Why does my S-Meter read S5 all the time?

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We get a lot of questions about why the S-Meter always reads some constant level, like S5 on a particular band, for the noise floor, without any signals present.

I borrowed a graph from the Radio Amateur's Handbook, and marked it up with S-Units. It shows the relationship between atmospheric noise at the antenna versus frequency, for several environments.



Some things to note:

1.) The lower dotted line is equivalent to the quietest places on Earth. So if you have a reasonable antenna, you won't find anyplace that has less than S2 noise floor (in a CW bandwidth) on 40 Meters. Most suburbs will be more like S4 (or S5 in a SSB bandwidth.)
2.) Total noise is proportional to bandwidth. This chart is for 500 Hz receiver bandwidth. If you are using a SSB (3000 Hz bandwidth) filter the same noise floor will read/measure one and a third S-Units higher.
3.) In the US, where cities are not as tightly packed, I find the suburbs are closer to the rural line than the residential line in this chart.

--- Graham / KE9H
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Graham - KE9H, Employee

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Posted 6 years ago

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K4EAR

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A + S-unit shift from the 5000 with band noise.
Mike, K4EAR
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K4ELO

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Thanks for that good info Graham. Fortunately I am Quiet Rural (I love it!) and the noise floor on 40M is usually about S2 unless there are thunderstorms.
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K4EAR

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I ran a few RX tests for $htes and giggles...20Meters...tightest X-Y axis' on the panadapter. Preamp "0" and display FPS @1
ANT1 terminated into a 50 ohm load, CW mode 100Hz filter. The panadapter grass is ~135dbm. The S-Meter reads +/- S-2.

In SSB mode 2.7kc BW, the noise floor is the same as with CW, and the S-Meter reads S-4.

FWIW
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George Molnar, KF2T, Elmer

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Would it make sense to allow S-meter "calibration" by creating a setup menu in SSDR where the operator could select one of those ITU curves? We'd still want the absolute values to read accurately, but a "calibrated" S-meter zeroing option could be nice.
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Graham - KE9H, Employee

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Hi George:
The technical definition of S-units is directly tied to signal strength. S9 is 50 microVolts into 50 Ohms. S-units are 6 dB each, below that. So the chart was presented as a way of educating the users as to the nature of the atmospheric noise and the way it changes with frequency. If you wanted a 'sliding scale' then I suppose that is what the RST signal reporting provides. Relative 'readability' and 'signal strength' and 'tone' quality, irrespective of the number of dBm involved.

--- Graham

==
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George Molnar, KF2T, Elmer

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Thanks, Graham. You are, of course, quite right. My comment was more geared towards providing a "relative" measurement to compare one's environment on a daily basis to the norms. Funny, I had originally prefaced my comments with, "I'm not sure this is a good idea..."

Thanks for ALL the hard work and attention to these details that makes the difference between a good product and an excellent one.
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Tim - W4TME, Customer Experience Manager

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One thing to always keep in mind is the FLEX-6000 is a very accurate RF spectrum analyzer. This is a lot different from older radios that estimated the signal strength from a negative feedback loop (AGC). The result was changing the RF gain changed the S-meter reading.

Personally I like having a calibrated S-meter that accurately tells me the integrated power within the RX pass band.
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Wm McDermott

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I'm just returning to amateur radio after decades. 

My Flex 1500 shows S-2 with a dummy load connected and on some bands as high as S-4 to S-5 depending on bandwidth.  Pre-amp is 0 dB.  The power lead from a battery pack has 5 turns on a type 43 torroid and the USB cable has two extra ferrite beads and five turns on another type 43 torroid.  I'm using the most recent software and firmware.

From the comments here, particularly those of K4EAR, these S meter readings are normal.  Is that correct?  I was thinking of returning it to the factory for a look see.

Your comments are welcome. 

Wm McDermott AB9BE


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AA0KM

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Flex-6500 antenna not connected.

SSB 2.4 filter -10db pre-amp = s-4+

CW 50hz filter -10db pre-amp =S-1+

I tried  also using a dummy load and checked every band and they are all the same with or without dummy load.

Also used different power supplies same results.

For those reading this is (not a problem) just my recent observation.

Interesting on how this all relates.
(Edited)
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Graham - KE9H, Employee

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Wm:

If you see the noise floor rise when you connect a normal antenna to the radio, the radio is doing everything it needs to do, for you to hear everything you are going to be able to hear.

With a normal antenna, dipole, similar, or better, the FLEX-1500 should run 0 dB preamp from 160 meters to 20 Meters, then +10 dB up to 10 Meters and +20 on 6 Meters.

If you are in a real quiet location, then you might run +10 dB on 20 Meters.  Judge by the action
of the noise floor when you connect a real antenna.

From your comments, I don't think there is anything wrong with your 1500.  I suspect that you
just met your first honest S-Meter in your ham career.

73's
--- Graham / KE9H

==


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Gerald - K5SDR, Employee

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As a rule of thumb, you want your antenna noise to increase your S-meter by 8-10 dB.  That means that your receiver is not adding noise to the signal and that you have the correct gain to maximize performance.  If the noise goes up more than 10 dB with the antenna, you have too much gain.  

An easy way to check is to disconnect the antenna and read the dBm meter.  Connect the antenna and read the meter again.  If the noise goes up less than 8 dB, increase preamp gain.  If it goes up much more than 10 dB, decrease preamp gain.
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Walt - KZ1F

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Interesting! That procedure could be done programmatically, correct? I like that!
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AA0KM

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Well, when your used to other radios that jump up the S-unit readings when you use pre-amp and this doesn`t it fools you on how it all works..lol

I have happend to have my antenns un hooked and saw the s-units thus the investigating of the why.

A-true S-Unit reading.
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Walt - KZ1F

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Frankly I think S-units is such a completely fictitious thing. There are so many variables that affect it, location, TOD, ok, rig, antenna, gray line. It's nice that S5 or 6 or 9 actually has some basis in fact but how many uVolts are at the antenna will be different in your QTH from the guy 2 doors down.
Independent of 'faking' a signal report, which we all do, 5-9 good buddy, not to be out done by the last report, you give 5-9+10 and follow that with, could you give me your call again pls.

Seriously, I do like what Gerald said, it quantifies the relationship that should exist between the effectiveness of your antenna system to your preamp level. I am going to add that to my code and see what happens. 
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N3NER

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Not sure I understand Gerald but, maybe I'm missing something.  I checked my 6300 for the first time today on a dummy load and I always have a S-3 reading and that go up to a S-5 if I enable the RF gain.  
(Edited)
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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dBm Metering is on the wish list... hopefully sooner than later


HOWEVER if you hover your mouse over the S-Meter you can read dBm now

(Edited)
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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PowerSDR has it, so not exactly new. As Howard said - on the wish list. Upvote it if you want it. 
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Ria - N2RJ, Elmer

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PowerSDR has it, so not exactly new. As Howard said - on the wish list. Upvote it if you want it. 
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Bill -VA3WTB

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I think as you can see it if you hover over the signal bar, Flex may feel this has been answered. 
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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@Bill. It clearly has NOT been addressed,by Flex yet.

dBm needs to be visible 100% of the.time not only after a tortuous mouse movement.

So upvote it please.
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Bob W8RMV

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Paul- I tried it first with a 51R non-inductive dummy load & got the same result.  That is why I decided to try it with a dead short. - Bob
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Jay / NO5J

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Bob

Since I don't use the RXA inputs here, I keep a 51R screwed onto it. 
When I Switch the RX ANT to RXA, the preamp set for 0 dB,and set a 500 Hz filter passband, I read a minimum -123.8 dBm +/- 2 dBm delta, using Flexmeter. That's the lowest reading I can get on 40m, it also varies 1 - 2 dBm depending on the band selected. Pretty much an S-1 on the Maestro's S meter. S-0 or "S" doesn't happen. That's with Flexmeter v1.3.0.5 set for normal response, not average or peak hold.

Your @S-5 reading does suggest something's wrong. HelpDesk Ticket time.

All of these levels are actually being measured inside the radio continously, and the numerical values sent out over the Ethernet connection, Flexmeter just reads and displays the numerical values being outputted.  

If you don't already have it ...

http://www.denzone.com/uploads/FlexMeterSetupV1.3Beta.zip 

The new beta has some nice improvements. 
 
#Flexradio

73, Jay / NO5J

(edited to fix the units used)

(Edited)
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Mark K1LSB

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Gents,

I’ve seen a number of different explanations in this thread of what the S-meter should be measuring, such as integrated (average?) power, and statements to the effect that if the RX bandwidth changes, the S-value should also change, even if there’s nothing but background noise.

I disagree.  The S-meter should only report the peak signal strength measured within the audio passband.  If the background noise is at an S-2 level then the S-meter should read “S2” regardless of how wide my receive bandwidth is.  If the S-value is expected to vary as a function of receive bandwidth, then there would arguably come a point (stay with me here) where the RB is wide enough that the S-meter should be reading S9 +10, but the strongest signal in the RB might only be an S7!  So how would anyone know the actual strength of any signal in such a scenario?

No, the S-meter should only be reporting the peak signal strength found anywhere in the audio passband.  I don’t care how wide the passband is.  It could be 500 Hz wide, or 2.7 kHz, or 250 kHz.  If there’s nothing but noise in the passband, and the noise floor anywhere in the passband is at a steady -115 dBm, then the S-meter should never read above an S2 regardless of the width of the passband.  The strongest measured signal strength (whether it be noise or a received signal) at any single spot in the passband is what the S-meter should be reporting.  Nothing more, nothing less.

Perhaps there is some other information that some users would like to also see reported, but that’s not the S-meter’s job.

Mark

[edited to correct typos]

(Edited)
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Bill -VA3WTB

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From Tim,,,
With our radios we measure the actual signal strength by integrating the digitized RF power contained within the FFT bins inside the RX filter.  This is how a digital signal generator operates.

What we are saying is there is always RF power inside the filter and it is additive.  The filter bandwidth is a dependency in the power measurement process.  If you make the RX filter wider, the S-meter reading increases.  If you make it smaller, it decreases.  The standard is to measure integrated power in a 500 Hz filter.  And it is frequency dependent too.

And you dBm to S unit numbers are a little off too for frequencies below 30 MHz

S1 = -121 dBm
S2 = -115 dBm
S3 = -109 dBm
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Bill -VA3WTB

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More info from Steve at Flex


The panadapter simply measures the signal in a given bandwidth and draws what it hears. If you look at any given pixel, it represents a certain amount of bandwidth. We call this the "bin size" of the FFT that is used to produce the display. If you cut the bin size into two pieces, the amount of noise in each piece goes down by half (3dB). In PowerSDR, the bin size is generally fixed for any given setup and does not change when you zoom. This is why the resolution gets worse as you zoom in on PowerSDR -- you begin to show one bin with multiple pixels. But for SmartSDR, we knew we wanted to have a larger range of zoom and this method was no longer acceptable. So we vary the bin size across a 1000:1 range. So the noise in each bin also varies. 1000:1 is a change of 30dB so from min zoom to max zoom, the noise in a bin will lower by 30dB and you see this change in the panadapter as you zoom in and out. 

When people talk about noise floor in ham radio they are generally talking about the noise level with a 500Hz bandwidth. When the panadapter is zoomed in to the max level, the bin size today is about 5.8Hz. This is a 19dB difference in noise from where a ham would say the noise floor is to what you can see on the panadapter. This means that the panadapter can see 19dB below what most hams would call the noise floor. Your ear and brain are also able to hear below the noise floor in 500Hz because of how they work. But there are limits to how well you can hear. If you've ever worked JT65 or another long-term integrating mode, you have noticed that your computer can copy signals that you cannot hear. 

So if you ask another ham "where is your noise floor on 80 meters" and he says "S5," what has he told you? Well with most hams, you don't know because you don't know the answer to these questions: 

1. What bandwidth are you using to measure the signal? 
2. Is your S-meter calibrated? 

An S5 signal corresponds to -97dBm. And if he's getting this on sideband set to, say 2.8kHz bandwidth then the actual noise floor in 500Hz would be -97 - 10*log(2800/500) = -104dBm. There's nothing magical about 500Hz, it just happens to be the convention for measuring noise in the ham radio world. In SmartSDR, if you set the passband filter to 500Hz, the S-meter in the slice will show you the 500Hz noise floor. 

If you start at maximum zoom and begin zooming out, you can see a point where the noise reading of the panadapter equals this number. What do you think this point is? ... if you've been following along, you will realize that this is the point where the FFT bin size is 500Hz. To get a rough idea if this is right, you could measure the width of your panadapter window and divide the amount of frequency displayed by this number. It should be in the 250-1000Hz range. The answer will not be exact because we do not continuously vary the FFT bin size -- we adjust it in steps and don't tell you where the steps are or what size they are. We do what's right for what you are viewing. 

I know that was a long-winded answer, but I hope it provides some insight into noise and how it changes what you see and hear. 
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Mark K1LSB

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A level of S9 corresponds to 50 microvolts at 50 ohm impedance.  That value (50uv) has been the de facto standard since the 1930s (the 50 ohm reference was nailed down in 1981 by the International Amateur Radio Union), per Wikipedia.  If the background noise power level is 50uv, then your S-meter should read S9 regardless of zoom level or bandwidth (assuming there's no signal, only noise).

I've recorded two videos of me running a session of SDR Console V3 Beta 2, using an SDRPlay RSP1A with a 50 ohm dummy load connected to the antenna port.  I varied the receive bandwidth everywhere between 10 Hz and 350 kHz, and the zoom between 200 Hertz and 1.4 MHz.  The S-meter is reporting the maximum voltage measured anywhere in the vertical green receiver stripe in the display (the defined receive bandwidth).

Here are the videos (the S-meter is in the upper left corner of the band scope, and the Receive Bandwidth value is in small yellow font to the left of the S-meter):

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1jSQUm_SXCRfpWiPGnADd-Ple3mk5x6My

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1KJwBKiJXdHBCaw0MpGjGg6dNYp4Upgjv

Both videos show virtually no change in S-meter reading, regardless of any bandwidth or zoom changes I make.  Which is exactly as it should be, because the noise level doesn't change despite any changes I make to the zoom or bandwidth.

Simon Brown, author of SDR Console, understands that concept well.  His S-meter doesn't care what the bandwidth or zoom level are, it only cares what the maximum measured voltage is anywhere in the defined receive bandwidth, which is exactly what the IARU Region 1 Technical Recommendation R.1 says an S-meter should be measuring.  The maximum voltage in the RB is, and should be, independent of any zoom level or bandwidth.

Carry on.
(Edited)
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Bill -VA3WTB

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I think Steve explained it well...  maybe if Steve had time he could walk you through it a bit more. Simons software does not work the same as the 6000s and SSDR. So as Steve mentioned as you increase the size of the bin samples, it changes noise.
(Edited)
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Mark K1LSB

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One more time -- the S-meter should only report the maximum voltage as measured anywhere within the receive bandwidth.  Period.  There is no "integrating the total RF power" or "mean band limited power" or "spectral density plot area" or "expectations" or "what we wish to convey" or "intuitive manner" that should be considered -- there is only the peak instantaneous voltage anywhere in the RB, regardless of how wide or narrow the RB may be.  That is the only measurement in conformance with the IARU definition of what an S-meter should be measuring, with S9 being referenced to 50 microvolts (for HF).  If the highest voltage peak at any point anywhere in the RB is 50 microvolts, then the S-meter should be reading an S9, regardless of bandwidth or frequency or zoom level or time of day or grid square or anything else.

My apologies if I've been testing the patience of some readers, as that was never my objective.  My only objective has been to clarify what an S-meter should (and should not) be reporting, per the IARU definition.  For the S-meter to report anything else is to open up a whole new realm of latitude with long-accepted standards, with no limits of imagination to constrain it.

Disclosure:  I don't own a Flex, but only because my good friend across town hasn't received his 6600M yet -- he's selling me his 6300 as soon as he gets notification that his 6600M is on the brown truck.  :)
(Edited)
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Bill -VA3WTB

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As said before, Steve answered this above and is the authority all Flex. He has explained this clearly.
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Mark K1LSB

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I read what you posted that Steve said.  With all respect to Steve (and I respect his technical knowledge greatly), he may be the authority at Flex but the IARU definition is the authority on what an S-meter should be reporting.

I've posted a link below to a thread in Simon Brown's groups.io site where he replies to a number of statements that people were making about what they were expecting an S-meter to report.  One person asked why the S-meter reading didn't change whenever he adjusted the bandwidth (I wondered at the time where on earth did he ever get the notion that it should), and another person couldn't even make up his mind what he wanted -- first he says that he thought the S-meter should report the highest value of all (he means "any") FFT lines in the RB (and he's correct on that, because he's actually referring to peak voltage), but in the next sentence he says he also thinks it should display the "sum" of all the FFT lines, which is a completely different thing.  Yet another person wanted the S-meter to report signal-to-noise ratio. Simon replied with the same thing I've been saying here all along -- this is his statement:  "Let me make this very clear: the Signal Meter (S-meter) shows the peak signal level, it is not designed to show Signal to Noise [or anything else]. What you expect is a different signal indication -- I am interested in what you want to see but the S-meter logic you see now will remain as it is."

Here's that thread in Simon's site:

https://sdr-radio.groups.io/g/main/topic/5714841#31952
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Bob W8RMV

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I am cursed.  I wish I never brought this up, as I am unable to unsubscribe no mater what I do.  I have unsubsribed on the thread, on the 6400M tab & on my get satisfaction acct. (where I driven to when click on the CLICK HERE at the bottom of the email)  I unchecked all the boxes.  And still keep getting these.  After all the words about this, I still don't understand the S meter & have moved on.  Flex could have taken those useless 5 S units, eliminate them & spent the money elsewhere. (tongue in cheek.  Pls no hate mail.  I have moved on. Or at least I am trying if I can get off this thread).
-Bob
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Bob your sort of like me, this is all interesting but a little hard to grasp. If you go back and read my original thread were I used Steve's explanation it may come clear. To break it down, there is a big difference between how PSDR and SSDR works in this regard. In PSDR the bin size stay much the same, so when we zoom in and out the noise stays much the same and the signal meter reflects that.
In SSDR as you zoom in and out, the bins change in size so you hear more noise as you zoom in.
Because SSDR can zoom in so tight they needed to make the bins change accordingly.
(Edited)
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KY6LA - Howard, Elmer

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Rather than dealing with all this theoretical mumbo jumbo, I decided to do some experiments with a beam and a dummy load on 40M 7.074 to see exactly how the S-Meter actually worked in the real world

Obviously my dummy load (MFJ) is not a perfect Faraday Cage.


Here are the results


By VISUALLY LOOKING at the Panadapter screen I could definitely see signals peaking at the peak readings

So I guess I really do not understand what the controversy is?


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Lee

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OK, Guys....forget the S meter for a moment.
Let's say )(it does) I have S5 on 40m SSb BW 2.7... IF there is a signal at S3 WILL I HEAR IT?
If not...FRS has a problem as many locations actually have a very low actual noise florr in there area at certain times of the year.
Will I copy the guy at S3 if all the lower the 6400 I have will go is S5???
Thanks,
Lee
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Bill -VA3WTB

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I am pasting in Steve and Tims responses to these questions so people asking will understand how the flex works in this regard. I know there are people here who think Steve does not know what he is doing, I am not one of them. From my reading and seeing how Lab signal generators work I believe the Flex engineers have it right.
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Lee

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Guys, no one listened to me...I'm NOT talking about measuring real signals here....I am talking about the noise floor...I'm beginning to think Flex has a high noise floor. I had a TT Orion II a few years back...very low noise floor displayed on P adapter, S meter AND the actual band noise with no signal. 

No one here has explained why with a shorted antenna I have S5 and lots of HIS...S5 is -104 DB...that's a lot of RF, where is it coming from with the antenna shorted?? When I tried a low noise BOG antenna the band noise did not go down, Why...maybe the noise IS coming from the radio even with a shorted or 50ohm terminated (I tried both, no difference) antenna port. LAst night on 40, we had a very weak signal on Freq. the ONLY time I could hear him was when his signal was OVER S5 (the band noise on my 6400. When I could not hear him, the panadapter did NOT show any signal. When I watched carefully...I just began to hear him when I could just see his signal rise above the panadapter line.

Let's talk real here not engineering talk that may or may not be practical in operations.
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Bill -VA3WTB

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What I posted explains all that you asked,,read it. Steve and Tim explains why.
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Mark K1LSB

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"As with 'other' radios if there were 4 CW signals within the bandwidth it would read the sum of the signals." -- Stan VA7NF

Wrong, Stan.  Let me say this one more time, since you apparently weren't listening the previous dozen times I said it: The only thing an S-meter should be reporting is the highest instantaneous voltage measured at any single point anywhere in the pass band.  There is no 'summing" that should be taking place.

Here's a video I made this morning of some digital activity on 40 meters, running Simon Brown's SDR Console V3.  Note the S-meter only registers the greatest single signal level found inside the pass band, regardless of how many signals are present in the pass band, and regardless of how wide the pass band is.  There is no "summing of signals".

https://drive.google.com/open?id=1ememj-2hZX6fIFEVvBr6tyk4evN8zldu

That's how an S-meter should work, and that's the only way it should work.  If there were any summing taking place, then the S-meter reading at the instant the video stops should have been well over S9+50!

Any notion of "summing of signals" is pure nonsense.


@Bill VA3WTB,

You've done nothing but repeatedly point to other people's posts while contributing no thoughts of your own.  So thanks for the "wide band NOISE" (to use Stan's term).
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Bill -VA3WTB

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Stan, to be clear, I use information from the experts, both Tim and Steve are. I am not an expert and have not been involved with the engineering of Flex radio.

So yes, I plan to continue using their expert information to inform others.

This conversation is no longer open for comments or replies.