All content Copyright 2017 Mark Abraham and may not be reproduced or redistributed without consent.
A lot of my fun in Ham Radio is the tinkering with these software defined radios. I have reviewed and owned several at this point, the Flex 5000 Dual RX, Anan 100D Dual RX, the MB1, The DUO, Afredi, Ettus, Funcube, RTL, QS1R, KX3 (if you want to count it as one) and also reviewed others and perhaps plan a few more for the future. As you can see by the shack and other articles on the site, I like to see what all I can do with them and experiment a bit. I hope you'll enjoy the MB1 review as it takes the experience from all the others, my enthusiasm and passion and explores this newer SDR and shares my thoughts on operating with it. I have been a licensed Ham since 2011, wow time fly’s, dug right in to HF and SDRs not too long after that and never looked back. I hope you enjoy the review!
I have no affiliation with Expert Electronics nor am I compensated in any way for these reviews. I do not have an alliance with any Ham Equipment Manufacture and try to retain a very independent and unbiased view. I simply dont care about brand loyalty, I care about great products so I try to tell it like it is and focus on whats good and what seems bad. I also try to write these reviews so all level of Hams can read and enjoy! If you know of a great product and would like to see it reviewed here, let the manufacturer know about SDRZone so they can contact me and arrange a loan the review equipment. Much of the equipment reviewed here was purchased by me directly and then sometimes later resold. Far too much of it has remained with me though as I am an enthusiast and in general share the excitement of SDR Radio.
The Specs - from Expert Electronics Website
The MB1 transceiver - is a new trend in amateur radio, a transceiver and a computer in a single package. It combines a classic design, developed over several decades, with the most advanced DUC/DDC SDR-technologies - Direct Digital Conversion (DDC) and Digital Up Conversion (DUC), plus a fully-featured high-end personal computer with an Intel Core i5 processor on board. The workstation is switched on with one button
Two independent receive channels with a bandwidth of 312 kHz
- Broadband overview of up to 80 MHz
- High-quality IPS 7" touchscreen display with a resolution of 1280x800 pixels
- ExpertSDR2 software in two versions: for Desktop and for integrated GUI display
- Opportunity to install any other software (applicable for Windows 10 OS) by the User
- Record and play on air fragments (IQ files) with a bandwidth of up to 312 kHz
Features of the transceiver
An Independent receive path with Digital Direct Conversion (DDC)
A Separate independent transmission path, constructed on the basis of Digital Up Conversion (DUC)
- Full duplex or half duplex modes*
Two independent receivers with panorama's bandwidths up to 312 kHz plus two sub-receivers
- 4 HF antenna connectors and 2 VHF
- Four separate programmable PTT outputs for external power amplifiers
- The ability to connect to VHF transverters
- The ability to use the transceiver as a frequency measuring receiver
- The ability to use the transceiver as a signal generator (DAC OUT)
- Minor delay in CW mode (about 10 ms)
- Ability to use the transceiver in SO2R mode
- Remote control mode
* Full-duplex mode is supported by the transceiver's hardware, but is not implemented in the firmware and software yet. This mode will be implemented in future versions of ExpertSDR2 software
PC capabilities of your transceiver
Installation of digital modes software
- Installation of HAM and Contest logs
- Two CW Skimmers may be used on different bands
- The transceiver can connect to the LAN and the Internet
- Use of Internet applications (e.g. e-mail, Skype, ICQ, TV, etc.)
- Play video and audio files
- Watch TV via USB-receivers
- Ability to connect two external monitors, keyboard, mouse
Internal PC's parameters
- Motherboard of thin Mini-ITX Form Factor
- CPU Intel Core i5 3.0GHz
- RAM 8GB
- SSD disk drive, 128GB
- 4 ports USB3.0 on the rear panel and 2 ports USB 2.0 on the front panel of the receiver
- HDMI and DPORT for connecting external monitors
- LAN connector 1Gb
- Full-function radio amateur transceiver
- Mobile contest-station
- Remote receipt point for the contests and other applications
- Spectrum analyzer with the bandwidth up to 80MHz
- Work with the external programs of digital connection types, CW skimmer, etc.
A version of ExpertSDR2 software with adapted GUI for 7" display was specially developed for the MB1 transceiver. At the present time software works in RX/TX mode and supports two independent receiving channels with the bandwidth up to 312 kHz. A DSP library developed by company Expert Electronics allowed improvement of receiving quality and higher the stability of the software.
MB1 supplied accessories
The transceiver may have an additional option: Automatic Tuner Unit (ATU) for impedance matching antennas with 50 Ohm output path of the transceiver.
- MB1 transceiver
Note: ATU is not installed in the transceiver in the Basic configuration
- Power Supply Cable to connect the transceiver to an AC mains network
- Backup fuse 5A
- MB1 transceiver+ATU
Note: ATU is installed in the transceiver in Maximum configuration
- PTT-microphone MD15
- Power Supply Cable to connect the transceiver to an AC mains network
- Backup fuse 5A
Additionally, you can purchase following devices:
- Computer Headset with electret microphone
- PTT footswitch
- E-Coder panel or E-Coder mini kit for convenient remote work
Ordering and Shipping
Expert Electronics (NSI Radio is their US Distributor) was very seamless to work with. Questions on ordering and shipping were always answered in just a few hours or less. After the purchase, Yuri checked in with me several times to make ensure I was doing ok and had all my questions answered. I should note that neither Expert Electronics or NSI Radio knew I was purchasing the radio with the intent to write a review. In other words, I got a regular customer experience and normal production unit.
I feel that Expert Electronics was and continues to be very committed to their products and very ethical in their advertising and practices, and keeps promises to address issues. I have noticed they tend to embrace the reviews that are out there and openly post links to them. They also seem to engage users and discussions in forums and interested in comments and feedback towards improvements. In fact there response to this review was very professional and organized.
The forums on the EE website have been very informative, and the support team has been extremely patient. I say this because I really should have read the manual better on the few issues I did have, which were operator error. Its very important to note that at this point in the development of the MB1 you are not dealing with vaporware. Everything you basically need to operate on the air is there and well-polished. This is in a way a first for real SDRs as most seem like they are in a perpetual beta test.
The manual is very informative and complete. Its well organized and walks you through the radio setup and controls in detail. There are some user created supplements that will be listed later in the review that can help new users today get up and going even faster.
For many, trusting your money to an overseas little known company is a big deal. Each person has to make their own decision. Expert Electronics appears to be a company that is growing and progressive with technology. This is my 5th of 6 SDR purchases from international dealers.
My decision was based on a few factors:
I have had my eye on the MB1 since its first glimpse some years back. At the height of SDRZone before hackers methodically destroyed it over the course of a year, we were starting to review Expert Electronics radios. They were very cooperative at the time, however, with the zones website destruction and timing in life, the work we were doing got lost in the chaos and the Colibri review barely saw light of day on the site before the site had to be taken down.
I also had my eye on the Flex rigs, SmartSDR was very intriguing but not fully developed and its my understanding that its still not quite there. I was actually going to get a Flex 6500 or Flex 6700, however, after talking to yet another seller about theirs and the nuances I changed my mind and looked to my alternative choices. Looking at the Anan 8K and MB1, I opted to go with a full-fledged transceiver with the MB1 and its classic controls and SDR foundation.
While the Anans are fine transceivers, consdiering my Anan 100D's receiver performance, I was not quite as inclined to go there again unless there were significant improvements. Its not that it was a bad reciever, so dont get me wrong, this purchase was all about getting something that was extremely well rounded. Also, RF shielding in the Anan series was seemingly poor and released a lot of stray RF in the shack. This meant that like my Flex 5000 lots of ferrites and isolators were needed in the shack.
Finally, while unplanned, there was a delay in purchasing the MB1 (well over a year after its release) and after having monitored the conversations in the forums with a few owners it started becoming clear to me on which I would ultimately choose. If it had not been for the hackers destroying SDRZone, I would have likely reviewed and kept one directly after its release and been one of the first owners. Anyways, after lots of research on the forums, watching videos on YouTube, visiting lots of websites, ect, I decided to place my order. Also, I was not merely buying a rig to review and sell, this rig purchase was to be my personal radio that I intended to keep long term if it ended up being a winner.
Ordering and paying for the radio and was super easy. Yuri answered all my pre-purchase questions and I was able to take advantage of a super offer they had running. I had the radio in about 4 days, it was shipped directly from Taiwan. I ordered early Monday and had it Thursday via DHL. Zero hassles!
Despite the excitement and the desire to open it all up quickly, I did take a few moments to snap some pictures with my Cell Phone of the unpacking.
The box was well taped and sealed.
The radio inside was double boxed counting the outer box
Styrofoam protected the radio itself. The envelope has a sheet inside with links to fast setup instructions.
Mic and Power Cable for the radio are in the packet.
The radio is substantial, the case solid, nothing rattles!
In summary, super professional ordering, packing and shipping from Expert Electronics, extremely well done!
I had no real issues setting up the radio, my previous SDR experiences in setting up radios directly translated over to the MB1. In fact, this radio by far is the easiest I have ever setup. Plug it in to a wall power source, plug in the Mic, hook up the antenna, ground it and power on. Presto, your on the air!
If you are newer to Ham Radio and or have never used a fully functional radio with detailed controls, you’ll want to read through the manual, it provides a very solid description for all the controls. I would not say it’s a replacement though for a proper primer on ham radio terms and controls.
Upon turning on the power, the radio loads in just a few seconds due to the internal SSD drive, very capable CPU and memory installed. Once Windows 10 loads, Expert SDR starts, and the power to the radio portion of the rig comes on and you are now on the air. You will want to select Mic 2 for the hand mic by pressing the Mic button and watching with each press which Mic is active. You'll also want to turn on the compressor and adjust the Mic gain to your taste.
If you just take a few minutes to study the radio you will see buttons for each of the bands, filters, Compression, VOX, ect, as well as EQ for Transmit and Receive. While this is not a Yaesu 5K sereis type radio, its pretty sweet! It is very much on the order of an Elecraft with a much nicer display.
The manual is excellent and very professionally written, in fact, its there with Elecraft which I have found has excellent documentation. The controls are well outlined, there are supporting pictures where needed and I was able to print the manual using my home printer on three whole punch paper and place in a nice 3 ring binder. I made my own cover to make the manual look professional. I also added the addendums available in the EE Forums. You may wish to also download and review the ExpertSDR manual as well for the software operating details.
There is additional information that can be found in the file area in the form of an addendum for Digital Modes, VAC, Virtual Com Ports and Skimmer setup.
If you are overall new to SDR's and interested in these radios, I suggest signing up for the Expert Electronics Forums, these will answer many common questions.
Fully reading the manual a few times will help you prepare for owning your MB1.
On SDR Zone you can find additional guides as well so that if you are a new to PC’s running SDRs and digital operating modes then the Digital Modes Guide will help you understand what the setup for those modes looks like. Both guides offer a little theory here and there as well, explaining some of the basic whys. I highly suggest reading everything you can prior to your SDR radio arriving, if you do you will have a much greater chance of having a very positive experience like I ended up having.
Setup can be summarized as follows:
- Check Contents for completeness and or damage
- Place Radio in shack testing position
- Connect Mic
- Connect Ethernet CAT 5/6 Cable to radio and PC or Hub (No Crossover cable needed) - optional
- Connect Dummy Load and or Antenna depending on whether you wish to transmit
- Connect Power
- Power Up Radio
You're ready to get on the air!
SDR Manuals and Improtant References
- MB1 Users Guide - hardware and user guide
- MB1 Addendum - covers digital Modes, Skimmer and more!
- CPU/Memory Upgrade Guide - how to on memory and CPU upgrades
- ExpertSDR Manual - all about the software used with the MB1 and other EE SDR's
About the MB1
Let’s talk about the physical aspects of the radio first. I think the case is highly professional. It’s solid, rugged, and very modern, polished and sleek as well. Amazingly small when you think about the power that resides inside the case! It stands about 5.5 inches high and about 12.5 inches wide and 10 inches deep. The connectors all seem standard (259 & BNC) as well as solid and, everything seems very professional nice and tight! Of note, every port and connector comes with a cover installed which is nice to leave on if unused.
This even includes USB ports and all antenna connections. I have never seen this attention to detail on any radio or PC I have owned. Trust me when I say that pride of ownership can be very high with this radio. I feel like this is close to a tier one top line transciever. Not quite Yaesu 5K series, but definitely very very nice and professional.
This rig is so tight and professional that this review could even be considered boring because everything as you would expect on a $5000 transceiver is there and works as it should. Above is an inside look at the MB1, note the use of ferrites on internal cabling and over all shielding, something you don’t see on many of the older SDRs. If you think about it, given there is a computer inside the case, great care had to be taken to shield everything so you can look forward to not having to deal with all the typical RF you find with other SDR Transceivers.
I have had no RF issues since installing this in my shack, this is also a huge plus! If your not familiar with what loose RF can do in a shack, here are a few things one can expect and I have experienced with previously owned SDRs. USB Ports disconnecting after transmitting. Keyboards whacking out, interference in the mic, other devices crashing and even a few computer freezes. Therefore RF management in these radios needs to be taken care of, otherwise it creates nightmares for their owners and requires a fleet of ferrites and isolaters to mitigate. None of these issues exist with the MB1.
Let me say that ExpertSDR is a pleasant surprise! While there are a few things still coming, trust me when I say other than the missing ALC support (coming in June) that they are minimal and that everything you really need is there. No vaporware here folks! Two Thumbs up! While the interface is more traditional, it’s very polished and fully featured.
Above you can see the main radio screen display. As you can see, Expert SDR is very robust as an SDR Program. This screen is a special screen for the MB1 front display. You can toggle to the full view of Expert SDR by clicking the monitor in the upper top left corner. The S Meter is gorgeous and fluid as it should be. Below you can see the full featured program.
There are detailed PA settings, display settings, CAT controls, Sound Card settings, basically the full gambit and then some! You can hold buttons on the physical transceiver and get EQ settings for both Transmit and Receive, as well as Mic settings for gain, compression, AGC, filters and more.
RX EQ Settings
Detailed Mic Selection and Settings
Function Key Mapping
Function keys which allow you to assign a variety of custom options for the operator. (see above screen shots)
Pretty much everything you would want is there and possible, including skimmer integration where you can use the 2nd receiver to collect spots on a local instance of skimmer and then see them superimposed on the spectrum.
Below you'll see the options screen, with a second receiver so you can see how that the MB1 allows additional receivers, 4 in total, 2 primary and two sub receivers. The great thing about this is that ExpertSDR actually gives you ways to make them useful, supporting two skimmer instances, operating split, a nice bandscope to monitor the entire received spectrum and other possibilities as well.
Another view of the RADIO screen with Bandscope on bottom. This can also be displayed in Expert SDR of course as well.
Not to short change you, but it would be impossible to show all the software features. I will note that the items across the bottom of the radio screen (above) represent memory banks for the function keys. There are also profiles (below) that you can save with stations and settings. The colors are all configurable as you would expect in a first class SDR package.
The only item I personally have found not available yet that interested me was the TNF (Notch Filter) which has a button but indicates its not available yet when pressed (scheduled for June 2017 delivery). I also noted that the manual says the GPS port is not yet supported. Not bad and I am sure they will have that soon enough.
Given the radio has 1 ADC I would also note that the radio does not support diversity reception. There is no indication of future support, however, given the connectivity this rig has, I would think that in the future they could add that via an add-on receiver such as the Colibri via ethernet and modify ExpertSDR with additional receiver support and VFO tracking. There has been no talk of this though yet. I do believe this would be a huge win for Expert Electronics though as to keep pace with Flex and Apache labs.
A big deal regarding SDRs for me personally is the ability to support an external set of knobs such as the Hercules DJ Controller or other midi based controllers. ExpertSDR has a place holder for this as well as their own set of knobs they sell as an accessory. Keep in mind though, you already have the most robust set of controls you have ever seen on an SDR available at your finger tips.
There is so much flexibility, since you have a real full featured windows 10 PC under the hood! You can use PC headsets and Microphones and configure ExpertSDR to use them. About the PC, it’s a very capable machine and upgradeable to a more than adequate machine to meet even the most demanding of users. My own upgrade effort cost me $400 US to add memory and the faster i7 6700T CPU.
ExpertSDR also has a program launcher facility to launch your favorite programs such as HRD, DM780, Skimmer Instances, and many others that you may personally like to use. Simply enter the programs file path and then you can easily launch them on startup when the radio fires up, this is nice because you can set skimmer to launch when the radio comes up.
Let’s move on to audio. The MB1 has high quality audio. I have used it on three different sets of speakers and it sounds great on all of them. In my opinion, the receiver is a little quieter sounding than previous SDRs I have owned and used. Overall audio reports for the station have been very positive using the hand mic. I am still working to get my external audio processing working, this has nothing to do really with the MB1 other than I will say that the radio offers a tremendous amount of flexibility in being able to attach external Mics, headphones and speakers.
As I wrote elsewhere, once you get setup, because that setup is so easy, you may feel a little underwhelmed at first when comparing it to other SDRs. The learning curve seems small, ect. after you start digging in, reading the manual (very well written) you can easily find the features you are looking to access.
I have started to run some PSK and RTTY via Ham Radio Deluxe, DM780 and Comcat for Logging. It’s all working great! There have been no radio specific issues integrating VAC, VSP or DDUtil. It all works great! I have been able to also run these programs remotely on my larger Ham Computer. So yes, you can run the software on a remote computer via a variety of options either via ethernet or hard wire connections. There is a port for a Null modem connection, or you can do as I did and run a networked virtual comport and or audio ports.
I also was able to utilize network audio via a software package known as Voicementer and VBAN and run digital modes via DM780. See pictures above. Its pretty cool! In the end I do use hardwire connections right now as I do so many things on my Ham PC that Voicementer added complications to the other devices I use with my Digital Audio Workstation software packages.
While there are less expensive ways, I run two Soundblaster Xfi HD USB sound cards with the IN/Outs connected to each other, one installed on the radio and one installed on my main PC. This allows me to keep other sound cards and devices available for other functions and simply dedicate the two sounblasters to radio audio management.
Via free software (Nomachine) you can run the radio remotely as well and use a headset on your remote PC to pass the transmit audio and listen to it as well. This works very well! Here is a screen shot below of NoMachine accessing both screens of the MB1. This runs in a window on my 39" 4K display.
This screen also shows off a little of what you can do onboard with the MB1 as you can see that I have a second slice receiver and sub receiver running above the main scree on the bottom, as well as Skimmer and I am also using the IQ out via a Virtual Audio cable to Studio1, a third party SDR software package. I am still tweaking Studio1 with the MB1 which will interface with HRD and possibly OmniRig to sync the VFO's and make an Extra fancy Panadpter for the second display. Why even mention this? Well, its really nice to know that you have a tremendous amount of flexibility and as you can see, you have this with the MB1. In case your wondering, all 4 receivers can be set to different bands if you want.
REMOTE ACCESS - Added 5/26/2017
I have been playing around with remote access today, really slick! I think with a few minor tweaks in ExpertSDR that Expert Electronics could easily market this as another feature. In reference to NoMachine that I spoke about earlier, I wanted to just quickly talk about it. After getting an unsolicited awesome audio report today on the Maritime Mobile Service Network 14,300,000 for a check-in I decided I finally had it tuned. The funny thing is, is so easy to actually setup once you figure it out. Its really a matter of turning things off in ExpertSDR rather than making special changes. The reason is this, NoMachine leverages the standard sound mapper input and output. So basically you need to turn off the soundcard and so transmit audio doesnt loop and then use RX1 VAC to get receive audio. Streaming in NoMachine needs to be turned on along with audio and the Mic. You need to turn on the Mic in NoMachine each time you use it.
iPad attempting a DX with Beats Headphones
I also plan to try it with My Galaxy S3 Tablet soon as well! You need a headset though or you will have some funky transmit issues. Also, see Post review Notes at the very bottom of the review for some perspective on what this means in terms of the bigger picture. In summary though, since one can load all their software onto the radio, you could pretty much run everything you want remote. For example, my Rotator is software controllable via PST rotator, so I could easily swing as needed. Logging, Digital Modes, the whole nine yards, its all doable.
What I can tell you is that the Expert Electronics MB1 comes out ahead of several other radios I have reviewed. The Anan 100 series radios represented a huge value in the SDR Market. Flex Radio Systems is working on the future of SDRs, however, after talking to many flex users I keep hearing there are bugs, the software still is not complete. They sure are cool though, but at the price they are sold, you would expect more, especially after playing the MB1 or even a lower end offering like the Elad Duo which will be reviewed next. The 6400 and 6600 look interesting, but I feel control wise they will fall schort of the MB1.
So with the MB1, you do not have Pure Signal or Diversity reception. While I could debate many on the merits of these technologies, it would really be pointless. Each ham has to decide the value verses the features they seek. In that spirit, we are fortunate to have so much in the way of choice. In the end I could have chosen a Flex 6500/6700, and Anan 8000DLE, or numerous others and I decisively went with the MB1 as my personal choice of SDR due to its classic design and modern SDR architecture.
- Sexy Attractive Package
- Finally, we have a non experimental SDR
- Fully featured single ADC Transceiver, everything minus TNF Notch Filter seems to be there and working. TNF Filter is Work In Progress
- Extremely stable - this is really impressive for an SDR
- Well engineered and little to no RFI
- So very very Flexible
- Knobs and buttons galore - I dare you to use them all! :)
- You can simply plug this MB1 in to wall outlet for power, plug in the hand mic and an antenna and start working the bands
- No need for an SDR PC, you get a very nice one fully integrated with the radio, definitely part of the value equation and the integration is hard to put a price on.
- It would be nice to offer a 3rd option of the rig with the upgraded CPU and memory, its ok to charge more.
- Needs to add a facility for Diversity Reception using an add on receiver. That would be a win win for Expert Electronics generating another revenue opportunity.
- Needs continuity between ExpertSDR and the Radios Physical controls as well as the ability to have both displayed at the same time.
There are not a lot of real cons to this transceiver, its pretty tight!
About the Testing
Disclaimer, these tests I do are very informal and those that perform professional testing would likely poke holes in both the methods and results. To that end, I use what we jokingly have referred to as the Joe Ham method, which is based on seeing and hearing how radios perform in a real shack with real world signals.
The basic premise of the test is to pit a given radio against the KX3 I keep in my shack. This is done by using a mini circuits splitter and a manual 100DB attenuator. A live signal is fed into the splitter and then equal cables are run from the splitter to each receiver. Each radios audio output via the headphones jacks are fed into a Steinburg UR44 DAW, one radio on the left channel and the other on the right.
Before I describe this in more detail, I want to convey the concept behind these tests and the bottom line premise that ultimately the product of any transceiver we buy and use is its ability to render audio of weak signals and provide clear reception and separation from the noise floor. Therefore I feel that these tests may be of interest to hams seeking to purchase new SDR transceivers. Of course, the other products of a radio purchase are the transmit side (being able to successfully DX), and the overall user experience with the desire for it to be easy and productive if we are contesting.
Before running the tests, all EQ and audio enhancements are turned off in the radios. The volume for each radio is set high and then a VST Plugin meter in the DAW is used to equal the levels that will go into a chain of other VST plugins. The audio signal is reviewed in the following ways.
The two signals are reviewed on an oscilloscope super imposed over each other. This looks at the audio components amplitude, envelope, and delays of the two associated signals. Again the volume levels are tweaked to ensure parity.
The signals are then fed into a frequency analysis plug-in and filters on the radios are adjusted to look at the overall impact on the audio signal. Typically, the KX3 physical filters create steeper cutoff slopes verses digital ones. Again the volume levels are verified.
Next the signals are reviewed on two different spectrum analyzers;
The first looks at a 3D spectral heat map of the received audio and helps visualize the quality of the audio. It is easy to see if the audio is balanced or unbalanced in this view.
The second is more of a pure traditional audio spectrum analyzer basically letting you see the performance at a typical range of octaves. This can help visualize whether a radio tends to differ at various octaves from another.
All of these variables are reviewed as the signals are manually attenuated. The attenuator effects the pre-split signal so that both receivers are guaranteed to be impacted equally.
I use a live signal because we want a real-world view of receiver performance. I also typically run this test with about 10 different signals, about 2-3 per each band that my antennas are able to cover, 40M, 20M, 17M, 15M and 6M. Sometimes this is not possible due to band conditions. Both SSB and Digital signals are reviewed while attenuating the master signal.
At a certain level of attenuation the signal becomes week enough that one or the other receivers loses track of it while the other still holds it, this usually occurs somewhere between negative 34-45DB.
SSB we look for legible audio through a set of equal speakers. Volume is raised near the end of the cycle to see if it helps, often it just raises the noise and the signal is still not legible. One might say that at a certain point the signal to noise ratio flips and the signals ability to produce audio is gone and all that remains is the noise. In the case of digital modes we look for which radio stops decoding first and begins to garble with its audio adjusted as best as it can to still copy a signal.
As the informal tests are performed I take notes and share anything remarkable in the readout in the review. I should note that I have not had a receiver at SDRzone that has beaten the KX3. It usually tends to win by about 2-5DB depending on the other SDR radios being tested.
If you would like to learn more about testing ham radio audio, please find the Ham Audio Analysis article located in the article archive at SDRzone.
MB1 vs KX3 - tested on 20M and 40M
* Note that real world live signals are used, they are messy as they contain noise and other real world artifacts, this will in turn impact the visual elements reflected in these tests as they are not pretty signals created by laboratory signal generators. Some variances you will see occur as a result of lag between the two signals, the MB1 lags the KX3 by about 5ms. The measurements represented here are relitive to a head to head test and are not meant to be represented as actual absolute values. I.e. If a radio test indicted 2DB better than another you can not go quote that value as scientifically valid value, it's just a value derived from these tools and tests and not to be compared to Sherwood values or Adam Farsen values.
The Mb1 tends to seem a little quieter, however the noise floor and S Meters tend to perform equally on an unaltered signal.
Noise looks similar on scope
KX3 shows more noise on spectrum, this is capture with no transmissions present.
This was captured at exact moment as the above two, you can see KX3 has a wee bit noise
Note KX3 Roofing Filter slope
PreAmps turned on - note greater noise top right on KX3 (KX3 on Top) and then hotter receive on the MB1 Bottom and left
The MB1 seemed to normalize signals, meaning that as a signal became weaker, the MB1 seemed to be compensating keeping it level, however, then eventually showing a breakdown over the longer term reduction of signal strength. The KX3 as it always does, showed an instant reduction in signal as the signal strength was reduced. The volume level reduced as the signal reduced on the KX3 as where it seemed to take a greater amount of attenuation to impact the MB1
Over the longer haul, the MB1 signal was more legible by approximately .5DB to 1DB on both 40 and 20 Meters. I have never seen a radio out do my KX3 before but informally I would expect that the radios sitting higher on the Sherwood Engineering charts would likely outperform both the KX3 and the MB1. The KX3 amazingly sits way up there though on the charts so it makes a great test benchmark. If a radio performs close or equal to the KX3 you know its pretty good! If a radio perfoms better than the KX3 you know its top notch and in the upper echelon. In contrast based on previous results, the KX3 tended to perform about 3DB better than the Anan100D and about 4-5DB better than the QS1R to give you some kind of idea of what results might look like and provide a relative view of performance. Its interesting to see the difference because these are all 16bit architectures and the variances are rather significant. Just because it has a 16 bit ADC doesnt mean its going to be implemented as well as others.
Please note, these are not laboratory grade tests, they are very Joe Ham infomrally conducted tests and subject to error.
The MB1 audio tended to sound richer than the KX3 audio, there was some evidence of this on the 3D spectrum analyzer where the MB1 showed more warmth in the heat map. The MB1 audio sounded a hair deeper but maybe a little more echoed. If you have played with high end receivers you might know what I am referring to here, the cadillac effect where the radio experience just feels superior. This is not really uncommon when comparing the KX3 to these larger and much more expensive transceivers. And lets face it, your spending cadillac like money when you buy an MB1, so it should feel superior and really nice, and, it does!
The MB1 exhibited a very small amount of delay as compared to the KX3, we are talking really minuscule as no echo was really heard, you could just see on the scope that the MB1 lagged the KX3 by a tiny wee bit in CW.
Audio - MB1 lags KX3 a little bit
In a few rounds of the tests the MB1 significantly outperformed the KX3 by even as much as 2-3DB. I took the KX3s best result as the final result.
Below you can see a brief received call as viewed in ExpertSDR, its freq response, spectrum and spectral analysis on both radios. You're free to make your own conclusions on this.
As you can see we can have a lot of fun with these tools and at a affordable price. A few notes for you on this one, look at the bottom spectral analyzer views and how different the KX3 BLUE and MB1 RED look on the same transmission. Note, there is the 5ms delay impacting this. Ideally I would have a VST plugin to sync the delays. If you want you can also tie this view back to the analyzer top left, look at the shape of the curves and compare it to the shapes below, see a correlation? Same type tool, different display. and on the top right spectrum you can see that the MB1 audio is far hotter than the KX3. What does this all show? Lol, I think it shows that these types of views have limited usefulness at this point until I test more radios and ultimately know how to truly interpret differences.
Passmark is a testing tool I use to benchmark PC's I build or buy. It gives a solid view of performance in total as well as by specific areas.
The following benchmark is post CPU and Memory Upgrade, as you can see, this makes for a very forimable SDR PC. I have to say I am really impressed with the possibilities here and hope int he future that ExperElectronics offers a Pro model with the CPU and memory already upgraded.
Full integration in the NI0Z SDRZone shack
Wrapping Up and Comments
Looking under the hood, its impressive to see how professional manufactured the radio turned out. I feel like Expert Electronics went the extra mile in this regard and its worth the extra money. Remember, you are getting a full quality and fully integrated modern i5 PC in the package that is easily upgradeable to and i7 if and when you need it. It is hard to put a price on this if you think about it because its more than just a PC, its a fully and finely integrated PC. You also get the most robust set of knobs and buttons on any SDR currently avaialble.
I might have liked to have seen some sort of better integrated sound card. Adding the SB Xfi USB card definitely makes for an improved user experience. That said, its cheap and easy enough to add on as I did via USB. This is being really picky folks, so note that its not going to really impair your ability to use the radio, I am coming at this from a power user perspective wanting to off load work from the radios internal computer to a secondary computer.
There is some work to do in my opinion on what I call the Hybrid user experience - meaning that there should be full continuity between using the physical controls, the Radio screen of ExpertSDR and the Full ExpertSDR controls and then using all at the same time. This could be aided by allowing Expert SDR full view on second monitor while keeping the Radio view on the built in MB1 display. To elaborate a little more, one has to go to the radio screen to get pop up menus when pressing and holding buttons. They will not work in the expert SDR screen.
I think now Expert Electronics may want to focus on making the non radio screen interface more modern, perhaps their approach is through the radio screen which is really very nice. This is being picky as well because in all honesty, I like ExpertSDR far better than PowerSDR. Elad for example though in theory gives Flex a run for their money on the user interface, I just got the Elad FDM Duo right now, so I will see after wrapping up this review.
Scoring: All categories are weighted equal and averaged then rounded up or down to the nearest 10th.
*Score 1-10 is high
Excellent Communication and Packaging
Very solid Professional Build
Fan Noise & Power Output and Power Connectors - definitely excels here!
Ease of Setup
How hard is it to setup and Operate - easy! :)
Easy to locate and follow, also emergence of user generated supplements.
There is lots of room to add on and experiment.
Software is very mature and robust and complete
Very clean receive audio, good on weak sigs. Not a top receiver but in upper 10%.
You’re getting a full featured transceiver based off a direct sampling SDR. A bit pricey, but so are the upper end Yaesu, ICOM and Kendwoods.
Overall Score (Average)
*8-10 = best in class, 5-7 Above Average, 3-4 Below Average, 2 Poor, 0-1 Unacceptable
I have to confess I am a little surprised at my scoring, so I may tweak this because the score would indicate an almost perfect radio, I think given the current advancements such as Pure Signal and Diversity reception for example that they need to weigh into the score. So those reading this, maybe take off how many ever points you think these are worth.
These features are on the delivery slate for thi syear:
|June 2017||Professional TX Module||V 1.2|
|Full ALC Support||V 1.2|
|TBA||Tansverter Mode||V 1.3|
|By Yeard End||Duplex||?|
|Remote Control with TX|
|Professional RX Module|
Here is a sneak preview of the Pro TX Module coming soon, please note these screens may change in the final release.
Many thanks to EE for the preview!
EE Review Note
Regarding KX3 having steeper slopes.
You selected AGC - Med, if you select Long, MB1 level will significantly drop
I think the summary here is a big WOW! I am very impressed with this offering. Its intelligently designed and packaged to appeal to a seasoned operator who wants the best of both worlds, the fun of a powerful SDR and the exquisite pleasure of a finally polished high end classical transceiver.
While the receiver is reported as above average, it reportedly is not at the very top with the Flex 6700. It compared out somewhere between the KX3 and a top performer based on my experiences so far, however, I think that these types of comparisons are really only a small part of the overall measure of a fine transceiver. Also, keep in mind, I am using Joe Ham's approach to testing, so look for a lab test if you want the technical chart placement for this transceiver.
Looking at the bigger picture holistically, you have a world class transceiver here because of the overall readiness and features of the radio in a classy package making for a superior radio experience.
If you’re thinking about upgrading the CPU and memory it may void the warranty, however I did it in about 10 minutes and it is really easy. The result in a benchmark test was very surprising and showed the upgraded machine to be a very robust and formidable SDR Computer.
This is the first SDR I deem as non experimental. This also happens to be the highest scoring SDR yet with a 95. When I think of SDRs I think of this one as the seasoned operators SDR. I do reserve the right to change the score over time. As newer SDR’s come out with expanded and new features, it’s only fair we take those into consideration.
You may particularly like this SDR if:
- You are tired of the experimental nature of SDRs and SDR Software.
- Tired of all the cables running from your SDR to your PC.
- Would like to just be able to turn on the radio and go like you can with a traditional transceiver.
- If you do not need Diversity
- If you dont care about Puresignal.
I will check back in 6 months an add additional thoughts in December this year on my 6 month experience as well as post in the forum if I find anything significant.
The Bottom Line
The MB1 is an outstanding transceiver. This is in part due to the point and time of this review given that Expert Electronics has greatly improved ExpertSDR. I have been running the MB1 about 8 hours a day for the past week and a half while preparing this review, participating in nets, and enjoying my cadillac SDR. Expert Electronics has a winner here for sure!
On the Air
Reviewer NI0Z, Mark Abraham - Licensed as Extra 2011.
All content Copyright 2017 Mark Abraham and may not be reproduced or redistributed without consent.
Post Review Notes
The MB1 comes with an 18 month warranty and in my case since I purchased it at NSI, I just send it to them I believe, and they take care of it and get it back to me.
What's cool about the MB1 is that not only do you get the 4 VFO's, (2 receivers and 2 sub receivers) you also have the ability to use the IQ from the 2 receivers as well in third party applications, including 2 skimmers, one per receiver. You can even use that IQ in another SDR program if you want via VAC. The MB1 has a superb set of knobs and buttons as well as the ability for two addon displays making it definitely the most featured SDR as far as hardware goes.
The other cool thing is that since the computer and radio are integrated, in an almost ironic twist, it's actually easier to facilitate full remote operation with software such as NoMachine or similar because your using the MB1's screen and all the software you want to run on the MB1 is right there running in real time with the radio, so all your doing really is sending screen update data and then audio back and forth.
Not sure people really thought about how capable this makes the radio for remote ops. NoMachine runs on android and iOS so you get a full featured SDR interface, not watered down, using ExpertSDR remotely on your tablet, pc, etc. Very handy if you think about it!
I think it's ironic because the industry is trying to separate the computer from the radio and do the signal processing in the radio.. so a lot of resource is being placed into programming all the functionality in to the radio. So one might think that the MB1 is a legacy approach, but it's actually rather ingenious to just put the PC in the radio because not only do you get the upshot of processing the signal, you also get a whole windows PC to run all the current ham software you want, and a built in radio server. It really solved a lot of the problems that veteran SDR users were clamoring for that in a way was hence driving the effort to separate the radio from needing a computer. Also, it drives the manufacturer to properly shield the radio otherwise you would have a radio that would crash all the time from leaky RF like most rigs out there seem to exhibit. And if you want to integrate it with another computer you can do that too, just like any other rig.
While some would argue that Linux should have been used I would disagree as windows by far has a larger base of software that is ready and much more developed. Windows 10 is very stable for the most part as well, I had one crash when I was setting it all up and haven't had one since and it's basically been running 6-8 hours a day, every day since I purchased it.
Pretty slick when you think about all this and definitely something to noodle on for future design consideration. Makes you wonder if Expert Electronics doesn't in reality have a novel approach to SDR computing.