Going Digital with G4ZLP DigiMaster Pro3

Posted on Sunday, November 10th, 2013 at 1:16 pm in

DigiMaster Pro3

DigiMaster Pro3

The next critical piece in my quest to become completely QRP-Portable arrived on Friday afternoon. No sooner did I arrive home than I ripped open the box, ignored the instructions, and promptly proceeded to connect and use my new sound card and CAT interface – a DigiMaster Pro3 from G4ZLP. Happiness knows no boundaries!

Now to tell the story truthfully I will have to go back in time a little: In fact about 4 months ago on 1st July 2013 I made my first PSK31 contact with a home-built interface (CAT and Sound). Since then I managed to capture about 100 contacts in 30 countries with that interface and radio: A Yaesu FT-840 running 30-50 watts into a Broadgun Travelling Wave wire antenna not more than 10 meters above ground. A major motivator was Noel Hammand ZR6DX who explained the inner workings of HRD at the West Rand Club (www.zr6wr.co.za) and which brought me up to speed in no time. Remember that it was winter by us and the conditions were very poor, so eking out even a modest signal from the ether was tough.

Nevertheless, I built a second interface (different schematic) for my second (mostly voice) radio, a Yaesu FT-857D (CAT and sound). It also worked well and I probably made one or two contacts with it. I also purchased a USB-CAT cable for the FT-857D so that I could independently check my construction or test some configurations. I was having major fun! I even worked a local ZS-land PSK competition and learned a lot about logging and QSL’s and stuff.

And then the trouble started. Sigh. I became convinced that the reason I wasn’t building a country list faster, was because either my home-built interface or my laptop was NOT GOOD ENOUGH … you know the story?

Step one: Replace the sound card. I purchased a small USB Sound Card dongle from the local computer shop. While it worked and I made a contact or two, nobody told me my signal was any better than before. I was very disappointed but of course I convinced myself that it was a cheap chinese product.

So the next step was to thrust my hand deep into my pocket and but a brand new SignaLink. I plugged it in and except for a small misunderstanding about functionality (the SignaLink is only a sound card, not a combined CAT interface) it worked well. But I was disappointed yet again – nobody gave me a better than before signal report. AFter spending all that money I can emphatically say the expensive brand-name interfaces perform no better than a proper home-built interface. The SignaLink is a nice device though, and the volume control knobs are cute to twist while fiddling.

But the job wasn’t done yet: I needed to be completely portable, and that implied QRP. Radio, and laptop. All battery operated. I already own the laptop – a very nice Lenovo X1 Carbon UltraBook. This is one of those Brand-New Super-Thin Ultra-Light laptops that runs for 8 hours on a recharge and weighs next-to-nothing. And I own a reasonable rig – the Yaesu FT-857D is not very light but can go down to 5 watt. I only needed an interface that uses ONE USB CABLE. I started to realise that my nice laptop had one shortcoming: It only has two USB ports. One is used by the mouse, and the second one MUST drive the sound card as well as the CAT interface. Since the SignaLink is sound only, I continue my quest.

Two devices jump out from the crowd: The DigiMaster Pro3 from G4ZLP (UK) and the RigBlaster Advantage from West Mountain Radio (USA). Both are very capable devices, both get good reports, and both are overseas (read=EXPENSIVE SHIPPING). Eventually I contacted both suppliers and to be honest I made the decision on price: Shipping from the USA was just a litte more expensive. I sent my credit card details to G4ZLP Electronics and lo and behold a few days later my shiny new apparatus arrived in the mail. It took me minutes to rip it out of the box, throw away the instructions, and start using it. I added 7 new countries in one evening before even looking at the instructions.

The DigiMaster Pro3 deserves a review on its own and I will do that in a follow-up post. However, I can say without a shadow of doubt that the sound quality (and thus the signal quality) is pretty much the same as any USB sound card. The real benefit for me, and the reason I love the DigiMaster, is that I can now use one USB port on my laptop to drive the radio’s CAT interface plus the Sound Card. It does that very well.

And yes, it is awesome to twiddle the sound knobs.