Very simple answer to this question, and it may sound like a “duck and a swerve”, but the best logging software is the one that suits you, the services you use, the requirements you have and how you use amateur radio.
Strangely enough, besides the purchase of your radio(s), this is one of the hardest decisions to make. You are being asked, in the very early stages of your hobby to select and invest some time into your logging software, and to take a guess on how you want to use and what features you need in your logging software.
Some of these questions are :
- Do I want software that will help me chase awards? or generally logging?
- Do I want software that is good for general logging as well as contests?
- Do I want just a simple logger (no callsign look up)?
- Do I want a logger that is portable (e.g. application and database can be moved between devices)?
- Do I want a logger to run on Windows, Linux or Mac?
- Do I want the logger to send logs to LOTW, eQSL and others?
- Do I want the logger to accept QSO logs entries from other applications such as WSJT-X and others?
- Do I want to spend a reasonable amount of money on software or use a free one?
These are just a few of the high level questions. Combine this with all the other smaller questions and you could end up with Logger Software paralysis or worst still multiple loggers, all partially configured, each with some records, which now need to be combined in your final choice (which you have not made yet).
Now you will notice as we move through this article, I am showing an application that I use and some online services I use and/or integrate with. This is not to be taken as the best products or services, but as a outline, base level that you may want and should compare with. If you come back and say logger32 is the best, and does way more than xyz, then that’s fine, and in many cases what you have looked at and used. It is very much a personal decision based on what you feel is important, what you are prepared to compromise, what money you want to spend, what support you need, how simplistic your needs are.
What I will do is give you some basic tools and information so that you can make your own mind.
That first bit of information is that you don’t make you selection purely on popularity. One of the first things you will notice is that doing a search on google, you would probably think, that there is only 9-10 pieces of software worth looking at. How wrong that is. Hams have never been known as webmasters or SEO masters or even understand the Google algorithms, so a large majority of the sites that come up on searches are the results of either being on the web for a while, some paid advertising (especially the commercial products), accidentally getting something right or sometimes luck.
Actually to show this inequity, take a look at two resources on the web
- A page from eQSL.cc (online QSL Cards) – showing the applications uploading the most logs to their site.
- A good page with links to all the most popular logging apps as well!
- Now compare that list with eham and you will notice some discrepancies
So you have noticed that there is a difference, especially if you look at the star count in eham. All it proves is that people judge things differently, some are justifying the money that they paid out, some are unhappy with the product.
Likewise, the eSQL list showing the most popular programs that upload the most records cannot be taken as the best programs. It might be that the most popular program is the best contest software, and as you can appreciate the number of contest records will skew the results completely, and that product may not have the best integration. This is why YOU need to make a choice. Those links above should be your springboard to your options. Work out a shortlist and slowly whittle it down.
On more thing before we move on. One major area that becomes a major stumbling block in choosing a Logging program is the operating system. I have seen some people make some poor, compromised choice based almost completely on operating system, because it has to be Linux based (i work with Linux and Windows every day, so does not worry me). One thing that needs to be remembered, is that in general, you layout thousands for your rigs, a little less for your antenna’s, considering the role that logging software has in your hobby, spending a little on a computer (even second hand) with the operating system you need is a good investment, and I will say the same applies with software as well. Free is not always the right way, paid options may be the answer. However if I do use a free version, it’s because it has all the options I need, and in most cases, I look at free versions against the price of the paid version, and donate an amount I would have been happy to pay for that free version. Those donations do matter, and in some cases will see more features added. Remember, if you are chasing awards, the last thing you want is records lost, especially on that final state you were working.
Lets look at a simple block diagram of what our logging software should be able to do as a minimum
CAT Control or Similar – Omnirig / hamlib / TCL
The first connection (which is still optional – as you can type in the frequencies / band / mode etc) is the connection from your radio to your logging software. It will automatically via CAT control or similar, automatically fill in the frequency, mode, band, etc. Some logging software also allows control of the rig (frequency / band / etc from the logging software). For some hams, this is really a must have and in most cases, especially with rigs with CAT control, this is quite simple to do.
As mentioned this may not be your choice, but using it here to show the functional block, and basically the central piece. Log4om this this case updates the logs to eQSL, LOTW, QRZ. without having to worry about doing manually.
eQSL was one of the first services that I setup. Once I realised that physical QSL cards were not used as much nowadays, I went looking and come across eQSL. Immediately under their free plan, I setup a basic QSL Card, and later upgraded by subscription to use my own backgrounds. Other hams who are part of eQSL will receive your return eQSL card. If you are not a member of eQSL, setup an account today. You may find once you are in, that you may have some eQSL cards waiting for you.
If you are using Log4om, your QSO’s will be uploaded (if setup) to eQSL and send your eQSL cards automatically
LOTW – Logs of the World (ARRL)
Another online logging service, however using a certificate based submission system to avoid QSL fraud. Awards like the DXCC have an exception where if the confirmed QSL is lodged with LOTW it is accepted. I am note sure how many others are supported this way.
Main delay is getting yourself authenticated with paperwork (via email). Worth doing
Probably one of the larger online services . They offer a free service as well as a subscription service. My understanding at the time is that if you are in the FCC licence database, the system will verify you. If you are international, you need to go into the forum and ask them to verify you manually. This part took me a few weeks to workout (as it is not clear). Anyhow they send you a verification email, and you can then use QRZ.com
Now you will note that the majority of these services above will transfer their logs automatically (or at least at the end of your session). However what you are looking for in each service and indeed the logging application is the ability to import export logs in ADIF format. This is the standard format for log transfer.
This is probably the last piece of the puzzle. WSJT-X is an application that is used with FT8 / FT4 and other digital modes. It communicates with some of the logging applications such as Ham Radio Deluxe, N1MM, Log4OM via UDP. This means as you complete a successful FT8 QSO, it will automatically log the QSO with your logging software (if it supports it), and as I mentioned, when you finish your session (close the logging program), it will update your external logs / services. The amount of time this saves makes Amateur radio with its automation enjoyable.
Whilst we have listed WSJT-X as an example, there are probably several others, such as JS8Call. The best way to work out whether a program will integrate is lookin the manual for UDP. This will generally, but not always talk about UDP QSO logging. Each system will be a little different. However be aware that UDP is being used more and more as a quick verbatim way of communicating QSO’s. As an example, an application called GridTracker (nice program) receives QSO information directly from WSJT-X using UDP.
Again, this subject is not meant to be in-depth and only to provide an overview. It took me many months to work out the pieces of the jigsaw, and the UDP part a little longer. Once you work it out, your will find how easy it actually is when you have an overview of what you are trying to achieve.
This is not absolutely essential as part of your logging system, but it does demonstrate how the fabric of this system comes together.
In simple terms, we set WSJT-X to send logging over UDP to Gridtracker, which is setup to receive these UDP packets. Now when we talk about sending and receiving, whilst this can be between networked PC’s, it works just as well all on one PC.
What we now have is live information appearing in Gridtracker showing us live conversations between operators, who is hearing us, showing the QSO’s that we have had. And along with that, we can have it monitor for stations we are chasing under various awards, as well as personal alerts for stations were were watching out for.
And to top it off, Gridtracker can upload logs to other services as well, so if you find your logging software does not upload to someone you want, then its possible that Gridtracker may have the connection you need.
A question on the number of services that you need to upload logs to?
This was raised recently, and deserves a reasonable answer. All you need is the services that you require. eQSL is used as I like sending eQSL cards to other eQSL users. Simple and it works. QRZ and LOTW is used as they are the two heavyweights of the online services. LOTW is used for DXCC, WAS and other ARRL awards.
You need to investigate for yourself, whether you need the service, whether you need your logger to support the service. For instance if you check, you can get QRZ to automatically sync from LOTW, so that is one less you need to worry about. A lot of hams have reported that they get a lot more confirmations on QRZ than they do on other services.
With some of these services / software, you need to understand a little of the history. You need to be aware that many years ago, you needed to produce physical evidence of your QSL’s, in many cases this required providing your QSL cards to a local amateur who was a qualified QSL Checker. If I remember correctly, as it was an effort to check the cards, it involved further fees in addition to the fees for the award, and almost definitely you needed to be a member of the organisation that was providing the award.
With Electronic logging, you will find that it has become a lot simpler in terms of physical effort, but you still need to provide them exactly as per the rules laid out by the Award Provider/Sponsor. As an example, the WIA DXCC award states that “Paper, eQSL and Logbook of the World (LOTW) are our current acceptable confirmation standards”, but they also make it clear that Excel logs are not longer accepted.
So if you were an Australian operator going after just the WIA awards, then you might setup eQSL and LOTW as your main online logging services, to make it easier to submit for the awards. And I would not be suprised that many of the Awards program, will probably require LOTW logs or at least the certifcate for verification of who you are, but this might take some time, as many, especially older hams, find the certificate registration and implementation complicated.
However, with QRZ.com being one of the larger ones, you may also want to have your logs submitted to the QRZ.com site as well, as it had a great tracking system showing what awards you are eligible or almost eligible for.
QRZ.com Awards page found under the Logbook area (if you are logged in)
Hopefully this has given you some research points to look at. Again it will come down to your needs and wants.
So that I have not left you hanging, these are just my personal views, against what I needed logging for.
- Free – Logger32 – https://www.logger32.net/ – 4.0.0 released 19/1/2021 (6 years was the release before that) – looks good – the only concern is this one last hurrah?
- Cost – Ham Radio Deluxe – https://www.hamradiodeluxe.com/ – $US99 – i have reviewed this (30 day trial). Nice product, but did it have $AU140 worth of value? I could not see it at the time (against the free options)
- Cost DX4Win – https://dx4win.com/ – $US89 – looking as though still written in Windows XP days.
- UR5EQF_Log3 – https://ur5eqf.ru/ – Free – Popular Russian app – make your own mind up with the current world events. My main concern was support.
- CQRLOG – https://www.cqrlog.com/ – Free – this explains it better – https://www.cqrlog.com/about – looks good as a contesting log.
- Log4OM – https://www.log4om.com/ – Free – The software that suits me at this present time. Nice looking, works well and integrates with products and services that I use.
Note that I have provided the names of products that I have either reviewed for my use or I have really spent some time looking into it (manuals / integration / other peoples views). I have provided the links to the sites so that you can have a look at these and make up your own thoughts (and test them), but in your reviews, look at the following.
- Many support videos?
- How active is the development?
- Is there a big gap in development (lack of interest?), or on the upside, did they completely rewrite the product to make it meet the new requirements, make it faster, use new databases etc?
- Does it support integration with all the services you use and want to used in the future
- Is the development team responding to bugs? Check the forums