Amateur Radio with KC7MM
My SunSDR2 DX from Expert Electronics arrived in February, 2021.
The process of choosing it was pretty simple. First and most important, the ExpertSDR software that runs it is developed to be cross-platform, running natively on Linux as well as Mac and Windows. Everything I read or heard about Expert's SunSDR2 series was enthusiastically laudable. Looking at the manuals and at YouTube videos, it seemed to me that it would fit very nicely into my DARS (Distributed Amateur Radio Station) scheme.
I installed as my HF rig, replacing the Flex 6600 and Maestro control unit that I had been using.
In March, 2022, I decided to switch back to the Flex 6600. There were a number of factors that influenced me to do so, which are discussed HERE.
The Flex and the SunSDR both are excellent radios, and I have had good operating experiences with each of them. The decision regarding which one to use is based solely on how well it fits with my goals for the station.
What follows below is a brief description of getting it installed and configured to the point of being able to get on the air with it. More detailed technical information can be found at other locations:
I installed the rig on the radio cart in the garage without difficulty. It replaced a Flex 6600 and easily dropped into its place, while taking up far less space. The only difference was the need to use an adapter (supplied by Expert) to connect the antenna to the mini SO-239 on the box.
Then began the interesting part: installing the software. For that, I headed to my shack located in the opposite corner of the house. I would be running the system from the Linux computer there. With the Flex, I had to use the Maestro control console, since SmartSDR software runs only on Windows, and I don't have a Windows PC. The ExpertSDR package for the new rig is cross-platform and runs natively on Linux. That would make my Linux box become the center of my station – a very attractive prospect.
Getting ExpertSDR (v1.3.1 Update 5) downloaded and installed under Linux Mint 20 was easy. It ran the first time I fired it up, looking wonderful on my 27-inch monitor (vs. the 7-inch screen on the Maestro). There was no sign of the radio, though, as configuration would be needed to establish communication with it.
Configuration started with the inconvenient requirement that the rig be connected directly to the PC via Ethernet in order to set its IP address. Fortunately, I had a spare power supply that I used to bring the rig into the shack for that one operation, after which I returned it to its home in the garage. Not a big deal – and it would have been no problem at all if the computer had been located closer to the installed rig.
The SunSDR2 can do very many interesting things, and the ExpertSDR software provides the means for doing them. But with power comes complexity, and there's a lot that must be learned in order to take advantage of its manifest capabilities. For me that's a feature and not a bug. That very power and flexibility is what attracts me to SDR, and learning about its capabilities and how to use them is an essential part of the fun. Still, for some people it could be daunting, and it surely is not the way to go for anyone who wants to just fire up the rig and start making QSO's.
The first thing was to get the connection configured. I selected the radio (from a list of one), checked to see that the connection worked, then pressed the button to start the session. The spectrum scope immediately jumped to life – at which point I abandoned all thoughts of further configuration and passed some happy time working through the bands to see what I could hear, while learning the basics of the interface as I went along. All very satisfying.
Finally, I reined myself in and turned back to setting up the software. The complexity of the system is immediately apparent at the first appearance of the configuration window with its myriad tabs. Happily, making the basic settings to get into operation isn't too involved. Going with the default values whenever in doubt is my normal plan when setting up software, and it served me well once again. I spent an hour or so moving through the tabs, consulting the manual (a downloaded PDF) as needed. In the end, I had a working radio, ready to go on the air.