Manifesto

Contact email


rtlberlinsdr4washingtoneveryone@gmail.com

Remove the German capital and USA capital from the email address to send me an email, all comments. suggestions, observations, praise and complaints are welcome :-)


History



The predecessor to this blog was started when I came across yachties in the Caribbean, who complained that radio is expensive and they can't afford an AIS receiver. This was hard to believe from a couple who had a 80-grand 40 footer and swilled $10 cocktails like there's no tomorrow, but nonetheless, I showed them what an RTL-SDR could do.
Then posted a few articles detailing how a cheap receiver and some wire works for signal reception. The first 1000 pageviews were cause for celebration.
This was at the infancy of the RTL-SDR revolution, and as an early adopter with a lifelong love of radio, I started writing more and more posts, primarily equipment reviews and tutorials - page views skyrocketed, as people wanted easy to understand descriptions how to build a good all-purpose antenna, or whether they should fork out money for an upconverter.
I bought more and more radio gear until I thought of contacting manufacturers.
Only condition was, and still is, that I reserve the right to write an honest opinion - what you read here is not, and will never be censored.

Supportive manufacturers



Fortunately, software defined radio and accessories manufacturers such as Nooelec, rtl-sdr.com, Adam and SDRPlay accept my "honest reviews" approach, and send me radio equipment. Update Oct 25, 2016: Outernet, Thumbsat, ModMyPi and novakx from eBay, and FlightAware joined the list above. I'm staggered, and delighted at the same time.
They have no influence on what I write: this blog is totally independent. What you read here is my opinion.
I do not receive any monetary compensation from any manufacturer. I do receive royalties from my book, which doesn't even cover costs associated with this blog.
I receive review samples free of charge for testing purposes from manufacturers listed above. This means that if the maker wants it back, it goes back, e.g. just like the HackRF did.
If a manufacturer decides to let me keep a piece of equipment, I continue using it and write posts with its help. It's kinda hard to do a 5-dongle comparison review if you don't have 5 dongles to compare.
Smart manufacturers realize that
1) a product needs unbiased customer reviews, so they can make the next one better from feedback, and
2) every page view is one more potential customer.
Some manufacturers are not featured. They probably know that what they sell will not face scrutiny, or sales are good enough without sending a unit for review. Or simply this blog is just an inconsequential grain of sand in the Sahara of radio-oriented blogs, which I somewhat doubt with 30,000+ pageviews a month.
If you're an equipment manufacturer, and wish to see your product on these pages, please get in touch.

About my book


Building on personal experience and seeing that a good guide is required, I've written the first book for the RTL-SDR scene. The Second Edition came out earlier this year.
It costs $5 for a reason - to be affordable to everyone (link).
Close to 200 pages of information how to make RTL-SDR dongles work and perform better, it's the best value radio book out there, but you'd expect me to say it.
Royalties are used to support this blog, e.g. to buy more equipment for more free posts.
Available worldwide, so if you enjoy posts or want to save money, time and hassle when building an RTL-SDR based radio reception system:
Buy it in your local Amazon store (link).
Thanks!


How a post is made - Testing procedures and principles



Let's have some insight what it takes to write a post.
First, I buy or receive a product from a manufacturer. Naturally, I read reviews and other blogs, but don't specifically search for other reviews, as this might influence my opinion. First impressions count, so always included in the post - not necessarily restricted to mine, as potential users are not exclusively radio fanatics and hams, so I ask other people's opinion as well.
Second, I use it. It took me about a month to write the SDRPlay review, because I was spending countless hours with it, comparing it with plain RTL-SDR cheap sticks, then with an upconverter, then against branded dongles, then with an LNA4ALL, than n-th variations of the above with different antennas.
Side-by-side comparisons always use either the same antenna with an antenna splitter, or the same antenna and swapping receivers. I strive to keep all else equal, but it's sometimes impossible - for example, side-by-side ADS-B antenna testing requires an identical antenna system, but the adapters will be different due to MCX / SMA variations. These variations, and their possible effect on performance, are always noted in text.
Finally, I listen to radio. It's always on in the background, from local commercial FM to squelched action frequencies, or international shortwave noises during the evening.
Especially to shortwave. When I get a new piece of gear, I tune to a shortwave radio station, then listen with new equipment after adjusting gain, audio noise reduction and other settings I care about at the moment. Gain is important with RTL-SDR dongles, so when I get the best audio, I sit back and listen. For 10 minutes, for half an hour, or longer, and if I have a comparison handle on hand, I change receivers from time to time, again and again, and get an impression.
Or on VHF or UHF. Opinions are due to the individual, just like your operating environment, so I can only write down what I hear or see. Lab testing is utterly pointless for you and me, as technical specifications tell a large part of the tale, but you, me and the tester doesn't live at the same location.
"Feel" is a sensation. Unique to you, me, my wife and every individual, so I can only describe what I touch. Or see. Arghh, not that much without spectacles, henceforth I handle radio equipment a bit too much, so appreciate and write about the difference between rtl-sdr.com's silky smooth case, or the SDRPlay's toilet-brush case sensation. These firing synapses have no influence when I make up my mind for a comparison, kept at bay and only manifest in reviews as a short comment.
It takes countless revisions to end up with content that works with google translate, so it will be usable for a wide audience. Around 60% of visitors are from the States, but English is not a first language for the majority of the world. When I write a review, I spend more time with editing words out than with actually writing a review.
Images are Photoshopped for a better reader experience, and for illustration purposes only. ADS-B figures are straight from FlightAware web interface, I do cut and resize printscreens, but never alter numbers. My sites are 26575, 26777, 29213, and 29214.
One seemingly simple image takes from 5 minutes to over an hour to make, as it takes time and a good camera to make a picture, then you have to edit that picture, mask the background, add text, scale it, then start over again if the final doesn't look right - to put this in perspective, just check the number of images in the 5-dongle comparison post.
After text and image editing, final touches on different platforms follow, so the post looks nice with different browsers, and on 3.5" / 4" / 4.5 " / 5" / 7" / 8" smartphones and tablet screens.
If that looks too much work, don't worry: I welcome any reader, potential contributor or manufacturer to get in touch and send in articles, sharing their experience, knowledge or wisdom.

I have a dream, so comment or attack my person if you wish



We probably don’t share the same vision, which for me, is bringing radio to everyone. It's possible with RTL-SDRs due to price and ease of use.
I believe that RTL-SDRs are a great teaching platform, and a better understanding of radio principles would be advantageous to the general public. I work tirelessly for that outcome, and run a blog under my real name.
I don’t comment under false aliases, and got a spine to stand up and say whatever I think is right.
The “radio for everyone” dream will be only realised when manufacturers make a case as good as the HackRF, at SDRPlay performance, at RTL-SDR dongle prices.
To get there, we need honest reviews, dissing the bad and praising the good. And the world needs your input, even if you disagree with what me, what you read here or the world in general.
So please share your opinions, tell the world what you think, and if it makes you feel better, attack my person – I love negative comments, and if you give reasons or suggestions for improvement, I will seriously look into them.
To date, I've never deleted a comment on the blog which contained useful information to the reader.
Pointless "You're a dumb ****, how do you dare to write that (insert whatever here)" will be mercilessly deleted, just like spam.
I can't help or understand jealous people who attack me on a daily basis, stating that this blog is only a selling vehicle for my book. It's pathetic.
My RTL-SDR book was written to enable people with no previous radio knowledge to assemble a killer reception system, contains a lot of knowledge, all for $5. Feel free to spend countless hours with google figuring out what to do if that's too much.
This blog has lots of content because I spend all royalties on buying more equipment for more free posts. It's a win-win for me, as RTL-SDR users can buy a good book and have fun in less time with less cost, and I can continue writing posts, which I enjoy.


The ivory tower mentality



Excessive technical details are only a good sign from a manufacturer. It shows that they know what they're doing. Seeing $100 antennas with figures such as "5db gain" is not acceptable from a maker.
Radio signal reception was the privilege of a few wealthy individuals who needed solid justification to spend thousands on equipment before the advent of RTL-SDRs, and this still shows every day: an overly excessive attention to technical details in reviews.
Given because expected, but completely incomprehensible to Average Joe and Jane, who will just shake their head and ask WTF?
Times and the customer base are changing, and the amount of technical detail is a thin red line. If Joe or Jane wants to hear more local action, they don't need to know that an LNA4ALL has a 0.75dB NF @ 1 GHz and the average TOI/IP3 is 34.75 dB.
What they need to know is spending $30 dollars results in better reception, and they need this and that adapter to make it work (SMA Male - Male pigtails or barrel adaptors).
A technically inclined person will look up data, but the majority or readers wants a solution to a problem. For a perfect example, check the "Beginner - Antennas" post, which is the all-time favourite of this blog. I didn't include radiation patterns and impedance matching and skin effect and what have you, 'cause I think readers want a working solution, not a textbook excerpt.
Like it or not, it's 2016 now, and the radio world is expanding with more and more unknowing enthusiasts. They will learn, if and when they want to, but only after cheap gear works simply with an easy solution.
So, if you want articles with data sheet figures, sorry, you're at the wrong place.


Equipment: what you need to know


Reviews and comparisons reflect the characteristics of product(s), but due to the small review sample size and probable manufacturing differences your mileage may vary. Nobody will realistically test five different units of the same product apart from manufacturers, just like car reviews feature one car, not a parking lot.
Manufacturing tolerances exist, especially with dongles of chinese origin. For example, using exactly the same cables and antenna, two visually identical dongles can have as much as 3-4 % difference in positions received on ADS-B.
Laptop: Lenovo G50. Intel i3 at 2.26 GHz, 8 GB Ram, Samsung SSD.
Dongles: whatever is featured in the review, I got a pretty good selection.
Antennas: Scanmaster Desktop Discone (link) for everything. As a dedicated shortwave antenna, a 20-foot wire is hung from my window.
I use other computers, and lots of traditional gear, many more homebuilt and factory antennas, operate pro gear on a daily basis at work, but that's irrelevant most of the time, therefore pointless to list.























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