Products & Product Reviews

A Look at Sound Card Interfaces for Operating in FT8 Mode

One of the things amateurs like about operating in FT8 mode is that it doesn’t take a shack full of expensive gear to be a success, whether contesting or trying to work DXCC or WAS. Developed by Joe Taylor, K1JT, and Steve Franke, K9AN, this digital protocol in the WSJT-X suite continues to have a rising impact on amateur radio.

As Taylor told the ARRL several months after the introduction of FT8 in June 2017, “It is allowing people who have smaller stations the opportunity to get on and use their radios and a computer to make contacts they never would have been able to make. This is great for ham radio!”

Perhaps no one, though, could have anticipated the extraordinary levels of interest FT8 would generate. According to a recent ClubLog activity report, FT8 has become “the mode of choice for some 60% of HF operators.” Its prominence is particularly evident on 6 meters, where 85% of contacts were made on FT8.

Regardless of your opinion about FT8 (and there are still plenty of detractors), there is no denying its influence as a mode designed for, in Taylor’s words, “multi-hop Es where signals may be weak and fading, openings may be short, and you want fast completion of reliable, confirmable QSOs.”

Sound Card Interfaces

If you have a newer HF transceiver with data or digital capability and a built-in sound card (e.g., IC-7300, IC-7610 FT-991A, etc.); a computer; and free downloadable FT8 software (e.g., WSJT-X), you’re ready to begin making error-free contacts using weak signals. You won’t need the best antenna available, either, to start logging long-distance QSOs.

But what if your transceiver doesn’t have a built-in sound card? You’ll need an audio interface between the radio and the PC to make FT8 work. DX Engineering carries several models, including these:

Tigertronics SignaLink™ USB Digital Communications Interfaces are sold as combos, with the interface and radio-specific USB interface cable packaged together.

This device supports all computer program digital modes and digital voice modes, including legacy ones (RTTY, SSTV, and CW), and today’s most popular modes (FT8, PSK31, JT65, JT9, FSK441, MSK144, WSPR, Olivia, EchoLink Node, and hundreds more).

Convenient front panel controls let you adjust your Transmit Audio, Receive Audio, and Transmit Delay on the fly, making operation easy. Tigertronics SignaLink™ USB Interfaces have a state-of-the-art, built-in low-noise Analog to Digital sound chip, only one USB connection to the computer and, typically, only one connection to the radio.

What do hams say?

Five Stars: “I purchased the Tigertronics SLUSB6PM-P combo to work with my new Yaesu FT-450D. Everything was easy to set up and it works great. I can now enjoy working FT8, FT4, and PSK31 with ease.”

West Mountain Radio RIGblaster DXPro Digital Mode and Rig Control Interface

Whether you’re interested in chasing DX with weak-signal modes, RTTY and SSB contesting, or operating remotely over the Internet, take a serious look at the new RIGblaster DXpro sound card interface from West Mountain Radio. Combining dual sound cards and advanced software-controlled features, the RIGblaster DXpro works with all sound card-based digital mode programs and logging software. The sound cards allow simultaneous monitoring of main and sub-receivers. You can run digital mode programs on each channel, making it an excellent choice for SO2V/SO2R. The unit allows you to operate your favorite digital mode program simultaneously with your favorite logging program.

Precision-engineered in the USA with extensive RF filtering, it’s fully compatible with RemoteHams/HRD for remote control of your station and includes switchable 12V DC output for remotely controlling a small station accessory such as a TNC or 12V relay. Seven pre-wired jumper blocks are included, covering most Icom, Yaesu, Kenwood, Elecraft, and Alinco radios.

Also check out the RIGblaster Advantage and RIGblaster Blue Wireless Interface.

What do hams say?

Five Stars (RIGBlaster Advantage): “It was delivered shortly after the order, and setup was very straightforward. The first mode I used it with was FT8, and it eliminated the issues I was having with the sound card. PC interface was a single USB to the RIGblaster. I located this near the PC, and went with much shorter RS232 and audio interface cables, which cleaned up the installation significantly. I had it operational within ten minutes of unpacking.”

RigExpert TI-3000 Digital Mode and Radio Control Interface

This powerful new plug-and-play USB transceiver interface from RigExpert is based on high-quality stereo codec IC for operating phone, CW, and digital modes using a personal computer—all through a single USB port. An ideal choice for FT8 and other WSJT protocols, the TI-3000 provides an analog audio interface, CAT interface for various transceiver models, and PTT and CW output functions.

Among the device’s many capabilities, the audio interface enables operating digital modes, as well as other useful functions (such as measuring levels of a signal from the air). Input (two channels) and output volume levels are adjusted by potentiometers on the front panel of the device. The TI-3000 is compatible with Windows/MacOS/Linux, and a range of ham radio software, including MixW, MMTTY, and WSJT.

DX Engineering also carries the RigExpert TI-5000 model and the WTI-1 Digital Mode Interface Bundle, which makes it easy to equip your shack for remote operation. Find radio-specific RigExpert interface cables here.

Ready to join the legions of FT8 fans? Find everything you need at DXEngineering.com. Along with the right interface, the experienced hams at DX Engineering are ready to provide expert advice on the perfect gear for your station and budget no matter what mode you choose, from digital to SSB, RTTY to CW.

And if you’re new to FT8, spend a few minutes with these OnAllBands articles:

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