Belka DX HF Portable DSP Receiver

I will state a few things at the outset.

This is a marvellous receiver, my little “Spy Radio”, I absolutely love it.

This radio is one of my all time favourites, when you consider what you get and the performance ,it represents truly amazing value for money.

I paid for this receiver with my own funds and I have no connection or relationship with the manufacturer.

With those facts cleared up we can proceed.

 

 

The Belka DX receiver is designed by Alex Buevsky a radio amateur (Callsign : EU1ME) from Belarus.

The receiver comes in 2 variants, with integral speaker or without.

The coverage is 1.5mhz to 31mhz all mode.

I opted for the model with integral speaker.

This receiver will do everything if you are an aviation enthusiast like me and you want to monitor SSB HF Aeronautical transmissions.

Two things that really stand out is the quality of receive and the quality of build, both are absolutely first class.

The unit will run for around 10 hours from the internal rechargeable battery.

Carry some emergency power should it be required for extended listening where no mains power is available, a single 18650 battery based usb power bank should you need it will run the belka also, or charge the internal battery when the unit is off.

I was astounded at just how good this receiver is for such a small device. The speaker is perfect for portable use and very acceptable for base use.

The radio was purchased from the designers online store https://belrig.by/ and delivered via Belpost (Belarus Post) in December 2020 just before the UK exited the European Union in January 1st 2021 so no taxes to pay. It was well packed for its journey and it took a total of 8 days to arrive with me here in the UK. The unit is supplied with a BNC telescopic antenna.

 

Information for UK BUYERS ONLY

UK Buyers I will post the link below to changes to imports from January 1st 2020

https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/notice-143-a-guide-for-international-post-users/notice-143-a-guide-for-international-post-user

However now, if you order items online from a company based in Europe, you may face extra charges – though what these will be depends on how big the total order is (not counting shipping and handling fees):
  • If the total order is £135 or less and you’re in England, Scotland or Wales, the seller is supposed to collect UK VAT at the item’s rate – typically 20% – at the point of purchase, which means you may have to pay more when you order.
  • If the total order is £135 or less and you’re in Northern Ireland, import VAT will be charged.
  • If the total order is over £135, the seller may be liable for import VAT and customs duty. This may be passed on to you as the buyer and in practice it could mean you’re asked to pay a courier firm or when picking up an item from the post office.
I dont know how this will effect your price on a Belka DX delivered to your address. EU-UK and UK-EU trading is all a bit of a mess at the moment, do your research then there will be no nasty surprises.
Purchasing from Belrig.by (Alex’s Store), Sometimes the website or your bank will reject payment, don’t panic. I used Revolut phone app with Virtual Mastercard (using the free option) https://www.revolut.com/cards and paid in GBP sterling. I had no issues, but if you are having problems due to “automatic filtering” by your bank, make enquiries with Alex directly via online store https://belrig.by/  use the “Contact Us” section and state the item you wish to purchase, and your address for post. Alex will send back via email a cost and a payment order link to his bank in Belarus  www.alfabank.by , use the link he has sent to pay which is unique to your order request, job done. Sometimes email replies can take a while.
Purchasing from Belka dealership partner Mobimax (Boris) in Bulgaria  https://www.mobimax.bg/en/BELKA-DX-shortwave-receiver   Order online as normal I think the dealer may or may not be more able to supply you with a firm price for the item landed into UK. I suggest using the “Contact Us” section of their website and ask the question or maybe just take a chance and buy anyway. IMHO Even if Royal Mail/Parcelforce/Courier stings you with £30 extra charge the item is well worth the “pain” and item certainly worth the extra cost.  It is very annoying but we are where we are. Literally.

 

Add On External Speaker

I did invest in a small Nokia MD-1C “coloud bang” amplified speaker for another project (QRP Labs QCX mini) for just  £7 GBP/8-9 euro/$10usd or so from ebay and this teams up perfect with the Belka DX and it gives a full rounded sound. A really great speaker btw !

The Nokia MD-C1 “Coloud” speaker has 40mm round cone, internal rechargeable (via micro usb) battery, small physical footprint and perfect audio frequency response for this application of 200hz-15khz. On the underside surrounding the on/off switch there is a silicone rubber backing. I was lucky to find a black version of the Nokia MD-1C, lime green or loud orange models are far more common purple and light grey variants also exist . A big sound from this little thing…Turn down the volume/drive to 30% or less on the Belka radio or you may give your neighbours a wake up. You can daisy chain a pair of these speakers together if you want even bigger sound.

Tip : Search ebay for the key words “Coloud” or “Coloud Speaker” rather than Nokia there are quite a few around priced at roughly same as mine.

 

Teams up just fine with the Belka DX.

 

 

History.

The Belka DX is the latest incarnation of a small range of 3 receivers by Alex, the timeline so far reads as follows : Belka One (prototype), Belka DSP and finally Belka DX.

 

Belka 1.

The prototype so to speak and Alex was kind enough to send me photos of this receiver which you can see below.

 

As far as I know there are no other photos of this receiver anywhere else on the internet so Thanks to Alex for giving my blog page here the World Exclusive.

In a short interview with Alex I asked him about how the Belka radios became a reality. Here are some of his comments on the Belka 1.

 

“3 years ago in 2018/19 I wanted a receiver, that would fit in a pocket, worked from a lithium battery and at the same time caught “at least something” on a telescopic antenna. The main purpose of the receiver was to listen pure air outside the city away from houses with their jamming electrical stuffing. The parameters of the receiver were made consistent with these goals and were not outstanding at all. The result was a radio that provided reception in the frequency range 3.4 to 22 MHz, but has a sensitivity drop of up to 30 dB in the band from 7.5 to 11 MHz. With a telescopic antenna 70 cm long, a sensitivity close to the limiting one for such an antenna was provided in the frequency ranges of 7-7.5 and 14-15.5 MHz. To provide good sensitivity at other frequencies, a larger antenna or a stationary band was needed. This was the first version of the receiver.”

You can see the unique Belka “DNA” & appearance was established back in the very first model.

3 Years on ,the Belka DX radio looks a little different but not that much.

Belka DSP

Next came the Belka DSP, a radio receiver that was sold up until the beginning of October 2020.

This is the radio that catapulted Belka into the radio enthusiast market.

There are lots of great reviews on the Belka DSP all over the internet. It was very well received indeed throughout the radio community and I have not seen a single negative review about it.

The DSP model is very much like the latest DX but came without internal speaker option and without 3.5mm IQ out socket for recording.

The battery is soldered in to PCB on the DSP, the next model DX uses a molex type connectors and it has 2 headers on the PCB one for battery and one for speaker option.

 

Belka DX

 

Now on to the Belka DX model launched in late 2020 .

Changes from Belka DSP : Removeable/replaceable internal battery, Improved frequency range, improved sensitivity, addition of IQ data output 3.5mm socket.

Again some commentary from Alex Buevsky the designer.

“As a result of constant work on improvement we’ve managed to extend the frequency range and make all the technical parameters better and better. Now you see the result of this work.”

The Belka radio internal parts are sourced from Asia (China mainly) and the PCB and population of components is completed by an electronics company in Belarus.

 

Finally the completed boards come back to Alex’s home workshop near the city of Minsk where he completes the final assembly by hand with the assistance of his wife Katrina.

Lets take a look inside the Belka DX,

 

Now a much closer look, Note the immaculate solder work and the TXCO

I cannot spot any faults, no components misaligned, no questionable joints. Bare in mind these are very small components indeed.

 

 

The supplied BNC telescopic whip provides very decent SW reception when out of the noise of urban built up areas, after all that was the intended use by its designer.

Attaching a set of earbuds headphones improves reception as they act as a ground/counterpoise for the small whip. Similarly if you are using an amplified extension speaker which has a very short audio cable (Such as the Nokia MD-1C) with the BNC whip antenna, a 3ft/1mtr 3.5mm male to female speaker extension cable will improve reception greatly.

Not tested but I imagine a simple magnetic loop receiving antenna or “YouLoop” as it is widely known as would perform very well on lower bands below 10mhz with this radio.

Utilising some much bigger wire antennas at home or out in the countryside did not seem to bother the Belka at all, the receiver does not overload like other smaller radios I have used like some I have used such as the Sony SW100 .

 

I used the small 64:1matching transformer for EFHW antennas, I constructed about 1 year ago (see photo above, it was almost as though I knew I was making it for a Belka even though I had never heard of the company/radio at the time.. I was making it for Airspy R2 and spyverter combination ) along with 66-67ft/20-20.5m of a single core stripped out of  a CAT5E cable to create a make shift “clandestine” antenna. For the radio amateurs amongst us that combination will give <.1:1.7 swr from 40m through to 10mtrs and very acceptable listening for the entire HF spectrum 0-30mhz. A 20mtr long very thin wire element (CAT5E stripped out using a single strand) was wound onto a small (fishing line spool) bobbin for transporting & the transformer potted with epoxy resin. I drilled a small 3mm drain hole just above the resin level to prevent condensation/water accumulation. If you would like further reading on this transformer there is some very good information from our radio friends in the Netherlands (33 pages of it in fact) linked below.

64:1 and 49:1 Transformers EHFW Par End Fedz clones

This antenna needs a decent length of coaxial between the radio and matching transformer as this will act as an antenna counterpoise. RG316 or RG174 coaxials are light and easy rolled up for transporting.

 

I scaled things down a lot for QRP/ sdr receiver only use and my home made unit matches up with the physical size of the Belka DX radio.

 

If you are a “hotel listener” while away on business or vacation the Belka DX, Small 64:1 or 49:1 matching transformer and a shorter 15ft length of thin wire as an antenna element hung around a room or out of window and 6-8 ft of RG316 feedline as a counterpoise is a really good combination for general listening.

A very good explanation of the ratio I used of 64:1 for the matching transformer is featured in a recent video by Gil Gruson F4WBY below.

 

 

 

 

Suffice to say I was blown away by the listening experience from this little marvel, In CW mode especially the filtering and resulting audio is nothing short of astounding

The choice of two AM modes will not disappoint broardcast station listeners I tried tuning around the 6mhz, 9mhz and 15mhz bands some really interesting results, minimal fading the little belka locked on to the signals very well.

I will not go over well trodden ground so I will point you to a few websites from very well respected enthusiasts in the radio community that have excellent & well written reviews on Belka , some of these feature video and sound clips of the Belka DSP and Belka DX models.

 

Belka DSP

A review by Fernando Duarte the owner of a radio blog site in Switzerland/Germany.

https://www.fenu-radio.ch/Belka-DSP-en.htm

(A brilliant website featuring some of the worlds best receivers, detailed reviews with great product photography. In the review linked above the $140 Belka DSP sensitivity is almost to the level of Icom IC-R8600 a radio costing over $2000 US Dollars / £2000 GBP)

 

 

A very popular radio enthusiasts web blog owned by Thomas in the USA, a guest post by Oliie “13DKA”

https://swling.com/blog/2020/09/state-of-the-art-spy-radio-a-comprehensive-review-of-the-belka-dsp-portable-shortwave-receiver/

 

Belka DX

A guest review from Georges F6DFZ on Thomas’s great site swling.com

https://swling.com/blog/2020/11/the-new-belka-dx-georges-short-review-and-tests/

A write up in English by owner Pavel of website https://qsy.by/ in Belarus

https://qsy.by/belka-dsp-kv-radiopriemnik/

A review from the  LondonShortwave Blog page in the UK (Features IQ data recording capabilities of the DX, on his wish list for the next incarnation is a micro sd card slot..Nice Idea !)

https://blog.londonshortwave.com/2020/12/ultra-portable-shortwave-spectrum.html

Eham.net reviews

Eham Reviews Belka DX

 

 

 

 

A quick tour around the externals.

Front Panel & Controls.

 

Around the side, A Micro USB socket for charging internal battery, 3.5mm Headphone Socket, BNC Antenna Socket.

 

On the other side, the tuning encoder and a 3.5mm socket for IQ data out.

 

And at the back the speaker behind a grille made from holes neatly drilled into the casing. The speaker screws are pan head and lift the receiver up by a few mm so the audio can be heard clearly if you are resting the DX on a flat surface and at the same time the screw heads prevent the casing from scratches. A small detail but a nice touch.

 

One thing I wanted to convey in this write up was the marvellous way in which you can navigate and change all the settings & parameters of this radio with just a few push buttons. This may seem a trivial matter but it is most definitely not.

“Working the menus” is part of life with todays radios but this one is very special.

Menu navigation with this radio is a joy, so simple !

 

This radio has a 3 page user manual (Not 300 pages !) that in itself is certainly refreshing !

Here is a link below to the operators guide.

Belka DX User Manual

The user can be confident in using it within minutes with only a few buttons you may not think this is especially special but a quick “drive” of this the radio reveals just how good the ergonomics are. It is very much like the ergonomics of Lowe and Signal Radio Corp receivers of the 1980s..not a lot of controls to worry about but a lot can be changed and tweaked about the receive with those simple minimal controls.

The Belka DX is a modern day revelation in this regard and it puts much larger “competitors” like Tecsun, Eton  and dare I say it..Yes I will ! even the mighty Sony to shame as those manufacturers incorporate clocks, buttons and controls all over the place, a lot of things you will press or turn accidentally or never need. The Belka DX is firmly in amateur radio receiver territory such is the fine quality of the receive and the finish of the product but at a fraction of the cost of a Yaesu, Icom or Kenwood.

Alex has kept it simple but behind the simple has been some serious research, It is almost as though he has got a whole load of HF receivers from many manufacturers on the bench, took away all the bells and whistles & improved a whole load of things like Sensitivity, Audio filtering, CW filtering, SSB DSP filtering and come up with this.

The Belka DX also looks like a semi professional HF monitor device it is small in size but oozes quality inside and out. Things are kept very simple, minimal controls, sturdy aluminium case & great easy to read backlit display and all the settings you need within that wonderfully simple user interface.

Come to think of it the Belka DX has no competitor really it is right up there in a portable radio stratosphere all of its own..It really is that good, and at a price point in the market that has no challengers what so ever.

I have owned many radios during 35 years of listening, there are a few that really were/are outstanding like Kenwood TS870s, Yupiteru MVT-7000, Lowe HF-125 and Airspy R2 all of these are truly fantastic radios. The Belka DX will join these in my top 5 radios of all time.

The price of just 360 Belarusian Rubles postage included (If you buy direct from Alex’s online store link below) translates to $141 USD / £103.42 GBP / €116 EURO .

https://belrig.by/

That is an absolute bargain price for this immensely capable & impressive receiver.

Buyers outside of Europe, eg  from the USA etc may be advised to use the seller below

The receiver is also available from a representative partner outlet, Mobimax in Bulgaria  https://www.mobimax.bg/en/BELKA-DX-shortwave-receiver

This company owned by Boris LZ2JR/AC9IJ  as I understand it , this company is better equipped than Alex to ship to USA ,Asia and further afield.

There is not much difference in price between Alex or Mobimax.

 

 

 

 

A very innovative idea spotted on twitter from Paul PD0SWL @PD0SWL in The Netherlands  he constructed a down converter from scarp parts to further expand the receive capability of his Belka DX.  Alex are you watching ? Can you perhaps produce this in Belka style case as an accessory ?

More innovations from Paul PA0SWL . Here the frequency range is extended to include MW,LF,VLF..Neat idea

 

 

The Belka DX is one amazing radio from a small cottage industry in Minsk, Belarus.

Hats off to Alex and his wife Katrina of Belka for producing a radio receiver of such fine quality at a price point that is hard to believe.

I am so happy with my purchase !

Alex and Katrina are in many ways very similar to Youssef Touill of sdr# / Airspy and John Hudson of SDR Play.

All three small companies are run by Real Life Radio Enthusiasts taking on the giants of the radio manufacturing world and eating in to their traditional market by some considerable margin if you look at the amount of receivers sold in the last 5 years. So much so the big amateur radio manufacturers with their millions of dollars are playing catch up with them it seems and that in itself is some kind of accolade to the smaller guys in the radio business.

The little Belka DX rekindled my enthusiasm to use a self contained HF radio..no computer or shack required, have HF listening fun just about anywhere.

 

I will give the Belka DX an unquestionable 5 star rating. What a radio !

 

 

Attributions and Thanks.

Thanks to Alex EU1ME for the Photos of the Belka One early prototype radio & Gil Gruson “Radio Preppers” F4WBY for the informative video. Thanks also to Paul PA0SWL for the downconverter information, Fernando Duarte of https://www.fenu-radio.ch/, Thomas of https://swling.com/blog/ and his guest writer Oliie, ,Pavel Hladkikh EU4DGC https://qsy.by/ , Georges F6DFZ and LondonShortwave blog for your excellent and detailed reviews which are linked in this article.