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Product Review and Short Takes from QST Magazine


December 2008 Product Reviews: Microtelecom Perseus Software Defined Receiver

Short Takes: Arrow II 146-4BP Antenna

Copyright 2008 by the American Radio Relay League Inc. All rights reserved.

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product review

Microtelecom Perseus Software Defined Receiver


Reviewed by Steve Ford, WB8IMY QST Editor
CMP

Key Measurements Summary


115 117

20 70
98
CMP

140

20 kHz Blocking Gain Compression (dB)

70

99

140 100

2 kHz Blocking Gain Compression (dB)

I3

As depicted in ancient Greek dramas, Perseus was a hero who used a clever ruse to slay the hideous Medusa (she of the reptilian coiffure and statuesque stare) and went on to save his beloved Andromeda from a sea monster. The 21st century Italian-made Perseus is a receiver that is striving to create its own legend by taking an innovative approach to software defined radio (SDR). Whether or not the gods smile on this Perseus only time will tell. To set the stage for this drama, some explanation is in order. Most amateurs think of a software defined receiver as a device that starts with conventional front-end hardware a filter and/or preselector, followed by an RF preamplifier and finally a stage that converts the RF signal to in-phase (I) and quadrature (Q) signals at audio frequencies. These baseband signals are subsequently fed to a computer sound card that samples and digitizes them, making the resulting data available for sophisticated massaging by software. As Gerald Youngblood, K5SDR, stated in his 2002 QEX article, Give me I and Q and I can demodulate anything.1 The Perseus receiver uses a somewhat different method. It digitizes the RF the moment it exits the front end filters and preamplifier. A high-speed analog-to-digital converter (ADC) converts the RF to data
1G.

by taking 80 million samples of the signal each second. Next, the Perseus uses a field programmable gate array (FPGA) to create I and Q information that is streamed to the PC via a USB cable for processing. In other words, the signal becomes data before it even reaches the computer. This approach to SDR has several benefits that are apparent right away Fewer parts housed in a compact enclosure. The Perseus hardware enclosure only measures 4.3 1.4 7.3 inches. Figure 1 is a look inside the box. Fewer cables. No sound card audio cables required just a single USB cable to your computer. saving one of the best benefits for last, And the performance of the Perseus does not depend on the quality of your computer sound card. With a conventional SDR your sound card acts as the analog-to-digital converter, so a mediocre sound card will give a mediocre result. With the Perseus, the analog-to-digital conversion is handled by high-performance hardware within the radio itself. The sound card in your computer is only there to drive your speakers, so any sound card will do.

20 50

100 110

20 kHz 3rd-Order Dynamic Range (dB)

I3 2
50 97 110 41
2 kHz 3rd-Order Dynamic Range (dB)

I3 20 -40

32 +35

20 kHz 3rd-Order Intercept (dBm)

I3 2
PR035

-40

32 +35

2 kHz 3rd-Order Intercept (dBm)


80 M 20 M

Key:
Off Scale

Dynamic range and intercept values with preamp off. Intercept values determined using -97 dBm reference.

Bottom Line
The Perseus SDR uses cutting edge receiver technology to offer excellent performance and a wide range of features. It covers 10 kHz to 30 MHz and can receive all popular analog and digital modes with appropriate software.

Setting Up the Perseus


The Perseus arrives in a small, unpretentious package with very little inside. There is the radio itself, a 5 V wall-wart power supply with interchangeable US or European plugs, a USB cable and a CD-ROM with the

Youngblood, AC5OG, A Software-Defined Radio for the Masses Part 1, QEX, Jul/ Aug 2002.

Mark J. Wilson, K1RO


From December 2008 QST ARRL

Product Review Editor

k1ro@arrl.org

Perseus software, USB drivers and instruction manual. Microtelecom recommends a minimum 2 GHz PC running Windows XP or Vista. If you want to push the Perseus to its performance limit, they recommend a 2.5 GHz dual-core system. (Our ARRL Lab tests shown in Table 1 were performed using a 1.86 GHz dual-core PC.) The minimum requirements shown in Table 2 are easily met with any recent computer. For my tests, I used a 2 GHz Toshiba Satellite laptop computer with 1 GB of memory and Windows Vista Home Basic. This is typical for what now passes as a budget consumer laptop. It is worth noting that the Perseus is not confined to a Windows environment. Any SDR application can be used as long as it can talk to the Perseus hardware. If Linux is your pleasure, Microtelecom encourages you to try the popular Linrad application at www.sm5bsz.com/linuxdsp/linroot.htm. Once you have the Perseus applications loaded to the computer, simply plug in the USB cable on the rear panel (Figure 2). With the Perseus hardware attached, fire up the application of your choice (the main Perseus software or the spectrum analyzer) and the radio comes to life. At first I tried receiving with just a 30 foot wire plugged directly into the radios BNC RF INPUT port. This didnt work well because the antenna was too close to my RF-noisy laptop, resulting in a continuous S7 level noise floor. I tried using a 15 foot USB extension cable to put some distance between the laptop and the antenna. This reduced the noise substantially. When I connected the Perseus to my outdoor inverted V antenna, the laptop interference was finally inaudible.

table 1 Microtelecom perseus, serial number 00501


Manufacturers Specifications
Frequency coverage: 0.01-30 MHz. Power requirement: +5 V dc, 700 mA. Modes of operation: SSB, CW, AM, FM.

Measured in the ARRL Lab


0.01-40 MHz. As specified. As specified.

Receiver
SSB/CW sensitivity, 2.4 kHz bandwidth, 10 dB (S+N)/N: 0.39 V (SSB)

Receiver Dynamic Testing


Noise Floor (MDS), 500 Hz filter: Preamp off Preamp on 1.0 MHz 126 dBm 129 dBm 3.5 MHz 127 dBm 129 dBm 14 MHz 126 dBm 127 dBm 10 dB (S+N)/N, 1-kHz, 30% modulation: Preamp off Preamp on 1.0 MHz 3.4 V 3.1 V 3.8 MHz 2.7 V 2.3 V For 12 dB SINAD: Preamp off 29 MHz 4.5 V Preamp on 3.9 V

AM sensitivity: Not specified.

FM sensitivity: Not specified.

Blocking gain compression: Not specified.

Gain compression, 500 Hz bandwidth: 20 kHz offset 5/2 kHz offset Preamp off/on Preamp off 3.5 MHz 115/115 dB 104/98 dB 14 MHz 117/112 dB 105/99 dB >70 dB. Measured IMD level 127 dBm 97 dBm 126 dBm 97dBm 88 dBm 127 dBm 97 dBm 126 dBm 97 dBm 89 dBm 126 dBm 97 dBm 88 dBm Measured IMD DR 100 dB 100 dB Calculated IP3 +23 dBm +41 dBm +24 dBm +32 dBm +44 dBm +22 dBm +32 dBm +20 dBm +32 dBm +44 dBm +20 dBm +32 dBm +44 dBm

Maximum notch depth: Not specified. ARRL Lab Two-Tone IMD Testing Band/Preamp 3.5 MHz/Off 14 MHz/Off Spacing 20 kHz 20 kHz Input level 27 dBm 5 dBm 26 dBm 11 dBm 0 dBm 28 dBm 11 dBm 29 dBm 11 dBm 0 dBm 29 dBm 11 dBm 0 dBm

14 MHz/On 14 MHz/Off

20 kHz 5 kHz

99 dB 97 dB

14 MHz/Off

2 kHz

97 dB

The World at Your Fingertips


Hams whove read my product reviews know that one of my favorite yardsticks is the no-manual test. Yes, we should all read the manuals before we apply power to any equipment. In theory, however, a well designed piece of hardware or software should be sufficiently user friendly that it works right out of the box with as little study as possible. The Perseus software passed the no-manual test admirably. Once you figure out how to click your mouse on the arrow keys at the lower edges of the spectrum display, youre in business. There is a digital frequency readout as well. If you double-click within the readout window, a direct frequency entry keypad appears. Just enter your desired frequency in kilohertz and click OK or turn your mouse wheel. There are a total of 10 ways to tune the radio by clicking and dragging
Second-order intercept: Not specified. Image rejection: 90 dB FM adjacent channel rejection: Not specified. FM two-tone, third-order IMD dynamic range: Not specified. S-meter sensitivity: Not specified. IF/audio response: Not specified. Preamp off/on, +85/+89 dBm. 97 dB 20 kHz offset, 29 MHz, preamp on: 79 dB. 20 kHz offset, 29 MHz, preamp on: 80 dB. S9 signal at 14.2 MHz: preamp off or on, 56.2 V.* Range at 6 dB points (bandwidth):** CW: 348-850 Hz (502 Hz) Equivalent Rectangular BW: 496 Hz; USB: 113-2845 Hz (2732 Hz); LSB: 112-2865 Hz (2753 Hz); AM: 73-3090 Hz (3017 Hz).

Size (height, width, depth): 1.4 4.3 7.3 inches; weight, 13.4 oz. Price: $1299.
*S-meter reading not affected by preamp or attenuators. **Variable filters, set to 449.7 Hz, 2.73 kHz and 5.98 kHz (CW, SSB, AM)

From December 2008 QST ARRL

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table 2 Minimum System requirements


2 GHz Pentium IV CPU with 512 MB RAM. USB 2.0 port. 16 bit AC-97 compatible audio board. 1024 x 768 minimum resolution video board and monitor. Two button mouse with wheel. 10 GB or more internal hard-disk.

Figure 1 The Perseus SDR PC board has few components.

Figure 2 The receivers rear panel has just three jacks for connecting power, your computer and an antenna.

various parts of the display. If you prefer a more tactile tuning experience, the Perseus will also work with the Griffin Technology PowerMate USB controller acting as a traditional knob ($45 at www.griffintechnology. com/products/powermate). The Perseus software creates an attractive virtual radio on your computer screen, as you can see in the accompanying illustrations. All functions are clearly labeled and the operation of the software overall is very intuitive. During my first 30 minutes of exFrom December 2008 QST ARRL

ploration, I only had to resort to the manual when I wanted to learn the finer points of a particular function. The Perseus has an effective receive range of 10 kHz to more than 30 MHz. Within the spectrum display window you can monitor up to 800 kHz at a time.2 For most of my applications, however, I reduced the display bandwidth considerably to make it easier to
2The

manufacturer reports that the latest software supports 1600 kHz at a time.

tune narrow signals such as CW or digital. There are eight receive modes available at the click of a software button: CW, Upper Sideband, Lower Sideband, AM, Synchronous AM, RTTY, FM and DRM (more about DRM in a moment). The Perseus also provides a USER mode that makes the raw I and Q data available for user-designed applications. The turbocharged performance of the Perseus became evident when I used it to dig weak CW signals out of the noise one evening on 40 meters. Some of the signals that I could hear clearly with the Perseus were mere whispers when I switched to my conventional transceiver using the same antenna. Best of all, I could create ultra-narrow filters by simply clicking my mouse cursor in the Perseus bandwidth window and dragging the right and left-hand bars that represent the filter skirts. It was fascinating to tune into a crowded band, then narrow the filters slowly, listening as the nearby signals vanished. You can also drag the filter through the bands, hearing signals pop in and out of the filter window. If youve never listened to shortwave broadcasts using synchronous AM (SAM), you dont know what youve been missing. When you tune in an AM signal and toggle the SAM mode button, the Perseus creates a stable reference carrier to effectively replace the one sent by the transmitting station. This greatly reduces the effects of fading, making the signal a pleasure to hear. Even music, which often suffers worst of all, is enhanced with SAM. I used the Perseus in the RTTY mode to receive digital signals, but the software does not have a built-in RTTY decoder. To use the Perseus with a digital decoding application such as DigiPan, you have to find a way to share the receivers audio output signal. You can do this with a clever piece of Windows software known as Virtual Audio Cable (VAC). VAC is available at software.muzychenko.net/eng/vac.html for $30. There is a free trial version, but it injects a nagging voice into the audio stream saying Trial! every 10 seconds or so. With VAC running in the background, I was able to eavesdrop on PSK31 conversations using DigiPan, as you can see in Figure 3. With the Perseus you can get a taste of digital shortwave broadcasts that use the DRM (Digital Radio Mondiale) format. Youve probably heard the wide, buzzing DRM signals from time to time on the HF bands. These broadcasts offer FM quality audio, text streams and more, but the Perseus cannot decode DRM directly. You must download the general-purpose DRM decoder at www.winradio.com/home/downloaddrm.htm and purchase a license key for

Figure 3 Using DigiPan PSK31 software with the Perseus.

Figure 4 Listening to a Vatican Radio DRM broadcast with commercial DRM decoding software running alongside the Perseus application.

Figure 6 Close-up view of the Perseus memory display. In this example, the software automatically identified five stations from the EIBI database that could be occupying the frequency at that time.

Figure 5 The Perseus in waterfall display mode.

$49.95 at www.robogroup.com/winradio/ drmkey.htm. Alternatively, you can try your hand at installing the source code for the free DREAM software at www.nschall. de. I chose the commercial DRM decoder and had to use the VAC application to port the audio to it. After some tweaking and experimentation, I finally achieved success as shown in Figure 4. It is an astonishing thing to hear such high-fidelity stereo audio on shortwave frequencies!

Enhanced Features
The Perseus software provides signal processing control through a number of enhanced features. AGC levels are selectable, or the AGC can be disabled entirely. The noise reduction function can be switched on and the level varied accordingly. Unlike some DSP noise reduction applications that tend to create a hollow, ringing sound, the Perseus version is pleasant to the ears even at high noise reduction levels. Speaking

of noise, the Perseus also offers an impressive variable noise blanker. This worked quite well, although it tended to introduce distortion into SSB signals when set to high blanking levels. Since it is eliminating or reducing signal spikes that represent impulse noise, its understandable that the Perseus blanker would have this effect on a rapidly changing SSB signal. You can select from 10, 20 and 30 dB attenuation levels, which is useful when youre tuning particularly strong signals. You can also activate a front end preselector, as well as a receive preamplifier. The preamp only has about 2 dB gain, so its contribution isnt very noticeable. You certainly hear the effects of the attenuators as you switch them in and out, but you dont see the effects reflected in the S meter, which displays the actual received signal level regardless of attenuator or preamplifier selection. The receiver can also be set to display the received signal level in

dBm, and readings were within 1 dB of the ARRL Labs calibrated signal generator. I used the spectral signal display during most of my tests. However, a colorful waterfall display is also available (Figure 5). While tuning through a wide swath of signals with either display, it was handy to use the software marker function to label the amplitudes and frequencies of interesting signals I discovered along the way.

Whats that Signal?


The Perseus puts signal databases to work in a novel way. As you tune through the frequencies, the software continuously checks station information stored in one of three databases: HFCC, EIBI or USER. HFCC stands for the database available from the High Frequency Coordination Committee (www.hfcc.org/) and EIBI denotes the popular database maintained by Eike Bierwirth (www.susi-und-strolch.de/eibi/). Recent versions of both the HFCC and EIBI databases are included with the Perseus software. Obviously, USER is a database you create yourself. Whenever the Perseus tunes within 500 Hz of a station frequency listed in the selected database, it quickly determines whether the station should be on the air according to the current date and time. If all the
From December 2008 QST ARRL

transmitter or amplifier testing, interference hunting and more. In Figure 7 youll see HF Scan displaying the full 10 kHz to 40 MHz range while the Perseus was attached to my outside antenna. Notice how all the activity is going on below 20 MHz a typical afternoon of poor propagation!

My Perseus Wish List


Everyone has a wish list for their favorite radio, a list of everything they wish the radio could do (within reason). The problem with wish lists is that even if the manufacturers agree, change doesnt come easily to conventional hardware-based radios. The results of consumer feedback can take years to show up in finished products. Not so with software defined radios. The power of SDR is in its extraordinary flexibility. Since nearly all the heavy lifting is done in malleable software, change can come with astonishing speed. Only the hardware remains the same. So, with that in mind, here is my wish list for future incarnations of the Perseus: Make it possible to use the Perseus software without the radio attached. As small as it is, I shouldnt have to lug the box around just to listen to prerecorded spectrum files.4 Add the ability to easily record conventional WAV audio files. Add the ability to write to the USER memory database with a single mouse click and include the ability to scroll through all databases from within the Perseus software and select individual stations. Add direct DRM decoding without making the user resort to third-party software. Add built-in decoders for RTTY, PSK31 and other digital modes. The Perseuss $1299 price tag may seem a bit breathtaking for a receiver, but keep in mind that youre investing in a radio with professional-grade characteristics. Also, youre paying for the benefits of cutting edge SDR performance with software that can adapt to changing needs. The Perseus you purchase today may become a very different radio a year from now with more features and improved performance. You wont have to reach for your credit card to upgrade to the latest model, though. Just go to your nearest Internet connection. Manufacturer: Microtelecom, Pavia di Udine, Italy; www.microtelecom.it/ perseus. Distributed in the United States by SSB Electronic USA, 124 Cherrywood Dr Mountaintop, PA 18707; tel 570-868-5643; www.ssbusa.com.
4The manufacturer reports that our wish has been

Figure 7 The Perseus HF Scan spectrum analyzer displaying the full 10 kHz to 40 MHz range with the radio attached to an outside antenna.

data points match, it displays the information in the MEM (memory) window (Figure 6). For example, I tuned across a broadcast at 7.185 MHz at 2230 UTC on a Friday evening while the HFCC database was selected in the memory window. At that instant, the Perseus software found a match in the HFCC database and informed me that the signal I had just received was most likely Radio Romania. As helpful as this function is, it has two problems from my point of view. First, you cannot add new discoveries to the USER database without going through the clumsy effort of opening the database as a text file and manually typing in the information. (And the Perseus manual only offers sketchy instructions about how to do this.) Unlike most amateur transceivers and conventional shortwave receivers, the Perseus doesnt offer the equivalent of a convenient MEMORY WRITE button. Second, you cannot scroll through a database, select a station frequency and command the Perseus to switch to that frequency. In fact, you cant scroll through the databases within the Perseus software at all. Again, this is a function usually present in amateur transceivers and receivers.

Recording Magic
In addition to its phenomenal performance, the Perseus does something that seems almost magical. Depending on which sampling rate pushbutton you click on the Perseus panel 125, 250, 500, or 1000 kS/s you can record a spectrum window up to 800 kHz wide.3 The software saves the recordings as contiguous 10 minute long WAV files containing the I/Q signal information. When you play these files back through the Perseus software, the entire spectrum is available to you as
3See

though the radio was still receiving on those frequencies. During playback, any of the tuning methods can be used. For instance, lets say that you recorded 10 minutes worth of the 400 kHz between 7.000 and 7.400 MHz. At any later time you can switch on the Perseus, load the file and tune through the frequencies, listening to one signal after another, just as though you were doing it in real time. This could have serious applications for Amateur Radio contest analysis or spectrum usage studies. The only catch is that the I/Q WAV files can be quite large. Recording just 10 minutes at a 400 kHz bandwidth creates a 1.75 GB file. To record an entire 24 hour contest youd need a dedicated 250 GB hard drive. These I/Q WAV files are not the ordinary audio WAV files youd play with an application such as Windows Media Player. They will only play back through the Perseus software. The Perseus software does not have the ability to record conventional WAV audio files, which is an unfortunate handicap, especially when you want to record a specific signal and share it with others who dont own a Perseus. One way you can do this is, again, by using the Virtual Audio Cable application to share the audio output with Windows Sound Recorder or another sound recording application of your choice.

Spectrum Analyzer
Id be remiss if I failed to mention the handy HF Scan spectrum analyzer. This Windows application comes with the Perseus software, although it is separate and cannot operate at the same time. HF Scan uses the high-performance Perseus hardware to create a real-time RF spectrum analyzer covering 10 kHz to 40 MHz. This is an extremely useful function for many different applications including

Note 2.

granted in current software versions.

From December 2008 QST ARRL

short takes

The Arrow II 146-4BP Antenna


the 146-4BP on the pipe and Mike Gruber, W1MG propped the mast vertically on ARRL Laboratory Engineer my balcony using a plastic outmgruber@arrl.org door chair (see photo). I gave Id long considered a portaa few quick calls and heard ble 2 meter collapsible antenna WB1GCM right on schedule. many times and for a multiSignals peaked around S7 after plicity of purposes. The ideal a little direction tweaking and I candidate would combine light was having some serious fun! weight, compact design and A second attempt two nights functionality in a single packlater provided similar results. age. I wanted something that Bob and I maintained a full would easily fit in a backpack one-hour QSO with 100% or airline luggage, feature quick copy for the duration despite easy assembly without tools and some fading. provide useful performance for The ARRL June VHF QSO a variety of applications. Party provided my next opporI seriously began to contunity to assess the Arrows sider my options after several performance. I worked stadiscussions with ARRL LaboraThe Arrow 146-4BP Yagi perched on the authors balcony at tions from Long Island to tory test engineer Bob Allison, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Vermont using a similar WB1GCM. I was planning a mounting scheme on my summer vacation in Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Bob suggested that I attempt (A three element antenna and a single section backyard deck in Connecticut. An unknown source of 2 meter radio a 2 meter SSB contact with him at his home boom are also available.) Individual element 1 1 station in Coventry, Connecticut. Although lengths range from 17 8 to 20 4 inches. interference proved to be an opportunity to Bob seemed confident in some level of suc- The 48 inch boom breaks down into three assess the Arrows use in a direction-finding application. Most commercial power-linecess, it was a long haul for low power and low 16 inch sections. The manual is primarily a double sided noise-locating antennas operate at frequenelevation about 120 miles as the crow flies. The more Bob and I talked about it, however, sheet with diagrams showing element and cies higher than 2 meters. Lower frequencies, the more intrigued I became with the idea. gamma match dimensions. I only needed however, can provide longer range when Although time was short, I was confident two minutes to assemble the antenna once necessary, possibly an advantage when the the upcoming Dayton Hamvention would the mounting bracket was installed. The source is some distance away. In this case, the provide some interesting antenna options. boom sections are keyed to prevent incorrect interference was only on 2 meters, probably a The Arrow II 146-4BP Yagi antenna was assembly. When assembly is complete, four Part 15 consumer device located in a nearby threaded rods through the boom hold every- home. Using a professional noise locating one of them. A quick look at Arrows Web site indi- thing together both the boom sections receiver and the Arrow antenna, I was quickly cated they would not be at the upcoming and elements. Only the reflector elements able to pinpoint the source. A 1 foot section Hamvention, but my disappointment was are uniquely marked, but identifying them of plastic pipe served as a convenient handle during the hunt. The antenna was a bit larger short-lived. Through an e-mail inquiry to by length is easy. The gamma match comes preset from the than convenient for my sedan, so some disasAl Lowe, NIMW, at Arrow, I learned that their distributor, VIS Electronics, would be factory. The manual doesnt describe how to sembly was required for transport. at the show. An e-mail to VIS confirmed adjust it, but I found the SWR to be acceptthey would be selling the 146-4BP at their able for my purposes. (It was a maximum of Some Final Thoughts The entire Arrow II 146-4BP Antenna booth. I returned home from Dayton with a 1.6:1 at the bottom of the band and 1.1:1 at new 146-4BP antenna ($55) and two related the upper end.) I suppose adjustments could with mount weighs less than 23 ounces. accessories: an Arrow M/B II mounting be made to tweak the antenna for a particular Small and light, this antenna gives me a bracket ($9) and an Arrow 30 inch nylon frequency range, but I didnt try it. EZNEC+ plenty of take-anywhere performance for vaantenna modeling software predicts the for- cations, hiking in the hills with my handheld bag ($24). ward gain to be 9.38 dBi at 144.20 MHz. The transceiver, foxhunting or as a backup during My Dayton Acquisitions antenna feed point is equipped with a female a power line noise hunt. Given a little time, A quick look at the antenna suggested the BNC connector, so you'll need to invest in an Im sure youll also be able to come up with some ideas of your own for this antenna. origin of the Arrow moniker. Although the adapter for other types of connectors. Manufacturer: Arrow Antennas, 911 E boom is 34 inch rectangular aluminum, each Fox Farm Rd #2, Cheyenne, WY 82007, tel of the elements is made from aluminum ar- The Acid Test A quick trip to the local hardware store 307-638-2369; www.arrowantennas.com. row shafts minus the point and feathers, of course. I opted for the four-element Yagi provided a very inexpensive mast a 5 foot Note: Arrow doesnt accept credit cards over design with a three-section collapsible boom. section of 12 inch plastic pipe. I mounted the phone or ship outside the US.
From December 2008 QST ARRL