Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is with great regret that I must announce the end of this blog.
As many of you have noted from past activity; as soon as I got in to ham radio, the updates to this site practically stopped. Was it because ham was sucking all my time? Not at all; it was more due to the fact my interest in the RTL-SDR setup had faded. Sure, I still hooked it up from time to time; I wasn’t as interested in DXing with it as much as I was fooling around with my ham equipment. I also somewhat realized that while coming up with cool tricks to do with he RTL-SDR gathered attention; I don’t think anyone really cared about just what I could or couldn’t DX with the dongle and Ham-It-Up. I reached a “wall” so to speak after just a few months; I wasn’t really reaching out and getting any new signals that I hadn’t already discovered.
I never did this site for anything other than self-satisfaction and boredom, though I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I had a glimmer of hope I might be interesting enough to pick up some sort of sponsor; I wasn’t going to make it that obvious or try entirely too hard to gather one. Sure, I wrote a couple of things that got picked up along the way; but I didn’t have the drive or the knowledge to push things further. I built mostly off work other people had done; I apparently just put the pieces together. Sure, some things have changed since then, and I didn’t bother to keep up once I got my ham license. There were many many updates to SDR#, some awesome plugins got released that, among many things, made doing things like SCA reception possible with just two copies of SDR#. But I never got around to doing anything about it; I kept saying “I’ll do it later” as I fiddled with antennas and VHF FM.
A little over a week ago, things changed dramatically. Jumping on a good price, I became the owner of an ICom IC-725 HF Transceiver. As I entered the world of HF, I soon left my VHF FM gear in the dust as I began bouncing signals off the ionosphere and making direct contacts with people hundred and thousands of miles away.
More importantly was the impact of the IC-725 to my SDR setup; it made it completely redundant. While I enjoy SDR, and I see it going in many places; I realized the RTL-SDR with an upconverter is not the viable radio it could be; and just pales in comparison to the IC-725. The dynamic range is really rather lousy; and the upconverter yields quite a bit of loss on the signals that hit the antenna. Seriously, the SDR stuff is just absolutely fantastic; the ability to see your spectrum as well as the complete flexibility in what modes you can decode with the ability to record IF’s is what I think I will miss the most. But, in all honesty; compared to a real radio, the RTL with an upconverter doesn’t stand a chance. IF you stick some pre-selection and more RF front-end tuning on it; you’ll drastically improve it’s performance. The best I ever had it perform was when I connected it to a crappy AM receiver; but even then, the loss through the upconverter still yielded sub-par performance.
It’s a fun toy; but that’s actually all it is, a toy. The dongle was never designed to be picking up weak AM mode signals on any frequency it seems. I knew this going in, but it’s only recently become clear that no matter how much you think you can make it perform like a better radio; it’s still just a toy.
So my RTL-SDR adventures have, for the most part, come to an end. I recently sold my upconverter as I no longer needed it; if I’m going to listen to general shortwave broadcasts or DX anything, it will be with the ICom. While the panadapter aspect is a lot of fun; the Icom has proven I don’t actually need that for effective DX. Granted, I can use a lot of lessons I learned from observing the RF spectrum in a waterfall; with those lessons in mind I can function without it. I can also, which I’ve tried; can tap the first IF stage of my ICom unit, which runs at around 70mhz, if I want or need panadapter function. I actually have quite a bit of work to do in that area.
So, to all the RTL-SDR users; I wish you the best of luck and fun in your adventures. But it is time for me to hang it up; to move on to “bigger and better” things as they say. While trading in 2mhz of waterfall for a simple dial and S-meter might seem like taking a step backwards; the dynamic range of the 725 and not dealing with 8-bit I/Q and spurious signals from overloading feel like a step forward. It’s literally the difference between say a $20 HF radio; and a $200 HF radio.
I will still be around however; and I have no intentions of taking the content of this blog down..as long as I keep a backup of the wordpress install; I’ll be able to move it around to new machines in the future. You can find me on Twitter, QRZ, or maybe any number of the other ham websites; just search for my callsign: KM4JOJ. And if you see me out on the air; feel free to say hello.