Monday, May 13, 2024

truSDX for Digital Modes - Review

There's a lot a cheap radios on the market today and many turn out to be poorly constructed junk. However, every now and again you come across a gem. This seems to be the case with the truSDX, especially if you are into digital modes or CW. 

The truSDX is an ongoing project headed up by Manuel (DL2MAN) and Guido (PE1NNZ). It's a very small transceiver that's similar in size to a pack of playing cards. The whole thing is built around an 8-bit microcontroller and can be bought as an easy to build kit for about $80 or pre-built for $140. Just be sure to buy from an official supplier so you can perform future firmware upgrades and ensure quality components. 

I have heard about the little rig for a couple years now, but reviews were mixed. I have since found out that a lot of bad reviews have come from users who bought knock offs or clones which lacked quality control and led to very poor performance. So, as I stated earlier, buy from an official supplier

My main HF radio has been a trusty FT-891 which I bought due to its size and capability. The 891 is considered a mobile HF radio and does allow itself to be used fairly easily on the go and I've seen many man-pack builds using it, but I just don't see myself carrying it down a trail or up a mountain. Looking to try out SOTA, I went in search of a smaller solution. I found the truSDX.

I've been testing it out as my main HF radio and have to say that while the QRP 5 watt limitation is a struggle sometimes, it does seem to get the job done. 

truSDX Reference Frequency Correction 

After realizing the frequency was off by about 500 hz and adjusting the reference frequency setting, it took off and started making connections with Winlink Gateways all over the place. 

The latest firmware allows for the use of the special CAT Streaming Driver and the trusdx-audio application. Using this means you only need one USB cable in order to both utilize CAT control and audio connections. I was surprised by this and so far it seems to work pretty well. (There seems to be a bug where the audio will occasionally go deaf and the application needs to be restarted, but it is still a beta feature and I expect it to get better.)

truSDX, Laptop, 40M Hamstick running Winlink

I took the rig, a laptop, and a 40M ham stick antenna out for a test drive. Operating off the back of my truck I attempted to make VARA Winlink connections using only the rig powered via the USB cable. This allows for about 1/2 a watt of power output. I was shocked when the first station I chose came right back and delivered a message. I managed to fire off a few test messages to some email addresses and connect with different stations which had no issues picking up my weak signal. 

truSDX, Laptop, 174ft LW Antenna

Setting up software to use the truSDX is made simple by the fact it uses the same CAT protocol as popular Kenwood radios. For example, in Winlink the CAT control is setup using the generic "Kenwood Amateur", in JS8CALL and WSJTX you setup as "Kenwood TS-840", and occasionally you will see truSDX as an option in other software. The YouTube channel Quantum Radio has a very informal video about configuring various software for the truSDX here

For digital operation I think the little rig does a great job for the size and minimal power output. I'm not a CW operator, so I simply have to defer to other reviews I've read that praise the truSDX for its capability.

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