Sunday, 10 December 2017

Review: Uputronics Wideband Preamp


Review: Uputronics Wideband Preamp

Also called HABamp or Habamp, a low noise radio amplifier for radio signals between 100 MHz and 4 Ghz in a metal case with bias-T or 5V external power.
Available for $45 equivalent from the manufacturer in the UK, or for $45 from airspy.us in the USA (plus shipping).
Recevied review sample from the manufacturer without strings attached  - thank you. Customary legal bits here.
Testing has been carried out with multiple receivers, with a discone and frequency-specific ground plane antennas for innumerable months - for a reason.
Summary: ultimately, I must conclude that Uputronic's Wideband Preamp is the best external preamp available for radio enthusiasts for general use.
Pricey, but well worth it.

First impressions

Technical specifications from manufacturer, black and white version with instructions shipped in box:



Unit is massive, built like a tank (same case as all other Uputronics preamps), SMA female ports with nut and washer properly labeled.



Printed circuit board, gotta love the personal touch:


Large PCB and finned metal case contributes to excellent heat dissipation, metal case was only 2 degrees Celsius warmer than ambient room temperature of 19 degrees - to put values in perspective, rtl-sdr.com v.3 registered 37 degrees, and a Pro Stick Plus in an rtl-sdr.com metal case with thermal pads showed 42 degrees with same infrared thermometer.



Reliability was 100%. Plug in and forget. Spoke to a fellow soul who uses Uputonics gear for years, and had a blank stare whan asked about reliability: "Man, it's plugged in for I can't remember how long, never had any problems". Recent post on rtl-sdr.com showed NASA uses Uputronics preamps, case closed.

Power options


Via USB Mini-A cable: same type used on external hard drives / GoPro / Garmin satnavs etc, unit can be used with any RTL-SDR or with any receiver when amplification is desired. No hassle if you have an appropriate cable, which is not supplied, nor can be ordered from Uputronics webshop, costs a few dollars on Amazon USA or similar money in any electronics shop or on eBay.



Via bias-T: also called phantom power, receiver sending power down the cable. SDRPlay RSP2 and  RSP2, rtl-sdr.com v.3, Outernet E4000, Nooelec SMArtee XTR tested and preamp functioned flawlessly. Reportedly works with AirSpy and HackRF, or any other receiver with bias-T capability.
No indication that sufficient power is supplied to preamp - a LED would be nice.

Accessories


Available in Uputronics webshop, mounting/lug kit costs $6, factory-fit bias-T 26V option costs $9, enclosure costs $43 (not tested).



SMA Male to SMA Male coupler / barrel adapter for $4 is a must if you don't have one to connect it to SMA receivers.

Performance

Great. Does what a preamp's supposed to do, more signal, less noise, cleaner waterfall, better SNR ratios.
No offense part: Beginners, or if you don't know how an LNA works, or if you just started discovering signals, please get a discone first, or go for a ground plane for a specific frequency. You'd be wasting your cash ordering one without antennas. Serious, here.

Versus Competitors


Uncomparable. Alternatives differ in price, features, build quality, noise figures or reception range, all are a miserable far cry when handled or used on a daily basis:



Closest I'd recommend for nearly half the price is Adam's LNA4ALL with bias-T factory mod, same chipset, proven and dependable contender:



That preamp, saying LNA4ALL here, lives at the bottom of discone for more than three years, great, Uputronics spent considerable time out in the rain, good as new.
Not a competitor, as LNA is integrated into RTL-SDR dongle, is a FlightAware Pro Stick:



Orange dongle above will be the same performance, and sometimes more, than a premium dongle and external amplifier, combined.

ADS-B


Amplification will always pull in more signals, so my question was whether it's a reasonable alternative versus Uputronics' own filtered ADS-B preamp (both stations are identical ModMyPi Raspberry Pi 3s running PiAware and sharing FlightAware antenna via splitter, 24 hour's data, 2% margin of error, short coax length):



Filtering added significantly more position reports and better range:



Add a FlightAware filter after the LNA (same configuration as filtered Uputronics and Pro Stick Plus):



Results are within 2% margin of error, polar plots look almost identical:



If you already have a FA filter and want a versatile wideband preamp at the same time, it seems like you won't lose that much by not going for the filtered version.

Day-to-day use personal observations


Easy. No bother. Plug in cable, or enable bias-T with rtl-sdr.com v.3, power to LNA is on. Without any second thoughts, no mental pathfinding.
Reliability combined with good performance is the name of the game. More often than not, I reach for the Silver Finned Shark, as I call it by now, because I trust it to get the job done. Be it mast-mounted duty, or rediscovering weather satellites, or wanting an arbitrator for testing gear, I know the safe choice and one hand movement will be the chunky silver one when I can see, with fins on the side when I can't and go by touch.

Conclusion


Quality combined with excellent performance.
Alternatives might be cheaper, but none provides the mental reassurance of a well-designed product with ease of use.
Would I buy it? Yes.
If I could only have one external LNA, I'd get an Uputronics Wideband Preamp over anything else on the market. Costs a lot, but quality never goes out of fashion.

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