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Reviews Categories | Ham Software - Other than logging | Afreet Software CW Skimmer Help


Reviews Summary for Afreet Software CW Skimmer
Afreet Software CW Skimmer Reviews: 19 Average rating: 4.3/5 MSRP: $75
Description: Program decodes CW signals in a given band of signals and lists call signs, CQ, QRL, 599 and raw text. Using CAT control it allows you to point to a CW station with your mouse and bring the radio up on freq. Allows visual ID of CW, communication with DX cluster, and recording of the I/Q signal for later playback
Product is in production.
More info: http://www.dxatlas.com/CwSkimmer/
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N8FNR Rating: 5/5 Jul 16, 2009 09:27 Send this review to a friend
Skimmer was a game changer for me  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
For years I tried off and on to relearn the code but I never kept up with it. Spent most of my time In the past few years on PSK and most recently on JT64A.

Earlier this year I decided to give Skimmer a try with my Flex-5000A. Because soundcard modes integrate so well (no interface is needed) with my rig I found that I was getting 75-95%
good copy with CW. Using the waterfall in Skimmer and the panadapter in my 5000A are killer apps. Also, my rig has a built in CW program that lets you set up preprogrammed memory keys and also lets you type via the PC keyboard.

Making radio VISUAL changes everything. And it was not long before I was spending 100% of my time on CW.

I was amazed how well it would copy even with fairly weak signals. If the copy was well below 75% I could usually figure out what the other guy was sending anyway. Once the trial period expired I bought a license for it because I could not do without it.

The fastest copy I have seen it decode was around 40+ WPM, not that I see much on the bands faster than that.

Skimmer is used by me in contests but I only use it to increase my DXCC, VUCC and WAS count. BTW I never submit any scores because it is against the rules and I am mainly a DX'er anyway.

Lately I have been doing a lot of CW on 6M as there has been a lot of eskip. It is fascinating to see how quickly signals will appear and just as quickly fade. And I can see 12khz all at once so
lots of times I get to make the contact before most others would even tune across the DX.

Now I know a lot of CW purists would like to yell at me for using Skimmer, saying it is somehow "cheating". Is it cheating if you copy CW by ear and use a word processing program to transcribe the copy? How about using an iambic keyer or a dedicated CW keyboard? If my radio only uses transistors is that cheating. After all real radios glow in the dark don’t they? Does that mean I need to get a spark transmitter instead?

Skimmer is just a tool that makes my hobby easier. Just like how my Flex-5000A is easier to use than Drake twins.

I admire those who can TX 50 wpm per minute with a straight key and copy everything in their head. However, I am not one of those people. On the other hand I am now actually spending a lot more time on the radio since I discovered Skimmer. I find operating CW with it is more interesting than PSK.
 
WZ7I Rating: 5/5 Jul 3, 2009 10:30 Send this review to a friend
CW Skimmer for the rag chewer  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
This program was originally conceived as a tool for the DXer, not the contester. For me it is a great tool for the Rag Chewer.

After trying it with my Orion, I assembled one of the very inexpensive SoftRock SDR receiver kits. This was one of the best experiences I have had in the hobby. I learned to work with SMD components, and got a feel for SDR circuits. I purchased a USB soundcard for about $80 for my slow laptop. When I loaded Afeet Software's freeware Rocky SDR package I was amazed at the performance of this tiny receiver!

Then I purchased the CW Skimmer software. The old laptop and the SoftRock RX sit in the basement where the temperature is constant. They are connected to a fan dipole a couple hundred feet from my TX antennas through an ICE Model 172 RF Limiter to protect the receiver from my transmitted signal. Skimmer detects every CQ on the 40M band, sends the call by telnet to my shack computer, which displays it as it would a DX cluster spot on my logging program, the DX Lab suite. A double click and my transceiver is tuned to his frequency, often before he finishes his CQ call. Unlike cluster spots, every one of these spots can be heard at my QTH and the spot display gives me the signal/noise ratio at my receiver. One feature of DX Lab I appreciate is that if I especially enjoyed a QSO, I can write a “Tag” comment for that call. When that station calls CQ anyplace on the band, the spot pops up on my screen with my Tag reminding me that this is someone who I would especially enjoy working again.

All of my spots also go by telnet to the web site “reversebeacon.net”. If you wonder if your CW signal is getting to the East Coast, bring up this web site and call CQ a few times and see where it is spotted.

I never want to be without this infrastructure again. My ham project for the coming months is to acquire a more capable SDR receiver, purchase a new computer, install a multi-band receive antenna, and try Alex’s new Skimmer Server beta software which can decode calls on 7 bands simultaneously.

I am having fun.
 
VK6VZ Rating: 5/5 Dec 13, 2008 02:20 Send this review to a friend
Use with a PC and a SoftRock tapped off a transceiver's IF  Time owned: 6 to 12 months
If you want to take true advantage of CW Skimmer and turn it into the world's best DXing aid, then you need to use it how its inventor Alex VE3NEA and a growing group of DXers - including myself - use it. What this means is purchasing a SoftRock receiver kit for under $20 (available from Tony KB9YIG) that can be tuned to an IF frequency of your transceiver that is in the HF range (such as the 8.215MHz second IF of an FT-1000 or 8.215 first IF of an Elecraft K3), building the kit and (maybe) doing some minor modification to your transceiver to enable an IF feed from it to the SoftRock.

I have been using CW Skimmer in this manner with an FT-1000 (and lately, an Elecraft K3) for some time. The SoftRock receiver feeds a M-Audio Delta 44 soundcard, with a 96KHz sampling rate/bandwidth which provides the analogue to digital conversion, which in turn is attached to my Pentium IV PC, running CW Skimmer under the MS Windows XP operating system.

Using CW Skimmer in this manner gives me a 96KHz-wide view of the CW portion of any band, with an ability to 'see' signals that are barely above the noise level and decode them.

My favourite band is 1.8MHz, where DX openings and sunrise and sunset may often last only a few minutes. If rare DX comes on the band, CW Skimmer gives me the chance to see that they have arrived within a few tens of seconds of them starting to send - well before anyone has had a chance to tune onto them or spot them on a DX cluster.

In my opinion, the bandscope that CW Skimmer and this set-up provides me with is way beyond anything that a top-of-line HF transceiver with a built-in bandscope (and costing many thousands of dollars) is able to provide.

My FT-1000 has relatively poor RS232 interfacing capabilities (even with a you-beauty homemade interface), so getting CW Skimmer to interface with my PC, in terms of signal tracking, is not the best, but still workable. However, when coupled with the Elecraft K3, CW Skimmer works amazingly - spot the signal, put the mouse pointer on it, click and you are on frequency, all ready to go. If a DX station is working split, I simply switch the VFO from A to B on the K3 (which has identical twin receivers) to put B (my Tx frequency) on the last frequency where someone worked the DX station.

Using this method, I have found I can even break European pileups on DX that is far more local to Europe than to me - which was virtually impossible to do without CW Skimmer unless there was a world-class operator at the DX end.

There is plenty of information available on using SoftRocks in this manner on the internet - and interfacing them with HF transceivers.

This kind of approach is really for those with some expertise in home-brewing or on modifying radios. That being said, if you have an Elecraft K3, there is a nifty device called the LP-Pan which is available from N8LP built for about $227 and plugs straight into the K3. I don't have a LP-Pan, but have several acquaintances who are delighted with them.

Have fun!

Vy 73, Steve, VK6VZ
 
KG6TT Rating: 4/5 Sep 22, 2008 11:02 Send this review to a friend
Can be a great tool  Time owned: 3 to 6 months
Like DX Atlas, Morse Runner, and DX Bulletin Reader, CW Skimmer is a truly inspired application for the serious CW DXer and Contester looking for that needed edge.

With a less than average antenna farm and a very tired old Alpha 76A, it is hardly possible for me to generate that 'commanding signal' that pushes holes through pileups. After many, many frustrating hours of waiting or not getting through I realized that I needed to 'work smart' and not so hard. That was when I determined to train myself as a DX Detective... therefore looking to what I could learn and what tools I could employ (under the roof) to provide that edge to either get me to the needed DX station before it became a DX Spot statistic (or worse yet history) or if too late and a part of the pack myself having the quick ability to tail-end the last station the DX responded too. DXLabsSuite of 'DX Detective' tools helps me get there before the spots... NOW CW Skimmer gives me the edge to break the pileups!

With CW Skimmer at work at my station, my transceiver's (Ten-Tec Orion) main receiver remains on the DX Station with its filters locked down as tight as necessary to pull it from the surrounding noise. CW Skimmer's lower decode window provides a steady, reasonably verified (through redundancy and probability), decoded stream of the key info the DX station is sending. The actual decoding is better than any software decoder I have personally tested (a lot of them) and works as a great assistant jogging down calls responded to. At the same time CW Skimmer's main window displays a waterfall that is quickly filling with replying signals. The replying stations create an easily recognizable 'dit/dah' stream for easy mouse positioning in the waterfall, but better yet Skimmer performs user selectable levels of decoding and verification immediately to the right of the waterfall. I set mine to only display highlight details such as '5nn', '599', 'TU', 'QSL, 'QRZ', 'de' and their callsigns. I also ask mine to compare each decoded callsigns a couple of times before displaying the result to eliminate many decoding errors. I also use the 'Check Partial' option so that Skimmer compares the incoming decoded calls to a known database of anticipated callsigns. CW Skimmer also has a cool optional window to list out the received calls for quick identification and easy selection. Skimmer can also output via its own Telnet server localized spots that you can pick up in your own spotting program (very useful when you are away from the rig).

At this point in the Skimmer setup I see the DXer's sending below and the respondents to the right. I hear who the DXer is responding to and then quickly look at the growing list of respondents. As soon as I see the respondent's call (remember they are calling and calling and calling... few get through the very first time... so the current respondent is most likely already in the list) I click on it and CW Skimmer quickly moves my transceivers SUB Receiver and Transmitter to that exact frequency. A moment later I toss out my callsign zero-beat to the station the DX just said 'TU' to. I now have a far greater chance of getting through than if I just sat on what I thought was an open frequency (is it open at the DXer's location?) or if I madly tuned around with the XIT or second VFO hoping to find and tail end the responded to station's frequency in time.

There is far more to CW Skimmer's abilities, especially if you have a wide-band capable SDR or perhaps a SoftRock receiver tied to your transceiver's IF, in which cases you can 'skim' as much audio bandwidth as your soundcard can support and your computer has the processing power to decode. However, according to CW Skimmer's choices I was forced to set decoding to the standard 3 kHz audio produced by most transceivers, while my Ten-Tec Orion's SUB receiver can do a very good job producing up to 8 kHz of bandwidth.

Knowing I could easily do more with CW Skimmer and my Orion but not being able to due to programmer's 'choices' became increasingly annoying... hence my rating of 4 (almost a 3)for what could be an even better program.

What is missing from CW Skimmer?

1) Allowing the user to select more than 3 kHz decoding bandwidth when they use a transceiver (not an SDR) capable of greater bandwidth. I wrote Alex, VE3NEA, many times requesting and justifying. My emails were seldom responded to and when they were there was little sense of curiosity but always a 'Even though I could do what you suggest, I don't really see the need to provide special care for Orion users' attitude.

2) CW Skimmer must talk to your transceiver via Alex's OMNIRig rig control application. Understand you really can't get the full benefit of CW Skimmer unless you can give it keys to the car! And although multiple OMNIRig enabled applications (mostly Alex's programs) can talk to the same transceiver at the same time, once OmniRig from any application touches your transceiver the majority of contest loggers... and in my case DXLabs Commander are locked out. So I could give CW Skimmer control of the Orion but only at the expense of isolating the Orion from my contest or DX logging applications or my spotting applications. This soon became a show stopper for several months.

3. CW Skimmer, via OMNIRIG, assumes that you only want to control VFO-A and gives you no option to Control VFO-B instead. Depending on your transceiver and other programs you are using, this may or may not work for you. Once again I found that everything else would work better for me if I could get CW Skimmer to use VFO-B. I wrote Alex, VE3NEA, asking if he would consider adding this VFO selection as an option and the answer, when it came, was another no. Eventually I hacked the code in the OmniRig Orion.ini file to trick CW Skimmer into using VFO-B... fairly easy thing to do actually.

Support after the sale.

CW Skimmer is NOT free. In fact it is rather pricey at $75, still I did not hesitate to register it due to the programs potential. Since I was one of the first registered users I thought Alex would be more open to my observations and feature requests. I was very wrong. For whatever reason (life being too busy, etc.), I have found Alex to be less approachable than most of the other programmers addressing the ham radio market I have communicated with. A complete opposite of what I have experienced from Dave, AA6YQ (DXLabs) and Carl, N4PY (Orion control software).

In Summary.

Today, with the help of AA6YQ, N4PY, and N8VB (N8BVvCOM) and my own OmniRig hacks, I finally have an 'almost' great CW Skimmer solution running in concert with DXLabsSuite and N4PY's Orion control program. Now I'm about to try and work out the kinks using N1MM (another day). CW Skimmer, even when restricted to 3 kHz bandwidth like it currently is when using a traditional (not SDR) transceiver can be an amazing tool to help level the pileup playing field.

Naturally a day will come when all the 'BIG GUNS' are using CW Skimmer, effectively reducing CW Skimmer's benefit to us little pistols, but until that day... enjoy.

-- Jerry, KG6TT
 
K9IUQ Rating: 2/5 Sep 21, 2008 18:42 Send this review to a friend
Not Ready For Prime Time  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I have been trying the 30 day trial with a Icom Pro III. There is much hype on the internet about this program and I wanted to see what it is all about. With a 3khz rx it is much ado about nothing.. I found little to like. The progam seems unfinished, kinda like a beta program. I saw nothing to warrant a $75 price tag. Perhaps it is more useful with a wide range RX. For the average Ham contester - save your money.....

Stan K9IUQ
 
DO9ST Rating: 4/5 Sep 15, 2008 14:04 Send this review to a friend
good  Time owned: 3 to 6 months
The older Version 1.0 decodes better than the new Version 1.2 .
 
W2SSB Rating: 3/5 Sep 9, 2008 17:54 Send this review to a friend
Digipan for CW  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
Interesting product and worth checking out the 30 day free trial version. Sort of like Digipan running horizontal with a CW mode added on. 30 day free version is painless download-install and if you have a Donner or other soundcard interface its instant up and running. Weird to see the dots/dashes flowing across the screen - not sure thats overly useable but it is different. Average in its ability to accurately pick out and display call signs, but I only tried it at 7015 khz on a 3 khz SSB reciever as opposed to the wideband type RX that supposedly brings out its best. Ditto for decoding the code to text- seemed to be fairly accurate but pretty susceptible to noise. Overall a fun thing to play with for a few hours that may spot some DX in your passband while you are focusing on another. Not sure about that $75 price tag though when the 30 day trial is over.
 
RV3APM Rating: 5/5 Sep 8, 2008 05:38 Send this review to a friend
Fantastic!  Time owned: 3 to 6 months
It the best CW decoder what i seen.
Weak signal decode like champ and it done in wide band!
Thanks Alex!
 
W9OY Rating: 5/5 May 26, 2008 14:57 Send this review to a friend
WAYYY COOOL  Time owned: 0 to 3 months
I downloaded this program to play with and it's amazing. The program in conjunction with my Flex 5000 RX allows for a very wide swath of signals in the CW portion of the band to be decoded and listed. The signals are listed according to call sign and if the station is calling CQ or QRL or 599 and the CW signal is displayed in a visual format on a waterfall. Raw text from a CW station is also decoded and the decoding algorithm is amazingly accurate. The extracted calls can be sent to a DX cluster for spotting and the raw I/Q signal can be recorded for later play back, in case you want to relive that contest or pileup experience. Its a fascinating look into the future of ham radio.

This program interfaced with the appropriate little piece of as yet unwritten neural net software could be searching the band for needed multipliers while you sit on another freq and rack up run points. It could even analyze the propagation and interference and order the most statistically completable contacts. The possibilities are simply delicious.....

Ham Radio is too much fun!!
 
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