Startek Ath-30 Review

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STARTEK international, Inc. 398 NE 38th Street Ft. Lauderdaie FL 33334 Telephone: (305) 561-2211; (800) 638-8050 (orders only) Price Class: $235

Photo A. The STARTEK ATH-15 Portable Frequency Counter 34 73 Amateur Radio Today • August 1993

nothing to do with frequency counters. It's an LED bar graph signal strength meter. This 10-segment graph sits near the top of the display, and simply indicates relative field strength. By itself, this Is a useful item for antenna testing, foxhunting, or checking for RF leaks around your operating console. Used in conjunction with the counter, it provides an easy way to get a handle on maximizing the input to the counter when using low power sources. Rather than waiting for several counts until things stabilize and hoping for a good reading, you can simply peak the LED bar graph and know that your signal is at max—or relocate the counter or RF source until it is. This combined feature is very useful when playing with flea power transmitters, or snooping on a weak signal, (it should be noted that even though the counter and field strength meter can be used at the same time, they are electricaEly two separate devices. Some products on the market use a signal derived from the counter's circuitry for a strength indication. This works, but the signal strength readings can be dependent on the gate time of the counter, and whether or not it's in the HOLD mode. The ATH-15 keeps these functions separate, providing a true real-time field strength meter—at no extra cost.)

The second feature is actually several features, but they ail culminate in the Automatic Trigger and Hold circuitry. This feature is extremely impressive, especially considering the price tag on the unit. Put simply, the readout will hoid and display the last properly received frequency. In other words, keying your portable for a second on channel one will cause that frequency to stay on the display. Flip to channef two and tap the PTT. The display will flip to channel two's frequency— stay there, is is a great electronic test equipment. This is mainly due to the number of units sold, the profit made, and consequently the dollars pumped back into R & D. in light of this, it's impressive to see a low-cost piece of test equipment that has made the jump over to ^user friendly."

It's User Friendly

The STARTEK ATH-15 Pocket Sized Frequency Counter comes from a long line of counters that, over the years, have been getting smaller, and faster, and able to read higher and higher frequencies. The engineers at STARTEK obviously found themselves at the same point as their consumer electronics counterparts. The last model out was certainty small enough—any smaller and you'd have to strap it to your wrist. It counted every frequency that most hams were interested in. There was a full line of accessories. The only other improvements could be in the category of "you know, it would be kinda nice if it did ... * The STARTEK engineers took this assignment seriously and came up with two new features that make the ATH-15 not just easy but actually enjoyable to use.

The first feature actually has ne of the fringe benefits of becoming a ham is watching the evolution of modern electronic technology. We hams have a front-row seat at the electronic stage—and sometimes we even get to perform- For example, it wasn't too long ago that a 2m handheld with frequency switches instead of crystals was a big deal, Nowadays, if you don't have dual bands, 97 memories^ full-duplex, an alarm clock, and musical access tones, you're just not up to speed! In any product, If you look closely enough, there is always a spot in time where the engineers obviously accomplished the main goal, and then were able to concentrate on adding "frosting" for making the user more comfortable. Once the product has reached the point of fastest/smailest/most powerful/most sensitive, it starts to get more "humane." These features may take the form of memories or scan functions in our handheld, or more intuitive controls or menus- The radio doesn't really transmit any better than that old rock-bound rig, but it starts to make life easier—which is really the main job of any piece of technology.

This whole concept of "user-friendliness11 is more often seen in consumer items—ham rigs, computers, cellular phones—than in function for testing or checking out muf^frequency radios, or counting and storing an interfering frequency. (If the optional "One-Shot Trigger" and "Hotd" options are purchased, the ATH-15 wilt display and lock onto the firs! readable signal, ignoring any that follow.}

Just as important as the Automatic Trigger and Hold capabilities are the functions that make it possible. The first of these is an amazingly quick count time. The specs say that the unit can read an input signal, display the frequency and switch to HOLD status in less than 80 milliseconds. In reality, SO milliseconds seems like the poini somewhere between where you decide to push the PTT and where you feel any pressure at aFI, (Plan on spending the first five minutes with your new counter running around the house, keying up everything in site. When ! showed off the review unit to friends and technicians, the common term to describe the response time was "Wow/1)

The other feature of importance is the "Automatic Dean Dropouf function. This keeps an eye on the current frequency and compares it to the last count, if the current count is of a shorter duration, the unit hangs on to the last good count without updating the dis-piay. This means that the "held" frequency will probably be correct—no "garbage" counts are displayed from when the transmitter was dekeying.

The ATH-15 is a sensitive unit Most hand-

helds could be detected out to about 100 feet with no problem, using the standard antenna, The problem with this sensitivity is that the unit is easily overloaded in strong multiple RF fields. This is due to a combination of the unit's 1 to 1500 MHz bandwidth, plus it's high sensitivity. Unlike a radio with a tuned frontend, the ATH-15 can be listening to several signals in addition to Ihe one you want to count. In other words, if you want to copy a weak 146 MHz signal at the same time the ATH-15 is hearing a garbage truck on 30 MHz, the police on 155 MHz, a construction company al 450 MHz, and a celiular phone at 850 MHz—welt, things can get confusing. This "swamping" is the nature of any broadband device, as any ham who's had his HT at a flea market can tell you. The STARTEK engineers have created a solution to this in the form of a set of three different bandpass filters. These half-inch diameter filters come with BNC connectors, and pop inline with the external antenna. They filter out the unde-sired frequencies, while passing the band you might be interested in. The filters are available in 60 MHz low-pass, 400 MHz highpass, and 800 MHz high-pass configurations. They greatly increase the "effective sensitivity* of the unit, and would be helpful if you tend to do off-the-air monitoring of specific channels or bands. For most general purpose applications the filters won't be needed;

Operation of the ATH-15 is similar to earli er members of the STARTEK family. The "Count" switch controls the speed at which the samples are taken. As normal, a slower count time gives you a higher resolution display (five decimal places when counting a 1 to 500 MHz signal in the "Slow" position). The unit has a manual hold switch for locking In a reading, and of course the Automatic Trigger and Hoid function can be turned on or off. If the "One Shot* option is purchased, switches on top control the resetting and operation of this mode. Like other models, this unit has two band positions: 1 to 500 MHz. and 500 to 1500 MHz. New features include a low battery indicator and extra bright LED digits.

In addition to the basic unit, STARTEK offers a complete line of accessories including antennas, cases, a high-stability oscillator option. and the bandpass filters. (Due to its size, ihe ATH-15 will tend to spend a lot of time in the toolbox or on the dashboard. The optional case is highly recommended.) At press time, the ATH-15 was being offered at a promotional price of $199, and a new model, the ATH-30 (2.8 MHz capability), was introduced at $259, They come standard with the one-shot feature. Prices include NiCds and a charger, and a one-year labor, five-year parts warranty. Your requirements concerning range and options might vary, but any of the STARTEK counters represent a great value for your test equipment dollar.

ID-8 Automatic Morse Station Identifier

Compatible with Commercial, Public Safety, and Amateur Radio applications, Uses include Repeat Identifiers Base StaiiOn Identifier, Beacons CW Memory Keyers, etc Greal 'Or F.C.C 10 Compliance

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Programmable Features

* £i■ghi programmable ■ ■aecta&i mes sines

* ID twkf ¡)f-! timer from Q-99 secttûs ' CW tone frequency tmm W /v to 30D0 iu

* Front porch delay Interval from 0 to 9 9 seconds

$89.95 each programming keyboard included

COMMUNICATIONS SPECIALISTS, INC.

426 A'fS" ÎAF 7 AVÊNtlF 'ORANGE CA 92665 te (7t*i 3021 •>rFA* *U 974 .>-tS0 fuiFre U.S.A tBOCt 0547 • FAX flOO) 47* 3420

SimpJpk or duptex

Computer Controlled Ham Shack for personat or cîub station

HF & VHF Remote Base & Repeater *Autopatch ^Rotor Control Voice Meters*Faging*Logging*Polite ID's'Voice Packet B.B.S.

Model CS(&4Sl

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