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Author Topic: Best CW Decoder - MRP40 or CWSkimmer?  (Read 6704 times)
KC2NYU
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Posts: 140




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« on: December 10, 2012, 05:17:11 PM »

There has been some discussion last few days on an amateur radio.com blog regarding the best CW Decoder software. Is it MRP40 or is it CW Skimmer? The Blog author on Amateur Radio.com concluded that MRP40 was better.  I am currently using a trial version of a MRP40 and find it pretty good. I also have a trial version of CW skimmer. As of right now I would agree that MRP40 is better in that 1) it decodes everything (almost- depending on sender)  in the main window and 2) it automatically logs all heard in a log file.. I might add that CWGet also does a good job on decode as does DM-780 part of HRD suite.

But I must be missing something on CW Skimmer. Yes it shows multiple QSO's, shows a list of the callsigns and decodes the selected QSO in window that shows just the last 10 - 12 words decoded. But I don't see any place where you see the entire QSO decoded ?? or have  any record of the complete conversation.  I realize that it is used extensively in contests and in spotting networks, but as a pure decoder doesn't seem to measure up to previously mentioned programs. So am I completely  missing something on CWSkimmer??

73 Paul kc2nyu
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KQ6Q
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« Reply #1 on: December 10, 2012, 08:03:24 PM »

The trained operator's brain is the best decoder. You can hear multiple QSO's going on and pick out what you need. Turn off the equipment, and listen and practice. Try W1AW bulletins and code practice broadcasts. Keep at it! Believe you can do it, and you will. Convince yourself that only computers can do it and you won't.
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STAYVERTICAL
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« Reply #2 on: December 10, 2012, 08:34:18 PM »

Hi Paul,

I have done side by side comparisons with the same input information (quite possible you know).
In my experiments CWskimmer has a much better decoder than MRP40, or any of the other decoders I tested, apart from CWdecoder(freeware).
I think CWdecoder is probably the best at decoding from them all, with CWskimmer coming in a close second.

If you think HRD and CWget are getting results as good as CWskimmer then you are not taxing the programs on noisy and fading CW.
CW skimmer and CWdecoder both do not require continual adjustments in the threshold like the others, and is good on weak, fading and variable signals.
The others are not.

Any decoder can receive well sent, in the clear code - but that is not going to be the situation in the real world.
Unless my experiments were seriously flawed, CWget and MRP40 did nowhere as well as the others with weak, fading, noisy signals.
What type of signals do you think you will hear on the CW segments? yes you guessed it.

Sure CWskimmer does not decode the entire text, log your contact and send you an email applauding your efforts, but lets get real.
Anyone who thinks they are going to become a CW operator by using a computer program for decoding is seriously deluded.

When you work CW by ear, you do not remember the whole qso verbatim, but pick out salient points for comment.
CW is not an error correcting, machine sent mode, and you will be very frustrated if you think you can make it so with a decoding program.
If this is what you want, stick to PSK31 or any of its cousins.

I have in the past put on CW decoders while I was operating, and quickly turned them off - they only cause you problems.
Like reading subtitles in a language you already know, they will throw you off the track, and make the QSO doubly difficult.
By all means use them for sending if you wish, there is nothing wrong with sending perfect code.

CW decoders of all flavors are interesting toys to play with, but forget using them for real CW operation.

You will be like a guy on a sinking lifeboat surrounded by sharks, waiting for the conditions to get rough.

73 - Rob
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KC2NYU
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« Reply #3 on: December 11, 2012, 04:46:19 AM »

Rob- agree with your comments about not relying on software to decode. But I love to play with and experiment with different ham software and have heard so much abt CWSkimmer wanted to get to the bottom of it. I tried CWDecoder but couldn't get it to work. are you using with windows 7?

73 Paul
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STAYVERTICAL
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Posts: 875




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« Reply #4 on: December 11, 2012, 11:47:35 AM »

Hi Paul,

I understand about playing with different ham software - we are kindred spirits in that pursuit.
That is why I played with many different types of CW decoder software side by side and tested them out.

I just downloaded the latest version of CWdecoder (look up eham reviews for the link).
It works great on windows 7, and even seems to select my USB signalink now.
My P.C. is a windows 7 notebook computer (circa 2009).
Previously, it seemed it would not work on anything except the default soundcard.
Now however, I could select both the USB-signalink or the default soundcard - so that is fantastic.

I tried it on some very weak in the noise, fading CW and it worked really well.
Not anywhere as good as by ear of course, but extremely good for a cw decoder.
Frankly, it just blows away the other decoders, and for receive works really well.
But, as I said earlier, the difference is really apparent in noisy, messy CW.
They all work ok on machine sent CW, well above the noise.

I would not use CWdecoder for sending CW though, since it is a bit rough in this area.
For sending consider CWtype (a free cousin of CWget), which is brilliant and free (thanks Alex).
There is nothing stopping you from using multiple programs for sending and receiving, so pick your preferred option.

Cwdecoder and CWtype are both free, and in my opinion, both excel at what they do.
CWskimmer is also brilliant, with a good cw decoder, but that is not it's primary design aim.
It is primarily designed as a contest/pileup bulk callsign decoder, and it is also a great program, although it is payware.

I am not against the other CW decoding programs in any way, more options is better for us all.
The best idea is to do your own side by side tests and see what results you obtain.
But remember, use real world signals which are messy, fading and noisy, and see where your tests take you.

73 - Rob
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KC2NYU
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Posts: 140




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« Reply #5 on: December 12, 2012, 08:46:45 AM »

Rob- thanks for ALL the info provided and good to hear you like to try all these different programs also.  I have had some issues with a couple of them.
- first CWDecoder:  Downloaded and started install just fine, but I inadvertently stopped the install. When I tried to install again, I get this msg "Installer has encountered and unexpected error installing this package. This may indicate a problem with package. the error code is 2343". I have made several attempts to uninstall every trace of the program, even have run a registry cleaner several times. But each time I try - I ultimately get the same error msg. Any suggestions on how to fix, would really like to get the program running. PC is win7, 64 bit PC. 2.4 ghz processor and 4 gb of memory, radio is K3, interface is Signalink USB.
-  My MRP40 trial is down to 11 days and this morning when I started it , it is acting weird- flashing and unusable. 
- I have not been able to get the trial CWSkimmer to send or MRP40.
- The only programs I have I have gotten to send are DM780 and KCOMM (think just for K2 or K3)
- Couldn't get CwType to send with, although CwGet works fine.
- so obviously there is something I don't understand about the setups for interface radio and sending programs??

73 Paul kc2nyu
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KG6AF
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Posts: 367




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« Reply #6 on: December 12, 2012, 11:55:31 AM »

- first CWDecoder:  Downloaded and started install just fine, but I inadvertently stopped the install. When I tried to install again, I get this msg "Installer has encountered and unexpected error installing this package. This may indicate a problem with package. the error code is 2343". I have made several attempts to uninstall every trace of the program, even have run a registry cleaner several times. But each time I try - I ultimately get the same error msg. Any suggestions on how to fix, would really like to get the program running. PC is win7, 64 bit PC. 2.4 ghz processor and 4 gb of memory, radio is K3, interface is Signalink USB.

For what it's worth, I installed CWDecoder yesterday, and I have a rig, computer, OS, and interface pretty much identical to yours. My computer has 6GB of memory, but I have a hard time believing that 4GB of memory is insufficient.  CWDecoder seems to work just fine.
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KC2NYU
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Posts: 140




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« Reply #7 on: December 12, 2012, 01:24:42 PM »

I think my problem is that the first install didn't complete which is somehow causing this error 2343 to interrupt a re-install.

73 Paul
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STAYVERTICAL
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« Reply #8 on: December 12, 2012, 01:40:12 PM »

Hi Paul,

Sounds like you have a whole raft of different problems there.

As regards sending, you generally have two ways of generating CW with a P.C.

One is to generate a pure sine wave which will be injected into the transmitter audio line.
This generates a single frequency offset from the dial setting by the audio frequency.
It will be either above or below the dial setting depending on if you have USB or LSB mode set.

The other method is to turn on and off a keying line in the transmitter, like when you use a morse key.
This method needs some sort of interface from the computer to the radio CW keying line.
I use a custom designed opto-isolator fed from a USB to serial port "dongle" type converter.

Either method will produce CW, but not all digital programs support both methods.
Some CW programs such as Fldigi will only support the sine wave audio method, whereas CWtype supports the hard keying method.
Others such as HRD support both.

You can usually tell if a program will support the tone method if it has something in its options called "MCW"
MCW is not pure CW in the strictly technical sense, but it conveys the meaning that this is a sine wave tone method.

The clue to whether a program will support the "hard keying" method is if it has options for selecting output "ports".
The ports may be either serial (COM) or sometimes centronics parallel port (LPT).
Either way, you will need a custom interface when using COM or LPT ports, but there are many circuits available on the web.

Since you have a USB signalink, I can say that you will be using the sine wave method of producing CW.
So programs like HRD, FLdigi will certainly support that method, but I don't think CWtype does.

I hope that helps to explain some of the reasons that some programs will work on transmit with your setup and others don't.

As regards CWdecoder and your failed install, I removed CWdecoder from my system and registry and tried to crash it on install.
I stopped it in various places multiple times, but was unable to reproduce your problem.
It installed and worked fine unfortunately (or fortunately).

I have no doubt that you are having a problem, but I am at a loss to explain how to overcome it.
I am running a 32 bit version of windows, so if you are using a 64 bit version perhaps that may explain it.
Or perhaps you need to set certain privileges to install it properly.

Because I test a lot of different software programs, I have a system where I re-image my notebook after my experiments.
This re-installs the whole operating system to the point at which I took that image and gives me a fresh start.
I guess I could rollback windows to a know point as well, but I am not sure if that would remove registry entries and other detritus.

Perhaps it is time to remove all those CW programs, and have a think of how you wish to generate CW.
Then you can use either HRD, FLdigi or any other suitable program to produce CW, and then review the decoders.
Even the HRD CW decoder is not too bad on most signals, so I would get to a simple baseline and restart from there.

Having multiple CW decoders, all competing for the same ports (COM for example), can lead to peculiar problems.
Many CW programs will want to reserve a port for themselves, and scan the ports which are on the P.C.
You can end up with conflicts where different programs fight for the ports, like the grave scene in Hamlet.

Good luck, I am sure you will sort it out.

73 - Rob

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VA7CPC
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« Reply #9 on: December 12, 2012, 04:38:05 PM »

Quote
. . .
Having multiple CW decoders, all competing for the same ports (COM for example), can lead to peculiar problems. . .

I'd put it stronger:

. . . Don't do that !

Unless you have software like "virtual audio cables" installed, running more than one CW decoder at the same time is almost sure to cause grief.

The same is true for having more than one CW keyboard-sending program.  By and large, serial ports, and soundcard drivers, are not good at sharing and being shared.

.            Charles

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KC2NYU
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Posts: 140




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« Reply #10 on: December 13, 2012, 05:03:21 AM »

Rob - appreciate you taking the time to provide such extensive information on subject. I am much smarter as a result. Have several "working" options to chose from when necessary. In reality don't see myself using software to send CW, but have had fun experimenting. My next challenge now is to see if I can get the N1MM contest program to key my K3.
- Charles, no have not tried to use more than one decoder at a time.

73 & Tnx Paul kc2nyu
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KG6AF
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Posts: 367




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« Reply #11 on: December 13, 2012, 10:30:00 AM »

Unless you have software like "virtual audio cables" installed, running more than one CW decoder at the same time is almost sure to cause grief.

I agree with those who've pointed out that trying to share COM ports is problematic, but I don't see why you can't share a sound card among CW decoders.  Windows is more than happy to send an incoming sound card audio stream to more than one program.  I commonly run both DM780 and JT65-HF at the same time, with both programs using the sound card in my Signalink USB.  By doing so I can switch between JT65-HF and other digital modes without the hassle of opening and closing programs.  (I share the same sound card for tx, too; Windows automatically creates a mixer input for each program.  As long as I don't try to transmit from both programs at the same time, this works fine, too.)

As an experiment, I just opened DM780, JT65-HF, and CW Decoder, with all of them taking their audio from the same sound card.  No virtual audio cables needed, and no problems.

Virtual audio cables are useful when you want to pass an audio stream from one program to another.
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KC2NYU
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Posts: 140




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« Reply #12 on: December 20, 2012, 01:52:19 PM »

I never tried running two programs off the same SignalinkUSB until reading your post, but you are absolutely right- it works. You have to change frequency on the radio, in going from JT65HF to psk31 and DM 780, but that is quickly accomplished via program or radio memory. Thanks for the tip.

73 and happy holidays
Paul kc2nyu
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