A basic PSK31 station should consist of the following components:
- HF SSB Transceiver
- Soundcard-equipped PC
- PSK31 Software
- (optional) Soundcard Interface
Virtually any SSB transceiver will do. The same is true of the antenna, as PSk31 will function with a few watts and a wire antenna. Obviously, the better the transceiver and antenna, the better performance will be achieved, however PSK31 performance is often virtually the same on both low-end and high-end equipment.
Software for PSK31 is abundant, so the choice of software packages depends largely on personal preference, as will as system requirements. All PSK31 software has the basic ability to send and receive PSK31 signals. Many more features exist. (DigiPan is an easy to use PSK31/PSK63 computer software application. PSK31 software to feature the now-standard panoramic waterfall display for tuning. DigiPan sports all the features that are necessary for PSK31 operation and none of those that aren’t. DigiPan remains one of the most popular PSK apps despite not having been updated since 2004).
Interfaces connect to the computer and key the transmitter whenever an audio tone is present. Some interfaces contain external soundcards themselves, allowing extra flexibility in soundcard setup. My personal favorite is the SignaLink USB from TigerTronics. This device is an external soundcard that connects to the computer via USB and to my KenWood radio via its data port. It is plug-and-play compatible with minimal setup required.
The first, and most important, step before operating any station is making sure to tune the transmitter. This will prevent damage to the transmitter and guard against messy, distorted signals. most PSK31 software packages have a testing / tuning feature for this purpose. Another thing to watch is the ALC (automatic leveling control) meter on the radio. Adjust the audio level until the ALC meter always reads at 0. If the audio level is too high, the ALC controls in the transmitter will kick in, and the result will be a distorted PSK31 signal (splatter). If you do contact someone with a messy signal, do not give them an automated (macro) signal report of 599 – an easy 595 will let them know to adjust their audio drive.
Next, tune your radio to a common PSK31 frequency; two are 7.070 MHz and 14.070 MHz (see a full list of frequencies below). Make sure your radio is set to SSB mode on the upper sideband (USB). Your will not have to change frequencies after that, since PSK31 signals are so narrow (31 Hz), all the transmissions will be picked up by the receiver without changing frequencies. It is then up to the software, not the radio, what signal(s) to decode.
|1.838 MHz||160 meters|
|3.580 MHz||80 meters|
|7.070 MHz||40 meters (regions 1 and 2)|
|10.140 MHz||30 meters|
|14.070 MHz||20 meters|
|18.100 MHz||17 meters|
|21.080 MHz||15 meters (most activity found 10 kHz lower)|