|The 632 in action, tuned to KCBX-HD3 while|
installed on Broadcast Peak.
Enter the Inovonics InoMini 632. Building on a tradition of “pro” Inovonics receivers often used for OTA reception and relay, the 632 is a solid choice for that purpose. Even though it’s technically sold as a confidence monitor, meant to be used in a studio with lots of clean signal, it works well in remote applications, as I discovered.
|Rear panel of the 632.|
The 632 is a compact, 1RU tall, 1/3-rack width box. The front has a multifunction display, controller knob with push-to-select, and a 1/8-inch headphone jack. The back has three male XLR connections: left and right balanced analog out, plus AES digital out. There’s a female F connector for RF in, a four-connector Phoenix block for status out and a pair of power jacks; the 632 is designed to be able to daisy-chain one power supply for multiple units in one rack.
The status outputs are HD loss, audio loss, signal loss and ground. HD loss is when the DQ (Digital Quotient — an iBiquity measurement of several factors inside the codec) meter drops to zero. Audio loss is determined by a user-adjustable silence sensor (1–120 seconds), and signal loss is by a user-adjustable hash mark on the RSSI (received signal strength indicator) meter. I typically set the hash mark one bar below the seemingly-most-stable signal level on the RSSI.
On the bench the 632 demonstrated the usual solid receiver performance that most HD Radio receivers have; the inherently low signal levels of HD (running from 1 to 10 percent analog power) demand quality receivers. It was comparable to my Boston Acoustics Receptor HD I had hooked up to the same antenna via a splitter.
I noticed that the brick-style power supply put out a surprising amount of noise on the FM band. I suspect it’s partly because it has hefty capacity to handle up to three 632s via the aforementioned daisy-chain method. A lower-amperage wallwart I had handy produced no audible noise effects. I don't consider the noisy power source a deal-killer; in the field, a receive antenna would normally be more than far enough away to avoid any RF interference from the power supply.
|KCBX's coverage map.|
Broadcast Peak is located near
Solvang in the lower right.
I had two medium-sized Scala yagi FM antennas at my disposal. One was in the compound, and thus subject to more interference from nearby stations, but it had better filtering (bandpass, with a notch to reduce a physically nearby translator on 90.9FM) and a short coaxial cable feed. The other was several hundred feet away horizontally, and several dozen feet vertically, mounted on the north side of the mountain.
The location reduced interference issues (only a bandpass filter here) and eliminated the San Diego tropo path problem, but added a lot of cable loss. Normally it needs a preamp located at the receive antenna. We used an Advanced Receiver Research gallium-arsenide FET preamp that’s wideband, very clean, and adds about +20 dB of signal. But at first I took the preamp out since they often raise the noise floor enough to swamp the inherently low-powered HD carriers.
Using the first antenna, the “compound” antenna, the signal seemed OK at first, but quickly developed significant dropout-to-silence problems. The 632’s RSSI read about 40 of 48 bars, but during silence the telemetry outputs indicated “HD loss,” implying that the RSSI was adequate, but a high noise floor was too much for a weak HD signal.
I switched to the “down the hill” antenna, sans preamp, and there was less silence but still dropouts. The RSSI was 30 of 48. During silence the telemetry read “signal loss” before the “HD loss” appeared, indicating the signal was clean but just too weak. Finally, I put the preamp back into the circuit. That seemed to do the trick! RSSI jumped to 47 of 48 bars, and reception of HD3 was suddenly rock-solid.
To put this in perspective, at one point I hooked up a Sony XDR-F1HD, often considered the modern-day "gold-standard" for receivers, to the same antenna systems but without the external filters and preamps. The Sony could easily pick up several distant stations that the 632 could not in that situation.
So is the Sony receiver “better?” Not necessarily! The Sony lacks the ability to lock to a specific HD multicast and it won’t hold its settings through a signal loss or power outage. The 632 will do all those things ... which are mighty important for limited-access facilities like mountaintops ... and it performs nearly as well as the Sony if you add the external filters/preamps.
|The author on Santa Ynez Peak, CA, with Broadcast Peak|
about a mile in the background.
Most important, the feature set finally delivers what many broadcasters have been wanting for some time and does it without breaking the bank.
Aaron Read, CBT, is the new IT/Engineering director for Rhode Island Public Radio.