TitanSDR Pro demonstration

After receiving quite a few requests on information about the Enablia TitanSDR and it’s capabilities, I decided it would be good a good idea to create a demonstration video that would hopefully show just how good an SDR it is. The video is at the end of this blog.

I think that a lot of people can’t understand just why the two versions are the price they are, especially when it seems that a new dongle SDR is being evolved every day at a ridiculously cheap price. Yes, they are expensive but when you compare the price of these SDR’s to a top end desktop receiver, such as the Icom IC-R8500 for example, then it is fairly comparable.

But you must consider the fact that the Titan is really more than one receiver. The Pro version is 40 receivers, the standard is eight. You can’t record independently using the Icom, you need some additional software or a digital voice recorder plugged in to the receiver; and even then you can only record the one frequency – the Pro can record 40 frequencies, the standard can record eight.

The TitanSDR Pro can monitor up to 40 frequencies at the same time. Here, 10 frequencies are being monitored, mainly Oceanic ones.

The TitanSDR Pro can monitor up to 40 frequencies at the same time. Here, 10 frequencies are being monitored, mainly Oceanic ones.

Then, you can’t really record any bandwidth to play back using the Icom, but both versions of the Titan can record up to three separate bandwidths. These can then be played back, either through the SDR itself, or on another PC using the supplied USB dongle that carries a second version of the software – and if you did this you could be listening to, or recording, further frequencies or bandwidths. And all these separate bandwidth recordings can, of course, be played back multiple times, with multiple recordings being made within them; or data can be decoded; or signals analysed – what ever you require from an SDR.

This image shows the Titan monitoring 12 frequencies, 6 of which are decoding ALE using PC-ALE. This can take place in the background, while listening to the other frequencies on the SDR.

This image shows the Titan monitoring 12 frequencies, 6 of which are decoding ALE using PC-ALE. This can take place in the background, while listening to the other frequencies on the SDR.

But, of course, this is just standard for any SDR isn’t it?? But is it?? Can you think of another SDR that has the capability to monitor/record 40 frequencies at once? I can’t.

The nearest SDR I found to the Titan in quality of not only recording capabilities but in quality of filters etc. meant that I would need to buy around 13 SDR’s of this model and spend over €30,000. Yet, just one of this model costs pretty much the same price as the Titan. Now, with that knowledge, the price of the TitanSDR’s really doesn’t seem that bad after all.

Don’t forget, the TitanSDR is a Military spec. SDR, designed originally for agencies to monitor multiple frequencies for analysis and data collecting. It already has top specifications but Enablia are still willing to listen to the users and add requested features if they can. They have already done this with quite a few ideas that myself and other users have suggested.

You'd think that the Titan would be a CPU guzzler wouldn't you? Well it isn't. Here the SDR is running 31 frequencies, multiple decodings using MultiPSK, and PC-ALE. The CPU is running at only 27%, and that was it's max reading.

You’d think that the Titan would be a CPU guzzler wouldn’t you? Well it isn’t. Here the SDR is running 31 frequencies, whilst making multiple decodings using MultiPSK and PC-ALE. The CPU is running at only 27%, and that was it’s max reading.

 

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats team created a 2014 annual report for my blog. It’s amazing just how many views I had, around 11,000 in total

Here's an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2014. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

Thanks to everyone that has read my blog in 2014

NAVTEX

Canon 5D update

Before going any further, just a quick update on the repair to my 5D that I carried out in my last blog

Unfortunately, it only lasted about another 200 shots before the mirror became unstuck. So I decided to purchase a new 5D mk III, but before I did I looked in to how much it would cost to get the current one repaired to either then consider selling on or to give to my girlfriend who is just starting out in photography. I decide to search locally, choosing Glasgow as the nearest biggest place to start. Straight away I found a company called A.J. Johnstone & Co. so I gave them a ring to find out the bad news. AJJ

Well, it turns out, all that information I’d previously reported about the cost of repairs was total rubbish. As it’s a known Canon fault the repair is free!! The only cost was for the postage. Well, this was great, no new camera needed. I sent it off the next day by courier adding a note asking to give the sensor a clean; and one of their team rang me the day after that to confirm I’d pay the £38 for the sensor clean plus £10 postage.

Not only did they do the repair and sensor clean, they also replaced the focus screen, updated the firmware and gave the camera a good clean externally. I highly recommend using them if you need to service your camera. The sensor cleaning service is same day with no prior booking required if you’re able to go to their premises. I was without my camera for about 6 days in total, including the postage days.

Their website can be accessed by clicking on the image above.

NAVTEX

With the recent Joint Warrior exercise having taken place here in the UK I thought I’d mention the NAVTEX decoder I use for getting information on where some of the action may be taking place. Why use NAVTEX? Well the Royal Navy, in conjunction with the Queens Harbour Master (Clyde), produce a twice daily warning on Submarine activity off the west coast of Scotland. This is due to a fatal incident in 1990 involving a fishing boat trawler and a dived submarine which unfortunately got snagged up in the trailing net. SUBFACTS, as it is called, is broadcast twice daily on the NAVTEX frequency of 518kHz at 0620 and 1820 UTC and it gives the approximate location of any submarines that are operating within the next 24 hour period. Also included in the broadcast is information on any live firing that is taking place in the danger areas on the coasts and at sea off western Scotland – this is known as GUNFACTS. Further information can be found here

Anyway, back to the software I’ve been using recently. This is the Frisnit NAVTEX Decoder created by Mark Longstaff-Tyrrell and it’s totally free. Not only does it decode NAVTEX messages, if you register the decoder (still free) it means you can upload your receptions to the frisnit server giving them access to anyone. The main aim of this is to provide people at sea with the ability to check NAVTEX messages without the need of having an actual decoder on board. As long as you have access to the internet you can access any uploaded messages. And you don’t need to upload messages yourself either, the messages are freely available to anyone, even if you don’t have the software yourself.

A SUBFACTS message as decoded with frisnit NAVTEX

A SUBFACTS message as decoded with frisnit NAVTEX

As you can see from the image above, as well as a raw data view, there’s also a messages view. All the completed messages are stored on your hard-drive giving you the ability to go back through all the messages you have received.

As well as using NAVTEX for getting the submarine information, it’s also a very useful tool for getting accurate weather forecasts, especially if you live right on the coast as I do, and doubly especially if there’s storms brewing out over the Atlantic.

There’s other features available on the frisnit website, so if you’re interested in NAVTEX take a look, and even try the software. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

The Spectrum Monitor article

tsmcoverI’ve recently had another article published in The Spectrum Monitor. The subject of the article is monitoring the Russian Air Force Strategic Bomber networks on CW and USB. It was good fun to write, but also quite complicated as it’s one of those subjects that can be hard to explain. Anyway, I think it has been received well.

The “magazine” is available as a single edition for $3 or why not subscribe for a year for $24 – that’s $2 a month for around 100 pages of great articles. There isn’t another Radio magazine that can offer such great value, especially here in the UK.

Antennas

With everything else that’s been going on, I totally forgot to do a blog on my new antenna set-up; and when I say new it’s now nearly 12 months old

My old set-up wasn’t too bad with a longwire stretching from the study and just tacked on to the top of the fence and wall around the garden, then from an old washing-line pole to the corner of my garage at the far end. This created a horizontal L shape with a slight incline. Reception was very good although as the antenna wasn’t earthed there was a bit of noise. Luckily I live fairly remote so there isn’t the usual interference from neighbours TV sets etc, but I wanted to improve the signal by creating a better set-up.

As a back up, I also had a Garex Compact Active antenna in the loft which I also wanted to move outside. This is a great active antenna, designed initially to be used on small boats and was perfect as I live on a harbour and have to cope with the same atmosphere and conditions that would be found at sea. Corrosion of metal is a big problem due to the conditions around here, and this was evident in the longwire.

With this in mind, I selected Military Spec. Kevlar Antenna Wire from Nevada Radio. Not only is this wire weather proof and light, it is green and will blend nicely into the background around here, just like camoflage (another reason why it’s used by the Military). It is also incredibly strong, and once tensioned will not stretch like standard wire

Mil. Spec. Kevlar Antenna Wire

I also ordered a few other things including 100m of Military specification RG58C/U coax cable, some Ceramic Insulators, plugs and sockets. Nevada have never let me down and I can recommend them totally

Prior to all this, in a general conversation with John who supplies me with my firewood I mentioned how it would be great to have an old telephone pole to use as the main mast for my antennas – “well, I have loads of them” he says. So when it was time to get it all together in the New Year, John delivered the pole, all 8 meters of it!

Telephone pole after delivery

Telephone pole after delivery

The design was simple really. It would be the longwire stretching from the house in an L, with the down side running down the wall, connecting to the Co-ax, which would then run into the house via an air brick. Grounding would run from the co-ax connection to a copper rod driven into the garden. There would be a splitter in the loft space which would then feed both my Icom IC-R8500 and SDR-IQ radios.

The Garex would be placed at the top of the pole and the co-ax would then run along the wall and fence to the house; and in through the same air brick. The co-ax would continue through to the Icom as my second antenna

With rough calculations I realised that with a pole of 8 metres in length, I was going to need a pretty deep hole to put it in. BT use a screw type thing to dig the hole to the correct depth for their installations, but I didn’t have that, just a spade. 8 metres was too much anyway so I decided to cut off about a metre and calculated that around a 3 foot deep hole would be ok, with 6 bags of quick drying cement to firmly secure it in.

Garex attached to the pole

First of all though, I needed to attach the Garex to the top of the pole as I didn’t fancy doing that once it was upright and in the ground. Far easier to connect it all up and then plant the post into the hole. There are the usual steps attached to the pole which would be ok to use for general maintenance but it was going to be hard work getting the screw bolts into the solid wood of the pole that were needed to secure the mast mount.

Longwire clamp and step

With the Garex mounted and the cable run complete, it was then time to turn to the longwire. Again, it was going to be much easier to attach first and then raise the pole into position. BT had left the wire clamp on the pole so after a bit of a fight to get the bolts out that connected this, I was able to service them by wire brushing off the rust and corrosion before reconnecting them with some copper grease added to stop any further rust. To help secure the wire a bit better I first threaded some garden wire through some yellow/green earth sleeving which was then fed into the clamp and I then put the wire through one end an insulator. Then I fed the longwire through the other end of the insulator and tied off the wire using a standard camping guyrope tensioner, as unlike conventional wires that you wrap around itself the Kevlar wire uncoils due to its great flexibility. The tensioner butts up against the the insulator stopping the wire from going through the hole

So with both antennas attached and the hole dug, it was time to get the pole up. This turned out to be very easy, and with some assistance to hold it steady and totally vertical, I poured in the 6 bags of quick drying cement. After about 10 minutes it was ok to leave the pole on its own, and I waited a further two days before stretching the longwire across to the house

Whilst I waited those two days, I carried out the remaining tasks of getting all the co-ax in place and fully connecting the Garex to the Icom. Already, with the Garex, I could tell the difference that the new location made. The noise floor was much better, and there was no interference at all from anything electrical. The co-ax and splitter were all connected and the run down to the study was also completed, although I had previously needed to rearrange my whole desk to get everything in a better position in anticipation of this project

Shack

Shack

Prior to the desk change I needed to stretch quite a way to the Icom, normally needing to stand up, but now I can just adjust from my seat as it is within half an arms length. I had also connected up an old NAD amplifier and two NAD speakers to the SDR-IQ via the second soundcard in my PC

When it came to the final connection of the longwire to the co-ax, I just used a standard chocbloc, placed inside a waterproof electical box available from most DIY stores. Getting the wire nice and tight wasn’t a problem using an insulator at the corner and end of the L, and I left a little slack to feed into the waterproof box. The earth rod was connected by some old wire to the outer shield of the co-ax and we were good to go

RG58 running into the house via an air brick. Even in this picture it's hard to see the Kevlar wire

RGU58 running into the house via an air brick. Even in this picture it’s hard to see the Kevlar wire

The results were excellent. Nice clear signals with hardly any outside interference. I get the occasional trouble with electricals, normally my own PCs, but in the modern world this is hardly surprising (or avoidable). The longwire runs almost exactly North-South, which is perfect for what I normally listen too – Russian Navy and Military transmissions, but it’s also perfect for getting the Ocean traffic and USA

Overall, I’m very pleased with it. With the use of an old telephone pole and green wire, the whole antenna has basically disappeared into the background. After some chats with neighbours most hadn’t even noticed it had gone up. In fact, one even said they thought it had been there for years

Finished longwire running down to the house

Finished longwire running down to the house

Looking back to the pole

Looking back to the pole

Another angle on a sunny day

Another angle on a sunny day

New Year, new start

I really haven’t had much time to blog, so much so that it’s been months since my last one. So, with the New Year (although it’s already February) I decided I’d make more of an effort

Although my blog has the title of “Planes and stuff”, it’s more likely to become just “stuff”. Planes are somewhat lacking up here in Scotland, and the ones that are around are a good few hours drive away – in fact Lossiemouth is a longer drive than Manchester is. I really am hoping that this year I can get some trips in. Already planned is Aprils Joint Warrior up at Lossie; and most definitely up around Greenock and Faslane for the Warship participants

I’ve kind of stumbled into the Warship photography. It’s been interesting watching the Warships and Submarines go past the house over the last few years so when I started listening to the Russian Navy transmissions on my radios I started taking more notice of what was going by. In October last year I decided to pop up to Greenock to get some photos of the Warships taking part in the Joint Warrior exercise. It was an interesting day and I decided I’d get a secondhand Jane’s Fighting Ships off eBay so that I could get more information on things.

HMS Ambush

When the book arrived I noticed that Jane’s accepted photos so I sent a few away which will now hopefully be published in next years book

Of course, having the one book led onto others as I just needed to know about what weapons the ships were carrying; and radar, and comms equipment. I think I have 8 books now.

Jane’s were good enough to give me a discount on some newer books, including Fighting Ships, so I now have some more up to date copies than those originally bought off eBay

Belgian Navy Minesweeper Lobelia (M921)
Danish Navy Frigate Hvidbjornen (F360)

Onto my radio listening now, and in particular the Russian Navy Morse Code (CW) transmissions

This has turned into quite a fascinating hobby for me, although sometimes frustrating due to poor reception. I discovered through a forum that the CIS Navy ships send weather reports every 6 hours for their current location. They use the standard observation method as described by NOAA in their observation handbook, and within this message format there is a Lat/Long position report for where the observation took place. This means you are able to track their positions. This totally amazed me when I found this out

I now have a database of over a hundred callsigns as used by the CIS Navy, although I haven’t heard them all. Probably the busiest week or so of listening was in November when myself and a few others tracked a large movement of ships in the White Sea. Eventually we were able to work out that this was in fact a test of a new Cruise Missile from a newly launched Nuclear Submarine. More information can be found here http://rusnavy.com/news/navy/index.php?ELEMENT_ID=16398. In total we were able to track 9 ships during the firing, although all remained unidentified. The busiest mover was callsign RBC89 which gave position reports as shown here on google maps:

They do round up the positions hence the odd one that are on land. Below are example messages taken from the 5th November

0343z RBC89 191 19 5 0725 191 = FOR RJD90 RJH74 =
05001 99659 10364 41/96 91909 10020 49980 54000
70022 89/// 22252 00020 2???? 319// 40302 88000
05016 = + RBC89

65.9N 36.4E Heading SW @ 6-10kts
http://goo.gl/maps/hT0Ep

0354z VVV RJD99 DE RBC89 QSA? QTC

0355z VVV RJD99 DE RBC89 QSA? QTC

0356z RBC89 186 ?? 5 0730 186 = FOR RJD90 RJH74 =
05021 99662 10362 41/96 92207 00040 49980 54000
748?4 89/// 22272 00030 20202 319// 40402 88000
05016 = + RBC89

66.2N 36.2E Heading NW @ 6-10kts
http://goo.gl/maps/5TPrF

0403z RBC89 223 3 5 0801 223 = FOR RJD99 =
02552 05001 = + RBC89

0407z RMB81 QSA? QTC
VVV RJD99 DE RMB81 QSA? QTC

0550z VVV RJD99 DE RBC89 QSA? QTC
RBC89 572 9 5 0955 572 = FOR RJD90 RJH74 =
050?? 99662 10345 41/96 9230? 00050 40000 52020
70222 89/// 22232 00030 20202 232// 40302 88000
05016 = + RBC89

66.2N 34.5E Heading SE @ 6-10kts
http://goo.gl/maps/hmxyW

In the last message group RBC89 calls RJD99. The position is decoded from 99662 10345, with the heading/speed 22232.

The main frequencies in use are 8345kHz and 12464kHz, although there are hundreds listed that have been used by the Russian Navy. They are all in CW

Quite a few ships have been tied up to the callsigns now through their reports. This is achieved from the Russian Navy themselves as they publish news items everyday on the internet, especially when ships arrive at certain locations. I also use a few other websites including Shipspotting.com and Bosphorus Navy News

Well, that’s it for this update. Next will be Numbers Stations and QSL cards