Sunday, March 2, 2014

The TS-590: A week on

The first week with the TS-590.  What can I say?  It has been good.  Sometime last week the sound card on my new Mac Mini went toes up which left me without a computer until Thursday so I was stuck doing the old school thing: logging by hand.  This also meant that I didn't have any digital modes to play with which I was really looking forward to trying.  I didn't let that stop me though!  According to ClubLog, I've got 4 all time new ones since the 590 arrived, and I've filled in a few band slots and worked some extras that I don't have confirmed yet and already worked QRP.  The 100w is really helping (duh, no surprise there), but there's a few I've got on SSB now that would have been near impossible QRP.  Well maybe not impossible but I'd sure need a lot more time than I care to take.  Yeah, sometimes life is too short for QRP!  (oh man I really am a lost cause now aren't I?!)

As expected, I'm getting used to the features of the new radio, while uncovering other things that are...less than perfect.  For instance, when I have VFO B selected in simplex mode, and I enter a frequency in my logger (RumLog by DL2RUM) or click on a spot, the frequency of VFO A changes, but since the 590 only shows the active VFO when in simplex mode (grrrr), you have no indication that the radio knows what is going on.  It took me quite a while to figure out I was on VFO B and VFO A was the one changing.  Why it doesn't change the active VFO, I will not know.  Quite annoying.

Another nit is that the VFOs do not stay on the same band when changing bands.  If I'm split on 40m and then go to 20m, VFO B will still be on 40m.  WHY??  Sure sometimes cross band splits occur but really?! Dumb thing, but I guess I'll just have to get used to hitting A=B before A/B.

Still, I have plenty of praise for the radio - the noise blanker is, in a word, epic.  I've had some really strong (S9) noise pop up on 20m lately and the noise blanker nixes it completely.  Totally gone.  Pretty incredible.  The DSP features are quite good and I'm happy with the receiver performance overall.  With extremely weak signals, I have found myself turning off the AGC quite a bit.  This seems to be working fairly well as a substitute to the APF feature on Elecraft rigs, though I much prefer Elecraft's operation in this particular application.

So back to the digital modes - my computer, newly repaired, was ready to send some bits and bytes into the aether right away.  The first thing I wanted to set up was FreeDV.  Matt, W2MDW has talked about it on Twitter a bit and I had seen their booth in Dayton, so I was interested in trying it.  There's a software build for OS X luckily so it was a piece of cake to get set up with my 590 and a computer headset.  The big FreeDV watering hole is 14.236 right now, and I picked up a few QSOs on that frequency pretty quick.  While the mode seems pretty interesting, it does require a fairly high S/N ratio to get clean audio without the R2D2 robot sounding voice you get with packet losses.  I think there's still a bit of tweaking of my setup to get the best performance in this mode.  I think it'll be another novelty mode I'll be happy to try out when I hear it or get bored.  A lot like Hellscreiber is for me.

I loaded up FLDIGI and WSJT-X too, and both seem to be working well with the 590's built in soundcard and VOX setup.  Unfortunately I couldn't get all 3 programs to provide the same ALC response for a given audio output but that's the cost of doing business with 3 apps I guess!  Still, the process of switching modes is very fast, which is real handy.

In summary - I think I made the right choice.  I've been given the option to bag that DX and move on, an option I've not had for a long time.  I'll be spinning the VFO a bit during the ARRL DX contest this weekend on SSB to see if I can pick up a few more new ones, and we'll see how the rig deals with the SSB QRM.