<Test equipment

RigExpert AA-1000 notes

And my opinion on RXTX-Tuote and their customer service

I bought the RigExpert AA-1000 antenna analyzer to replace my old MFJ 259B, which was ok all around, but was limited to HF and VHF, and was honestly a bit cumbersome to use by today's standards. I regret buying the AA-1000 from RXTX-Tuote, because they suck, but unfortunately theirs was the cheapest price in Finland by a 150 euro margin. :(

The instrument is sleek and solid, and it comes with a good array of extras: a carrying pouch with a clear plastic front (the device is usable through it, but the antenna connector isn't really accessible!), a neck strap, an N-to-UHF adapter (Who the fsck uses UHF-connectors, lol???!!!!1 The AA-1000 has an N-connector on it, of course.), a USB cable and a set of three rechargeable AA-batteries and a 4-slot 1-amp AA/AAA fast battery charger (with scary looking Russian text all over it) are all provided!

The battery compartment lid looks odd (is it from a surplus battery pack?) and feels slightly loose and clunky, but it does its job and doesn't come off on its own, so no big deal. I glued a piece of open cell foam onto the inside of the lid, so now it does not clunk around. (This is not the first piece of kit I've done that on.) What I most dislike is the odd angle at which the antenna connector is pointing: laying the instrument down on any flat surface always imposes some stress on the antenna cable that's connected, since it is angled slightly down! Very odd design, I wonder why. But again, no truly big deal.

The AA-1000 works from 100 kHz to 1 GHz (and with PC software even above). It gives numerical values and graphical displays of SWR, complex impedance and Smith chart, it has FFT TDR functions etc.—basically everything that the MFJ could also do, but more conveniently and to higher frequencies, plus many extras. The user interface is well laid out and actually intuitive, and most settings are quite reasonable out of the box. In a word, me like! RigExpert's AntScope software is said to be well-behaved under Wine, and KB1OIQ's aa-analyzer software may also support the AA-1000. I haven't tested either, though. Not yet.

There's no external power supply jack. Power can be supplied via the USB port (even with no batteries installed), but if I had designed the instrument, I'd have optically isolated the USB interface with a pair of optoisolators between the FTDI chip and the rest of the instrument. That way it could be used connected to any PC, without causing any ground-based weirdness with the measurements it was making. Of course, then the instrument could not be powered via USB, but it could be powered from any transformer-based wall wart. Even as it is, it's a pity that the batteries cannot be charged in place via USB. But really, that's only a minor inconvenience.

As is to be expected in an economy instrument, there appear occasional very small spurious responses. With nothing connected, I see one small SWR dip around 860 MHz, and sometimes bigger anomalies in R,X-plots at individual spot frequencies, which disappear when zoomed on. But overall the AA-1000 behaves very well and is a pleasure to use. And besides, if you have SWR of 10+, you need not care if it's actually 9.8 or 10.7—the decimals only matter around SWR 1.0, plus or minus.  ;)

The ability to calibrate the instrument (with open, short and 50 Ohm loads—not included, unfortunately) to move the reference plane to the other end of the feedline (i.e. to cancel the feedline's effects) is especially cool. This allows the measurement and tuning of an antenna, rather than the combination of antenna plus feedline, which can act quite differently. This is a temporary calibration only, and does not affect the factory calibration of the instrument. (This is not explicitly stated in the manual, but was confirmed via email by the manufacturer.)

Firmware update under Linux and why RXTX-Tuote sucks

Yes, you can also update the firmware of a RigExpert AA-1000 analyzer on a Linux machine using Wine. I had to test this, because when I bought mine from RXTX-Tuote, I specifically told them I don't have a Windows machine, and asked them if they could first update the firmware for me. What happened? First they had me wait three weeks, with no word regarding progress. Then, after they finally got around to testing the firmware update on their demo device (and apparently had no problem doing it), they blatantly refused to update mine "as a matter of policy". They just told me the update doesn't provide much new functionality or features, and if I want it, it's my problem. They didn't even offer update service at cost. I don't think I'll buy anything from RXTX-Tuote ever again, because of the shitty way they treat their customers. I mean, really—they had already updated one device! Updating another one would have taken all of, what, two minutes??? If I were in charge, I'd have our whole stock of analyzers updated, and emphasize the up-to-date firmware on our product page!

Anyway, here's how to do it. (Steps 1–6 also apply when preparing to set band limits on Baofeng, Wouxun or other radios using Windoze software.) Proceed at your own risk.

  1. If you haven't installed Wine yet, do it now. On a Debian system, you can just type (as root):
       apt-get update
       apt-get install wine
    Or if you're running 64-bit (amd64) Linux, you need to enable 32-bit (i386) support and install 32-bit Wine:
       dpkg --add-architecture i386
       apt-get update
       apt-get install wine-bin:i386

  2. Download the correct firmware update zip-file and unzip it (into your home directory is just fine).

  3. Test that Wine works and can run the program (not as root). This will also create the .wine directory, if you had never used Wine before.
       wine FirmwareUpdate.exe
    The program will start in the same xterm window (it is a simple text-mode program, but no, it will not run under DOSEMU or even native DOS). The program should ask for a COM port number. Just type COM1 and watch the program fail (because you haven't connected the AA-1000 yet, right?). Ignore what it says about full pathnames when running under Linux, because the program believes it is running under ...that other pathetic excuse of an operating system. Also ignore any "fixme:comm:set_queue_size" warnings produced by Wine.

  4. Now turn on the AA-1000 and connect it to a USB port. Then type
    Look for something like
       [2061262.221605] usb 4-1.7: Product: RigExpert AA-1000
       [2061262.225030] usb 4-1.7: FTDI USB Serial Device converter now attached to ttyUSB3

  5. Make sure you have read/write access to that serial port (ttyUSB3 in this case. It will almost certainly be different on your system. If you have no other USB serial devices in your system, it will probably be ttyUSB0) by typing (as root):
       chmod a+rw /dev/ttyUSB3
    This change will only be valid until you unplug the cable. If you want to keep permissions to the port (for example, if you will use aa-analyzer), look into making a suitable udev rule, or add yourself to the dialout group, or something like that.

  6. Make a symlink to the serial port in order to make it visible to Wine:
       ln -s /dev/ttyUSB3 .wine/dosdevices/com1

  7. Now run the update program again (as above), and follow its instructions:

  8. Now turn off and unplug the AA-1000, and have fun with the new firmware.

Antti J. Niskanen <uuki@iki.fi>