John's Musings


Yeah, Me Neither

SDRPlay RSP2 Review

Like I don't have enough SDR radios............I have a couple of the black dongles, a couple of the blue dongles, a couple of the Version 3 dongles, a FunCube Pro dongle, a NooElec Nano 3, a Ham It Up Upconverter, an Airspy, and a Spyverter up converter. I also have a HackRF.


I use one for FM radio at work and to listen to military aircraft ground communications. (I work in the Operations Building at MCAS Cherry Point, NC). Another one is in my attic doing PiAware and tracking aircraft with a filter and antenna. The Funcube Pro is my go to dongle for grabbing NOAA satellite data. For some reason I get the best results with it. The HackRF is doing replay attacks. The Airspy is a digital trunking radio. The Nano 3 stays in the laptop bag so I can show off SDR to lesser humans. Any or all of them can be used for HF listening as well. I just grab what's closest. I particularly like listening to this one Holy Roller on Shortwave who just knows the end of the world is coming right after the eclipse later this month. :)


Oh I almost forgot.......I have a Dreamcatcher and LNA antenna for talking to INMARSAT and the "Outernet" If you don't know what Outernet is.....check here.


This is not a review chocked full of technical information and numbers. This is a review from a hobbyist who is using the device for the first time(s) and my observations. While devices such as RSP2 are technically superior to regular SDR dongles it all depends on how you use it. If you buy an RSP2 and pay $169 and only listen to AM and FM radio....you spent too much. I'm using mine to track satellites, and sniff signals out of the air and trying to learn a thing or two about signals and signal security.


So while I know a thing or two about SDR, I'm still very much just a hobbyist with a Linux problem.


Decided to pick up an RSP2 from SDRPlay.com


The principal difference between the less expensive RSP1 and the RSP2 is the number of antenna ports. It has 2 SMA ports (A and B) and one High Z port for HF frequencies. The A port is just kind of a normal port and the B port has a Bias - T enable which allows you to crank a few volts out of the port to power a Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) which is an awesome feature. The High Z port has P, N, and Ground connections allowing for balanced installations.


So right out of the chute it is fat on features. An SDR experimenters dream. I was kind of surprised when the box arrived and it was just as it appears in a form fitting clear plastic box. And that's wonderful until you realize there is no USB cable, and oddly enough the thing that got me the most was the absence of the 4 sticky rubber feet that usually come with an item like this.


Neither of those things are deal breakers though, just minor annoyances.



Here's another thing that gets me (and I promise this isn't going to be a negative review). It doesn't work with the de facto standard SDR program SDR#. Well, that's kinda true. It does work if you use an older version of SDR# and a plug in. The great thing about SDR# though is that you run it from a folder in Windows and not your typically installed Windows program. That means I can have my up to date SDR# and launch the older version with the plug in from another folder.


UPDATED NOTE: I installed version SDR# 1491 and the RSPSDRPlay Plugin and it works great. Hopefully they'll get this resolved so one day I only have to have one instance of SDR# on the computer........but who cares? It works!





SDRPlay uses a program called SDRUNO downloadable from their website and while it looks powerful beyond all belief there is a steep learning curve compared to using SDR# or GQRX (free program for Mac and Linux). But once you learn how to navigate around well then, you've got it made.






I own exactly one Windows laptop that I just bought a couple weeks ago. I got it specifically to run some SDR projects that aren't ready for prime time in Linux. But, alas I am a Linux guy. To use an RSP2 on Linux you have to install a driver (which is a .RUN file, which you just don't see very much of in Linux) and then you have to install a program called CubicSDR. Oh if it were only that simple. You must install the driver, install some dependencies, and then build and install 6 programs from source code. That sounds daunting if you've never done it before. The instructions are here. While it looks terrible to the newbie, the reality is that it is just a lot of cutting and pasting. Depending on how fast your computer is it will take 20 to 30 minutes to work through it all. There was ONE mistake in the instructions. Under Step 6.2 for wxWdigets......See the space between the dash and the 3 below? Remove that space and hit enter.


https://github.com/wxWidgets/wxWidgets/releases/download/v3.1.0/wxWidgets- 3.1.0.tar.bz2


In fact I'm going to say right now that if you are a bright and shiny SDR user that is not above average in computer geekiness this SDR may NOT be for you.


However, comma, if you can get through the install this is THE radio to get. The 10 MHz of useable bandwidth is huge and allows you to use the RSP2 to cover multiple trunked radio control channels and channels.


Also following the Non-Windows workflow will install a useable driver for GQRX as well.




The Device String ends up being:


driver=sdrplay,soapy=0


And while it works, the waveform looks different under GQRX than it usually does when using an RTL-SDR dongle or comparable SDR such as the Airspy.


You can build an additional driver for Linux for GQRX however, as of yet I haven't done it yet. Probably won't on my work computer since all I do it listen to FM radio and ground voice communications.






And here's what CubicSDR looks like.


SDRPLAY RSP2 Device UNDER SOAPYSDR




CUBICSDR ON UBUNTU 16.04.2 LINUX


MY TAKE:


This SDR is a little less plug and play than other SDR dongles. If you are listening to AM and FM radio and tracking aircraft (dump1090) then buy a $25 dongle on Amazon or eBay and save some money. However if you KNOW you are going to grow your interest in SDR radio you NEED a device that has this fantastic 10 MHz of bandwidth because eventually you are going to build a digital trunking scanner. You're also going to want the 4.7 volt Bias-T to drive a Low Noise Amplifier (LNA) when you're chasing satellites. That will prevent you from adding a power supply to your rig. A power supply or voltage converter or stuff means another wire running up the pole and another extension cord or cable run.


If you are a hard core hobbyist this is MONEY WELL SPENT. You win.



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