) contacts are very possible. Now that I’ve been involved with HF for about 4 years now, I can see how rewarding QRP contacts are. Now that  I’m more involved with SOTA (summits on the air), doing a bunch of VHF SOTA activations and watching my peers on HF, I decided to purchase a portable HF rig.

I ended up going with the Elecraft KX3.

I could have went with the much cheaper FT-817 and other QRP Xceivers but the features and technology of the KX3 far surpass what the FT-817 had to offer. Well… at least in writing. I just wanted something NEW for a change. Even though the KX3 is expensive, I cheaped out as much as possible and got the kit version of the KX3 with no options or extra accessories.



Hopefully the postal carrier didn’t notice me peeking through the windows with the excited look on my face as he approached.

There are already dozens, if not hundreds of videos, blogs, forum posts of assembling the KX3. I am not going to go into detail here. However I would like to share some notes and tips if you were to get the kit. Most are common sense.

  • Spend time and make sure every nut, screw, standoff and part is in the kit! Use muffin tins or a tackle box to keep parts separate.
  • Do not be surprised if your missing something. They include an extra parts bag and hopefully it’s in there.
  • Read the assembly manual entirely before starting. Do not jump ahead!
  • It’s not a contest, take your time and confirm each step


Besides a screw driver and other basic hand tools. I strongly suggest in using tweezers or a “Jewelers Pickup Tool”



This tool helped me out as the tiny 2-56 screws were  a wee bit hard to handle.

The only issues I had were installing the plastic battery holders (which is noted in the manual) and having to deal with missing 4-40 screws. luckily I had anodized screws in my personal extra screw bin. Overall the assembly went okay and it took about 2 hours.  Is it worth the extra $100 for an assembled kit? All depends on how you value your time. Think of it costing $50/hr for assembly. Are you worth more than that?

First thoughts


After turning it on, one of the first things I did was to compare the receivers of the KX3 to my FT-950 using a switch and the G5RV antenna. Since I don’t have any type of equipment that will give accurate readings, I am basing my findings from what I’ve seen and heard. On SSB, it seemed to receive similar with the DSP turned on in the 950 (No DNR). It has similar S-Unit readings. However the KX3 felt like it dealt with adjacent signals better than the 950. On CW, it seemed the KX3 was better at receiving.

Should Have Purchased Options

Like usual, I was being cheap and purchased the KX3 as a kit without any options. For some people that would work just fine. If you have a spare microphone and resonate antennas at the frequencies you want then you might not have a need for options like the ATU (Automatic Antenna Tuner) or microphone. But here I am with no microphones and no resonate antennas. I could have purchased an Emtech ZM2 or Hendricks SOTA tuner and a used microphone online that would have done just fine, but I didn’t want to lug around more equipment and didn’t want to modify the microphone. I ended up purchasing the ATU  and Microphone from elecraft a short time later.

Issues with the KX3

I’ve held off writing this article for a long time because I had issues with my KX3. After assembly and before installing the ATU, I was hot to trot. I went on the air, started sending out CW to see what skimmers (bots) were picking up my signal. I couldn’t transmit at full power. Even with the KX3 powered using an External 5amp supply, I could not get past 7W. When using batteries, I saw 3watts max.  Putting blame on my antenna at first I didn’t think much of it. At this point I decided it was best to order the ATU as I would end up using compromised antennas like an end fed or random wire where needing a “tuner” (match) would be important.  When I received and installed the ATU, I noticed that I couldn’t tune correctly and it was still folding back power. After taking it out on it’s first SOTA activation, I knew something was wrong.

Dealing with Elecraft

I knew it had to be fixed. The first stop was the Elecraft KX3 Yahoo Group to see if anyone else had similar issue. None were found so after following the advice on Elecraft’s website, as requested, I contacted them VIA e-mail.

I’ve heard that Elecraft support was AMAZING!!  However I felt the opposite. Just to get a reply from Elecraft took me well over a week. I ended up finding e-mail addresses to some of the staff/support members for Elecraft and after contacting them, my issue was finally looked at. It felt like I had to be pushy and demanding to get stuff done which is not a part of who I am so it was uncomfortable. However I just spent a lot of money, for some it may be nothing but it was a lot of saving on my part  so I felt cheated a bit even though Elecraft did absolutely nothing wrong.

Once the RMA process started, it was fast and easy. Elecraft sent me a confirmation once the item was received but I didn’t hear anything else until the day it was shipping out almost a week later. Since I’ve never dealt with returning a radio before, I felt that I had no idea what was going on or even if the radio has been touched by service. When Elecraft got back to me, it was shown that the PA Driver chips were replaced. I wished for a little more detail into what could possibly caused the replacement as to avoid it from happening again.

Months later and with very LITTLE use, the plastic knobs started to crack. After contacting Elecraft, they moved quick and got the replacements I need. Even though it appears this was a common issue, I was a little more impressed with their service this time around.

Amplifier over 2M module 

When the KX3  first rolled out, a 2M module was incorporated into the design but wasn’t available. Due to the fact that I enjoy doing SOTA on VHF, I was excited that there was going to be a 2M option at some point. That means less equipment that I’d have to carry and something better than the Chinese radios that I’ve been using.  However I was very disappointed when they decided to design an amplifier for a radio that was designed to be a QRP portable rig. I get why they did it. Not many people really care about QRP SSB on 2m or 2M in general when it comes to portable operations. They would rather have something that would allow for 100W while mobile or at the home while taking advantage of a really good receiver. It turns the KX3 into a dual purpose rig. I would have rather seen the 2M module first.

Even though at times, it may seem I’m very critical of  Elecraft, It’s because I want them to succeed.  They make good products, they’re very interactive with the community and they’re based in the United States. I just want them to improve so they can be on the same production level as the “Big Three”. I honestly think it’s possible.

Final Thoughts


Using the KX3 on top of Mt. Tom, Holyoke MA

When I decided to purchase the KX3, I thought I would be taking up adventures  like climbing mountains, hiking, going to parks and testing the limits of QRP. It  didn’t really happen. Those times I got to get out and played radio, the KX3 performed very well. The very low current draw allowed me to use full power (approx 10W) using a Hobby battery (Turnigy 2200mAh 3S 20C Li-Po 11.1v) that lasted for at least an hour before turning back the wattage (to 5W) when the battery voltage dipped below the 11vdc threshold (time will vary depending on duty, temp and mode).  The radio is easy to pack and deploy. If there are trees tall enough in the area, I can hang a dipole and get on the air within 10-15 minutes.

Even though there are cheaper alternatives, I think I’ve  made a wise choice. If I ever decide to go portable, It’s there  and ready to go and it just works.


SOTA Pack consisting of KX3, G5RV Jr and End Fed

I would recommend this radio to others under certain circumstances. If you’re just getting into the hobby, I wouldn’t suggest it unless you have the money for radio and amplifier or you live in a restricted area where a base antenna setup is just not possible and would have to go portable/mobile. QRP is a rewarding challenge but frustration will set in when your in a pile up with a 5W signal and a compromised antenna.

Hopefully the 2M module doesn’t cost as much as the K3’s module.

Thanks for reading!

Contesting With SDR

This past weekend I had time to play in the North American QSO Party (NAQP) with my new SDR Attachment to my FT-950. The results in my book are mixed. There were two reasons why I wanted the FT-950 to go along with a SDR. The first and most important reason to me was to have a band scope. The second reason is to take advantage of the filtering done by the software.  I wanted to apply both of these features to contesting to hopefully improve my search & pounce QSO rate.

At the moment of writing this I am using SpectraVue software to display the SDR as well as controlling the VFO of the FT-950. SpectraVue is an excellent piece of software but is very basic. It has some software filtering but doesn’t compare to HDSDR or SDR-Radio. I prefer SpectraVue because  it’s minimal and runs smoothly on my somewhat dated computer (Quad core AMD @ 2.3Ghz, 4GB Ram, ATI [512Mb memory] video card).

For contest logging I use N1MM. My personal opinion is that N1MM is hands down the best software for contest logging. The software has so many options that it’s difficult to find something that it can’t do. It has so many options that some people think it’s too much and won’t use the software. It’s free and there is a huge community that is there if you were to find yourself in trouble. It maybe overwhelming at first but it’s not that hard to setup and use.

Here is a really horrible sketch of my setup for HF for those who are wondering.


Running N1MM and SpectraVue that both want to control the radio leads up to an issue. The serial port is currently being used by one piece of software which blocks out the other software from controlling/reading the radio.  There is a way around it by using another piece of software call a “Virtual Com Port”. The fine people that make the LP-Pan has thought of this and released software called “LP Bridge” that will allow multiple software to use the com port all at the same time. It works well and it’s free! There is also “Virtual Serial Ports Emulator (VSPE) ” that also does the job but is not free.


When everything is up and running and your hardware is working with your software and your software is working with your hardware, you will have a busy screen.

NAQP on 20M

Here is my small computer screen sharing N1MM with SpectraVue.  In the center you will see SpectraVue displaying 200Khz worth of bandwidth from 14.814Mhz to 14.344Mhz which is the majority of 20M voice band. What you see is a “Water Fall” with conversations trickling down the screen and the waveform of the signal above the waterfall. Just by glancing at the waterfall you can have an idea on how busy (or dead) the band is. You can also tell how strong some of the signals are by their brightness compared to other signals. By clicking on the left side (or right if using LSB) of a displayed signal, you will focus the receiver to that conversation. Depending on your setup, the radio will also change its VFO to that frequency so you can initiate contact.

Mixed in around SpectraVue you will see N1MM software also running waiting for me to log contacts instead of taking screen shots.

NAQP 2013 40M

Here is a shot of what 40M  (7.1MHz – 7.3MHz) looks like during NAQP

I will say that having a panadapter does help me (and possibly you) when It came to search and pounce contesting. Instead of spinning the dial looking for a station, I can now just click on a station and the software and radio will do the rest. It has improved my QSO rate much better.

It’s not the best thing since slice bread. 

I just want to add that I did have an Issue when it came to contesting with SDR capabilities.  It may be just an issue of mine but I have a feeling it applies to anyone with a similar setup. One of the great things about SDR is to let the computer and its software to do the filtering instead of the radio. It could allow you do use all different kinds of filters and filter widths that could really pull that signal “Out of the air”  When I’m using the SDR standalone, there is no problem what-so-ever. But when you hook it up to the radio that is already processing the signals, It’s very clear that there is a delay between the two. That is because of the SDR and computer are processing the signal coming out of the radio and takes longer than the radio.

In contesting that delay is annoying. More so if you have the volume up on your radio. In the cut throat world of contesting and chasing DX. That delay will end up costing you points and some angry ops (when isn’t there angry ops) because you’re not in-sync with them.

It’s not the end of the world. I found that using the audio from the radio and using the software as band scope proved to be beneficial.

Not sure about CW contesting. 

At this point I am in the early stages of learning CW so I am unable to comment on anything having to do with CW. I am going to assume that it just like voice contesting. Zoom in until you see all the CW and click on the signal you want to make contact with.

I’m in dream land again!

If I had the skills I would love to have software that is designed for SDR contesting. Combine the logbook and waterfall into one impressive package. Then allow to do digital work like PSK and RTTY on the same waterfall.

Thanks for reading,

Jeff – NT1K


My FT-950 Now Has 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.


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.




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.



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.


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?



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.


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.


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


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


I am sure some of you have been hearing the letters RTL-SDR come up more often. At the time all I knew was what the SDR part meant (Software Defined Radio) and didn’t really care about the subject. After hearing more and more I decided to see what all the buzz was about.

The company Realtek (sounds familiar?) designed an IC chip called the RTL2832/RTL2832U (USB 2.0) that was originally used by electronics manufacturers that made DVB-T (Digital Video Broadcast – Terrestrial) receivers. These devices will display Digital TV signals from nearby TV stations (Remember the whole Digital TV upgrade that made older TV’s useless unless it has a  converter) as well as digital FM radio onto your computer/laptop. The actual RTL chip demodulates the signal, cleans it up and processes the signal using a built in ADC (Analog to Digital Converter). All the software does is display the  information that is coming out of the RTL and it will also control the frequency and filtering of the signal through a tuning chip on the board. It’s way more technical than that but I’m just giving you the basics.

Someone found out that RTL chip with the tuner could allow you do sample/listen to signals from 64Mhz up to 1678Mhz (Varies depending on the tuner) which is quite impressive. These chips could also decode many different modulations and you can view/sample megahertz at a time. All of this for around $20 USD and some software. With some other tricks you can decode APCO25 (P25) or other digtal and digital type signals with this dongle.

What does all this mean to me?
In short terms you have a Software Defined Receiver (SDR) that you can listen and actually SEE any signals from around 64Mhz to around 1678Mhz at around 2Mhz at a time.

For example you can listen/watch a good portion of the 2M (Let’s say from 146.000-148.000Mhz) band and see all the conversations going on in that 2Mhz span.  Depending on the software you’re using, you can filter just what you want to hear while seeing what else is happening . If you’re listening to a repeater, you can view the station on the input as well as hear and see the same station on the output frequency on 2M. If you tried to get the same features in a police scanner, you could be spending at hundreds of dollars.

Is this too good to be true? What’s the catch? Is this a Scam?
It does seem to be too good to be true but it’s actually true. For around $20 USD, you can have a VHF/UHF SDR receiver. I have a feeling the price will go up as retailers are seeing a huge increase in sales of these “Cheap” devices. There are some catches however. It doesn’t have the best filtering so signals could get cross and mixed in. You’ll sometimes hear “Birdies” and there are times where the  frequency displayed is not correct to the frequency you’re listening too (So far I’ve seen if off around 6khz).  Another issue is with the dongle itself, depending on the manufacture the cases don’t have really any shielding and the antenna connection and the supplied antenna is basically crap. At the time of writing this, there are a couple companies seeing the demand for  these RTLSDR’s and are making units with the correct case and antenna connection. But for the issues it has and for the price they are being sold at the moment, it’s well worth having. It’s almost comparable to purchasing a FunCube dongle for around $190 that is similar even though I think the FunCube is better and helps support AMSAT.

Ok ok ok… You’ve sold me. How do I get one these $20 dongles?
This should be the only battle you have to do. Securing the Proper Dongle at the correct price. There are many manufactures of dongles that do  almost the same things. You want to find a dongle with the correct RTL chip and the correct tuner chip. The Cat’s meow of Chipsets are the RTL2832U and the Elonics E4000 (AKA E4K) tuner chip. Why? I have no clue. Some dongles have this configuration and some use other Tuners like the Fitipower FC0013 and FC0012  that work also. Some of the differences are the Bandsplit of what frequencies the tuner chip can tune.

At the time of writing this, If you can get your hands on a EzCap EzTv668 (or EzTv666) with the RTL2832U and E4000 tuner then you are golden. However the company that designed and manufactured the E4000 is no longer in business and the company is now being liquidated. This means at this point in time the E4K is no longer being produced. Most companies are switching over to the FITIPOWER FC0013. So you want to make sure that you are getting a unit with the E4K. There are some ebay sellers that are claiming to ship dongles with the E4K but they are really the FC0013.
If you happen to get stuck with one, don’t worry. It will still work.


That’s the thing… I can’t! Things are changing so much that its possible for something to be different next week. Have no fear! The good people over at /r/rtlsdr over at Reddit.Com ( have a very nice up-to-date list of dongles as well as places to purchase these dongles.  Just take note that you’re still gambling when purchasing a Dongle. A lot of these are drop shipped from China and you’ll never know what you’ll get until it lands on your doorstep.

Here is a Ebay “EzCap EzTV668” screen shot of one I actually purchased on Ebay.

(Click to enlarge)

I purchased this from a seller on Ebay as well as one from Deal Extreme (DealExtreme.Com). The reason I purchased it  from Ebay is the one I ordered from DealExtreme was taking way too long and when I contacted their customer service, I was told they were out of stock and could take almost another month for it  to come in.

If you notice the Ebay Auction says  RTL2832U and E4000 tuner… Well… This is what I got!

It’s a EzTv645 and it has the Fitipower FC0013. This dongle is NOTHING like the advertised dongle on Ebay.
I could have complained and returned it but as you can tell, I hacked it up already. I just wanted to warn you that you might not get what is advertised on Ebay.

I added a Pigtail with a PL-259  which voided any warranty (if any) it had. I wasn’t going to waste time with trying to return someone that was sold over ebay and shipped from china.
When soldering on the coax to the board. I messed up and used a powerful (too powerful) soldering iron without any grounding or ESD protection.

Here is a Video of the dongle with the FC0013 in action

You’ll see some of the signals being mixed and some other horrible stuff.
I am not sure if this is how it is normally is or damage done from my soldering  job.
Also for some reason the video lost sync with the audio.

The dongle still works but it’s in the hands of my co-worker who would really have fun with this.

The very next day after screwing up the Ebay EzTV645 purchase, My order from DealExtreme showed up

After reading posts on Reddit of people saying their recent DealExtreme orders have the FC0013 tuner got me a little bit worried. I opened the dongle and is happy to see this

This is what you’re looking for. It’s  the advertised 668 with the Elonics E4000 Chip (Little square chip to the right of the Antenna Jack) and the RTL2832U (Under the IR Sensor).

I dared not to touch this one with a soldering iron. For now I went to Radio Shack and got a couple connectors (PAL to BNC). I would suggest going on ebay and getting the correct  adapters or if you have a really good soldering station, solder in a SMA pigtail and/or connector.

Here is a video of the new dongle

It looks and sounds much better than the one I purchased from Ebay. But I can’t tell you for sure since I hacked up the Ebay one before I can make a comparison between the two.

The hardware finally came in… What now?

You now have to obtain software to display the information from the dongle. At this point while writing the article, the best choice for RTLSDR software is SDR# (SDR Sharp). There are others out there depending on the operating system you are running. I’ve chosen SDR# because it’s really easy to setup and use (compared to some of the others) and it works on some other SDR hardware I have. Plus IMO it’s best choice for beginners like myself.  If you do end up using SDR#, make sure to download the DEVELOPMENT (DEV) Version as well has ZADIG which will replace the driver that was automatically installed (or attemped) when you plugged  in the dongle with the one that is needed to run in SDR#

I would follow these instructions as it’s worked for me

That’s It!! It should be working. Tune around and  have fun. If you’re using the antenna that came with the dongle, good luck! You will not pick up much with the stock antenna. I ended up cutting the plug off the antenna and soldering it to some RG-58 as to not mess up the board. You can also find adapters online and possibly at Radio Shack. The plug looks like an RCA but it’s really a “Belling Lee” (IEC 169-2) connector or PAL connector.

Here are some RTLSDR websites that were helped me out and are resources for this article.

Http:// – Huge community with tons of information on  the dongles that are being sold – RTLSDR website with more technical information than I’ll ever know. – Just catalogs RTLSDR feeds from websites and video sites. – Website for SDR#. My personal choice for SDR software
Possibly where the RTLSDR idea came from 

Just want to say thanks to all those on Reddit.Com (/R/RTLSDR and /R/amateurradio) and those  on ##RTLSDR and other IRC channels on freenode/geekshed for helping me out.