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Categories | Transceivers: HF Amateur HF+6M+VHF+UHF models - not QRP <5W | Expert Electronics SunSDR MB1 Help

Show all reviews of the Expert Electronics SunSDR MB1

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G0CGL  Rating: 4/5 Aug 8, 2016 06:27  Send this review to a friend!
Hugely versatile with lots of potential for upgrades   Time owned: 0 to 3 months
The MB1 is a 100W SDR transceiver that has a fully featured front panel, including a superb 7-inch touch screen display, driven from a built-in Windows 10 computer.

Firstly, a base point from which my review is written. I am primarily a DXer with a prime interest in low band CW but also operate all HF bands and all modes. My radio for the past 9 years has been the Icom-7800 with the IC-7100 as back-up. I had an interest in obtaining the advantages of SDR but a black box on the desk connected to a computer, even with a separate VFO control, did not appeal to me.

Out of the box, the MB1 front panel appears very busy and the buttons are, on the whole, on the small side. The main tuning knob is smooth and has a nice feel. The screen is superb and after a bit of operation, you soon get used to the layout and quickly find that the full potential is realised when one or more external screens are connected. Operation is then primarily by mouse 'point-and-click' together with the VFO controls and most of the front panel becomes secondary.

The rear panel is extremely well appointed, both for the radio in terms of antenna connectors, PTT, ALC, CAT, etc and also for the computer with many USB3 ports, two video outputs, etc.

The ExpertSDR2 software is very well laid out, giving easy access to all the functions and parameters. The spectrum scope and waterfall displays are excellent. The GUI comes in two flavours that can be switched on the fly: a desktop GUI that has every control available and a MB1 GUI that provides a pseudo radio front panel display, with a conventional looking S-meter, but still with the same excellent spectrum and waterfall graphics below.

So far then, the hardware and software are found to be of a very high standard. A radio of this complexity needs a good user manual. Expert Electronics have made a poor job of this one. If a new MB1 owner does experience frustration and disappointment, it will be through the omissions, inaccuracies and poor organisation of the manual. Like the software, the manual will hopefully be developed over time but considering the MB1 was first displayed to the public in 2014, it is inexcusable to have not produced a far better document in this time.

Expert Electronics are something of an enigma. Vassily and Roman, with whom I have dealt, are very nice guys and extremely helpful. Indeed, I had some initial problems and was provided with TeamViewer/Skype sessions that addressed every point of issue, although some could not be resolved. It is clear that they are a company dedicated to their products and are capable providing a high level of customer support. They have a web site forum and emails get a quick response. On the other hand, they are too quick to announce ‘there is no bug’ in response to issues raised, inferring that actual users, the customers, know less than they do. This is nonsense and leads to severe doubts that bug reports to their Forum, that get no acknowledgement, are being taken seriously. Indeed, a software/firmware update August 2016 omitted several needed fixes that seem to be simple to implement. They need to get a grip on communication and put customers' priorities first if the MB1 is going to be successful. A poor reputation will badly affect it and do it a great disservice, which would be awful considering the potential of this radio.

So, how does it perform? Remember, being SDR, performance will be enhanced through iterations of the software and firmware. I am currently on software version 1.1.3 Beta 11 and this will, I hope, have moved on considerably in a short space of time. I compared the MB1 with my IC-7100 and IC-7800 together with a borrowed IC-7300. As expected, the 7100 and 7300 are surpassed by the MB1 in almost every department. The exception being the noise blanker on the 7300 which is exceptionally effective. The MB1 has two noise blankers, with different algorithms, and comes close to the 7300 but doesn’t quite equal it.

So to the 7800: I remember writing an eHam review of my then new 7800 in 2007 and gave it 5 stars. Time moves on and performance improves. I would now give it 4 stars and highlight some shortcomings. The spectrum scope is next to useless and, in fact, I never used it at all. The filtering is not perfect with 150hz being the narrowest practical width before ringing occurs. Sensitivity, on my radio anyway which was checked by Icom, was slightly diminished on 6 meters. Noise Reduction was too detrimental to the recovered audio. In comparison, the MB1 is at least as sensitive and there is no loss on 6 meters. The radio also has 2 meters but I don't operate that band - however I have heard that it is also very good there too. As with SDR generally, the filtering is amazing and 50hz is no less useable than any other filter width. NR, Notch, and the myriad of parameters to optimise transmit on SSB, CW and digital all work well. Blocking Dynamic Range seems very good, at least in practical use. Plus of course the panoramic display, 4 receivers, up 312khz band scope and all the features that software provides, like skimmer spots on the display, leave the 7800 and all classic radios very far behind. Overall it seems very high spec.

The in-built computer has an Intel i-5 processor, claimed in the spec. as running at 3.0GHz (but my MB1 appears to be 2.2Ghz overclocked to 2.5GHz), with a 120Gb SSD. It runs Windows 10 in Tablet Mode and the MB1 screen is then touch sensitive. Podgy fingers might have some trouble but, in any case, I would advocate the use of a stylus. Tablet Mode exits when using an external monitor configuration.

I have found issues with the radio that exist at this time. All of these can, I believe, be corrected in software/firmware. Nevertheless, they exist and, with the failings of the user manual, overall my current rating is 4 stars. I have a forum posting, valid July 2016 at that details improvements that are needed. Future attention to detail by Expert Electronics will ensure these are corrected and make the MB1 a 5-star transceiver.

A UK radio magazine recently reviewed the MB1 and author concluded by recommending that a purchase be delayed for a while. Currently both USA and UK retailers have an introductory offer, saving over 800 euro on the RRP. It seems there is no better time to buy than now (August 2016). I do like the MB1 and I want to like it even more. It has the potential to be the best radio I’ve ever had. But in giving an honest review, I’d have to recommend to first keep track on progress via their website and forum until outstanding important issues are corrected. With diligence from Expert Electronics, that will not be long in coming.

Erik G0CGL / EI4KF
Product is in production.
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