DX Cluster Basics
The purpose of a DX cluster is to alert interested hams that there is a DX station on-the-air 'right now'. There is a large amount of information on the internet and elsewhere (books, magazines, etc.) about DX Cluster operation. This page will give a very basic introduction to the topic and a links to use getting started. Do a good internet search will turn up many links for finer details. Understanding the basic theory of how DX Clusters work will let you get the most from using these tools.
Historically, getting DX information started as a "one-to-one" or a "one-to-few" with telephones being the main avenue of distribution. Someone would call someone else or a small list of people to inform them, "There is DX on right now!". Then notification shifted to VHF repeaters with voice, then to digipeaters (packet). Again, this was generally a "one-to-few" type operation (local). Then came the internet and the notification coverage was expanded greatly.
DX Cluster nodes were setup using the internet. A node connected local hams together to recieve real time spots of DX operation. Nodes started being connected to other nodes and the coverage audience went from "a few" to "many, many". Today, with peer-to-peer nodes activated via internet on a global basis, coverage is usually above a 1000 users most times and gets quite a bit higher on weekends and contest periods (if you connect to the right node).
The three most popular DX Cluster node types are AR Cluster, DX Spider and CC Cluster. Each type had it's list of differences but standard were developed and new software allows spots to propagate between the types. Hams do not need to fear which type of node is being used. Through all of this, one concept is clear. That is - the more hams that are sharing DX information, the better it is for all. You need a globally connected node with good peer-to-peer interconnets.
An important consideration is "How wide is my coverage?" For reception and spotting back this is an important item to understand. What cluster do you connect to? What cluster nodes does it connect to (peer-to-peer nodes)? What "filters" are being used (locally and by all the connected nodes)?
If you are connecting to a DX cluster node that is not connected to other peer nodes, then you won't receive spots from outside that node and no one will see the spots you're sending. Additionally, Do the DX cluster node(s) running on a server(s) employ high-availability methods to make sure that it's always available? The coverage area of the DX cluster system you connect to is a PRIMARY concern. The secondary concern is availability. How quick does the data propagate across the network?
As in most "crowd sourcing" situations, the more people involved the better the result(s) tend to be. DX Clusters are 'crowd sourced data' reporters! The more connections, the better the result will be.
In order find a "well-connected" cluster, there's a website that you may want to consider. Go to http://www.hamcluster.net and you will see a map of the world. Most of the time, it begins in Italy. Drag the map to your area of the world. Find a cluster node that's near you or looks familiar. Click it (once). What does it say? How many "links" (peer nodes) does it have? How long has it been up without failure? Watch the reporting as limits have been setup on the reports from this site. You need to find a node you are interested in and then get a DX Spider console window running. The try these console commands: "show/uptime" ; "show/users" ; "show/config". There are many other commands you can use, but these demonstrate and show you some information you need to understand.
Two 'wide area - high volume' DX Clusters are:
VE7CC-1 by Lee, VE7CC, who lives east of Vancouver, BC. He is the author of CC-Cluster and the popular CC-User software.
WA9PIE-2 does not filter spots inbound or outbound, all spots available to propagate worldwide flow through WA9PIE-2. One connected node to WA9PIE-2 you are connected to VE7CC-1 (this means if you use WA9PIE-2 you do not need to have a direct connection to VE7CC-1).
See: NG3K List of Cluster and RBN Sites for a list of some other DX Cluster nodes (and Reverse Beacon Network) sites.
I suggest you try to setup a telnet connection to:
WA9PIE-2 DX Cluster on port 8000 and you can connect direct with whatever cluster software you use. WA9PIE-2 is in a Google data center in the central United States. Hams from all around the world connect to it and share DX information. Because WA9PIE-2 doesn't filter spots, its' a "globally local node". In other words, two hams in Europe connected to WA9PIE-2 are then able to immediately see the same spots that two hams in the Pacific Northwest would see. Feel free to try several different nodes and see what works best for you!
If you try this on your node of choice and you don't see lots of users and peer nodes, you need to leave that node and find another one - use Ham Radio Cluster Map linked above. If you spot a station or look for your own station in the connected user list and you do not see your information, then you probably are being filtered out through the cluster node-to-node area. At least a place to start.
Setting Up Your Connection
Once you have selected a DX cluster node that has a broad coverage area and high availability, there are a few things you should consider.
Let the DX Cluster do any filtering of spots. Do not try to filter them locally (on your PC). Let the network/cluster do the work it is/was designed to do, it is much more efficient at the task.
There is very little benefit in seeing a DX spot from France in the middle of the afternoon in Detroit telling you that a station from Israel is on 160m. You won't hear it. As such, you should filter it from being sent to you. There are many ways to do filters. is to send the following command to your cluster node - "accept/spots by zone 3,4,5". If you live in the United States, you will only see spots from CQ zones 3, 4, and 5. You can find DX cluster filtering guides on the internet (a good search is your friend).
It is not necessary to bounce around between DX cluster nodes to "see if there are better spots elsewhere." There's no value in connecting a node if that node isn't globally relevant. Pick a DX cluster node that is a "global spotting network" and has high-availability.
Pick a DX cluster node that doesn't filter spots inbound or outbound. But do filter the spots in your cluster connection so that you won't see irrelevant spots.
Don't just be a consumer of spots. Send some too! Be part of the 'crowd' and source up your data. Enjoy chasing some DX.
Special Links and Widgets of Interest:
Amateur Radio Time!